Category Archives: Travel Diaries

13 Days in New Zealand

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My husband, Akhilesh who is well traveled, thanks to his work, has been to every other continent and may have visited more than 50 countries so far. We therefore wanted our honeymoon to be at some place he has never been to or will probably never get an opportunity to visit. Both of us are not beach people. We knew that we love mountains and lakes! So after looking at numerous destinations, we finalized New Zealand for our ultimate first trip. We started our research soon after and the moment we looked-up pictures online, we fell instantly in love with this island country and couldn’t wait to visit this heaven-like place.

Our trip was a total of 13 days. So we took off from Mumbai to Auckland on the 19th. We had a stopover at Changi Airport, Singapore. On the 20th of March, we arrived Auckland. There is a lot to see in New Zealand and we wanted to do both; the North as well as the South Island, even though many online suggestions recommended not going ahead with the plan as it was not possible to cover both islands in 10 days. So we made our own itinerary and trust us, it was possible! Of course, we couldn’t see every inch of New Zealand ( and every inch of this place is worth a visit), but we did manage to cover most of the ‘must-visit’ spots. The remaining we plan to complete whenever we visit NZ again.

We tried to follow the itinerary but this country is so beautiful, we couldn’t help but make additional stops and visit places in between. At the airport or at the information centers, collect all the different brochures you find, because that’s what we did and they were of great help. We would have probably missed really good things to do while in NZ, had we not taken those leaflets. There are a lot of things you don’t find on the internet. So we squeezed in more places to visit. Always check timings before you visit any place since most shut at 5 pm, you need to plan well in advance considering the amount of time you’ll take to reach the place. Also the weather can go haywire! From clear sunny skies in the morning to rainy afternoons.  So if you plan to do activities, schedule them preferably in the morning slot or depending on the weather. Call the centers to confirm your bookings before leaving for the place. We had to scrap a few activities owing to bad weather.

New Zealand is quite an expensive place. So if you’ve made up your mind, renting out a vehicle (car/camper-van) is the best option. Our car – The Toyota RAV4 was a very comfortable one.  Driving in New Zealand is a cake walk for Indians, especially if you come from metros like Mumbai or Delhi.  Nothing compared to driving on empty, long country-side roads with music and beauty all around. Plus, it’s right hand drive! It only gets better 🙂

Below, I’ve given a detailed plan of our days in New Zealand.

Day 1: Monday, 20th March, 2017

We were really hungry after the long flight. So after picking up our car from Hertz at the airport, we reached our Hotel – Quest Auckland and left soon after, for some good food. We walked our way to Kebabs on Queen and after filling ourselves with heavy rolls, we visited Sky Tower. From this place, you can view the city from 220 meters above street level. There are revolving restaurants and cafe’s and also adventure activities like Sky Walk and Sky Jump.

After the aerial view of the city, we headed towards Countdown Metro which is a famous chain of Supermarkets. So we filled our carts with a lot of Mineral Water Bottles, Ready-to-Eat Meals, Cup Noodles, Snacks, Energy Drinks like Gatorade and Protein Bars. We did carry ready-to-eat meals from Mumbai but the variants available in India taste artificial (except Haldirams, but we weren’t aware back then), so we got some from NZ as well. They have amazing Butter Chicken Rice read-to-eat meals (and many others) and they taste so fresh! We don’t remember the name of the brand. There were many but one such brand was Kaweka Foods.

We went back to our hotel and left for Sky Tower after dinner, to view the city from above, again but this time in the night lights.

So our first day here in Auckland was pretty chilled out.

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Day 2: Tuesday, 21st March, 2017

After a hefty breakfast, we did an early checkout from our hotel to leave for Rotorua.

10.30 am – Our first stop was at Waitomo Glowworm Caves which is famous for the population of Arachnocampa Luminosa, a glowworm species found exclusively in New Zealand. Once here, you get to wade through waters inside the cave in a boat with a guide (Present day Maori Tribals). You are not allowed to take pictures here but you can pay for one after the tour. They edit your pictures onto the background of these glowworm caves. We didn’t take our pictures here because it clearly looked edited. We spent close to 2.5 hours here.

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After this enchanting experience, we left for our Hotel Apex on Fenton in Rotorua. Like I’ve already mentioned earlier, we’ve made multiple detours and stops on our way and so will you when you self drive here, because every other place you’ll find something so beautiful, you’d be tempted to stop. New Zealand is so well organised and maintained. Every ‘point of interest’ is properly marked with complete details and warnings if any, they have ample parking space, clean washrooms and well tracked paths with directions! Also our car was provided with a navigation device which worked pretty well when we took detours and needed help with internal roads that Google Maps generally do not show. So there was absolutely no way to get lost, even if we wanted to! We went off-road every time we had to travel from one destination to the other, to enjoy the stunning beauty of this place. The GPS device was pretty accurate and helped us find our way back on track.

On our way, we visited Hamurana Springs Reserves. Not just this place, but in general, we did a lot of walking in New Zealand to see waterfalls, mountains, lakes…. sometimes without any company, just the 2 of us in deep forests. But not once did we feel frightened. New Zealand has no wildlife as such, at all. Even though it’s got enormous areas of greenery, you can venture into any forest without being apprehensive of wild animals. We were fortunately never robbed here, but it can happen. So leave all your jewelry and things that bling behind! Akhilesh and I found New Zealand to be a 100% tourist destination, safe and an ideal one for those who love adventure.

We wanted to make one last stop before it got dark. So around 6.45 pm before reaching our hotel, we drove to Redwoods Tree Walk.  The walk consists of 21 suspension bridges traversing between 22 Californian coastal redwoods. We spent the evening walking on these high bridges in the woods. It also looks really beautiful after it gets dark, so were-visited this place post dinner (at the hotel) and walked all over again in the night with beautiful lamps and LED lights that lit up the woods. Both were equally charming.

