We recently featured the beautiful Spanish city of Alicante in our 17 places we loved in 2017 article and for good reason. Alicante holds a special place in my heart because my parents have had a summer home here for 20 years. It’s a second home, a familiar place to escape. And that’s why I love it. So, here’s our guide to 24 hours in Alicante.
Located on the Costa Blanca, with the closest major city being Valencia, Alicante has lots to offer a respective tourist in a short time. Even though I’ve visited Alicante on day-trips numerous times in my youth, this time I decided to spend the night here and trully get a feel for this coastal city. We took the bus from Torrevieja, which is where my parents house is located and approximately an hours bus journey from Alicante. Our hotel for the night was a 20 minute drive from downtown, so, we decided to put our luggage into the coin operated luggage storage at Alicante bus terminal. If memory serves me right, it was about €5. So, down to business here’s our top tips in our guide to 24 hours in Alicante.
La Explanada de España
First stop coffee! There are lots of sweet little coffee shops lining La Explanada de España and we picked one that was thronged with Spaniards smoking and chatting lazily outside, inside was dark and dusty and very authentic. Very cheap too, I think we paid €4 for a ham & cheese croissant and coffee. Oh by the way, it’s called Cafeteria Ripoll
Afterwards we walked the famous Esplanade and I forced Paul to take lots of photos of me. FYI – as you can see it’s extremely instagram-worthy.
We spent an hour or so walking around the harbour, mainly because it was sweltering and we needed a slight breeze from the ocean. There are lots of restaurants lined along the harbour, great for people-watching but beware they are pricier because of their desirable location.
Alicante Water Museum
Next, we began the daunting hike to Castillo de Santa Barbara with a quick pitstop in the Water Museum because it had awesome air-conditioning. It was actually quite an interesting stop, you can visit the ‘Pozos’ or Wells of Garrigós which are believed to date as far back as the 16th century but were redesigned to their current layout in the 19th century in an attempt to lessen the effects of the prolonged droughts suffered by the city.
Castillo de Santa Barbara
Now, back to the climb to the Castillo, not for the faint-hearted especially during the hottest time of the day (FYI-if you have a car you can park in one of the carparks much closer to the top). It’s free admission to the Castillo. We didn’t spend too much time wandering the Castillo grounds as I was most interested in the spectacular views. We spent a whole lot of time admiring the views from the top and taking lots of photos. There is a restaurant and a little kiosk on site for refreshments, which is a welcome sight in the heat of the Summer!
Barrio de Santa Cruz
This cute and colourful neighbourhood is the oldest part of the city. Barrio de Santa Cruz nestles at the foot of Benacantil Hill. Step back in time as you climb this neighborhood’s narrow streets to Santa Barbara Castle at the top of Banacantil. At night, the atmosphere grows lively as locals head to the Barrio’s many tavernas for tapas and drinks.
La Ereta Park
This park has excellent views of San Nicolás Cathedral and the Port of Alicante thanks to its location on Mount Benacantil. It is also a great starting point for visiting other sights I recommended such as Barrio de Santa Cruz and Castillo de Santa Barbara.
Our guide to Alicante accomodation
We stayed at the cheap & cheerful Ibis, which is as I mentioned before is 6km from Alicante city. We choose Ibis because it was very reasonably priced (approx. 30) also we had an early flight to catch to the airport the next morning and it was on route to the airport with the airport bus service stopping just across the road.
Getting to Alicante
Alicante International Airport is 9km from the city and is the 6th largest airport in Spain. It serves a variety of routes within Europe.
Have I convinced you to visit Alicante?
In short, Alicante is a quintissentially ‘Spanish’ city. The Castillo de Santa Barbara is beautiful, the harbour area very sophisticated with cool bars and restaurants. But the best part for me are the quirky flower-filled streets of Barrio de Santa Cruz underneath the Castillo. Tell me, how did you find our guide to 24 hours in Alicante?
*P.S You can read more about our travels through Europe here and here
Despite gallivanting across the globe, sometimes we do ‘grown-up stuff’ like getting ENGAGED! Through all the beautiful places, bouts of food poisoning, shitty bus journeys, to setting up home in 3 different countries we’ve done it all as a team. True, in our 5 years we’ve probably done more than most couples do in a lifetime and there’s nobody I want by my side challenging me through the rest of our adventures. ‘Til the end, we got this babe.
Announcing our engagement
The quote above was my Facebook post announcing our engagement last weekend. And here’s our story: together me and Paul have backpacked through South East Asia, Europe and Central America and lived in Australia, Canada and currently New Zealand. We’ve been through shit times, a couple of food-poisoning episodes, too many crappy bus journeys, a few horrible hotel rooms, several arguments BUT we’re a team, no matter what. Despite being loud & bubbly I’m a very private person and Paul is the only person who knows pretty much everything about me. And I am very excited to become his wife, aggghhh!
And because my number one question when someone gets engaged is “where did it happen?”, I thought it was only fair for me to share the story of our engagement.
Where did it happen?
Here, in the Bay of Islands where we currently live we have a favourite hidden beach that we go to as much as we can. It’s a 15 minute walk through a rainforest filled with birdsong and eucalyptus trees. It’s always deserted, we’ve spent many a Summer day here swimming and reading. Last Saturday I suggested we go to “our beach” as we call it for a sunset picnic and Paul’s immediate answer was “Yes”. I thought to myself hmm this is strange he usually has some excuse for my spontaneous activity-planning. But shook off my suspicions, happy that I was getting my own way.
So, off we went with a cool bag packed with beers, cheeses, crackers and cold meats. After, we had eaten Paul asked me to stand up because he had something to ask me and proceeded to take a medium-sized box from the pocket of our cool bag (note – it did not look like a ring box so I was still none the wiser). Then, he got down on one knee, asked me the all important question to which I said “YES” and continued to put the ring on the wrong finger!
Turns out he had it planned for months, even asking my Dad’s permission when we were back in Ireland last Summer and he and my mom choose the ring together sending photos over messenger. The sweetest.
What about the ring?
I’ve always said I wanted a unique ring, something nobody else had while at the same time not being too “weird” does that make sense. I was dead set against a diamond and only wear gold. A couple months ago, Paul showed me a google image of a Tanzanite engagement ring (I should have guessed then, being honest) and that was it I was hooked. I wouldn’t accept anything else.
He designed the ring himself through Glamira, and it is to put simply a true reflection of me. He couldn’t have picked a more perfect ring.
How did we meet?
In short, at a hostel in Balmain, Sydney in 2013. I was living and working in Sydney and my friends who were visiting were staying at Balmain Hostel, I went to join them for Australia Day drinks at the hostel. Paul was also staying there and we started chatting at the bus stop before we headed into the fireworks at Darling Harbour. The opening conversation was about our birthdays being on the same bloody day. The rest as the say is history.
And, the Wedding?
Ever since, I dont know how long, the background of my laptop has been of the colourful seaside town of Cinque Terre, Italy. When me and Paul visited here in 2015, I fell in love with the place even more. So, in September 2019 we plan to get married here in one of our favourite places in the entire world.
Tell me the story of your engagement, as you know I love hearing them.
