A Travellerspoint blog

Entry 51: Cool Bananas

Laid Back Agnes Waters, DVD frenzy, Surf Lessons, Choppy Water, Wiping out, Twee Town Of 1770

Am:

We hadn't planned to stop off at Agnes Water and the Town of 1770 (they are seaprate places but are usually lumped together!) but after a skype chat with my brother, he recommended checking it out for its laid back vibe. We arrived in the morning, the night bus hadn't been too bad and we were picked up in the hostel and driven up the road to the Cool Bananas Hostel, which is in Agnes Water. This hostel is everything a hostel should be- clean, chilled out, good sized dorms, plenty of showers, good staff and of course- an amazing DVD collection! The communal areas, with indoor and outdoor were great for lounging around in, and it was all very chilled. After checking in, we went down to the supermarket and picked up some supplies, head some breakfast and then had a shower (first proper shower in 2 days!) and slept for a few hours-it was needed.

After lunch we wandered down to the beach and took some surf in action pics, and then booked a surf lesson for the following day. The rest of the day was spent soaking up the chilled vibe of the town and watching a couple of DVDS before heading to bed.

We were up the next day, and headed off to our surf lesson after breakfast. I had surfed a bit in NZ a few years ago, but hadn't surfed since then, and it was Ajay's first ever lesson. Apparenntly it had been calm for days-but today the wind had picked up- it was a bit rough and the waves were breaking on the shore. But, we went for it anyway! After getting on our rash vests and going through the technique quickly, we began trying to put the technique into action. The waves were pretty gnarly, and I was wiping out a fair bit, but soon it was getting easier and I was standing up, and staying up too! Ajay seemed to be enjoying himself, it was difficult to have a first ever lesson in, but he managed to stand up a couple of times too. After a morning of surfing it was time to call it quits.

After lunch and showering up we decided to walk down to the Town of 1770 (founded in, 1770 of course, around the time James Cook graced the shores). It was a good 6 km walk, and we took some lovely pictures of the harbour. The town is very twee and even more chilled out than Agnes Water. It's also where a lot of locals come to spend their holidays, so was cool to check out the local scene. We walked back to the hostel along the beach after dinner watched a couple more DVDS.
Insert Town of 1770 pics

Ajay:

On the recommendation of Am's brother (big up Raj!) who had travelled Oz a few years ago we decided on a short stopover in Agnes Water, a small chilled out surf town with a population of 1700 and firmly off the beaten track. It served as a good point to break up our journey south and also provided us with an opportunity to get our surf on.

We arrived early in the morning after the overnight journey from Airlie Beach and headed to our hostel, the funky Cool Bananas. We spent most of the morning getting some sleep and in the afternoon we went for a walk around the beach. In the evening we got in on some DVD action in the lounge before getting an early night in preparation for our surf lesson the following day.

Surfing is ingrained in the culture of Australia and Agnes Water is noted for its gentle long break, which is supposedly ideal for beginners and amateurs. In the morning we both signed up to a 4 hour lesson at the Reef 2 Beach Surf School shop - it was my first time surfing and although Am had surfed before in New Zealand it was a long time ago.

After being kitted out with a rash vest and surfboard each, we ventured down to the beach with the rest of the group. It was a sunny day and the waves were bigger than normal. We were given a demonstration on the beach of how to swim out on the board, turn and then wait for an incoming swell before paddling and then pushing ourselves up to stand on the board. On the beach it all looked pretty straightforward; in the water it was an entirely different story. For the first couple of hours the group was split into two and ventured out alternately into the water to practice; for the last hour and a half everybody was in the water and it was surfboard crazy as you tried to surf while avoiding being crashed into.

The first task was getting to a reasonable spot in the water and this was made difficult by the relentless oncoming waves. It was hard work trying to hold on to our surfboards and either ducking beneath the waves or jumping over them. Once we were turned and ready to catch a wave it was all about timing. We didn't need to paddle as much as the waves were pretty strong but the difficulty was pushing your whole body up from a front-facing lying down position and then springing into a feet apart sideways position on the board whilst retaining your balance to ride the wave. Needless to say I was wiping out (i.e. falling off the board) all the time. Once you had wiped out, it was simply a matter of heading back out and starting again. It was hard work and punishing at times - due to my atrocious balance I was constantly falling and smacking the water and then having to re-start - but it was also quite fun in a sadistic type of way. Surfing, as I discovered, requires a lot of agility and strength. It's no wonder that all of these surfer dudes (and dudesses?) have amazingly toned bodies. Definitely a good work out. Regardless of the wiping out, we both had a great time surfing the waves in the morning. I managed to stand up and ride a wave for a few seconds on a couple of occasions (when you do the feeling is awesome!); Am fared better and stood up more often.

After our morning surfing odyssey, we showered up, ate some well deserved lunch and then, in the afternoon, walked to the Town of 1770 which is situated 5km north of Agnes Water. This delightful town which is twinned with Agnes Waters, has a population of just over 50 and is even more laid back (if that were even possible) than its compatriot. We had a walk around the pretty marina area and indulged in some ice cream before heading back to Cool Bananas for some more late evening DVD action. All in all we had a very chilled time here. Next stop Fraser Island.

Posted by ajuandamanee 09:52 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Entry 50: Waltzing Matilda

Killer Morning Bus Run, Airlie Beach, Sailing Whitsunday Islands, Snorkelling Hook Island, Great Food & Aussie Hospitality, Pure Silky White Sands @ Whitehaven Beach, Cold Rock, Night Bus to Agnes Waters

Am:

We said goodbye to Cairns, and foolishly walked over 1km in the searing heat to the Greyhound bus stop. The bus was late, and the journey was long. We drove through some areas that had been hit by Cyclone Yasi earlier on in the year, such as Mission Beach, although apart from some trees, most things had been cleared up. We stopped off at a small town for a lunch break, and I walked over the road to the beach, and was considering a paddle (it was very hot) when I saw the sign warning about crocodiles. Its not possible to swim at some beaches because of Crocs- and I had read another tale in the Bill Bryson book about a woman at the beach who was walking next to the water when the waters parted and she was carried off into the waves by a Croc, to the horror of passers-by. She wasn't seen again, so I decided to go back to the bus. We finally arrived at Airlie Beach, the small town where tours to the Whitsundays leave from. After finding our ovrepriced hostel, we made the most of the inclusive internet and booked our future bus journeys along with accomodation. After a quick tea we packed and went to bed to rest up before the start of our first ever Sailing trip.

A bit of a lie in this morning- up at 6am! We walked down to the office and checked in, paid the rest of the balance (we had only put down a deposit) and walked down to the meeting point at the docks. We met the rest of out group, and went down to the boat- apltyl titles Waltzing Matilda. There were 7 of us in total, plus the two crew members Jimmy and Trent. The weather was cloudy and windy- good for sailing, but not ideal for sea sickness. I had prepared by taking some tablets, and sat up on the deck in order to get some fresh air. The sea was rough for the first few hours, but the tablets and sea air seemed to be doing the trick and I felt ok. The Whitsundays are a collection of islands off the coast of Queensland, and the Great Barrier Reef also runs through them. There is good snorkelling, and the biggest island is Whistsunday Island and has reputedly one of the best beaches in the world- the famous Whitsunday Beach. Some of the islands have camping grounds or accomodation, but sailing trips and staying on a boat are popular too.

Our first stop was Hook Island, and we were dropped off to do some snorkelling. We snorkelled up to the island (good coral and Nemo spotting!) and then waded onshore and chilled out on the beach. Trent picked us up in a dinghy and took us back to the boat, and we then had a yummy lunch before setting sail to our anchor point for the night. After a snack and chilling out on the deck to watch the sunset, we had a steak on the BBQ before retiring to our respective cabins.

After a slightly rocky nights sleep we were up early for breakfast before heading out on the boat to Whitsunday Island. Trent (the skipper) had been up since 5am to make sure we were in Whitsunday Bay early, and we were the first on the island. Luckily, the weather had cleared up and it was bright and sunny. We walked up to the viewing point and the sight of the islands beach was breathtaking- it looked like paradise. The soft white sand is considered to be of such high quality that it was used by NASA to make the glass for the Hubble Telescope.

After lots of photos at the viewpoint we walked down to the beach, foound a secluded hideway suggested by Trent and chilled out for the morning. The beach was amzing, and water was cld and crystal clear- it is definetly one of the best beaches I have ever been to, and ranks up there with Thai beaches! The time there passed all too quickly and we had to head back to a beach on the other side of the island to be picked up. We were able to fit in another sneaky snorkel session before snacks and a late lunch. We then sailed back to shore- it was an amzing trip and one of the best excursions Ajay and I had taken on the big trip so far.

Back on land we treated ourselves to some ice cream from Cold Rock- you choose the ice cream and a topping/something to mix it in with litle chocolate. We then did a couple of jobs before having some dinner on the picnic benches by the sea. Afterwards we met up with some of the others from the trip and went for some free beers (a promotion by the bar to get you in- we only had free stuff and didn;t pay for any extra). Soon it was time to get our night bus and luckily the beer helped me get off to sleep. Next stop- Agnes Water and the Town of 1770.

Ajay:

It was time to leave our first base in Australia and start our journey south along the east coast. We were booked on a morning Greyhound bus to Airlie Beach, a small but busy tourist town full of bars, restaurants and hotels and jump-off point for sailing the Whitsunday Islands.

The Whitsunday Islands fall within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area and comprise of 90-plus islands, most of which are uninhabited. Set amongst serene blue waters, the activity of choice here is sailing. This is what we planned to do but first we needed to get to the Cairns bus station.

The walk to the bus station in the morning was a killer. It was only 0800 in the morning but it was already stiflingly hot and humid. We were each carrying a big rucksack, a daysack and a food bag and the walk to the bus station was between 1 and 2 km. We were two unhappy ratty morning bunnies by the time we reached the bus station. To rub it in the Greyhound bus didn't arrive for another 30 minutes as it was delayed. Once we got onto the bus, the journey was long but comfortable and uneventful and we arrived into Airlie Beach late at night. After checking into our hostel we packed for our sailing trip.

The next morning we were up early to check in at our sailing company, Whitsunday Adventures, where we stored our luggage. We had managed to secure a lower standby rate (usually reserved for last minute bookings) when we arranged our sailing trip in Cairns and as there were only seven of us on the boat (plus skipper Trent and deck hand Jimmy), we managed to get a cabin to ourselves! We were sailing on a cruising yacht called Waltzing Matilda.

Once we were greeted by the boat crew and settled into our cabins, we went up on deck to watch as the yacht departed from the harbour. We were going to spend the next 36 hours on the yacht and there was a mild concern that we would experience sea sickness. The first hour and a half was choppy and windy as we sailed through open water (I lost my sunglasses to the sea!) but as we started to pass through the bays it calmed down a lot, the sun came out and we had a splendid time just chilling on deck. No real motion sickness at all. The food throughout the trip was superb and the vibe on board the yacht was relaxed and peaceful - just what we wanted. In the afternoon we headed out to picturesque Hook Island where we snorkelled off the yacht and explored some of the fringing reefs and then spent some time relaxing on the beach. We were greeted with hot drinks, biscuits and cakes as we got back on the yacht - we were being spoilt and we were loving it! We anchored for the night in a calm and quiet bay and dined on a bbq feast cooked up by Jimmy. The night sky was full of stars and beer and conversation consumed the rest of the evening.

The next morning we woke up in Tongue Bay on the Whitsunday Island, the biggest island in this area. Trent, our captain, had woken up at 0530 in the morning and driven the Waltzing Matilda to this spot so we could get to island before the hordes of young backpacker tourists from the 'party' boats came ashore (and ruined the serene ambience of the Whitehaven beach). After a quick breakfast, we ventured ashore with Jimmy our guide and went to a lookout over Whitehaven beach. The view was stunning.

After a few photos we made our way to a secluded beach spot recommended by Trent. We learned that the sand in Whitehaven Beach is of such high quality that Nasa had used it to build the lens for the Hubble telescope. It was ceratinly the finest sand I have ever walked on - white and silky. The water was clear and the blue skies and sunshine completed a paradise scene. It was magical. We spent a good couple of hours sunbathing, swimming and playing catch with a rugby ball at the beach. It was hot but the water was refreshing.