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Day 3: Wednesday, 22nd March, 2017

We were pre-booked for the Hobbiton Movie Set guided tour today. For all those who have seen the The Hobbit trilogy, the entire set with everything shrunk in size, was shot in New Zealand. The Lord of the Rings movie as well! You see now,  how marvelous this place is? So since we had booked this tour, we were picked up from our hotel on a bus with a group at 7.30 am and it took us an hour to reach the set. You need to call them a day prior to confirm your booking and pick-up time (this goes for all the bookings you’ve made in advance). The bus ride itself was a guided tour as the driver explains everything you see outside the window. You will also come across thousands of sheep grazing the vast green mass of land, which is a pretty cute sight!

We were guided on this 12 acre plot set. You can take countless pictures here. Your guide will show you locations like the Hobbit holes, the Green Dragon Inn and the Mill – maybe even let you in on some secrets from the filming! It could be an exciting tour for crazy movie fans, but we both found it a bit dull. After a point it all looks repetitive and it cost us half of our day.  Honestly, we would have skipped this one had we known it would be so long. But after this guided tour you must have the drinks they serve! I dislike plain beer so they had this amazing ginger beer. I got one big mug for myself and it was the best I’ve ever had. It comes complimentary with your ticket. 🙂

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After spending around 3 hours inside the set, we set out for lunch and were back to our hotel room by 2 pm. Without wasting much time, we took off and drove in and around, saw fat lambs and cows run at the sound of our car horn (you can forgive us. It’s not everyday you get to see these things), went off-road, trekked to see waterfalls and the mountains, filled gas and other little things. Unfortunately, I can only mention names of the places I remember. But you’ll know of them when you drive around NZ. There are some places you can view right from the road, while there are others, where you may have to park and then trek your way to see waterfalls and other attractions. What’s good is that every attraction here mentions details about the location and the estimated duration of the trek. So you can plan accordingly. One place I do remember is the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. There was a boat ride too inside the valley.

We headed back as soon as we could to our hotel room to freshen up, since we had our pickup scheduled at 5.45 pm for the Mitai Maori Village Experience. The Maori’s are the aboriginals of New Zealand. What we really liked about NZ is how they have preserved the tribal culture and given them equal rights with respect to everything. They still own a lot of properties which they keep it maintained it terms of the laws of nature. At this village, we were introduced to the Maori Tribe, their food, attire, culture, music, language, dance, hunting skills and a lot of other things that they do. You also get to see the tribals dressed as warriors, paddle an ancient warrior canoe (waka) down the Wai-o-Whiro stream. A traditional Hangi meal was served to everyone post the performances. We skipped the guided bush walk and the glowworms walk, since we had already covered that at Waitomo. The staff readily agreed to drop us back to our hotel. We rested the night for an early start next morning.

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Day 4: Thursday, 23rd March, 2017

We checked out early from our hotel  at 7.30 am and drove straight to Wai-O-Tapu which was at a distance of just 30 mins. We spent around 1.5 hours walking here. Wai-o-Tapu is considered to be New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse, active geothermal sightseeing attraction. You will get to see uniquely different natural landscapes here. We left early to catch the Lady Knox Geyser that starts everyday at 10.15 am. So we finished our trek first and later headed towards this geyser, bang on time!

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The walk made us feel super hungry. So we quickly filled ourselves with some snacks and drinks on the go and drove to the Secret Spot (AKA Hot & Cold), which is a free to enter natural hot pool. This is very close to Wai-O-Tapu. We sat here dipping our feet and admiring the beauty for a while and then drove to Kerosene Creek, which again is a free to enter hot water creek with a beautiful waterfall. This place is so mesmerizing, we couldn’t wait to change into our swimming gear and jump into this really hot natural pool. By the time we got out, we were both red. A must go!

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After a peaceful time here, we left to visit Hell’s Gate. This is a unique Maori owned geothermal mud and sulphur bath spa. You can choose between private and public pools. Before entering the spa, we chose to trek the area so we can relax in the pools later.

You will see erupting waters, steaming fumaroles and boiling mud here, quite similar to Wai-O-Tapu but still very different. You can actually feel the heat when you walk on the tracks around the geothermal area. Hot land!

Both, the sulphur as well as the mud pools were fun. We spent 20 minutes in the sulphur pool and later covered ourselves with warm and soft, gooey clay. It does make you feel squeaky clean afterwards!

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After a refreshing bath, we drove further to visit Huka Falls. This place looks so surreal with milky blue waters gushing with full strength! Even these pictures don’t do justice. You have to see it to believe it!  The sheer volume of water flowing over the falls amounts to 220,000 liters per second – enough to fill one Olympic sized swimming pool in 11 seconds! You need to walk for around 30 mins from your car park. There is a rafting and jet boat area as well here.

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After making sure we have a full tank, we headed for Hotel Park in Ruapehu, Tongariro. It would have taken us 2 hours to reach, but since we visited a number of places in between, we checked-in at the hotel around 9.30 pm and rested the night.

Day 5: Friday, 24th March, 2017

We were now at Tongariro, which is known for it’s Alpine Crossing Trek. It’s the oldest and one of the best one day hikes in New Zealand. The 19.4-kilometer journey has unique land forms and volcanic peaks.  The climbs can be steep and the weather unpredictable all throughout. We had done a lot of trekking already in the last few days, the result of which was a very weak and painful knee. I could barely walk and the weather was not at it’s best. Since we had a few more days in NZ, we decided not to risk it and spoil the rest of our trip. Instead we did shorter treks in the vicinity. Maybe the alpine will happen the next time we get here! We visited the Waitonga Falls which is Tongariro National Park’s highest waterfall (39m). It took us around 1.5 hours to return. We walked through the well-formed tracks through Mountain Beech and Kaikawaka Forest and on the long boardwalk here. We also visited other waterfalls nearby like the Mangafhero Falls, Tawhai Falls and the Taranaki Falls.

