Rotorua

Rotorua, quite in the middle of the North Island, is one of the world’s most active geothermal and volcanic region, making it an interesting mix of bubbling natural hot springs, mud, lakes and giant redwood forests. It also happens to be the centre of New Zealand’s remaining maori culture, and a hub for activities ranging from mountain biking to rafting.

Steam from underground.
Steam from underground.

Rotorua is situated between several mountains: Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. A maori gentleman I met at the spa told me that kiwis use the mountains as reference points, to distinguish which tribe you come from. Unfortunately as my trip was at first mainly for relaxing, and I didn’t have a car to get me out from the city, I missed out on the mountains and forests.

Rotorua information center.
Rotorua information center.

In the celebrations of Valentine’s day, I was lucky to have a chance to visit Hell’s Gate, quite similar geothermal activities and bubbling steamy and stinky hot pools as in the beloved town I once used to live in, Beppu, Japan. Right away when arriving to Rotorua the familiar odour of sulphur reminded me of the good ol’ times in Beppu, and as they also have different Hells, I felt right at home.

Mini volcano.
Mini volcano.

Hells gate is a thermal reserve, and a spa specialising in mud treatments and traditional massages. I was pampered and treated to an experience consisting of the mineral rich spa pools, a mud bath, and an hour long massage. Apparently after the treatments I looked relaxed, my skin was soft and I was pretty much spaghetti. The rest of the evening was pretty much soaking in my own spa (also a present), and sinking to sleep like a rock.

Spa pools all to myself.
Spa pools all to myself.

Had I had more time, still up and running maori village of Whakarewarewa would have been on my to-do list next. I wasn’t not that interested in the traditional maori dance (performed just for tourists), but more of their hangi food, steam boxes in the natural fumes, again very much like in Beppu. For some reason there were no restaurants in sight in Rotorua making this traditional (and cheap to make!) fare. It is rather sad to see McDonald’s and Subway everywhere, and not a problem to find pizza either, but when you try to find some original food, things get a tad tricky (unless sandwiches and fries are the traditional foods). So far I have not encountered any authentic kiwi food on my trip! I have noticed that they call sweet potato “kumara” and like to deep fry ‘em, and that kiwi burger might have lamb meat (why not, there’s 40 million sheep in the country!), but that’s about it. I wonder if I even get the chance! Anyway, Rotorua is a great destination for anyone looking for a bit of relaxation, some mineral rich water treatments, and spa life. Besides that, it’s a good base for adventuring to Hobbiton, Waitomo caves, and Taupo sky diving.

Wellington

The trip from Nelson to Wellington was rather nice, with a few hours in the cute harbour town Picton, where the ferry across the Cook strait left from. The ferry trip, lasting almost 4 hours, was very much like the ones we have from Helsinki to Tallinn, the only differences being that on this route the water was distractingly clear blue, there was no drunk people and no tax free. Winner winner! We arrived in the capital city of NZ, population 204,000 just in time for the night market. Shuttle bus from the ferry to the train station, another bus to the hostel, and I was hungry for some street food.

Cruisin' to the North.
Cruisin’ to the North.

I read somewhere that Wellington is like the Melbourne of New Zealand, and I did see some similarities: loads of culture, events, street art, hip cool cafes, trendy restaurants. I enjoyed the night market vibes and a waterfront walk before heading to bed in another noisy snoring dorm.

Laneway with hip Soda shop and artisanal chocolate factory. Melbourne vibes!
Laneway with hip Soda shop and artisanal chocolate factory. Melbourne vibes!
Kids skipping.
Kids skipping.

Good thing about cool cities on the weekends is the markets. In the morning I ventured to 2, walking pretty much across town on this quest. Not really knowing what to do, I decided to invest in Weta Workshop tour, giving me more insight in the movie industry and the opportunity to see how the hell they made Lord of the Rings. The tour was very inspiring and interesting, and the temptation to take pictures was almost unbearable! I learned a lot about behind the scenes in such a short time, and seeing Sauron’s costume and weapon, as well as the other weaponry right there in front of me was pretty incredible. The old fangirl in me woke up instantly.

Trolls greeting at the door of Weta Cave.
Trolls greeting at the door of Weta Cave.
King Theodore's armour.
King Theodore’s armour.

After the tour and driving around Miramar and the lovely bay (and stalking Peter Jackson’s house by the sea), I decided to go to the Museum of New Zealand. 4 floors of exhibitions, I was exhausted and overfilled with information afterwards. There was another night market on, and the Chinese New Year fireworks and celebrations. I desperately
needed to charge all my electronics. Next morning, off to Rotorua.

Wellingwood, the heart of New Zealand's movie productions.
Wellingwood, the heart of New Zealand’s movie productions.