After returning to the boat, Trent took us to another spot near Dumbell Island for some more snorkelling. We had a really good time checking out the coral and we managed to see many different varieties of colourful fish in this area. A hearty lunch ensued and we spent the rest of the journey sunbathing and chilling out on the deck while we sailed back to Airlie beach.

It had been a really enjoyable and relaxing couple of days on a nice boat with friendly fellow passengers and a superb crew. We both had a brilliant time and the experience was right up there with some of the most memorable things we'd done on the trip thus far. In the evening we met up with Jimmy and the other passengers for some drinks before heading to the bus stop to catch our overnight bus to Agnes Waters.

Posted by ajuandamanee 09:32 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Entry 49: Finding Nemo

Great Barrier Reef, Ocean Freedom, Turquoise Waters and Sunshine!, Colourful Fish, Weird and Wonderful Coral, Snorkelling, Wonderwall

Am:

Yep- another early start, up at 5.30am and down at the docks for just after 7am. After checking in we found our boat and were welcomed with a hot drink and pastries! The horizon was clear and the water was really calm- good news for my sometimes sea sickness prone tummy! The boat went out to the reef, it took about an hour and a half, and we got on our fins and selected a snorkel. Ajay had the brainwave of hiring a really good underwater camera and had organised it the day before. With our gear on we got into the water, camera in hand and got snorkelling. Words cannot do the Great Barrier Reef justice. Its the largest living organism in the world, is over 2000kms long and can be seen from space. We saw loads of colourful coral, countless varieties of fish, a reef shark, plenty of nemo's and took loads of photos!

We stopped for a fabulous lunch (salad, potatoes, pasta, veggies and seafood), rode out to another spot and continued to snorkel. We also went over to a sandbar island and continued to take photos. The current was much stronger in the afternoon and it was hard work swimming at times. Ajay was getting tired too, so we called it quits (just before we were about to finish anyway as it turns out) and stuffed ourselves with fruit, cake and cheese on the way back to Cairns.

An amazing day in all, the only downside being overhearing some really horrible racist comments being made about the Indigeneous Australian/Aboriginal Population. We had been warned by some friends and other travellers about this before coming to Australia, but it was still shocking to hear all the same. I had heard some snippets of similar comments on the trip up to Cape Trib and Daintree River, but these comments were said loudly, with real vitriol and with added contempt for parts of Australia with the original indigeneous names. The persons involved were quite happy to shout abut their opinions and didn't seem to think they were saying anything wrong, but I decided I would try and find out as much about all of the communitities within Australia where possible. I had a nasty feeling that this wouldn't be the last time we would come across these opinions though.

Aside from that, I would quite happily spend a much larger chunk of time exploring other areas of the reef, but I suspect you could never see it all in a lifetime.....

Ajay:

Without doubt the biggest attraction that Cairns has to offer is its proximity and number of services to visit and explore the Great Barrier Reef - reputedly the largest living structure that can be seen from space. It stretches 2300km off the east coast of Queensland from just north of Bundaberg to Torres Strait and is 80km at its broadest. Furthermore, the Great Barrier Reef has the greatest biodiversity of any ecosystem on earth with over 1500 types of fish, 400 types of coral plus many other types and species such as seaweeds, clams or molluscs, and birds. There are also manta rays, squid, turtles and other marine life.

We had been looking forward to seeing the amazing coral reef here as soon as we had included Australia on the itinerary way back in the initial "high level planning phase" (read back of a fag packet or, more truthfully, an A4 piece of paper as neither of us smoke!) so it was great that we had the opportunity to experience this must-see highlight so early in our stay in Australia.

From the multitude of various Great Barrier Reef tours, we opted for a company called Ocean Freedom which had received some favourable reviews and offered a 20m refurbished cruiser (19m just wouldn't cut it!). It was a great choice as we had a brilliant day: the water was relatively calm throughout and we went snorkelling in a couple of prime spots including the 'Wonder Wall' on the outer edge of the Upolu Reef and the Sand Bar island where we drift snorkelled back to boat. The colours and shapes of the various coral were simply beautiful and we saw lots of psychedelically patterned tropical fishes and other marine life. We also saw a reef shark! Luckily for us we did not have to wear stinger suits as there were no jellyfish at this part of the ocean at this time of the year. I had also hired out an underwater digital camera so was able to take lots of photos to capture what we were seeing - check the pictures!

The lunch on board the cruiser was ace (a huge buffet of pasta, meats, salad and vegetarian options) and we also had some time to sunbathe on the top deck and enjoy the views of the pristine turquoise waters, clear blue skies and radiant sunshine.

Now the science and learning part. All coral are primitive hollow sacs with tentacles on top. Hard corals excrete a small amount of limestone as an outer skeleton that protects their soft bodies. The Great Barrier Reef (and all other reef for that matter) is created by billions of skeletons of dead coral polyp which have cemented together over time into an ever-growing bulwark. The structures vary from staghorn to brain-patterns to flat plate or table corals. All need sunlight however so few grow deeper than 30m below surface. Coral skeletons are white, while the kaleidoscopic colours of the reef come from the living polyps.

Posted by ajuandamanee 09:24 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Entry 48: A Day In The Tropics

Locked Up Lunch!, Kangaroos, Koalas & Crocs, Tropical Forest, Cape Tribulation Beach, Daintree River Cruising, Ryans Rest, Dreamtime Fire Show

Am:

We were up early to have our breakfast, pack our lunch and put our bags into storage. First problem- fridge is locked! So we can't get out our lunch. Bugger. It also means we can't have breakfast peoperly, I make some scrambled eggs but the bread is in the fridge. Double bugger- not a great start to the day. We left our bags in the storage area and we picked up by our guide. The drive up to Cape Trib/Daintree is quite long, so after a nap, we arrived at an animal sanctuary. We decided to check it out- and it was great! Saw loads of native animals, including Koala, Kangaroos (various species), Saltwater Crocodiles, Cassowary, Emu, parrots and lots of different bird species.

We were picked up by the van after an hour and a half and continued the drive north to do a short walk in a nature reserve within the Daintree that is going to be handed over to the traditional owners. We walked up to some water falls and spotted some nature along the way. It was then back to the van and up to Cape Tribulation- a beautiful beach and a great place to snorkel to reef. We were just here to check out the beach though, and had a rather pricey lunch- we had been told it was 'affordable', but was actually about 20 pounds for two sarnies and a bowl of chips!. The start of a very expensive trip to Oz. Be warned, it is soooooo pricey here! We also saw our first Huntsman Spider at the restaurant- huge but harmless.

After sweltering for a while at Cape Trib, we got the van back down, and stopped off for another walk in the Daintree Forest area and saw a large lizard, mangroves and strangler figs. We also stopped of for a photo op at a view point- beautiful but it was a bit hazy so not sure how good the photos will be.

Our final acitivity of the day was a cruise along the Daintree river, a river that is infested with the deadly Saltwater Crocodile, also known as Salties. I had been reading up about these animals (round since the era of the Dinosaurs, and an effective killing machine) and was pretty terrified of them. The boat captain re-inforced this fear by telling us various croc stories, including a story about a croc that has attacked a boat- the croc weighed over a ton and the damange to the boat was significant. Another story was about a croc that followed a boat that had a crying baby onboard. He also told about crocs that watch humans and remember patterns (a croc attacked a lady who went down to the bottom of a garden by the river at a certain time each day), and also advised us to camp more than 50 m away from a river on a hill as they have been known to drag humans out of tents. Finally, if sleeping in a van, pop your head out of the sunroof to see if a croc is laying in wait for you. Needless to say, I probably wouldn't stay by the river here.

We did see a croc, but it was mainly submerged. It was cool to see one in the wild though, and we got close enough for me. More on the croc phobia in future posts, which will become reifnorced by reading Bill Bryson's Down Under (he regales countless, gruesome croc stories).

We began the drive back to Cairns and by the time we arrived we had decided which Whitsunday sailing cruise we wanted to book, so Chris sorted that out for us before we moved hostel. He also apologised for the fridge mishap- its locked each night due to food theft (?!) and we weren't told where the key was. He invited us to a fire show at the hostel later and gave us some free bottled water to compensate. We moved to Ryans Rest, which for less money we had our own private room, with aircon, a tv and unlimited braodband internet! It only had 6 rooms, the kitchen, bathrooms and communal area were great and it was one of the best hostels we stayed in during our time in Oz. After dinner (we ate the sandwiches we should have had for our tea) and popped back to Dreamtime to watch the fireshow- have to say I was really impressed. Its a family run show and we really enjoyed it.

Ajay:

Cairns is based in the state of Queensland in the northeastern corner of Australia and was first explored by Europeans (the Dutch, Portugese and French) in the 1600s. The seasons here are hot and wet or cool and dry and the region is said to receive over 300 days of sunshine in the year. Luckily for us, we had timed our visit here for the tail end of the dry season and the build up to the wet season. The region is noted for its diverse terrain: it features an amazing coastline in close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, dramatic mountain ranges (the Dividing Range) and tropical green rainforests (Daintree). It was the last of these environments that we decided to explore first.

Our day trip to the World Heritage Listed Cape Tribulation and Daintree National Parks started early on our second morning in Oz. The previous night we had made ourselves a packed lunch for the day but the fridge was locked in the morning and we were unable to take our food with us on the trip - boo!

The first stop on our trip was a rainforest animal sanctuary. We ventured through purpose built native habitats of some of Austrailia's rare and endangered native animals. We saw a whole host of species such as Kangaroos, Wallabies, free-roaming Emus, the (deadly!) Cassowary, a couple of sleepy and grumpy Koalas, some crocodiles (at a distance of course!) and lots of colourful birds.

We then stopped and did a little walk through some lush rainforest at Mossman Gorge followed by a lunch near the white sand of Cape Tribulation Beach which was fringed by the rainforest of the Daintree. Oh, at the restaurant we also saw a huntsman spider which momentarily scared the bejesus out of me as I pulled out a menu from the rack!

The next stop was the Marrdja Botanical Boardwalk and we were provided with a guided tour through the rainforest with explanantions of plants, todal creek systems and mangrove trees.

In the afternoon we went on a Daintree River Wildlife Cruise where we went crocodile spotting. We managed to see a couple of crocodiles and listened with a little trepidation as the boat skipper recounted some scary stories where people had been stuck in the river (albeit in small fishing boats) and then attacked by these fearsome "Salties"! Luckily for us we were on a much bigger boat and we managed to make it back on the bus without any issues.

On the way back to Cairns we stopped at Rex lookout which provided a viewpoint of the coastline and Green Island.

Once back in Cairns we moved 50m down the road from Dreamtime hostel to Ryans Rest. It was recommended to us by the really helpful Chris at Dreamtime as they were booked up for the following two nights and couldn't accommodate us. Ryans Rest was an awesome boutique guesthouse - and turned out to be one of the best places we stayed in during our time in Australia: we had our own clean room with television, air-con and the wi-fi was ridiculously fast, all for the same price as the dorm beds at Dreamtime. In the evening we did cheekily headed back to Dreamtime but only to watch an amazing fire show by a family of travelling performers - we had the best of both worlds!

Posted by ajuandamanee 09:15 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Entry 47 : G'Day Oz!

First Time Qantas, Senna Doc, Sparkling Sydney From The Sky, Humid Cairns, Dreamtime Resting, Expensive Oz!

Am:

We were flying with Quantas from Christchurch to Sydney, and then had a scheduled stopover before flying with them again to Cairns. We were impressed with the Quantas plane and service- the entertainment and films on offer were good and the food was ok too. We both watched the documentary Senna (highly recommend it), and we also saw Sydney's harbours and the Opera House from the air- amazing!! Hello Aussie!! After I was swabbed for explosives (a first for me, although the apparently random selection process of who was being swabbed was interesting, dare I say racist?). We killed some time at the airport before boarding our flight to Cairns.

We arrived in the late evening to Cairns, and it was hot and very humid! We had booked a transfer to our hostel (called Dreamtime), and found the van. Getting to the hostel was fine, and we had been left a key and a short note. We sorted out our things, found our beds (back to dorms- boooooo) and tried to sleep.