P.S you can read more about our top tips for New Zealand here and here
If you follow us on social media, you’ll know that we have been living in the stunning Bay of Islands region of New Zealand since September 1st last year. Gosh, 6 months – it feels like a lifetime! We have kept ourselves busy exploring this coastal region in the state of Northland, New Zealand because soon, ( May to be precise) we will leave this area to slowly make our way to Queenstown where we plan to live for the next year. (FYI – read more about how we get to stay in New Zealand for so long here)
The weather in the so-called ‘Winterless Far North” has been less than ideal this Summer. According to Northland locals it has been one of the worst Summer’s in years, a complete washout. But, we have had some beautiful days too and we certainly made the most of these fine days. In fact, I think by now we’ve made it to pretty much every beach in Northland.
Anyway enough babbling, here’s part two of our top things to do in Northland, New Zealand .
Have a picnic at Opito Bay
In fact, this beach is nameless, when you get to Opito Bay (approximately a 15 minute drive from the large town of Kerikeri), follow the signs across from the carpark for Ake Ake point. It’s a beautiful walk through the rainforest, filled with birdsong and the distinct smell of teatree, follow the signs for the beach and at the end of a steep hill you will be greeted by perhaps our favourite beaches in the region. In fact, it’s where we got engaged recently! We often come here to sunbathe and swim, and we pretty much have it to ourselves every time. We have started coming here for a sunset picnic (with some beers of course) in recent weeks and it’s become one of my favourite past-times.
Take a scenic drive to Cape Reinga
The famed Cape Reinga, the most Northern Point of New Zealand and the place where two oceans meet (the Tasman and the Pacific). It took us approximately 3 hours, driving from Kerikeri. The road can be a tad tiresome, plus there’s not a whole lot to see after Kaitaia. Tip:if you need to stop for food/ want to bring a picnic stop in Kaitaia as there’s pretty much nothing after here.
Cape Reinga is very popular and can get quite crowded so try to get here early or late to avoid the tour buses. There’s an absolutely incredible beach about a 25 minute walk from the lighthouse called Te Werahi beach. To be honest, we spent more of our time here than at the Lighthouse itself. To get the best photo of the Lighthouse stand at the top of the hill directly facing it.
On the way home, be sure to stop in the picturesque town of Mangonui – which has a great Thai restaurant, in fact the best in Northland, it’s simply called The Thai Mangonui
Have fun at the giant sand dunes in Te Paki
We didn’t partake in sand-boarding here but took a long walk around the dunes which are akin to what I imagine Mars to look like. To rent a sandboard on site is $10-$15. Even though we didn’t join in the sand-boarding fun, i feel it’s well-worth a stop here on the way to or from Cape Reinga.
See a big tree
Tane Mahuta is a giant Kauri tree on the west coast of Northland. The tree is a whopping 51.5 metres tall and has a trunk girth of 18.8 metres. No tree-hugging this one! Known as the “lord of the forest” it makes you feel incredibly small. There’s a kind of surreal peaceful energy that overcomes you in its presence. Tane Mahuta is a 70 minute drive from Kerikeri. There’s a great little foodtruck on-site serving great coffee and freshly baked cakes. It is free to visit Tane Mahuta, which is fantastic considering it’s one of the top tourist sites in Northland.
Did you know – Kauris were depleted by logging, which started in the 1820s, and the few giants that remain are threatened by dieback disease, a rot that is carried on people’s shoes and by mammals. Today, visitors have to hose their shoes and make sure no soil is on their clothes before entering the rainforest. Even the root structures of Tāne are so fragile walkways have been built to protect them.
Explore the wild west coast
A completely different coastal terrain to the eastern side, the west coast is all white beaches, sand dunes and massive purple jellyfish lurking in the shallows (at least they were the day we were there, eeek) We walked a beach next to the town of Omapere that was gorgeously deserted and felt like another world. There is also a gorgeous view point and scenic walk called Arai Te Uru just off Signal Station Road in Omapere for lots of great photo opportunities.
Visit the oldest stone building in New Zealand
Established in 1819, the Kerikeri Mission Station is one of the first places in New Zealand where Māori invited visitors to live among them. Today, the Stone Store, situated along a pretty riverside just five minutes from central Kerikeri, is a captivating place to visit. There’s a pretty little cafe along the river called The Honey House.
Drive one of the most scenic coastlines in the world (according to National Geographic)
According to National Geographic, the Tutukaka coast is among the top 3 in the world. No mean feat, and after visiting this region for the first time this past weekend, I feel it’s certainly deserving of all the praise. Tutukaka is a 80 minute drive from Kerikeri and just 20 minutes from Whangarei the largest city in Northland, New Zealand.
First, we stopped at Sandy Bay a beautiful golden sand beach ideal for surfing. Our next stop was perhaps my favourite – Whale Bay a gorgeous turquoise-hued cove ideal for swimming and kids as it is proptected from the elements. It is about a 10-15 minute walk from the carpark. There is a gorgeous viewpoint here too, a 20 minute walk from the carpark for those all-important photos. Our final stop was Matapouri for the famed Mermaid Pools. The beach at Matapouri is in itself worth the visit, a long stretch of white sand with crashing waves – again, ideal for surfing. The trek to the Mermaid Pools can be tricky especially in high tide, we had to wade through the ocean at one point and after that it’s a steep climb up hardened muddy ground. Tip – I advise this walk only for the relatively fit. Its also easier to go barefoot so you can get a grip on the dry hardened ground.
Surely, I’ve convinced you to visit Northland, New Zealand now…
So, there you have it a snippet into our lives here in Northland, New Zealand. It’s a quiet peaceful existence and as much as we love the quiet life, we’re starting to get itchy feet once again and so are very much looking forward to a move to the adventure capital of New Zealand – Queenstown. Oh and by the way, you can read more about our life in New Zealand here and here
Tell me, have you ever visited Northland, New Zealand? Did you like it? Anywhere we should visit while we’re here? Comment below (I will love you for it).
For any of you who have been following us for a while, you will know that we love the freedom a Working Holiday Visa offers us. We have been travelling together since the start of our relationship 5 years ago and since then have lived and worked in Australia, Canada and New Zealand under the Working Holiday Scheme. Think about it, you move to a beautiful new country, get to explore said country and the nearby surrounding countries easily and cheaply. What we like to call ‘Expat Travel’ is a great way to see the world, because it means you have a base country for the duration of your visa and you can earn money while essentially “travelling”. As much as we love travelling long-term without a care in the world, there is no way we would be able to do that without having lived in and earned a good wage in countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
A working holiday visa is a residence permit allowing travellers to undertake employment (and sometimes study) in the country issuing the visa to supplement their travel funds. For many young people, holding a working holiday visa enables them to experience living in a foreign country without undergoing the usual costly expenses of finding work sponsorship in advance or going on expensive university exchange programmes.
Our vast experience traveling this way has brought me to writing this fact-filled piece. You know how passionate I am about travelling and I want to let you in on our ‘insider knowledge’ on this particular way of travelling. Expat travel it’s a thing.
Here’s how we Expat Travel –
We decide on a country that we are both interested in and one that offers a Working Holiday Visa (from here on in referred to as a WHV), for example Canada. We decided on Canada as our second WHV destination when we were living in Australia under their WHV scheme, we both knew that as much as we loved our ‘home’ of Sydney we were ready for a change and wanted to travel as much as our bank balances would allow. So, we started planning our departure from Australia a year out.
