When you know you’ll be leaving a place, person or period in your life, everything becomes sharper, more ‘real’ – as if you’re consciously taking mental pictures for a rainy day. My final few weeks living in New Zealand were full on and full of colour because I knew it was the end of that particular time in my life. I was very happy snappy with the mental pics that’s for sure.
My sister Lara, her friend Hannah and I joined forces for 3 weeks of further adventure around North Island while David headed back to start his next phase of pilot training in Bournemouth. The girls spent a month in New Zealand as part of their round the world trip and it happened to tie in perfectly with my time off.
As we headed toward the open road in our tiny 90s hire car, the sun beaming down, we felt very Thelma and Louise. We were sure to avoid any steep cliffs mind you. With only a broken cassette player (!) for entertainment, we amused ourselves by singing and talking the hours away, as sisters and old friends do. We rented various little cabins and studios via Air BnB and while I took them to lots of my favourite haunts, we explored new hidden gems too. In our last few days we trekked to Rainbow falls along the Kerikeri River Track where we passed other misty waterfalls and crystal clear waterways, before heading to Waiheke Island – or wine island – for our final day. It had me at ‘wine island’…
The island is home to over 20 vineyards as its microclimate is well suited to winemaking, so a wine tasting tour is a must-do. We walked up into the hills to reach Casita Miro Vineyard. It has been winner or runner up for the last four years in the ‘Best Rural Restaurant’ category of Metro Magazine’s Top 50 Auckland Restaurants and it certainly didn’t disappoint. We were led up to an open air bar that looked out over the deep blue crescent of Onetangi Bay – where we would later head for a post vino dip. Colourful mosaic tiles and olive trees framed our table, while we tasted five delicious wines, each accompanied by a ‘nibble’. The whole thing cost us only $15 (£7).
Even though you’re only a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, Waiheke feels like a beautiful, secret escape. The north coast beaches are uncrowded, glisteningly white and wonderful at sunset (north facing is the sunniest in NZ unlike up here in the Northern Hemisphere). The vibe is relaxed yet chic, and the scenery resembles a Nancy Meyers film set (think Father of the Bride, The Holiday, It’s Complicated) with white weatherboard houses, wooden boardwalks and quirky cafes.
That evening we went for cocktails in the Sugar Club at the very top of the Sky Tower in Auckland. It was the perfect way to end a glorious eight months.
Before we knew it we were packed, ready and saying our goodbyes at Auckland International. The girls were embarking on the next leg of their trip around the globe to South America and I was jetting off to see my Dad in Hong Kong. It was the end of an era, but it was on to the next chapter!
With only three full days in the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, I wanted to make sure I took in as many of the sights as possible. David was born in Hong Kong and lived there until he was 14, so I’ve heard countless tales of life in the city. It was time to see it for myself.
Upon arrival I crashed out on my King size bed at the Novotel in Wan Chai before getting down to some serious exploring the next day.
Historic Wan Chai was made internationally famous by the 1960 film The World of Suzie Wong, and the fact that it is well-known as Hong Kong’s party – and red light – district. When the sun is up however, it’s a bustling, pleasant neighbourhood full of character – perfect for wandering and shopping. Situated on the north shore of Hong Kong Island, it’s a short walk to the Wan Chai ferry port and not much further to the Central ferry port where you can reach several nearby islands. If you want to explore more of Hong Kong island, there are metro stations, tram stops and an abundance of taxis at your disposal.
Dotted along Queen’s Road East are a number of excellent rattan and Chinese furniture shops that will happily arrange to have your purchases sent home for you or, for competitively priced clothing, try Spring Garden Lane where stalls offload garments originally earmarked for export. Techies won’t complain about getting lost in the Wanchai Computer Centre on Hennessy Road; a building jam-packed with hardware, software, accessories and other gadgets.
I wandered around several of the food markets in the Wan Chai area, where locals come to pick out their live fish and chicken for that night’s supper. It’s hectic, full of potent smells (good and bad) and suffers no fools. Keep your wits about you and take it all in. Hong Kong Park is also worth a look, with its ponds and water features offering an oasis-in-a-desert like feel.
It was time to get an aerial perspective of the city. When you envisage the Hong Kong skyline, the panoramic view from the top of Victoria Peak is what usually springs to mind. Looking down at the city from this famous vantage point, you’ll see one of the most iconic harbours in the world. In fact, ‘Hong Kong’ itself means ‘fragrant harbour’. Beyond the mountains to the north of the city, you can see China stretching into the distance. Everything you’ve heard about Hong Kong’s dynamism and energy is dramatically reaffirmed by the view from the Peak. Apparently even the most cynical locals never tire of visiting. Just make sure you go on a clear day as low cloud can often obscure what is an undoubtedly breath-taking view. You can reach the peak via the Peak Tram, the 120-year-old funicular railway that departs from its terminus on Garden Road (nearest MTR: Central). We decided to walk down to save on queueing.
Another spectacular spot to take in the city is on the rooftop of The Hennessy building in the Wooloomooloo restaurant and bar. We went there at night and it felt like we were on the observation deck of a luxury spaceship, with twinkling lights for miles and only the sky above us. Try the mango cosmopolitan.
On one of the days my Dad was tied up in business meetings so I decided to hop on a ferry to Lantau island and get a glimpse of the famous ‘Big Buddha’ and Po Lin Monastery. Once merely a remote monastery hidden by lush, mountain scenery, the Po Lin Monastery made it onto the world map when the extraordinary Tian Tan Buddha statue was built in 1993. Sitting 34m high, the majestic bronze Buddha draws pilgrims from all over Asia. I also headed for lunch in Discovery Bay while in Lantau with David’s dad. This area – popular with families and ex-pats – has a less frenetic atmosphere than Hong Kong island but I think you’d miss the hustle and bustle if you stayed here too long.
We jumped on one of the famous Star Ferries that traverse Victoria Harbour, between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. We couldn’t resist a sneaky wander around the Peninsula hotel. Built in 1928, it is Hong Kong’s oldest hotel and continues to evoke colonial grandeur. Worth a look, but a deluxe harbour view suite will set you back $14,000 HK (£1,250) per night, with the most basic of rooms costing almost $4,000 HK (£360) per night. Ouch!
Something I knew I wanted to hunt down in Hong Kong? The best Peking duck I could get my mits on! After sifting through recommendations from family, friends and locals, we settled on the American Peking where, rumour has it, Prince Charles says he had ‘the best’ Peking duck in the world. I imagine he isn’t an expert on Chinese food, but I figured it was worth checking out one of the future King’s hot-spots. White tile floors and oak mirrored walls give the place an art deco, almost bistro feel, but sizzling plates and spicy aromas bring you right back to Chinese reality. We were served fresh, pillowy pancakes and thick hoisin sauce to accompany our meat which literally melted in the mouth. I had officially died and gone to food heaven.
Hong Kong isn’t for everyone and it certainly isn’t for the faint hearted. It’s a fast-paced concrete jungle and there is a great deal of noise and pollution in some places. It’s for those seeking a thrill, for those who want to enjoy some of the best Asian food in the world with the ultimate urban backdrop, and for those who want to wander among century-old buildings before ascending towering sky scrapers. For Hong Kong is a place of juxtaposition, it’s full of both the past and the future. If you’re ‘going places’ as they say, Hong Kong may be where you want to be.
I got back to the rock a few days ago, so this is the last you’ll hear from the Kiwi Bird. But I’ll be back – albeit under my real name from now on.
Until next time,
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Quote of the month:
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
― Oscar Wilde
This column appeared in The Guernsey Press on April 30th 2016