Taiwan’s “Lantern village” has a train running through it

An unexpected road trip, with 2 local Taiwanese women,  ended at a lantern village that, surprisingly, had rail tracks running through the middle of the settlement.

Playing chicken for a photo

Here, daily, and at night time, people write wishes on paper lanterns, before releasing them into the sky in the hopes ancestors will answer their prayers.

It seems this ritual started during the Three Kingdoms period and were first to send military signals and, lighting these lanterns grew widespread during the mid-19th century when bandits often attacked these towns. So now, although once used as signals for villagers to let their families know they were safe, they now carry people’s wishes, dreams and hopes, skyward.

An annual lantern festival also takes place on the last day of the Lunar New Year but you can set off the lanterns any time of year.

There are many lantern colours and it seems the different hues have different meanings -from hoping for greater wealth and fame and fortune through to marital happiness and everything in between. Although I didn’t see them, there are also animal-shaped lanterns such as cats, monkeys and pandas.

“You can’t just let the lantern go, there’s a ritual to it and a meaning” I’m told. It seems you can even buy digital, electronic, lanterns for virtual prayers! (an environmentally-friendly version :))

For safety reasons, a shop worker lights the lanterns and controls the release – another safety measure is they now use soybean oil instead of kerosene.

To prevent the mountainside from being littered with lanterns, they have a recycling programme and residents can exchange used lanterns at shops for items like toilet paper or detergent.


On rainy days, visitors can write their prayer on a piece of bamboo, which is hung along a fence in the village.

rainy day prayers

This was my first visit to Taiwan was fantastic and more stories will be written about it soon!





An endless summer on 90-mile beach–surfing too!

If you are looking for a peaceful weekend, a great surfing destination or perhaps even a long summer holiday, I can recommend the Endless Summer Lodge,  Ahipara right at the start of 90 mile beach.

This beautiful 1880 wooden villa is at Shipwreck Bay, the end of 90-Mile Beach – a ten minute drive from Kaitaia. Owners Anna & Blaine Whelan have created a delightful place with solar-heated shower water, indoor and outdoor dining and everything spotless. ( Free use of body boards here and surfing lesson are available too)

Two things I particularly liked where – no TV; and the wonderful kauri floors: please take off your shoes to protect them. The restoration of this 130+ year-old homestead is wonderful and it’s great that such history has been bought alive.

Shipwreck Bay was, not surprisingly, the site of the sinking of many ships. Evidently the wrecks of some of them are visible at low tide but I never saw any. This area was once home to some 2000 people working the huge gum-fields.

All over Northland you are never more than 40ks from the sea, but here you just wander across the road with your body, or surf, board under your arm. I just had my towel and loved playing in the warm water.

I’d been told Ahipara boasts one of the world’s best left hand surf breaks – I had to ask what this means!

It seems “A wave is either a left or a right, depending on which direction the wave breaks from the point of view of a surfer paddling and riding the wave. If a surfer is paddling to catch the wave and it is breaking from right to left (the surfer will have to turn left to get on the wave) then this wave is a left.”

And, just to make it more confusing for us non-surfers – these breaks are from the view of the surfer, so left looks right from the beach! Shipwreck Bay is home to one of the best point-breaks in NZ – a world-class left-hander that offers rides of up to 3 minutes on a good day.

The water is usually warm, the breaks not crowded, the bottom sand, and there are different spots available for both beginners and advanced surfers – no wonder people would consider such a place be perfect for what seems in the ‘winterless north’ an endless summer just as this accommodation is called.

If you are taking a road trip, when you leave this little retreat, follow SH10 through the towns of Herekino, Broadwood, and the Victorian village of Kohukohu which has charming old villas and buildings  and the Village Arts gallery on the main street.

The “Narrows” car ferry is on your left hand side about 5 minutes the other side of Kohukohu. (About an hour’s drive from Awanui). This ferry departs on the hour and takes about 15 minutes to cross. Drive off the ferry at Rawene, which has an art gallery, and an excellent café (The Boatshed), and historic Clendon House  Drive through town to SH12 and turn right, follow road into Opononi on the Hokianga Harbour.

