Overall, the time I’ve spent in New Zealand with my family has taught me more than I expected it to. I thought that I’d learn the most from my ‘year abroad’ activities in South America and Russia, but surprisingly hanging out comfortably in an English speaking country with my parents has taught me equally as much.
Let me explain… I’ve had a bit of a breakdown recently (and in Tara terms that means I’ve been 2% less happy than usual). I’ve started overthinking the future and worrying about the fact that I have no idea what I want to do once I’m out of the education system and I keep creating ‘what if’ scenarios until my world starts to spiral out of control… drama queen alert! Despite the fact that I’m usually over it in 5 minutes and back to dancing around my room in pyjamas again, this worry always creeps back into my thoughts eventually. You know the deal; ‘the quarter life crisis’, I think they call it. People keep reminding me that I graduate next year as if I don’t already know and I’m surrounded by people researching grad jobs and trying to secure internships and placements that will support their applications. This is all happening whilst I am salsa dancing with Peruvians, skiing down Russian mountains and jumping out of planes on the other side of the equator – making me think ‘I need to buckle up and organise my life’.
But here’s the thing, New Zealand helped me realise that I’m not actually doing anything wrong. In fact, I couldn’t be doing it more right! I’m never going to be the type of person that spends summers doing internships when I don’t even know what I want to do with my life yet. I don’t ever want to do things half heartedly, I like to be able to give 200% – always. I’m living it right, I know that now. I’m learning SO much (you know, the things that university just can’t teach you) and I’m slowly but surely discovering what I love and what I want from the world. Thank you New Zealand for reminding me that life is beautiful and I have total control of making sure it stays that way.
So let’s get down to the real topic of this blog post… Dunedin, NZ.
If I’m going to be TOTALLY honest (which, let’s face it, I always am), I wasn’t captivated by the city straight away. Something was missing for me; despite all the natural beauty, the architecture and the quirky cafés and shops in town – I just wasn’t feeling it. Then, the more time I spent there it really started to grow on me and now, looking back in retrospect, I really miss the long summer days spent exploring and tanning in the sunshine. So if you do ever find yourself in Dunedin, make sure to make the most of it from the very second you arrive. Here’s some of the most interesting hotspots we visited:
- ST. CLAIR BEACH
St. Clair beach was actually my first day outside of my bed since I arrived in New Zealand…. stupid illness. It’s super close to our house and the whole area is ridiculously cool – there are posh restaurants, chilled out cafés, surf shacks, white sand and waves – what more could anyone wish for? I could live by the beach forever and ever and ever (and ever).
- ROSS CREEK
This was definitely a more physical activity for the Manjunath’s – a whole afternoon of hiking. I love stuff like this as I always find myself running ahead and exploring little passageways and scurrying across ledges/ducking and diving through tunnels. My parents, however, tend to prefer more leisurely strolls but because I was in front I ended up leading us miles astray, forcing them to tackle some really tough terrain and cross a stream by hopping along very slippery rocks… good work, Tara!
The weather wasn’t great but that didn’t really make the landscape any less beautiful. This country is seriously amazing, I don’t think there is a single inch of it that doesn’t make you feel in touch with nature. Hiking, jogging (and exercise in general) doesn’t seem so much of a chore when you’re surrounded by this kind of beauty. Soppy? Yes. But it’s so true!
- CHINESE GARDENS
In the midst of busy Dunedin, we found a slice of tranquility in the Chinese Gardens. It’s situated right in the centre of the city, which is strange because you forget that you’re in New Zealand for a second and then you suddenly see the landmarks in the skyline and remember that you aren’t anywhere near Shanghai.
It was a really nice way to spend a sunny afternoon. My Mom loved taking pictures, my Dad enjoyed the different plants and fish and for me, it was just nice to soak up the sunshine and appreciate the beauty.
There was a really cute little cafe inside the gardens where they sold tea, hot chocolate and Chinese fortune cookies, so we decided to take a break. My fortune was pretty ego-boosting and of course I sent a picture of it to my best friends saying ‘you are welcome’. They probably don’t feel so lucky any more…
- THE SEASIDER
The Seasider train is ranked as one of the best train journeys in the world and my Dad’s friends had bought us some tickets for Christmas (It would have been an extortionate $80 each, otherwise) so we decided to give it a try.
