Going Down Under….

Day 237, Wed 2nd Oct

Enjoyed Melbourne – a free old fashioned tram around the centre & lots of little alley ways with cool shops. T was desolate that she couldn’t shop properly… god help London shops when she gets home – particularly with her new, improved bartering skills!

Had a lovely day in the intermittent sunshine and showers following the Lonely Planet walk – a bit crappy on the phone as you cannot really page back to see what everything is – and Melinda’s (from the Santiago meeting) suggestions of places to go – it is a real shame that she and Locki do not get back to Melbourne until we leave.

Melbourne, Oz

Day 238, Thurs 3rd Oct

Up early to pick up the car for the Great Ocean Road drive today – I would have liked to spend more time in Melbourne, can see why people like to live there – lots of places to stop en route, but we had to get all the way to Warrnamboul, several hundred kilometres away, and did not have time to fully enjoy the available walks on offer, unfortunately.

We did manage to see a kangaroo with baby (from a distance), a couple of wallabies near Split Point Lighthouse, some vibrantly coloured parrots or lorikeets (not sure) and 2 koalas at Kennet River, a nice mini rainforest walk at Mait’s Rest and just make the 12 Apostles (unusual and beautiful rock formations) around sunset! We had to miss out on a few other sights though due to the night-time drive – with associated animal hazards – to our hostel :(

Back behind a wheel again – after 7 months of being transported everywhere, T has me chained behind a wheel almost permanently now! It was cool initially in NZ, as I like driving… but the vast expanses & perpetually long roads of NZ have worn me down; I do hope the Great Ocean Road drive isn’t the same!

The one that got away...!

The one that got away…!

Well, what do you know, a really enjoyable day. A full smorgasbord of sights & animals – Koalas (v cute – T wants one!), parakeets (the most stunning birds I’ve seen to date), wallabies (by the side of the road) & kangaroos (we had to take evasive actions as it kept hopping back & forth across the road).

Another day in paradise...

Another day in paradise…

 

The scenery changed through-out the day with lots of nice surprises – the rainforest walk was gorgeous – felt like we’d gone back in time 1000’s of years to when Oz was first formed – when Abo’s roamed the country & Australia used to win at rugby & cricket!

Day 239, Fri 4th Oct

We were both so tired and groggy today that despite making it out of the hostel about 10:15, we didn’t actually leave the town until 1; the need for coffee and wifi were pressing!

Another day with not enough time to see everything, but we started with Tower Hill Reserve, a quick peak climb, an emu with 2 week old chicks, and a koala who kindly came down from his tree and then demonstrated climbing over the obstacles put there to deter him from getting into another.

Another little known place, but a great highlight. An old volcano crater with lakes & islands in the centre full of wildlife & fauna – seeing the Koala up close actively climbing trees & obstacles was amazing.

Melbourne to Adelaide - Tower Hill Reserve (11)

Made it to Mount Gambier Lake just as sunset hit and then nipped to Umphaston sinkhole – now with no water, but turned into a beautiful park – for the possums that come out at night. Very cute, though possibly the baby emus just take it!

The blue lake was, funnily enough, still blue at sunset. The late running (T neeeeded coffee! :) ) meant that whilst we missed seeing some things, we arrived at the sinkhole in time for dusk & the possums – a very beautiful memory. Nurse Tracey managed to patch up a poor Aussie (with a very much younger Thai bride (!?) who caught his head on a rock).

Drove another 2 hours to Robe for tonight’s accommodation – Nampara cabins. 2 bed place with kitchen, fabulous.

Another night drive avoiding wildlife, deep joy! The cabins were absolutely lovely; clean, well equipped with plenty of space.

Day 240, Sat 5th Oct

A bit of a lie in & then had to find a café for Coffee & wifi.  The town was fairly pretty, but not as picture perfect as the tourist info suggested.  The drive was long & boring; only made more interesting by the car ferry. We had planned to get a beautiful omnibus horse drawn tram in Victor Harbour, but we arrived late & they finished at 3p.m. on a bank holiday weekend – what are these Aussie’s like?!? Haven’t they ever heard of making money?

The plan today, to get to Victor Harbour for the horse-drawn tram, failed. Another 1pm start due to frantic last-minute wifi planning of Ayers Rock – who knew you had to book everything several days in advance, or that it was Labour Day weekend for that matter? – and a fantastic coffee in the town. Too late to book trips now apparently, so had to book a car for Ayers Rock, oh well, it will be probably cheaper anyway :-).

Got to Adelaide about 8, another fabulous hostel, Hostel 109, though it did take about 2 hours to access the free wifi, I guess everyone else was doing that too! Oh, and fortunately found out that the clocks go forward AGAIN tonight – lucky that, we might have missed our flight…

Tracey cooked up another fabulous meal at the Hostel that went down well with a bottle of plonk.  Free internet was a blessing, apart from the fact that you couldn’t access it through wifi – a real pain. Central & South America seem worlds apart from Oz/ NZ in terms of free wifi…

Great Ocean road drive – Melbourne to Adelaide, Oz

Day 241, Sun 6th Oct

Off to Ayers Rock today, where we have to stay in a dorm due to the exorbitant price of a private room in the YHA equivalent – over AU$200??! – but luckily we are in a 4-bed dorm and our roomies are a very nice, young, French couple, Fanny & Renaud.

We decide to try Ayers Rock (Uluru) tonight for the much vaunted sunset, however I have no idea how they pick these sites to drive to, all we got was the rock in shadow and I wanted colours! About halfway through our viewing experience Keir read that the sunset is only good here if there are clouds in the sky. Damn, will have to try again tomorrow…

P1440739Wasn’t looking forward to the dorm experience but T at the last minute mentions that she booked a 4 bed dorm & then the French couple we are sharing with are lovely.

Sunset at Ayers Rock was ok, but we chose the wrong site – needed some clouds in the cloudless sky to make it work – doh!

Day 242, Mon 7th Oct

5 a.m. – what are we doing up at such an ungodly hour… oh yes, sunrise at Ayers rock then off to Kata Tjuta park to do the Valley of Winds walk & then Kampa gorge.