I took some back roads and visited my husband’s grave before finally checking in at The Copthorne Hotel & Resort Hokianga right  on the edge of the Hokianga Harbour, yet another beautiful  kauri villa that has stunning views of the massive sand dunes across the bay – dunes that I will explore tomorrow.

copthorne hokianga

Of course my trip around Northland was taken in my favourite car rental company NZ Rent A Car!

Tutukaka: a perfect day at the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve

What a great name to go with the wonderful weather and destination: I’m booked for a day out with A Perfect Day. (And what a great topic for my 1002nd blog post on this site!)

I have taken a tablet for motion sickness but suspect it was not needed – but once you have had a couple of days with your head in a bucket on a yacht you, or rather I, am always cautious!

My Northland road-trip pauses for this day of cruising on the ocean – out to visit the Poor Knights Islands on the east coast of New Zealand’s Northland.  A marine reserve, these islands are  25km (15 miles) off shore and  have been rated by the famous Jacques Cousteau as one of the top-ten dive sites in the world.

The National Geographic magazine (Nov/Dec 2011) after looking at 99 coasts around the world, rates the Tutukaka coast as “top rated” which they say means ‘excellent shape; relatively unspoiled, likely to remain so” – praise indeed and from what I’ve seen, well-justified. (The other NZ coast rated was the Great Barrier Island)

The water is known for its clarity and an abundance of sea life, and with visibility of up to 30 metres underwater divers, and we snorkelers, will be able to see rich and diverse marine life.  I’m looking forward to putting a wetsuit on and checking it out once there. (I really only like the very warm sea water on the equator – so now you know what a baby I am!)

I’ve lost my voice over the past few days and, laughing at the pathetic little voice I have left, one of the staff suggests I may find it in Riko Riko, the world’s largest sea cave – 40% of it is below the water level. This claim has been lodged with the Guinness Book of Records and it’s an amazing 7,900,000 cubic feet with over a hectare of sea surface area inside the cave itself.

But back to the office and jetty where our journey starts:  I love the humour and laconic, laid-back kiwi-style to telling us how to be safe on board and at the islands – it’s this way of delivery that makes me remember it all easily.

The 24k-trip out to the islands at latitude 35.38 S, longitude 174.44 E doesn’t take long, and we’re soon helping zip up each other’s wet suits as we watch a huge floating island of gulls off the top end of the main island we’re moored at.

I slip into the water off the back of the boat and I’m soon enveloped in a school of fish who just part as they go past me. As this is a marine reserve they have no fear of people nor do they expect food from us – we are just another non-threatening creature in their salty environment. I love the sting ray that glide past … all the fish trapping their prey against the underwater cliff for easy catching.

When I’m back on board I name the fish I’ve seen in the various books they have in the library: terakihi; blue maomao; goat-fish; and trevally with their beautiful  yellow tail and markings – to name just a  few.  It’s not long before I head back into the water, just floating on the surface, watching my nature show.

On land (no-one can land on the islands) the Buller’s Shearwaters burrow in the side of the slopes to create their nests, and around the corner the beautiful, Cleopatra-eyed gannets are raising their young.

This has been a perfect day with perfect weather and for me, perfect snorkelling, while others used kayaks and as always on days such as this, it all goes too quickly – just another place to add to my I-must-go-back-to list.

It seems Captain Cook did not explain his choice of name for the island but we hear an interesting possible account involving a popular pudding!  We also hear some history of Maori occupation of the islands and information about the islands flora and fauna.

And no, I didn’t find my voice in the cave – and once back on land I return to my rental car and head for my next stop on this Northland road trip – maybe my voice is further north!

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Whangarei, Northland: a photographic tour of the Town Basin

I didnt have much time in Whangarei, Northland, so here’s a little photographic glimpse of the Town Basin and the local waterfalls.

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Grab a  rental car from  Rental Cars New Zealand, look up  Destination Northland  and create your own special Northland road trip

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