The North Island

With only 7 days to see New Zealand, I elected to only visit the north island on this trip flying into Wellington and out of Auckland at the end of my week. I was joined by two fellow frisbee players from Toronto, Kat and Jess. I flew in a few days after them so they already had a car rented and picked me up from the airport upon my arrival.

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In case you are unaware the kiwis drive on the left side of the road compared to the right side I am used to at home. The setup inside the car for the driver has the turn signal and windshield wipers switched. The running joke is you see a tourist coming a mile away because they always turn the wipers on instead of the turn signals. After the first day of driving you get the hang of doing everything opposite while traveling in traffic. The tough part comes when you approach an intersection or parking lot where your natural instincts kick in trying to get you killed. Thankfully I only attempted to kill us all once when leaving a parking lot and turning into the oncoming lane at 11:30 P.M. when there was one car on the road. Whoops.

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The first night in NZ was dedicated to traveling north from Wellington to Porangahau for the Hat Tournament. As it would turn out this weekend was the last long weekend of the NZ summer but traffic was for the most part non-existent. The roads in NZ do not ever follow a straight line. Period. Fact. Every journey you take is an 50 – 70 KPM journey of winding blind corners and hills. It’s like rally car driving to get to the corner store when all you need is a lottery ticket. Don’t get me wrong, driving along the cliff edge with panoramic views was thrilling. After our multi hour journey with multiple stops we arrived at our destination, a working sheep and cattle farm, after 11 P.M. and hunkered down for the night. During our two days on the farm we were treated to some great ultimate, a great Saturday night party, and we were able to visit the longest named place in the world. On the Sunday we headed out after the final awards were handed out and everyone had showered. Our goal was to make it to Cape Kidnappers and catch a glimpse of the golf course before sun down.

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We arrived at Cape Kidnappers Golf Course with only an hour of light left. We arrived at the perimeter gate to find out that it was another 20 minute drive to the clubhouse. We finally arrived at the clubhouse to discover that the club was closed for the day. I didn’t fly all the way to NZ and drive an hour out of our way to not see the course. With no one around but the three of us, we walked to the coast line where the course and cliffs meet. This view was completely worth the trip and I doubt I would have been able to enjoy the course as much as I did had it been “open” when we arrived. Once the sun had set we all jumped back in the car and set out to find a place to stay for the night. We chose to try for the town of Rotorua as it was recommend to us based on our plans for the next couple of days. After driving until the early hours of the morning I discovered that I had just piloted us about 2 hours past our planned adventure for the Monday. I was more than a little displeased at this point because I like being accurate and sticking to the laid out plan. I requested a road map from the hotel front desk to avoid running into this type of boondoggle again.

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We woke up on the later side of things and used Monday as a recovery day. Rotorua is a volcanic town surrounded by many hot springs that were very active. We plotted some places to visit around town and along the way to our next overnight in Turangi. First was the local park which had some smelly, muddy, bubbly hot springs for us to sniff and gag at. Next up was a short ride to Waiotapu Themeral Wonderland. This place is what I expect mars will be like once colonized. There are craters, extreme colours in the water pools, barren landscapes, and a random forest in the middle of it all. All in all an interesting spot to visit and a nice leisurely paced attraction. After the thermals we headed for lake Taupo to try and catch an afternoon cruise to see the Maori Rock Carvings. We made the journey with minutes to spare and were able to book a trip on a yacht take us out on a nice cruise across rather choppy waters. A short 30 minute ride out to the carvings gave us great light to view the piece and enjoy a nice leisurely cruise back to port. We enjoyed dinner in town before heading out to Turangi and our accommodations for the evening.

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Turangi is the town closest to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We arrived at our hostel for the night and we were given advice on crossing by the owner. We agreed that we would split up for the 19.4 KM journey and complete the hike in opposite directions. The reason we split up was to ensure we would not have to pay any shuttle fees to get back to the car at the end of the hike. I would complete the hike from west to east and the ladies would stick together completing the hike east to west as recommended by the hostel owner. The most important part of this plan was the hand off of the car key and I almost forgot to pick up the car key from the ladies. Thankfully Jess was paying attention and handed over the prized key during our meeting around the 11 KM marker. I completed the journey in about 5 hours and 15 minutes with all of my up hill climbs out of the way in the first 9 KM of my hike. The reverse hike for the ladies was much more difficult as their journey was an uphill fight for a longer period of time and across tougher terrain. I met the girls with car back where I had started my day and we were all tired from our hikes. We headed into Turangi to get some wifi and plan our next day’s adventure and find a place to sleep for the night. We agreed to return to the town of Rotorua for the night and stay in a hostel there before heading out to Matamata and Auckland the next day. Our journey to our Rotorua hostel was uneventful with the hostel almost uninhabited upon our arrival with only two other cars in the parking lot.

