Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A family trip to South Island of New Zealand

Isolated from the rest of the world, New Zealand is a beautiful country with amazing sceneries, flora and fauna. The outdoor scenes of the movies Lord of the Rings and The Hobbits were taken in the beautiful scenic places in New Zealand. The people living there are generally friendly, sincere and helpful to visitors too.

Being an agricultural country, you can also see a number of sheep, cows, and sometimes horses eating grasses on vast farmlands. It is said that the population of these livestock is more than the population of people in New Zealand.

After landed at Christchurch International Airport, we were picked up by the free shuttle van from Airport Gateway Motel which we stayed that day. After check-in, the motel was kind enough to shuttle us to Juicy Rentals nearby the airport, where we rented an MPV as our transport throughout our tour in New Zealand.

We ate a very relaxing breakfast at Terra Viva Café & Deli nearby Juicy Rentals. The Café is attached with a beautiful garden with lots of flowers.

We visited the Canterbury Museum, which exhibits the Maori culture, Asian arts, dinosaurs, birds and Antarctic lives, a young lady mummy, meteorite stone, etc. There is also a historical Victorian Christchurch street near its exit.

We had picnic in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens located next to the Canterbury Museum. There is a river in the botanic gardens, and you could see flock of ducks and birds living in the habitat.

Eating in restaurant or café in New Zealand is pretty expensive, so most of the time we prefer to do our own cooking in the place we stayed. Groceries can be purchased at hypermarkets such as New World, Countdown, etc.

We visited Re:Start, a shopping mall where shops are made out of cargo containers. We also visited the Cardboard Cathedral Church. The roof of this church is made out of cardboards. It is a transitional church building, as the original Cathedral Church was badly damaged in an earthquake happened in 2011. Near to the church are hundreds of white chairs, installed there in memorial to the death killed by that earthquake in 2011.

We visited the Ohoka Farmer's Market on our way from Christchurch to Rangiora. There are lovely people, nice food and fresh vegetables.

We had a farm stay in a cottage house in Pete's Farm Stay. Pete brought us to walk around his farm, watched his dog Jessy shepherded his livestock, fed the lovely sheep, calves, alpacas and cows. He even demonstrated to us how he shears a sheep.

The next morning, we had breakfast with Pete's family in his lovely house, together with another family from Canada who also stayed at Pete's Farm.

Then, we travelled all the way south from Rangiora to Ohoka, Ashburton, Timaru and reached our destination Oamaru. We stayed at the Ambassador Motor Lodge.

We visited the Steampunk HQ museum located near to the Oamaru Harbour. It features the steam-powered technology of 19th century Victorian England.

We went to a viewing platform at Bushy Beach to watch the yellow-eyed penguins returning from sea. The platform is high up at a cliff, quite some distance away from the penguin landing beach. It is very windy and cold there. We only managed to see a few penguins.

Then we went to watch the blue penguins at Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. While watching penguins at Bushy Beach is free, watching penguins at the Colony requires purchase of entry ticket. But it worth the money, as we could see hundreds of small blue penguins returned from the sea, gathered together, queuing up and walking crossing the beach in front of us to return to their nests.

Departed from Oamaru, we went to see the big round rocks at the beach in Moeraki Boulders. We had our lunch in a nice seafood restaurant there.

We continued south to Dunedin, but we missed the opening hour of visiting Cadbury World. We also missed the departure hour of Dunedin scenic train tour. Anyhow, the Dunedin railway station is beautiful, and we took quite a lot of photos there.

We went to Baldwin Street, which is considered as the world's steepest residential street.

We continued our journey to Otago Peninsula, driving through kilometres of unpaved road at a swampy area, before we reached Bettys Bach. It is a waterfront cottage down a steep slope, with very nice scenic view. The slope is so deep that our luggage needed to be carried by an electrical lift connecting the small parking area on top with the cottage at the bottom.

There is a Larnach Castle in Otago Peninsula, but due to time constraint, we didn't enter into the castle. We went to Te Rauone Beach to watch the sea lions. The beach is very windy. We dodn't manage to see any sea lion that day.