Decision made. Now, we would save our butts off because we weren’t going to move straight to Canada after leaving Australia, we would take a ‘Gap year’ to travel, spend all our savings then move to Canada get a job and replenish those savings again. Expat travel is a fantastic way to see the world, live, work and travel in one country then at the end of your WHV take a significant time off to backpack before moving onto your next WHV destination.
Luckily, for us (as mentioned above) we are from Ireland and England, both passports make it relatively easy to get a WHV. The WHV’s for us costs as follows: Australia is $440AUD, Canada is $250CAD and New Zealand is $208 NZD.
Now for the most important part of Expat Travel – getting the WHV’s for each country:
Perhaps, the most popular of the lot. I think everyone knows someone who’s done a WHV in Australia. This visa is called the Subclass 417 visa. It’s pretty easy to start the application process, you can start applying online here. The first step is to set up an IMMI account (see photo below) and the next page asks you to set some Security Questions and set a Password.
Et voila, IMMI account set-up. You then login to your IMMI account and start the application process for your WHV. It takes about 15-20 minutes to fill out the application.
The visa costs $440 AUD. This does not cover other costs, such as the costs of health assessments, police certificates, or any other certificates or tests you may need. FYI –if you’re a Nurse or plan on working in Social Care or with children you will need to do a health assessment. Find out more about working as a Nurse in Australia here
It can take anywhere between 11 – 32 days to process the visa according to the official Australian Government website
Note – on this visa you can work for any one employer for a maximum of 6 months, there are exceptions to this rule however
Also be aware that at the application stage you will need to prove that you have “sufficient funds”. You must provide a bank statement as a proof you have enough money to support yourself in Australia (AUD 5,000). You may also be asked for this bank statement when you enter Australia so ensure you have a copy of a recent bank statement proving this upon entry.
If you’re looking for an easy entry into Expat Travel then I highly recommend Australia as a starting point. The visa is cheap, quick-to-get and relatively stress-free. The work-life balance in Australia is amazing, with an average of 5 weeks annual leave, 10 paid sick days and the pay is high. Australian employers will even pay your Pension for you (it’s called Superannuation in Australia), and at 9% of your salary that can add up to a lot of money. Which you can claim back when you leave. More on that in the next post.
It’s easy to find a job even a few days after arriving (especially if you sign up with a Recruitment Agency when you land). FYI – in order to work and get paid you need a Tax File Number or TFN, do this in your first few days (more info here) Rent is expensive and hard to come by especially in cities like Sydney and Melbourne. Renting a room is the way to go to begin with, try – flatmates.com.au or gumtree
If Australia is an “easy” visa to get, then Canada is the opposite. Beware, it’s a very time-consuming application process. However, It has changed since we applied back in 2014 and sounds like it’s a bigger pain in the ass. But, I promise it’s worth it in the end. It’s called the IEC Working Holiday Visa Program. Now, settle in potential expat travellers because this is a long read.
Here’s how to be accepted to the IEC Working Holiday Visa Program –
Have a valid passport for the entire duration of your stay in Canada, so if your passport expires a year after entering Canada that’s only how long your visa will be for. Ensure you have at least 3 years left on your passport at the application stage
You must have a recent bank statement proving that you have CAD$2,500, you will typically only be asked for this on landing in Canada
Note – you must have private health insurance for the entire length of your visa. I recommend True Traveller
Submit your profile and choose the IEC pool(s) you want to be in.
Then, it’s a case of waiting to be selected, as you’ll need to receive an Invitation to Apply (ITA) to continue the process. It’s a frustrating wait as the numbers in the pool can greatly exceed the number of permits available.
If you receive an ITA, you have 10 days start your application for a Working Holiday Visa in Canada.
Now, the actual application for a WHV commences:
As soon as you press the ‘Start Application’ button to formally accept the ITA, you’ll have 20 days to submit your work permit application and pay any relevant fees
Gather and upload all the documents (e.g. police or medical certificates) requested by IRCC. If you don’t have these immediately, you can upload proof that you’ve applied for a police cert or medical exam
Pay relevant fees. To get a Working Holiday Visa in Canada, it will be necessary to pay a participation fee of CAD$150, and an open work permit holder fee of CAD$100.
IRCC will assess your application and may request additional documents.
If your application is a success, a letter of introduction (LOI) will be sent to your account. Bring this with you on your journey to Canada as you’ll need to present this to an immigration officer at a Port of Entry (POE), such as an airport or border crossing. This is where you’re provided with a work permit.
In short, although the process for an IEC working Holiday Visa is a lengthy (and at times stressful process) it offers you 2 years to work in Canada up to the ripe old age of 35. You can work for the same employer for that entire time if you wish, and you don’t have to do regional or farm work to get your second year (like Australia). I personally recommend this visa for people who want to set up a ‘home base’ for a longer period of time. A lot of people stay past their WHV and opt for residency, it can be hard to leave Canada – the lifestyle is good and once you get a ‘good’ job it’s hard to leave it behind. BUT, the big downside for us was the measly 10 day annual leave and 0 paid sicks days (that was just the jobs we worked whilst there can’t speak for them all).
It took me a little longer to find a job in Vancouver than Sydney, but again I suggest signing up with a Recruitment Agency to get your foot in the door. The wages are lower here, averaging about $15CAD per hour for entry level positions but the cost of living is lower e.g groceries are cheap (however, chicken and cheese are extortionate in British Columbia). Rent too is a little more reasonable than Australia, we found ours by walking around the area we wanted to live in (Westend in Vancouver) and if an apartment block has an apartment available to rent they will display it on a board outside together with a number to call. Other good websites for renting are Padmapper and Craigslist.
As you may already know, we moved to the Ski Resort of Whistler after 6 months in Vancouver and that’s a whole other ball game for rent. Read more about our life in Whistler here
Working holiday visas to New Zealand are available if you’re in the 18-30 age bracket, but 18-35 in a select few countries. They let you travel and work in New Zealand for up to 12 months, or 23 months if you’re from the UK or Canada. You need to have a return ticket, or enough money to pay for one, and be coming mainly to holiday, with work being a secondary intention.
First step, you need to create an account on the New Zealand Immigration website, link here And see photo below for what this page will look like:
Now, once you’ve created your account go back to the Apply Online page. You must complete all 4 tabs – Personal, Health, Character and Working Holiday Specific. When all tabs show a tick, you are good to go. Hit “submit”.
Review the legal statements, tick all the boxes that apply and hit “submit”.
You are now on the Confirmation Page. On this page you will be invited to pay for your application. Note – your application will not be processed until your payment is cleared. The next page will display your fee (usually NZ$208), click on “secure payment site” in the text.
Et voila, with this all done you wait. It took only a few days for an email to appear in my inbox from Immigration New Zealand stating that my WHV has been improved. Note – to print your visa off you must login to your Immigration New Zealand account
Note – You need to have at least NZ $4,200 to live on during your stay. So, print off a recent bank statement and have this when you land at the airport in New Zealand.
The WHV to New Zealand is probably the least difficult and least time-consuming visa of the lot. It was a very quick process for us, literally within 4 days of applying we had our WHV’s. It was very easy for us to set our lives up here in New Zealand – I found a job pretty much right away (it was a job I had my eye on since we first applied for the WHV and I was lucky enough to get it). Paul on the other hand struggled to find a job in construction, as the town we are living in currently is quite small.