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Our last final full day on the north island began with a short journey to the outskirts of the town of Matamata, also know as Hobbiton. The girls had signed up for a tour of the hobbit village, grounds, and working farm. I dropped them off for their tour and headed to the opposite side of town to catch a glimpse of the highest waterfall in NZ, Wairere Falls. This set of falls is 153M and a different style of waterfall than I am used. Niagara Falls is a horseshoe style falls with a high water flow crashing over the edge every minute. Wairere is a skinny cascading waterfall with the water following many different paths down to the bottom. I spent a short amount of time at the falls before returning to pick up the girls from their Hobbiton adventure. They raved about being whisked away into an alternate universe and loved the adventure. We piled into our trusty car and headed into Matamata for lunch before making the trek up to Auckland. The journey from lunch to Auckland was smooth until we hit our first bit of NZ traffic entering the Auckland city limits. It would appear that NZ does have traffic every now and then. We hacked our way into town and found our accommodation for the night. After dropping off our bags, we parked the car for the night, and headed out to the Sky Tower to catch the sunset from the 60th floor. We were treated to a lovely colourful sky and were able to see the city night lights come up before heading down to the wharf for an evening stroll that led us back to our hostel. We packed our bags for our upcoming flight before calling it a night.

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Our final morning in NZ only required us to return the rental car before checking in for our flight to Hawaii. Kat and myself were continuing on to Oahu and Jess was on her way to Thailand. What should have been an uneventful drive got way too interesting way too fast. On the way to the drop off location the car starting making a loud squealing sound whenever the wheels were turning. And to our relief the sound disappeared without warning just as it appeared. I still have no idea what that noise was and I’m glad that it stopped before we got anywhere near the drop off location because it was as loud as someone using a stone cutting saw. A short shuttle to the airport and a quick check in process left me with enough time to embrace my inner hobbit before I left with a second breakfast.

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My trip to New Zealand was great. I think I enjoy driving on the left side of the road better than the right, the terrain really dictates how fast you can make a journey between each city, the landscapes are beautiful, the ocean is cold but clean, the sun is extremely powerful, and the positives go on. The biggest downside for me was the price point of many items but that can easily be overlooked. I would like to return one day with more time and have a chance to visit the south island as I hear it is even more beautiful than the north.

Singapore: Home of the largest custodial staff in the world

Welcome to the cleanest city in the world. Home of the littering law that could land you a fine of $2000, $4000, or even $8000! Chewing gum is a big no-no as well so everyone that has been through Singapore with some in their bag, congratulations on being an international smuggler, the title will look great on your resume. Upon my arrival I only changed $20 USD to SGD for my use as this was the first city where I anticipated to successfully use my credit card for the majority of my transactions. To get to downtown Singapore I didn’t have to take a taxi or shuttle, rather I proceeded to the basement where the statewide metro was waiting. The Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) system is a fantastic system that I relied on during my stay. In addition to all its glory and cleanliness, the system offers a tourist pass for 1, 2, or 3 day intervals for $10, $16, and $20 respectively. I picked up the 3 day card and was on my way without any trouble. After short 50 minute ride to Chinatown I arrived at my stop and dropped off my luggage before heading out for my first tourist stop, the Singapore Flyer.

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The second largest in the world by only 2 metres, this ferris wheel offers a fantastic panoramic view of the city and harbour. This was also the moment I discovered the panoramic feature on my camera. The Flyer completes one full rotation every 30 minutes which was plenty of time to enjoy the ride. After the flyer I walked over to the Marina Sands Bay Resort. This complex includes a casino, 3 towers of rooms, over 300 luxury shops, 8 celebrity restaurants, an indoor artificial water canal, and the list goes on. At the cost over 1 billion dollars to complete it was the first casino resort built in Singapore. To give you an idea of how profitable an operation this place is, the 2014 3rd quarter financials posted a $287 million net profit. Cha-Ching folks. I was able to enjoy a nice sunset before heading inside to look for a forex to pick up some currency for my next destinations. I was surprised to find out that every forex in Singapore only took cash and did not take a debit card. The other tidbit that I was unaware of was that most forex branches do not sell every currency they are willing to purchase. In the end I found a spot in the SMRT that had every currency that I required for my future journey. My first night at the Adler Hostel was a pleasant one considering I was in a dorm of 20 beds. This hostel was advertised as a boutique hostel with breakfast and other “high end” amenities, its a hostel after all. Reception was helpful with everything I asked about and my dorm was quiet and cool. For the price I payed the downside was the spotty wifi and lack of any protein for breakfast as only bread, jam, and juice was offered.