The next day, after a fitful sleep we decided to stock up on food. I am obviulsy becoming a grungy traveller as I went to supermarket (the aptly titled Bi-Lo) in my pj's. After getting some basics (including pepper, salt, oil etc) and some decent-ish cheese, and resorting to buying battery eggs as free range were waaaaaaay to pricey we made a bg brekkie and began to plan what to do during our time in the Far North of Queensland. After a quick shower, we sat down with Chris at Dreamtime and he helpfully booked a load of things for us. First up- the delightful Greyhound Bus Pass from Cairns to Melbourne. We then booked a tour for the next day to Cape Tribulation and Daintree River, and also a tour to the Great Barrier Reef on our final day in Cairns. We also wanted to extend our time in Cairns by a day but Dreamtime was full, however Chris booked us into a room at Ryan's Rest, a hostel down the road. He also gave us some brochures to have a look at so we could bok a last minute sailing trip in the Whitsunday Islands- in short, Chris is a legend!

After booking all of these trips we decided to explore Cairns and walked into town. We went to the Esplande which has been really well done I thought- great park and pool area. We then wandered over to the Cairns Contemporay Art Gallery and saw works by local artists, including work addressing racism directed towards the Indigenous Australian popoluation in Aussie Rules football- really sad and thought provoking. We then did a bit of shopping in town- Ajay had no boardies so pciked up some nice Billabong shorts, and although I had swimwear, I also got a pair of girl swimwear shorts to wear over bikini bottoms. Just over the road from the shopping area was the North Queensland Art Gallery, and we popped in to have a look there too. We are both really interested in Art, but we also quickly discovered that art galleries have aircon- so provide some respite from the heat!

We headed back to Dreamtime, it was movie night at the hostel, so we watched a couple of flicks before making sandwiches for our lunch the next day, and packing (we had to move hostel after our Daintree/Cape Trib jaunt) before turning in.

Ajay:

The flight from Christchurch to Sydney symbolically marked the half way point of our year long RTW trip; the transition from the ''cold'' first half to the "hot" second half. The view on departure from New Zealand was of the stunning snow peaks and ice-laden mountains of the Southern Alps; the view when we neared the eastern coast of Australia was of Sydney harbour and its various bays surrounded by turquoise waters sparkling in the resplendent sunshine. We could see the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge from our aeroplane - a magical scene!

It was my first time flying with Qantas and I was eager to see if they lived up to the hype. The flight was certainly smooth and comfortable and they did have a cool touch screen entertainment system and during the 3 hour flight we managed to watch 'Senna', the brilliant documentary about the late Brazilian F1 racing driver Ayrton Senna.

We touched down in Sydney and spent a couple of hours at Sydney airport before catching our onward flight to Cairns. It was after 2100 when we landed in Cairns and it was still hot and humid. There was a tropical feel and there were a lot of bugs everywhere. We caught a pre-arranged taxi to our hostel Dreamtime and went to sleep after a long and tiring day.

The next day was our first full day in Oz proper and man was it hot! We were sweating buckets and it was a godsend whenever we could stop by a place with air-conditioning. Due to the fact that we were only spending a month on the east coast and the amount of ground we needed to cover in that time, we got straight onto booking a few tours for the next couple of days. We booked a Greyhound bus pass from Cairns to Melbourne which worked out to be the cheapest and most convenient way for us to travel on this side of the country. We also booked a tour to visit the Daintree River/Cape Tribulation region, a snorkelling tour on the Great Barrier Reef, a sailing cruise around the Whitsunday Islands and arranged a hostel for next two nights (long gone were the days when we could just rock up in Boba and crash for the night!). Needless to say it was an EXPENSIVE first day in Australia!

We then spent the rest of the day adjusting to the heat and exploring a little of Cairns. Walking through the busy retail outlet-laden streets of the city centre and along the esplanade reminded me a lot of Florida - a similar environment and vibe. The esplanade is located near the coast and is where we saw most people congregate. Many people were swimming and chilling out near a large man-made lagoon here as there is no sizeable sandy beach in Cairns.

We were enticed by the air-conditioning in a couple of galleries so checked them out: the Centre of Contemporary Arts, which featured a series of works focussing on racism against Aboriginals in sport, and Cairns Regional Gallery, which featured works from local artists.

We also stopped by some shops and picked up some snazzy swimwear to rock on the beaches and in the water over the coming months. In the evening we chilled out at the hostel and watched a movie in their open air cinema.

Posted by ajuandamanee 09:08 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Entry 46: The Dusky Tremor Goodbye

Winding Road to Kaikoura, Swimming With Dolphins, Scenic Coastal Trail, Haka Lodge, 5.5 on the Richter Scale, RWC Knockout Stages, Goodbye NZ!

Am:

After indavertently getting caught up in traffic outside Christchurch, we were soon on our way and after driving through heavy rain and up and down some large hills we were in Kaikoura. We found a hostel that had seen better days, parked up and ate our fish with some veggies and watched Lord of the Rings- the Two Towers.

It was another miserble day in Kaikoura, so we spent most of our time indoors, blogging and eating! We did venture outside to the i-site, and they kindly checked the weather for us (it was meant the clear up the next day) and we decided to book our 'Dolphin Encounter' trip. We had fish and chips for tea and bedded down in the night to prepare for an early start.

In the morning it was blue skies and clear! We could even see the mountains a short distance away that yesterday had been completely shrouded in cloud. At the centre that runs the trips, we saw a short video and got into our wetsuits, flippers and selected our snorkel gear. The sea was rougher than I was expecting, but it was ok and we had only gone a short distance in the harbour when we were told a pod of dolphins had been spotted, so got on our gear and were ready to jump into the water. It was chilly initially, but I got used to it- we all began to make lots of noise, as dolphins are curious by nature and likely to come over and investigate what is going on.

The dolphins came over and began to swim really close to us, and were quite playful. At times they would swim under you, or jump. We swam four times with them- this pod seemed to keep coming back for more!

Soon our time was up and we got out of our wetsuits, had a quick hose wash and got changed. I sat outside though as I was starting to feel a bit seasick and nibbled on ginger biscuits. The dophins began to follow our boat, and a few were showing off by doing some somersaults and jumps!
Insert pics here

After lunch, and as the weather was still good, we did a walk along coast and cliffs in the southern part of town. Some of the views were spectacular and we also saw a few seal colonies (and also saw some tourists getting a bit too close to them- and the seals snarled at them!). We had a seafood snack of garlic prawns and then decided to stay an extra night in Kaikoura and save us a drive to Hanmer Springs. After dinner we watched the finale in of Lord of the Rings- The Return of the King.

We got up later than planned in the mornng and I drove as fast as possible to our hostel in Christchurch, the lovely Haka Lodge. We dropped off our bags and then drove over to the Spaceships depot and said goodbye to Boba- although he was old, and broke down on our second day, he was a trooper and it was sad to say goodbye.

Back at Haka Lodge, which was more like a boutique house rather than hostel, we made dinner and sat down to watch a few rugby matches, including Wales vs Ireland, and France vs England. Wales were worthy victors, and France saw off an embarassing England.

Our final day in NZ was spent chilling out- after our first nights sleep in a bed for some time, and we skyped home along with catching up on the blog. Also, since the huge earthquake in Febraury 2011 the Christchurch CBD has been closed off and there isn't much to do in the city at the moment. Its really sad to see the impact on the city- houses are still skewiff and there is ongoing sewage and road repairs. In Kaikoura we had met a couple who live here and had gone north for a break and they explained it did not feel like home anymore, and that people are leaving the city in droves. In the evening we again had dinner whilst watching rugby (accompanied with NZ wine). During the Australia vs South Africa match we had our first NZ quake experience. We had felt a couple of tremors here and there (especially at night) but this one felt pretty big to us. The was a group of us watching the match and we all got up to go outside, but then the tremor/quake stopped- the Kiwi's who were watching the match with us assured it was all ok, but it was quite a freaky experience. We found out later it was 5.5 on the Richter scale, but you don't have to worry unless its 6 upwards. The match was entertaining- neither team played amazingly well, but the Aussies pulled through. We then watched NZ vs Argentina, a disappointing game, but the All Blacks made it through after a shaky start.

We were up early to post our cards and get our transfer to the airport in Christchurch. Ajay also gave me a NZ pressie- a cute little blue penguin soft toy he had managed to buy covertly from the Visitor Centre- I loved it and named him Percy. We left NZ on a high after drinking some fresh spring water from a fountain in the airport-direct from the hills behind it! NZ is a beautiful, warm and friendly place and I would love to come back again- after going to Colombia of course!

Ajay:

The 8 hour drive to Kaikoura got exciting when we had passed Christchurch and the route started to wind around hills and cliff edges on the eastern coast of New Zealand's South Island. We reached Kaikoura in the early evening and checked into an old rambling guesthouse in the centre of town which had space for campervans at the back. We cooked the salmon that we had picked up earlier for supper and enjoyed it with a glass (or two!) of white wine and then found LOTR: The Twin Towers in the extensive videotape collection in the communal lounge so ended up watching that before turning in for the night. Two down, one to go.

Our main motivation for coming to Kaikoura was to see some of the abundant marine life (whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, albatross etc) in the region and, in particular, go swimming with dusky dolphins. Thus the next morning after checking into another holiday park further down the road we booked ourselves onto the Dolphin Encounter excursion for the following day. For the rest of the day we had a little explore around Kaikoura town centre, caught up with some blogging and sampled the locally renowned fish and chips. From our holiday park we could see the snow-capped peaks (2610m) of the Seaward Kaikoura Range which provides a spectacular backdrop to the town centre; this is one of the few places on earth where such large mountains are so close to the sea.

The following morning we woke up to clear skies over Kaikoura bay. This bode well for our doplhin swimming trip as there were likely to be calmer waters. After reaching the Dolphin Encounter office, climbing into a wetsuit and being armed with snorkel gear, we sat through a safety briefing and a little talk about how the morning would progress. We then headed out by boat to a suitable location in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast. Once we spotted a group of dolphins, the boat was stopped and we jumped into the open waters and started making funny loud noises to try and attract the dolphins. Ridiculous to look at but it worked! The water was freezing cold but we soon forgot about it as we swam around and dolphins started to swim past us. We would see grey streaks suddenly appear from nowhere - it was a bit unnerving and freaky at first but we soon relaxed and it was an amazing experience to be so close to them.

Kaikoura's dolphins are the dusky dolphin. They live together in groups called pods (anything from 100 to 1000 in each pod), range from 165cm to 195cm in size and weigh anywhere between 60 and 90kg. Dusky dolphins are reputed to be amongst the most acrobatic of all dolphin species.
The dolphins we saw on the day were certainly curious and playful and would swim around you and, on occasion, perform manouevres such as a 360 degree turns, jumps and side slaps in the water. Over the next hour and a half we had four swimming opportunities with the dolphins after following them to different spots in the ocean. On the journey back to the mainland, while we warmed ourselves up with hot chocolate and ginger biscuits, we saw dolphins swimming behind and up alongside the boat. A few of them jumped out the water and did somersault flips - an amazing sight!

In the afternoon, after lunch, Am and I took a walk along a trail (known as the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway) around the cliff edge on the southern end of the town. Along the way we saw some fur seal colonies and got some great views of the bay.

There was also a small outdoor information board on the trail where we learnt about how the ocean-current and continental-shelf in this particular region interact to create an environment that is so full of marine life. We discovered that the sea bed off the coast of Kaikoura gradually slopes away from the land to a depth of about 90m, then plunges to more than 800m. It is in this zone that warm and cold water converges and when the southerly current hits the continental shelf it creates an upwelling, bringing nutrients up from the ocean floor into the feeding zone thus allowing marine plant and animal life to thrive.

On the approach back to Boba we also picked up some fresh garlic prawns as a snack. After abandoning the idea to drive to Hanmer Springs, we decided to stay another night in Kaikoura and drive to Chrsitchurch in the morning. We defected back to our original guesthouse thus allowing us to watch The Return of the King, the third and final part of the LOTR trilogy, whilst in NZ! Task completed - jobs'a'good'un!

The next morning we drove from Kaikoura to Christchurch, our last port of call in New Zealand and where we were flying out of in a day's time to Australia. We checked into the lush Haka Lodge and dropped off Boba before the 4pm deadline. It was sad to say goodbye to Boba who, after an initially shaky start, proved his mettle by lasting the full 48 days without any further trouble. Big up Boba!

Our stay at the warm, comfortable and cosy Haka Lodge was great - it was easily one of the best places we'd stayed at during our time away. That evening we got back on the Rugby World Cup trail and watched Wales beat Ireland in a great game and also France dumping a poor England out of the competition.