Sunrise was ok at the rock (again, I don’t think we were in the right place) but much more beautiful as we drove towards Kata Tjuta (as we were arriving on the correct side for sunrise).  The supposed 4hr tramp through the valley of the wind was despatched in under 2hrs.  Very pretty, & the flocks of zebra finches around the watering sites were a highlight.

The Kampa gorge was quite a short walk but again nice.  We were then headed back to the hostel before 11:00 where I promptly had a 5hr siesta – now that was nice!

P1440650Finally we got ourselves in the right position for sunset – very beautiful as the light slowly fades & changes. We decide that was enough & knock the idea of getting up at 5 again for sunrise – relief!

Didn’t quite make the planned position to see Kata Tjuta at sunrise, due in part to the queue of motorists trying to access the park just before sunrise and their apparent need to have a conversation about it with the gatekeeper. We saw Uluru, but not a great position again – what are these guys thinking is a good view?

The ‘4 hour’ Valley of the Winds walk was nice, but not spectacular and there was an unfortunate lack of wind, the kind supplied by Keir was not what I had in mind…  we were both struggling to stay awake during the drive back, so after a much needed ice cream stop decided a nap was the only option – an epic nap in Keir’s case – before our last attempt at an Uluru sunset ( this time, a vast improvement).

A nice evening eating dinner and chatting with our French roommates

Day 243, Tue 8th Oct

Up & packed & then a short hour walk around Ayers rock seeing Malia Gorge & another culturally sensitive area. Very beautiful to see it up close, due to the redness of the rock, the wind formed caves & waterformed, now dry, waterfalls. But, boy was it hot & the swarms of flies were hugely annoying.

Another little walk with what seemed like an infinite number of flies – no moisture, so they try to continually fly in your eyes, up your nose, in your mouth – I think I snorted another few  - whenever I stopped waving my map in front of my face, one would make a kamikaze dive for my nostril, lovely.

An afternoon flight to Cairns… now this looks a lot nicer – tropical & green.

Tonight was our first time couchsurfing – where people offer to put other ‘surfers’ up for the night gratis. A great idea; you then spread the love by doing the same for other people.

Leah had kindly accepted our request & we rolled in to meet her & her dog –Betsey. Leah kindly knocked up a delicious curry & we soon polished off a bottle of vino.

Met Leah and a couple of German couchsurfing boys who hadn’t managed to leave due to car problems. We were very happy when Leah offered us an ad hoc curry :)

Ayers Rock (Uluru), Oz

Day 244, Wed 9th Oct

Bit of a lie in, admin in town & then off to the tablelands around Cairns – looks so remarkably like parts of Britain.

A day for wild life- cute turtles, crayfish, birds & even a platypus. Saw some beautiful waterfalls; saving the best until last – Millaa Milliaa falls where we had a swim at dusk & the place to ourselves. :)

Around Cairns - Milaa Milaa Falls (1)The boys lent us their map to visit Millaa Millaa and the environs – the usual late start meant that we didn’t quite make it all the way to the boulders we were supposed to see, but the falls, and the stops on the way, were beautiful.

Day 245, Thu 10th Oct

We bid adieu to Leah & headed up the coast to the Daintree – a part of Oz where ancient Tropical rainforest meets beautiful beaches.

A quick stop at Mossman gorge & walk – pretty but not worth the stop… call that a gorge…

First thing we see when we enter the Daintree – the famous, but elusive Cassowary bird, just walking across the road.

Day spent exploring forests & beaches. The day was almost ruined when, on the way back, we came across an upturned car with a lady trapped inside – supposedly dead. As we were second on the scene, we rushed off to get help – no mean feat in that unpopulated area.  Fortunately, by the time we got back the emergencies services were there & she was conscious & swearing (being Australian!).  They eventually cut her out & the air ambulance flew her off for a full check-up.  We arrived back to our accommodation very late & very hungry; Tracey saved our culinary bacon by knocking up a lovely bangers & mash.

The Daintree was gorgeous, rainforest meets beach, though sadly the sea was a no go area due to crocodiles!!! It was hot too, a swim would have been nice… The ice cream we had heard rave reviews about, was wonderful; so may flavours to try made it hard to choose! Passion fruit and ginger was definitely a winner.

Our hostel, Crocodylus Village, was not one I was expecting great things of, having seen Leah grimace when we mentioned it, but it was lovely – I suspect it is normally a lot busier though and perhaps that would rather change the vibe… but it was quiet and we loved it! Oh, and we saw a Cassowary (large, dangerous bird that has been known to attack and kill humans) on our first day!

Day 246, Fri 11th Oct

Woken up by the sounds of the rainforest – lots of bird & beasts.  The forest cabin was lovely & we could have easily spent a few more days there; but we had a plan… & Miss T was keeping us on that schedule.  Cool beach walks & jungle treks (with another Cassowary sighting – yes, 2 in 2 days!) made up the rest of the morning before we headed back across the ferry & back towards Cairns. We took the long route via Kurunda & Barron gorge before arriving back in Cairns at our very nice hostel.

The reason why the Cassowary is sooo elusive...?!

The reason why the Cassowary is sooo elusive…?!

Barron’s falls and gorge was a lot more impressive than Mossman strangely. Cow Bay beach also lovely (though not crocodile free apparently), and we got to try one last flavour of ice cream today :). We randomly saw another cassowary too, fortunately it was minding its own business…

Cairns & the Daintree, Oz

Day 247, Sat 12th Oct

Early morning rise for another flight – this time to Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays.  A ferry between the gorgeous islands to our hostel in Airlie Beach; & it felt like we were back in Magaluf! 

The hostel & town were full of drunken people (& stag do’s) of varying nationalities & in various states of clothing.  However, nobody had the imagination (nay stupidity) to be wearing morph suits! :)

Despite the tone of the place, our room is nice & they have a lovely swimming lagoon that everyone chills around.

Airlie beach was not exactly my first choice of accommodation for our Whitsundays stop, but since we are lacking Bill Gates’s financial resources and the only affordable alternative was in ‘caretaker mode,’ we had little option. My worst fears were raised when I saw that tonight’s hostel entertainment was a wet t-shirt competition, but all the noise and ‘action’ seemed to be restricted to the bar area and the hotel bit was absolutely fine; a couple of drunken lads shouting at about 2am, but I was so knackered that I barely woke up!

