Category Archive for New Zealand + Australia
Now that I’ve been to New Zealand, I understand why travel bloggers consistently put the country on their “top destinations” lists. The photo above sums it up: dramatic nature and oceans, Lord of the Rings vibes. And Auckland has a fabulous underground culture as well, which I’ll show you in this final post.
As you’ll recall, I joined the Contiki Sun and Steam tour (with a fun group of fellow young travellers). The trip began and ended in Auckland, NZ’s largest urban area.
I’ll take you inside the fierce and funny world of Caluzzi Cabaret — a drag queen extravaganza located on the infamous nightlife strip, K Road.
I’m never going to part with this fluffy monster bag… but I do have other kawaii and Goth Japanese fashion available, on my fashion blogger shop (come browse).
Contiki group tours are catered to 18-35 year old travellers, meaning that we had a lot of free time to enjoy nightlife, and explore Auckland on our own.
At the same time, our tour leader Monique and driver Dyson made sure we had a superb overview of the city’s top attractions. They were always glad to give us recommendations, and join in on the fun.
We stopped at Bastion Point to take in the gorgeous views of Waitemata Harbour and the city of Auckland. The wind added drama to my Black Milk cape!
(Photos by Salima Remtulla, who joined me on my Contiki journey)
I found this epic view of the Sky Tower, which rises like a spaceship in the distance.
We walked around the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial Park. It’s a tribute to the first Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, known for his progressive welfare policies.
Savage is revered as one of NZ’s greatest prime ministers. His tomb lies by a reflecting pond and these beautiful gardens.
Contiki gave us a free day to explore Auckland, so I browsed the chic local fashion in Britomart (see more). But when dusk falls, it’s time to party…
… And these ladies really know how to put on a show!
I was thrilled to see the famous drag queens of Caluzzi Bar and Cabaret, located on the famous K Road (the gritty, alternative nightlife strip of Auckland.) Address: 461 Karangahape Rd, Eden Terrace, Auckland 1010.
I was welcomed by the friendliest bartenders and queens, who made sure I always had full glass of local Matawhero wine.
Caluzzi is a drag queen cabaret with a wonderfully inclusive atmosphere. The tables were packed with groups of friends, bachelorette / hen parties, and lots of locals.
The gals put on a fierce floor show, with a funny air stewardess theme. They dazzled us with their choreographed dancing and singing, working the floor in their glittering stilettos.
Established in 1996, Caluzzi has become known as one of the best nightlife venues in the city. The drag performers are top-notch: makeup, wigs and outfits are all on point.
These ladies went around the room, chit-chatting and posing with the guests. Such a welcoming atmosphere, and I couldn’t stop smiling at their wicked, campy remarks.
Between the song-and-dance hilarity, the drag queens played the part of the perfect stewardesses, and took our meal orders. We got to choose from a variety of tasty main courses, and everyone got garlic bread and soup to start.
While we dined, the ladies put on decadent costumes, and entertained us with a variety of routines. In this group number, they went outside and performed in the street, while we watched from the window!
You’ve got to see this short video of them in action. Just another night on K Road…
Everyone got up and cheered during this Lion King inspired number. She spread her wings and lip synced to “The Circle of Life.”
Other acts involved audience participation, dance-offs, and even a Maori-inspired performance.
Caluzzi Cabaret in Auckland is pure fabulosity. Be sure to reserve a space in advance, as the seats fill up fast. Check out their website for upcoming showtimes and bookings, and say “hiiii” to the gals for me.
K Road, the nickname for Karangahape Road, is known for its colorful and grungy nightlife. You’ll find dive bars, strip clubs and tattoo shops here (but don’t worry, Auckland is not at all dangerous).
I spotted plenty of weird art installations and street art on K Road, such as this pentacle-eyed emoji. I guess Gregor Samsa (the cockroach man from Kafka’s Metamorphosis) somehow wound up in New Zealand…
There are also lots of cute, hipster boutiques. These fox pillows caught my eye.
K Road is one of the best places to shop for NZ made fashion, and independent designers.