We didn't venture out into Christchurch during our time there as the CBD was still closed. A lot of buildings were still in an awful state in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit the city earlier in the year. Roads were still broken and we could see the ground raised and split in certain areas. The earthquake was such an unfortunate event for the region as prior to its occurence Christchurch used to be one of New Zealand's most liveable cities.

The following day was also spent relaxing at the homely Haka Lodge catching up with some blogs and watching Australia beat South Africa in a Rugby World Cup quarter final - a scrappy but tense game. During the match we experienced an earthquake. We'd felt little tremors in the previous 24 hours but this was noticeably much bigger. When it hit, the tremor lasted about 5 seconds and was 5.5 on the richter scale. We looked at each a bit nervously but our Kiwi hosts reassured us that it was nothing to worry about as they have been experiencing tremors of this size regularly since the big devasting earthquake earlier in the year.

The next morning we bade farewell to New Zealand. It was sad to leave as we'd had an amazing time exploring the country in Boba but we were now looking forward to what Oz had to offer!

Posted by ajuandamanee 08:59 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Entry 45: Aoraki the Cloud Piercer

lake Pukaki Sunset Views, Sealy Tarns Tramping, Kea Point, Mt Aoraki Visitors Centre, Tasman Glacier, Mountaineers Cafe, Salmon Farm, Lake Tekapo

Am:

We took some amazing sunset photos of Mt Aroraki bny Lake Pukaki as we arrived. We made the most of the cooking shelter in Mt Cook Village and then skyped Ajay's family before heading to our campsite.

We woke up, had our breakfast, made some lunch and then began the Sealy Tarns walk- its more of a trek really, and a hard one at that! We climbed higher and higher, bouldering in places and clmibing on all fours. The weather became colder as we climbed higher, although the views were amazing. It became a bit more tricky as we walked towards the Tarns- there was an increasing amount of snow and ice and after a treacherous scramble across boulders we reviewed the situation. We were reluctatn to go further as it was now all up a steep hill, that was covered in snow and we didn't have any crampons or otherkind of ice climbing gear. We made the decison to head down, but we really enjoyed the walk, it was just a shame we didn't make tio to the Tarns, although we were very close.

We then walked to Kea Point (and heard what sounded like a huge avalanche) and then onto the Hooker Valley, although we were only able to get to the first viewpioint as the bridge was being repaired.

After a long day of walked we went back to the trusty cooking shelter and made some dinner, and then had a distinctly lukewarm coin operated shower before crashing out.

We had a lie in and decided to check out the DOC Mt Aoraki/Cook visitor centre. The history of the significance of the mountain to the local Maori, and the attempts to conquer if over time were fascinating, as was learning about the first female climber, the old mountaineering gear versus the new and that this was used as a training place for Edmund Hillary (who was aming the first group, along with Tenzig Norgay, to climb Everest). There were also some grim statistics about hiking and mountaineering in the area- 5 people a year on average die in Mt Aoraki/Cook National Park each year. We saw a video/documentary about a dramatic mountain rescue that also hihglighted the dangers.

We then drove over to the Tasman Glacier lookout point- was pretty crazy to see it, and a bit weird to think we were standing on the glacier too! Afterwards we chilled out at the slightly snobby Old Mountaineering Cafe- but you couldn't fault the hot chocolate, beer, amazing potato wedges and the hot fire!

An early start as today was a mammoth drive day. We left Mt Aoraki shrouded in cloud- although I did see the peak very briefly through a gap in the clouds before we left! Our first stop off was the Salmon Farm near Twizel, and as it had been a while since we had feasted on salmon, we bought a couple of fillets for tea. We then stopped off to take some photos of Lake Tekapo- but as the weather was a bit grim it wasn't the brilliant turquiose sheen that I had seen on my presvious trip. We stopped off at the town.....Lake Tekapo?? Ajay got out and tooks some photos of the local church and we continued our drive. We decided to take the scenic route, and stopped off at a small town for lunch and carried on the drive.

Ajay:

After bidding farewell to Oamaru and its legions of cute blue penguins, we drove onto the home of the mighty Mt Cook, the tallest peak in Australasia standing at 3755m and known to Maori as Aoraki (or cloud piercer) after an ancestral deity in Maori mythology. It is based in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park which is home to 22 of New Zealand's 27 mountains over 3050m and is the primary spot for climbing in the nation. Apparently more than one third of the park is covered permanently with snow and glacial ice.

On the drive towards Mt Cook village we were really lucky to watch a spectacular sunset over Aoraki from the road near Lake Pukaki after passing the oddly named town of Twizel. The changing colour of the sky along with the delicate scattering of clouds was simply spellbinding and as the sun set it lit up one face of Aoraki. Truly magical stuff.

We spent the evening relaxing in Mt Cook Village and then camped overnight in a DOC site just outside the village. The next morning we set forth to tackle a couple of the short walks around the surrounding region.

First on the list was Sealy Tarns. The track started relatively flat for the first fifteen minutes and was then pretty much all uphill after that. We climbed and climbed and at times we were almost on all fours scrambling over boulders. At one point we had to traverse a snow-covered ledge across a steep face of the mountain. In reality the track would probably be more aptly defined as a "technical tramp" rather than a "moderate hike". Nevertheless we soldiered on.

The mountain still had plenty of snow on it and as we got nearer the top it became a little treacherous. Nevertheless, we got a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains but much of the view of the distant valley was obscured by heavy cloud cover. We climbed as much as we could without the use of crampons and then headed back down to the ground to check out other viewpoints of Hook lake.

From the base of the Sealy Tarns trail we branched off to Kea Point which had a platform looking out into the Hooker Valley. Unfortunately for us, the weather was continuing to get worse and we couldn't really see the valley. We walked a bit further past Kea Point and reached a rocky outcrop from where we had some stellar views of the cobalt blue and emerald green Hook lake.

We then walked up to a memorial that stood on a hill just before the start of the Hooker Valley trail and was dedicated to climbers and trampers who had died in the region during climbing accidents. It was very sad to see so many young lives tragically lost but at the same time it made us appreciate how we, the Earth's frail inhabitants, are all at the mercy of nature's whim. We then walked towards the starting point for the Hooker Valley trail but unfortunately it was closed until the start of the summer while some work was being done on the swingbridge across the Hooker River. I have to say I was gutted about this as I've read that the view of Aoraki from the valley is superb as it totally dominates the space. I guess I'll just have to come back again one day to see this.

The weather was still pretty rubbish the next day so we spent most of the morning learning about Mt Aoraki and its history at the excellent DOC Visitor Information Centre which also advises on weather conditions and tramping routes.

We learnt that 200 people have died in climbing accidents in the park - the In Memoriam book records each fatality from 1907 to 2008. One of the main reasons that Aoraki and its surrounding region is so difficult to climb is the highly changeable weather here: Aoraki is only 44km from the coast and weather conditions rolling in from the Tasman Sea can mean sudden storms.

After getting our fill of Aoraki information, we headed out to a viewpoint to see the Tasman Glacier. As with Franz Josef and Fox, there was nothing here as spectacular as Perito Moreno; in fact the last few kilometers of the glacier had melted from top down, exposing a jumble of stones, rocks and boulders and forming a lake which we were now looking at. The view of the terminal lake was a bit ugly to be honest - mainly icy grey sludge.

After the disappointment that was Tasman Glacier we headed back to chill out at the homely Mounaineer cafe - hot chocolate, wedges, beer and a hot roaring fire helped us to wile away the rest of the afternoon in comfort. The next day was a long driving day from Mt Aoraki all the way to Kaikoura. The weather was still miserable and seemed to follow us all the way along our journey. Along the way we stopped at a salmon farm near Twizel and bought some fillets for supper. Apparently these were the healthiest and fittest king salmon in the world due to the pure nutrient rich water and rearing conditions. We also stopped by Tekapo for lunch and got some pretty cool views from around an old church overlooking the lake.

Posted by ajuandamanee 08:49 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Entry 44: P-P-P-Pick up a Penguin!

Quirky Oamaru, Limestone Architecture, Old School Sweets and Items, Scrubs' Favourite Cheese Factory, Blue Penguin Colony!

Am:

We drove into lovely quaint Oamaru in the morning and did a very slow tour of its famous limestone Vicotrian style buildings. We checked out an old grain factory which is now a function room and bar- and hosts a gallery upstairs. We had a look at the gallery and I picked up a pair of earrings (one NZ dollar!). We also saw a number of old buidlings in the famed styles, along with a limstone sculpturer in action, an on air radio station (complete with old skool radios, transistors, one deck turntables and kooky old sweet shop (we had some sherbert dabs and gobstoppers).

We then went to the place I had been looking forward to (in second place to the evenings attraction though). The place was the Whitestone Cheese factory- I had been in need of some serious cheese for 5 and a half months so we opted for the tasting platter that included brie, cheddar, a strong cheddar and a stilton- yum!! This was accomanpied with gapes, crackers and quince sauce and a cheescake to finish! It was heaven. Unfortunately cheese in NZ isn't great, or the decent stuff is very expensive compared to the UK- as an example a block of feta that would normally cost a quid at home is about 4-5 pounds here!. After the much needed cheese feast we walked back to town and had a look at the very compact but lovely City Gallery, again showcasing local works of art. We had some time to kill before our evening activity, so went to another yellow eyes penguin colony- Ajay opted out of going to the hide and had a sleep in the van as he was penguined-out. I walked down to the hide, a few people were there, and after about 20-30 minutes a penguin emerged from the sea! I managed to get a blurry pic this time, so will put that up.

I headed back to Boba, we popped to the supermarket and had our tea and then went to the local Blue Penguin Colony Visitor Centre. We were there early to get good seats, and picked seats in the viweing area. It was pretty windy and the srf ws crashing against the rocks. At about 8pm (dusk) we watched as the first 'rafts' of little blue penguins began to swim ashore. We were able to seem them quite cleary as the area was lit up with lighting that they are unable to see. Blue penguins are only about 30 cms in hight(so pretty small) and they come ashore, shake themsleves down and begin to hop, waddle and jump to get to their nest. They are also noisy- squeaking and squaking at each other when they are back at their nests(we could see some of the nesting sreas from the viweing area). They are naturally sociable with other blue penguins, but understandably shy of humans.

We sat transfixed for an hour as over 70 penguins came ashore after a day feeding out at sea. We also stood by the nesting areas and the penguins waddled past us- lierally next to us! It was all very exciting. After the viewing we saw quite a few penguins in the car park and on the way back to the main road and got really close to them, but couldn't take any pictures as they are distressed by bright lights and it can impair their vision permanently.

We drove to our campsite and although we arrived late, the owner kindly showed us a good spot and informed us he had very cheap unlimited braodband and free laundry facilities! Bonus.

We spent a good part of the day chilling at the Waitiki Waters Holiday Camp, did our laundry, skyped home and had a fry up for brunch- much needed. It was a beautiful day- perfect for the drive to Mt Aoraki/Cook National Park.

Ajay:

The next day we drove into quirky Oamaru and were immediately struck by the laidback vibe permeating the town. We spent most of the day wandering around the town centre which is notable for its limestone buildings that have been built using oamaru stone (or whitestone) from the surrounding region. The old historical area of the town centre is very pretty and consists of a few narrow streets lined with bookshops, antique stores, workshops, galleries and the odd penny farthing.

Within this area we explored a huge old grain factory that was constructed from stone and timber and had now been converted to a restaurant and function room. The upper level of the grain factory hosted an art gallery exhibiting works from local artists - we visited it and thought it was pretty good.

We also visited a limestone sculptor's workshop and an on-air radio station that had the most amazing array of old school transistor radios and turntables. At the end of our tour of the old historical area we treated ourselves to sherbert dip and gobstoppers from the local sweet shop...unfortunately, however, they were not as good as the sherbert dip and gobstoppers from our childhood memories!

We then checked out the Whitestone Cheese Factory, touted as "the South Island's yummiest cheese factory" and famous for providing cheeses to the production wrap parties of the television comedy Scrubs - no joke! We had a tasting and indulged in a platter selection of cheeses (brie, blue, chedder) with crackers, bread, grapes and quince sauce...and then followed up with cheesecake for dessert!

After our totally delectable lunch we walked back into town centre and visited the well kept City Art Forrester Gallery which is housed in a beautiful columned 1880s bank building.