Day 248, Sun 13th Oct

A well-deserved lie in today followed by a chilled day catching up on admin & having a swim in the lagoon.

We meant to go for a nice walk in Conway National Park, but as we didn’t get around to leaving the hotel until about 2:30, it ended up a bit late… had a nice swim at the public lagoon – beautiful outdoor pool – and after long deliberation arranged our trip to Whitehaven beach tomorrow, lots of companies to choose from, but we have decided to give Ocean Rafting a go…

Day 249, Mon 14th Oct

A great day trip with Ocean Rafting out to Hook Island for some snorkelling, plus Whitsunday island to chill on the famous white sands of Whitehaven beach.

We saw some nice fish & turtles but the coral was the real deal here – fantastic shapes & colours.  The prevailing wind meant that we were snorkelling in a not often used location, so that may have been why.

Whitehaven beach was absolutely heavenly – even the sand wasn’t hot (don’t ask me why) with the sun beating down on it. The photos are gorgeous but even they don’t do it justice.

Almost paradise...

Almost paradise…

Great trip on a fast raft, and we met a lovely English girl called Claire. The snorkelling was fabulous, the most diverse and undamaged range of coral that I have ever seen – and I thought Roatan was pretty amazing – and Whitehaven beach is definitely up there for best beach I have ever seen. We were trying to decide if San Blas was better… I think the low tide and swirling sands at Whitehaven may just take it.

Made dinner with Claire and snuck a bottle of wine into the hostel – I understand the no alcohol rule after being around for stag party central at the weekend, but we are not 19 for Christ’s sake, I think we can have a bottle of wine with our dinner!

Whitsunday Islands, Oz

Day 250, Tue 15th Oct

A day spent traveling to Sydney.

Said goodbye to The Whitsundays and arrived at our hostel in Sydney a little after 4. After we had settled in there was little to do but shop and cook some dinner – eating out in Australia has long been deemed by us as ruinously expensive and for special occasion only ;)

Day 251, Wed 16th Oct

A day spent sightseeing – saw the obvious ones; the bridge & opera house.  But it was the ‘Rocks’ (old part of town) & the Botanical gardens that were the hits.

Sydney (43)Took a stroll through the Botanical Gardens and around the sights of the CBD whilst trying to evade the local populace on their lunchtime run around the parks – feeling very guilty about lack of exercise – and unsuccessfully trying to find gluten-free cake (as solace).

Sydney is a beautiful city, I can see why people would like to live here, at least at this time of year, not sure about the summer though, it was hot enough today and spring has only just begun!

Day 252, Thu 17th Oct

Headed out to Bondi beach to walk along the coast to Coogee – lovely day made quite eerie by the red sun caused by the smoke from the forest fires. We didn’t manage to get in the water as it was absolutely freezing, but the scenery was lovely… NZ still takes it though (don’t tell the Aussies!).

Sydney - Bondi to Coogee Walk (14)Bondi beach is huge, but the water looked far too choppy (and was far too cold) for the intended swim! Got some fantastically moody pictures of the cemetery  en route to Coogee, we were trying to work out why the sky looked so odd, we only found out on the bus ride home that there were several bush fires burning, it was pretty bad and seems to have got worse since we left.

Day 253, Fri 18th Oct

Headed out to Manly on the ferry to meet our friend Marga (who we met on the boat through the San Blas) & spent a chilled day with her just catching up.

Tracey & Marga, Manly Beach

Tracey & Marga, Manly Beach

Beach number 2 today, as suggested by the lovely Marga – great to see her again and find out about the rest of her travels after Cartagena – had some lovely, albeit Aussie-priced (£17!) gluten free pizza – I am still trying to pin down my food intolerance issue – before ferrying back to the hostel to pack for tomorrow’s flight to China.

Sydney, Oz

The Sounds & the suburbs…

Day 224, Wed 18th Sep

Woke up the next day feeling surprisingly chipper. A beautiful day’s drive down through the wine country (with a quick detour for some wine tasting – for medicinal purposes of course) down to Kaikoura.  The drive was spectacularly beautiful, but the highlight was stopping a Ohau springs where we found a small pool under a waterfall where baby seals swam 500m up a small rocky river to play in the pool. The fact they do it is amazing, but what I want to know is how they actually found it in the first place…?!

Up for the ingloriously common 10am NZ checkout and off to Kaikoura for whale watching tomorrow. Our wine stop-offs meant no time for the Kaikoura peninsula walk I had planned then forgotten about – oh dear – another early morning tomorrow then…

I enjoyed the seals at the Ohau stream too, but sadly my pressing need for the bathroom – Keir having driven past the only garage in about 100 miles – drove us to an early exit…

Kaikoura, New Zealand

 

Day 224, Thurs 19th Sep

Up at 6:30 for breakfast before our peninsula walk, then off to see whales – or one whale twice, in this case – one was fine for me (though not the Canadian lady on our trip, it seems), my last attempt to see them ending in extraordinary painful coldness, the necessary donning of a fleecy crew boilersuit, and non-sight of a whale in Reykjavik – I hope we have a decent picture. Thank you Mum & Dad for paying for us :-)

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Double thanks from me to Alan & Lyn (A.K.A Mum & Dad No.3!) as I got to piggy back on this trip. Whether it was one whale or 100 whales it was still a priceless memory.

Drove down to the Banks Peninsula via another wine tasting – vital for the procurement of an oeno-related gift (for the rest of us normal people – she means vino!)  for our hosts to be – arrived 6ish.

Keir’s friend Bill, father to his godchild(ren), has a sister (Helen) on Banks, who has very generously volunteered, not only to put us up for 2 nights, but also to cook us a meal tonight. We will arrive bearing gifts, including Sea World rubber stamps for the kids (this could either go very well, or horribly wrong as they stamp every bit of wall space in the house!), Tahitian biscuits and BOOZE of course (Bill had advised me that Keith liked beer…. Of whatever variety! :-) ).