Come during the day-time, so that you can shop the alternative design stores.
You’ll never be bored on K Road. At night, it comes alive with bars, performances, ethnic restaurants, you nae it.
I ran into a group of teenage skater boys. When the stores are closed, they use the smooth floors for practising tricks.
Ghosts of K-Road. If you’re into subcultures and alt nightclubs, you can’t miss this district (and Caluzzi’s drag queen cabaret, which is located here.)
And now, it’s time to fly away to my next destination. I still have lots of Slovenia and Scandinavia posts to share with you, and I’ll be somewhere both old and new in the upcoming weeks.
If you could hop on a plane to anywhere in the world, where would you go? Hmm…
Better Late Than Never, Hong Kong: travel TV show with William Shatner, Henry Winkler! Sydney Opera House.
Thank you for your fantastic response to the Hong Kong episode of Better Late Than Never, the new NBC show travel TV show!
It was a dream come true to hang with The Fonz, Henry Winkler (of Happy Days fame)…
… and William Shatner, aka Captain Kirk on the original Star Trek. That is indeed me, dancing with Shatner in the streets of Mongkok, for this travel TV shoot! (Thanks to Thomas for this epic shot — full photo credits below.)
I’m very happy that “Better Late Than Never” has been raising lots of laughs and positive reactions! I couldn’t believe it when the producers contacted me to be part of the series. I was flown to Hong Kong and got to take part in this second episode.
This hilarious travel-reality show stars Terry Bradshaw (quarterback and broadcaster), William Shatner (Star Trek’s Capt. Kirk), Henry Winkler (The Fonz on Happy Days) and George Foreman (boxer and grill-master). Along with comedian Jeff Dye, these funny guys travel around Asia in search of adventures and Zen, with lots of mishaps along the way.
Their journey throughout Asia includes Tokyo, Kyoto, Seoul, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I was thrilled to have them be in Hong Kong with me — my friends and family even got to join the big dance scene in Mongkok.
(My dress is Spider by Natalie Lam. I’m currently selling a lot of my personal wardrobe; let me know if you’re interested in any of my fashion/accessories! Take a look at my store listings here, and email me to let me know what you’d like.)
The weather was a little iffy that day, but the rain and clouds cleared in time for the big dance number. Believe it or not, we took over one of the busiest streets of Hong Kong!
The Fab Four arrived on the scene — Henry Winkler turned his camera on us for this shot. Terry Bradshaw whipped out a microphone and burst into song!
Then it was time to dance, dance, dance. I was impressed by their ability to pull off a choreographed number!
So much fun, to dance in the streets with Captain Kirk and Fonzie!
(All of the amazing photos above are by Thomas Sandfield of Sandfield Productions. Thank you for capturing this epic day.)
I was glad to have my local friends with me, to take part in the scene.
Chaos, color, song… that’s the spirit of Hong Kong! Can you see me dancing with William Shatner in the middle?
(Above two photos by K. Lau of Bright Production.)
I also filmed a scene on the minibus, where I talked about Hong Kong’s travel attractions and general awesomeness. (Love the V-fingers photobomb behind me.)
What a joy to joke and riff with Henry Winkler and George Foreman, for this TV scene. They’re truly kind and humble, and up for anything!
Here are more black and white images from Thomas Sandfield of Sandfield Productions. It was a genius idea to pair “culture and Zen” William Shatner with “let’s roughhouse and sing” Terry Bradshaw on a travel show!
We were dancing along to the Otis Day and the Knights song “Shout (You Make me Wanna).”
Above shots by Arthur Rash. Thanks to everyone who supported the TV shoot, and for watching NBC’s Better Late Than Never!
On that note… I never got around to posting about my travels in Sydney, Australia. But better late than never, right?
If you have me on your Snapchat (@lacarmina), then you’ll have glimpsed me taking selfies under Harbour Bridge, earlier this year. (Since many of you asked, I’m wearing Karen Walker sunglasses.)