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We were really looking forward to get on the Scenic Flight over the dramatic volcanic landscapes of the central plateau, since we couldn’t do the Alpine Crossing. You can fly over Tongariro Crossing, Northern Circuit or the Volcanic Explorer. It would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience if we could view the craters from above. But unfortunately due to severely cold weather and overcast, we couldn’t do this either. If you do get a chance, don’t miss this!

Since’ we couldn’t see the mountains from above. we thought why not drive the closest we can to Mt. Ruapehu? So we drove to Whakapapa ski-field from where you can view the snow capped mountains. On our way back, we took the Desert Route which is a road with barren mass of land on either sides. We did some food shopping and went back to our hotel to rest for the night.

Day 6: Saturday, 25th March, 2017

We had a flight booked from Taupo Airport to reach South Island. Yes! We covered the main attractions and a lot more in North Island in 5 days. So we checked out from our hotel at 6 am. The airport was a one hour drive and opened only at 8 am. So on our way we tried to catch a glimpse of Bully point  which is supposed to be a jumping spot for those who want to swim in the river. Since we couldn’t locate the spot, we took off and watched the sun rise instead. We also filled up the tank with fuel and dropped off our car at the Hertz Car Rental center near the airport.

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Taupo has a pretty small airport. We boarded the Air New Zealand Link to Queenstown with a layover at Auckland. So the entire journey was 4 hours long. We encountered a funny incident at the airport. There was absolutely no security check at the airport, however we were given a long explanation about the health and safety of their employees being jeopardized, by the lady at the counter, since our luggage was over the limit by a kilo. Fortunately we managed to convince her to let us off this time as we weren’t aware and it was just a kilo. New Zealand does care a lot about health and safety of its employees. Even a kilo would mean risking the health & safety of the employees. So be careful not to overload even by a kilo or end up paying a penalty charge.

We took our short scenic flight on a tiny plane, reached Queenstown and headed straight to our Hotel Heritage Queenstown. We were super hungry, so we quickly rushed to Fergburger which is a really famous burger joint in Queenstown. You’ll always find this place crowded. We had to wait in queue for 20 minutes before we could enter this place. They specialize in gourmet hamburgers, and is quite well known internationally despite not being a chain. We ordered Sweet Julie & Cock Cajun (Both Chicken) and Onion Rings. Delicious! They also have vegetarian variants (Holier than Thou & Bun Laden) and the rest in pork, beef, chicken, deer, lamb & seafood.

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We did not have a car yet, so it took us 30 mins to walk to this place. After a lip-smacking meal we walked towards Skyline Queenstown where we did the 2 rounds Luge & Gondola. They were super fun! Of course, you cannot take pictures while on the luge but they have cameras set up at places that automatically click pictures of you when on the ride. You can purchase them later. 🙂

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After a fun ride, we chilled at Lake Wakatipu, collected some food and drinks from Four Square and then walked back towards our hotel for the night.

Day 7: Sunday, 26th March, 2017

If you want to visit Milford Sound, you need to reserve an entire day for the Cruise. Since we had already booked a seat in coach, we were picked up in the morning from our hotel with the rest as this was a group tour. This is a 4 hour long scenic bus ride (one way) with the driver being the guide throughout. The journey is beautiful with views of the mountains, waterfalls and interesting landscapes.  We also got a chance to interact with the curious and intelligent Kea Bird who couldn’t stop poking at cameras and other gadgets it encountered. You’ll get to see the Mirror Lakes too. After the bus ride, you will be guided towards your 2 hour cruise that will help you get a closer view of the magnificent mountains and waterfalls. If you are lucky, you can spot seals resting on the rocks, dolphins and penguins as well! You’ll probably even recognize some locations from the Lord of the Rings movie series. Go out and stand on the deck to breathe in the freshness of the wonderful surrounding and drench yourself in the cool water that sprays as you get closer to the waterfalls near the mountains! Keep a poncho handy always, just in case you don’t want to get all soaked up in cold water. The deck is a better way to experience the spectacular views. You might want to sit indoors only to consume food. You can buy food on the cruise or carry your own.

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By the time we got home it was already late in the evening. The 4 hour return journey went by mostly in eating and sleeping, while the driver kept guiding us. We got back to our hotel and rested the night.

Day 8: Monday, 27th March, 2017

We picked up our rental in the morning and headed for the Glenorchy Drive which is a picturesque route along Lake Wakitapu. We crossed Arrow River further down and then we finally reached Paradise! Not kidding! There is a place here named Paradise. Also you could try the Shot-over Jet if you have enough time in hand. Looks pretty interesting!

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After a refreshing drive, we got back to our hotel, had breakfast and drove off to AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy which is a pioneer of commercial Bungy Jumping in the world. Alan John “A.J.” Hackett ONZM (born May 1958) is a New Zealand entrepreneur who popularized this extreme sport of bungy jumping. He made the famous bungy jump from the Eiffel Tower in 1987 and founded the first commercial bungy site in 1988 here and since then this place has become an established World Leader in the Tourism Industry. Recognized for an innovative, and “outside the square” style, their professional crew, high operating standards, training schemes and procedures ensure an impeccable safety record. 

