That Magical Wanaka Tree

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Apart from Milford Sound, the only other reason why I wanted to go to the South Island was The Wanaka Tree. I've read so much about this lonely tree even before we left for New Zealand, so I was adamant to find it whilst I was in the country. 

We arrived in Wanaka just after sunset so we didn't get the opportunity to explore the beautiful town. When we arrived at the hotel, the first thing I asked for was the location of  the most photographed tree in New Zealand (apparently) because I booked the hotel without knowing my geography (which is typical of me). I didn't expect that the tree was indeed only a five-minute walk away from our hotel. I was very excited to say the least.

And because we only planned to stay in Wanaka for a day, my best option was to see the lone tree in the morning before we left for Queenstown. I knew that the area is often flocked by tourists and so I made an extra effort to get up before sunrise and walked to the tree.

When I opened our hotel room door, I was greeted by birdsong and some windchill. Good thing that I disguised my pyjamas in a trench coat so I felt a bit warmer. I ran down the stairs and walked onto the wet grass. I passed by the little pond overlooking our hotel room. I looked back and thanked the man I left in the room for giving me the freedom to explore on my own and for trusting me. Without his gentle encouragement, I wouldn't have enjoyed my New Zealand adventure as much as I did. 

As I carried on walking, the lake and the snow-capped mountains started appearing before me. I walked very slowly so I could enjoy that temporary moment of solitude. I listened to the calming sound of the waves. I watched the dancing leaves on the trees as the wind blew towards my direction. The fresh air when it touched my face was very comforting. Ah, I wished I was a poet so I could have written a beautiful poem about my early morning walk in that unfamiliar place. Engulfed by the serenity of the place, I got lost in my thoughts very quickly. I almost forgot about the tree until I heard a dog barking.

Then I realised that I was no longer alone. A man followed the dog and in a true Kiwi fashion, he stopped and said hi. I suppose he figured out that I wasn't from there because the first thing he asked was if I was enjoying my stay so far. Before he carried on running, he told me to look behind me and oh my God, I saw one of the most astonishing views ever! It looked like the snow-capped mountain was on fire. I can't even describe the intensity of the sun's reflection on the mountain. It was just wow! And before I could even thank the man, he disappeared. And once again, I was left alone to savour the moment with what I could only assume as Mt Aspiring.

I continued walking on a high until I could feel a gentle pinch on my skin. The sun was shining on me! I think I have not witnessed a proper sunrise in a very long time and I was delighted to experience this with myself in one of my favourite little towns.

With so many things to be thankful for already that day (and I was only up for 30 minutes), I began to finally get a glimpse of the famous tree.
According to an article I've read, "the tree started life as a fence post at least 77 years ago". And that's as far as I would go when it comes to the history of the tree. :)

Anyway, I was even more excited because I got there before anyone else did. I didn't take any photos straight away. Promise. I wanted to see for myself why the tree is so special. I figured out three things that morning: location, appearance and light. Location because the tree sits in a middle of a beautiful lake, surrounded by equally beautiful mountains. The tree's unique curvy branches, some almost touching the water, are perfectly imperfect. I guess the sunshine gives more character to the tree. It definitely made the tree more magical when I was there.

Worried that people would start arriving soon, I took my camera lens off and started shooting. To be honest, I've had my camera for almost two years now and I still haven't properly worked out how to use it. I settled for the basic settings because I am lazy and I don't have the patience to read instruction manuals. I am not good at editing photos either, so I can guarantee you that  my photos are unedited. :)

So, when it came to shooting the most beautiful little tree that  I have ever seen, I relied on natural light. It took me at least 90 shots before I got this:

I didn't even know that the photo turned out like that until I transferred the photos in my computer. The sunlight wasn't consistent at that time because of the rapid movement of the dark clouds, so I was lucky to even get that shot.

Then it was only a matter of minutes until I had company. I took a few more photos and then move out of the way to give chance to a couple who were there for their pre-nuptial photoshoot.

Then I walked back to the hotel with a very grateful and happy heart. I am always grateful for a partner who lets me be the person I want to be and happy that I was able to make another unforgettable memory with myself.