We visited the Royal Albatross Centre and saw hundreds of albatross resting and flying around the place.

After that, we headed west to a small town beside a huge lake called Te Anau. We stayed in a nice lakeside holiday house there.

There is a Miles Better Pies bakery shop nearby that sells really delicious pies. There are also several souvenir shops that sell merchandises at reasonable price.

We drove north along the Fiordland National Park from Te Anau to Milford Sound for our cruise tour. It is a scenic highway with lots of sight seeing stop points, including the Mirror Lakes, Knobs Flat, The Divide, Hollyford Valley, Monkey Creek, The Chasm, etc. Our car passed through a long Homer Tunnel which only allows one way traffic at a time, controlled by traffic light at both side of the tunnel.

At Milford Sound, we went sight seeing on Mitre Peak Cruise.

On our way back, we visited the Underwater Observatory of Milford Discovery Centre.

We didn't have much choice for our lunch in Milford Sound. We found only one Blue Duck Café & Bar there. The food is quite nice, although a bit expensive.

Departed from Te Anau, our next destination was Queenstown. We stayed at Panorama Terrace apartment there.

Queenstown is a more dynamic and happening place in New Zealand, with bars and casino in the town centre. We had a fun time in Below Zero Ice Bar.

We went up Bob's Peak by riding on Skyline Gondola. Really very nice view up there.

Departed from Queenstown, we visited the historical Arrowtown nearby. There is nice ice-cream selling in Arrowtown, and a narrow Arrow River.

We also visited the Gibbston Valley Winery and had a nice wine tour in its large wine cave. We watched bungy jumps at the Kawarau Bridge Bungy Centre.

We settled down in Manuka Crescent Motel in Wanaka. Wanaka is a small town at the shore of the beautiful Lake Wanaka. We walked from the motel to the town, following the track in Eely Point Recreational Reserve. There are beautiful pine trees and lupin flowers along the way, and also ducks and birds in the lake. Recreational fishing boats were sailing in the lake. At the other side of the lake, far far away, are ice mountains forming a beautiful scene.

We had our dinner at Bombay Palace Indian Restaurant. The food was really nice, but also pretty expensive.

I had an amazing 1 hour trial flight above the Mt Aspiring National Park and its surrounding with my flight instructor from Learn To Fly NZ. This is my first experience flying a plane on the sky!

We also visited the Stuart Landsborough's Puzzling World before leaving Wanaka to Aoraki Mt Cook.

Before arriving Mt Cook, there is a very long Lake Pupaki. There are nice and fresh salmons selling in Mt Cook Alpine Salmon Shop beside the Lake Pupaki Information Centre, located at the south of Lake Pupaki.

We stayed in Hermitage Family Motel in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. There is free shuttle service to bring us to the Hermitage Hotel located about 800 meters away. Inside the hotel, there is a small museum with a 3D theatre and planetarium.

We just purchased the ticket once, and it entitled us for unlimited entry to the museum and theatre throughout our stay in the Hermitage. We watched the Primeval New Zealand documentary, Tycho to the Moon 3D cartoon, and Infinity Express.

We visited the Tasman Glacier terminal lake in our Glacier Explorers cruising tour.

We also walked into the Hooker Valley, a track that passed 3 suspension bridges and took us more than 4 hours from Hermitage Hotel to and fro. I noticed that even deep inside Hooker Valley, there was still one or two bars of handphone signal available.

Leaving Mt Cook, we headed east to Lake Tekapo and stayed in Lake Tekapo Motel.

We visited the heritage Church of Good Shepherd and the Mackenzie Sheep Dog Statue.

We had lunch at Kohan Japanese Restaurant and dinner at Thai Tekapo.

We planed to have stargazing at night at Mt John University Observatory, but the weather was too cloudy. Anyhow, we had nice coffee and ice-cream at the Astro Café there.

Before leaving Tekapo, we went to Tekapo Springs and soaked ourselves in the three tiered hot pools there.

Then, we drove to Geraldine and took the inland scenic route back to Christchurch. There are farms and farms and farms along the way.