As ever, the hospitality of the Ross’s (Ne Hillier) knows no bounds – whether it be the UK or NZ!

Helen, the more gorgeous of the Ross siblings (sorry Tom/ Billy Ray – but you know it’s true!) had invited us to stay; obviously looking to wheedle all the tawdry truth about Bill out of me.  Don’t worry Bill; Mum’s the word! :-)

Sorry Bill; it took 1 bottle of wine – apparently ‘Blab’ is now the word!

Had a lovely meal with Keith & Helen, obviously involving copious amounts of booze, & we fell into a satisfied slumber.

Banks Penisular, New Zealand

Day 225 Fri 20th Sep

Helen & Keith are absolutely lovely, as are their kids, Eva and Ben, cats, Mouse & Murph, and dog, Milly. We feel truly at home.

(Milly is a black lab & beautifully trained whilst the cats are like living chocolate – beautiful & sooo friendly – I want some!!!)

Decided to take the scenic route to Akaroa, via an unanticipated single-lane, very bendy, cannot see more than a foot in front of you, dirt road; it was breathtaking, in more ways than one… (Especially if you are having to drive it after the navigator led you up the swanny…!)

Akaraoa was cute, but it is tiny and there is not much to do apart from go to a café and take a walk – both of which we did on arrival – unfortunately my choice of footwear left much to be desired so after a couple of hours slipping and sliding along mud-paths, and the missed opportunity of a stop at the closed, but beautiful looking, Tree Crop Farm, I was ready to return to Banks.

A lovely evening drinking wine and eating about 100 rice cakes with cheese (courtesy of Barry’s Bay cheese – expensive, but good – on the way to Akaroa) with Helen & Keith.

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Helen’s enthused me with the Americas cup – Team NZ good, Team Oracle – bad! So, up early to watch the race… points go Oracle’s way… not so good.

 

 

Eva (the little Lamb) & Ben (Carriage No. 2) are in the school play tonight so very excited about the first night’s performance; Finger’s crossed.

P1430171

Loved the Bank’s peninsular – lots of beautiful views & fantastic anchorages full of yachts… I want one!

Day 226, Sat 21st Sep

Got up late (considering the kids knocked on the door at 8) for a wonderful cooked breakfast of poached eggs, mushrooms and beans – by myself unfortunately, due to said late rising.

Off to Oamaru today, a Victorian town south of Christchurch, with a steampunk culture and PENGUINS!

P1430175Immediate stop at the info centre to book our penguin tour for this evening and to have a quick go on the Penny Farthing, then off to the free yellow-eyed (Hoiho) penguins at Bushy beach. We found one hanging around said bushes and saw another swim to the beach before deciding against it, before I decided I was cold enough and that it was time to go for the non-free Blue Penguin viewing.

The blue (Fairy) penguins were ultra-cute, only 12 inches high, but NO photos :-(. It was worth it for the premium seats though, we saw about 30 and a few were hanging around their little huts when we walked back through the enclosure. We then nearly ran one over in the car park whilst giggling at the ‘penguin crossing’ sign. Mercifully our last minute spot averted that potential trauma!

A lovely wake up call  with the kids coming in & Milly, the dog, giving me a kiss.  Tracey grunted, turned over & went back to sleep!

Another poor day for Team NZ – they effectively won the Americas cup but the non-sensical rules meant they ran out of time about 3 mins away from the line… How can you have an Americas cup race that has a minimum average wind speed of 5kts, but when you have an average of 9kts of wind the whole race there isn’t enough time to get around the course… the fact the Americans made the rules,  their  yacht was very poor in light winds & the TV companies had only programmed 2 hrs for 2 races obviously had nothing to do with it… made a joke of the whole Americas cup. P.S. I will accept Kiwi nationality if offered. :-)

Had to bid a sad farewell to Keith, Helen, Ben & Eva & head south to Omarua – a real gem of a town that hit it big & then time stood still as the prosperity moved elsewhere. Some lovely buildings in varying states of decay/ renovation &, more importantly from Tracey’s point of view – Penguins!

Had to explain, patiently, that Penguins wouldn’t like the weather back home & that the pond wouldn’t really be big enough for them.

Oamaru, New Zealand

Day 227, Sun 22nd Sep

A morning wandering around the market and cafes of Oamaru this morning, including interesting visits to a couple of steampunk shops, some beautiful and intact Victorian buildings, a sweet shop, and the Steampunk HQ museum. I think we might have a steampunk party when we are back – I quite like the tagline of ‘tomorrow as it used to be’.

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‘Steampunk’ – Evolution inspired by Victorian whizzardry & invention.

Then off to Dunedin for food and the not very good, but visually stunning, film ‘Mood Indigo’ – I confess it was my choice, but it was  Keir that did not let me Google the review first…

Is that my fault, again…?!

Day 228, Mon 23rd Sep

Nice sunny morning in Dunedin, which we completely failed to make the most of, with a nice trip to the Chinese Garden and drive to the Otago peninsula. Unfortunately our rather tardy start meant that it had completely clouded over, and then rain set in, before our planned walk. Oh well, a lazy early evening then!

A chilled, but forgettable day…. What did we do again..?!

Dunedin, New Zealand

Day 229, Tue 24th Sep

The drive towards Te Anau was beautiful as we decided, en route, to go via the Catlins mountain park right down on the southern tip of the island. Lots of windy roads, occasional dirt tracks & stunning scenery. Arrived, as planned, to see sunset over the lake at Te Anau… however the sun disappeared behind the mountain long before sunset… doh!

Stunning drive to Te Anau, which took most of the day, to arrive at our motel with unexpected kitchen – great, I was expecting nothing more than a kettle, and being slightly skint due to the non-South American prices, that saves us from a pot noodle :-)

Day 230, Wed 25th Sep

Up early for an exceptionally long drive to Milford Sound (2.5 hrs) & then back through Te Anau to Queenstown (Another 5 hrs).  Beautiful drive to the sound through misty mountains & fog bound mountain plains.

