Travel

To the other side of the world and back…part 1

When it comes to your honeymoon, you imagine relaxation, beautiful beaches and clear waters. We had the same idea, but wanted to see more than one place…so we went as far as we possibly could and headed off to New Zealand. This is a country that lives by its own rules, relies on its own economy to survive and encourages people to live well and have fun.

We took three weeks out to travel to both islands (ambitious I know), but with such amazing natural beauty and man-made adventures, we couldn’t say no. We spent months planning and pre-booking our trip, arming ourselves with a campervan so we had full freedom to sleep where we pleased and live at our own pace. After all that planning, the day finally arrived and we set off for our early morning flight from Heathrow

Then mother nature hit, blasting the north part of New Zealand’s South Island with a high-grade earthquake (7.8 magnitude). The quake devastated the coastal region, leaving a trail of damaged ferries in its wake – all while we were still mid-air en route. After landing at Auckland, we found the islands in a state of panic, with emergency services working to salvage roads and rescue people trapped in the land slides.

Our first night was spent altering our well thought out trip, as we were now stuck on the North Island for the duration. But we took this as an opportunity to see the island in all its wonder – and grasped it with both hands.

The first night in Auckland was certainly an eye opener. We had a sumptuous dinner and the best bottle of local red wine (as it should have been for the price…) of our whole trip at Euro Bar. As we worked our way round the harbour, we ended up in an Irish pub till the wee hours. It set the tone and our expectations for the rest of our trip.

From Auckland, we headed north to the Bay of Islands. We stayed in an amazing campsite right by the waterside; it really was what dreams are made of. As we strolled round the bay, ferry trips to the town of Russell were well underway. Known historically as an island of debauchery, with public houses and brothels lining the street in colonial times, we were keen to see how Russell looks today – and it’s beautiful.

The island’s architecture echoes its colonial history, with the original British church still standing. Russell is a small but picturesque town with exquisite flowers. There are a few antique gift shops, a couple of bars and a gorgeous house where you can enjoy fine dining

It’s a stunning place that’s definitely worth a visit.

Short break in Hong Kong

Big city with tradition at its heart

1175307_10153200527450076_1390542638_n.jpg

En route to Taiwan, we had a stopover in Hong Kong for a few days. The epitome of a big city with its bright lights and fast-paced lifestyle, Hong Kong is a complete contrast to Taiwan. The city screams ‘money’ from the very minute you land, with brands such as Burberry and Dior stocked in airport shops as large as UK department stores. A shopper’s paradise – if you have that kind of money.

Armed with our Lonely Planet travel guide, we took in every sight, sound and taste there was on offer. The book offers some great restaurant recommendations, although they don’t tell you that some of these are fast food places, such as Fat Angelo's. (I still get ribbed about it to this day.) We had an outstanding steak at a restaurant on the Waterfront – a great way to watch the Hong Kong light show, which only gets better the more times you watch it. 

Another highlight of our trip was taking a bus ride around the city and then the train up to The Peak. The views from the top were breathtaking, even on a foggy day.

Hong Kong offers everything you’d expect from modern day China, such as fast trains and late night bars. At the same time, tradition is evident at every turn, with boats still used to travel around the city and bamboo still used for scaffolding (see image above). 

The old and new are perfectly aligned together, and you can't go down a street without experiencing one or the other. You’ll find traditional Hong Kong restaurants right next to brand new bars – all open late and extremely welcoming to travellers.

An amazing short city break.

999603_10153200532470076_2050980991_n.jpg

Breathtaking Taiwan

A must see for every traveller

Taiwan isn't on everyone's bucket list, but for me it was the most beautiful place I've ever seen – unspoiled and completely true to its heritage. Your mind might have gone instinctively to 'Made in Taiwan' (am I right?) and yes, part of the west coast is all about manufacturing and the large, high rise buildings you expect to find in Taiwan.

But that's only one side of the island. Travel a few hours east and there isn't a factory in sight. In fact, this area is so remote that no one speaks English and you can get a gin and tonic for less than £1 (not that this should be an incentive for going, of course!).

1240230_10153200465625076_1513900587_n.jpg

Taiwan’s rich history has seen the country ruled by both China and Japan, creating a great mix of cultural influences at every turn. It's amazing how both ruling influences can be seen so uniquely and with such strong integrity. We embraced every aspect of Taiwan’s culture, from Japanese temples to incredible nature reserves. One of my favourite sights was seeing an elderly monk leaving his offerings at a temple and saying a few prayers; I felt privileged to witness such an honourable act.

Another highlight was hiking through breath-taking scenery to Taroko Gorge, the famous bridge in Taroko National Park. Here, you'll find temples built at different levels within the mountains – some are so hard to find that you'll need a guide to take you up that high. The scenery is just as awesome as it looks in travel books. It was hard to believe it was so untouched and we didn't need any camera filters. We could have stayed there for days capturing pure, raw footage.

What was remarkable during our time in the remote west coast of Taiwan was the people’s belief that I would bring them good fortune! For them, blonde hair and blue eyes mean good luck, so families would come up to me and ask to touch my hair. Even more bizarrely, they also wanted pictures with me to take home. So my image could well be hanging alongside family portraits on living room walls, or I could even be famous in some of the villages. Of course, if I could bring luck to someone I would do my best to help them. 

1236134_10153200469770076_2109665794_n.jpg

Driving through Taiwan, you come across rows of shops like these, all selling drinks and food. In every shop, you can find the local delicacy of raw prawns...but the very small ones. You’re meant to take them out of the tank and pop them straight in your mouth. I'm always open to trying new things but this time I really couldn't!

As you head out to the coast, the beaches are completely pristine. We drove along the coastline, popping to beaches which it felt like only the locals knew about. There was one beach where a local artist had made a creative space where people would go and paint, sculpt and meditate. You can also sample the gorgeous local, cuisine – we tried chicken curry which came with the claws still attached… The local artist collected the driftwood and anything else which washed up on the shoreline, using them to create sculptures to sell.

The people we met were friendly and always helpful, even though we only met one person who could speak any form of English. Taiwan really is a must-see country if you’re looking for somewhere that’s absolutely untouched and that unique feeling of being completely away from it all.