Another World Right On Our Doorstep

White Island from aboard White Island Tour's custom made vessel. (photo Tori Hayley)

White Island from aboard White Island Tour's custom made vessel. (photo Tori Hayley)

Photos: Tori Hayley

Last year Elon Musk (Tesla, PayPal, Space X etc), published an article about setting up a colony on Mars. He estimates establishing a colony of 12 people would cost around US$10 billion per person. Now I know his goal is to ensure the human race endures, and it’s about more than just experiencing something new. But I say to Musk (and anyone else thinking along the same lines), instead funnel that money into saving the planet we are on, and to tick the ‘experience’ box, get themselves to White Island.

New Zealand’s most active volcano, Whakaari (or White Island) is located off the coast of Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty, and is about as different or otherworldly as you can get here on planet Earth. This feeling hits you as soon as the island comes into view. The white smoke slowly rising from the island is your first clue, followed by the absolute barren landscape that inches into view as the White Island Tours boat moves closer to main entrance of the island at the southern end.

It is not a quick trip from Whakatane out to White Island, and the crossing of the Bay of Plenty did have some (myself included for a time) feeling slightly wobbly. I would definitely suggest you take some sort of sea sickness remedy if you are prone to it.

Upon arrival, we were decked out in hard hats, a life jacket and a ventilation mask, and then ferried to the island from the boat on an inflatable (not too dissimilar to that of the Surf Lifeguard’s).

Landing on the island looked and felt like some sort of evacuation in reverse. And given the stories about the trials and tribulations (sometimes ending in death) of those that have mined sulphur on the island over the years, and I guess the threat of an eruption, apprehension did tend to creep.

Nothing on the island has been left unscathed – the volcano is very much in control here. Even the stairs you use to climb onto the island bear the scars from an eruption in 2013. The mining equipment from the early 20th Century, having seen a few more, even more worse for wear

Once on the island your attention is pulled in every which way, it’s all familiar and yet not. The contrasts in colours are incredible, the white of the smoke and steam, the red of the iron covered rock, and the yellow of the sulphur up against the deep blue of the sea, and the cloudless sky.

The tour takes you slowly towards the crater, stopping at heat vents, bubbling mud, and fizzing streams. The ground is uneven and constantly changing. If you have visited White Island in the past chances are the White Island I saw is completely different from the one you did. It is difficult to fathom given the size of the thing but the crater that consumes such a huge part of the island currently didn’t exist until after an eruption in 2000.  

After the crater the tour winds its way to what is known as the ‘overall lookout’. Names aren’t complicated here; the lookout named as such because it gives you, yup, an overall view of the island. There is also Shark Bay, yes indeed you guessed it, someone saw some sharks there once.

After the lookout it is down to remnants of the sulphur mine, and big dose of perspective. Whatever it is you do for work, however much you hate it, your job ain’t got nothing on those that worked here in the various sulphur mines! The constant threat of death, decaying teeth, decomposing clothing, just general conditions you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy…. Or maybe you would? Sicko.

After exploring the sulphur mine, our group is taken from the island in the same way we arrived, lunch is handed out (featuring the most delicious NZ apple I have eaten in a very long time) and the boat takes us for a tour of the exterior of White Island before heading back for Port Whakatane.

More than content with the events of the day, and ready for the return journey (I had found myself a sweet spot at the back of the boat that meant I would have the sun in my face and the wind in my hair all the way home), the day went from awesome to ridiculous as we found ourselves cruising alongside a pod of not ten, not hundreds, but literally thousands of dolphins.

They were everywhere. I’m not sure what the next step up from a pod of dolphins is? I’m going to suggest a ‘school’. However, I don’t feel even that is enough. More like ‘schools’. I’ve never seen anything like it. But apparently, this is normal during the summer months in the Bay. For those of us that weren’t White Island Tours crew, we didn’t know which way to look? The dolphins were breaching the water, left, right, behind, in front, and for hundreds of metres around. You’ve never seen happiness sweep over a group of people so quickly. What is it about dolphins? Just magic.

So again, Mr Musk I reiterate. Save the planet we are on and visit White Island on a White Island Tour. You are hardly going to encounter thousands of the world’s most delightful animal en-route to Mars from Cape Canaveral are you?

ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post. Posts on recent trips to Melbourne and Sydney are on their way!



The NGV or National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne, Australia.

The NGV or National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne, Australia.

Very rarely do I land in a place and rush to a museum or gallery. Rightly or wrongly I decided very early on in my travelling career that I would leave the heavy stuff (for example the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Louvre in Paris - although I did make a quick visit once to see Mona Lisa, so incredibly small?), until dancing in clubs and walking up tall things was difficult. And so, as I am still dancing, many of the world's great museums and exhibits are yet to host me. 

However, recently whilst booking a trip to Melbourne I knew that during my time there I was going to have to visit the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the exhibition ‘Triennial’

Why did I know I needed to visit this exhibition?

Had I found myself involved in a discussion about the arts with a friend and he’d insisted I must go? No. Was I browsing the internet looking for an event of some kind to attend so as to scratch a cultural itch? I think given my opening paragraph you know that ain’t it. Was I encouraged to go by some arts programme broadcast on RNZ National? Or perhaps a podcast? No and no. No, I knew I wanted to go to the NGV for the ‘Triennial’, because I’d seen a million pictures of it posted on Instagram. Eh, life in 2018!