6 things I’ve learned in Melbourne in 6 months

As it is inevitably already August, I realized I am halfway through my (hopefully not last) year in Australia. I’ve lived mostly in Melbourne for the past months, trying to live somewhat ‘normal’ life, but with a refreshing one month holiday up north. I don’t think my Working Holiday experience has been like most backpackers’, but then again I don’t consider myself as one. Hopefully I’ll get to see more of my surroundings these upcoming months, but who knows. Here follows 6 things I have learned these past 6 months.

 

Got double suprised at work just because.
 People are extremely friendly. Of course this can vary from city to another and the outback is a whole other story, but in general Aussies and travelers alike are a friendly bunch with their “howyagoin” greetings and other funny stuff they say. One rather effective way of meeting people is the ever so popular Tinder-game. Just keep your expectations low and don’t expect to meet the love of your life, and you might end up with a few new friends (Or the awkward situation where you think you’re friends, and the other person has other ideas…)!

 

Keep your eyes open, you mever know what comes along
 Timing is everything. This applies to finding a job, a house, even friends! I met my best friends in H&m and on a tram, and I got my current job by walking past it before they had opened. When it comes to work, be persistent. If you are looking for hospitality jobs, even Instagram can help you (@cafejobs_melb)! I am still trying to figure out the sponsorship possibilities, oh dear, they do not make it easy. Some days I wish I was a radiologist or a brain surgeon, just to feel wanted here.

 

Sippin herbal tea in my yogapants before yin class
 Take advantage of cheap fitness trials. Or in my case, intro yoga/pilates passes. most yoga and pilates schools offer intro deals for about 50$ for (unlimited) 2 weeks. I have so far been to 6 different studios offering either only yoga or a combination of yoga and pilates. Besides the CBD, South Yarra is the mecca for stretching activities. At the moment I am doing a free 2 week trial at F45 Port melbourne, doing intensity interval group training, which is pretty much the complete opposite of yoga. I love it after the first class, but the location is rather inconvenient without a car.

 

All the things you learn by just walking around!
 Stay on top of your city game. There’s too many things to do and events to attend, new restaurants popping up, and don’t get me started on my endless “must go” cafe list. In terms of activities, I keep myself aware of my surroundings with newsletters from The Urban List, Broadsheet and TimeOut. If these three are not enough, Concrete Playground is a good addition.

 

My kind of supermarket
 Shop smart. Take advantage of the markets (Queen Victoria especially), and go there in the afternoon. Cheapest produce you can find, no doubt, and the experience is way nicer than going to Safeways or Aldi. I challenge myself not to drown myself in drink coffee every day, both to stay clear of the addiction as well as to save me some dough (to eat out more than ever before).

 

Brunch outside in the dead of winter, not freezing.
 The winter isn’t that bad (if you come from Northern Europe). I was dreading for Melbourne winter that everyone seemed to regard as being from hell, but seriously it’s not unbearably cold, and even during the chillest days you can always just layer up sipping your coffee.

Australia brews

And by brews I mean coffee, even though there are some artisanal micro beer breweries around as well. Australia is well known for it’s high quality coffees and love for small, independent cafes and roasters. I was able to visit the Melbourne International Coffee Exhibition in Melbourne Showgrounds last Sunday, where I got properly buzzed with the different brews, beans and required paraphernalia, coffee lovers and meticulous professionals under the same roof. I also had a peek at the World Barista Championships, but didn’t stick till the end because more coffee was calling me.

Sampling Kenyan Gaikundo  from Z microloft, washed with 'clean, bright and sparkling syrup, with up front sweetness reminiscent of white grape, apple and lime supported by delicate undertones of kalamata olives and cherry tomato'.
Sampling Kenyan Gaikundo from Z microloft, washed with ‘clean, bright and sparkling syrup, with up front sweetness reminiscent of white grape, apple and lime supported by delicate undertones of kalamata olives and cherry tomato’.

Time magazine and New York Times both have touted Australia, and especially Melbourne, as the mecca of coffee. I cannot but agree to that, even though I have been exercising my mind strength and limited my cups mostly to wake-up drinks at work. Apparently there are around 300 coffee roasters in Oz, and about 40% of those consider themselves as direct traders, working hard to offer consumers high quality coffee. Sounds legit!

Cool-ass cups.
Cool-ass cups.