Te Anau & Milford Sound (12)

The trip on the boat was also quite stunning with waterfalls dropping off the steep mountain sides into the depths of the sound. Amazingly, we were the only people who hopped off our boat to do the trip to the underwater observatory & therefore we had a private viewing of the unique coral systems & fish life in the lake.

The long journey to Queenstown was punctuated by beautiful stops & the Kiwi constabulary issuing me a $120 speeding fine. T decided that silence was the best form of punishment & I arrived in Queenstown, like driving Miss Daisy, with my tail between my legs.

The hostel here was very friendly, but we were staying in what looked like a converted shed in the garden – washing & toilet facilities were all inside the hostel… T was not impressed!

Milford Sound was gorgeous, as was the early morning drive with all of the mist – a road fortunately not closed for day of travel. About halfway through our boat trip the remaining mist cleared and I managed to take a few extra photos :-). Drove on to Queenstown via a couple of nice walks to find the hostel – rather than holiday park – that I had booked, had places us in an outside cabin, necessitating the donning of a full outfit, shoes, key, and walk through the hostel for my night-time loo visit. Ironic as I chose not to book the extremely well rated holiday camp on the basis that I would have to go outside for the bathroom – why do none of the hostels have rooms with bathrooms in NZ anyway?

Te Anau & Milford Sound

Day 231, Thu 26th Sep

Weather looked changeable so we had a day’s drive out to Glenorchy (beautiful but quiet) & then Arrowstown (stuck in time with clapboard houses & old ruined Chinese shanty town). Saw ‘Rush’ in the lovely little picture house there – a fantastic film if you haven’t seen it about the ‘James Hunt’/ ‘Nikki Lauder’ rivalry in F1 in the 70’s.

Queenstown (15)Glenorchy was nice, but Arrowtown nicer, unfortunately I think much of the Glenorchy drive relates to the scenery – slightly poorer for the overcast weather. Loved Arrowtown though, and Keir’s choice of film (I did Google this one) was great, the cinema is also very nice, like the little boutique ones you find in London.

Day 232, Fri 27th Sep

We had planned to hike up the mountain & do the ‘Luge’ at the top – a luge like run down concrete tracks in carts – then ice skate.  However, torrential rain meant plan B came into force & we reversed the day’s events, with a little bit of shopping jammed in for T as well.

Why we don’t have these luge things back home is beyond me – they appeal to all ages; had great fun bombing down the runs, cutting inside & outside of T, Mums, Dad’s & kids whilst screaming at the top of my lungs – particularly fun having watched ‘Rush’ the day before!

A nice morning turned into a very wet day due to our late rising again – I tell you that all of these early morning travel days can be worse than work – but salvaged by an hour on the ice rink (no falling over, at least not by us – I think Keir actually only went round twice though!), a nice walk up the mountain and the LUGE. Really good fun, but we got up the mountain so late that we only had time for 2 runs and a glass of wine before approaching dusk forced us to walk back down again.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Day 233, Sat 28th Sep

This was meant to be a gentle drive to Fox glacier through the beautiful scenery of the Haast pass with multiple stops for breath taking views.  However, after a 2 hr drive we stopped in Wanaka only to find the pass was shut – indefinitely – due to risk of a landslide.  A quick re-plan by T turned & we now had a 6 hr detour on our hands! :-(

We arrived in Arthur’s pass at 1930 after a 10hr drive much wearied, but strangely buoyant that we’d coped with everything Mother Nature had thrown at us.  We even had an unexpected arrival committee of 2 ‘Kea’s’ – alpine parrots – who landed on the car roof when we arrived & were sticking their beaks into everything they could as we unpacked the car.  T wanted a picture of the 3 Keir/ Kea’s together; I’m not sure what she was going to entitle it, but I heard some mutterings about ‘Dumb & dumber’ or a ‘Who’s got the biggest beak competition’…

My best laid plans were rather scuppered by the Haast closure – though since a couple of Canadians were swept off the road in a landslide a week or so ago in that spot, we were quite understanding of the caution shown there – manic re-plan ensued; we will go to the glaciers tomorrow, but it means 2 days of long drives for Keir. Sometimes not being able to drive is a good (albeit selfish) thing.

Day 234, Sun 29th Sep

Another long drive today down the mountain to the coast, then south to see Fox’s Glacier,  Franz Joseph Glacier & Lake Matheson, before driving all the way back up to Greymouth. This would then bring us back on track with the plan after the Haast pass detour.

A day of almost perpetual rain, with occasional bursts of sunshine.  We got as far as the car park of the lake & Fox Glacier but had a walk in the rain to see Franz Joseph.

A quick detour to see the Hokitiki gorge meant that we arrived into Greymouth slightly late & knackered. However, we had a very warm welcome from the Hostel owner how ransacked the place to find us a copy of the ‘Hunger games’ to watch whilst we ate dinner.

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Disappointing that we could not really enjoy the glaciers or the Hokitiki gorge due to the weather, and running out of time again, but I guess we have been pretty lucky so far in New Zealand and the West Coast is the most subject to wet weather…

Fantastic owner at Neptune’s Backpackers in Greymouth spent about an hour looking for The Hunger Games for us while I was cooking up a storm in the kitchen and drinking more wine – I may have to cut down on this alcohol thing, Keir has started buying cider as well as purportedly sharing the wine, but he does not seem to be doing much of the latter…

Arthur’s pass, Hokiti Gorge & Frans Joseph Glacier, NZ

Day 235, Mon 30th Sep

Dropped the hire car off & then caught the train for the trip back through Arthurs pass to Christchurch. Beautiful sights though the train window – so much more relaxing than driving.

Managed a quick walk around Greymouth before our train ride – pretty spectacular and well worth the NZ $99, I am not sure if I would have paid the international price of $199 though; book it in New Zealand if you are going!

Arrived in Christchurch for another late supermarket run and supper. Met some nice British girls, Sara & Kirsty, in the kitchen and shared some travel info whilst attempting another rice dish – maybe I will actually be a decent cook by the time I get back? I live in hope, I think Keir does too…

Greymouth to Christchurch, NZ

Day 236, Tues 1st Oct

Spent the day wandering around Christchurch, checking out the cardboard cathedral (not all of it, to my disappointment) and the re-start mall. It is really sobering to think how much was destroyed in the earthquake and how many people lost their lives, but also great to see so much regeneration and positivity here. We did not have much time unfortunately, transfer to the airport for Melbourne at 6pm!