“It’s art for everyone”, someone described the exhibition to me as. And whoever that person was, they were right. If like me, you aren’t an art connoisseur, struggle to tell your Rembrandts from Bach (intentional), often utter the phrase “well I could’ve done that”, when looking at modern art, but aren’t opposed to a bit of eye titillation from time to time, this is the exhibition for you. 

On display are works from over 100 artists from 32 countries – even little old New Zealand. There is art (both modern and traditional), design, architecture, animation, performance, video, drawing, new technologies, literally something for everyone.

There are exhibits that will make you think; like that of Olaf Breuning’s various pieces which offer comment on modern life. Installations you can contribute to; like Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Flower Obsession’, where everyone that enters adds to the piece by placing a sticker of a flower somewhere of their choosing. Pieces that will leave you in awe; like teamLAB’s ‘Moving Creates Vortices and Vortices’, a fully immersive exhibit where your movements are tracked by sensors and the projections made around you are altered accordingly - so very, very cool. And pieces (and I think these were some of my favourites) made out of everyday items; like that of Dutch art collective ‘We Make Carpets’, who’ve made some incredible art out of everyday items such as pegs and sponges. There is even a piece entirely devoted to your sense of smell. Unfortunately, my nose was blocked when I visited, so I have no idea if Sissel Tolaas’ ‘SmellScape Melbourne_ PastPresentFuture’ was a winner or not. If you go, and have two functioning nostrils when you do, please let me know what you thought. 

‘Triennial’ is on at Melbourne’s NGV until April 15th.
Entry is free.

For more details check out the NGV's website.

ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post.



Chana excited (but also slightly nervous), about our impending search for some wild elephants

Chana excited (but also slightly nervous), about our impending search for some wild elephants

If you read my last blog about Sigiriya, firstly, what an amazing human being you are (if you missed it, you can still be an amazing human and check it out here). And secondly, and in reality most importantly, do you remember from the photos the maaaahussive green expanse spread out around Sigiriya? Well most of that is a national park. Apologies, I can't for the life of me remember/locate the name.

Anyway, living in this expansive national park are herds of wild Sri Lankan elephants (Sri Lankan elephants are a subspecies of the Asian elephant). And they are kept inside the national park via an electric fence - and a minimal one at that. Think intermittent poles, as per, and a single, solitary wire. It barely looked as if it could keep me in, let alone a 5,500kg elephant.

Fun fact, it turns out NZ tech company Gallagher Group (based in Hamilton) makes electric fences to keep elephants and humans away from each other and have supplied these fences to Sri Lanka. Who knows if they supplied the ones around this national park? 

Anyway, Chana (my tuk tuk driver/good friend) had semi-promised he’d show me some wild elephants before we left Kandy but when it came to time to find them I think it is safe to say he had some concerns. Although he wanted to please, I got the distinct impression he had, in times gone by, found himself in some sticky situations with elephants. And thinking about it, tukuk v elephant could end very, very, very (to quote one Donald Trump) badly.

The problem was by the time we’d left Kandy, had lunch, a roadside tea break, stopped to see a cashew nut tree, eaten four or five roadside mangos, and I'd made it up Sigiriya and back down, the afternoon was fast becoming evening. This meant the heat of the sun was fading which meant the elephants were more inclined to play chase the tuktuk. 

In hindsight I probably should’ve been more worried than I was. Having only ever seen elephants in captivity, and therefore incredibly excited about the potential of seeing them in their natural habitat, the dangers surrounding this wee adventure didn’t cross my mind. Not even once.  

Being right next door to Sigiriya, we were in the national park and on the look out immediately. "Look a peacock," shouted Chana from time to time. "Yup, cool," I replied, trying to faint interest and act as excited about the situation as he clearly was. I finally told him that we had peacocks in New Zealand, and that they were quite commonplace after we stopped to look at the sixth or seventh one he’d spotted. “Oh," he said, obviously disappointed the peacocks weren’t setting my world alight. 

Much like I was at the top of Sigiriya, Chana and I were on our own on this winding road through the national park. In the 40 minutes we drove, we passed one lone car. One car, 18 peacocks, not one elephant. Bah! 

I figured if there were signs saying they were 'Wild Elephants' around, they must be around somewhere?

I figured if there were signs saying they were 'Wild Elephants' around, they must be around somewhere?

Somewhat deflated and fast running out of daylight, Chana said it was probably time to get me to the bus station so I could continue north to the Trincomalee and then to Nirwellia Beach where I would be staying the night, and so we headed back towards civilisation. And then, just in the nick of time, we struck gold! A herd of elephants, maybe 9 or 10 (including a baby), about 300m from the side of the road, just chilling by some trees trying to escape what was left of the day's heat. 

Now I don’t have the best eyesight and I didn’t have my contacts in so I’d be lying if I said I had any real idea what the elephants were up to, but just seeing them sway about in the distance was nothing short of magic. Magic because I knew they were free. Nobody had put them thir for my viewing convenience. They had the ability to do whatever they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it. And right in that instant, where they were, was exactly where they wanted to be. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the elephants in Auckland Zoo say, are mistreated in any way, but there is something extra special about seeing them in their natural environment, free to wander wherever, with the exception of course being outside the (potentially) Gallagher supplied electric fence. 

