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We’ve finally entered autumn – after a scorching and humid Auckland summer that saw every kiwi panic. Every type of fan sold out (yes-there is a first time for everything) and opportunists were reselling them for 50% above retail price on Trademe. Oh, New Zealand. This soft rain and cloudy afternoon weather takes me back to winter in Japan. Trawling through the 5,000 or so photos we took, I found these Osaka Castle gems that I was supposed to post but never did. One can never get enough of the beauty of Japan. Though if you are sick of me and my embarrassing four-month long holiday withdrawals and would rather see some burgers and brunching, deal with it please let me know.IMG_9209IMG_9227IMG_9228IMG_9214IMG_9217IMG_9221IMG_9232IMG_9235IMG_9247IMG_9249IMG_9251IMG_9261IMG_9268

Tip 9: Entry into Osaka Castle is 600yen. As with all other hotspots there is queueing involved, so take the stairs instead of waiting for lift.

If you thought you’ve had your fair share of wild animal encounters with stray cats and dogs and the trip to the zoo, you are horribly wrong because there are wild deer in Japan! Bambi, as we imagine is gentle and undeniably cute. So naturally we had zero precautions when meeting the real deal at their home in Nara Park. We came across a sign that said beware of head-butts, kicking, and keep your children safe but we laughed and thought nothing of it. Surely enough 10 minutes in we witnessed the headbutting, the pushing, the food snatching. We saw screaming children running away with food in their hand and the deer pounding after them (okay maybe not pounding but definitely following the tears). We also witnessed a near deer-car-crash and were shellshocked but traffic resumed as if it happens on a day-to-day basis. It was of course an amazing sight, seeing hundreds of deer roam around and pick on people. It’s worth the short trip out from Kyoto and an easy pitstop for a night on the way to Osaka. Enjoy!IMG_9790IMG_9791-2IMG_9825-2IMG_9826IMG_9827IMG_9828IMG_9829IMG_9835IMG_9836IMG_9869IMG_9870-2

Tip 8: If you are unsure about the train fare, purchase the cheapest ticket and pay the difference at your final stop with a fare adjustment machine. This will save a lot of time spent staring at the JR map and money too.

Holidays are defined as no-alarm-clock-days unless you have a million shrines to get to. Fushimi Inari was the only shrine that we woke early for (we are embarrassing 12pm risers) and you can see it was quite worth it. The gates line the path up to the mountain and back down. It’s almost the same view all the way, so if you are on a tight Kyoto shrine schedule like us it’s best to not make the commitment.IMG_0881IMG_0882IMG_0884IMG_0889IMG_0893IMG_0898IMG_0906IMG_0923IMG_0925IMG_0948IMG_0960IMG_0962IMG_0971IMG_0973IMG_1024IMG_1013IMG_1034IMG_1010IMG_1022IMG_0992IMG_0976IMG_0977IMG_0996IMG_0980

Tip 7: General etiquette in Japan is that you don’t eat or drink while walking. You will therefore notice that there are no rubbish bins on the street. (If you are in a dire and desperate situation there are recycling bins next to vending machines.)

There are an insane amount of museums in Japan, not just the art and science type but cup noodles, beer, and animations museums galore. The Ghibli Museum (pronounced Jee-blee) essentially showcases the life of Miyazki and beautiful presentations of his and his team’s work. Photography is not allowed inside, which makes it even more fun and magical as you’re not preoccupied with getting snaps and also would not have seen the exhibits online anywhere prior.

The tickets are only available 3 months ahead of time. They sell out very quickly so try your best to book them with your local reseller early. We bought ours via a friend in Japan and picked up at a Lawsons with the Loppi machine (Loppi doesn’t have an English menu so make sure you read through these instructions first). They are around 12NZD each, so well worth it. As always we were late, but rest assured the entry period is 30 minutes from your start time. In total we spent 2-3 hours at the museum.

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Tip 4: There is a shuttle that runs from Mitaka station to Ghibli Museum but we wouldn’t recommend it. By foot it takes the same amount of time (15 minutes) with cute Totoro signs guiding you and beautiful parks to walk through on the way there.

Tip 5: If you miss the gift shop at Ghibli Museum because of the crowd or you forgot, but in hindsight really want a cat bus or mini Totoro to take home, there is an excellent store on the street to Kiyomizu Temple (make sure you watch out for the Studio Ghibli sign as the shop is hidden at the back). They also have a very small selection of Totoro soft toys at the Metropolitan Government Office.

Tip 6: A number of different types of trains go through the same platform in Japan. Try to recognise, memorise, or save these categories to your phone to ensure you don’t hop on the wrong one. Here’s a good explanation from http://www.japan-guide.com:

Local (kakueki-teisha or futsu-densha)
Local trains stop at every station.
Rapid (kaisoku)
Rapid trains skip some stations. There is no difference in the ticket price between local and rapid trains.
Express (kyuko)
Express trains stop at even fewer stations than rapid trains. Japan Railways (JR) charges an express fee in addition to the base fare.
Limited Express (tokkyu)
Limited express trains stop only at major stations. A limited express fee usually has to be paid in addition to the base fare. It is typically between 500 and 4000 yen. JR railway companies always charge this fee, but some other private railway companies do not.
Super Express (shinkansen)
Shinkansen are only operated by JR. Shinkansen run along separate tracks and platforms. A limited express fee has to be paid in addition to the base fare. It is typically between 800 and 8000 yen.