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I had never in my life thought of bungee jumping. I was here only to accompany Akhilesh but however, he convinced me to register my name too. So there I was watching people jump off the bridge and rethinking my decision. Akhilesh went in first and while I was waiting outside to click his videos, I got a little chatty with some Asian women watching people jump. One of them noticed the stamp on my hand and asked me if I’ve jumped already. I told her that I’ll be up next anytime soon to which she asked me how old I am and when I said 27, she exclaimed how young I was. She went on to tell me that her husband who is 76 years old will be jumping from that bridge in a while.  And when I saw him jump, I was amazed at how confident, athletic and fit he was. That made me even more nervous now. Akhilesh successfully did the bunjy jump only to come back and tell me how scary it was. I was frightened even further. And there I was going in next, highly strung. They tied my ankles tight and could barely walk. Slowly, I was asked to walk towards the edge. Since I was in severe knee pain the crew asked me to jump head down first to avoid serious knee injury. Head first! I gulped in fear, standing at the edge looking down at the water and the depth. My heart was in my hand. I wanted to step back. One inch of movement and I’d be down. Then I looked at those women watching me and I felt so embarrassed! If a 76 year old man could do it, I could do it too. I had to conquer this fear. I could only wonder how people jump off high-rises to kill themselves. All these random thoughts were rushing in my head but I also thought to myself that If I’ve come all this way here, I can’t just stand here, I must do it, whatever it takes. It’s not easy to jump. So I asked one of the crew members to give me a push. He did and within seconds I fell down legs first and then suspended from the rope head down. I kept bouncing back and forth. The crew had asked me if I wanted to touch the water and I said just the tip. And then I did feel the cold cold water for a few seconds and flew up again. I could see the mountains and the lake upside down and that adrenaline rush you get, is beyond explanation! I was trying to reach out to the boat that was waiting to take me. And there I lay thinking and feeling proud that I did what I never imagined doing. The happiness you get afterwards is simply exhilarating. I climbed up as soon as I could to meet Akhilesh and give him a big hug! Then we bought our bunjee photos and videos on a pen-drive. And yay! We got free T-shirts!

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We were super hungry and what better than a Pizza treat! After checking out Pizza places nearby, we decided on Fat Badgers Pizza Bar in Queenstown. We don’t remember what we had ordered. It was mostly the The Princess (Veg)/ /Julius Badger (Chicken) and it was amazing!

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The new car wasn’t comfortable. So we got the car changed to the model (4WD Toyota RAV4) we drove in North NZ. Remember to always fill the tank to full before you give the car back even though you’ve just driven for a few hours. We left for the hotel in our new car to rest for some time.

We had scheduled our evening for Onsen Hot Pools. There are various packages but we chose the Onsen by Lantern Light which starts at 5 pm. The day package comes with a beautiful view of the mountains. We went in for the 8 pm slot since we wanted to immerse our selves in a private hot pool that opens up to a night-sky full of stars. Surrounded by scented candles, Japanese lanterns and millions of stars, we spent a magical time drinking wine with chips. The lighting modes and water temperatures can be adjusted and they also have a changing room and shower area. So carry appropriate clothing.

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The bath was refreshing and romantic indeed. We were content after 20 mins of bath, so we just sat there watching the sky, talking and drinking wine. So mystical!  You can spend an hour here.

Day 9: Tuesday, 28th March, 2017

We had an early start, so we checked out from our hotel and drove down to Wanaka. It’s approximately an hour away from Queenstown. The internet showed us 2 routes to reach Wanaka. On further research, we comprehended that one is the Cromwell which is a less challenging but longer route and the other is via the Crown Range Mountains which is the shortest and most direct route but a difficult one. It’s also the highest main road in New Zealand. So we chose the Crown Range because even though we knew it would be difficult, we wanted every experience in NZ to be a special one. The Crown Range reaches an altitude of 1121 meters, which does bring challenges during winters when the road is often covered in snow and ice, making for very difficult driving conditions. Fortunately, the winters aren’t bad at this time of the year, so the roads were clear when we drove through this range. You need to allow some time to stop and view the marvelous scenes you get to see on your way.  For Akhilesh, the whole driving experience was plain sailing. Maybe because driving in Mumbai is so difficult, everything else feels peaceful. On our way, we came across the historic Cardrona Hotel which is one of New Zealand’s oldest restaurants. There are many interesting local artefacts on display in the bar and restaurant.

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You will also cross Bra Fence. It has been renamed to Bradrona to raise money for breast cancer research.  A pink sign and a collection box to raise money for breast cancer have been put up beside the bra fence.  Some even take off their bras here and hang on the fence as a tribute. Apparently, it’s quite a controversial place!

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Before checking-in to our  Hotel Maple Lodge, we made stops at places like Motatapu River Track, Eely Point, Albert Town and also the Wanaka Tree which is really famous on the internet as #TheWanakaTree!

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I’ve always wanted to skydive and so we headed straight to Sky Dive Wanaka! Jumping off a plane is less scary than jumping off a cliff, at least that’s what I’ve always imagined and experienced as well. For the first 60 seconds, you drop at 200kmph and post that you just swing and swim in the open air. You don’t really get to see the depth when you jump off from the edge of the plane at 16,000+ feet above sea level. Plus, there’s a tandem along to have your back and take care of everything. So it’s not scary! You just need to let go and experience yourself float and fly like a kite. Akhilesh has skydived before in Australia so it wasn’t really exciting for him this time. More like been there, done that! Haha! He found the Australian dive better.

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While on the plane, we spotted the snow clad peaks; Mount Cook and Mount Aspiring. There are various packages to buy from with combinations like  photos and video or just photos and so on. I chose the one where a second flyer jumps along and takes pictures and videos with his camera. Pretty expensive but YOLO! I was mesmerized when I realized I was floating over the mountains and all around me was a complete 360 degree view of New Zealand’s highest mountains including Aoraki / Mt Cook and Tititea / Mt Aspiring and also forested river valleys and lakes (Lakes Wanaka, Hawea, Dunstan, Wakatipu, Pukaki, Tekapo). You’re jumping into the Lord of the Rings country. Just make sure you keep your eyes open! The experience was breathtaking. I could feel the force of wind on my face. After the free fall, the tandem asked me if I would like to do some swings back and forth mid air and somersaults, I agreed and he said no ones asks him to do that! All this with the knee pain, but it was totally fun! And alas, we landed!

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After a well spent afternoon, we drove around on our off road explorations and visited a few places before retiring to our hotel room.