TIN x

The Unforgettable Five-Day Trip From Wellington To Queenstown

Sunday, 7 May 2017

I finally found an excuse to write about our South Island adventure last year. Basically, my family recently went on a road trip to the Northern Philippines and I would be lying if I say that I am not jealous. How I wish I was there to experience the scary zig-zag road going up to Sagada with them, but hey, such is life. So instead of feeling jealous (and home-sick) yet again, I went through our New Zealand photos and realised that I have not written about our incredible journey from Wellington to Queenstown. This is one of the best things that we did in New Zealand. I intend to go back in the future because we missed a great deal of other beautiful and exciting things in the South Island. Five days was definitely not enough.

Anyway, I planned our itinerary in such a way that J could get enough rest in between driving as he hasn't driven long distance before. So, here's how we did it:

Day 1: Picton to Kaikoura via Blenheim (2hrs), then Kaikoura to Hanmer Springs via Leader Road (approx 1.5hrs)
- From Wellington, we took the ferry to Picton, then hired a car from Apex Car Rentals. The drive from Picton to Blenheim was pleasantly short. Blenheim is a town in wine-growing Marlborough region. We passed by vineyards and wineries but we were not so interested, so we continued driving along State Highway (SH)1 to Seddon. Few miles from the main town of Seddon is Lake Grassmere, a lake used for salt-production and apparently, the lake turns into pink in the summer. It was nice to see it from afar, but I don't think it would have been worth a detour. 

The excitement finally came when we hit a small town called Ward towards the pacific coast. It was a very pleasant coastal drive to Kaikoura. Kaikoura is known for whale-watching but we were not in the South Island for that, so we only stopped in Kaikoura for a cup of coffee then headed towards Hanmer Springs where we stayed the night. Hanmer Springs is a beautiful sleepy town. It was quite relaxing just being there. They have hot springs which we considered trying, but we were too tired to even do anything. By this time, we would have been travelling for more or less than 8 hours (ferry + drive).

Highlights
Kaikoura Town and its magnificent snow-capped mountain ranges:

Relaxing environment in Hanmer Springs:

Where we ate 
Robbie's Bar and Bistro, 2 Jack's Pass Road, Hanmer Springs 7334

Where we stayed
Alpine Garden Motel, 3 Leamington Street, Hanmer Springs
- Beautiful, clean and quiet - I didn't expect that from a motel as I've never stayed in one before.    

Day 2: Hanmer Springs to Christchurch (1hr 45mins) then Christchurch to Ashburton (1hr 25mins) 
- The road from Hanmer Springs to Christchurch led us to some amazing sceneries. Suddenly, we were surrounded by green fields, vineyards, hills and snow-capped mountains. Even the grey clouds couldn't hide the beauty of the countryside. 

We arrived in Christchurch around midday on a Tuesday. The South Island's largest city seemed quiet. It was evident that the city was still recovering from the 2011 earthquake. The Roman Catholic of Christchurch was the only establishment in Christchurch that we visited. I regrettably suggested going up to Port Hills for a panoramic view of Christchurch. The road was rather scary- narrow, winding and unpaved in some parts. I wanted to go back as soon as I felt that we were going up, but the ever calm J reassured me that he would drive slowly and carefully, which he did. Luckily, there was an alternative route to go down, towards Diamond Harbour. 

From there, we drove to Ashburton. It was a very pleasant experience to drive over the longest road bridge in New Zealand - the Rakaia Bridge. It was also reassuring that the roads were mostly flat. Another reason why I wanted to take this route was so I could eat salmon in the salmon capital of New Zealand - Rakaia. I chose Salmon Tales Cafe as it seemed like it was the only restaurant rated on Tripadvisor. I was rather disappointed that they only served salmon sandwich. So we headed to Ashburton instead and had dinner at Robbie's Bar and Bristo- again. At least I had salmon there. Haha.

Highlights
The quiet country roads and that dramatic clouds between Hanmer Springs and Christchurch:

The milky Diamond Harbour in Christchurch:

Mount Somers:
We arrived quite early in Ashburton so I asked J if we could drive to Mount Somers because I wanted to see Edoras from the LOTR (Mt Sunday). Mount Somers is a small town 40 minutes drive away from Ashburton, situated on the foot of the Alps. The very scenic route led us to what it seemed like an endless gravel road. We retreated in the end and drove back to our hotel.