Rent here is a lot cheaper than Australia and Canada (however, my only experience of renting here is in the Bay of Islands and I’m aware that rent in cities like Auckland and Wellington can be on par with Australia). You search for rental properties direct with the rental agencies such as Harcourts and LJ Hooker. Beware – you do have to pay a letting fee here however, you can rent month-to-month which is a godsend for expat travellers.
New Zealand is similar to Australia in that you get an average of 5 weeks annual vacation and 10 days paid sick leave. The work/life balance is amazing and the pay is decent (although not as high as Sydney). Read more about our recent move to New Zealand here
So, there you have it our life of Expat Travel so far. And honestly, I can’t recommend it enough – we’ve lived and worked in 3 beautiful countries together and earned enough money to travel to over 30 countries. We’ve gained invaluable work and life experience and met so many amazing friends along the way. It’s an easy, relatively stress-free way to travel and now that we’ve gone through all the ‘most popular’ WHV’s who knows what our next move will be. All we know is that Expat Travel works perfectly for the kind of lifestyle we want and it may work perfectly for you too. Expat travel it’s a thing. A good thing.
Any questions at all about the WHV system, expat travel in general or anything else please COMMENT below.
2017, despite what people say was a great year. Last year, it seemed global media picked up on all of the problems in the world and none of the solutions. Yet, despite all of the negativity in the air, we had a pretty good time these past twelve months.
We started 2017 in our snowy mountain home of Whistler, took a bucket list trip to Cuba for my 30th in February, then in May we waved goodbye to said snowy home forever and moved onto a backpacking trip of Europe including UK, Spain, Netherlands, Greece & Ireland before packing all of our belongings again to move to our current address of Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Isn’t it crazy how much you can fit into one year?
Anyway back to the point, here’s a list of 17 places we fell in love with in 2017:
17. Athens, Greece
Walking through ancient Athens is like being in a history book, there is so much to do here that you will never see it all unless you’re here for a long time. A must-see is the Acropolis (visit here as soon as it opens to avoid the crowds), we also highly recommend The National Archaeological Museum.
You can purchase a ‘Multi Ticket’ which gives you access to most of the ancient sights (including the Acropolis) for about €30. We stayed very close to the Acropolis and we highly recommend staying near the Acropolis or Monastaraki Metro stations, Athens is a big city and you don’t want to be too far out from all the major sights.
We also recommend NOT to go in July and August as the crowds are at their biggest and the weather is at its hottest, it was 40°C when we were there.
16. Eindhoven, Netherlands
We stopped here for a very quick stopover en-route to Corfu. I’m all about stopovers, I think if you’re stopping there anyway why not make the most of it. FYI – a lot of airlines now offer free stopovers. Not knowing much about Eindhoven, we didn’t expect a whole lot from the city. But, to be honest, after just 36 hours in the city we were won over. It’s well worth a visit. Very clean, it’s almost too perfectly clean and functioning. I found myself likening it to a city in the Sims.
Eindhoven has lots of great restaurants (we went to a Ribs restaurant that was phenomenal), it’s also filled with lots of cool Student-type bar with a focus on in-house brewing, oh, and lots of stag parties. Everyone cycles here, so you have to be mindful of cyclist lanes everywhere.
But it can be an expensive city. Id forgotten how expensive some European cities can be. €100 per person is a safe bet for eating out. Our top recommendations for Eindhoven are the Van Abbemuseum and St Catherines Church.
15. Ballyhoura, Ireland
On a sunny Summer’s day in July, driving the narrow, winding road from Ballyhea to Kilfinane I thought to myself ‘this is the Ireland I came home to see’. I know that’s cheesy, but it’s the truth.
As you all probably know, I’m Irish, but have lived abroad for the better part of seven years. I love travelling, I love seeing new countries and cultures, but I’ve always known in my heart of hearts that I will settle in Ireland one day. Raised in neighbouring Cork, I’ve never visited the Ballyhoura region and so, didn’t know what to expect. But on that drive on a lazy Sunday evening, seeing the mossy green of the Ballyhoura Mountains ahead, I knew we were in for a treat.
We had a jam-packed three days in Ballyhoura including horse-riding, an aqua park, mountain-biking and a traditional Irish music festival. And so when it was over, we drove on down those country roads full of melancholy having tasted the best of Ballyhoura. Read more about beautiful Ballyhoura here
14. Seattle, USA
Did you know Seattle is only a 3 hour drive from Vancouver? Well, as you know we lived in the Vancouver area for 2 years and finally made a trip to the Emerald City. A lot of friends who’d visited warned us of the homeless problem in the city, so we were expecting the worst but it’s no worse than Vancouver or San Francisco, in fact it’s probably better than both those cities.
Anyway, we stayed at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel (I was working for the Fairmont chain at the time and so we got a significant discount – lucky us). The hotel is luxurious, cosy & historic and very central so we walked everywhere. Some fun things we did whilst in Seattle included the Space Needle, Bruce Lee’s grave, Harbor Marina. We walked for hours around the city’s surrounding areas and got a great gut- feeling about this cool city. I would honestly live here.
Most importantly we got plenty of sleep each night (get it – Sleepless in Seattle)!
13. Vancouver, Canada
You may not know this but we lived in Vancouver for 6 months before making the move to Whistler. It’s a stunning city, surrounded on almost all sides by great big looming mountains. Vancouver known as a city where the beach and the mountains meet. Everything good to do and see here involves “the great outdoors” – Stanley Park, Capilano Suspension Bridge, the Seawall. God, I’m missing it massively now thinking of all this.
There’s so may great coffee shops that you’d struggle to visit them all in a year. If you like Korean/ Vietnamese food this is the city for you. It’s a great city to walk around with no definite plan.
Vancouver is undoubtedly one of the worlds most beautiful cities.
12. Corfu, Greece
I’m sure most of you are familiar with Corfu, it is what it says on the tin, a holiday-makers paradise with lush green scenery and turquoise-water beaches, we spent five days here in total.
It’s one of the cheaper Greek islands and public transport on the island is incredibly efficient, so it’s easy to see the whole island in a short period. A top recommendation from us would be to visit Corfu town, it’s a lot bigger than you’d expect with lots of quirky cobblestoned back streets that you can spend hours getting lost in.
11. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia is the perfect country for a quick stop-over & it’s cheap too. Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant city, a little similar to Bangkok. It’s all hustle & bustle, so many people squashed onto its narrow footpaths and everyone going a different direction. Streetfood stalls, that hot humid air smell, honking horns.
You can eat and drink like a King here for next to nothing. There’s so much choice from Balinese, Japanese, Indian even Irish restaurants.
My top top recommendation for here would be to have a drink at Heli Lounge Bar at sunset, just get here before 6pm to get a good seat. Obviously, a visit to the Petronas Towers is a must, Jalan Alor (a long street filled with food stalls) for the atmosphere and Central Market for shopping.
We also visited the UNESCO heritage town of Melaka which was unique and less tourist-heavy making it a more authentic experience.
10. Santorini, Greece
What can I say about Santorini that hasn’t already been said, it’s top of a lot of people’s ‘Bucket List’ for good reason. Sure, the crowds can be manic, it’s expensive and it’s a little pretentious BUT its sunsets are beyond outstanding, its local people surprisingly friendly and what other place in the world can you find hotels built into the side of a cliff?
It’s a photographer’s dream here, the way the light falls onto the quirky ‘cave houses’ is magnificent any time of the day. Most of the hotels here have a pool, but there is also a black sand beach in Perissa if that tickles your fancy.