The herd

The herd

We must have watched them for a good 20 minutes, the last 15 of which weren't particularly interesting as they walked behind some very tall grass. Reminiscent of watching the ocean move around the exposed part of a smooth rock (yay!), I was watching the grass sway around the peak of a number of elephants' backs. It was riveting stuff! I have some terrible footage on my camera. Minutes and minutes of tall grass swaying in the wind accompanied by my heavy breathing and occasional ’naaaaaawwwwwww’ as a piece of an elephant became visible through the grass. 

Chana then dropped me in town with strict instructions on how and where to catch the bus, and to be very, very careful in the north. I’m not sure if his concern was a hangover from the civil war (Chana is Singhalese, and most of the north is Tamil), or things really were more dangerous in the north, but either way Chana had concerns for me. 

Waiting for the bus I decided I would read the New Yorker magazine that my co-host at Newstalk ZB (and work Mum), Kerre had bought for me to read on the plane over to Sri Lanka. Opening the magazine it dawned on me... what Kerre had paid for the magazine (NZ$18.50) was pretty much what Chana would make on a good day in his tuktuk. It was one of those moments that reinforced to me just how ridiculously lucky, and awash with riches of every kind I am. 

Bus after bus pulled up, going to this place and that, most of which I had never heard of, and although they all appeared to have been on the road for a good few years, each one looked like a respectable ride. As this was my first foray into public buses in Sir Lanka, I was unsure what to expect. But as I said, things looked in order, there were seats, nothing appeared too crazy, I was yet to see any cages of animals board, or get off (ahhhh Laos & Mexico).

And then came a bus so packed to the gills that there were three people hanging out the front door and two out the rear. 'What do you bet this is me...' I thought to myself as one of the three men at the front yelled “Trincomaaaleeeeeeee," and thus the panic to get myself and my bags on-board began. 

“Yeeeeeeees," I yelled as I ventured forth, backpack over my left arm, right arm dragging my Kathmandu wheelie. Having barely made it onto the first step, the bus was moving again. My bag still on the ground behind me, I lurched backwards hanging onto the bus for dear life with my left hand. But within seconds there were hands all over me. Some pulling me up, others my bag, and before I knew it my wheelie bag went over my head into the depths of the bus, and I was pulled up onto the second step and into the ridiculousness that was my bus north to Trincomalee. 

Imagine someone is about to drop a nuclear bomb on your town, and there is just one bus that can get everyone left in your town to safety. There isn’t enough room for everyone, but whoever gets on/in the bus survives. Imagine how many people would squeeze into that bus. I personally don’t need to imagine because this is how full my bus north was. It was it jam-packed. Sardine like, as they say. There would’ve easily been 10 people in the doorway. I couldn’t see through the bodies to see the people sitting in the front seats, let alone the what was happening behind them.




And of course, as I was the only non Sri Lankan on the bus, all eyes were on me. A couple of stops after I got on, I found myself on the third step, back to the windscreen (yay, there were now only three sides available for sweaty bus patrons to rub up against), wedged between the door and the gear stick looking towards the back of the bus. Although in a new spot, focus had not shifted, all eyes were still on me but the stares had warmed. The ‘what the hell?’ looks had turned to smiles, as Bob Marley’s ‘Is This Love’, had started playing over the stereo and I, happy to recognise a song, had started mouthing along to the words. It was from singing along to Bob that got me my first interaction, a guy standing somewhere near where I imagined the front seat closet to the door to be, shouted out "Bob Marley". I smiled and nodded as I continued to sing, and in that instant, everyone's trepidation about who I was and what I was about, melted away and we were all instantly friends. 

The next stop saw a good five or six people get off and although this didn’t leave us with oodles of space, it meant it wasn’t nose-to-armpit any longer. Quite enjoying the breeze from the door and not really wanting to venture out of it towards the back of the bus I stayed put, which meant I was in prime ‘conversing’ territory for whoever was planning to get off the bus at the next stop. And so the chats began. I met, amongst others, a man who had been in Kandy for the day trying to locate a part for his car, a nurse, an electrical engineer, a teacher - most of whom had perfect English, and some who only knew a few words, but could barely hide their excitement at getting to use them. I chatted cricket (of course), rugby, New Zealand, and at great length, Sri Lanka, what to do, and of course my thoughts on it so far. In between those chats I also found myself the intermediary between the driver and the ticket guy, passing cigarettes from one to the other and back again. 

Completely random, on many levels bizarre, and given the speed at which the driver was taking every corner, and my proximity to the door, probably quite dangerous. But so much fun. I know for many people catching a public bus in Sri Lanka, having to stand for an-hour-an-a-half, and spending a good chunk of that time embedded in the sweatier regions of various random people doesn’t sound like much fun. But I loved it. Wherever you’re travelling, you gain instant respect passing up the air conditioned ‘tourist coach’, and instead catching local transportation. And once you have shown your willingness to do what the locals do, that you are happy or even excited to be doing so, they reveal all. It's the same the world over. I’ve had it happen in Thailand, Mexico, Colombia, China. If you open yourself up for experience, show you are willing to try, are interested to learn, people are more than happy to show you, to take you, to share their lives with you.