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Day two started with a duck boat tour of the inner harbour. A short 45 minute tour that I found difficult to understand due to the loud engine but was still an enjoyable outing. After a quick bite to eat I walked over to the Gardens by the Bay behind MBS. These gardens are home to a Cloud Garden and Flower Garden. The Cloud Garden was my favourite of the buildings with both of the structures allowing the entire weight of the exterior walls to be supported without a single internal column. On the inside of the Cloud garden is a 7 story waterfall and an environment that harbours plants and flowers that only grow in the rare moist climates on the tops of mountains. For a place that I thought was going to be a total bust, it turned out to be my favourite spot in Singapore. Gardners and gardens apparently like each other. After smelling the roses (there weren’t any if you are keeping score) I headed over to little India to find some dinner. I stopped at a great local spot and enjoyed some northern Indian delicacies. I feel like a fool because the cost to stuff my face with great food was less than a single beer. No matter I enjoyed my meal and almost returned the next day for a repeat meal.

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My third day was spent sorting out my final details for the up coming week. First I visited the airline’s office to ensure my tickets were correct. I learned that I would need to purchase a larger carry on bag to help divert some of the total weight in my checked bag to lower my overweight charge for my final flight into Boracay. I was able to find a bag with wheels for $16 that as it would turn out saved me about $50 in baggage fees. I headed home and packed my bags to minimize my baggage charge before seeing one more touristy spot, Sentosa Island. I arrived just before dusk and was treated to some lovely colours in the sky as I walked across the bridge to the island. As you can imagine the prices on the island were sky high with the exception of one restaurant that I was able to get a full meal for less than $20 SGD. Once done my evening stroll it was back to the hostel to wait for my 3 am shuttle to the airport. That’s right, the highly praised SMRT subway is not a 24 hour beast but the shuttle was reasonably priced at $9 SGD and only took 17 minutes at that time of day.

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Looking back at the modern giant of the east, 3 days was good amount of time to see the major highlights of the city, Chinatown was the perfect spot to stay in the city as it is very central to everything touristy, take a couple hours and do the Gardens by the Bay, and most of all don’t litter. The crime is not worth the dime.

Graduating with Debt

In late 2008, early 2009, Canada was in full recession as a country and many individuals in the workforce were having trouble balancing their checkbooks with their new and unwanted financial burdens. At the same time one in three young students were unable to balance a personal checkbook. This economic recession period has begun stabilization but the majority of young student still haven’t learned personal finance. As these students begin graduating, their success in the workplace will be determined by their personal financial planning skills

Personal finance is a difficult task for all graduating students, as many students are now having to payback government and personal loans, which have been interest free to this point. Once a job is secured after graduating, be it full-time or part-time, a personal budget needs to be established to match the income earned from the new job. For many, this is a difficult step and realization as an $80 cell phone bill may no longer be an option with your new job along with other luxuries that may need to be reduced or eliminated to balance the personal budget. For most, the hardest part of budgeting is accounting for all expenses expected and unexpected. A common place to search for advice to successfully build a personal budget is at home with family members. This isn’t always the best place to go for financial development and advice.

Currently, there are plenty of resources to help an individual develop a personal budget and become a young and successful graduate. The traditional method is to breakout the dusty old textbook though this method is time-consuming and difficult to apply properly. The modern approach is to use online tools that account for all of the variables in your life and teach you how to properly build and maintain a personal budget. By learning personal finance and making it easy, an individual can gain the confidence to successfully plan for the rest of their lives whither it be finance or any other area of their life where planning is needed for success.

Graduates who possess the ability to balance their personal finances immediately out of school will lead a more successful leisure and professional life as the burden of debt will likely never linger over them.