Christchurch has a nice vibe, despite the horrendous destruction from the earthquake, everyone is very positive & new buildings/ developments are sprouting everywhere like budding shoots.

Our new hostel, Pint on Punt, is like student digs, the room is fine – if a little dirty – but no soap or toilet roll in the bathrooms and a lot of dirty saucepans lying about. Not great, lucky it is only for 2 nights!

Nice pub downstairs & a comfortable bed are the only things going for the hostel – a little care & attention & it’d be a great place.

Christchurch, NZ

The day that time forgot… (Wed 11th Sep)

Day 204, Thu 29th Aug

Arrived in Mendoza (wine country) at 2pm. Back to a nice warm climate! Signed ourselves up for free wine tasting at the hostel that evening and then went for a walk to explore the different plazas around the town.

The tasting was so enjoyable that we completely forgot about eating dinner until 10:30, mad dash to find somewhere still open… I guess they do not eat as late here as we hear they do in Buenos Aires…

Mendoza appeared lovely, especially after 3 glasses of wine!  It was built around a number of squares; the blue tiled ‘Espana’ being our favourite.

Day 205, Fri 30th Aug

Decided to do our vineyard tour of Maipu on bicycles today – it sounded like a bad idea to me, I am not known for my cycling skills at the best of times and attempting to ride on the main road half-cut seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. Swallowing my fears, we embarked (a bit late) on our journey, had a full tour at the first vineyard with the option of 4 glasses of wine – I very sensibly only had a few sips, leaving the remainder for Keir :-) – then off for an olive oil and (yuckily sweet) chocolate tasting.

We had a fabulous lunch in the cerveceria (a very tasty off-menu salad) followed by a (failed) attempt to go to the big winery. At this point I had drunk very little and actually fancied a glass of wine – a desire unfortunately thwarted when we found we had missed the last tour and couldn’t join in half way through; bloody bureaucrats. Decided that I was far too uncomfortable to cycle another 2km to a different winery, so we jacked it in and returned to Mendoza for dinner before our night bus to Santiago :-)

Highlight of the day was having a go on a Tandem bicycle (another way around the world :-) ) plus the lunch in the beer garden – out in the countryside surrounded by nature & lots of birds – of the feathered variety!

 

A bicycle made or two... but who's in charge...?!

A bicycle made for two… but who’s in charge…?!

The main road through Maipu isn’t particularly nice, but once you get out into the countryside it’s worth it.  On the bus home we found that you needed their version of the oyster card to buy a ticket, which obviously tourists can’t buy anywhere sensible, so T appealed to the bus & a very nice lady was our saviour & helped us out!

Mendoza, Argentina

Day 206, Sat 31st Aug

A beautiful border crossing over the Andes… T usually hates daytime buses but the Andes was so beautiful that even she couldn’t grumble.  The old, disused, railway ran alongside for most of the way hinting at past splendours… we’d have happily taken it if it was still running. :-)

Just on the Chilean side of the border crossing was a ski slope – we gazed on enviously!

Top of the world Ma!

Top of the world Ma!

Arrived in the Brasil area of Santiago to stay in our new hostel – lots of quirky design and decoupage – and went for a daytime walk around the slightly ‘edgy’ streets. Street art and nice old buildings – it felt just like home. We found some great little restaurants and bars around Constitucion in the slightly more upmarket areas too.

The architecture through-out Santiago was really interesting & quite cool – there were so many beautiful buildings just slowly crumbling away… I was itching for the DIY tools… :-)

Another way around the world was ticked off when we found some pedalo’s in the park – childish but fun.  T even let me drive… & provide most of the pedal power of course!

I might be steering, but we know who's in charge...

I might be steering, but we know who’s in charge…

Day 207, Sun 1st Sep

Another walk today, around the Italian quarter – it did not seem particularly Latin, more akin to Brick Lane in fact – before meeting up with Eleanor and Tom, the English couple we met in Honduras, to take them up on their very kind offer of lodging in their flat for a few days. The flat is on the 22nd floor of a Canary Wharf style tower block in the suburb of Las Condes – where we were greeted by a beautiful sunset.

 

Fantastic dinner at a French restaurant nearby, possibly the best cooked slab of fish (Halibut?) that I have ever tasted, followed by crème brulee.

It was fantastic to meet up with Tom & Eleanor again. Since we last met in Honduras Eleanor carried on travelling & we’ve been following her blog avidly & were looking forward to catching up with them both to see where they were going to settle next.

One good thing that came out of the Maipu wine tasting was a bottle of ‘Reserve’ that we’d picked up to thank them for our stay.  The idea was that they’d be able to celebrate their return from the Amazon, where they were off to take some mind bending natural drug, Ayahuasca, in a Shaman ritual in a couple of weeks (T was obviously very interested in joining them!). However, in true English style, they put aside that they were meant to be following a strict alcohol free diet & opened the bottle straight away! :-)

Santiago, Chile

Day 208, Mon 2nd Sep

Valparaiso here we come; 2 hour bus ride & we were in the land of pastel shaded corrugated iron houses stacked on hillsides forming a smorgasbord of colour.

The trip to our fantastic hostel  was livened up when a car coming in the opposite direction hit a pothole & it’s wheel literally snapped off of its axle… the taxi drivers only comment was that ‘that way will be blocked for a while…!’

We dropped our gear off & hit the town to join a tour to see the sites; we even added another method to the ’80 ways’ when we hopped on an electric trolley bus.

A glorious day in Valparaiso today. We decided to join a tours4tips to get to know the city – our guide Marcia was great and made the whole thing fun for us – including hopping on the 1947 trolley bus, the funicular, and sneaking into a stunning, but seriously rundown, turn of the century apartment block; I recommend them highly.