In that short bus ride north I got offered a place to stay, not once but twice, invited to a day at the beach with one man’s family, and advice galore on where to stay in Trincomalee, what to eat, other paces to visit in Sri Lanka and (most importantly) how much a tuktuk from the bus stop to my accomodation in Nirwellia Beach was gonna cost. 

There is a lot to be said for travelling with friends and family. Mainly if everything turns tits up, you have someone to look after you. But also if you go somewhere with someone you see all the time, once you return to wherever you are from, you can relive all those magic moments that happened while you were away, whenever you like. However, it’s my experience that if you travel with friends or family, rarely do you find yourself in situations similar to my bus ride north. For sure, you interact with locals, but not in the same way you do when you are travelling solo. Had I got on that bus with a friend, I would’ve talked to them. Without the friend, it was either the others on the bus or myself. I know it’s not for everyone, but I strongly recommend trying the solo traveller thing at some point if you can. It's such a difference experience. 

The bus came to a complete stop when it came time for me to get off, goodbyes and thank yous were shared left, right and centre. I was so high on life it was stupid. Chana and the tuktuk ride north, Sigiriya, the elephants, and then the bus ride. Everything was perfect. And for the umpteenth time in my life I was convinced that travelling was what I was put on the planet to do, FOREVER!

And from the warmth and love of the bus, I crashed into the cold, dank and dark streets of Trincomalee. After feeling like one of the people for a good hour and a bit, in a matter of seconds, I was a once again, a walking ATM. Yet another tourist, ripe to be taken advantage of. My only redeeming quality, the cash in my wallet. 

After way too long haggling, I did eventually get a tuktuk to my hotel on Nirwellia Beach. It cost twice what it should’ve, and en route I got the hard sell on everything; a different place to stay, a great tour here, a great tour there, buying weed, getting a hooker, and all at exorbitant prices (truth be told I don’t know the going rate for a hooker in Sri Lanka, but everything through this guy was NZ$100+, when comparatively, most nights' accommodation had cost me NZ$20-$30). The guy driving me was so money hungry I actually did wonder a couple of times if I was going to get to my hotel, or if he was just going to take me where he would get a backhander. And to be honest, what was I going to do if he did? I was in the north of Sri Lanka, no real idea where, alone, and therefore completely vulnerable. 

Luckily this didn’t happen and he ended up taking me where I wanted to go. And so I checked in for what was a very quiet couple of days on the beach.

ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post.


Firstly let me start by apologising. Since I got back from holiday life has been heeeeectic. Lots of exciting stuff happening, which I will tell you all about once I have wrapped up the blog about the holiday. 

Sigiriya (or Lion Rock) from below.

Sigiriya (or Lion Rock) from below.

The things you do for friends. 

Pick ups/drop offs at the airport, putting them to bed after they have had too much to drink (to be honest its been a while since I have had to do this), talking them through their latest break up (this on the other hand is rife at the moment), or in my case recently, foregoing a cruisey ride in an air-conditioned car from Kandy to the north of Sri Lanka, and instead, getting one of my friends to drive me for four straight hours in his tuktuk.


Well that was my initial thought while I packed my bags at my hotel in Kandy. And this was only compounded at breakfast when I told the man that ran the hotel that i was staying at what I had planned for the day. He looked at me like I was a mad man. ‘A tuktuk, to Sigiriya? Really?’ Accompanied by a face that very much said ‘you are f@#&’ing nuts!’.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me a tuktuk ride. Zipping through the cars, trucks and bikes, the wind in my hair, some eccentric man waxing lyrically about breasts… If I had a dollar for every time a taxi driver or tuktuk driver in some far-flung country had talked to me about breasts, I’d have more than enough money to buy myself a pair. And from a good surgeon too! Not some rubbish after the fact you find yourself with one looking up, one down and then eventually featuring on E!’s Botched, sort of number. 

Anyway, I digress… I love tuktuks, they are one of my favourite parts of visiting Asia, but hours and hours in the back of one? I had my concerns. But as I alluded to I felt it was better to pay the money to my friend Chana (who drives a tuktuk), and help him and his family out, as opposed to give it to some random I didn’t know, who probably would’ve quite liked the money too, but with whom I had no relationship.

"Are you ready…?" yelled Chana as I came down the stairs. “As ready as I will ever be," I replied. And after a quick stop to pick up my washing, some water for the trip and Chana’s bank to pay off some of a personal loan (it had to happen before COB that day apparently), we were on the road. 

Of course the joy of having a driver is you can stop whenever you want.

Cup of tea? Why not.

Mango covered in salt and chilli - this might sound odd by you HAVE to try it. I feel in love with this combo in Mexico and was stoked to find the Sri Lankans are a fan too! 

How about to see a cashew nut tree? 

A cashew nut tree.

A cashew nut tree.

…an odd request yes, but tell me, prior to seeing the above picture had you any idea what a cashew nut tree looked like? Didn’t think so. 

