Friday 7 February 2014

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a wonderful city, so densely crowded yet despite this somehow functions smoothly with great public transport and comparable congestion to a typical day in Auckland. The biggest issue with Hong Kong is the significant smog factor, most of it is blown down from China but they do make quite a bit of their own.
Travelling in from the airport the cheapest way into town is to find the appropriate bus (depending where you are heading to). The routes generally all go by one of the cool sites of HK: The port. HK was one of the worlds busiest and largest ports. The constant movement is like a dance of the cranes unloading and reloading massive container ships taking goods around the world. Once downtown, navigating around the city isn’t too difficult. We were lucky enough to stay almost right down town with a local couchsurfer which enabled us to get around easily by walking (near Albert metro station).

Skyscrapers downtown HK
The most obvious thing to do in HK if time is limited is to head to Victoria Peak. From here you can view HK central and all the amazing skyscrapers. To get there it is highly recommended to get a green minibus up and to take the cable car down, thus avoiding significant cues for the cable car up (we had a 2 min wait during peak time for the way down). The mall at the top also has a good selection of food places to enjoy and you can see also see the other islands out the other side of the mall (if the smog isn’t too thick).
We were lucky enough to see the central HK district on a Sunday which provides a unique view of HK (ie all the suits are gone). On Sunday all the local maids/nannies etc… get kicked out of their homes and thousands of them line the covered areas all throughout the town. Its quite fascinating subculture of HK, although sadly they don’t seem interested in talking to the tourists.

Star ferry with central HK in background

The Star Ferry crossing of the harbour is a great way to see both famous sides of the downtown area at once, so great for photo taking. There are numerous awesome food places scattered around the place downtown. Thankfully we had local contacts so knew a few good ones to try out but everything smelt pretty good.

We did a day trip out of the main island to see the Giant Buddha. Fastest and easiest way out there is by metro, followed by buying an island day bus pass. The Giant Buddha is a fantastic site. A lot of people choose to do the gondola way of getting there but the bus provides a more local perspective as you drive through the small towns (and its 10x cheaper). The gondola is quite fun, however, it mainly crosses over 2nd growth forests. The climb up to the Giant Buddha can feel like eternity when you are pregnant but is well worth the walk up there and the views are quite nice. Make sure you walk the whole way around to get blessed! The surrounding temples were under renovation and some were under construction whilst we were there, so we were a little disappointed with the lack of other things to see. This turned out to be a blessing though as we had time to head over to Tai O, another must do day trip.

Giant Buddha

Tai O is a relatively old unchanged fishing village. It is actually very hard in HK to find older buildings as they are all being torn down to make way for new places (even the relatively new places are classed as old!), so the old houses in Tai O were very interesting. We had the worst food here however, as most places were closed so there was extremely limited choice.

Tai O fishing village viewed from the water

The highlight of the village is actually the boat trip. You can get the boats from the main bridge…one side charges 30 HKD the other 25 HKD…for the same thing. You can imagine which one we choose. The short stroll into the fishing village gave quite an interesting view of the area and you got to see a bit more of the traditional fishing lifestyle which is disappearing in the modern HK. Out at sea, we were extremely lucky and got to actually see one of the elusive rare white dolphins. There are less than 75 in the area and they only come out every so often so its quite special to see. The ocean jaunt also provides further perspective on how busy the port is with all the container ships lounging about.

Tuesday 4 February 2014


Tonga, "The Friendly Islands", or officially the Kingdom of Tonga, is a pacific island paradise a four hour flight from New Zealand. We arrived to Fua'amotu International Airport and were instantly greeted with sweltering heat and steamed up glasses. The airport is needing a major overall if it is to handle the intended influx of tourists but it currently does the job. Customs was rather lacking in formality, with the signs indicating lines for foreigners being filled with locals as well, with no one really caring.

Central market Nuka'alofa
We were promptly picked up by the Little Italy shuttle service, who actually run the accommodations we were actually staying at Tropical Villa. Checked in without major issue and were then ferried onto the Villa. The bungalows at the front of the property are very tidy (with the odd gecko visitor at night) and are right next to the road, which didn't really concern us. The main house which has additional rooms (and where Martins parents stayed) were a bit noisier as people actually live upstairs and seem to forget that they make noise during the night. Sadly the pool was under construction when we arrived so cannot comment on this facility. All up it wasn't a terrible place to stay at all, and I particularly enjoyed the air conned reception upon our return in the evenings.

Kings Castle, Nuka' alofa
We started our journey in Tonga by exploring Nuka'alofa, the capital of Tongatapu Island. Tonga actually has many islands but service via ferry is very poor and with a tight time allowance we focused our travels to the mainland. A highlight of the down town area is the local market, which has basically a tourist item side and then a local food market side. As we had a kitchen, we actually tried a lot of local food with our own cooking and in particular ate a fair amount of tuna. Just outside of the central area is the Kings Castle. Its more like a modern day mansion, but access is restricted and we only got to view from the outside.

Ha'amonga Maui Arch
Terraced tomb
After finally sorting out a car hire (its very very tricky to find a place that has low excess or any form of insurance so be careful who you choose) we headed off for a day of exploring focusing on the North Eastern part of the island. One of our first stops were the terraced tombs near Lapaha. There are quite a number of these massive tombs which house the remains of former Tongan Kings. Another ancient monument worth your time is the Ha'amonga Maui arch, which brings memories of stone henge to mind (although its from the 11th century and is singular).

Anahulu Cave
Anahulu Cave offers an unique experience of cave swimming. The cavern that you are lead to is rather large, has bats for added fun and a lot of tites and mites. Additionally if you go during off season and not on a weekend, you'll get the whole place to yourself with no time limit.

Another day, exploring another area this time the far North West. Ha'atafu Beach is highly recommended, with the palm trees, golden sands, its the postcard perfect ideal paradise that people associate with the Pacific Islands.

Ha'atafu Beach
Flying foxes

Spent quite an enjoyable time here and also at the nearby hotel which had great burgers for lunch. Sadly despite this area being a high light it was also a let down. There is no longer any real living coral near the shores (at least that we saw) in Tonga...its a coral graveyard everywhere we went. As a result the water is very mineral rich and leaves you feeling dirty after your dips. You will also get tiny rashes everywhere (minor issue), or at least everyone in our party did. So take some Savlon with you to stop the itchy. There are plenty of tropical fish to enjoy though. Also in this area are the famous flying foxes. Imagine a flying rabbit (but its actually a rat) and you kinda get an idae of how large these fruit eating bats area. Quite an amazing site.


We headed to the Southern coast of the Island to enjoy the blow holes. Total contrast to the northern part of the country with sheer cliffs and obvious ancient lava flows, the blow holes are a must do. We spent quite a bit of time just enjoy the noise and sights of this area and wished that we could have stayed longer really. Quite the spectacle. Just along from the blow holes are rather high cliffs that are best enjoyed by choosing a random road that goes towards the edge of the island.

Final day of exploring with the car we just went to the gaps on the map that we hadn't been to. Found another beach (although the one we wanted was apparently private) and tried our luck again but still found no sightings of live coral and barely any fish around (eastern coast).

Southern Tongatapu Cliffs

An important note, is that not all of the main roads (yellow on maps) in Tonga are actually safe to drive cars on. We actually had to turn back at one point as after investigating, we figured out that we would lose the car if we dare try to cross one of the larger puddles in our way.