Aside from the limestone and cheese, the main tourist focus for Oamaru is penguins. There is a large blue penguin colony in Oamaru that waddle ashore near an old limestone quarry over a period of about an hour or so on a daily basis. The Blue Penguin Colony Visitor Centre in Oamaru has built a nesting area for the colony of penguins and has also developed a separate viewing area for visitors.

Thus, in the evening we ventured out to the Visitor Centre near the waterfront to watch this amazing daily journey. By the time we arrived the sky was a fantastical pink and big waves from the choppy sea were crashing against the coastline. We were sat in the designated viewing area and after a little talk from the experts at the Blue Penguin Colony Visitors Centre we watched in awe as rafts of penguins, which resembled black patches in the sea, began moving towards the coastline. As soon as the penguins reached the rocky coastline they began their climb onto the rocks; they were bathed in special amber lights which they were not able to see but helped us to see them.

We watched as these tiny creatures (approximately 30cm in height) stood up on the rocks and started to nimbly hop, jump and waddle to their specially constructed habitat. It was an amazing sight! We saw approximately 70 penguins over the course of an hour return to their lair after a day's foraging for food at sea.

Whilst driving out of the Blue Penguin Colony Visitors Centre, Am and I saw more penguins in the car park that had come ashore further down the coast. We parked up and spent a good 20 minutes trying to get close enough to the penguins to try and get a photo but the light was pretty poor and we didn't want to use flash as this would distress the penguins. So we gave up and drove onto our holiday park and rested up for the night.

The next morning was hot and sunny and we spent the morning sorting out some laundry and skyping home. It was also memorable for a big fry up for brunch including fried eggy bread, sausages and beans. We then hit the road to Aoraki National Park.

Posted by ajuandamanee 09:23 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Entry 43: Fractus

Dunedin, The World's Steepest Street, Otago Peninsula Penguin-Spotting, Sealion Dodging, Dawn Raids, Moeraki Boulders, Fleur's Place

Am:

The next day was warm and sunny and after breakfast we walked over to Baldwin St, the worlds steepest street, according to the Guiness Book of World Records anyway. It wasn't easy walking up to the top, and it was also pretty interesting to see locals using it as a kind of gym- they were running and walking up and down it!

We then wandered down to the Botanical Gardens and checked out some of the Rhododendrens and had some lunch whilst watching the militant seagulls. the in turn were watching us as they wanted our food, but there was obviously a leader in the pack and he kept bullying the other birds and chasing them away. We then went to a second hand bookshop that I had popped into during my last visit and had a lok at the most recent selection.

Late afternoon/early evening is the time to begin wildlife spotting, so we drove down to the Otago Peninsula. We parked up and walked down to the beach- past some huge intimitdating Sealions who were fighting with each other and chasing the odd passerby down the beach. We made it to the specially constructed viewing hide and sat to wait for the Yellow Eyed Penguins (also known as Hoi Ho). Almost immiediately we saw a penguin emerge from the water and then begin to scale a huge hill. Unfortunately, we were unable to take decent photos, but the penguin was jumping up the hill with ease- it was spectacular to see. Unfortuantely, that was our only sighting for the day, and we made our way back past the angry Sealions to the saftey of Boba. On the way back to our campsite we picked up a Japanese takeaway (one of the upsides of staying in a student city- cheap takeaway) and a local bottle of Pinot Noir.

We packed up our stuff in the morning, parked up Boba and spent the morning in Dunedin Public Art Gallery- fanstastic place and space. Saw some thought provoking and really interesting works by mainly NZ artists. I also spent some time in the Media area and watched a documentary called 'Dawn Raids', an account of the less appealing side of NZ. The documentary was about the govenrment and subsequnetly the plice targeting people overstaying their visas- although the majority of overstayers were Brits and Europeans, unfortunately this essentially racist peice of legilastion targeted Pacific Islanders, and some Maori (who ironically had been around long before the Brits came along). Really interesting and an insight into an topic that isn't always acknowledged in NZ.

After lunch we hit the road towards Oamaru. We stopped off at the Moeraki boulders (by the village of Moeraki) along the way, large spherical boulders that sit on the beach and are visible at low tide. We then drove into the local village, following a tip from Tom's friend and the guidebook and found a restaurant called Fleur's Place. It is apparently the best fish retaurant in NZ, so we decided to treat ourselves and had dinner. The decor was really funky and with bric-a-brac furnirute and vintage peices. I had a yummy fish pie and Ajay jad green lipped mussels. I had pulled the short straw again and was driving so Ajay had a glass of wine, but at least I got a free designated driver drink. After dinner it was almost dark and we decided to check the local yellow eyed penguin colony up the road. It was dusk and rapidly getting dark by the time we reached the hide, but within about 5 minutes we saw two penguins come ashore within minutes of each other and then waddle up the beach to their nests- amazing!

It was time to leave and find our campsite, so we drove to Gencoe, a DOC campsite and stayed there before the short drive to Oamaru in the morning.

Ajay:

On our first day proper in Dunedin, we started with a walk up and down Baldwin Street which is supposedly the steepest street in the world according to the Guiness Book Of Records. Don't get me wrong, it was pretty steep but I reckon we came across a few worthy challengers to its throne during our time in South America.

After working up a sweat on Baldwin Street, we wandered down to the city botanical gardens which were landscaped to perfection and well worth checking out. We had lunch here while watching a militant bird bully other birds; we also fed some ducks and saw lots of colourful rhododendrens.

We then had a quick rummage around an old but very cool secondhand bookstore before driving upto Sandy Bay on the Otago Peninsula for a bit of yellow-eyed penguin spotting. Looking out from a specially-constructed viewing hide, I felt like Bill Odie and David Attenborough but without the binoculars. I did, however, manage to spot one penguin emerge from the sea, scramble over some rocks and then, jaw-droppingly, scale the huge sloping hillside with relative ease. I didn't realise penguins were so agile - amazing! The walk back to Boba along the beach was interesting as myself and Am tried to remain conspicuous in the vicinity of some warring sea lions. In the evening we had some Japanese takeout for tea along with a bottle of Pinot Noir.

The next morning we visited Dunedin Public Art Gallery which housed many great classical and contemporary works in a number of exhibitions. I was particularly taken with a piece of work by Jeena Shin called Fractus. This was an elaborate geometric big-wall drawing built up from a beguiling set of layers and compositional structures in paint that would shift and animate in changing light.

Most of the morning was spent at the gallery; after lunch we headed on towards Oamura. Along the way we stopped to see the Moeraki boulders, a series of strange spherical solid masses sitting in the sea just off the beach.

It was early evening and we happened to be near Fleur's Place, a lovely rustic and homely restaurant with reputedly the best fish in southern New Zealand. A stop off for supper, therefore, was a no-brainer - I had green-lip mussels, Am had fish pie. Following tea we quickly checked out another yellow penguin colony but without much viewing luck and then camped at Glencoe near the town of Moeraki.

Posted by ajuandamanee 09:18 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Entry 42: Tuatara

Invercargill, 220 Million Year Old Lizards!, World's Fastest Indian, Catlins Southern Scenic Route, Torrential Weather, Slope Point, McClean Falls, Nugget Point!

Am:

Poor old Invercargill has its work cut out- it's just not a beautiful as the rest of NZ and is pretty isolated really- but we thought it was worth checking out a sights. The main sight isn't a building or natural wonder- but a lizard that lives in the Southland Museum & Art Gallery. The lizard in question is the Tuatara and as a species has been unchanged, and living in NZ for the past 220 million years- pretty amazing really, and they really should be more famous. In the enclosures we spotted the dominant male, a couple of teenagers and some babies that had hatched a few months ago. I have to say they were pretty cool.

The rest of the Musuem and Art was also interesting, and the exhibitions including information about the local Maori, the first settlers, whaling and shipwrecks along the infamous rough coastline. There was also a special exhibtion about Burt Munroe, who set land speed records on his Indian brand motorcycle.

We left the museum after popping back in to say goodbye to the Tuatara's and then began our scenic drive through the Catlins. The weather had been windy yesterday, but that seemed to be worsening, but we hoped it would begin to settle and we hadn't really come across any bad weather on out time in NZ so far. No such luck- as soon as we left Invercargill the wind became so bad that we couldn't open Boba's doors and on top of that it began to rain!

The Catlins, like the other scenic drives, has points of interest and places to stop off at along the way. So we stopped at Waipapa point, a famous shipwreck area with a lighthouse. In the very strong wind we walked to the lookout point, and then made our way to the lighthouse. Unfortunately a Sealion was asleep next to the lighthouse, but was camouflouged by the rocks and Ajay nearly stepped on it, thus waking it up and it didn't look too pleased so we got out of there and ran back to Boba!

The next stop was Slope point- the southern most tip on the South Island. The rain was almost torrential by this time, and somehow even windier. We weren't going to bother walking down there, but since you only live once.... The wind was so strong we had to take it in turns to open the doors, and then it was hard to stay upright and walk against the wind. We made it to the clifftop- and saw the Slope Point sign, and I managed to take a picture in the wind and spray from the crashing waves below us.
Insert slope point pic here.

We drove on to Curio Bay to see some fossiled trees in the rocks by the beach- but the weather was still miserable (although it wasn't raining as heavily) and I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking at. Next.

The final stop was McClean falls, and we were planning to camp at the holiday park next to the falls so after checking in went to have a look at the falls. Again, we were underwhelmed, and made our way back to the campsite to make a hot drink, a hot dinner and warm up before trying to get some sleep.

The weather had calmed a little in the night, but it was still grim. After breakfast we stopped off at Lake Wilkie and did a short walk that demonstrated lake forest and vegetation changing to mature forest (it used to be like this all over NZ). We then checked out the Matai and Horseshoe waterfalls- better than McClean falls but nothing compares to Iguazu! At Cannibal bay we decided to have some lunch, but sat in Boba due to the wind- just as well as the tide began to come in really suddenly and we were parked on the sand so had to quickly reverse unless we wanted to get stuck on the beach!

The weather had begun to clear up, and there was even some blue sky and sun appearing. At the next stop, Nugget Point, we walked to lighthouse perched on rocks out to sea- amazing views and we could appreciate the power of the sea- it looked pretty unforgiving. However, the local yellow eyed penguins swim out here everyday for food before returning to nest at Roaring Bay- we went to look at the hide but didn't stick around as they wouldn't be returning until dusk.

We drove on to Dunedin and found a place to stay before getting some food in for dinner. Tom and I had been in contact since bumping into each other at Franz Josef Glacier, and he was in Dunedin too, so we arranged to meet up for a drink that night. It was great to catch up again and I will ask him for photos to add onto the blog as I still can't believe how small the world is!

Ajay:

Invercargill is not the most exciting place in New Zealand but we did stop by to check out its prime tourist attraction at the Southland Museum and Art gallery namely the Tuatara. These are lizard-like reptiles that have apparently been unchanged in physical form for 220 million years. We also saw an exhibition of Burt Munroe who was famous for his speed records on his Indian motorcyle (you may remember an Anthony Hopkins starring biopic called 'The World's Fastest Indian') and some further exhibitions covering the history of Southland and how the region and its communities have developed.

We then jumped onto the Catlins Southern Scenic route which is a coastal route between Invercargill and Dunedin that winds through a region of lush farmland, native forests and rugged bays. It probably wasn't the best time of the year to visit this region because as soon as we set off we were ambushed with some powerful winds and rain. It was the most extreme weather that we'd experienced in New Zealand thus far. There were times, where we stopped at viewpoints, when we couldn't even open Boba's doors! Nevertheless, we soldiered on and had a little adventure over the next two days.

First stop on the scenic route was Waipapa point - the scene of NZ's worst civilian shipping disaster in 1881 when 131 people drowned. We took a short walk out to a lighthouse here but were soon frightened off by a sea-lion that was manning the fort and was clearly not asleep!

We then headed onto Slope point which is the southern most tip of the South Island. Note however that it's not strictly the southernmost point of New Zealand as that honour goes to a group of sub-Antarctic islands (including Stewart Island) that lie further south of the South Island. We ummed and ahhed for about five minutes about whether to leg it in the horrendous weather across the field all the way to the point (a goog ten to fifteen minute walk). In the end we decided that as we had come this far we might as well do it so off we went. At the point we found a signpost atop a windswept barren rock - all-in-all, a suitably end-of-the-earth type scenario.

The next stop was Curio Bay where we saw fossiled trees on the beach. Pretty hard to see to be honest, and a little underwhelming, but I guess there's a lot of history there and the petrified wood is probably a geologist's wet dream.