Our top tip for here is NOT to stay in Oia or Fira (the crowds here are crazy) instead opt for Imerovigli or Pyrgos which offer the same views with less crowds.
9. Kinsale, Ireland
Kinsale is possibly my favourite place in all of Ireland. I’ve always said that when I settle in Ireland it will be in Kinsale. Kinsale is quirky, full of colour and traditional Irish music. It is the ‘foodie’ capital of Ireland with most of the best restaurants in the country hidden down its winding narrow streets.
Kinsale holds a lot of nostalgia for me, as it is where I spent every Summer of my childhood. We left our home in Blarney on the last day of the school term and didn’t return ‘home’ again until the day before school. So, Kinsale for me is entire days spent on the beach, ice-cream from a beat-up ice-cream van and hot chips from a paper bag on a sea wall. When I am home from my travels I always take a trip to Kinsale. It is for me one of the best places in the world.
8. Brighton, UK
Paul’s hometown. If someone can buy us a seafront house here, we may just stop travelling (for a while). Spare $2million anyone?!
It’s very difficult to describe Brighton, it’s a city of extremes from its crowded stony beach, to the tourist trap that is Brighton Pier to the quirky hipster-filled North Lanes. On first look, it may seem like a typical English city but it’s filled with the weirdest characters. People you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world. But that’s why we love it. People don’t give a f**k here, they are who they are and Brighton embraces it.
The restaurants are cool, the bars are cool (even the ‘old man’ bars are cool),the coffee shops are cool. Cool. We’d live there in a heartbeat.
When I first met Paul, my mom asked what part of England he was from and when I told her Brighton her reply was “ah that’s a grand place, he’ll do”. Being from Brighton = instant approval from an Irish mammy.
Brighton, it’s a grand place alright.
7. Alicante, Spain
Another favourite of mine is Alicante, Spain. It holds a special place in my heart because my parents have had a summer home here for 20 years. It’s a second home, a familiar place to escape. And that’s why I love it.
Where my parents house is an expat-heavy area, our next-door neighbours are from London and Scotland respectively and less than a 10 minute walk away is Cabo Roig strip which is lined with Irish bars. On the other hand, Alicante itself is a quintissentially ‘Spanish’ city. The Castillo de Santa Barbara is beautiful, the harbour area very sophisticated with cool bars and restaurants. But the best part are the quirky flower-filled streets underneath the “Castillo”.
6. Naxos, Greece
Naxos is ‘in the middle’ both in terms of its geographic location between Athens and Santorini and its popularity with holiday-makers. It is more touristy than Syros, but less so than its neighbour Santorini. It is very popular with Dutch and Scandinavian tourists and it is indeed very beautiful.
We stayed next to probably the prettiest beach on the whole island – Prykopios, it has some of the clearest water we’ve ever seen and honestly gives the Carribean waters of Cuba a run for its money. A lot of the restaurants here are on the beach, so it makes for a unique dining experience especially because you can watch the sunset from your table.
Our top recommendation would be to spend an evening in the islands capital town – Chora. The white-washed streets here are very similar to the famed streets of Mykonos.
5. Syros, Greece
Syros is one of the first stops on the ferry from Athens to Santorini. It is in the Cyclades region famous for its sunsets and white-washed houses.
It’s one of the least-visited islands in this region and so it was a pleasant change for us after the crowds in Athens. We stayed literally next to the beach in a region called Galissas, a sort of sleepy beachside resort, populated mostly with Greek holidaymakers. The village of Galissas has no more than five restaurants, all very good mind you. And every night we climbed the steps of the little white church on the hill, sat on its wall and watched the sun set into the ocean with a beer in hand. Heaven. Read more about our Greek adventures here
4. Bay of Islands, New Zealand
This September, myself and Paul packed our bags (again) for a move far far away to the land of looming green mountains and crystal clear lakes. New Zealand.
We now live in the Bay of Islands, in the far North of the North island. Life here is slow, and I feel more at home here than “city boy” Paul. We have a little house in the town with a wraparound deck and a garden filled with orange and lemon trees. We can drive 10 minutes to the beach or walk to the rivers and waterfall in town. It’s different for sure, especially since our last home was in the adrenalin-packed Whistler, but it’s good different. We are saving money (rent is cheap here) and earning decent wages and so we’re already planning lots of travel. Fiji, Samoa, Tonga & Hawaii have all been added to the list and all are a reasonable and short flight from here.
For anyone thinking of making the move to New Zealand – I say DO IT (x100). The visa is easy and quick to obtain, the country is beyond stunning (and we’ve only seen a tiny snippet of the country so far), the people are so warm & welcoming and a little similar to the Irish if I’m honest.
You can read more about our move to New Zealand here
3. Meteora, Greece
Now I’m sure most of you have never heard of Meteora, it’s in the middle of mainland Greece and is famous for its Monasteries which sit atop massive rocks in the valley.
It was a unique experience and one of our favourite stops on the trip, we spent our days here hiking to the Monasteries (there are six active Monasteries in total), the photo opportunities when you get to these Monasteries are incredible.
To get to Meteora you catch a train straight from Athens. Two top recommendations from us would be to book a hotel with a view of the Monasteries (there aren’t many so book in advance) and to book a sunset tour to see the valley bathed in a magnificent pink.
2. Whistler, Canada
Whistler has to be one of our favourite places of 2017. Our former snowy mountain home is pure magic, mad but magic. The place is filled to the brim with drunken Aussies, hippie-types living in their beat-up vans, ski-bums and every other stereotype imaginable for a party-centric Ski town. Whistler is a bubble, it’s Neverland, you come here and the place refuses to let you grow up. In Whistler, you get up early and Ski all day, you work in the evening, you party all night, then do it all over again the next day.
Whistler was our home for close to two years and even though the place stressed us out to the max. Especially during the busy Winter months, then the town is manic, every hotel is booked and weekend lift lines to go up the mountain wind like a snake through the village. But, when the stresses of the town get to you, all you have to do is look up at the looming white mountains surrounding you and realise how insanely lucky you are to live here. To experience Whistler’s unique madness.
In short, Whistler is unbelievably beautiful, frustratingly crazy but one of the best experiences of our lives to date.
1. Havana, Cuba
Have you ever been somewhere and for some reason, you don’t understand why, but it just feels right. That place for me was Havana. Okay, I’ve been a tad obsessed with the city since I watched Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights about 15 years ago. And since then, I promised myself I’d celebrate a milestone event in Havana, so, in February I visited Havana for the first time to celebrate my 30th birthday. I struggled to get time off work, I was working in a hotel in Whistler and February is smack-bang in the middle of their busy season. But, I was beyond determined and before I knew it me and Paul were jetted off for 2 weeks to my dream destination.
Anyway, back to Havana’s magic. Havana’s not perfect, in fact its kind of dirty and gritty, the buildings are grand but crumbling and the light here is epic it’s honestly like walking through a very pretty Instagram feed. The Cubans leave their doors wide open, they sit on their front step chatting to their neighbours, their kids run barefoot on the street. The Malecon at dusk is the best place in the world. There’s a passion, a resilience about the city kind of like an eff you to the non-believers. Yes our buildings are crumbling our streets are dusty but we’re here and we’re dancing in the streets. I’ve thought about Havana every day since I’ve returned. Read more about Cuba here
With the start of a new year, comes lots of resolutions to be better – better-body, ‘better’ at saving, ‘better’ in your career. Just all-round ‘better’. My resolution this year is to learn Spanish, because it’s such a beautiful language but mainly so I can go back to Cuba and travel easier. Which brings me to the reason for writing this piece – why Cuba is my favourite destination of 2017.