I’m wearing a Black Milk top and skirt: this Great Wave maxi-skirt is one of my favorites (see me wearing it at New Zealand’s Hobbit Town). Blackmilk’s designs are fantastic for travel because they’re lightweight and don’t crease, and easy to pack in luggage. (And stylish, of course). My fuzzy purse is from Mercibeaucoup in Shinjuku.
I had never been to Australia, and had very little time to explore. However, it was worth the trip to go down under and at least see Sydney. I’ll have to come back soon to see the Gold Coast, Melbourne and more.
As a first-timer, I had to visit the Sydney Opera House. I took the subway to Circular Quay, and walked over.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is also located here. Many travellers do the “bridge climb” where they walk on top of the structure for panoramic views. I’m not afraid of heights, but you aren’t allowed to take your own photos, and must wear a not-so-stylish jumpsuit… I’d prefer to pose below, wearing Black Milk!
Even from “down under” the bridge, you can’t beat these views of the harbor.
(My sunglasses are Karen Walker, similar to these round ones by her. More of her styles below.)
I don’t usually like to do “tourist” activities in cities, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Sydney Opera House tour. This guided tour lets you go inside the concert halls and see Jorn Utzon’s masterful architecture up close.
I learned, for example, that the “white” sails of the roof are actually made over a million chevron tiles, in two shades of cream. Our guide spoke about the politics involved in the construction process, and how the Danish architect eventually left the project. (He’s never even been inside the completed structure, which opened in 1973.)
I had the opportunity to see Jørn Utzon’s room, defined by concrete structural beams and a 14 meter long tapestry of his own design. On the opposite end, giant windows overlook the harbour waters.
Our guide spoke about how Utzon solved design problems in innovative ways, such as by peeling an orange to see how the curved sails could fit together.
As you can tell, I learned so much from the multimedia Opera House tour. Anyone who is interested in modern architecture should check it out.
I selected the Tour and Tasting Plate, which ends with an al fresco meal underneath the sails.
At Opera Kitchen, I got to try a three-tiered lunch set with a range of finger foods: sushi, mini burgers, dumplings, salad and more.
The perfect lunch for sharing with a friend, especially when paired with Australian pinot noir. I got to enjoy the sunshine, and bask in this uninterrupted view of the Harbour Bridge and waters.
From Circular Quay, it’s a short walk to the Royal Botanic Garden. This large park is filled with different themed gardens, and has a pond and Asian pavilion.
It would be tragic if went to Sydney and skipped out on Bondi beach. I rode the subway to Bondi Junction, and then hopped on the bus that runs frequently to the beach. When you see this curving cove of sand, you’ve arrived.
This 1 km long beach is classic Sydney. I watched surfers ride the waves, and walked barefoot on Bondi’s warm and soft sand.
Time to chow down. I’ve heard that Sydney is famous for its breakfasts, and found this to be true. This salmon eggs Benedict, with an almond milk flat white, was as good as it looked on my Instagram.
I loved the breakfast at Ceru Restaurant so much that I came back for dinner. (I went to the Potts Point location, but the restaurant is currently moving to a new spot.)
I was accompanied by my friend Leanne, writer at Trashtastika. We were charmed by the Middle Eastern ceramics near the windows.
British chef Tom Kime launched Ceru as a celebration of Levantine cuisine. He incorporates flavors and recipes from the Eastern Mediterranean, infusing them with a modern interpretation.
We started by sharing a spread of mezzes and salads. Beetroot and chickpea purees, with cucumber sticks and pita — everything is organic, and the menu is vegan and gluten free friendly.
Fresh pomegranate, mint, and pistachio add dimension to this lamb dish. These Levant spices pair marvellously with Ceru’s craft cocktails and cold-pressed juices.
I’m still thinking about Ceru’s honeycomb baklava ice cream… with flavors of burnt caramel and roasted nut. Possibly the tastiest and most creative dessert I’ve had all year.
PS – you can find out more about Better Late Than Never on their website, including viewing times and clips.
I leave you with a few more scenes from this huge network shoot. There were so many moving parts, but the team pulled it off.