Day 10: Tuesday, 29th March, 2017

We checked out early from our hotel and proceeded to Lake Hawea and the Esplanade Reserve. We spent some time here and then decided to paddle in the lake. We had booked our slot a day prior. Our guide was a beautiful Canadian lady from Paddle Wanaka who had settled here for work. There are a lot of Immigrants in NZ. Probably 80% and tourism is one of the main sources of their growing economy.  So our friendly guide was on a separate boat while Akhilesh and I shared one. We paddled for 2 hours and stopped at Ruby Island. The paddle can be really shaky, so you and your partner need to maintain a balance. The one who sits at the back of the boat has the controls to direct the boat. So Akhilesh controlled it on our way to Ruby Island and switched places on our way back.

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Ruby Island is a tiny island and there is a story behind this place. For a period in the 1920s and 1930s Ruby Island was a rather unlikely site of a tearoom and Saturday-night ‘cabaret’ operated by the Hunt family, who ran a ferry from the mainland. Recently, close to 500 young people took to their inflatable boats to this island for massive drinking and partying, the result of which was a neglected fire which caused destruction to parts of this island. So we started our trek around the island and while we were exploring this place, our guide made us hot coffee, served with some delicious muffins. We sat on a bench and enjoyed our little break with the guide. We got back on our boats and passed the Wanaka Tree, this time from the within the lake and paddled back for another 2 hours. This was a tad bit tiring for the legs but definitely a meditation for the mind. And phew! we didn’t topple!

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Our next stop, Franz Josef  was 3.5 hours away and we wanted to avoid driving in the night. Considering us and this beguiling place, our 3.5 hours journey had to extend by a few more hours. So we started driving as soon as we could, at 2 pm from Wanaka. Before I forget to mention, apply a decent amount of insect repellent on your exposed areas of skin! Sand-flies in South island can cause a great deal of nuisance and create havoc during your hike. They sting and can make you all red with bumps, too! So don’t wait for them to bite you, like I did.

A little off the track, but I just remembered that while driving in NZ, we observed far too many dead Possums in the middle of the road, but never once alive! We later realized that these little creatures are nocturnal in nature and therefore active only in the night.  So when they come out on the streets during the night, these poor little beings get killed by fast moving vehicles and that’s how you only get to see them dead in the morning! But Possum Fur is really famous in NZ and you’ll come across expensive possum fur pieces at all these souvenir stores.

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So coming back to where I left from, we drove and pulled-up to trek at pretty places like Makaroa River to see the Blue Pools,  Knights Point, Haast Bridge, Thunder Creek Falls and countless other view points in between. You can also visit Jackson View Point which we skipped. It was already dark by the time we reached our Hotel Rainforest Retreat. It took us 6 hours (including all the stops and hikes) to reach Franz Josef. We checked-in at 8 pm, ate well and slept after spending a long day on the road.

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Day 11: Wednesday, 30th March, 2017

We really wanted to try the Glacier Snow Landing here, but pertaining to heavy fog and bad weather conditions, we couldn’t. We wished for the weather to clear because we were short of days to make any changes in the plan as our trip was coming to an end. We tried calling the center multiple times during the day to ask if its possible. They weren’t sure either as to when the weather would clear up. Downhearted, we drove around the place and went for smaller treks like Lake Matheson (Scenic), Tatare Tunnels Walk, Lake Mapourika and so on.

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We went for a forest trek – The Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk, from we saw the glaciers shine on the mountains! The cold and rainy weather made for one terrific walk. We saw waterfalls on our way, went off-road and got lost too but found our way back on track. It was fun exploring mountains from roads that go closest to them. Our day ended here with some lip-smacking Fish & Chips and Chicken & Chips salad meal from Kiwi Kai, which unfortunately is permanently closed now. The meal had a really good portion and we were full to our heart’s content!

Day 12: Thursday, 31st March, 2017

Like most of our days here, we checked out from our hotel early in the morning and visited Lake Mahinapua. It’s also a popular overnight camping stop. Renting out a camper-van in NZ is quite a convenient and affordable option. There are a lot of places you can park overnight and camp. Plus, you can go wherever you want without having to worry about hotel bookings. These stops have clean washrooms too.

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We left from here to see the Hokitika Beach which looked so stormy and hazy when we arrived! It was the Tasman Sea we were looking at! The sand was filled with round white rocks and dead trees barks, resembling skulls and bones. Gave me chills in the beginning but later I realized they weren’t what I thought them to be. Phew!

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Close to this place is the Hokitika Gorge. The vivid turquoise waters surrounded by lush native bushes make you feel like you’ve come to a fantasy fairy-tale world. It looks much more beautiful than it does in pictures. The walk on the shaky swing-bridge that takes you to the other side is a must. This was one of our last scenic walks in NZ.

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There are a lot of places to see in Hokitika like the Glow Worm Dell which is a free and fun place to watch glowworms. We skipped this one, so we left to see the famous Sunset Point which is a spectacular vantage point at any time of day. This is – as the name suggests – the prime place to watch the day’s light fade away while watching surfers, seagulls, a long-shore drift with some fish & chips – The ultimate New Zealand Life! We were way too early to see the sunset and the weather still looked very stormy. But nevertheless, this is such a stunning point! Even though we were watching the same Tasman Sea we visited hours ago, the feeling you get here is totally different. You can watch the waves roar endlessly. There were Seagulls everywhere and a cute big dog danced with little birds chirping along. But what elated us the most was the sight of the evident meeting point of the Hokitika River and the Tasman Sea. Watching the calm river crash into the ferocious sea waves was a wonderful experience! After the clash of 2 opposite forces, everything calms down to give way to the sea/river bed that separates the river and the sea!

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We had our return flight from Christchurch the very next day. So we wanted to take the TranzAlpine Kiwi Rail from Greymouth which is one of the Great Journeys of NZ.  We were really looking forward to this journey, but in February a fire accident affected the rail line and it was shut for quite some time. We were a bit disappointed but fortunately right before our trip to NZ, we were informed that the train was back on track and operational. While it’s best to take this train during the winters when its all covered in  snow, the monsoons weren’t bad at all. The open section on the train is the best place to take pictures and drench yourself in the freshness of nature.  You’ll get to witness epic vistas, travel the edges of the Waimakariri River, traverse the Southern Alps and see miles of the Native Beech Forest.