The final stop of the day was McClean Falls which was a natural waterfall - it was ok but nothing compared to the mighty Iguazu! That night we camped overnight at McClean Falls holiday park.

The next morning we continued along the Southern Scenic route to Lake Wilkie where we undertook a short walk along a trail which showed the succession of forest development from lake edge to mature forest.

We continued onto the Matai and Horseshoe Falls and then lunched at Cannibal Bay but we had to make it a quick one as the tide was starting to come in and we had to reverse out of there before we got stuck in the water!

The weather was still a bit rubbish but bits of blue sky were breaking through intermittently. The next stop was Nugget Point/Tokata where we saw a lighthouse perched out on top of a cliff. The 360 degree views were pretty cool here and we could dark grey storm clouds moving across the horizon and also waves crashing dramatically below us against the coastline. We briefly stopped over at a penguin hide at Roaring Bay but didn't stay there for long as the penguins didn't return until dusk.

Instead we drove onto Dunedin and after checking into our holiday park and a quick food shop, we headed out for a drink with Am's friend Tom, who we had bumped into over a week ago at Franz Josef glacier, in the centre of town.

Posted by ajuandamanee 09:09 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Entry 41: Milford Manoeuvres

Te Anau, Mirror Lakes, Earl Mountains, Eglington Valley, Milford Sound, Mitre Peak, Fiordland Crested Penguin, Invercargill Cafe!

Am:

After breakfast next to the lake we began the drive to Milford Sound. We made an early start as we weren't sure how busy the road was going to be, and wanted to factor in stopping off at places of interest along the way. Our first stop was the Mirror Lakes- we followed the short walk to the lakes, and as the weather was so clear and calm (bar the odd duck that seemed intent on making ripples in the water) and saw the almost perfect reflection of the Earl Mountains in the the water

Then we stopped at the Eglington Valley and took some pics of the mountain range- it was all very surreal to be honest, as they look so close! The rest of the sceneray was fantastic, and we took pictures when we could but towards the end of the drive we couldn't stop Boba due to the avalanche risk. After driving through the Homer tunnel (yep, a tunnel through a mountain) we arrived at the town of Milford and parked up by the ferry terminal. I had been to Milford Sound before, but last time the weather had been miserable- cloudy and rainy. However, the weather was beautiful and clear and sunny with the odd cloud, perfect. We had made really good time, so we ran to the (with ginger biscuits in the bag of course) and asked if we could be transferred to the first sailing. The ferry company agreed, so we boarded the mostly empty ferry and found a seat. The cruise got going and we went out to the deck and took as many pictures as possible- the views were spectacular and Mitre peak did not disappoint.

After sailing through Milford sound (although it is technically a Fjiord), checking out the Tasman sea and spotting a couple of Fjiordland Crested Penguins- they were too far away to take decent pictures unfortunately, but they were having a wash in a waterfall and looked very cute! We were really lucky to see them as they are the 2nd rarest species of penguin in the world.(This viewing has marked the start of my recent obsession with penguins- there will be plenty more about penguins in my posts, including penguin sightings as the NZ section of the blog continues). We got back to the ferry terminal and saw hordes of people ready to board the next cruise- plus it was suddenly starting to get cloudy so we again lucked out with the timing of our cruise. After taking a few more pictures and some lunch, we decided to take the scenic route to Invercargill, the southernmost city on the South Island. On arrival we found our holiday park on the outskirts of the centre- there seemed to be quite a few permanents (people who live at holiday parks) and had a bit of a random vibe.....the kitchen reminded me of a roadside cafe crossed with a bus station- the seats were screwed down......interesting introduction to Invercargill.

Ajay:

The morning air was sharp and fresh as we had breakfast near tranquil lake Te Anau. We drove from our DOC camping site around the lake to the township of Te Anau and then straight onto Milford Sound. The latter part of this journey was jam packed full of some wonderful scenery. One of sights that we saw was Mirror Lakes - a couple of pools situated in an area of beech forest and wetlands that reflect the Earl Mountains opposite.

We also saw a winding river valley called Eglinton Valley and some fantastic snowcapped mountain scenery. At one point we went through a kilometre-long tunnel through a huge mountain.

We arrived at Milford Sound early so cheekily asked our ferry company if we could jump on an earlier cruise rather than wait a couple of hours for our booked cruise (when hordes of other tourists were likely to be on board too). Luckily for us they agreed we could do this and so we boarded the first ferry cruise of the day that was due to depart shortly.

Forming part of the rugged and remote Fiordland National Park at the bottom end of the South Island, Milford Sound is an area of jagged forested peaks and cliffs soaring vertically upwards from still, deep waters. A ferry cruise through the sound is one of the best and easiest ways to see and appreciate the spectacular natural beauty of this area.

The weather was perfect as our ferry left the dock - mostly blue skies and the odd misty white cloud to add a bit of mystique to the dramatic peaks of Milford. With a free cup of tea and a packet of Arnott's ginger biscuits in hand, we sat back and relaxed as we sailed through the 14km stretch of the Milford fiordland - past the majestic Mitre peak and all the way through to the Tasman Sea.

We saw a faultline in one of the mountains and also a Fiordland Crested Penguin - the second rarest penguin in the world! Up on deck it was cold but we weren't complaining, the surrounding terrain was absolutely spectacular. I'll just let the pictures do the talking.

By the time we got back to the dock, the sky had started to cloud up and we realised how fortunate we were to have switched onto the earlier cruise. There were a lot more people here now too and I doubt that the lunchtime cruise would have been anywhere near as peaceful and quiet as the one we enjoyed in the morning. After a few more pictures of Mitre Peak from the coastline near the dock, we lunched and then took the scenic route to Invercargill in Central Southland. That evening we stopped at a holiday park which could quite easily have doubled as a British roadside cafe.

Posted by ajuandamanee 09:02 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Entry 40: Routeburn, Fergburgers and Subculture

Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, Shopping!, Spectacular Glenorchy Views, Routeburn Track, Fallen Trees, Alone in the Hut, Snowfall, LOTR, Fergburgers, Boogie @ Subculture

Am:

We drove along the scenic route to Queenstown, which involved going past one of the roads to the skifields, and we stopped off along the way to check out the view and take a few pics. After finding a place to stay, and after having some lunch (still on the cheese and pickle sandwiches of course) wandered into the town centre. We wandered along Lake Wakatipu, and checked out some of the sights in town, and the sales in the shops. There were some nice clothes and accesories, and I bought a pair of sunnies that came witha very nice case (my cheapo primark sunnies had died a death in South America) and Ajay bought a pair of jeans. We also popped into the local DOC office to find out if we could walk part of the famous Routeburn Track (another of NZ's great walks) and booked a night to stay in one of the huts along the track. We also picked up a map of the route- we were adivsed not to go further than the Falls Hut on the route as we didn't have the right gear and there was still quite a bit of snow.

In the evening we prepared for the trek- we had gone on a food shop on the way back, and bought extra food including cereal bars and other snacks, and made plenty of tuna pasta and sandwiches.

The next day we drove from Queenstown to Glenorchy- and the views were stunning. The weather was clear (yesterday had been cloudy) and the lakes, mountains, and the refelction of the scenery in the lake was amazing.

We stopped in Glenorchy for lunch, and then after getting a bit lost (and driving along a bumpy, unsealed road- which including driving though some small streams) we managed to find out where we had taken a wrong turn and found our way to the car park and the start of the track. Needless to say, the walk and views were fantastic, and it was perfect trekking weather. We had been warned about some of the track needing to be upgraded and that there were some trees blocking some parts of the path- but I don't think we were expecting so many trees to have fallen down! Most people walk the 32km track over 3-4 days (it passes through the Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks), and stay in the huts or camp along the way. If you start from Glenorchy, the track takes you to the Divide- towards Milford Sound where you can continue on to Milford Sound, or you can make your way back to Queenstown. As its not a very long track, day walkers can do some of the walks too. It becomes very popular in the high season though- luckily we were not in the peak season yet so only paid $15 NZ each to stay in the huts. Otherwise the rates can set you back $51 NZ per night spent in a hut- and bear in mind, this does not include bedding or a shower!

We would have loved to have done the whole track, but due to the snowy conditions on part of the track, we settled for seeing part of the track. We made it to the Routeburn Flats Hut no problem, and thought about staying there and walking up to the Falls Hut and then walking back. We decided to walk up to the Routeburn Falls Hut and then make a decision. The walk up to the Falls Hut was steeper and took us through an area that had suffered a huge landslide- of which you can still see the after effects. Around the falls hut, and further on was covered in snow- but we had a look around and deicded to stay in the Falls Hut- and some how we had the 48 bedded hut to ourselves! However, as we were there in the low season there was no heating or electricity (we had brought candles but forgotten the matches- d'oh!). This meant we had no light, and couldn't light a fire either- boo. So we ate our dinner whilst looking out onto the amazing snow capped mountian view and then stayed up for a while by torchlight before getting ready for bed, layering up and choosing where to sleep from all the beds available.

I didn't get a lot of sleep as it was a cold night and the wind picked up during the night and was howling for hours on end. At 7.30 am I went to check outside- and saw that it had started to snow and the weather looked like it was turning for the worse. I went and woke Ajay up, we ate our breakfast quickly and then began to walk down at a quick pace. As we descended the snow turned to torrential rain and we both got soaked, although we had warmed up a bit at least. By the time we got to the Flats Hut, the rain had stopped and we had a break and a snack. We continued the walk back to the car, clambering over what seemed like even more trees that may have fallen in the wind during the night, and made it back to Boba safe and sound.

We drove back to Queenstown and had a hot shower before settling down to a late lunch and rested our legs after our 20km walk. The rest included tea and ginger biscuits whilst watching the first installment of LOTR! The scenes at Isengard are apparently filmed by the Dart River near Queenstown and Glenorchy. We then headed into town for some burger action at the legendary Fergburger- I had a classic burger- and then went to a local bar to see the All Blacks vs. France match. Wanting the night to continue, we went to Subculture, a basement club in town, and had boogie to some jungle and dnb. We then walked home and switched Boba's engine on to warm him up whilst getting changed into my pj's in the back of a chilly van! Luckily, Boba had a good heater, and it was soon warm and cozy- it was time to rest my limbs and finally sleep.
Since we'd had a late night, a lie in was in order. We had breakfast, did some internet jobs (which included appying for our Australia e-visa!) and then went into town to have another Fergburger- this time it was Fiordland deer (called Little Bambi) with some amazing thai plum sauce. After booking our ticket for the Milford Sound cruise for the following day, and doing a food shop we drove to Te Anau. We stopped off at a few veiwpoints on the way and made it to our campsite in good time. The gas cooker we had previously was a a dud, so we had swapped it at the Spaceships dealer in Queenstown for a new one. Anyway, this was the litmus test- and it worked! Had some chicken soup and bread, whilst looking out over another beautiful lake. After taking some pics down by the lake we had an early night as we had to drive another a couple of hours to Milford Sound in the morning.

Ajay:

The following day we drove to Queenstown, the high octane capital of the South Island, and spent the day relaxing and wandering around the town which is on the shoulder of Lake Wakatipu and checking out some of the sales at the various boutique shops. Am bought some sunglasses and I splashed out on a pair of jeans - man, it felt so good to wear a new piece of clothing after five months of wearing the same set of clothes!

We also popped into the DOC office to obtain some information about the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand's most famous tramping routes which traverses 32 kilometres of Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks, and to book a hut for an overnight stay on the trail.

Unfortunately for us, heavy recent snowfall in the alpine section of the track between Routeburn Falls Hut and Mackenzie Hut (across Lake Harris and Lake Mackenzie) made that section of the track impassable so we were advised not to attempt to complete the full track but that didn't stop us from enjoying two days of walking upto Routeburn Falls Hut and back.

The next day we headed out to the Routeburn Track via Glenorchy and the scenery along the way was stunning. We lunched at Glenorchy and then continued onto the entry point for the Routeburn Track.

After missing our turning and getting a little bit lost, we finally made it to start point of the track. The weather was ideal for trekking and the walk through the rainforest was really good although a few sections of the track were littered with fallen trees that we had to scramble over.

After roughly ten kilometers of meandering trails through lush forest, over swingbridges and plenty of fallen trees and up a steep mountain we arrived at our camp for the night, the Routeburn Falls Hut.

