Just outside of Auckland, in the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, sits Shakespear Park- a place with roaming green hills, grazing farm animals, and a beautiful crystal blue beach access. When we first arrived, I was so amazed that you can walk amongst the animals free in the paddocks. It really is quite the experience if you’re someone like me who has a love for farms animals but grew up in the city, just keep a friendly distance from the cows and sheep, they don’t mind you walking by for a visit though.
The beauty of Shakespear park is you can walk as far, wide, and freely as you wish or keep it short and simple by just enjoying the scenery around. There are multiple different routes to take and most are through the fields. They aren’t at all extreme in difficulty but the hills do surprise you with how steep they are once you begin to walk them. We walked along the animals then cut through towards the beach and back up to the top of the farm hills. The perfect place to go just a short drive from the city if you want to stretch your legs outside for a few hours or even just enjoy the peacefulness with a picnic. Make sure you stop at the giant picture frame at the top to show just how picture-perfect the scenery around is!
I could cry over Happy Place, it makes me so sad.. That it’s over!
For one month and one month only, the Happy Place exhibit was alive and well at Spark Arena in Auckland. An interactive, multi-sensory exhibit, designed to be “the most Instagram-able place in the world”. We had the pleasure of visiting near the end of its time and I must say, I expected it to just be a photo-op for the gram, but this was definitely a highlight for a night out! Family-friendly for all ages, lots of fun in real life, no need to fake it for your photos!
When you first walk in, you’re greeted by the beautiful neon “Auckland is Happy” display and handed mini gummy bears to unlock your inner child. From there the doors open, you blink a few times as you enter, trying to figure out if you just stepped into a real-life Pixar movie- full of beautiful colours and textures all around you.
I never thought I would slide out of a giant gumball machine in my adult life, so I did it a second and third time to wake up the inner child in me for what was next…
Do you remember being a kid and wanting to throw confetti, sparkles, or anything else that you could get your hands on into the air? Then either being told no or forced to pick up each individual piece after, which isn’t as fun as the short-lived explosion in the air? Well, now you can relive that dream in the multiple confetti exhibits throughout the event. And guess what? No clean-up is necessary! Throw all that your heart desires. The first exhibit is on a sparking stage and makes me dream about if I was ever voted prom queen (not a common tradition in Canada), while the second confetti exhibit is inside an igloo (okay, it was a dome, that’s just the Canadian in me) filled with fans to help you throw the confetti into the air.
A row of mini rooms to strike a pose in are lined up consisting of white chains hanging to swim through, another with mirrored tiles that look like you’ve stepped inside a disco ball, and a room full of yellow rubber ducky friends of course paired with a big bathtub to play in. There’s also a unicorn exhibit for all your fantasy world dreams and of course an exhibit dedicated to being happy- to showcase your best smile.
One thing I’ve never understood about these photo exhibits are the infamous “upside-down” rooms you’ll see in photos. I’ve never really understood the point, and honestly still didn’t get it even once there, until the nice staff member explained to me you have to rotate the photo after on your phone – duh! I think these photos are always a fan favorite as how often do you get to pretend you’re climbing around on the ceiling like spiderman? Another great room was the cookie room, a certain blue monster’s dream! Play peekaboo inside the giant cookie or practice your ABCs.
Of course, I had to save the best for last.. The giant ball pit! I can’t remember the last time I giggled this much, we really need to normalize adult-sized ball pits- make them everywhere! We ran and did our best cannonballs into the rainbow pit then tried to worm our way out after. I now remember why we spent so much time in ball pits as kids: because we were stuck in them. My partner thought the best way out would be to swim through, so under he dived, popping his head out like a gopher every now and then. Even the staff couldn’t help but have a laugh with us. We did this one quite a few times and took full advantage of bringing out our inner child with cannonball contests and trying to get our best poses for photos while still in the air.
Although Happy Place has been closed for quite a while now, it’s something we still reflect on and love sharing the photos from the event. I hope it comes back again as I always have people ask where it is when I post my photos online. If you ever have a chance to go to a Happy Place exhibit, as they seem to pop up around the world, run- don’t walk! Grab your favorite outfit (make sure it’s jump and wind room proof) and your pals to make some great memories, oh yeah, don’t forget your camera too!
Kaiate falls is located approx. 30 mins outside of Tauranga. There are multiple paths and trails to choose from to take you to the tip-top or the very bottom of the multiple waterfalls, so no need to chase them! If you choose to go to the bottom on a hot day, bring your swimsuit (aka “togs”) and take a dip in the swimming hole! It is quite a short and easy walk for the most part, we hung out among the bridge and rocks halfway through soaking up the sun. However, the trail was pretty worn down, uneven and slippery when we visited. So if you need a bit more stability on a hike maybe skip this one, or do it with caution as some trails are easier than others. The car park is a bit small so I imagine it gets filled quickly on a nice summer day. At the top next to the car park are some picnic benches and a grass area if you’re looking for a picnic spot, I know I always am!
Mount Maunganui is located in Tauranga and can be hiked to the top of, or walked around the base of the mount if you’re looking for an easier walk. We took our time as we were admiring the beautiful coastal views around every corner and took advantage of all the scenic benches along the track. It took about 45 mins to do, but we saw lots of people running or power walking their way around, so it can definitely be done in less if you’re crunched for time. Perfect for families as it is stroller (aka “pram”) friendly, just keep an eye on your little ones as it is a steep drop off the pathway and some areas of the track can be a little narrow if it is busy. Bring a picnic and enjoy the view at the end if you’d like, or head to the shops after for a nice lunch along the beach; the mount is a great place to go if you’re looking for just a quick walk to get you moving and close to town so you can continue on with your day after.
Our first adventure was to Tauranga, a great little seaside town on the east coast. The perfect location if you’re looking for a lowkey weekend getaway as you don’t have to search far and wide for things to do during your short stay. On our first day, we enjoyed walking around the Mount, we didn’t get a chance to hike to the top, but that just means we have another excuse to visit again!
Afterward, we walked along the strip of shops and had a delicious lunch then went for a massage and a dip in the Mount hot pools (don’t worry, if you’re like me and forgot your bathing suit, known as “togs” here, there are lots of surf shops around you can pick one up at). The water in the hot pools is saltwater pumped from Pilot Bay, across from the pools. It’s then heated geothermically by hot rocks deep underground, it is actually geothermal activity from Rotorua, but the distance and depth mean it loses the sulfur smell. (You can read about the process on the Mount hot pools website, it’s pretty interesting reading about how they use the natural resources available to them!) We spent a few hours enjoying the warmth of the pools as it was a pretty stormy winter day, the lifeguards were bundled head to toe in toques, scarfs and winter coats which gave us a chuckle as the last time we visited hot pools together was in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, where the lifeguards wore just a winter jacket and pants in -20 weather (yes, our hair did freeze), compared to the bundled up 12 degree lifeguards here. We timed our massage so we would be in the hot pools after right at sunset, which was the perfect way to end our day.
The next day we hung out at the beautiful white sanded beach next to the mount, enjoyed some real fruit ice cream, and walked around the harbour before going to the mall so I could pick up some items I couldn’t fit into my suitcase. Then I had a few beauty appointments as I wasn’t able to schedule any at home before I left. Bayfair mall had quite a good selection of shops and I met the kindest ladies at my appointments, so if you ever want to treat yourself in Tauranga, definitely do so! The “Sugaring room” is a popular sugar waxing salon and “Beauty by Renee” offers really dreamy facials, I didn’t get a chance to see her during my visit but it will be at the top of my list for next time!
Before driving back up north we took a hike to Kaiate falls which wasn’t a far drive from town and has a nice swimming hole to cool off in towards the bottom, but we didn’t give it a go this time since it is winter, again, another reason to visit beautiful Tauranga! If you’d like to read more about the Kaiate falls hike and the base mount trail, click the links or visit the “Hikes” page on my blog, here I give more details on the time, distance, and difficulties of different hikes we’ve tried.
Have you visited Tauranga? Where/what is your go-to spot when visiting there? Comment down below, I’d love to visit some more spots the next time we go.
What is MIQ you may ask? Most countries aren’t familiar with this process, however, “Managed Isolation Quarantine” is required when entering New Zealand while borders remain closed to fight the spread of Covid-19. For many, it is hard to comprehend the concept of what actually happens in an MIQ facility. News media has covered a very basic entry level of life within these walls for 14 days, but for others who are the ones living onsite, such as myself, the reality is much different than expected.
While waiting to disembark the plane in LA before transferring to the NZ flight, our seat neighbors asked questions about what the next 14 days would be like, suggesting that obviously we’d be able to gather for meals and dine with one another like this is summer camp and we’d share stories of our day together in the dining hall. Others insisted we’d obviously be able to meet outside and enjoy the sunshine together like it is recess and we are school children being supervised to play nice. The reality they have created in their minds of what our quarantined life will be as they take their phones off airplane mode, call their friends and arrange to go directly from the plane of an international flight to the downtown bars and celebrate life together. This made my skin crawl, as I couldn’t imagine living their reality, just as they couldn’t imagine living mine.
Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ) is when you must be isolated in a government controlled facility for 14 days, which is just a hotel staffed with the usual hospitality staff with the addition of nurses, soldiers, security and 10ft blackout fencing surrounding the perimeter. Your meals aren’t served on a tray in a cafeteria like the plane neighbors suggested and outside is not for gathering and regrouping with your fellow MIQ peers. Your meals are delivered to your door and served 3 times a day during meal times, outside time is limited to 1 hour- 30 mins a day where you walk laps around an empty parking lot and think about how you’ve never been so thankful to go back to this twisted version of gym class as a full grown adult – even though you dropped out of gym class back in highschool.