After filling gas, we bid goodbye to our car at the Hertz branch near Greymouth Railway Station. We boarded the train and settled in our allotted seats. They have a dedicated luggage carriage which makes travelling easy. The TranzAlpine is one of the world’s greatest train journeys covering 223 kms(139 miles) one-way, under 5 hours. You’ll traverse the majestic Canterbury Plains to the backdrop of the mighty Southern Alps. You’ll cross the Arthur’s Pass on your way too. There are only 7 stops in between. The trains have huge glass windows so you can view the beauty from the comfort of your seats. Every seat is provided with an audio guide that will help you with information of places you pass. They have a fully licensed café on board that sells nibbles and snacks, hot & cold food, tea, coffee, soft drinks and alcohol. We ordered the Classic Ginger Beer, Original Ale, Tandoori Chicken Wrap and Thai Curry Rice! If you are planning on this train journey, book your seats in advance.

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We reached Christchurch around 7 pm and were picked up from the station to Hotel IBIS Christchurch. Since we were here only for the night, we dropped off our luggage in the room and left to see The Cardboard Cathedral. Christchurch was still recovering from the 2011 earthquake that shook this place. We could spot tilted and shattered towers and debris everywhere. We got the post apocalyptic feeling here. The church was also significantly damaged. It’s made out of ‎cardboard tubes, timber and steel with stained glass work.

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Further down the road was Food Street at Cathedral Square. I guess it’s also known as the Friday Street Food Market. Luckily we were here on a Friday! This is setup in an open street filled with food stalls and trucks serving food ranging from Asian, Indian, Tibetan, American and European Food. You can try Mexican street food, Sri Lankan finger food, European rotisserie chicken, Himalayan Momos and Desserts too! We had the best last moments of our trip with some good food and street music.

Day 13: Friday, 1st April, 2017

Couldn’t believe that this was our last day here, at this beautiful place. We checked out of our hotel, dropped our car off at the airport and left for Mumbai via Singapore (Changi Airport).

And here goes a little note to beloved NZ…

New Zealand, you’ve charmed us by your mysterious nature. You’re a wonderland where rainforests and glaciers co-exist, where anyone can venture into an endless mass of nature and trek their way into deep forests, absolutely free from any form of wildlife, where every inch is a spectacular scenic beauty worth capturing, where the weather changes from sunny hot, chilly cold to pouring rain before you know it, where one can spot herds of wooly sheep, hefty cows and also dead possums in the middle of the road, where one doesn’t have to be afraid of anything but stubborn sand-flies, where everyone gets to explore their adventurous side and where everything is 100% tourist friendly. – #NewZealand, we never wanted to say goodbye!

Thank you Akhilesh Gupta for all the efforts you put into making this memorable trip possible! Couldn’t have been happier! 🙂

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What we packed: (Apart from the basic ‘must carry’ items)

  • Comfortable clothing & inner-wear (Minimum since the weather was cold and it’s easy to carry around a light luggage)
  • Overcoats/Leather Jackets/Winter-wear
  • Thermal Wear
  • Hand Gloves
  • Beanie
  • Cap/Hat
  • Poncho/Rain Jacket
  • Extra Pair of Shoes. I carried 2 pairs of Boots. You may want to carry a pair of slippers too.
  • Sports/ Trekking Shoes
  • Ready-to-eat meals
  • Toiletries
  • Prescription Medicines and first aid kit. We carried Odomos (Insect Repellent), Relispray (Instant Muscular Pain Relief), Avomin (Nausea), Soframycin (Burns/Injury/Skin Infection), Band Aids (Cuts), Betadine Cotton Buds (Antiseptic for wound), Alcohol Pads (Wound cleaning and disinfecting), Rantac/Eno (Acidity), Electrol (Weakness), Crocin/Dolo (Headache), Voveran (Pain Killer), Tiger Balm/Power Gel (Topical Pain Relief), Roko (Loose Motions). Please consult your doctor. These are OTC’s only for emergency.
  • Scarf
  • Hand Towels
  • Quick Absorbing Towel (Quite handy while trekking and you want yo take a quick dip in hot springs on your way) We got these from #Decathlon
  • Quick Absorbing Socks
  • Portable Charger (Useful! We could manage to click 12000 pics from 3 phones in 10 days thanks to a handy charger)
  • Selfie Stick
  • Sports wear for trekking. Comfortable and Stretchable.
  • A haversack for carrying all your stuff during treks. We got these from #Decathlon
  • Swim wear (Preferably 2 if you are taking a sulphur bath. Your clothes will stink. Mine still does even after 6 months. I’ve washed multiple times and giving it a lot of sun as well. You could wear an old swim wear for a sulphur bath.)
  • Once there stock up on snacks like chips, cake, protein bars and liquids like Red Bull (For the one driving the car especially), Gatorade and lots of water. Keep them in your car always for a quick munch.
  • Compact Body Pouch for your Passports & Money/Cards
  • Universal Adapter Plug
  • Collect all brochures you see at the airport

 

What you need to know:

  • NZ is really safe. But you need to be careful too. Leave behind all your jewelry at home. Even fake ones that look real. Don’t stop for hitch-hikers. You may take this as being rude, but it’s a new place, you might want to be safe here.
  • All the places are perfectly mapped and the pathways are tracked really well. Just follow the rules mentioned and stay on the trekking path.
  • There are no wild animals in NZ. So venture into forests and dip yourselves in the waters without fear! But only where places have been marked with details. Read everything before starting off.
  • NZ is an expensive place including the activities. So keep that in mind before planning a trip here.
  • Ideally Self-Drive (right-hand drive) here. That’s the only option you have if you really want to consume the beauty of this place! Be ready to drive a lot. Akhilesh drove close to 2500 kms (both islands) in 10 days! But perfect, empty roads and automatic transmission made the drive easy and fun!
  • Book your hotels and activities in advance. Call them 24 hours in advance to confirm your presence/ pickup.
  • Fuel up your car whenever you can. We found Gull/Mobil – value for money.
  • Exchange your currency, preferably at a single place. You’ll save on the service charges when you reconvert them.
  • Schedule all your outdoor activities before 5 pm since most shut services post this time. Check timings online to avoid disappointment.
  • Check the parking time limit before parking your car in a city. You don’t want a parking ticket! We weren’t aware and got a very expensive one for parking (near the Pizza Place) a few minutes over the max time limit. Check this website: https://www.drivingtests.co.nz/resources/where-can-you-park-and-for-how-long/ for details.
  • Read the road and traffic rules online and also in the book the car rentals provide you with. Abide by them.