It’s been a while hasn’t it. We swapped your Ponsonby hipster cafes and cursing Auckland traffic for some sashimi, zen inducing shrines and 24-7 mosh pit train situations. Over five weeks we travelled to Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Seeing it was our first time in Japan we got overly happy and shutter crazy (you really can’t blame us in such a picturesque country), so expect to see a gazillion more photo diaries whenever I get round to it (disclaimer: it could be never). I can’t say we are now expert travellers of Japan nor can we recite you the JR railway map but we can impart some what-not-to-do knowledge on in hope that you won’t make the same stupid mistakes (though who are we kidding, those poor decisions often become hilarious memories).

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Tip 1: Try not to get on the train in the wrong direction (particularly if you are only travelling to the next stop, we were obviously too excited on our first day and hopped on any train we saw). Make sure you take note of the colour line your destination is on and the next station from your starting point. More train tips to come.

Tip 2: Do not over plan your days. You should consider the season you are travelling as it can get dark very quickly during winter i.e. 4pm. Also there is a lot to see so allow time for exploring and checking out cute little stores. Most places close at 9-9:30pm.

Tip 3: If this is a shopping trip, make sure you have your passport handy. Japan is jam-packed with tax-free shops (look out for the red n white logo and the minimum spend, typically 5,000yen).
Pro-tip: don’t purchase anything tax-free if you intend on using it during your stay as they seal your products up.

Places worth visiting:

  • Omotesandō is hands down our favourite place in Tokyo so far. It is full of boutiques, a galore of secondhand shops – stocked with clothes so well looked after they could be selling as new, many small cafes and restaurants like the popular Omotesandō Koffee and numerous other branded stores that all fit into the trendy street character (see last photograph above).
  • Meiji Shrine is a typical tourist attraction. The shrine is beautiful though and worth a little relaxing walk through. It is big enough so that it doesn’t feel crowded with a lot of people.
  • Takeshita Street, also a staple crowd gatherer, is where you can purchase some delicious fresh fruit crepes and check out Japan’s crazy fashion. Good for the first time only.

That’s it for now, till next time!

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Any mid-Winter escape is pretty darn awesome, and during the week when Auckland is raging storms – even better. Port Douglas maintained a cool 29 degree heat during the five days we were there. The Lagoon pool at the resort was the place-to-be. On the third day of the trip we went scuba diving and snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef. It was spectacular and pretty scary for us first-timers. I was hyperventilating for a good five minutes. We saw nemo swimming along happily amongst the anemone, held a sea cucumber, and knelt down on the reef floor so it was all worth it. In the half submerged glass bottom boat we spotted turtles and sharks! As a typical Aussie holiday goes, we patted some wallabies, watched some koalas sleep, held a snake and heard lots of crocodiles’ jaws snap. We also travelled up to Kuranda Village for an afternoon via the Skyrail. The rum & raisin ice cream from the Kuranda Homemade Tropical Ice cream truck could get you tipsy after two. Cliff asks whether you are a) Driving and b) Over 18. Definitely having withdrawals in this chilly Auckland spring weather.

So we said we’d share more South Island extravaganza, three months on and we’d only posted two lots of photographs. So here is more.

You will find that 90% of these photos have mountains in the background. Wherever you go, they follow. It is so easy to forget about the city lights after spending a week lake and mountain hopping.The sunsets are the most breath-taking thing ever. We probably took a couple hundred ‘on-the-road’ snaps, it was a scenic drive 24-7. We can’t wait to go back!

Lake Wanaka
The water is just as clear as Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown. There are of course more towering mountains and also this famous #thatwanakatree. To my surprise, the houses here are modern and very flash, like those you see in design magazines. We spent a day here and did a 3 hour walk up Rocky Mountain. There are two ways which you can get up the top, we recommend going west for up and east when coming down. You have to use your hands and climb a few sections, but walking different routes mean you get to experience it all. Bring a picnic to have at the top too!IMG_0606 IMG_0604 IMG_0594 IMG_0631IMG_0662IMG_0657

Lake Tekapo
The Lake Tekapo/Mount Cook area has the clearest skies in the whole world. The best place for stargazing, if of course you don’t bump into a full moon like we did. It’s also home to the most photographed church, The Church of the Good Shepherd.  Pro tip: book early and get a place to stay in Tekapo. We lucked out on all the accommodation and had to stay at Fairlie, which is a 30 minute drive away and not very convenient. On the 2 days that we stayed there, it was all rain and thunderstorms in Fairlie while Tekapo had sunny blue skies and beautiful sunsets.IMG_1087

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Mt Cook/Lake Pukaki
Lake Pukaki was my favourite lake. The water is a striking baby blue caused by sediment deposit from glacial erosion. It is the most beautiful thing ever. You have to see to believe. Mt Cook sits with a family of other mountains which tower over you. We stopped at the info centre first. This info centre has more than just pamphlets and toilets, there are artefacts, old cameras, maps, and stories of the first climbers. We did the short walk to Kea Lookout, just 30 minutes. It’s the best walk when you’re tight on time. At the lookout point you can see Mt Cook, Mount Sefton, The Footstool, Hooker valley, and Mueller Glacier lake. Unlike Lake Pukaki, the water here is grey.IMG_1064 IMG_1047 IMG_0916 IMG_0910 IMG_0889 IMG_0888 IMG_0887 IMG_0885 IMG_0878 IMG_0979 IMG_0987 IMG_1000 IMG_0997 IMG_0995 IMG_0994 IMG_0968 IMG_0986

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Queenstown is an absolute beauty. There are mountains in your backyard, burger shops that open till 5am, water so clear it makes you want to drink it. The city is a true tourist destination, there are next to none locals and the supermarket is the tiniest thing ever. It’s very busy, there are people hopping onto water jets constantly, a steam boat that drives off into the mountains, live music, markets, frisbee golfers, bicycles. Honestly, it’s the best place ever.

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