Why is the coffee in Oz so great? It all dates back to the Second World War, when Australia’s first green bean trader Ernest Singer found a customer base in the American soldiers stationed in Australia, who often visited Melbourne when on leave. The Italians also played a big role in the great coffee scene, since Italians started vigorously migrating to Australia in the 1920’s when Canada and the USA restricted their immigration laws. The Italians brought among them the love for espresso: while specialty cafes in Oz make more and more filter coffees, the majority is still espresso-based brews, unlike in Europe and The US where we often sip “house coffee” from the thermos, made in the morning and whenever the thermos runs empty. Australia is also acknowledged as the pioneer in the third wave of coffee or specialty coffee. Syphon, aeropress, pour over, cold brew and other methods are available in the neighborhood cafes, and it is not uncommon to order a coffee as you were ordering a particular type of fine wine; to discuss the flavor profiles and washing methods. You can have a 20-minute discussion over coffee and proper accompanying milk (organic, skinny, almond, soy; hot, flat, double) without no one blinking an eye.

Z's chillin' on the shelf.
Z’s chillin’ on the shelf.

This particular interest in origin, quality and atmosphere of the everyday joe made Starbuck close over half of its’ cafes in Australia due to “business challenges unique to the Australian market” in 2008. Ha! Unlike in Europe and the States, luckily in Oz the chain is not the king.

I drink my coffee black to get the most original natural flavors out of it, but I must admit I have spent quite some time watching latte art videos in Instagram and YouTube. Getting the perfect crema espresso and frothing the milk to form shapes is intriguing, and I haven’t had the possibility to practice in a long time now. One day I will make tulips and rosettas like tying my shoelaces. Until then, I enjoy the artwork of others and sip my cups black in small cafes where the varieties are carefully chosen and they know where their brews are from.

Ubud

Ubud is also known as Bali’s home to culture, good (read: health) food, yoga and spiritualism. This village in the middle of Bali attracts those interested in “the journey to self”, exquisite retreats, and/or wood carvings.

The village consists of mainly 3 main roads, two of which are parallel to each other: Monkey Forest Road (at the end of which surprisingly is the famous Monkey Forest), Jl. Hanoman which has few of the healthy organic restaurants also serving raw food from local ingredients, and the actual Main Road which is perpendicular to the first mentioned two. Ubud centre can easily be walked, but it can be a bit frustrating since you hear “taxi taxi” offers approximately every 2 minutes – as if it was wrong to use you own feet instead of a scooter for moving around.

If you don’t do yoga and are not that much into the organic food scene, what to do? Go to the Ubud Market, which has looooads of stalls selling basically the same souvenir stuff. After visiting the Monkey Forest and taking a walk in the famous rice fields, there is not that much anything special besides massages and other pampering.

Rice fields surrounding Ubud
Rice fields surrounding Ubud

 

To the point aka Food issues:
Alchemy. A bit away from the main road (scooter ride away, to be exact), Alchemy has probably the best salad I’ve ever had. Plenty of juices, elixirs, smoothies and raw treats to choose from, this chill out place is perfect for a remote workday, if you happen to be in the need for that.

Alchemy menu
Alchemy menu
Choose your own salad toppings from many awesome and innovative options.
Choose your own salad toppings from many awesome and innovative options.

Clear Cafe. Convenient location in the north end of Jl. Hanuman, this restaurants has lots of international cooked and raw dishes from organic and local products. Also a variety of raw dishes , vast range of elixirs, juices, smoothies and whatnot. Right next to the restaurant is Clear Express selling raw snacks, some cookies, infused coconut water and sweet treats.

Down to Earth. Also spots in other parts of Bali, DTE includes an organic store, cafe, movie theater and a restaurant. Same thing – elixirs, tonics, raw cakes and a menu of organic food. Good mediterranean platter, small salad.

Mediterranean plate with buckwheat flatbread and quinoa curry in Down to Earth.
Mediterranean plate with buckwheat flatbread and quinoa curry in Down to Earth.

Kafe. Same owner than the famous Yoga Barn, Kafe is also located on Jl. Hanuman. Not so much highlighting the raw trend, but Kafe also has juices and such. A bit more pricey than the others, and the main course salad looked more like an appetizer to me.

Plant Food Lab. Near Monkey Forest, this place is a chillout spot or good for remote working. Not really a restaurants, but has small dishes like raw burger, wrap etc. And of course the sweets.

Raw burger, watermelon juice and the rice field.
Raw burger, watermelon juice and the rice field.

Seeds of Life. Menu- and price-wise my favorite. All dishes under 70K (rare!), changing daily specials, simple menu but interesting. Offers tonics with herbs and mushrooms, and a variety of high quality teas. Of course raw desserts too…located a bit off on a side street, but still in the city center. I wish to go there on a Wednesday, when daily specials are Korean.

Honorable mention: Kokolato ice cream. Interesting flavors including Moringa mint chip, strawberry chili, raw chocolate maca and black rice pudding. All natural ice cream made from coconuts.

My kind of ice cream.
My kind of ice cream.

Aforementioned Yoga Barn also has a restaurant, but I only enjoyed their pre-movie buffet dinner so I don’t know what the menu includes. I would assume it’s similar to Kafe’s.

 

Am I forgetting some essential place?