Day 209, Tue 3rd SepValparaiso, Chile (70)

We wandered around Valparaiso, up to the cemetery & then into Pablo Neruda’s house on top of one of the many hills. This appeared to be another house, like many others, each floor stacked on top of each other like cardboard boxes. However, inside it was delightful. Neruda, a famous Chilean poet (I hadn’t heard of him either!) was very nautically focused & this was reflected in the décor inside.  Fantastic views from every floor as well.

We made our own list of things still to see today. Neruda’s house was very cool, 5 stories of little rooms perched on a hillside with incredible views. The museum de Bellas Artes was also very nice, though we had only 30 minutes before our bus and were interested in the Arts & Crafts house rather than the art; it was not quite as stunning as Voewood (in Norfolk), but definitely worth seeing.

Valparaiso, Chile

Back to Santiago for dinner with Eleanor, Tom and a couple of other friends that Eleanor had met on her Central & South American trip, Locki & Melinda, who had announced their engagement mere hours before… we were not sure they were going to show!

 

Day 210, Wed 4th Sep

Last day in Santiago started with a lie in, domestics & then quick visit to an artesenal (for that read cheap touristy things) village & monastery.  Dinner courtesy of Eleanor ended a chilled day before the off tomorrow.

Managed to wake up at 11 today, breakfast at 12, oops. Lots of rearrangement of New Zealand plan needed due to feedback from Keir’s friend (thanks Bill :-)). Made it to bed at 1, we have a 4:45 wake up for our flight; why, oh why do we do this to ourselves?

Day 211, Thu 5th Sep

Up exceedingly early to catch our flight to Easter Island. I didn’t even notice the flight go by, as I was plugged into the on-demand films – sheer bliss.

Dropped off the gear at our hostel, which looks nice, & spent the day looking around the main town – Rapa Nui – in the sun.

A nice, but hugely expensive, meal rounded off the day… everything is imported, so the prices reflect that.

A bit of a disaster on the plane for me when the meal I was told was vegetarian, and checked twice, turned out to have bacon in it. Way to go LAN – apparently it is necessary to confirm your vegetarian meal request 48 hours before the flight, just in case – one assumes – you have changed your mind since booking. I was VERY upset. I can only imagine what sort of scandal might have ensued had I been Jewish or Muslim…

Arrived in Easter Island at lunchtime, having lost another couple of hours, it is a beautiful, sunny day, though apparently they are expecting rain L

Day 212, Fri 6th Sep

What started out a blustery day hiking round the west part of the island ended up as a pair of drowned rats as we walked the last hour back in torrential rain!

To be fair we had equipped ourselves with the right wet weather gear so heads & torso’s were dry & we saw some fantastic things along the way. 

We started well when I befriended 2 stray dogs who then decided to join us on our hike all the way round.  We saw numerous moai (giant ‘heads’) on ahu (platforms).  Even better was the lava tunnel that ended suddenly at the cliff face with 2 vertical openings high up overlooking an angry ocean… we didn’t get too close to the edge!

P1410609

Another lava tunnel was a huge crypt-like place with banana trees growing at one end where the roof had caved in.

All in all a great, but exhausting day – we probably walked near 20km. Getting rid of our new canine buddies proved difficult…. I even walked them back to their homes, but one followed us all the way back to our hostel… I want a dog!!!

BIG walk today, with 2 complete soakings and our canine guides. I still haven’t seen any large moai though; they are all a lot smaller than I expected…

Day 213, Sat 7th Sep

A long lie in followed by a walk to the top of the volcano (extinct).  Got drenched again in a ‘scattered’ shower – according to the forecast (I’d hate to see what torrential rain looks like…, oh yes – we walked in that for 45 mins yesterday!)

Was worth the climb as the crater is filled with small lakes & one side has views over the ocean – very beautiful.

A genius on the dance floor at work...!

A genius on the dance floor at work…!

An evening at a traditional Easter Island dance ended up with them requiring a little lesson in how to move those hips… I kindly volunteered… yeah baby!

Disappointingly started raining cats and dogs just as we reached the volcano lake, we had to fight to stay upright. The evening ‘must do’ cultural performance would definitely not feature on my Top 10, but Keir enjoyed being on stage; bloody show-off :-)Day 214, Sun 8th Sep

The uncertain weather meant that we’d cancelled the scooter, in favour of hiring a car.  However, we woke up to beautiful blue skies – typical.  Our hostel manager (Hostel Avatai – v nice place) kindly re-arranged said scooter & off we went at 11 for a tour of the island.

The Maoi workshop (Rano Raraku) where we saw unfinished giant statues half carved out of the volcanic rock was the highlight to me along with the beautiful beach at Anakena. 

We even managed to finish the day with only one slow speed mishap on the scooter that left us both slightly muddy but with only pride dented. :-)

The two other unforgettable things about Easter Island apart from the culture – the cost (ouch) & the windy weather!

BIG MOAI today, beautiful weather certainly made the whole trip more appealing and the Island look very beautiful.

 

Keir kindly tipped us into a muddy puddle, but luckily we were en route to the beach at that point and did not have to wait too long to clean up. Fortunately our little accident was at about 1mph, a bit less damaging than my last cycle accident!

Oh, and EXCELLENT lemon meringue pie at the café on the main strip, I wish I could remember what it was called, maybe ‘slice’ something?

Day 215, Mon 9th Sep

The final day was a day of glorious weather; we decided to head back up to Orango to see the volcanic crater lake in brilliant sunshine & a reconstructed traditional temple site.  Then we headed for a long walk round the airport seeing other archaeological sites – a gentle but relaxed day.

A surprisingly lovely Japanese meal at the ‘Chinese’ (?!) restaurant that our hostel owner had sent us to used up the last of the currency before we headed off to catch the flight to Tahiti.

Another beautiful day with muchos photos. The village we had missed on our last volcano excursion was really interesting and we topped it all off with a fantastically unexpected Japanese meal at Konaki, just a few minutes walk from the airport. A midnight flight, not so great, but at least we get to sleep a bit before arriving in the early hours.

Easter Island, Chile

Day 216, Tue 10th Sep

Arrived at 0200 in the morning, a quick sleep before we rushed off to catch the ferry to the island of Mo’orea, followed by a bus to… anywhere with a beach & snorkelling please!