You might probably be interested to also read about:

Monday, December 29, 2014

A family trip to Sydney, Australia

Sydney was the first place I visited in Southern Hemisphere.

The Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport Terminal 1 is very busy. When we are landing, we could see airplanes queuing up at the runway, taking turn to take off one by one.

There are a lot of arriving passengers queuing up at the immigration customs counters. Besides the Incoming Passenger Card, we are also required to fill up a Travel History Card for Ebola contingency tracking.

We stayed at Railway Square YHA hostel located next to the Central Railway Station. It is well equipped with a big self-catering kitchen, spacious dining area, laundry room with washing machines and clothes dryers, luggage lockers, and even a small swimming pool. We met with quite a lot of young people from around the world who stayed there too.

You might want to have a nice experience staying in the hostel room modified from train cabins, as shown below. We stayed in double room with attached private bathroom, which is located inside the building, beside the laundry room.

Chinatown is just nearby the Railway Square YHA hostel. The food there is pretty expensive.

We visited Circular Quay, which is the founding site for Sydney. There are several ways to go there from the Railway Square YHA hostel, which we've tried all below:
  • Taking the free shuttle bus number 555
  • Taking the non-free bus
  • Taking the double decker Cityrail train
We joined the I'm Free Tours city walk, guided by a young lady wearing a bright green I'm Free T-shirt. She brought us to various historical places around, which blended nicely with this modern city. She told us about The Rocks history, and the story behind various buildings we visited.

And we saw this sculpture named Still Life With Stone and Car by artist Jimmie Durham, created by dropping a large rock onto the car.

We had dinner at the famous Pancake On The Rocks near the Harbour Bridge.

There was Chuck Close art exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) which we wished to visit, but unfortunately we missed its opening time.

The next day, we went back to the harbour near Circular Quay, and took a ferry to go to Manly. There is nice ice-cream at Manly Wharf Pub and Restaurant.

Manly has nice beaches at both side of the Manly Corso street. We had a nice time at Shelly Beach, which really has a lot of shells on the beach.

This Sydney night view photo was taken from the ferry on our way back to Sydney Harbour. You might be amazed that the ferry has free WiFi service, even when it is travelling in the middle of the sea.

We also visited the Sydney Fish Market to enjoy the fresh seafood there. We went there by Sydney Light Rail tram.

There are a lot of seagulls at Sydney Harbours, near the Sydney Opera House, as well as at the Sydney Fish Market. They are not quite afraid of people close to them.

Another place we visited was Queen Victoria Building, which is a historical building with a historical lift in it. This building is now a shopping mall in Sydney.

We did planned to go to the Royal Botanic Gardens, but in the end couldn't make it.

Our Sydney trip was a short stay, before our journey to New Zealand.

You might probably be interested to also read about:
  1. Applying for ETA online to travel to Australia

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Comparison of the new Celcom First Basic plan with OPTIMISER and existing Celcom First plans

Celcom has just launched a new postpaid plan for smartphones with voice and data component, which has an OPTIMISER mechanism to provide flexibility for subscriber to use more data or more voice and SMS within a billing cycle.

Under the plan allocation, the subscriber is given a quota of 2 GB Internet data usage, 2 GB Celcom WiFi usage, 100 minutes voice call, and 100 SMS.

Once you have used all of your allocation above, OPTIMISER will automatically adjust to give you complimentary additional quota of either Internet or calls and SMS. You can either get an additional 2 GB of Internet data usage + 2 GB of Celcom WiFi usage, or additional of 150 minutes voice call + 150 SMS.

If your OPTIMISER allocation is also fully utilised, you will be charged 15 sen/minute for voice calls thereafter, and 15 sen per additional SMS. You can also get additional 1 GB Internet quota at the cost of RM15.

Lets compare this new Celcom First Basic plan with the existing Celcom First Prime plan with mAdvance data (probably no longer available for new subscription now), and the Celcom First One 5 GB data plan.

In the table above, you will notice that the Internet data quota increases from plan to plan, starting from 2 GB to 5 GB. When you get more Internet data quota, you will at the same time have less voice and SMS quota as a trade off.