So yes, although it did take us a good three hours to get to Sigiriya, and this wee trip was no doubt the reason I had to visit the osteopath and get my neck and back re-aligned as soon as I got back to NZ, the journey was actually really, really fun.

As well as learning about where cashews come from, Chana and I also swapped stories about life and love, sung, danced and laughed about all sorts of stupid things. And as is so often the case, what I was initially a touch worried about, turned out to be a wicked time. 

Much like New Zealanders do with Queenstown and Rotorua, just about even Sri Lankan I had meet had encouraged me to visit Sigiriya or Lion Rock. So I arrived brimming with anticipation. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress. It was the capital of a Kingdom way back in 477-495BC. King Kasyapa built his palace at the top of the rock and his minions lived and farmed in the surrounds. 

But this is the crazy thing, the rock is called Lion Rock because King Kasyapa built a bloody great Lion head one end of the thing so it actually looked like a lion. Back in the day you walked up some stairs, through its mouth to reach the palace at the top. Unfortunately the lion was destroyed in a battle (very long complicated story that one), and now only the feet remain. 

The old entrance to the palace and all that remains of the aforementioned Lion.

The old entrance to the palace and all that remains of the aforementioned Lion.

As I climbed the various stairs to the top of the rock, dealing with the full force of the wind, I did question the intellect of the King building his palace all the way up there, but once at the top, I quickly swallowed my words. The view. My God the view. Actually breathtaking. Just stunning. 

Of course back in the day of King Kasyapa things would’ve looked very different, but I think a couple of thousands of years of natural growth has been the best thing for it. Nature uninterrupted. I mean how often do you see it? The seemingly never-ending green eventually giving away to the blue of the sky interspersed with Mother Nature's icing, big fat fluffy clouds.

Atop Sigiriya looking South East. Incredible huh? 

Atop Sigiriya looking South East. Incredible huh? 

I have found myself in awe a couple of times since arriving on the planet. Seeing the Taj Mahal in India, at Iguazu Falls in Argentina, when I learnt the American government was actually just printing more money to get itself out of the GFC, LITERALLY JUST PRINTING MORE MONEY! And atop Sigiriya. It really is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my entire life. 

Following a good amount of time wandering the summit, taking in the beauty, contemplating life and congratulating myself for all the choices I made leading to this moment, I bounced down the rock and back to Chana so he could take me to try and find some elephants. I know, as if the day needed to get better, but yup, after the incredible experience that was Sigiriya, Chana reckoned he could track me down some elephants before we headed north to Trincomalee

But that story, and the yarn about the ridiculous bus ride that followed soon after, will have to wait for another day… Promise it won’t be a month between blogs. 

ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post.

Kandy (Central Sri Lanka)

Downtown Kandy

Downtown Kandy

If visiting Kandy in Central Sri Lanka TripAdvisor suggests visiting the following sights

1. Royal Botanical Gardens

2. Temple of the Tooth (Sir Dalada Maligawa) - a temple housing one of Buddhas teeth.

3. Kandy Garrison Cemetery 

Nowhere online, not on TripAdvisor not anywhere did it suggest befriending a tuktuk driver and spending however long you have in Kandy hanging with him and his mates. But you know what? It should.

After getting off the train from Colombo and meeting the family and friends of various people I had talked to on the train, I got a snack (on this occasion a steamed spicy chick pea number). And whilst eating it, turned down countless offers from tuktuk drivers to take me to my hotel. 

You see it being 2017 and all means you no longer have to haggle with tuktuk drivers to get places. Nope, there is an app for that. Well there is in Sri Lanka anyway. It’s called PickMe and it is Sri Lanka's answer to Uber. Uber is here too, but you can only order cars with Uber. With PickMe you can order tuktuks, small cars, normal size cars, vans, pretty much whatever you like.

Understandably the tuktuk drivers hate it. No longer can they charge three, four times the usual price because you are a tourist and know no better. Nearly through my chick peas I declined yet another ride from yet another driver only to have him ask how, if I didn’t need a tuktuk was I going to get to my accomodation? Good question. I then told him I  had PickMe, which took him like it had the others I'd informed by surprise as few tourists knew about it. He then went on to explain how PickMe was not good for the full time tuktuk drivers, as its arrival had seen their earnings drop. He said most of the PickMe drivers were people with good Government jobs that wanted to make some extra money on the side, and so were happy to accept whatever extra money they could. But the cheaper PickMe fares had had flow on effects for those that didn't work with the app. Long story short, he got me. Was it true? Who knows. But he got the trip. I got him to take me to my hotel and, I didn’t even haggle with him on price. It was only US$3. Anyway, surprise, surprise we got chatting and by the time I was at the hotel, I had been invited to watch the Federation Cup with him and his mates later that evening. 

And the rest, as they say, is history. I then spent the next three days with Chana and his mates, drinking by the river, playing football and touch rugby, and watching the Federation Cup. I know, I can’t really believe it either… Watching football. Who am I? 

Saapu, Me & Chana drinking by a river somewhere in Kandy.

Saapu, Me & Chana drinking by a river somewhere in Kandy.