 

What we got back from NZ:

  • Collagen Face Serum (You can buy Mud packs too)
  • Tiki (small, carved ornament which can be used as a neck-piece and it symbolizes the first man in Māori legend. Also associated with fertility and the virtuous qualities of Maori womanhood) as a souvenir,
  • A cuddly sheep soft toy for all the cuddly sheep we saw in NZ & of course,
  • Lots of beautiful memories (apart from the 12K pictures/videos), we can never forget and possibly cannot express it in mere words. You can see them below by clicking the link 🙂

CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS FROM OUR NEW ZEALAND TRIP UPLOADED ON FLICKR

Add in your thoughts about this post and about NZ! 🙂

Till then,

Happy Travelling!

Divyashree Mangalorkar Gupta

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Chinchoti Waterfall Trek

After planning for so long to go on a trek, we finally decided to start small with #ChinchotiWaterfalls in the midst of #Tungareshwar Forest. This place is so close to Mumbai and accessible from Vasai/Naigaon, it is a must visit for anyone who lives in Mumbai.

It is an easy trek for beginners, but anyone can get lost in the forest. You won’t really find markings on trees like most blogs may have mentioned. You may spot an arrow or two on small rocks but you can never trust them because due to the force of wind/water it could point any direction.

To get to this place, you can catch a train to Naigaon/Vasai station and take an auto to Kaman Phata and start your trek with the help of local shopkeepers/people you see in the vicinity.

If you are travelling by a private vehicle like we did, then you can park your car at this spot (check image below).  I had asked my cousin who has been to this place before to point out the exact location on map since on Google Maps it showed a route near Tungareshwar Shiva Temple and I wasn’t sure if there is a route from there.

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We had our driver along so it was easy for us to park and get off here. You can park anywhere in the field-like area, hopefully. From this point you need to go walking. We started from home at 6 am, so we were pretty early that way. We reached the parking spot around 7 am. The trek doesn’t start yet!

Here’s something no blog has ever discussed about! Dogs! Yes, as soon as you enter the trek area, you will be welcomed by 10-15 dogs who will not just follow you wherever you go but also try to pounce on you and fight with each other. We tried to get rid of them but couldn’t do anything. To top all that, most of us are scared of dogs. We asked locals for help to try and keep them away from us but they kept telling us there was no way really. They follow you right till you reach your destination and return with you. Apparently, they follow you for food which most trekkers here feed them. We bought a couple of biscuit packets and fed them. While they were still eating, we hurriedly left the scene leaving them behind but well, they still caught up with us and started walking around us while fighting and growling amongst themselves.  Pissed and frustrated, we almost gave up and planned to cancel the trek 3-4 times. We had already wasted around 30 mins going in and out of the forest. We tried one last time with the local shopkeeper and he gave us a suggestion. He asked us to hit the dog with a stick but we couldn’t do that for obvious reasons. So he did that on our behalf and asked us to carry a stick just to keep them away from us. So one of us kept tapping the stick on the ground and though the dogs still kept following us, they did maintain a distance. So finally, we started our trek, still afraid of the howling dogs!

Once inside the forest, we came across forks in our path a couple of times. We accidentally took the wrong path and eventually got lost inside the forest for a good 2 hours trying to figure out where to go. With the help of the compass on one of our phones, we tried to choose paths ahead. We could see paths where waterfalls would normally flow but were now dry. We saw huge rocks and ascended difficult steep areas of the forest and by now we were pretty clear we were not going right. We waded through huge cobwebs. That was a sign that people didn’t take this path for sure. We could see the falls far away across but didn’t know how to reach there. You know how the ways inside a forest can be. You may go north east but eventually reach north west. We were worried since we were aware of wild animals in the forest and that they did come out after 6 pm.

Now, there were just 2 dogs with us who weren’t of any help either. They never guided us and were hopefully enjoying getting lost with us. We did feel safe, though. So we almost for the final time disheartened, decided to head back home as we really weren’t sure where we were going.  Just then, a miracle happened! Like my husband calls this an epiphany! One of our friends spotted a local and we asked him to take us to the falls. He kept declining the help by saying he is here to collect herbs but after we offered him money, he agreed to guide us to the falls.

Already exhausted from the long walk, we took many little breaks and the dogs took power naps too along with us. It took us 45 mins from where we were lost to reach our destination, but the feeling you get when you finally see the beautiful waterfall is breathtaking. We craved that view so much and were so happy that we didn’t take the road back home without seeing this beauty. We had not planned to swim in the water but after the tiring hike, who wouldn’t want to take a dip? And such cold refreshing water! Be careful as the depth can mislead anyone. So enter at your own risk and be careful of water currents. A lot of drunkards apparently come here, so beware of tiny glass pieces near the  rocks. The extra pair of rain footwear helped us here. Don’t hurt your feet!

We were told that there will be many people being weekends but we were alone when we reached and after sometime we saw a group join in. So after a peaceful time in the water, we dried ourselves and had some snacks and water. We found a huge flat rock near the waterfalls, so we quickly settled and played a round of monopoly deal (card version) in the midst of the forest. After spending a good 2 hours near the falls, we decided to make our way back home. The return was now easy and it took us barely 45 mins to 1 hour to reach our car. So by 3.30 we were out of the forest and heading home. Mumbai traffic took us 3 hours to reach home, but that’s another story!

