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The best things we bring home from our travels aren’t things.  The treasures we acquire are greater understanding of ourselves and our world, the friends we meet along the way and the memories we bank up to enjoy in the future.  But what about the more tangible souvenirs? In my years of traveling, I’ve found some that there are some souvenirs I enjoyed for years, and others that don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.  So, what makes a good souvenir?

A Skill as a Souvenir

Knowing how to do something you didn’t before you left home rocks.  For the rest of your life you can think back on your trip and say that’s when I first learned how to ride a motorcycle, salsa dance, use chopsticks.  As far as I’m concerned the best thing you can learn is how to prepare all those delicious foods you’re eating. (Though I would put picking up a new languages as a close second.)  Many places now offer cooking classes.  Or you can just make a point of hanging out with local women, chatting up the cook in your favorite restaurants, and using the internet.  (I’m a veggie and was recently delighted to discover International Vegetarian Union Recipes Around the World.)

Clothes

In theory, clothes should make great souvenirs.  After all, you probably have to wear something.  So why not something that reminds you of your travel.  But it never quite works out for me.  Here’s what happens: I’m in some rural place admiring the beautiful clothes the indigenous women wear.  I give myself permission to splurge and buy one of these beautiful shirts/skirts/shawls.  And then, I don’t wear it because it’s too nice and I don’t want it to get ruined.

This is dumb, but I keep doing it.  I even know when I’m doing it.  I say to myself, “Now look.  Those women are wearing those skirts out here in the dust heading goats, washing their skirts in the dirty river and hanging them on a barbed wire fence to dry.  There’s no reason you can’t wear one of those to work.” But then when I’m home, the place where I bought the skirts seems so far away.  I know I could never replace it, so I don’t risk it.  I have a great looking closet.

Jewelry

While clothes haven’t really worked out for me, jewelry has. Small, cheap, easy to carry – everything I look for in a souvenir.  I have a collection of inexpensive and yet wonderful earrings I picked up in China, a jade  necklace I made myself in New Zealand and a “power bracelet” with the Mayan symbols for the date of my birth that I bought in Chiapas.  The only down side is that things that are small are also easy to lose.  (An excuse to go back…)

A souvenir you can eat out of!

House Stuff

I’ve purchased a lot of house wares on my travels (hand painted ceramics are a favorite for me here in Mexico), and if I’d had more money, I would have purchased a lot more.  The trouble is, if you keep traveling, you might not actually have a home to put these things in.  Or if you do, you may not spend much time there.

Little Things

My travel partner and I played a lot of cards in China.  Somehow, we found ourselves hanging out in Tsingtao Brewery tasting room without a deck.  So we bought one.  Small, inexpensive, useful, and the fact they are now beer stained just makes them a better souvenir.

There are things I haven’t tried.  I imagine that a tattoo could be an excellent reminder of a great adventure.  Unless things went badly at the ended and you decided that you didn’t want to remember…

And the worst possible thing you could bring home from your travels? A disease, social or otherwise.

What’s the best souvenir you have ever brought home from your travels?

photo courtesy of National Geographic

Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand which means, the land of the long white cloud is a developed country in the microcontinent, Zealandia. It is a fantastic country for a holiday, as it has great attractions, and it has been chosen as one of the best tourist destinations.

The first humans to inhabit the islands were the Maori around 1300 AD, but it was not until 1769 that Captain James Cook was the first Westerner to land on them. Therefore, the human involvement with these ecosystems is very recent and the environment still remains in a quite natural setting and you can find forests and animal species unique only to New Zealand and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

New Zealand is in our antipodes, below us, or better yet as the Kiwis say, we are below them. It is a completely isolated country located in the South Pacific about 1,600 miles separate the coast of Australia. It comprises two large islands and some smaller ones as Stewart Island. The capital is Wellington, although the largest city is Auckland. The country’s population reaches 3.8 million (66% in the North Island) with a total area of 270,530 km2 (slightly more than half of Spain).

Activities in the New Zealand
All aspects that may be of interest to tourists can be found in New Zealand. The people here have prepared a lot of attractions for comfort and ease for tourists, from short strolls among ancient trees to multi-day treks.  Imagine bathing on beautiful beaches or glacier hiking on foot or what the heck, how about flying!  You can see volcanoes and thermal phenomena.  Maybe your looking for unique wildlife or some rafting or maybe you just want to jump into the void and hold your breath.

Entertainment ranges from Maori rugby to trying to find the spot where the set of Lord of the Rings was.  Swimming with dolphins is another popular activity that can be found throughout the country. Wherever you look, the scenery is beautiful, there are fantastic landscapes to enjoy, and it is perfect for all lovers of photography. You can do almost everything in your New Zealand tour.