Where we ate
Robbie's Bar and Bistro, 360 West St, Allenton, Ashburton 7700

Where we stayed
Ashburton Motor Lodge, 507 West St, Allenton, Ashburton 7700
- The room was spacious and had a view of the park. Everything was spotless. It completely changed my view on motor lodges.

Day 3: Ashburton to Wanaka (3hrs and 58mins)

- Our journey in the South Island became more and more exciting after we left Ashburton. The drive from Ashburton to a pretty town called Geraldine was flat and straight.  As we came out of Geraldine, we were greeted by scenic valleys, rolling hills and mountains. We drove through long and winding roads to the top of the hill, only to descend again until we reached the attractive town of Fairlie. 

After 20 minutes, I could feel that we have reached a high altitude as we entered Burkes Pass. I watched as the green scenery slowly changed into snow covered fields. I knew then that we have finally reached the High Country (Mackenzie Country). Along Burkes Pass is a quaint store called Three Creeks. This is a must stop. They have unique and beautiful products. 

From Three Creeks we drove further on and it wasn't long until we saw the amazing blue lake (Lake Tekapo). Unfortunately, it was dark and snowing when we got to the lake. I thought we would not be able to see the real beauty of Lake Tekapo. But a simple mistake gave us the opportunity to experience one of the most exquisite things I have ever seen in my life. 

Basically, I wanted to see Mt Cook (Aoraki)- the tallest mountain in New Zealand, but we didn't have much time. So I asked J if we could at least go to Peter's Lookout to have a glimpse of the mountain. And so we drove 40 minutes via SH 8 to Peter's lookout and came across another amazing blue lake - Lake Pukaki. It was such a beautiful sight. Sadly, the clouds were quite low at that time so we didn't see much of Mt Cook. Then it was time to have lunch after more than three hours of driving.

The mistake came when I thought that the restaurant I wanted to eat at was towards Wanaka. However, the road led us back to Lake Tekapo. By this time, the sun was out, and we were able to see the most beautiful turquoise lake ever. On top of that, the snow-capped mountains that shone like diamonds, and the Church of Good Shepherd that was beautiful from afar as it was up close. This absolutely made my day!

After about a hundred photographs of Lake Tekapo between us, we left and drove to Wanaka. The road was flat for about an hour and 20 minutes and then suddenly, a rather impressive mountain range  appeared before us. It was hard to differentiate the road from the mountains at first because we couldn't almost see the road ahead. But that, I suppose is the beauty of Lindis Pass. We drove between mountains that looked like chocolates, sprinkled with some icing sugar. It was indeed a very dramatic drive through Lindis Pass. I would love to do this again in the future.

With so much joy and excitement in our hearts, we drove for another hour to Wanaka. We missed the sunset unfortunately, but the following day made up for it- big time. Well, I will have to write about that incredible experience separately.

Highlights
Burke's Pass:

Lake Tekapo:

Lake Pukaki overlooking Mt Cook from Peter's Lookout:

Lindis Pass:

Wanaka:

Where we ate
Reflections Cafe and Restaurant, State Highway 8, Lake Tekapo 7987
- You pay for the food, the service and the view.

Where we stayed
Edgewater, Sargood  Drive, Wanaka 9305
- One of the best hotels I've ever stayed at. Everything was almost perfect.

Day 4: Wanaka to Queenstown (just over an hour)
- Before we left Wanaka, we dropped by Puzzling World which was quite fun. Their optical illusion rooms were very interesting. But the highlight of our visit was the maze. We were confident that between us, we would be able to get out sooner than we thought but we were so wrong. As we didn't have extra time to spare, we cheated. Shhhh. Hehe. It was a good experience all in all and I would recommend this to anyone visiting Wanaka.

Somehow I wasn't anticipating our drive to Queenstown because I knew that we were going to pass through the Crown Range, apparently the highest main road in New Zealand. And boy, was I not scared!? The steep, winding road was ridiculous. It felt like a never ending zigzag BUT, it's definitely one of the best driving routes that we've taken on our journey. As much as I was very scared, I just wouldn't miss the stunning views. I kept my eyes wide open until we reached the Crown Range Summit at 3,530 ft. It was such an incredible view. Simply breathtaking! On our way down, we made a few more stops to take photos of the spectacular views. J definitely enjoyed the rather challenging drive.