In fact, that title is slightly incorrect – Cuba may be one of my favourite destinations ever. Here’s why:
Havana has an indescribable magic
Have you ever been somewhere and for some reason, you don’t understand why, but it just feels right. That place for me was Havana. Okay, I’ve been a tad obsessed with the city since I watched Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nightsabout 15 years ago. And since then, I promised myself I’d celebrate a milestone event in Havana, so, in February I visited Havana for the first time to celebrate my 30th birthday. I struggled to get time off work, I was working in a hotel in Whistler and February is smack-bang in the middle of their busy season. But, I was beyond determined and before I knew it me and Paul were jetted off for 2 weeks to my dream destination.
Anyway, back to Havana’s magic. Havana’s not perfect, in fact its kind of dirty and gritty, the buildings are grand but crumbling and the light here is epic it’s honestly like walking through a very pretty Instagram feed. The Cubans leave their doors wide open, they sit on their front step chatting to their neighbours, their kids run barefoot on the street. The Malecon at dusk is the best place in the world. There’s a passion, a resilience about the city kind of like an eff you to the non-believers. Yes our buildings are crumbling our streets are dusty but we’re here and we’re dancing in the streets. I’ve thought about Havana every day since I’ve returned. I guess your beginning to understand better why Cuba is my favourite destination of 2017.
It’s a difficult country to travel
In Cuba, nothing is easy. We were silly and landed in Varadero airport at 5am in the morning with no accomodation booked. We thought there would be touts selling hotels, or a public bus waiting to take us to the city or at least a taxi rank. There was none of that, so, we stood there like silly fools until we found a taxi in the carpark with a sleeping driver and convinced him to take us to an all-inclusive resort which I had thankfully screen-shotted on my phone. We arrived at the resort and the receptionist looked at us like we we had two heads when we told her we didn’t have a reservation. But thankfully they had one room left. We paid in cash and I honestly don’t think anyone other than her and the night porter knew we were staying there. See, nothing is easy here, but it works.
We had a horrible bus experience from Vinales to Trinidad, which took 2 hours longer than we were told and was basically an old prison truck with plastic deck chairs as seats. There were lots of older couples on the journey who were obviously sold something and clearly paid a lot more than we did. In these situations like many others during our time in Cuba you have to just laugh and get through it.
Now matter how many times you visit you will never fully understand it
I think as tourists it’s easy ignore the struggles of being a Cuban, especially if you stay at an all-inclusive resort. On our last day we spoke at length with a Cuban girl at a street stall in Varadero. She told us she can’t leave Cuba. Well not easily anyway, she has family in Miami and in order for her to visit them she has to apply for permission from the Cuban government. Her family then must ‘back’ her application with a letter to the government saying they will host her and ensure she returns to Cuba. She told us that Cubans are the most educated in the Caribbean and she is fluent in 7 languages and studying a Masters in Marine Biology.
She told us that she works at the stall solely to send money home to her parents in rural Cuba who are looking after her children for her, she see’s them once every 3 months because she works 7 days a week. She told us that she’s met an older Canadian man while working at the stall and is tempted to marry him as a way out. She had an old iPhone and when she saw me looking, she told us her family in Miami gifted it to her and it is the most important thing she owns. She told us in every election as long as she’s been alive there’s just been one candidate – Fidel Castro or more recently his brother Raul. Supposedly she told us, this is about to change as the upcoming election is the first time in a very long time the Castro brothers will not be in the running. Yes, there’s big change ahead for Cuba.
There’s limited or no internet
Cuba is probably one of the last remaining destinations you can trully ‘switch off’. To access the internet you queue at an Etecsa store (each town has at least one) show them your passport pay the fee and they will issue you an internet card, these can last for 30 minutes up to a few hours. FYI – in some large hotels they sell these cards at reception. Then the fun begins because you have to find a WiFi spot, which are nearly always NOT outside the Etecsa store in which you just bought the internet card because that would make sense right. See, I told you nothing is easy in Cuba. I think we used the internet a whole 2 hours on our 2 weeks trip, which was honestly so refreshing.
Havana has probably the best night-club in the world
Its called Fabrica de Arte Cubano and it’s so much more than a night club. Contained within an old cooking oil factory, ‘Fabrica’ as it’s known to locals is an art gallery, a live music venue, a restaurant, a street food stall, it has a variety of music rooms playing different genres. The best thing is that you get a stamp card upon entry and when you buy a drink or even food your server simply stamps the card and you pay for what you consumed when you exit. Brilliant. No unnecessary queues at the bar. When, we visited the Havana Orchestra played and I cried, it was magic. I can’t describe how amazing this place is, it is definitely my top recommendation for Havana and another huge reason why Cuba is my favourite destination of 2017.
The beaches in Varadero are the prettiest I’ve ever seen
Just a photo here is enough explanation I think.
Cuba is home to Mojitos and Cuban cigars
If those two things aren’t enough to convince you I don’t know what else to say.
Don’t make your mind up on first impressions
I know a lot of the things I’ve written here may turn some people off. Yes, it’s a complicated country with a sad past that has obviously greatly affected the Cubans. Sure, it’s a difficult country to travel. Everything about Cuba is not easy.
But there’s no place in the world like it, it’s like stepping back in time. There are no McDonald’s or Starbucks, damn you’d be hard-pressed to find a grocery store in the capital Havana. As I mentioned there’s either no or very slow internet. The transport system sucks. It’s a country of vast contrasts from the white sand and palm trees of Varadero to the steamy dusty colourful streets of Havana. Music is everywhere, people dance in the streets in broad daylight. Salsa energy I call it.
The bars in Havana are not really bars at all but like sitting in someones living room. It’s a confusing jigsaw puzzle but somehow all the pieces fit together perfectly. And that’s why for me Cuba is the most fascinating and memorable destination I’ve visited yet. And all the above reasons and more (I could spend all day writing about Cuba if I’m honest) are why Cuba is my favourite destination of 2017.
*Tell Me? Have I convinced you to visit Cuba?
“Don’t come here with a long list of questions. Just arrive with an open mind and prepare for a long, slow seduction.”
Sorry, Mom and Dad but I won’t be home for Christmas (again).
This Christmas will be my third year away from home. The past two were spent in the snowy, cold and very festive Whistler in Canada (psst you can read more about our time in Whistler here) This year will be a huge contrast to 2015 and 2016, as our current home is in Northern New Zealand, the warmest part of the country, also known as “the winterless North”.
Christmas 2017 will be spent on the beach (probably) or at the very least in a bikini in my garden.
Despite Christmas being the worst time of the year to be away from home, the past two Christmas’s having been spent in the ‘snowglobe’ that is Whistler, made missing home a lot easier. Because Christmas there looks like it does in the movies, with snow up to your waist, fluffy hats and scarves to keep warm, steaming mugs of coffee on our balcony and Christmas movies on repeat in the living room.
In Whistler, Christmas felt as right as it could be without my family around.