“We-eee-eeel…. / You know you make me wanna (Shout!) / Kick my heels up and (Shout!) / Throw my hands up and (Shout!)”
Have a happy weekend!
Maori culture tour of New Zealand with Contiki! Rotorua hot springs, haka dance, Atticus Finch restaurant.
Kia ora! When I embarked on my Contiki tour of New Zealand, I was especially excited to see the native Maori culture. Their Sun and Steam journey covers the entire North Island, with an emphasis on cultural experiences.
On this stop of the tour, I’ll take you around the town of Rotorua, a historical home for the indigenous people of Aotearoa.
I even got to see a Haka war dance, where the Maori men stomped their feet and made intimidating faces, with tongues thrust out!
From the glowworm caves of Waitomo, the Contiki bus took less than two hours to reach Rotorua. This charming little city is located on the shores of Lake Rotorua, home to black swans (yes, these creatures really exist).
The Maori settled here centuries ago, due to the unique geothermal landscape. Rotorua’s hot, bubbling springs provided natural heat. The thermal mud pools were also an easy way to cook food (in the hangi style) — and today, they lend themselves to natural spa treatments.
The lake itself is not sulphuric. Rotorua has charming parks and gardens, and it’s a pleasure to stroll around the pier.
I couldn’t take my eyes off these black swans with red beaks. They were hunted to extinction in New Zealand, but later reintroduced from Australia.
My Contiki bus drove to the Te Puia cultural centre, in the Whakarewarewa valley, for a group activity. This is the home of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, and a famous erupting geyser.
Contiki tours have a number of included activities, which let you bond with others on the bus. (They also offer plentiful “me-time” on the itinerary, so you can explore whatever you want, at your own pace.)
We split into teams for an “Amazing Race” around Te Puia. We had to complete funny tasks and piece together clues, before time ran out.
The Amazing Race took us to a hut, where local artisans showed us how to do Maori weaving and wood carving. At the Kiwi house, we saw the cute little flightless birds who are the national symbol of New Zealanders.
At the center of the park is Pohutu Geyser, which means “Big Splash.” This is the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley for a reason: the geyser spurts up to twenty times per day, and can reach 30 meters in height.
The bubbling mud flats created an otherworldly landscape.
Some of the friends on my Contiki tour took part in Ogo, which you might know as “Zorb.” Essentially, you climb into a giant plastic ball with water in it, and roll down the hill! Zorbing isn’t for me, but I enjoyed watching others take part in this amusing activity.
Back at Sudima Hotel, the group congregated for a special dinner: a hangi feast. All of the food was cooked underground, using the natural geothermal steam. My favorite items from the buffet were the kumara (a type of sweet potato only found here), fish, and a gooey bread pudding type of dessert.
Then, a group of Māori dancers took the stage to perform the Haka, or ancestral war cry. They stamped their feet, bulged out their eyes, and extended their tongues while making big, frightening expressions. The haka serves to intimidate opponents, but also to make the performer feel powerful, and commemorate special occasions. The dancers later invited the men in the audience to try out the movements for themselves!
Some of the performances were women-only. In this “poi dance,” the ladies swung around a ball on a string, creating patterns and rhythms in the air. I tried to do this on stage, and ended up hitting myself in the face…
Everyone took part in the Ti Rakau or Tititorea, also known as the Māori Stick Game. This involves the rhythmic throwing and catching of sticks, from one person to another.
I had another delightful meal at Zippy Cafe in Rotorua. Still dreaming of their New Zealand flat white (microfoam steamed milk over espresso) and Moroccan salad.
Zippy is a cute mascot from a local kid’s show. At the back of the cafe, he stands in a Super Mario themed mural.
New Zealand wines are much-coveted these days. I suggest trying local varietals while you’re here, since many are not expoted out. I quite liked The Ned Pinot Gris, which has a rose-like tint.
Rotorua has an “Eat Street” district, filled with international restaurants. This area uses a geothermal heating underlay to keep the outdoor patios warm all year round.
On the way over, we passed a food trucks fair. Rotorua truly is a foodie city.