The last time my husband and I trekked, it was in New Zealand. This was our first trek here with friends and of course it was way different. From canceling the trek a number of times due to a dozen dogs following us into the forests to finally deciding to do the trek and then getting lost in the forest for 2 hours, and then finally making it to the waterfalls, it was one adventurous trek. It’s by far one of the simplest treks, but we complicated it by taking one wrong path that led to many other wrong paths. But to think about it, the best part of the trek was getting lost in the wilderness and the thrill of finding our way back!

So what did we learn from this experience?

1 – Always take a guide if you are not sure. We could have saved the lost time inside  the forest, had we convinced any one local with money to guide us through the forest.

2 – Ignore the dogs. Be stern with them to keep them away if you are not comfortable with them jumping on you. We fed them post our trek. Or go with a dog lover who can handle any kind of dog with ease.

3 – A guide wouldn’t really be required here. The trick to know which way to take when you see a fork is to check which path has more litter. This was the only place where we went hunting for chocolate, paan masala, snack wrappers and empty bottles. We were saddened by the litter in such a green forested area but since there were no arrows to guide, the litter was our only guide to know whether or not we were still on the trekking path.

 

Best time to visit:
– During or right after rains. Other times you may not get to see the waterfall. Just dry.

What to carry:
– 1 Litre water & 1 Litre energy drink like Gatorade per person
– Dry snacks like Chips, Cupcakes, Energy/Protein bars
– Bagpack
– Insect Repellent
– Portable Charger
– Cap
– Raincoat/Poncho
– Extra Pair of Clothes
– A Pair of Floaters/Slippers
– Sturdy Trekking/Sport Shoes (Saw many dead soles on our way)
– Hand Towel
– Bath Towel
– Personal Medicines and First-Aid kit. (I carried Odomos,  Alcohol Pads, Band-Aids and Pain Relief Spray)

What will you see inside the forest:
– Dogs, following you.
– Crabs, big-small-black-white crawling on the ground
– Spiders and Spider webs
– Wild Mushrooms
– Snake & Ant Hills
– Streams, dry and wet
– Huge Rocks
– And finally the waterfall!

Some Pictures:

It is a beautiful place for a day trek that’s and so close for Mumbaikars! Thank you Akhilesh Gupta (Husband), Milan Kakkad, Pawan Punjabi and Yash Thanawala for one great day!

Happy Travelling,
Divyashree Mangalorkar

The Island Where Everyone Wears A Gas Mask!

Mount Oyama

Resting atop a chain of volcanoes, Miyake-jima is an island in the Izu group, southeast of Honshū, Japan. About 160 kilometers south of Tokyo , this town is a hub for volcanic activity where over the past century, the volcanoes have erupted six times. The worst of these occurred in June 2000 when, after a repose of 17 years Mount Oyama which is an extremely active volcano spot erupted & 17,500 earthquakes hit the island between June 26 and July 21.

Inside of Mount OyamaEruption of Mount Oyama in Miyakejima Japan Picture

During the assault of eruptions and earthquakes, ash plumes soaring as high as 10 miles enveloped Miyake-jima, and heavy ash fell as the craters collapsed. High levels of toxic sulphur dioxide would regularly rise up through the ground, making 20 percent of the land not fit for habitation. Covered with a cloud of harmful sulphur dioxide gas, spewed into the air by volcanic eruptions, the islands heavy weather systems and cold make it worse. At one point, it was so bad that it was polluting the air with 42,000 tons of sulphur dioxide per day. Those who have studied the volcano’s patterns have found that it goes off in intervals of 20 years.  But even when Mount Oyama isn’t mid-eruption, it continues to emit sulfuric gas.

Miyakejima Panorama Photograph

The eruptions released so much toxic gas into the air that three months later in September, the government had to force a mass evacuation of the entire island. Over 3,600 people evacuated the island in 2000 because of the toxic gases which could harm their lungs. For five years, Miyake-jima was declared off-limits, with the barren island resembling a post-apocalyptic world. Dead trees and rusted cars peppered the derelict space. Mount Oyama continued to emit 10,000 to 20,000 tons of sulphuric dioxide gas from its summit every day for two years following the eruption. Slowly, though, the evacuation order began to lift, and in 2005 citizens were allowed to return to their homes.

6_gas mask town japanGas Protection

Despite the high level of volcanic activity that causes poisonous gas to leak from the earth, some island denizens just can’t stay away! Some opted to remain in their relocated houses in Tokyo, but about 2,800 chose to return, taking back the island’s abandoned buildings. They have adopted ways to suit the living conditions in the island.

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Considering the re-populating of the island, nearly a third of Miyake-jima remains permanently uninhabitable and the government mandates regular health checkups and enforces age restrictions in certain areas. In terms of monitoring the air quality, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been watching the volcanic activity through videos, helicopter and satellite images.

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In the meantime, civilians walk around with gas masks to protect themselves from the toxicity. All residents and visitors are required to carry gas masks, and an air raid alarm goes off when the sulfur levels get unhealthily high. So when the air quality gets bad enough, the town turns into a masked extra-terrestrial looking crowd of people seemingly attending the same themed costume party.

Miyakejima The Gas Mask Town

But all that poisoned air does have its perks. While many wouldn’t exactly call this an ideal spot for tourists, some curious about this town where the citizens wear gas masks do venture through. Gas mask tourism is a huge draw for people who want to pretend they’re living in the post-destruction age. With disposable masks sold at ferry stations and local stores, this gas-soaked village hasn’t kept tourists away. The city’s site advises visitors to learn about the harmful effects of sulfur dioxide before visiting as it can be quite damaging to one’s health. They even suggest tourists get a respiratory medical exam before booking the trip. Visitors can also take tours of abandoned houses, flattened cars and a school gym half-destroyed by lava or dip themselves in hot spring baths, until self-awareness hits and visitors realize that they find disaster enjoyable enough to pay for.

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