The hut, perched on stilits on the slope of a mountain, was deserted and we had the whole place, consisting of 48 beds, to ourselves. Outside we could see snow draped over the surrounding mountainside - it was a quite a view! However, a schoolboy error from us - we had forgotten the matches back at Boba, meant that we were unable to light a fire at the hut to keep us warm and so, after dinner as soon as the sun started setting, we put on all of our layers and wrapped ourselves in our sleeping bags for an early night.

It was a cold night and in the morning it began to sleet and rain and the winds had started to pick up too. We decided to make an early start on the return walk back just in case the weather got really bad. Within two and a half hours we were back at Boba and starting on our way back to Queenstown.

Back at our holiday park, we showered up, and then settled back and watched, as you do when you're in New Zealand, the first part of the LOTR Trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring) with tea and ginger biscuits. In the evening we headed out for food and drinks: the Little Lamby at Fergburger was delicious - quite possibly the best burger in the southern hemisphere! We then had drinks at a bar called Surreal whilst watching France get mullered by the All Blacks (who were looking good for the final) and then ended up at a cool underground club called Subculture for a bit of a boogie to some beats, jungle and drum'n'bass.

The next morning we woke up, after our latest night out for ages, and migrated back to Fergburger for a hangover lunch: the Fiordland deer burger with its sweet plum sauce was delectable. After booking tickets for our Milford Sound ferry cruise we bade farewell to Queenstown and hit the road to Te Anau. That night we camped at a DOC site near the beautiful lake a couple of hours shy from Te Anau and enjoyed some steaming hot chicken soup (and not a cheese and pickle sandwich in sight!) using our new gas cooker which we had swapped with our faulty gas cooker at the Spaceships office back in Queenstown.

Posted by ajuandamanee 19:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Entry 39: Falling From The Sky

Lake Wanaka, Sky Dive @ 15000ft, Walk around town and Lake, Mt Iron Sunset, Cinema Paradiso

Am:

We woke up to glorious sunshine and after breakfast walked down to the lakeside and took some more pics of beautiful Lake Wanaka. It was also perfect weather for a skydive, so we drove up to the airfield, parked up and went inside. We were a little late, but it was no problem, and I sat through the info video in the 'departure lounge'. Ajay decided to do the highest jump possible (15,000 ft) and have pics taken and put onto a CD. We waited for about half an hour and then it was time for Ajay to get into the suit and put on the parachute, and then meet his jumping buddy before heading to the plane. I was on photography duty and took some pre-take off photos. I had seen that Ajay's parachute was red before he took off on the plane, so as I was looking up into the sky and waiting for him to land- when I saw a speck of red that gradually became bigger and bigger- it looked amazing!

I saw Ajay land and he had a massive grin on his face when he walked over and kept talking about how brilliant it had been and how much he had enjoyed it. The weather had been so sunny and clear that he had been able to see the Southern Alps Mountain Range, and many of the lakes in the local area- the views must have been spectactular. We waited for the picture CD and then drove into the small town of Wanaka. When I was in NZ previously I really enjoyed my time in Wanaka and it was one of my favourite places, just because it is so beautiful and chilled out. After lunch we did a walk around part of the lake and then did a short hike up to Mt Iron for sunset

After dinner we went to Cinema Paradiso- the local cinema that has sofa's, comfy chairs and seat and parts of old cars in the theatre! It also serves lovely home made cake and ice cream, and so we chilled out on a big sofa and watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It wasn't our first choice of films to see, but the setting was cool and the film was better than I thought it would be, as well as being thought provoking. It was a fitting way to end our time in lovely Wanaka.

Ajay:

The big day had arrived. This morning I was going to jump out of a plane at a scary 15,000ft. I had planned to do a tandem skydive at some point during the stay in New Zealand and had researched potential dive spots - the one that stood out for me, mainly due to its stunning location in the Southern Alps, was Wanaka. It also happened that we would be passing through Wanaka at around the time of my birthday. Birthday skydive? Why not. Am very kindly offered to fund the jump (as my birthday present - thank you baby!) so everything fell into place and there really was no better moment to do this.

It was a beautiful sunny day with clear skies and after breakfast we quickly took some pictures of the beautiful lake that was a stone's throw from our camping spot.

We drove to Skydive Wanaka airfield, who were based a few kilometers outside of the town, and I went through the process of completing the necessary paperwork and watching the safety video in the departure lounge. I was booked onto the second flight of the day so watched as the first group of skydivers got kitted up in jumpsuits and took off in the plane. Once they had left, I got kitted up along with the rest of my group and we hung around outside the hanger watching out for the parachutes of the first group. The faces of the first group upon landing were full of smiles - they were raving about the experience. It was now my turn!

I got introduced to my skydive partner, a Brazilian named Benjamin, who was quick to put me at ease and explained how the jump would take place. He also had a digital camera strapped to his arm so was on photo duties. Am had skydived before, over Lake Taupo - again during her previous trip to New Zealand, so sat this one out and made herself comfortable in the viewing area outside the office. After waving goodbye to Am, I boarded the plane with Benjamin and the rest of the group in the reverse order of our jumps - the three Chinese girls that were jumping with me were doing so from 12000ft whereas i had plumped for the full fat 15000ft so boarded the plane first and sat in front of Benjamin. The plane took off and as I enjoyed the amazing views of the Southern Alps, Benjamin started to strap me to the harness on his jumpsuit, joking that we would be getting rather comfortable for the next twenty odd minutes. As we hit 12000ft, the door of the plane opened and one by one the girls started to jump out of the plane with their skydive partners. For a lonely few minutes, but what seemed like an eternity, I sat in the plane while we ascended to 15000ft. The green light came on and we shuffled to the jump position at the entrance of the plane door, my legs dangling outside over the edge, head looking up and arms crossed over my chest. A quick smile for the camera and we were off.

The jump from the plane happened so quickly that I didn't really feel anything - essentially within a few seconds I had reached terminal velocity - and the nervous energy that had been building up inside me had transformed to a feeling of exhilaration. Freefall was amazing and the views were absolutely stunning. Below me I could see the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, surrounded by lush green forests and sparkling blue lakes and i was breathing in some premium grade mountain air to boot. It truly was a moment and sight that I will never forget. After about 45 seconds of freefall, the parachute was opened, the harness was loosened slightly and I was able to take in 360 degree views of the surrounding plateau at a less frenetic pace with Benjamin pointing out famous peaks and landmarks. Within about eight to ten minutes of leaving the plane we had floated down to ground level in an orderly manner, the landing was smooth and I was completely buzzing as I walked back to the hangar. Top birthday experience!

Needless to say I was in high spirits for the rest of the day. We drove into Wanaka and took a wander around the town centre and the lake. There is a really chilled and laidback vibe in this small town and the lakeside setting is beautiful - I can see why people really enjoy their time here. After walking around the lake, we hiked up to the summit of the nearby Mt Iron for sunset. In the evening we watched Rise of the Planet Of the Apes (not much else to choose from!) at the quirky Cinema Paradiso which had big comfy sofas for seats and even an actual car which you could sit in to watch the film.

Posted by ajuandamanee 11:37 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Entry 38: Glacier Muffin Mayhem!

Pancake Rocks, Greymouth, Franz Josef Village, Glacier, Tom!, Ice Hiking, Hot Pools, Bday Muffin!, Lake Matheison Walk, Fox Glacier, Lake Wanaka Sunset, Sauvignon Blanc and another muffin!

Am:

We left Abel Tasman National Park and Maharau after a lie in (I don't think the staff were too happy!) and made our way south, along the famed Westcaost of the South Island. Our aim was to get to Franz Josef village, but we knew that we may have to break the journey and stay at a town on the way. Along the route we stopped off for some lunch, and then stopped again at the Pancake Rocks at Punakaika. These limestone rocks have been eroded over time by the sea, but at different rates, and because of the rock layers have formed into what looks like 'pancakes'. There are also holes within the rocks and these are like 'blowholes', in that the sea water can burst through them- with quite a lot of force. It is also pretty noisy, even if the jets of water don't come shooting through!

By the time we left the rocks it was getting dark. We stopped off in Barrytown (although it was more like a village) to check out whether we could stay there, but we couldn't so kept driving until we arrived into the rather aptly named town of Greymouth. We went to a hostel in which the main plus was a big TV (so we could watch the Ireland vs Aussie match- which Ireland won, yay!) and free wireless, which we rinsed. The people staying at the hostel were all weirdos to be honest, and had all obviously been living there for far too long, so it felt like we were intruding. Plus, the kitchen had mice- great.

We left as soon as we could the next morning, and got to Franz Josef Glacier village in good time. The village is the main place that tourists stay in the National Park, mainly to check out the glaciers just outside the village, and Fox Village down the road, along with some picturesque walks and lakes and views of Mt Aoraki and the moutains in the Mt Aoraki/Cook National Park. After finding ourselves a place to stay, we had lunch and Ajay went off to book himself onto an ice hike. As I had done one the last time we were here, I decided to have a day to chill out and have a wander around the village. We then drove up to Frnaz Josef glacier and decided to do some of the suggested walks to the various look out points. On the walk back from the glacier to the carpark, I heard someone call out may name infront of me- and who should it be but Thomas Mitchell! I hadn't seen Tom for 4 years (the last time was his leaving do in Liverpool before he left to do a Geology post doc at the University of Hiroshima, Japan). Tom was in NZ as part of his current post doc post in Dusseldorf, Germany, looking into the options of drilling in the local area. It was a bit random to bump into him to say the least! We exchanged numbers and agreed to try and meet up later, and then carried on with our respective walks.

After making ourselves some dinner, and a quick conversation with Tom, we drove down to the village he was staying in and spent the evening catching up, finding out how mutual friends we doing and remininscing- and also congratulated him on his engagement that I had thought was a joke! We also made tentative plans to meet up again. Small world eh?!

Ajay got up early the next day and went off on his ice hike, and I had a lie in and late breakfast! I then went for a wander through the village and found out about the hot pools and what time they closed. I also popped into the local supermarket and found a jaffa cake muffin (birthday cake for Ajay), some candles and a bottle of Marlborough Sauvingon Blanc!

Then I caught up some emails, blogs and general jobs like laundry. Ajay got back from his hike late afternoon, and after some dinner we went to the hot pools for a soak underneath the stars. The pools were in a beautiful setting, and were so relaxing I could have stayed for another few hours- as it was we left at closing anyway (10pm), and had a very warm and cosy slumber.

The next day was Ajay's birthday, and I made breakfast and surprised him with his cake and a poor rendition of Happy Birthday to You! I had asked Ajay what he wanted for his birthday, and as he had never done a skydive -(I did one a few years ago in NZ, in Taupo)- I said that I would buy him a skydive as his pressie! We were hoping to drive to Wanaka by the end of the day, so he rang Skydive Wanaka and made an appointment to do a jump first thing in the morning. After sorting out our bags and packing up our gear, we drove south to Lake Matheison, and did a walk along the lake and took some pics of the amazing view- which included views of Mt. Aoraki and Mt Tasman. We were lucky that the weather was warm and sunny and the sky was clear. We then drove to Fox glacier and walked up to the viewing point.

We then continued the drive to Wanaka and stopped off for some frankly unbelievable sunset views over Lake Hawei and Lake Wanaka- the sky was literally pink and purple, with reflections over the lakes. Amazing. We found our holiday park for the night, which was next to Lake Wanaka, and made dinner. We had Ajay's birthday wine with dinner and I had got him another surprise birthday muffin which we shared as a desert. Fab day and great to be back in Wanaka.

Ajay:

The next morning we bid goodbye to Abel Tasman and hit Route 6 along the western coast towards Franz Josef village. Along the way we stopped at Punakaika to have a look at the famous Pancake Rocks, a series of limestone rocks that have been weathered into what looked like piles of thick pancakes.

The rock formations were also riddled with caves and blowholes and we saw jets of water threatening to surge up through the openings - a pretty awesome sight and the noise caused by the crashing sea waves was deafening.

We didn't fancy the drive all the way to Franz Josef that evening so we stopped at Greymouth, a non-descript old gold-mining town at the mouth of the Grey River. We ended up camping at a strange kooky hostel full of a weird assortment of characters so we didn't stick around too long the next morning. Indeed, the highlight of our brief stay in Greymouth was watching Ireland pull out a superb win against the Aussies in the Rugby World Cup.

