Travel Tips – Exploring a new City

I was passionate about promoting Taupo. You could ask me anything about things to see and do, places to eat, exciting places to explore or adrenaline adventures and I’d have an answer for you. Having just moved, I’m missing my awesome fount of knowledge while trying to learn as much about my new home town as possible.

Exploring is an important part of life. As well as getting me out of my comfort zone (re: commuting into Auckland City for work at minimum two hours driving in peak traffic), it’s helping me settle in faster as I get used to my new town and face the awesome advantages of living in a new area. Exploring also helps us meet new people, grow, learn new things, try new foods and experiment with other cultures and beliefs.

1. Start at the beginning. Here are some basics that you should definitely have covered:

  • Get a map. Before you go if you can. Do a bit of research and mark down at least 5 things you consider “Must Do’s” and another 5 you can fit in if time and budget don’t run out. Mark your base (hotel, camping ground, friends place). If you’re staying at a hotel/motel/camp ground grab their card and stash it in your pocket. If it comes to the worst you can get a taxi home (although this not advisable in some places, especially if you’re travelling alone, this has helped me out more than I can remember).
  • If your room is up high, or if you can get to the top of your building, try and find a landmark. Then, when you go wandering through the city/town/village it’ll help you get a sense of direction.
  • Watch the locals. If the women are dressed conservatively and your girlfriend is heading out in a singlet and shorties you may end up getting in trouble. Or some really dirty looks. Also, the locals know the easiest way to cross the road and where, and they know where the best food is.
  • Prepare yourself mentally for things to be different from at home. Embrace it! The best people travel because they want to get to know the world. You won’t find interesting places to explore if you never step foot outside the resort.

2. Get going!

  • Walk! Pack a really good pair of sneakers and hit the city on foot. It’s amazing what you can cover in a day (my best is approx 20km in Paris!) and you get a real ‘feel’ for the city.
  • Find an alternative mode of transportation. I had a lot of fun cycling through Hoi An in Vietnam and through the country side in the Netherlands. I might get on a bike once a year at home, if the bike is lucky. Being overseas and getting out into the countryside on a bike is such a fun experience I barely even notice I’m getting my exercise for the week. Kayaking, sailboat, four wheel drive and horseback are all ideas that instantly come to mind as well as camel and hot air balloon.
  • Find a quiet space in a busy place and observe the world going on around you.
  • Choose an event that will force you to explore. Doing a marathon in New York and visiting all of the suburbs in such an awesome environment? Cycling the Otago Rail Trail where you get to see remote New Zealand, Or really open your mind at Burning Man, Nevada.
  • Get lost. This is definitely best for smaller places (hello, Venice, anyone?). Forget the map, pretend you can’t access google for a couple of hours and go for a good wander.

3. Explore your own back yard. I believe your don’t have to travel around the world to explore a new city. After reading Alastair Humphreys’ blog http://www.alastairhumphreys.com I’m more convinced of this than ever.

  • Maybe the most important city for you to see through a new lens is the one you grew up in. Particularly if this isn’t where you’re living now. Go back and see what has changed and what hasn’t.
  • Where do you live now? How well do you know it? Could you write down 50 things to see and do within 1 hours drive of your current home?
  • See your home town through the eyes of a tourist. Living in Taupo, an absolute tourist mecca, and working in the accommodation industry brought this one into reality for me. People travel millions of miles to see the Huka Falls or the beautiful local geothermal areas. What brings people to your area (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/ if you’re not sure or http://www.tripadvisor.com – just type in the name of your town)?
  • Choose a challenge. Find something that scares you a little (or a lot, but be safe about it!) and do it! Lived in the country all of your life? Hit a big city for a weekend. Never seen a sheep before? Find a farm stay and get involved.

4. If you’re going overseas, try looking at your holiday from a different perspective. I’ve found the best, life changing experiences when I’ve looked at what I’m doing and where I’m going from a different angle:

  • Volunteer – Give back.
  • Travel green. Whether this is making your trip carbon zero or basing your travel around environmentally responsible accommodation and tours, take another look at how you travel.
  • Accept invitations from locals. For example, when we were in Vanuatu we received numerous requests from friendly locals to join them at church or in their village for celebrations. We would’ve missed out on seeing so much more of the local culture if we hadn’t have accepted these.
  • Learn more about a countries/cities unique cuisine and take a cooking class. Go on a wine tour or try street food, visit boutique breweries and artisan food producers. You can find out so much more about a culture by sitting down and having a meal with a local.

5. In the end…

  • Take notes. Keep a journal/blog/diary/photo diary or even just collect postcards of the places you have visited. They may not come in handy right away, but there will be a point in your life when these mementos remind you of some of the best days of your life. Or, of that really horrible hotel that you never want to stay at again in your life.

I hope these have helped inspire you to explore. You never know what you’ll find.

Wild Stingray Feeding

Ever been sucked on by a stingray? 

Did you know that you can hand feed a ray? 

In awesome kiwi style the guys at Dive Tatapouri have befriended a couple of the local sting rays and have set up tours where you can either hand feed or snorkel and swim with them. This was definitely an adventure I wasn’t going to miss on our recent cruise around New Zealand’s East Cape. 

Heading out of Gisborne on a mission to drive the East Cape we cruised through Tatapouri and noticed the Dive Tatapouri headquarters. In a now or never kind of moment we pulled in and booked in for the following days reef walk.

The next morning I found myself pulling on borrowed socks and a massive (size 11!) pair of waders. I think I was still a bit bemused. Really, yup, lets go hand feed some stingrays. As in the creatures that killed Steve Irwin.

But I didn’t have much time to dwell. We were instructed to grab a pole (bamboo or cattle prod style) and our small group lined up on the beach in our new ‘wall’ formation. We were given instructions for identifying and feeding the rays, then walked single file out into the reef.

Short-tailed stingrays are larger and rounder than the eagle ray and rarer to sight so I was thrillled to see some join us as well as the eagle rays. Feeding them was an incredible experience. It felt like a gummy vacuum sucking the fish pieces from my fingers. For anyone familiar with calf rearing it’s a whole heap like that. I did nearly run into some trouble when a kingfish that was nearly my size took a swipe at my camera (and my hand!) but this just made for more entertainment. 

To be honest I guess I didn’t really think much of my opinion of stingrays until the end of the session when we were asked “does this change how you feel about them?”. Steve Irwin aside, I put them somewhere below sharks and crocodiles and hugely above jellyfish and water snakes in my things to avoid in the water list. 

A previous shark swim at Napier Aquarium had included rays in the tank, but these hadn’t been mentioned in our instructions and other than giving them space I barely gave them a second thought. 

Having seen a huge short tailed ray suck its way up our guides legs, having even the little eagle rays nudge into us looking for food and the easy way they moved around with us and hearing from the guide that as long as the were confident in approaching us and if we avoided touching certain parts of their bodies were were safe, I’m comfortable in the water around them. 

Feeding wild stingrays by hand like this has really changed my opinion of them and I’m thrilled I gave it a go. This is definitely a must do if you find yourself in the Gisborne/East Cape region.  

Dive Tatapouri is located about 20 minutes drive from Gisborne’s town centre on State Highway 35. They do a variety of tours including a Reef Ecology Tour, Wild Stingray Feeding and Offshore Cage Diving.
Contact: 64-6-8685153 or http://www.divetatapouri.com/

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