I’m glad we didn’t splash out on the full priced tickets ourselves because it really wasn’t that exciting. For a train in the ‘worlds best’ list it didn’t really have anything special to offer but seeing as it was essentially a free day out, there were still things to commend and that’s why I’m including it on this list.
Firstly, Dunedin train station is a tourist landmark in itself. It’s beautiful! Inside and out. There’s even an art gallery and a sports museum inside if you find yourself with spare time to kill before a journey.
The Seasider train was cute and old fashioned inside and there were some really amazing views of the surrounding beaches. The journey lasted a few hours and we rode through Port Chalmers, Waitati and Waikouaiti before reaching our final destination of Palmerston. It was great to see more of the country and appreciate views that you can’t see on foot but If I’m honest, Palmerston was kind of underwhelming and there wasn’t a lot to do other than browse a few souvenir shops.
Basically, if you find yourself with free tickets then go ahead! It’s a relaxing, enjoyable day out. But if not, then I definitely think there are better ways in Dunedin to spend your money (like buying $80 worth of ice cream and lying on the beach all day….)
- OTAGO MUSEUM
Yes, yes, I don’t need to tell you again how much I hate museums but seriously this is one of the rare ones that I’ll give a thumbs up to. It’s basically a science and history museum all merged into one but the main selling point? It’s totally interactive!!!! There’s so much to play with and my inner child was buzzing to run around and learn about bugs and space and ancient tribes…
There was even a little butterfly farm inside the museum where I got some very humorous photos of my Dad trying to look natural when they landed on him. We also had a LOAD of fun in the creativity section, colouring, cutting and sticking together our own insect to then take home and keep (I signed it, ‘Tara Manjunath, age 20 and a half’ and gave it to my Dad to put on his office wall…) but the highlight was definitely wearing some fancy helmets that let you control a ball just with your brainwaves.
I actually learnt so many cool, trivia facts this day and it was so excitingly fun – since university I have forgotten that knowledge DOES come in forms other than falling asleep in 2 hour lectures. Otago museum – the perfect family activity for 1 year olds and 100 year olds.
- PENGUIN HIKE
While this perhaps wasn’t the best reason I’ve ever had to wake up at 3am for (Macchu Picchu, you will always hold that title), it is still something I think is worth a mention on this blog post. My family are nature fanatics and I also love animals so I was quite happy to tag along and see some wildlife in it’s natural habitat. It started with a pitch black hike to the lookout where we then waited eagerly for the penguins to come out and look for food.
The penguins were pretty adorable and there was even a little baby (sadly none of us got any photos because we were looking at them through binoculars) and learning about their daily lifestyles and food gathering techniques was interesting. On the walk back we saw some sealions and a few more penguins before having to climb the world’s steepest sand dune (this is my opinion, not a legit fact…). The coolest thing was that we were done and dusted by 8am, which is usually the time I would wake up! I’ve never felt so productive!
- BALDWIN STREET
For some reason, I’d been led to believe that the world’s steepest street was in San Francisco…. but how wrong I was! Turns out it’s actually located in Dunedin, New Zealand and so it seemed silly not to pay a visit. We didn’t walk the whole way up it (avoiding all exercise) and I understand that this isn’t the most exciting bullet point but I still think it’s worth a mention because we’ve ticked off a world record!
- TUNNEL BEACH
Me and my Dad very rarely spend time together just the two of us (because we tend to aggravate each other and fight to the death) but my Mom suggested we took a trip to a far away beach to enjoy some father-daughter bonding.
Once we arrived at the car park, it was just a 40 minute leisurely downhill walk to the beach. The only thing that made it slightly less enjoyable was the thought of having to walk back up it later but we quickly pushed these thoughts to the backs of our minds and skipped on our way.
The beach itself is so gorgeous (as is every beach in New Zealand) but this one is super special because theres so many little twisty, turny tunnels and caves. I wonder if that’s why it’s called Tunnel beach? Most likely, not but that’s going to be my explanation for it anyway…
We relaxed, took some pictures and soaked up some glorious sun rays before feeling prepared to face the journey back to the car. Overall, it was such a nice way to spend the afternoon and me and my Dad had so many laughs – memories I’ll treasure forever ❤
- MOERAKI BOULDERS
The story behind these boulders is SO creepy. They are just huge, random boulders scattered along a stretch of the beach and there is absolutely no explanation of where they came from. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, there are lots of very good theories but I’ve decided that I’d rather believe they were a gift from the aliens….