When we reached Queenstown, it was quite early to check in so we decided to drive to Arrowtown Village, and man, I fell in love with it at first sight. It's a charming little town with tree-lined streets- just my kind of town. The people were very friendly (as most, if not all Kiwis are). Driving around the little town was quite tricky for us. We missed the sign and drove on to the wrong side of the road. But instead of giving us the "such a stupid" look, or worse the "finger", the locals found it amusing and kindly told us that we were driving the wrong way. Then they laughed with us in the end. That made me love the place even more. 

After our delicious brunch in Arrowtown, we headed back to Queenstown. But J was definitely in for some more driving so we went straight to another town called Glenorchy. I did my research on our way and found out that some of the LOTR scenes were shot in Glenorchy. I am not a LOTR fan as such but I was excited just the same. We decided to drive to Paradise. 

The drive to Paradise was initially  pretty straight with some rolling hills. Within a few miles, we started going up the mountains which was not too bad after our Crown Range experience. The view was consistent with spectacular snow-capped mountains and beautiful lakes (and river). 

And so we drove hoping to get to Paradise soon, but the road was proving to be never-ending, and the paved road that we were travelling on suddenly changed into gravel. It didn't help that it became so misty. To say the least, we were not prepared for that kind of adventure especially after seeing a car turned over on the side of the road, so we made the best decision to go back and drove towards Dart River Bridge instead, where we had a glimpse of Isengard.

Highlights
The Crown Range:

Arrowtown:

The Road to Glenorchy:

Isengard from Dart River Bridge:

Where we ate:
Provision Cafe, 65 Buckingham Street, Arrowtown 9302

Where we stayed:
Melbourne Lodge Bed and Breakfast, 35 Melbourne Street, Queenstown

Day 5: Queenstown
- To be honest, we didn't really explore main Queenstown properly which is why I won't be able to say much about it. I suppose because our ultimate destination was really Milford Sound, which I will blog separately soon. We just made Queenstown as our base. Nevertheless, despite being touristy, Queenstown is Queenstown- so beautiful and lively. 

Lake Wakatipu:

Queenstown:

It took me more than a week to write about this trip to the South Island because in between, I stopped and reminisced the whole experience. One thing is for sure, I wish I'd never left New Zealand despite the earthquakes and the random blustery winds in Wellington all year long. I've never lived in a country as beautiful, peaceful and life-changing as New Zealand. I definitely left my heart in that country down under.


TIN x

My First Three-Course Sit Down Meal At Home

Saturday, 15 April 2017

When J and I moved into our new flat in London, one of the things that we thought about was having family and friends over for a meal. The truth is, I have long dreamed  of hosting a three-course sit-down meal at home, but it was quite impossible to do so in the last 14 years because I was either living in a studio flat or sharing a house with other people. Dinner at home during those times meant a buffet meal or sitting on the floor- Japanese style. When we were in New Zealand, I was able to sort of host a couple of small lunch parties but still, it was more or less a buffet style. It was only when I had my friend Ei over that I was able to somehow have a sit-down meal with a guest. But even so, we had breakfast stools rather than proper dining chairs. 

It took us at least two months to partially furnish our flat in London so it wasn't until then that we were able to invite friends over for a meal. It was sort of a house blessing sans the priest and prayers. The blessing was our friends and their little one. Surely, they have brought a lot of blessings into our home and into our lives.

Needless to say that this was an exciting time for me because I was able to finally  play "plato-platuhan". I had a more elaborate table arrangement in my mind, however our place is still not big enough for that, so I thought I'd start with something  simple for now. So, I proudly laid our dinnerware from Ikea  and came up with the most basic table setting that I learned from when I was training to be a nanny in Canada (yes, I did that). 

When it came to planning the menu, I opted for dishes that I have cooked before. I didn't want to experiment as I knew that I would definitely fail if I did. So to be on the safe side, I cooked what I believed I am good at. :)

For starters, we had "lumpiang Shanghai" (spring rolls). I've never failed on this so far so it was my best bet. As expected, they loved it.