A passenger & bus driver duly helped us out & we ended up at the Hilton on a day pass – perfect; great beach, facilities, sun lounger, cocktails (for T) & food… a lesson in how to spend your only day in Tahiti. :-)

Saw the most futuristic yacht back in the harbour in Tahiti on our return – Abramovic, eat your heart out!

Stumpy's next command...

Stumpy’s next command…

Arrived, slept, got up early and ferried over to Mo’orea, not having much of a clue where to go, but my small amount of internet research had suggested getting out of Tahiti and onto the other island asap. Rescued by a nice French guy who sent us up to the Hilton for a very expensive, but sort of worth it – given the included lunch and snorkelling equipment – day pass.P1420273

Back to Tahiti for a swift tour and gorgeous sunset, then incredible desserts by the waterfront. Keir seemed extraordinarily happy with the size of his coffee ice cream sundae.

Tahita & Mo’orea, FRench Polynesia

Day 217, Wed 11th Sep

Another early flight, this time to Auckland. We crossed the international dateline & suddenly the UK went from being ahead of us to behind us as we lost a day (?!)… bye bye Wednesday!

Damn, I thought our flight was 11:25, but that is the arrival time :-(. Up at 5 again.

Day 218, Thu 12th Sep

Auckland hostel seems really well situated.  Brunch in Ponsonby followed by an afternoon morning spent walking around the town; not very inspiring but a few nice sights.

Arrived in Auckland, having lost Wednesday on the plane. We are staying at Freemans, a nice hostel between Ponsonby and the city – the owner very kindly introduced herself when we arrived and made sure that Keir’s photo driving license and rucksack wheel had arrived (Caribee: a thoroughly disappointing rucksack, but great customer service).

Felt a bit rough and it was raining, so we ended up falling asleep with no dinner.

Day 219, Fri 13th Sep

Caught the ferry across to Devonport (just like being back in the Navy!).  Loved this place; very sleepy & quiet with lots of Colonial style houses.  Saw some old forts with ‘disappearing’ guns & lots of old tunnels – perfect.

Dinner in Ponsonby was a perfect end to the day.Auckland - Devonport Island (7)

HUGE and fabulous breakfast in Ponsonby (bubble & squeak, yum) – I was absolutely ravenous after missing my supper! We tried a rather uninspiring Lonely Planet walking tour of the CBD, there basically is not much to see, followed by a lovely afternoon in Devonport with a nice glass of gewurtztraminer and dinner with saffron gin cocktails in Mekong Baby :-)

Day 220, Sat 14th Sep

We caught the shark bus (a very excited T) to Kelly Tarltan’s – a fantastic aquarium where you can see penguins, rays & sharks right up close.  Sounds quite tacky, but it was amazingly fun, interesting & educational – gets a Stumpy ‘tick in the box’!

The weather caught up with us in the afternoon so we only managed the Auckland museum which was again surprisingly interesting before we had to rush off for dinner & then a mad rush to catch the late bus to Rotorua.

Hostel was great in having everything ready for us when we arrived at 2300 – we collapsed into bed.

Auckland - Kelly Tarlton's Sea World (1)SHARK BUS!!! Then a fantastic interactive aquarium trip, including a photo op in a shark’s mouth; easily the highlight of my week. Well, maybe the moai on Easter Island too…

Auckland, New Zealand

Day 221, Sun 15th Sep

A walk around thermal springs, mud pools, then a trip around the lake on a paddle steamer followed by the circus & a visit to the thermal spa (with 7 different pools)…. You can see that Tracey organised this one!

Having decided against further ‘cultural experiences’ we decided to forgo Whakarewarewa (shortened to, and pronounced Faka… to our amusement) and wander around the free Kaurangi park instead. Had a nice day riding on a paddle steamer, seeing black swans and geysers and spent our hard-Whaka-saved money on dinner instead.

Rotorua, New Zealand

Day 222, Mon 16th Sep

Arrived in Wellington after an overnight bus (terrible – S American buses were so much better?!). A quick breakfast then the ferry to Picton in the South Island where we picked up the tiny Jap-crap hire car.

Said hire car turns out to be amazingly easy to drive (even after 7 months without being behind a wheel) & we head on the scenic coast route to Motueka for the Abel Tasman park. Stopped in Havelock for some mussels & chips en route – I love NZ south island already; such beautiful scenery.

Hostel is very nice & we pop out for a quick curry before bed.

Uncomfortable overnight Intercity bus dropped us in Wellington about 7am, where we discovered that the train station and the usually safe option of the backpackers opposite had nowhere to store our baggage while we explored, damn . After some breakfast discussion, Keir decided to stay where he was while I explored for a couple of hours.

Wellington - Cable Car

Unfortunately when I finally managed to open the ferry booking on the cable car, I discovered I had a mere hour to get to the port rather than 1.5 hours and had to effect a hasty turnaround at the top of the hill. Shame, Wellington seemed nice…

Wellington, New Zealand

Very pretty journey to Motueka, with numerous quick photo stops, before arriving at our hostel. No time to try the hot tub though :-(

Day 223, Tue 17th Sep

Boat drops us off in Bark Bay at midday after taking us all the way up the Abel Tasman coast to Totaranui & back.  A 25km hike then ensued across beautiful cliffs bays & forests.  To be fair we blitzed it; London walking kicked in & we did the supposed 7-8 hr hike in 6 hrs including a stop for lunch & backtracking so we could see Cleopatra’s pool – supposedly a must see.. but just a nice river pool.  Walking across Torrent’s bay a low water was cool & the feeling as we had a hard earned chocolate/ liquorice stick when we got back was heavenly… have a feeling we are going to feel it tomorrow! Billy ray/ Helen – thanks for insisting we did this. :-) x

A lovely boat ride (including tractor drop off) and walk in Abel Tasman today. We decided having a Magnum to start us off at 10 was necessary for the additional energy – well, I did – and started out. Lots of nice forest with beautiful beaches and bays, it was a little like Tayrona National Park in Colombia, but with absolutely freezing sea, must be bliss in summer. Knackered; I really must get to the gym…

Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand