There and Back Again | May 23, 2008
My antipodean adventure is coming to a close so I thought i’d reflect on my time away. The trip started with a two day lay-over in Hong Kong to break the journey. I’ve been to this amazingly vibrant city before and it’s one of my favorite places in Asia. It’s a bit of a cliche but Hong Kong really is a city where east and west collide. A city where hundred year old temples sit next to trendy bars and street hawkers compete with international food chains. Like many Asian cities, gadgets rule supreme in this town and none more so than the ever ubiquitous mobile phone. The streets are a blur of activity both day and night, and as dusk falls the city is lit by a forest of neon. Like stepping into a scene from Blade Runner, you expect Decker to come round the corner any minute.
Getting from the Airport to Mongkok is a breeze, and a living example of public transport done right. Riding the MRT is also a joy, especially if you grab an Octopus card. These little cards can also be used as currency throughout the city, so remember to top up. The flight wasn’t too onerous so I turned up at the Langham Place Hotel in pretty good shape. However for an extra bit of R&R I went for a quick swim followed by a relax in the hotel spa. The view from the 56th floor Oriental hot tub was awesome.
I’ve done the normal tourist things before, such as going to Victoria Peak, taking a sanpan round Hurricane Bay and browsing the stalls at Stanly Market. I’ve also done some more out of the way things like walking the dragons back to night wave bay. However the one thing I’ve always meant to do but never managed was a trip to the races. With betting almost banned in Hong Kong, this is one of the few opportunities city dwellers have for a quick flutter. Luckily they take this opportunity with gusto. I took some amazing pictures of the event, but as my hard drive dies when I reached Auckland, I guess they are consigned to my memory now.
I didn’t know what to expect from Auckland and I have to admit that it provoked a bit of a mixed reaction. The main drag around Queens Street was pretty characterless, although Vulcan lane and some of the other side streets proved a pleasant escape. Definitely check out the ‘hash brown stack’ at the Vulcan Cafe if you want a hearty, artery hardening breakfast. However it was the areas of Parnell, K Road and especially Ponsonby that caught my interest. Still, the city was pretty spread out and obviously not designed to be circumnavigated by foot. Sadly I didn’t manage to get out of the city and see the hot springs of Rotaroua or the beautiful Bay of Islands, but this provides the perfect excuse to come back.
Next up was the city of Wellington and possibly the biggest surprise of the trip. I’ve not been to Wellington before but as the seat of government I thought it could be a little grey and lifeless. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Wellington turned out to be a seriously cool city with a vibrant cafe culture, some amazing bars and restaurants, and a burgeoning tech community. I particularly commend Deluxe and Midnight Espresso for their enlightened opening times. Why we don’t have late night cafes in the UK is beyond me.
The Museum Hotel proved the perfect base from which to explore the city, although as Tantek rightly pointed out, it was the type of hotel you’d want to bring a partner to. The room felt far too opulent for one person alone. Another time I guess. Talking about time the schedule was pretty packed, so I ended up being confined to the city limits once again. Otherwise I would have liked to have checked out some of the local vineyards and gone LOTR location spotting. However I did manage to sample some of the Wellington night life thanks to a few members of the local tech crowd. The hospitality was overwhelming, so cheers guys. If you’re ever in Brighton please do look me up and I’ll return the favour.
Next on the itinerary was Christchurch. On first inspection the city feels like an English market town with it’s chain stores and shopping centers. But scratch the surface and you’ll find an active counter culture of trendy bars and restaurants. You’ve just got to know where to look.
As quickly as my New Zealand adventure had started it had come to an end and I found myself heading to Australia and the city of Melbourne. I’ve never been to Melbourne before but have only heard good things. Thankfully it didn’t disappoint. The city is very cool and felt like an anglicized version of San Francisco. From the arcades and alleyways off Flinders Lane to the streets round Fitzroy and St Kilda, cafe culture was very much in evidence. Local hipsters sat in beautifully grungey surroundings, sipping ‘flat whites’ and discussing their plans for the evening. Everybody was incredibly trendy, although not in the self conscious way you find in bigger cities. The cities thoroughfares were also awash with an amazing amount of street art, giving the city a tantalizing edginess.
After my duties were over I took the opportunity to hire a car and drive The Great Ocean Road, one of the worlds best known touring routes. The nature was stunning and definitely on par with the Pacific Coast Highway or the New England backwoods. I visited some great spots including the surfing mecca of Bells Beach and the iconic Twelve Apostles. I then headed inland to sample the mountain air of the Grampains before setting course back to Melbourne. Despite being a well documented route I was glad I hired GPS. Otherwise I’m sure I would have got lost at least a couple of times.
I’m on the final leg now, jetting off to Hong Kong for a couple of days before heading back to Blighty. I’ve been away for almost a month and while I’ve had an amazing time, I’m looking forward to getting back home.
Posted at May 23, 2008 6:47 AM