I did begrudgingly go to the Temple of the Tooth on my last day in Kandy as I felt kinda guilty I hadn’t really done anything ’touristy' since arriving, and it was the major attraction in the city. And guess what? It was crap. Temples, Churches and Cathedrals, i’m sorry but I just don’t care anymore. Seen one, you really have seen them all. Annnnnnnd, you couldn’t even see the tooth! It was holed up in a wall. So I paid $15 to see a wall that one of Buddha’s teeth is ‘supposedly’ kept behind. Bah! 

Outside of my temple visit my time in Kandy was fantastic. It really was just me and the locals 24/7. Well, me and an army of tuktuk drivers. I got taken to all their favourite places to eat, their favourite places to drink tea, their favourite places to hang. Each day at 5:30pm we’d meet at the local field and play football. I generally just sat and watched and played with their favourite street dog Cindy (although you’d think given the name it was a bitch, nope it was a boy), but one day there was a game of touch happening down the other end of the field, so I joined in on that. On a side note, rugby is surprisingly big here. There has been a tonne of cricket chat, but surprisingly large amounts of rugby chat too. They love Jonah Lomu.

Once it was too dark to kick the ball around we would then head inside to play Carrom (kinda like shuttleboard) and watch whoever was playing in the Federation Cup. We’d then hit the boys favourite late night haunt for Kottu (a Sri Lankan rice or noodle based dish), and the most incredible tea I have ever had. FYI I’ll do a post on the food here once I leave. And then following all that it was home to sleep before we did it all over again the next day. 

The boys playing their nightly game of football.

The boys playing their nightly game of football.

I learnt so much about Sri Lankan life in these few days. I also learnt number of Sinhalese words, most of which I won’t mention as Mum reads this. And I also scored myself a nickname. Not a particularly original nickname I don’t think. But kinda fun none the less. My nickname is ‘Sudu’, which is pronounced ‘Sudda'. And means white. Any of the locals that overheard the boys yelling it at me, loved it. They thought it was hilarious. On a number of occasions I tried to explain that I wasn’t really white, but brown (especially after the sun I have seen). That I had friends at home that were well and truly white, and had Irish friends that are so white they are almost translucent (you know who you are...), but they didn’t care. In comparison to them, I was white. 

You know I don’t think I said boo to a single tourist my entire time in Kandy. I mean I love the Germans, the Aussies, and the Americans, but this is kinda the goal yeah? Experiencing local life. I’d be interested to hear what others did with their time in Kandy, what, if anything I missed out on. 

After Kandy the backpacker trail splits, with some heading north to the beaches in and around Trincomalee, and others east through the tea plantations of Sri Lanka, on what is meant to be one of the most incredible train journeys in the world. I decided to go north. And wanting to be a supportive mate instead of paying for a car or mini van to take me there, I opted for Chana to take me in his tuktuk. Three to four hours of solid travel in a tuktuk, how did it go? You’ll just have to wait for the next blog. 

ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post.

Colombo to Kandy by Train

Waiting for the train to Kandy at Colombo Fort Railway Station

As I mentioned on Instagram the other day, some of my favourite memories of travelling India involve public transport. My initial foray was riding the local trains in Mumbai. Hanging out/off the doors of the trains with all the kids. Ducking in and out to avoid other trains, air conditioning units, and various other items that could’ve seen us loose whatever was outside of the train at the time. I have countless other great public transport memories too. And so, with Sri Lanka being similar to India in many ways, I was excited about my first train trip here. 

It didn’t disappoint. Although my trip from Colombo to Kandy (in central Sri Lanka), was slightly more civilised than my trips on the local trains in Mumbai - I had a pre allocated seat for starters, the experience wasn't lacking. There were three classes available on the train. First, which included WIFI and A/C and to which I saw a number of backpackers get on. Rookies. Second, allocated seats, but no WIFI or A/C, just open windows and doors. And third, of which I imagine was like most third classes (I don’t know because I got a second class ticket), your run of the mill 'stuff ‘em in where and however you can’ type scenario. 

I had been told by a number of people the scenery on the way was breathtaking. Through the craziness of the city of Colombo, into the rural hinterland, through the jungle, and finally into the mountains to Kandy, it all sounded amazing. And so you can imagine how stoked I was, when by total chance, I got a window seat. 

Sitting opposite me on the train was a young Buddhist Monk. I think it’s safe to say he thought I was odd. I feel like we both spent a good amount of time trying to work each other out. Me wondering how he ended up a Monk, and why he was going to Kandy? Also, how many of those robes he owns? Him, probably where on earth I was from, and what a strange sight I was. This wasn’t the first time in Sri Lanka I had been looked upon with a ‘Whaaaaat the hell?!?' expression. The Monk had some cash though. He bought up one of everything that was offered up by the hawkers. He even purchased a ‘Wonders of the World’, colouring book.

I should only be nice really, a) because he is a Monk, and although one should be respectful of all life, I feel you should probably be especially respectful of Monks. And b), because while I was being all ‘artsy’ and taking the photo below, obviously unable to look behind me (or to the front), and therefore see where the train was going, he pulled my head and body inside the train so it wasn’t separated from me by an oncoming bridge. Thank you Mr Monk. Eternally grateful. 

The final part of the journey was the most fun though. As we approached Kandy and the locals got off at their respective stops, the train began to empty. This meant there was space in the exits. Previously all the doors were jam packed, at least three or four people deep. 