It seems that the new Celcom First Basic plan with OPTIMISER is pretty good if you use more data than voice/SMS, but occasionally might need to use more voice/SMS in a particular month.

Anyhow, the Celcom First One 5GB plan is still the cheapest one if don't make a lot of calls and send very few SMS. I think nowadays we use more Whatsapp, Line and WeChat rather than sending conventional SMS/MMS, don't we?

If you are existing Celcom First Prime subscriber with mAdvance data plan, you can make use of the table above to consider whether you need to switch over to the new Celcom First Basic plan with OPTIMISER, or to stay along with your existing plan.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

My SKROSS World Adapter MUV USB

If you travel to another country, it is a common problem that the power socket is of different type from your home country, and you need a power adapter as a converter to be able to plug in your electrical device to the wall socket.

My SKROSS World Adapter MUV USB designed in Switzerland (and made in Thailand) is my handy travel companion that can be used in more than 150 countries with its unique all-in-one sliders system.

It can be used with unearthed 2-pole devices, including charger for mobile phone, tablet, digital camera, GPS, razor, voice recorder, MP3 player, and even my Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro multimode ultrabook laptop.

However, it cannot be used with earthed 3-pole devices which normally have higher power rating, such as hair dryer, water heater, etc.

It does not convert the input voltage, and can work under voltage between 100-250 volts with maximum current of 2.5 Amperes (maximum power of 2.5 x 250 = 625 Watts). This means that if your device can only operate with less than 125 volts, and you try to plug it into a 220 volts socket, it will get burnt.

The SKROSS World Adapter MUV USB has a built-in T2.5A 250V fuse, which will break the circuit if the power drained exceed its maximum limit.

The SKROSS World Adapter MUV USB also has 2 built-in USB charging ports, which provide up to 2,100 mA charging power. Therefore, it is capable to connect to 3 devices at the same time, when 2 are charging with its USB ports and another using its output socket.

If you have a lot of devices that need 2.1A or 2.4A fast charging, you can plug in the Belkin B2E027 4-port 2.4A full rate USB power charger to get more full rated USB charging ports.

This adapter comes with 2 years warranty. Its price of RM149 is not cheap, when compared with non-branded alternatives, but you can have more peace of mind using this branded Swiss product.

Friday, December 19, 2014

My Belkin B2E027 4-port 2.4A full rate USB power charger

With more and more mobile devices and gadgets at home, which commonly use Type A USB for battery recharging, I've bought a Belkin B2E027 4-port USB power charger to charge up to 4 devices at the same time.

This Belkin USB power charger doesn't come cheap, but it is not as expensive as it listed price which you can notice in the photo above. I bought it for RM88.

So, what's the different of this 4-port USB charger from other cheaper alternatives, other than the Belkin brand which is a symbol of reliability?

Firstly, all the 4 USB charging ports support fast charging up to 2.4 Amperes each at full rate. Therefore, all of them are equally capable to charge tablets, iPad, and other devices that need 2 Amperes charging which won't charge on the normal 1 Ampere USB charging port.

Secondly, it comes with a $2500 Connected Equipment Warranty from Belkin.

Thirdly, it is attached with a 6 feet long power cable. The advantage is, it can be place at a nice location some distance away from the wall socket. The disadvantage is, you might find the cable too long to keep, especially when you are on the way bringing it with you from one place to another.

However, its size of about 5x4 square inches is quite big and takes up some space on the table.

See it in action below, when one of the ports is in used...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Travel tips to New Zealand (South Island)

I have just completed a family vacation to South Island of New Zealand. Here are some travel tips that I would like to share with you, if you are going to travel to New Zealand too.


  • Even though I went there during near summer time, the weather most of the time is cold with temperature around 5-15 degree Celsius. You will experience cool breeze at places near the seaside or large lakeside. Therefore, warm jacket in your luggage is a must regardless which month you travel there.
  • The customs check at Christchurch airport is pretty strict. If they suspect you to bring in or bring out forbidden items in your bag, your bag will be quarantined for thorough checking. That will cost you quite a lot of time. Forbidden items include any liquid in your hand carry bag.