Trip Dates
New Zealand is perfect any time of the year, but some people prefer to visit this place during winter (August) because the car hire and accommodation are cheaper. The North Island has a very mild winter, while the south is much cooler and has lesser hours of light. Thus, the north has more visitors during this time of the year.

Money Matters
The official currency in New Zealand is the New Zealand dollar. Because of high standards of living in this country, it is not very difficult to find banks and money changers if you have Euro or any other currency.

Entry requirements
You need a visa to enter the country. It is also very strict when it comes to considerations about health and cleanliness. You cannot enter the country if you are bringing plants, food, and other biological entities that may introduce contamination because New Zealand is very concerned with their agriculture, therefore pests are not welcome.

Health
Vaccine is not required to enter the country and the level of hygiene is enviable, but if you have been previously exposed to countries at risk of diseases, you must prove that you are vaccinated. The health system in New Zealand is very good.

Security
It is one of the safest countries in the world. Tourists are even allowed to camp almost anywhere provided that they follow the rules and regulations.

Transport
To make your New Zealand tour worthwhile, the public transport network is varied and complete (taxis, buses, ferries, ferry, domestic flights ). There are several day passes for Auckland that allow you to take all transports. Along the route you may need to take some ferry or ferries to cross a fjord. You can buy tickets by phone before arriving at any point of information you will find the number, times and prices updated. There are also several desirable tourist trains like the Tranz Scenic which cuts across the Southern Alps.

There are several options to travel around this country, but some people choose to rent an RV (recreational vehicle) or a motorhome. So far, people who have travelled this way have not noticed any major disadvantage.

Virtually all the advantages are summarized in economic savings and time involved, plus the absolute feeling of freedom it grants. You save on accommodation and you can stop anywhere to sleep that is not expressly prohibited (or in town centers). This includes unforgettable secluded camping by a lake, right on the beach in front of a glacier.

Accommodation
There are different accommodations available in New Zealand and it all depends on the mode of transportation that you are using. It is also essential to note that there are changes in prices depending on the season, such as summer. There is a variety of accommodations like hotels, hostels, bed and breakfast, farmhouses, country houses, and camping sites. These are all well equipped and very tourist friendly.

Shopping
It is very important also to take something home aside from the lovely memories you have made. The souvenirs sold in New Zealand are Maori inspired. There is a wide choice of crafts and other items like wood carvings, jade, food, and shells.

New Zealand is a very accommodating country, the place is very perfect for people who want to enjoy their holidays with much comfort, yet can still get to experience almost everything from nature. I hope you enjoy your New Zealand tour.

Sometimes our best memories of travel are from being in the right place at the right time. Here, Candace remembers a new adventure on the east coast of New Zealand, all while overcoming an old fear.

Tikitiki on New Zealand's East Coast

Sam nudged me awake at a quarter to six. The sky was still dark and I fumbled blindly around for a sweatshirt. I followed him and Alex to the stable, where we collected the horses: Major, Daisy and Wai, the older mare I’d be riding. We mounted them quickly and set off.

We didn’t want to miss the sun.

I was in the middle of a month-long roadtrip around New Zealand’s North Island, and had just reached the remote East Coast, famously known as the first inhabited place in the world to see the sunrise. I was running behind, as so easily happens on the road when the best-laid plans of our itineraries go awry. The night before, I’d located Eastender Backpackers, one of only two hostels in the area.

Just inside the fence, five figures sporting cowboy hats were lounging around a fire pit when I arrived. Had I somehow stumbled upon the Wild East of New Zealand? I joined them as stars appeared above and made an off-handed remark that the only thing missing was a guitar. Miraculously, one was produced from inside the lodge. Acoustic strumming soon filled the air.

Tikitiki on New Zealand's East Coast

We slept outside, raiding the dormitories for thin mattresses and old duvets from which to build cocoons of warmth for ourselves. Sam donned a headlamp and cut a stock of firewood. We built piles in front of everyone, so that we could keep the fire going through the night without having to get up. I fell asleep tracing the four points of the Southern Cross.

The stars were gone in the morning, I noticed, my hips moving in sync with Wai’s steps. We reached the top of the cliff just in time to see the sun break over the horizon. There wasn’t a cloud in sight, just an endless ocean set ablaze, and the primeval cliffs glowing, distant hills shrouded in the early morning mist. We watched the sunrise on horseback, the moment augmented by the knowledge that we were the first in the world to witness it.

Tikitiki on New Zealand's East Coast

But our adventure didn’t end there. Sam headed down a path that seemed too steep to be safe until we leveled out on the gloriously deserted beach.

“You ready for this?” he asked me.