One of the highest-rated restaurants in town is Atticus Finch. (Address: 1106 Tutanekai St, Eat Streat, Rotorua)
Local sisters Cherry and Kay strove to make Atticus Finch a lively dining experience for groups of friends, with an open kitchen and huge heated patio. The bird cage, filled with candles, hints at the literary inspiration.
Atticus Finch’s cocktails are standouts, made from fresh fruits and herbs. The dinner menu is designed for sharing; everything is made from scratch, with carefully selected ingredients.
Quite a few items are vegetarian and gluten free. I loved the handmade gnocchi, seasoned with date puree, spinach and almonds.
One of the walls displays a quote by Atticus Finch, from the book. He’s known for his words of wisdom and tolerance, such as: “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
All of the dishes were clean, yet tasty — often with an Asian fusion influence. I recommend the unique haloumi cheese salad with broccoli, rocket, sunflower seeds and cranberries. You can’t leave without ordering the Chargrilled Kumara (local sweet potato), seasoned with smoked cashew orange chili.
As for dessert, the photos speak for themselves. Lemon and almond cake, with red wine poached pears, mint and citrus accents. The perfect way to end my time in Rotorua.
And this photo sums up the fun I had on my Contiki tour of New Zealand! It was fantastic to meet 18-35 year olds from all walks of life, and living in different countries.
We gathered for a Contiki tour group photo, at this viewpoint near Auckland.
(Photos by Salima Remtulla and La Carmina)
I confess that at first, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy a group bus tour. Contiki, however, is not your typical travel company.
The tours are tailored to millennials, and give plenty of free time. I wouldn’t have been able to see so much of New Zealand’s North Island in a week, if it weren’t for them.
If you’re planning on traveling somewhere, especially alone, I encourage you to check out Contiki. They have tours for all types of interests and budgets, in destinations worldwide.
PS: if you’d like more New Zealand travel tips, check out all my NZ posts here.
PPS: I’m currently in six countries all around Europe — check my social media @lacarmina (linked on the right sidebar) to see the latest updates!
I hope you’re in the mood for pretty photos today… because New Zealand really knows how to work it!
When I arrived in the Bay of Islands on my Contiki tour, I felt like I had entered a living postcard. Waterfalls, dolphins, beaches… no wonder NZ is one of the world’s most beautiful destinations.
I had no regrets about traveling with Contiki, a vacation company for 18-35 year olds. Everyone on the group tour got along well, and the schedule had plenty of “me time.” You could go off exploring on your own, sign up for activities, relax with a book, party all night with new friends… it’s up to you.
Contiki‘s journeys are all about living life to the fullest, and treating each day as a new adventure. I was inspired to do something different from my usual trips: get up close to nature.
My Contiki trip started in Auckland, and then we drove about three hours north to Paihia. With a misty morning view like this, it’s easy to see why Paihia is considered the jewel of the Bay Of Islands. (The Bay refers to an ocean-front region with laid back towns like Kerikeri and Russell, and 144 islands).
Paihia’s beaches invite both relaxation and adventure. Tourists come her to take part in all sorts of outdoor activities: scuba, fishing, skydive, parasail, kayaking.
I confess I’m not usually an outdoors / sporty type… but it would be tragic to miss out on the natural beauty of New Zealand. My friend recommended kayaking in Paihia, so I signed up with my Contiki tour manager, Monique. (If you want to take part in an optional activity, she makes all the arrangements including transportation.)
Coastal Kayakers offers half and full day tours; I’m glad I went for the shorter one, as I was tired after several hours of paddling! Our instructor showed us how to use the oars and pedals in the rear of the two-person kayaks. Then, we were in the water and off.
Even if you’re a total beginner, you’ll get used to the rhythm of the strokes. The pace is leisurely; every so often, we took breaks to admire the stunning Oceanic scenery.