By midday, we had rocked into Westland Tai Poutini National Park and Franz Josef village. The National Park's most famous attractions are the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers which have developed over time due to snow moving down the valley from the Southern Alps. After checking into our camping spot and having lunch, I booked myself onto an ice hiking tour for the next day and then we headed out to a viewing point for Franz Josef glacier. The Franz Josef Glacier has been retreating up the valley for years now and so it's external wall is steep but enclosed within the valley and not as visually mindblowing as the Perito Moreno Glacier that we saw in Argentina which is still advancing and spilling out of the valley.

At the glacier we bumped into an old university friend (Tom Mitchell) of Am's who was out here for a geological survey and whom Am hadn't seen for at least four years. How random, you know, in the middle of a glacier, in New Zealand, as you do. So that evening we went out for a drink with Tom for a good old catch up.

The next morning I woke up early and went on an all day ice hike on the Franz Josef glacier. Am had already been ice hiking on Fox Glacier in a previous trip to New Zealand so decided to sit this one out and spent the day relaxing at the holiday park. The ice hiking trip was awesome. After being kitted out in crampons and protective overalls, gloves and a helmet my group was taken to the viewing point from where we would begin our hike. It took us a good thirty minutes just to get to the ice but as we started to climb further and further into the glacier we began to see waves of blue ice walls rolling into each other. To navigate through this ice kingdom, we manouerved up through the ''alleyways'' of the glacier in a zig-zag manner, walking over ice steps and pathways, cut energetically by the guide with his ice axe, and squeezing through tight crevices between walls of ice. The weather was awful at the beginning of the hike and progress was slow; however, after lunch the sun came out and by mid afternoon when we had reached the summit point for our trek we were finally rewarded with great views of the valley below. We then hiked back down the glacier back to the valley floor.

After returning from the hike I met up with Am and we both headed for a soak in some sumptious hot pools nearby. A perfect way to soothe my aching muscles after a tiring day.

The next day was my birthday! Am cooked breakfast for me and I also got a jaffa cake muffin with a candle as my birthday cake - it was scrumptious. After breakfast we left Franz Josef and headed to Lake Matheison. It was a gorgeously sunny day and we went for a walk around the lake and enjoyed some great views of the western faces of Mt Aoraki and Mt Tasman. We then drove up to and checked out Fox Glacier.

We continued the drive onto the lovely town of Wanaka - on the way we got some amazing pink and purple tinged sunset views reflecting over Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawei. In the evening, at our camping spot we enjoyed a lovely rustic Italian-inspired supper washed down with a glass of Malborough Sauvignon Blanc and another jaffa cake muffin! A perfect end to a brilliant day.

Posted by ajuandamanee 11:31 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Entry 37: Nelsonian Art and the Great Tasman Paddle

Queen Charlotte Sounds, Picton Drive, Nelson, Vibrant Arts Scene, Suter Art Gallery, Tree of Life, The Barn @ Maharau, Abel Tasman National Park, Kayaking, Turquoise Waters, Stunning Coastline Walk

Am:

The weather improved as we left the port, and was clear and beautiful as we sailed through Queen Charlotte Sounds.

We arrived into Picton after about 3.30/4pm and then drove along the coastal road to Nelson, taking pics along the way. We had wanted to get some dinner in a town on the way. but most places seemed closed, so we drove straight through to Nelson and found a place to camp for the night.

We drove into Nelson the next day and walked around the town and checked out the out the Church, before walking down to Heritage St (where the oldest houses in Nelson are). Nelson is known for having a vibrant local art scene, and has lots of NZ based artists living the City, plus plenty of independent art galleries. We'd heard about the Suter Art Gallery and went along to see some of the exhibtions and it didn't disappoint. There were some great contemporary art exhibtions, along with local photography (mainly of the beautiful NZ landscape and animals), and an exhibition by a British photographer. This focused on photographing Rugby players after a match, and fitted in well with the RWC fever that has gripped the country- it really is like a religion here. There were also some watercolour paintings and a sculplture exhibit.

After our cultured day we popped into the Japanese gardens on the outskirts of the city and drove around to some viewpoints. The weather was a bit cloudy, the views were still pretty spectacular.

After being deprived of cinema whilst we were in South America, and having enjoyed our trip to the flicks in Taupo, we decided to go to the cinema in Nelson (housed in a very nice Art Deco building). We went to see Tree of Life- a very thought provoking (and slightly self indulgent) film about the meaning of life and our relationship with our parents. Beautifully shot and some great performances- would recommned.

The next day we decided to pop into the local i-site and find out about some kayaking options in Abel Tasman National Park. We decided to book half a day of kayaking, and then stay in a backcountry hut within the park itself and then walk back to Maharau (where we would be staying and leaving our big backpacks).We then did a quick whistlestop tour of some more local galleries including Art at 203 and the Trafalgar St Gallery. The works including painting, sculpture, pottery and jewelry. I also bought a birthday card for Ajay from Art at 203- great place for individual and creative gifts.

Ajay had done a quick food shop while I had gone to post some gifts and get his card, so after checking out the galleries, we hit the road to Maharau. During this time I had also been in touch with a Sara, a friend who I had played Korfball with back in the UK and she had emailed me to say she would be in Maharau in the evening, and was planning to stay where we were staying!! I sent her a text to let her know we were on our way and when we arrived at the hostel (we were camping in the field at the back) I found her in the kitchen! Small world. We caught up over some dinner and wine and heard about all her adventures (she had been for a skydive that day). Was great to see a face from home. After dinner we packed for kayaking and our trip the next day- including making sure we had plenty of food- and then tried to get some sleep.

We got up late the next day, and so were in a rush to shower and get down to the Abel Tasman kayaks office. I also said goodbye to Sara, before driving off down the road. At the office, due to lack of people in our group we were upgraded to a days worth of kayaking-which was fine with us- and the staff at the office moved our accomodation to another hut as we would be walking from a different drop off point, meaning a shorter walk on day 2 as we would be walking back from Anchorage Bay.

After we had all of our stuff packed into dry bags, we got a lift down to the shore and clambered onto the speed boat. The weather was awful- it was pouring with rain and was pretty chilly! The speedboat took us to Split Apple Rock and a rocky island popluar with seals before dropping us off at Onetahuti Bay (the furthest bay you can kayak up to, so it meant we would be kayaking down the coast from there). We ran onto shore and into the shelter, before getting changed into our gear. The rain was beginning to subside. We kayaked to Tonga Island (spotting a few seals and seal pups along the way) and then round to Mosquito Bay, before stopping for lunch at Bark Bay. The weather had started to clear up and the colour of the water was amazing.

We also had a really yummy lunch (very tasty sandwiches, huge muffins, a cookie, fruit and a hot drink). I decided to save my cookie for later as I was so full! We left the bay after lunch (by which time it was getting pretty warm and sunny) and kayaked to Split Apple Bay. From here we then tried to kayak around to Anchorage Bay, but all of a sudden the wind picked up and there was such a powerful swell that we couldn't kayak against it. After trying in vain to fight against the wind, our instructor radioed for the boat and we kayaked back to the previous bay and hitched a lift to Anchorage.

We set up our sleeping bags in the hut (it was basically two cabins, with long rows and a mattress, separated by a kitchen). After having a wander round the campsite, we walked along the bay, there were some interesting caves at one end, and watched the sunset. After having our dinner (we had cooked some pasta the day before) we chilling out with some of the other campers and playing cards we turned in for the night.

The following day we walked up to Pitt Head from the campsite to see the views over Torrent Bay, and took the path around to also see the views, and go down to the beaches at Te Pukatea Bay and Watering Cove. We had a quick snack back at the campsite and then began the hike back to Maharau, along the famous Abel Tasman Coast Track. Along the way we stopped at various bays and beaches- taking it the green water, picturesque bays and the (as usual) stunning scenary.

After a good 6 hours of hiking we found ourselves back at Maharau and ready for a hot shower, hot tea and lots of sleep.

Ajay:

The weather was a trifle overcast as we left Wellington but rapidly improved as we neared Queen Charlotte Sound. We were rewarded with some stunning views of the surrounding headlands, inlets and peaks. The South Island is famed for its amazing natural features and this initial foray - clear blue skies, emerald green bush and forests and turquiose waters - was enough the whet the appetite.

By late afternoon we had arrived into the port town of Picton. We then drove to the city of Nelson along a winding coastal road which had various viewpoints where we could stop to admire the amazing coastline.

The next morning we ventured into Nelson to have a wander around the town centre which is full of pretty Victorian period buildings. Overlooking the city is the Art Deco Christ Church Cathedral which took 47 years to build due to delays caused by arguments about the design; the building that stands today is a hybrid of different architectural styles.

Nearby the cathedral we walked along a heritage street called South St. Touted as the oldest street in Nelson it contains a row of perfectly preserved (or should that be restored?) quaint cottages from the 1860's. We then stopped by the excellent Suter Art Gallery which was small but had some very impressive exhibitions: Portraits of NZ Rugby Players by British photographer David Matches; a collection of watercolours by colonial landscape painter John Gully and 'Án Ocean Of Silence' – a stylish solo installation by Italian New Zealand sculptor Chiara Corbelletto which explored different concepts of space.

Next on our day tour of Nelson was the serene Japanese Gardens followed by a couple of stops at viewpoints around the city. In the evening we went to the Art Deco designed State Cinema where we watched 'The Tree of Life' by Terrence Malick, an extraordinary but arguably self-indulgent piece of work looking at the meaning of life. Deeply personal, philosophical and visually spectacular - think 1950's US family and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey but without the apes and you'll be in a neighbouring ballpark.

The next morning we stopped by the i-Site office to make arrangements for a kayaking and hiking trip in Abel Tasman National Park for the following day. We then stopped by Art @ 203 Gallery to check out artworks (paintings, photography, sculpture, pottery, woodwork, jewellery) by local well-known artists. It must be noted that myself and Am have both been impressed with the art that we have seen in New Zealand thus far.

After using the free wireless facility at the local library and stopping by to pick up some yummy fish and chips we left sunny Nelson and headed to our cosy overnight accommodation ('The Barn') in Marahau near Abel Tasman National Park. It was here that we bumped into Am's friend Sara who was also travelling in New Zealand and had just skydived over Lake Taupo earlier in the day. Conversation over food and a bottle of wine ensued for the remainder of the evening.

The next morning was a little frantic as we arrived at Abel Tasman Kayaks office a little late and were then offered an upgrade to our booked trip as there weren’t enough instructors around to look after all of the groups. The upshot of it all was that we would be doing more kayaking (for a full day rather than half) and would be be dropped off at Anchorage rather than Bark Bay which meant a shorter walk on day two. It all sounded good to us so we just went with the flow.

After sorting out our night bags and being suited up with life jackets and booties, we got onboard a speed boat which was positioned in a truck and then were driven to the harbour. The boat was launched into the sea and before we knew it we were hurtling across the bay visiting various coves and inlets and seal-inhabited islands. On the way we stopped at Appletree Bay where we saw Split Apple rock.

We were dropped off on the shores of Onetahuti Bay, where it was absolutely pouring down with rain, and given a short lesson on kayaking. Our kayaks were designed for two people and myself and Am took it turns, before and after lunch, to sit at the back seat of the kayak as the driver. The weather started to clear up and we kayaked to Tonga Island and then around to Mosquito Bay and Bark Bay where we stopped for lunch. It was great fun and relatively straightforward to get the hang of as long as we were both rowing in unison! It did, however, get a bit tricky near the end of the afternoon when we were kayaking against strong headwinds and had to take shelter in a bay as we were struggling to move anywhere against a strong opposing current. It became apparent that one of the biggest skills an experienced kayaker has is the ability to understand and interpret changes in the surrounding environment and weather, direction of wind and current flow and the like.

It was a really enjoyable day of kayaking and we were dropped off at Anchorage bay which itself was quite stunning. Apparently, this area has been frequented by well known figures from the film world in summers gone by. Following a sunset walk along the beach, we had dinner and spent the night in a DOC hut just off the beach. Next morning we walked upto Pitt Head for views of Torrent Bay, Te Pukatea Bay and Watering Cove. We then hiked back to Marahau along the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk stopping at various bays and beaches along the way. It must said that the coastline is simply stunning - rocky coves, golden beaches and turquoise waters. After reaching Marahua by early evening after a good five to six hours of walking, we were both ready for a well-deserved tea, hot shower and sleep.

Posted by ajuandamanee 11:06 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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