Truth was, I wasn’t. It’d been a long time–six years–since I’d last been on horseback. Much of this had to do with a college friend of mine who was paralysed from the waist down after being bucked by her horse. Unsettled by her accident, I hadn’t yet attempted to ride again.

And yet here I was, making Sam wait until I could shakily nod my head and pretend I wasn’t afraid. Sam edged Major up to me and Wai until we were side by side. Suddenly, he took off down the beach before I could manage to protest.

Wai was harder to get going. “Give her a kick!” Sam yelled out in front of me. I stood up in the saddle, digging my heels into her side, leaning forward like a jockey until I was flying. My fingers clutched Wai’s mane like the fear surging through my chest gripped my heart.

“C’mon, get into it!” Sam shouted, louder this time.

“Yah! Yah!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. Soon I was laughing, soaring through the surf on a cantering horse, imagining that I alone was responsible for ushering in the sun.

Sometimes, all it takes is giving our fears a little kick in the side…

Tikitiki on the East Coast of New Zealand

 

I recently read an article on travel website about the advantages of traveling when you’re older.  It had some good points, but overall I found it disturbing.  The “older” author was 28.  Twenty-eight! I’m not in my twenties…or thirties.  But I still go schlepping around with a backpack whenever I get the chance.  Here’s what I’ve learned about following the wanderlust into middle-age:

 

1.     You can do it (but start somewhere easy)! If you haven’t been a vagabond traveler before, or if its been a decade or two, start by going somewhere easy.  Freshly divorced and thirty-six years old, I dug my backpack out of the basement and escaped to New Zealand.  It was the perfect destination for someone who had been bogged down by “real life” and hadn’t traveled for fifteen years.  Every town had a public restroom that was so clean you could eat off the floor, one or more well-marked hiking trails, and an information kiosk which could tell you where to go, how to get there and even book your accommodation.  New Zealand is so easy to travel in that if you bring your brain, you’ve over-packed! The combination of no language barrier, easy travel arrangements and accessible outdoor adventures make it the ideal destination for getting your feet wet and building your confidence.

2.     It’s the antidote to cynicism. What with climate change, war, global economic meltdown- it’s easy to be pessimistic about the future.  You’d have to really have buried your head in the sand to not be cynical by the time you reach middle-age. Traveling restores your faith in human-kind.  Cluelessly wandering the other side of the planet, I am totally at the mercy of strangers and they always take care of me.  Sure, once in a while someone will rip you off, but everyone could do this, and only a few do.  Other travelers are inspiring and the fact that most of them are younger makes it better.  When you are surrounded with young people you enjoy, respect and admire, it gives you a sense faith in the future.  That alone is worth the price of the ticket.

 

3. Travel is richer when you’re older and wiser. You have the perspective that comes with more life experience.  Sometimes you even get to show off your wisdom.  For instance, I’ve noticed that a lot of young people haven’t been sick enough to know their meds the way we old farts do.  I heard one girl describing Pepto, Tums, and Imodium as different strength cures for the same symptoms.  Indeed, I’ve gained notoriety among my younger friends for spreading the gospel of Gas X.  I’ve also had more time to study the places I visit, met more people from there, accumulated more background information and more interests. (Yes, I now engage in bird-watching.  No, I don’t knit.)

 

4.     Even if you’re still poor, you’re probably not as poor as you used to be. When you’re 20 you really haven’t had a chance to earn any money yet.  At 40 you have.  You’ve also had a chance to pay down those student loans, and accumulate more stuff than you’ll ever need.  I’m still a shoestring traveler, but I don’t skip a cool sight because the admission is $10.  And when I’m feeling crabby for no reason I splurge and get the room with hot water and television.

 

5.     Okay, some things are harder than they were when you were twenty, but that’s even more reason to do them. Of course I felt old and fat climbing pyramids with all those healthy youth, but extending yourself is the only way to improve (or at least maintain) your physical fitness.  What’s the alternative – sit in the office eight or ten hours per day as your butt slowly spreads to overflow the seat of the chair?  Unfortunately, the extra challenge is not limited to physical activity.  Sitting in Spanish classes I often lament the fact that try as I do, I just can’t pick it up as quickly as most of the younger students.  Here again, this is even more reason to do it.  Must exercise the gray matter. I do have the advantage having all those hours that I can’t sleep at night (bienvenida a menapausia!) to study.

Bottom line: don’t let age stop you.  People will even yield seats on the bus to you once those gray hairs start to show.

New Zealand. Photo by Mrs. Gemstone.