One of the highlights of the journey was when our Coastal Kayakers guide led us into a mangrove forest. We weaved our boats through the tress of this unique ecosystem. (Photos by Salima Remtulla)
As we passed by these remarkable mangroves, our guide spoke about their unique characteristics. These twisting trees grow in areas with low-oxygen soil, and the shallow waters let sediments accumulate to support a diversity of wildlife.
Our guide pointed out a flock of birds nesting in the branches with their children. We held our kayaks together, and she told us a legend of star-crossed Maori lovers whose tears flowed into the Waitangi River.
These tangled roots and branches look stunning in photos, but they have a purpose as well. They draw in fish and other sea creatures, and shelter them from predators. The roots also stabilize the mangroves during the daily tides, and build up sediments in the mud.
We ended the tour by paddling up to Hararu Falls. The image looks more hardcore than it is — people don’t go over the waterfall, but can approach the roaring waters from below.
The horseshoe-shaped Hararu looked a bit like a miniature Niagara Falls. The falling water creates a foamy top layer that reminded me of a bubble bath.
We went on land for rest and refreshments, and everyone in the group got to know each other better. Then, it was back on the kayak for the 30 minute journey home.
Coastal Kayakers was the highlight of my time in Paihia. I’m happy I challenged myself on this eco-tour, and was rewarded with the beauty of the Bay of Islands.
Back in Paihia, I reverted to my modus operandi… and explored the fashion in this cute town. Paihia is a tiny vacationer’s spot with a handful of retro vintage stores, cafes and artisan boutiques.
I couldn’t resist getting a scoop of gelato, although it was hard to pick from the 100+ flavors. I went with licorice, as it reminds of absinthe ice cream I had in Prague.
Later that evening, I had fresh New Zealand seafood at one of the ocean-side restaurants. NZ has all types of international cuisine but is famous for its fish and mussels, so I encourage you to seek it out.
I went inside this shop that sold Maori art. Love the intricate patterns and tattoos that are part of the native culture.
I learned from our Contiki manager Monique that “Aotearoa” is the widely known Maori name for the entire country.
The Contiki “Sun and Steam” tour includes all breakfasts, and a number of group dinners. I enjoyed dining on fish and chips at the Paihia Ex-Servicemen’s Club. This venue is usually for members only, but Contiki has special arrangements that let us through the door.
Monique poses with the hostess, “Auntie,” who came to each table to introduce herself and make sure we had everything we needed.
At each stop on the tour, you can choose to join a variety of optional excursions (for a fee, but it’s less than if you booked it on your own).
While I kayaked, photographer John Contompasis went on a catamaran cruise around the Bay of Islands. His group saw all types of marine life, and he captured this dolphin jumping out of the water!
The dolphin cruise also sailed to Hole in the Rock on Motukokako Island, a natural wonder that you can pass through.
Arr, there be pirates in Paihia. After spending time on the water, I understand why many travel bloggers consider New Zealand one of their favorite destinations.
I’ve heard of bus tours that force you to stop in tourist traps such as warehouses. This was never the case with Contiki — we always took lunch and bathroom breaks in charming towns, where we could find lunch or mosey around.
In Whangarei, I strolled by the sailboats and went into a free art exhibition.
If “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” I wouldn’t mind dreaming about these creatures.
The Contiki bus also stopped at Tane Moana, home of the giant Kauri Tree. Check out the size of the trunk compared to little ol’ me. (The entire tree wouldn’t even fit in a vertical photo.)
Tane Moana also had a rainway walk that led through the forest. I looked up at this canopy of leaves.
The bus ride itself was a pleasure. Everyone enjoyed the ever-changing scenery from the window, and chatted and listened to music.
Contiki buses are also equipped with Wifi internet, in case you need to Instagram or Snapchat your experience. (I did — I’m @lacarmina on these social networks).
Looking back at these photos, I’m amazed at what I got to experience in just seven days. I didn’t get to see New Zealand’s South Island this time, but that gives me a good reason to come back soon.
What do you think of my Contiki tour experience? Have you ever spent time in the great outdoors, on an eco or adventure trip?
PS: I’m gearing up for six new destinations this summer… announcement soon. I’ll give you a hint. Miffy!