This year, will be a hell of a lot different as it’s currently 8pm and 22 degrees and I’m sitting on my deck writing this article because it’s way too warm inside the house. It does not feel like Christmas. Which makes the fact that I won’t be home for Christmas a hell of a lot harder.
Even though the town where we live is decorated with Christmas cheer and the hotel I work in has gone “all out” with a massive tree and a huge gingerbread house, still when I hear a Christmas song on the radio, it feels wrong. I haven’t even watched ‘Love Actually’ yet! It’s a strange feeling not being as hyped up as I usually am for Christmas. Maybe that’s to do with living in a warm country, maybe it’s because I’m getting older. P.S we don’t have a Christmas tree (sinful I know).
But, I have Christmas and St Stephens Day off, despite working in the hotel industry, so, I’m very lucky. It will be a balmy 25 degrees on Christmas day and despite being away from my family I’m tanned, happy and healthy.
This Christmas we’ll cook ourselves a big feed, with all the trimmings, watch some Christmas movies, maybe go to the beach for a swim and then finish the night with an expensive bottle of wine on the deck watching the stars. It could be better, of course. I could be with my family but I’ll make sure to Skype them on Christmas eve and after seeing them, yes, I’ll probably feel sad that I won’t be home for Christmas..
But, this is the life we have chosen. In the future, we will have lots of Christmases at home. For now, we’re on our adventure trying to experience everything in this world we possibly can. That takes sacrifice.
So, here’s to spending Christmas on the other side of the world – 13 hours in the future.
*P.S you can read more about our life in beautiful Northland, New Zealand here
Want to know our top things to do in Northland, New Zealand (of course you do)
Today marks our 3-month anniversary in New Zealand. It feels like we’ve been here forever but then it also feels like we just landed – does that make sense to anyone else? I think, when you’re new to a place, everything feels exciting and well ‘new’ and you relish every single moment making time feel slower, on the other-hand we’ve packed so much into these short 3 months that it feels like our life is on fast-forward. Since moving to New Zealand, 3 months ago we’ve: bought 2 cars (Paul bought his in Auckland, I bought mine here in Kerikeri); rented a property; started new jobs and also done just about every sight-seeing activity Northland has to offer. So, read on to find out more about our top things to do in Northland, New Zealand.
So, where exactly is Kerikeri?
The town we’ve moved to is called Kerikeri and it’s in the far north of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s known as “the winterless North”, hence why we’ve chosen this town to start our New Zealand adventure. Honestly, we couldn’t face the cold again having just moved from Whistler, Canada. It is the biggest town in Northland (the state it’s located in) the biggest city here being Whangarei (pronounced Fun-gur-i) – I know, try saying that after a few glasses of wine. To those backpackers reading – you may be familiar with Paihia, a pretty beach-town just 15 minutes drive from us. It is where most expats to this area chose to live but we decided to base ourselves in Kerikeri because it’s bigger, it’s closer to my job & it had a better variety of rental properties. We were very lucky with our rental – we pay $290 a week for a large 2-bedroom house, with a garden, wrap-around deck and a 2-minute walking distance to town. Believe me, that’s cheap for New Zealand.
Now, for some recommendations…
We feel the best things to do in Kerikeri are Rainbow Falls (see photo below), the Stone Store (the oldest stone building in New Zealand, which also houses the cutest cafe overlooking the river), and a visit to the bustling yet quirky Packhouse Market which is held every Saturday morning.
In the nearby surrounding area we highly recommend Opito Bay we took a drive here yesterday and found the most epic hidden beach – a 15 minute walk through the rainforest across from Opito Bay will bring you to a gem of a beach – just follow the wooden signs. On this particular stretch of sand you’re not likely to come across another soul for hours. Our kind of place! Another fabulous beach in this area is Matauri Bay. A 30-minute drive from Kerikeri with the most epic road winding down, the view as you drive down is spectacular, just be careful not to take your eyes off the road. Matauri Bay plays host to the Rainbow Warrior Memorial an unusual sculpture dedicated to the famous Rainbow Warrior ship – a Greenpeace protest ship which was blown up in Auckland Harbour in 1985. The wreck was moved to the waters off Matauri Bay (FYI – you can dive this wreck too). The walk to the memorial is a steep 10-minute climb but the 180-degree views of the bay is so worth your aching legs.
The Puketi Kauri Forest is another great stop, only a 15 minute drive from Kerikeri – there are a variety of walks you can do here ranging from quick & easy to lengthy & more difficult. We did the Kauri Stump Walk – a beautiful wooded walkway through giant Kauri trees & less than 15-minutes round-trip. It is peaceful and typically doesn’t attract too many other tourists. You can camp here too if so inclined.
Further afield, the harbour-side town of Mangonui is pretty & picturesque, has the best Thai food in Northland and a sweet little cafe. Next to Mangonui is the very pretty Cable Bay, where we’ve taken some epic sunset shots. Did you know – Cable Bay got it’s name because it was home to the Pacific cable which linked British Columbia by telegraph with New Zealand. We found this fascinating, considering we just moved from British Columbia.
Driving further North you will come across the well-travelled 90-mile beach. This beach is officially a highway, but according to the locals “is really only suitable for 4WD vehicles and is safe to drive only at specific times of the tides”. We drove in our non-4WD Audi for a little while and were fine, although we were very cautious of the tide and didn’t drive too far from an exit. We’ve heard lots of horror stories, of cars sinking in the sand, and when the tide is out far enough you can see the cars half-submerged under the sand! The sunsets here are pretty epic too. At the very tip of Northland is Cape Reinga, the northern-most point of New Zealand and the point where two oceans meet (the Tasman & Pacific). We haven’t made it to Cape Reinga yet, as we’d like to camp a few nights up there, so are waiting for the weather to improve.
Some quirkier recommendations for you…
Want a very unique experience? Then, we hugely recommend Ngawha hotsprings. The hotsprings are located in the centre of a geothermally active area, an area that produces a considerable amount of Northland’s electricity. – all while feeding over a dozen hot pools of all sorts of colours, element make-ups and temperatures. Beware it stinks and it’s a little run-down but that adds to the appeal of it. We met quite a few interesting characters here – one-dreadlocked ‘dude’ insisted on teaching us the Maori alphabet and another guy from London believes the hotsprings have healed him (2 years earlier he was completely paralysed). The Kawiti Glow Worm Caves are another top attraction in Northland, again we haven’t made the visit but have heard great things. Yes, it’s not as ‘touristic’ as its famous sibling the Waitomo Caves, but we prefer off-the-beaten path attractions, don’t you?
Some quick notes about some other great towns in the area…
Paihia, as mentioned earlier is a bit of a ‘backpacker haven’, with an abundance of hostels & seasonal work. The town runs the length of a golden sandy beach has lots of great bars & restaurants – one of our favourites being El Cafe a mexican cafe with great prices. From here, you can catch the passenger ferry to Russell.
Historic Russell was once known by the unflattering nickname of ‘Hell-hole of the Pacific”. It was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand, so was once full of rowdy british sailors and prostitutes (hence, it’s nickname). Like Paihia it is a very popular stop with tourists, so justifiably is full of restaurants & tourist shops. Still, it is a very pretty town to spend the day, take lots of photos and have a good hearty lunch. We recommend getting a seat outside the ever-popular Duke of Marlborough.