From a six seated twin otter plane, out of Wellington International Airport, came an exhilarating view of the glorious New Zealand coastline, spectacularly beautiful landscape, vast mountain chains, steaming volcanoes, lush rain forests, wilderness lakes and much more attractions. New Zealand is an Island situated two thousand kilometers South East of Australia across the Tasman Sea .  The 268,021 square kilometer Island nation is separated into North and South Islands. Wellington often called windy Wellington is the capital city of the country.  It is located at the southern edge of North Island.  The country with a 4.3million population has a unique and vibrant culture with eleven official languages.  Nearly eighty percent of the population are Europeans, fourteen percent are Maoris and rest are Asians and Pacific Islanders.

In New Zealand majority of the population is concentrated to sixteen main towns. The country is one of the most recently settled major landmasses in the world.  According to the recent findings the Maoris inhabited the country around 800AD.  Around eight hundred years later the Western world discovered New Zealand in 1642.  The first European to set foot on New Zealand soil was Captain James Cook of Great Britain in 1769.  Settlers from Britain started to arrive in the 1830’s, and by 1840 Treaty of Waitangi handed sovereignty of the country to Britain.  One hundred and seven years later, in 1947 the country declared independence.  Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State and Prime Minister John Key has been governing and overseeing the countries administration since 2008.

The country hosted and won many sporting events.  The 2011Rugby World Cup is one of the premier events on the New Zealand and world sporting calendar. The national rugby team, the All Blacks are well known for the haka a traditional Maori dance that is performed before the start of international rugby matches.  The country also has traditionally done well in the sports of cricket, rowing, yachting and cycling.

In the North Island of New Zealand there are road journeys that will keep you in touch with the sea every step of the way.  Touring country by train is an exercise in relaxation, plus you’ll see parts of the country that aren’t visible from the road.  Auckland is often called “the city of sails”.  The city’s landscape is dominated by volcanic hills, the twin harbors, bays, beaches and islands. Auckland is today one charismatic and cosmopolitan city.  The city is blessed with a massive racing and cruising ground that’s wrapped around a fabulous collection of islands.  Strolling through the city one can expect the unexpected and enjoy sounds of Auckland’s street musicians.

Wellington the capital of the country has a reputation for its picturesque natural harbor and green hillsides .Visitors are charmed by a city which gracefully combines eras and cultures.  The circular conical executive wing of New Zealand parliament building known as “Beehive” on the corner of Lambton Quay and Moles worth Street , the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum ,the National Library, the Westpac Stadium, Victoria University, St James’ Theatre and the 116 meter high Majestic Centre on Willis Street are iconographic land marks in the city.  The State Highway 1 and 2, Ngauranga Interchange and Johnsonville-Porirua Motorway are the main four major high ways that connect Wellington with rest of the towns in the North Island.

One can make the leap to the South Island by ferry from Wellington.  The Cook Strait ferry docks in the historic port town of Picton, where you can catch the Tran Coastal railway south to Christchurch.  At first you’ll enjoy views of the Marlborough wine area before the track turns to follow the coast.  The scenery is remarkable, with the Kaikoura Ranges rising steeply on one side and the Pacific Ocean swells washing over a rocky coastline on the other.  This fantastically scenic rail trip is one of the world’s greatest journeys across the Southern hills that link the city of Christchurch to the rugged West Coast.  The Transalpine covers 223.8 kilometers.  Christchurch called the Garden City is the largest city in the South island and perhaps the most attractive city in the country.  The city with widespread public gardens and parks with shallow river twisting though the city centre and paved walk paths on Cathedral square is a place to go for some in line skating.

The Queenstown is ravishingly beautiful to the visitors and is blessed with an ideal climate. The countless mountains, rivers, lakes, with forests are the perfect place to wonder and browse. Northland, Rotorua , Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu-Wanganui, Marlborough Nelson, Tasman, West Coast, Canterbury, Otago, are other main towns not to be missed.

New Zealand is a developed country with a literacy rate of 99 percent and is the greatest asset of the country with an abundant supply of resources.  The economy of the country has grown at an annual rate of 4 percent GDP (Gross Domestic Production).  The per capita income (nominal) of the nation is $27,017 in 2008; New Zealand is a developed country that ranks highly in international comparisons on the Human Development Index (HDI).  It is ranked among the world’s most livable countries in the world. The service sector is the largest sector in the economy contributing 68.8 percent of GDP to the economy.  Dairy products accounted $7.5 billion of total merchandise exports in 2007.  The three hundred million dollar fashion industry has expanded rapidly from hand full of factories ten years ago.  The expansion of tourism in the country continues to achieve spectacular gains.

The country and the people have the perfect attributes and credentials as a warm and generous host.  It is a haven for those seeking peace, rejuvenation and entertainment as well as a recreational area for thrill seekers and adventurers.