Sounds, smells and tastes bring Hong Kong to life, writes Sarah Bond.

There was a sense of constant movement, and a tidal wave of honking traffic." This was Julie Woods' first impression of Hong Kong.

Known affectionately in Dunedin as "that blind woman", the motivational speaker radiates enthusiasm and her eyes sparkle, even if she can't see out of them. An inflammation of the retina left her blind at the age of 31. But losing her sight has not stopped Julie leading an extraordinary life... or going on a five-day adventure exploring Hong Kong.

At the beginning, everything happened so quickly she barely realised that she had landed in Hong Kong. After checking into their hotel, in downtown Hong Kong, Julie, her husband Ron, and sons Zac and Sebastian, took on the markets, where the first indication of being in a foreign land was the people speaking Cantonese all around.

"It seems like a very aggressive language at first, loud and fast, but I could hear lots of laughter, too."


Julie's own first words in Cantonese were an adaptation of her trademark phrase, "Why not!"

After a long escalator ride up Victoria Peak, Julie was served battered fish balls dipped in spicy sauce. She gave her newly learned Cantonese battle cry, "Weisheme bu", and in the spongy heat, enjoying the savoury fish on a stick, she finally felt she had "arrived" in Hong Kong.

The Mass Transit Railway took the Woods to Lan Tau Island to visit the Giant Buddha. "There were long glass windows to stop people falling on to the tracks, but it wasn't half as scary as boarding a moving gondola to visit the Buddha on Ngong Ping plateau."

The 268-step climb in the heat was exhausting and, instead of the 34m-high statue, it was a stranger's kindness that moved her. "An old woman with withered hands gave me a tissue so I could wipe my face when I reached the top. She seemed like a living Buddha to me."

Only when Julie held a small replica of the giant Buddha did she have a tangible idea of the Buddha's enormity. As she puts it, "I wasn't born blind, so I can still understand scale and height. This statue, with its intricate detail, was built purely out of respect and adoration for one person. Even if you aren't religious, it is awe-inspiring."

Another trip back to Lan Tau Island took the family to celebrate an entirely different person's towering creations. The train, with its Mickey-shaped windows, announced, "Have a magical day" as they stepped on to the Disneyland Hong Kong platform.

"I could hear the frenetic energy of excited Chinese children all around me."

And did she go on any hair-raising rides? Julie confesses that the carousel and It's a Small World were magical enough.

On their last night, the Woods dined at the world's largest restaurant, the Jumbo Kingdom Ship, in Aberdeen Harbour, which can seat up to 2000 diners.

"I could sense the ship was huge. Ron described the interior decor which is done in the style of an ancient Chinese imperial palace with yellow silk everywhere."

The food was amazing. "I could smell the sweet and sour pork and fried calamari before it even arrived at our table. The waiter even asked if we wanted our photo taken sitting on the Emperor's throne."

Woods gives one of her radiant smiles and adds, "Well, maybe it wasn't "the" throne... but close enough. It was the perfect ending to our Hong Kong experience and, of course, I said, 'Why not!"'

Getting there: Cathay Pacific flies regularly from Auckland to Hong Kong.

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