And there you have it, that’s all our top things to do in Northland, New Zealand. I hope you enjoyed reading our recommendations for this beautiful part of the world which we are lucky enough to call home. I’m sure I will be writing a follow-up to this post very soon, seeing as Summer is here and there are lots more beaches and attractions waiting for us to explore.
Have you been to Northland? Have I missed anything here? If you think so, pretty please let me know in the comment section below.
You can read more about our relocation to New Zealand here & here
Want to know how to successfully relocate to New Zealand? Well, this September, myself and Paul packed our bags (again) for a move far far away to the land of looming green mountains, crystal clear lakes or “middle-earth” as the darlings of Instagram like to call it. Yep, you guessed it (or maybe you haven’t) we’ve moved to New Zealand. I can’t get any further from home, can I?! We’re working our way through those Working Holiday Visa’s ain’t we – Canada (tick), Australia (tick) and now New Zealand.
New Zealand wasn’t our first choice, okay, it wasn’t MY first choice. I really really wanted to move to Capetown, South Africa, it was going be somewhere different a bit “off-the-wall” as my mother told me. But getting a work visa for South Africa is a bit of a nightmare. Basically, after speaking with an immigration lawyer we were told it could take up to 8 months for us to be approved by the South African government even with a job offer. So, alas it was not to be. We told ourselves we will get there one day but, we were itching to leave again, so, Plan B rolled into place.
New Zealand was Paul’s first choice and, so it was decided. Getting a work visa for New Zealand is pretty simple – you fill out a short online form with Immigration New Zealand, pay the $208 fee and wait. We waited just a few days for the work visa to come through to my email. It’s a hell of a lot easier and less time-consuming than our work visa for Canada (some of you may already know that Paul was waiting a long-time for his Canadian visa – if you don’t well, that’s a story for another day).
As soon as the visas came through and our relocation to New Zealand was set in stone, Paul went into what I like to call “travel agent mode” researching cheap flights to New Zealand, a good stop-over destination and what part of the country we would settle in first. He found a cheap deal with Malaysian Airlines (FYI – we like to use Google Flights rather than Skyscanner as it gives more airline options & always works out cheaper). This flight gave us a free week stopover in Malaysia (actually – we had to pay $20 in taxes I think), most of the Asian airlines offer this so it’s a brilliant option to break up a long flight. Next time, I think we’ll do Singapore. Malaysia is the perfect country for a quick stop-over & it’s cheap too. Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant city, a little similar to Bangkok. We also visited the UNESCO heritage town of Melaka which was unique and less tourist-heavy making it a more authentic experience. I’ll be writing a blog post about our time here very soon, so stay tuned!
Flights booked, goodbyes said, bags packed, cheeky stopover in Malaysia for a week and then we were here in Auckland. We stayed for a few nights, visited some friends, bought a car and then drove to the Far North of New Zealand to a little town called Kerikeri. I was offered a job at the No.1 hotel in Australia & New Zealand and I couldn’t refuse. It’s a lot different to my previous job in Whistler – it’s a lot smaller, more intimate but the setting is spectacular. The hotel has 3 private beaches and its own helicopter! Paul has struggled to find construction work here, since it’s technically ‘off-season’ there’s not much happening in that field yet. But, the locals here have been so helpful – in the local bank and shops people have been so quick to offer names and numbers of builders in the area who are hiring. It helped a lot and now he’s working full-time for a small construction company in town.
Life here is slow, and I feel more at home here than “city boy” Paul. We have a little house in the town with a wraparound deck and a garden filled with orange and lemon trees. We can drive 10 minutes to the beach or walk to the rivers and waterfall in town. It’s different for sure, especially since our last home was in the adrenalin-packed Whistler, but it’s good different. We are saving money (rent is cheap here) and earning decent wages and so we’re already planning lots of travel. Fiji, Samoa, Tonga & Hawaii have all been added to the list and all are a reasonable and short flight from here. Also, we were very excited to find out that internal flights in New Zealand are very cheap (a lot different to Canada)
For anyone thinking of relocating to New Zealand – I say DO IT (x100). The visa is easy and quick to obtain, the country is beyond stunning (and we’ve only seen a tiny snippet of the country so far), the people are so warm & welcoming and a little similar to the Irish if I’m honest. My attitude is – life is short, the world is big so explore it while you can. I don’t think anyone can say that we haven’t lived our lives. Yes, moving to a new country can be scary & daunting especially if you’re doing it alone but I promise the benefits once you do it far outweigh these fears.
*Tell me – what do you think of my advice on how to relocate to New Zealand? Let me know in the comments below.
Thinking of moving to New Zealand, we did it and you can too.
Dear Diary, we moved to New Zealand. Yep, we did it! If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know our original plan was to settle in Capetown, but to put a long story short that proved a nightmare to get a work visa for. Basically, we’d have been waiting months for an answer from the South African Government and even with a job offer we wouldn’t be guaranteed a place! And why waste months waiting for a visa when we can be off exploring the world. Sensible sorts ain’t we?! So, moving to New Zealand quickly became our Plan A.
To be brief, in the midst of all the stresses of trying to get a South African visa – I got an opportunity I couldn’t turn down in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. So, in typical ‘us’ style we gave ourselves two weeks to pack our bags, book our flights and say our goodbyes. Needless to say, our families were a little relieved we weren’t moving to Capetown, ‘cos ya know danger and all that (that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to move to South Africa to prove the naysayers wrong). Oh well, one day we’ll get there!
New Zealand has been top of Paul’s Bucket List for the longest time, so even though it was ‘Plan B’ for me it was ‘Plan A’ for him, he was simply going along with my African dreams because I wanted to live in Capetown so badly. I’ve visited New Zealand before – over 5 years ago and only explored the South Island on a mini-roadtrip with my best friend. And from, what I saw then country is worth its hype. Thus, plan ‘Moving to New Zealand’ kicked into action.
So, on August 18th we said our goodbyes for another year and boarded a plane to Kuala Lumpur (‘cos ya can’t do long-haul without a week stopover). Then, finally we landed in Auckland on August 25th. First impressions – so far so good. It took a while to adapt to living in an expensive country again, especially when we hadn’t started work yet. But overall it seemed like we’d made the right decision. Auckland is small for a “big city” and has more of a big town vibe, we spent a few days strolling around and adapting to the ‘Kiwi’ way of life. But, jet lag hit us bad here so most nights we were back in our hotel room for 8pm. We done all the “admin stuff” as we like to call it like getting a sim card, setting up a bank account and buying a car. The joys of expatting!
Then, after a few days it was time to depart for our new home in the Bay of Islands in our recently purchased Audi (don’t get too excited it’s not that fancy, but is perfect for us). The Bay of Islands is just under a four hour drive from Auckland ! It’s so pretty here, kind of a perfect mix of Hawaii and Ireland – if you can even imagine that. You can read more about our adventures in the Bay of Islands here. I feel at home here because I love small places whereas Paul is a city boy. But he’s adapting well. The most important thing is we’re happy here and kind of feel like we were meant to end up in this country all along. Moving to New Zealand was a great decision.
Everything happens for a reason, and this new plan was obviously meant for us. I learned a long time ago that the best things in life, come with the biggest risks, moving across the world, pursuing a crazy dream. Don’t be afraid to jump in the deep end.
**Tell me: are you considering moving to New Zealand. Any challenges you have come across? Do you have any more questions about the process? Let us know in the comments below.
Oh and by the way you can read lots more about our move to New Zealand here