My personal day to day life in MIQ was mostly just catching up on sleep, binging reality tv shows to ignore my reality and trying to stay distracted. Which oddly enough is what I did at home the past month before my move as I also quarantined before my flight (a personal choice, not required). Even though I very much enjoy the comfort of bed and Netflix, it still is hard to find comfort being confined to a room in an unknown environment that you don’t have any control over. Most hotels in NZ MIQ are 5 star hotels in the city, which is what you will see media coverage on mostly, however, mine was not. My hotel was a standard 3 star hotel, which is fine enough for a nights stay when traveling through town, but not normally a place you would choose to vacation in for more than a weekend. My room was just a basic hotel room with two beds (one used for sleeping, one used for where the magic happens – eating my meals in bed to ensure a crumb free sleep in the other bed), a small “kitchenette” area that consisted of plates, a kettle and a bucket to do dishes in, a small desk, a large flat screen tv and some arm chairs. The room was mediocrity clean, your typical 3 star hotel with faded stains on the linens and stiff overly bleached white towels. At first when catching up on sleep, after 30 hours of travel and a 19 hour time difference, these things don’t really bother you. But after the first week when you begin to adjust to time and these are the only things to stare at, the faded stains on the sheets as well as the plain white walls surrounding you start to really get to you and you have to learn not to look a little too hard around the room.
Most MIQ facilities shown by the media are comfy 5 star hotels in the city which is what people usually like to show off, however, that wasn’t my experience, so I think it’s good to share when going into MIQ it really is the flip of a coin as to what you will get. If there was one thing I wish I did when I first arrived, it would be to do a full room inspection- if there are any problems with the room they can immediately change it upon arrival, but after you have been in the room for a period of time and begun your isolation, they cannot move you to another room. Staff will also not enter your room during your stay if there are any problems, one person staying in my hotel apparently had mold throughout their room just as an example (they notified staff immediately and were able to change rooms).
One day I decided to move furniture around to allow myself more space to stretch and exercise, which led me to finding half eaten food items from the previous guests. Not only concerning that the room isn’t thoroughly cleaned, since it is being used to isolate potential virus carrying guests after all, the leftover food brought roommates to my room… that’s right – cockroaches! Which are common in New Zealand and I have seen plenty of times when here, they don’t usually bother me. However, when you’re locked in a room with them running around, it is a much different story. Since leaving, moving or cleaning rooms during isolation is not an option, I was forced to deal with this on my own, despite multiple calls with staff saying they would bring me some supplies to help me with the roach problem. I was also forgotten when it came to meal times or received entirely wrong meals than what I had chosen for my stay, when the only thing/structure you have to look forward to in your day is meals, it is pretty disappointing. By the end of the stay I was so miserable I would sleep for 12-16 hours just because I wanted to get through the days much quicker. I had brought up the problems of room cleanliness, meals provided and my mental health to staff which was just dismissed with “oh well, you leave in ___ days”.
Even though I am now out of MIQ and have actively seen the advantages to having such COVID procedures in place, as I now have the freedom to do many things most can’t right now (full dining, live concerts, hug and greet those around you without being paranoid), I don’t think that this is a reason to dismiss the problems brought up within the facilities. Although the hotels used for MIQ are not operating like normal, this operation is still a business and we are still paying guests. Overall, I am very thankful that I did not get sick during my time traveling and was given the opportunity to travel. But, it is disappointing to be in a room with no control or power over your own comfort and when reaching out to staff, whose job is to assist you and make your stay during this period more comfortable, they just turn an ear to it.
If you want to know anything else about my time in quarantine or want to share your MIQ experience, comment down below, let’s chat! I love hearing about how others navigate through these experiences as no one will ever have the same experience during these unusual COVID traveling times. If you stayed in NZ MIQ, where in the country did you stay?
Kia Ora – The first words you hear stepping onto the plane, the greeting followed by a blessing welcoming you to the MIQ facility.. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, “Kia ora is a warm… greeting you’ll hear throughout New Zealand and comes from the indigenous Māori language, te reo. [Used to] …wish someone well as a greeting or farewell, to say thank you, to affirm support, or to say a friendly ‘cheers’” (100% Pure New Zealand, 2021). But to me, Kia Ora means the beginning of a new life, a new adventure, and to a hopeful future. It is what I continue to carry with me as I leave my snow boots and mask in the great white north, taking this barefoot, barefaced adventure down under.
Now, this is where I bring you along with me on this new journey, virtually boarding the plane with me while borders remain closed, creating family memories together while mine remains over 7,000 miles away, Kia ora. This blog is a space for me to share my journey overseas and invite you to read along until the day we can all explore in person again. Whether it is hiking Mounts, driving down beaches or dining out on the town, may this blog be a space for you to escape for a while. Over the past few years I have been traveling between Canada and New Zealand while in a long distance relationship, I am excited to now fully indulge myself in life here and share the experience of doing so.
And after some turbulence, this is where the Air Ciwi flight lands. I hope you enjoy your time here on this blog and decide to stay with me to explore, because some company would be nice. Here is to the beginning of Ciwi – a Canadian exploring life as a Kiwi.