Tourist information:
  • Remember to collect a free copy of Arrival Magazine at the arrival hall of the international airport. You can find some coupons which is able to save you some activity cost in New Zealand.
  • In every major town and popular attractions, you will probably find the New Zealand visitor information center called i-Site. You can ask for information, make booking, and get free maps and tourist booklet there. The toilet at i-Site is also available for your use (the toilet in petrol stations, restaurants, shops, ... only open to their customer only, if made available)
  • Check for tickets at BookMe website for the attractions you plan to visit. You might be able to get discount price as high as 99% (in other words, pay only 1% for the ticket price).

Mobile telephony and Internet service:
  • Free WiFi is available at Christchurch airport. Need a simple web-based registration before use.
  • I purchased a Spark prepaid value pack SIM card at the price of $29 that come with 150 minutes talk time, 500MB data plan and unlimited SMS. The coverage is good, even got one or two bars of signal deep inside Mt Cook Hooker Valley. I always get the availability of Spark WiFi (free for Spark users, with daily quota of 1GB) at YHA various hostels, on top of the free WiFi provided by YHA.

On the road:
  • The best way to travel around is to rent a car. There are a few car rental companies near Christchurch Airport. You will need a valid driving license issued in your country. You won't encounter any traffic jam in New Zealand South Island, and there are a lot of road signboards along the way.
  • If you plan to rent a camper van, beware that it would be more difficult for you to find parking place. Besides, camper van can only park overnight at designated areas, normally located near major attractions.
  • If you plan to rent a car, a GPS navigator with most recent New Zealand maps will be very useful. The mobile Internet data plan there is expensive for high quota usage. I would advise you to bring a Garmin GPS with you instead of using online map and navigation apps in your smartphone.
  • The speed limit in town area is normally 50km/h only. The speed limit on highway is 100km/h. The highway speed limit that cross certain small towns is 80km/h.
  • There are kilometres of unpaved road in farm areas. If you want to avoid going into such route, set your GPS avoidance accordingly.
  • New Zealand drivers are generally courteous. Always follow the speed limit, obey the traffic light, give way to pedestrians at zebra crossing. 
  • I didn't see any highway toll in New Zealand South Island.
  • Passenger cars in New Zealand normally filled with RON-91 petrol. RON-95 is considered premium petrol in New Zealand. I didn't see any RON-97 or RON-99 pump there.

  • Most roadside parking is free, but has a maximum parking time from 10 minutes to 2 hours. Certain parking places in Christchurch need to be paid by feeding the machine nearby and display the parking ticket.
  • Parking at shopping mall such as Countdown also has maximum parking time.
  • Do not park exceeding the maximum time. You might get fined, and need to pay the penalty at the town council.

  • If you are looking for cheap accommodation with free WiFi internet facility, YHA hostel could be a good option. They are equipped with shared kitchen that have the necessary cooking utensils, dishes and glasses, coin operated washing machine and clothes dryer.
  • There are quite a lot of motels in New Zealand. Make your booking early while there is still vacancy available. Note that not all of them come with free WiFi and laundry facility. You need to find out the availability before confirming your booking.
  • If you want a motel that provide free shuttle service to pick you up from Christchurch airport to the motel during arrival, and from motel to Christchurch airport upon departure, and the pick-up time can be any time (even at midnight), try to look for Airport Gateway Motor Lodge.

  • The prices you see in New Zealand are inclusive 15% GST.
  •  If you want to buy honey or chocolates, the price in small town could be cheaper than the price in airport's duty free shops.
  • Don't forget there are discount coupons in Arrival Magazine, and Internet booking discount for certain activities at BookMe website.

Credit card:
  • Credit card can be used at most of the places.
  • Certain place will impost additional charge if you pay with credit card rather than cash.
  • The credit card security measure in New Zealand seems to be very loose. Sometimes the shop doesn't even need your signature. Internet transaction also not making use of the 3 digit validation code at the back of your card.

Hint: Click on the "Older Posts" link to continue reading, or click here for a listing of all my past 3 months articles.