For the mains, I decided to cook two dishes but the star dish was - what else but my famous Kare-kare (oxtail in peanut butter sauce). If I can be honest, this is the only Filipino dish that I can definitely cook with confidence. It's my favourite as it reminds me of my childhood. When I was in grade school, I often   helped  my Auntie Eding at her restaurant and she used to make Kare-kare from scratch. Hers is one of the best Kare-kares I've ever tasted. Because of her, I fell in love with this dish.

Kare- kare is also the first Filipino dish that J ever had. Unfortunately, I have yet to convert him into eating my native food because most are eaten with rice and he doesn't eat rice that much. But he likes my Kare-kare, so we're good. Do I have to mention that my friends enjoyed my Kare-kare very much?

Now, my anaemic naked chicken adobo. I am not proud to say that I can't cook our national dish. I have tried so many times, but each time I failed. I don't know what I have been doing wrong. My adobo never really tasted like adobo. This time though, it sort of did but I used  light soy sauce, hence the anaemia. Perhaps J and our friends were just being polite but they said it was actually good. 

Ah, didn't I just say that I didn't want to cook something that I haven't cooked before? I've forgotten that I actually baked  cassava cake for the first time ever. I was originally going to make fruit salad, but when I showed J a photo of it, he disapproved right away. I also considered leche flan but J has  tried it before and he didn't like it. He said it was too eggy. The rest of the Filipino dessert recipes I found online were way beyond my cooking ability. And so  I thought I'd try  cassava cake because I have seen someone made it before and I thought that I could easily do the same. 

Unfortunately,  my first cassava cake was almost a failure (as well as the presentation.) I basically didn't get the consistency and the flavour that I wanted. Although J and our friends liked it, I definitely  could have done better. Luckily, I thought of vanilla ice cream to go with it. That did the trick I must say.

And so that was my first ever three-course Filipino sit-down meal at home. I really enjoyed the whole process and I am happy that I had the Munchkins to share this beautiful experience with. 

I still dream of elaborate table settings and more formal and fine dinnerware, but I'm sure the right time will come. And of course,  don't forget the Afternoon Tea party. Ah, Royal Albert. :)


TIN x

More Harry Potter Adventure In Oxford

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

To follow on our magical Harry Potter trip to Edinburgh, we headed to Oxford on a stormy day. Yes, typhoon Doris was in the UK and we definitely felt its presence through the strong winds. Luckily, there was no rain so it was a little more comfortable to walk around Oxford.

The main purpose of our trip to Oxford was to see "The Great Hall" and "The Stairway". As a clueless Harry Potter wanna-be, I didn't know anything else apart from that. I later found out that one of my favourite structures in Oxford was in four of the Harry Potter films. The  Divinity Hall was used as  Hogwarts Infirmary, and the Duke Humphrey's Library was the Hogwarts Library, where Harry became invisible. Both of which are located inside the Bodleian Library.

A certain  tree in New College was used in The Goblet of Fire.  This is where Draco was turned into a ferret- this I remember quite well.  The tree is actually visible from the "Bridge of Sighs" - another Oxford favourite of mine.

When we arrived in Christ Church, we were told that The Great Hall was closed until 2pm and were instructed to go back. We bought the tickets anyway, and because we had more or less than two hours to spare, we explored the grounds of Christ Church and then went for coffee at a nearby cafe.

I can't remember if I have been inside the Christ Church Cathedral before, but I am glad I did this time. The interior of the church is a sight to behold. 

We did as we were told, so we were back at The Great Hall just after 2 o'clock. 

I have seen The Great Hall at least twice before but for some reason, this time it was more fun and exciting. Perhaps because I was with my niece, who is a true Potterhead. We did a two-day Harry Potter tour on our own and that was a revealing experience to me. This whole adventure was a reflection of how passionate she is about the things that she loves. A lot of times, I stared at her and admired her for being such an intelligent, enthusiastic and determined person. Quite like Hermione Granger really. :)

So, our Harry Potter adventure ended in Oxford but our Auntie-Niece bonding didn't end there.

When we got back to London, we went straight to The Ritz for our afternoon tea. It was an amazing way to end our 4-day UK adventure. 

I surely miss her writing this because God knows when we'll see each other again (although we're hoping in the next few months). Farrah is a proof that no matter how distant of a relative you are, it's that special connection that brings you closer together. To be honest, I have a better relationship with her than most of my second-degree relations. This is why I treasure our relationship  so much.

TIN x

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