So it was towards the end of the trip that I finally got to relive India and hang outside the door of the train. However, my 'hang time' was rather brief. You see a lovely soul in the door of the carriage in front thought it was funny to spit each time I popped my head out. And thus the game went. I pop out. He spits. I see him spitting and pop back in. Only to wait until he’s not facing me and pop back out. 

Disgusting? Yes. But he only got me the once. And aside from not having more time to nail a ‘look-at-me-im-hanging-out-of-a-train' selfie. All was ok. 

Of course no train journey would be complete without some chat with some randoms. I can’t say I made any friendships that will last the test of time on this particular trip - best friends breathe a sigh of relief. But I did meet a lovely man who had been in Colombo to see his sister (and once off the train I also met his wife and three kids, also lovely), and Lakshitha Lakmal (see photo below), we didn’t talk huge amounts, but as you can see, a photo was taken. 

Arriving in Kandy after the intense heat and chaos of Colombo really felt like entering another world. Travelling there through the jungle, the mountains and the clouds, without a doubt added to that feeling. I loved the journey and the best bit is, Colombo to Kandy isn’t even the renowned train journey of Sri Lanka. That title goes to the trip from Kandy to Ella, through the tea plantations. Obviously, I cannot wait. But first Kandy and then north to Sigiriya or Lion Rock, what has been described to me as the 8th Wonder of the World. 


ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post.



The photo that nearly cost me my head. Again, thank you Mr Monk.

The photo that nearly cost me my head. Again, thank you Mr Monk.

Trying to nail a 'hanging-outside-a-train' selfie without getting spat on. Easier said than done.

Trying to nail a 'hanging-outside-a-train' selfie without getting spat on. Easier said than done.

And finally me and my new friend Lakshitha Lakmal

And finally me and my new friend Lakshitha Lakmal

The day after the day before

I had a terrible sleep Saturday night (my first night in Colombo). The plan was to have a few beers at the hostel, and then head out into town to see what trouble we could find ourselves. What actually happened was, I had two beers in the lounge and pretty much collapsed.

It might have been the cricket chat that did it (on a side note, can someone please tell me what NZ as a whole thinks about Sri Lanka's cricketing style? Ha! I have been asked this more times that you'd ever believe in the last few days), or the fact that Xanax induced plane sleep isn't in fact real sleep, so by the time 8pm rolled around I had pretty much been awake for two days. But either way, the sleep wasn't good. I crashed at 8:30ish, waking at 11pm, 1am, 3am, and then finally again at 4am. At half four, the mind engaged, and with no sign of getting back to sleep due to Mr Pakistan's incessant snoring, I decided to head to the common room to do some reading.

...Mr Pakistan update. He went out on Saturday night and made a couple of friends. I didn't ask if anything else happened, but hey, friends is a good start, right? 

It turned out however I wasn't the only one awake. The mother of the man that owns the hostel, was already in the lounge drinking coffee while waiting for her hair to dry. Pleasantries were exchanged, I drilled her for information about where to go and what to see in Sri Lanka, and then (and I believe she instigated this, not me, honestly), we started talking politics. 

Safe to say this lady was not a fan of the last President. To be fair she did say he did do a lot of good things. But, filing his cabinet with family (apparently every minister was a brother, a brothers wife, or sister), and various dodgy dealings, including the mysterious death, via exploding car, of a famous Sri Lankan rugby player, who was 'the only thing standing in the way' of the Presidents son becoming captain of the team, was enough to see him and his party ousted at the last election. 

In world news, New Zealand PM makes headlines for pulling pony tails, and in Sri Lanka, allegations the President is somehow involved in the murder of a rugby player so his son could captain the team... 

As creepy as the pony tail thing is/was, I'll take that over the latter every day. 

I have since asked a couple of people about the allegation, and although all seem aware of the story, whether or not you see any truth in it seems to very much depend on which side of the political fence you sit.

It was also quite interesting talking to this lady about the civil war. My current POV on this (and maybe this will change), is the Tamil's, the people of the North, were completely out of line trying to split the country and gain independence. 

The Tamil's are originally from India. They were brought here by the British to work in the tea plantations, and as I alluded before, they wanted to split the island in two creating a seperate state for themselves in the North, leaving the Sinhalese to govern the south. 

Can I understand that want? Sure. But if you've only been in the country for a hot minute when compared to the Sinhalese, who've been knocking around these parts for millennia, I'm hard pushed to say you were fighting the good fight. But, as I said, this could change as I learn more about the situation. 

From what I am aware of though, and probably somewhat unsurprisingly, the whole thing was horrific. Twenty six years, tens of thousands dead, and as per, many of them civilians. It is widely believed 40,000 civilians were killed by either side in the last few weeks of the war in 2009. Just crazy numbers yeah? 

But with her hair dry, the church service she was planning on attending with her sons wife edging ever closer, and my stomach in desperate need of some food. That was where we left things.

With the temperature already at 20+ (and this is at 7am), I decided a swim at the beach was in order. And so I found myself a tuktuk and headed to southern Colombo for a swim at Mount Lavinia. 


ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post.

pps you'll see I am now running black text on white, don't say I never do anything for you, better? 