We visited around sunset time which we thought would be a good idea for pictures. What we didn’t realise though, was that the sun set on the opposite side to the boulders and the tide was ridiculously high at this time. So, perhaps we could have picked a more ideal time of day to visit (when we weren’t battling waves to take pictures) but it was still so interesting to see!
On the way home we stopped in a local village for drinks and dessert at the ‘Moeraki Tavern’. The sun was setting, the atmosphere was great and the views were so picturesque – A perfect end to the day.
- CADBURY WORLD
One of the things that I enjoy most about being from Birmingham, UK is our proximity to the original Cadbury World. So, of course when I saw the big purple chocolate-filled silos in the middle of Dunedin, my inner child was ecstatic and I couldn’t wait to see what New Zealand had to offer!
We were given hair nets and told to remove all of our jewellery and leave our belongings in the lockers before entering the manufacturing area. Dunedin’s Cadbury world is a lot less commercialised than Birmingham and you actually get pretty hands on and caught up in all of the action (plus, you get to keep WAY more chocolate!). There’s also a much larger emphasis on sweets as opposed to chocolate over here – there’s even a whole range of Cadbury’s bars stuffed with marshmallows!
We then went into one of the silos where there was a huge melted chocolate explosion (gallons of it fell from the ceiling into a container below). Our tour guide told us that only super lucky people get splattered and when I looked down I saw that my leg was covered in melted chocolate so I scooped it up and ate it (no surprises there…). It was only then that I was informed that the chocolate is recycled each time they do the trick and it was quite a few years old… GROSS – not so lucky after all, hey?
If you want to feel like you’re 5 years old again (or if you are 5 years old then it’s even better) – go to Cadbury World, Dunedin! Such a great day out and you win back most of your entrance ticket price in chocolate. Dreams really do come true.
As you can probably tell, this month has been so great for me – mainly because the Manjunath family were reunited after such a long time apart! Plus, who could possibly turn down summer in January after enduring a cold Russian winter?! I’m just so grateful for all of these experiences, for being able to live life to the fullest and see so much of the world. Now I’m feeling recharged, reenergised and ready for the next chapter.
The one thing that I do want to address before I bring this blog to a close is something that I’ve wanted to write about for quite some time now. Starting this travel diary has been great for me and I’ve had an awesome response to most of my posts (thank you eternally, guys) but I never want you guys to forget that this isn’t 100% my reality. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat… pretty much all social media is used to show off the best parts of peoples lives and that’s exactly what I’m doing with this blog… emphasising the highlights! I am so in love with my life and far too aware of how lucky I am but that’s not to say that I don’t have down days and bad experiences. I can share a ton of filtered pictures but they, by no means, represent real life. I don’t write these blogs for any other reason than to record my travel memories and to share them with whoever might be interested – I like writing, I like travelling… it’s a no brainer for me! Anyway, I thought I’d break the rules and give you a few tasters of what life in New Zealand was REALLY like some days:
Well, that’s all for my New Zealand tales. I’ve just moved to Madrid in Spain (do I ever stop travelling?) and I’m nervous and excited… and happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time (sorry, not sorry. Taylor Swift lyrics are always appropriate).
It’s the final stage of my year abroad adventure and I have absolutely no idea what to expect over these next 6 months. I need to find somewhere to live, pick university modules, file a million ERASMUS forms, set up a new phone/bank account, make new friends…. the list goes on! It’s all pretty daunting when I think about it, which is why I’m trying not to think about it. I didn’t even pack until a few hours before my flight, classic me.
I know there’ll be ups and downs – moments that make me miss home and moments that make me never want to come home. I know I’ll leave all my university work until last minute and then have a panic attack in June when exams come around. I know that there’ll be 3 languages all mushed up in my head and it will take a while for words to come out in the order that I want them to. BUT most importantly, I know that it’ll all be fine in the end.
Here’s to la vida española!
So, who’s coming to visit? 😉