Just a quick post to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas. I hope you all have an enjoyable holiday with dear friends and family. x
A few weekends ago, I visited my boyfriend (who is currently living in Auckland, New Zealand) and we spent a weekend away with some friends in Northland, namely in Matapouri Bay. Many New Zealanders and foreigners alike constantly rave about the south island of New Zealand, but I think the north island is also spectacular (ok, I haven’t been to the south island yet).
Matapouri Bay, and the surrounding bays and beaches was breathtakingly beautiful. Unfortunately, we had a bit of overcast weather which put a grey hue on the landscape, but once the sun came out, it sparkled. This area is perfect for walking, swimming and just enjoying the sunshine. There isn’t a whole lot to do if you need constant stimulation like me, but it’s a perfect place for a weekend away with friends and loved ones.
We hired a car in Auckland and drive north. There are plenty of road signs along the way, so you don’t even need a GPS, or a map, but these could definitely be of assistance. It’s a leisurely 2.5 to 3 hour drive from Auckland, providing that there isn’t any traffic.
Many people rent houses, known as baches, in beachside towns along the north island. Prices and standards vary, but there are plenty of options for every taste and budget. We found our accommodation on http://www.bookabach.co.nz.
There aren’t many facilities in Matapouri Bay. If you have self-contained accommodation, stop in a supermarket in Whangarei for supplies for the weekend on your way to Matapouri. For a weekend away with friends, make sure you have a good supply of drinks, chocolate and other nibblies.
So sadly this is my final post from my trip through Jordan, Israel and Turkey. And what a fantastic place to end it off with – the quaint little port town of Jaffa.
Jaffa, located in the southern-most part of Tel Aviv, was once its own quite town, but has now become almost a suburb of Tel Aviv due to the urban sprawl. Although it is only about a 45 minute walk from the centre of Tel Aviv (and a lovely walk too, along the beachside promenade), it still retains its old world charm. Jaffa is very small and can easily be explored in half a day. Stroll through the cobblestone streets, see the men fishing at the port, enjoy a lovely lunch in one of the many cafes and restaurants, or take a seat by the seaside and take in the sunset…
We stumbled across great area in Jaffa, just behind the flea markets, near Nahman Street. Here we found a handful of streets, sprinkled with bars, cafes, restaurants and boutique stores (I wish I had more time so I could have gone back and made a few purchases). We spent the afternoon relaxing with a few drinks in hand, until the sun went down over Jaffa.
You can get to Jaffa from central Tel Aviv by taking a leisurely stroll along the beachside promenade, heading south. This takes about 45 minutes to an hour. Alternatively, just jump into a taxi.
Check out the food markets (a very up-market market) near the port – there is some amazing food to be had here and the atmosphere is great, although a little noisy with the many weekend day-trippers trying to get some lunch. If you are after a more chilled out atmosphere away from the tourists and with the locals, find these streets behind the flea market, sit down in one of the many outdoor bars and cafes and listen to some tunes whilst enjoying the sea breeze
During my stay in Tel Aviv, top of the list of things to see and do was to make a day trip to Jerusalem. Which I did on two occasions, as one day was not quite enough to explore this interesting and contentious city. My visits centred on the old town, in which you can easily spend a few days wandering through the literal labyrinth of streets and alleyways – I did almost get lost in the confusion of the town.
Jerusalem is a hold city to three major world religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The presence and influences of these three religions can be felt in the city. The city is actually divided up between these religions, with the Jewish quarter, Christian quarter and Islamic quarter all being well defined from each other in geographical spaces, as well as aesthetically (there is also a fourth, Armenian quarter). Even as a tourist, unaware of the religious tensions in the city, you can easily differentiate between the quarters, as they each have their own unique aesthetic and atmosphere.
Whilst in Jerusalem, try to make a visit to Temple Mount. It is only open at certain times to non-Muslims (you cannot actually enter the temple/mosque if you are not a Muslim), so if you happen to be there when it is accessible, make sure you spend the time to wander around this grand structure and it’s surrounding gardens. This was by far the highlight of my visit to Jerusalem – there was something surreal about the place, something serene in a city so caught up in religious and geo-political tensions.
Other things to do in Jerusalem is to visit the Wailing Wall, follow the Christian Stations of the Cross, buy souvenirs from the hundreds of people cashing in on the tourist trade, pay a visit to a few of the churches, synagogues and mosques. And spend your day taking in all the sights, sounds and scents of this city.
From Tel Aviv, take bus 405 from Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, or bus 480 from Arlozoroff Bus Station. Each bus runs regularly and the trip takes about 1 hour. When you arrive at Jerusalem bus terminal, step outside the terminal and you will see the light rail network. To get to the old town, take the light rail to either City Hall or Damascus Gate – both stops are within easy walking distance to the old town.
I didn’t stay overnight in Jerusalem, but being such a tourist hub, I am sure there are plenty of accommodation options for all budgets and tastes.
Everything touristy. There is plenty to chose from in Jerusalem. I came home with some rosary beads make from the timber of an olive tree and of course an evil eye pendant (I had already spent a bit too much money on one very expensive souvenir Istanbul – a kilim rug)
I have to admit, Israel was never on my priority travel list. Actually, I never really thought about going to Israel. But when one of my closest friends met a lovely Israeli girl and decided to have their wedding in Tel Aviv, I couldn’t really say no to attending the wedding and visiting this amazing city.
Many people may have mixed feelings about Israel and their geopolitical position, but I was pleasantly surprised by this metropolitan, seaside city. I had a very laid back, Mediterranean atmosphere – the people were friendly, the weather was pleasant, the nightlife was great and all the food to die for. Throughout my entire trip, I didn’t eat as well as I did in Israel. Everywhere you went the food was great.
Tel Aviv may not be on everyone’s bucket list, but I do recommend stopping over for at least a few days as part of any trip through the Middle East.
Top things to do in Tel Aviv:
- Shopping is definitely up there. The prices are cheaper than Europe and the fashion more unique. For those shopaholics, head to Dizengoff Street. The shops are open until about 10pm, so there is no need to rush
- Take a walk along the beachside promenade, stretching form Jaffa in the south to Tel Aviv Port in the north. Allow a few hours to complete this leisurely.
- Food markets. We found a fantastic market located HaCarmel. For fresh fruit, vegetables, pastries, cheeses, sweets, bread – you name it, you can find it at Carmel Markets. Look for the guy selling falafel burgers about half way down the strip of stalls – you can’t miss him, he continually shouts our ‘Falafel! Falafel!’ at the top of his voice. For 7 shekels, you’ll have an amazing falafel experience, and a cheap lunch.
- Tel Aviv night life. The city centre is full of cafes, bars and clubs which are buzzing every night of the week. Tag along with some locals and I’m sure you’ll have a great time.
There are numerous flights into Tel Aviv international airport. Upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, you are now given a separate credit card sized visa, rather than a stamp in your passport, so that you can travel without problems throughout the Middle East, as many countries previously did not allow you to enter with an Israeli stamp in your passport. Also be prepared to answer a number of questions when arriving into Tel Aviv airport. From the airport, you can either take a taxi into the city, or the train, which is a much cheaper option.
Stay anywhere along the beachside (if you plan to spend your days relaxing on the beach), or near Dizengoff Street (which is near all the shops, restaurants and nightlife). The city is reasonably small, so it is easy to walk around, or just take a taxi.
There are great restaurants everywhere. Tel Aviv Port is great for breakfast and lunch (the cafes here to amazing breakfasts), and for dinner, Dizengoff Street is your best bet.