Season 1 Ep 1

Just after landing in Colombo, Sri Lanka - June 17th 2017

Just after landing in Colombo, Sri Lanka - June 17th 2017

A few months ago on a random Tuesday evening, I got drunk. Very drunk. Smashed in fact. I had spent the best part of the previous two months working every waking hour available to me. Newstalk ZB during the day, managing my importing company and preparing to launch the food truck yeah naan, evenings and weekends. I was due a blow out, and an invite to some drinks at a friends house turned out to be just the ticket. 

I'm not a big weekday drinker. I've never really seen the point. I'm one of those horrible people that drinks to get drunk. I don't love the taste of alcohol. On the rare occasion in the sweltering heat I will yearn for a beer, but I've never really found myself dying to have a wine, or a gin, or a rum. I drink because I love the adventures come with drinking. Very rarely do you get home from a few drinks without a new friend, or a new story or two. Fun things happen when you drink. Or at least, that's how I feel. 

Anyway, on this fateful Tuesday night, smashed, I made a promise to a certain person that I would start a blog. Start a blog and write about my travels, the ones I have been on, the ones i will go on, and (her suggestion, not mine), my life in general. So here I am, making good on that promise. 

I have blogged before. When I first left New Zealand for my big O.E (Overseas Experience for those of you not from NZ), in 2012, I played the blogging game for a bit. There is a Tumblr somewhere with details of a few days, possibly weeks, of my exploits in Europe. From what I can remember, nothing outrageous, just my musings from life on the road. I haven't read it since, and don't really want to. Truth be told I kinda cringe thinking about it. I can only imagine the rubbish I wrote.

And so although that Tuesday night was months ago, and I have had ample time to start, I thought today, right now, would be the perfect moment to begin. You see I am back on the road again. Back out in the world. The wind in my hair and my most recent new music compilation blaring in my ears. And it feels so good. In fact it's beyond good. It's fucking fantastic. 

I landed in Colombo in Sri Lanka five hours ago. I left New Zealand (ironically), bang on 23 hours ago. Not even a day away from home and already, so much has happened. I've already meet so many interesting people. 

People often ask me if I am done with travelling having already spent quite a considerable amount of time and money galavanting all over. My answer is always no, and the last 23hours, the last five hours even, perfectly demonstrate why.

On my flight to Kuala Lumpur I sat next to an incredibly interesting guy called David who was on his way to Europe for an engineering conference. Not that I knew this to start with, as we didn't talk until a few hours before we landed in KL. But boy did we cover some ground in those few hours. Travel, life, love, politics, the future of New Zealand and the globe, it all got a going over. So much so a coffee was sought after getting off the plane, but had to be skipped as our connecting flights were at opposite ends of the airport and departing soon. 

We are going to catch up for a beer in Auckland when I get back.

My flight from KL to Colombo was less eventful, although still very enjoyable. The service you get on airlines not based in Europe and Australasia is just incredible. The food they served (a chicken curry), was not only delicious, like actually delicious, I got to eat it with REAL CUTLERY. Call me sad, but the sight of an actual metal knife and fork on a plane gets me excited. If Sri Lankan Airlines can do it Air NZ, why can't you? 

However since landing in Colombo it has been all go. I ended up sharing a taxi into town with a girl from the Maldives, who may or may not have been working as a hooker in Thailand until recently. We are now friends on Instagram, so I will try and find out for certain and let you know.

After checking into the hostel and then finding my bed in the dorm, I met a guy from Pakistan. This next bit is horrible. This poor dude is staring down the barrel of a life all alone, as he's gay, and obviously being gay in Pakistan is a big fat no, no. When I asked him if there was anything at all he could do, any possibility he could meet someone, any chance he could move abroad, he answered, 'no, but it is ok, this is life'. 

My heart broke hearing it the first time. Its just broken again typing it out. He is away from home and here in Colombo for a month. Today is his second day. He is obviously dying to meet someone (I think he might have thought that maybe I was going to be it...), and so we had a good chat about talking to people on Tindr, and what to do when meeting them in real life. And just in case he couldn't be anymore of an outcast in Pakistan, he is also an atheist. A gay atheist in Pakistan. I mean, the poor bloody thing. 

A tough act to follow, but shortly after Mr Pakistan had headed off for a shower, the German born child of a couple of now England based, Tamil refugees entered the room. FYI the Tamil's are the people of Northern Sri Lanka who the Sinhalese (the people from the rest of Sri Lanka), were fighting in the Sri Lankan civil war until 2009. This was his very first, and his parents (they left last week), first trip back to the country in 30 years. Their first visit since they escaped to Germany just after the conflict began. Man, the stories he had. 

All of this, and I haven't even begun to explore yet. All this, and I haven't told you about leaving my hat on the plane (I didn't get it back), the ATM chewing up one of my EFTPOS cards, the taxi driver, the guy that checked me into the hostel, the city, the heat, the food... 

This is why I love to travel. This is why I can't stop. This is why I probably never will. And now, given I have made good on my promise and started writing some of it down, you'll be able to (that is if you want to), share in my adventures too.

Till next time. Whenever that might be. I'm off to buy some beers and get drunk with my new Tamil friend. So no doubt a few more stories en route.


ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post.