Friday, January 26, 2007

22nd - 27th January (Waiting to fall from the sky over Taupo)

Tom and I shared the five and a half hour drive to Taupo, stopping for sandwiches at the side of the road. We set up our tents at a YHA place close to the centre of town - a nice place but with a tiny kitchen (doesn't affect me too much!) and too few toilets and showers. Some lads were trying to get a game of volleyball going so Tom and I joined in.
Most of our time in Taupo involved watching the weather and phoning the skydive people, one evening we actually got to the airport, Tom and Sasha were harnessed and ready to go (I wasn't feeling 100% so decided to try another day) but the weather had other plans and they didn't jump. We managed to find a few things to keep us entertained while we waited; eating, drinking, watching films, laser-quest, mini-golf, internet, introduced Tom and Sasha to indoor climbing, visited the incredibly fast water of Huka falls, balancing on high wires, beams etc at 'Rock'n'ropes', eating lovely kebebs, got a haircut and finally I noticed the sky clearing one evening as I walked back to the hostel to meet Tom and Sasha who had already phoned the company and were getting ready to go.
I still thought it was about 50/50 as we raced to the airport, filled out the forms and watched the video, the sky still looked very dodgy. I was strapped up and ready to go, my tandem and I were last into the plane so we were due to go first, the clouds over the lake were growing thinner with every minute and I started to feel the nervousness that comes with realising I was very soon going to jump out of a plane at 12,000 feet. It was totally brilliant, better than the bungy, 45 seconds of freefall at over 120mph followed by the upwards jolt of the parachute opening and the serenity of the silent sky over the lake as we drifted down to a gentle landing. Sasha and I paid $219 but Tom paid the $100 extra to have his dive filmed by a cameraman who jumped with him. I have video footage of the before and after which cost $20 and looks quite cool. We all loved it. The next morning we visited the honey hive where they have bees nests enclosed in glass, loads of information about the life of honey bees and a shop selling bee products - it was more interesting than it sounds. After that, Tom and Sasha drove off, leaving me to hitch for the first time in a month. I had been planning on going to the scenic Tongariero crossing for views of Mount Doom from Lord of the rings, but again good weather was required and not forecast so I headed for Rotorua, an area of geothermal activity (volcanic stuff).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

18th - 21st January (Windy Wellington)

We packed up our tents and drove into the very pleasant Picton town with lots of quaint little shops and cafes. We got to the ferry terminal at 13.00 to check in for our 14.00 ferry. Leaving through the Marlborough Sounds, with its scenic wavy coastline consisting of loads of mountains poking their heads through the water, covered with trees, as the ferry sped up the front deck got a bit cold so I sat on the back deck soaking up the rays and breathing in the smell of the caged cows beneath and the exhaust fumes from above. The crossing took about three hours. Our hostel is a fifteen minute walk from the centre, the campsite part of which is a fairly small backyard, every day when it looked as if no more tents could possibly fit in, a couple more would appear - it felt like Reading festival without the rain.

After a supermarket shop we went to a fairly cheap curry house and once again I was less than impressed. Although tonight is a Thursday the nightlife in Wellington looks like a weekend, the upmarket bars are doing a brisk trade with mostly well dressed business classes I presume and the Irish bars with live music cater for the not quite so well dressed - I know where I will be tomorrow night!

Wellington being the capital, there are plenty of internet cafes at $4 per hour (around half the price of some places around NZ) and most of them have Skype available. So over the next couple of days I spoke to several of my friends which made me feel very happy - especially speaking to Smudge and Stu H, the newly proud fathers. Finally, the ten euros I put on my Skype account back in Thailand has been used up - Skype is great. Wellington is known famous for being windy, on the first day, the sun shone for a while but most of the rest of the time was overcast so I spent a lot of time making the most of the cheap internet. The city is nice, not too overcrowded, with cafes, coffee shops, art gallerys and museums, plus of course the usual chain stores and fast food joints. Back at base, I cooked a fairly hot Thai red veggie curry, then we went for beers, the Wellington atmosphere made me feel like a session but with my more refined friends I managed to get two pints before getting home at midnight - at least I will feel ok in the morning!

The next day Tom felt a bit tired, so Sasha and I wandered around looking for art gallerys and things to do; we found the terrible 'beehive' building, a late 60's monstrosity I believe, and the rather nicer adjoining parliament building before heading to the seafront to try our hands at inline skating - I was much better than I expected, having been rubbish at rollerblading and ice-skating when I was younger, I was quite quick but couldn't stop or turn. Sasha was a bit shaky but improved gradually. We both managed to get through the hour unscathed. Sasha cooked jacket potatoes and corn on the cob. I did a clean sweep of yanif, trumps and 15's - damn, I'm good! We all had a pretty bad nights sleep with the souped up boy racer cars speeding between each set of lights along the strip.

The next day, the others went to a monastry, so I did more internet and skyping - happy birthday to Dad. I couldn't find a pub showing Liverpool whoop Chelsea which was on Sky so I went to the impressive Te Papa museum, before meeting up with Tom and Sasha to go to a Hari Chrishna thing, I thought it was just going to be a street party and a bit of a laugh but as we went up some stairs and Tom and Sasha dissapeared into a room full of strange people, I realised this was not a place I wanted to be so legged it back to the safety of the internet cafe. When I met Tom and Sasha later they laughed at me but when they told me about the singing and dancing I felt I had made the right choice (despite the lovely free food I missed).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Here are some video links from Oz and NZ:
The rope swing...

Capricorn Dave's ant dance...

My ant dance...

The bungy...

The canyon swing...

The penguin shuffle...

Hope you like them.
8th - 17th January (Ice climbing to sea kayaking)

We packed up our tents in the rain and drove on to Fox Glacier where the weather was also mostly overcast with showers. We went in to the town information centre and I booked a day of ice climbing for $210. Later we went for a nice walk around nearby Matheson lake, as we got to the best lookout point the sun was low in the sky behind us, the clouds cleared a little and we got some excellent photos of the mountain, clouds and orangey sky reflected in the lake. Being quite cautious with my budget, I don't mind spending $210 dollars if I have a good time but just like the moments after I spent out on the bungy jump I wondered wether ice climbing would be any good and wether the weather would ruin the views of the glacier. However, when I got up at 06.45, the sky was clear and remained that way all morning, the clouds arrived in the afternoon but no rain and the day turned out to be fantastic fun. We walked around the side of the terminal face of the glacier and up on to the surface of the ice, fully kitted up with crampons (boots with massive spikes in them) we walked until we found some suitable ice walls (big crevaces in the glacier) and there our group of four learnt to walk and climb on ice.
To be walking on a glacier is amazing, these things are like prehistoric remnants of the last ice age, they played a massive part in shaping this country and when you walk on one you can hear them creak as they gradually move down the valley at about a metre a day, you hear the trickle of tiny streams all around you as the sun melts the ice and high up above I could see the pinnacle where fresh snow was being compacted to continue the cycle with new ice.
At one point, I climbed a small face, was lowered over the lip into a crevace of smooth blue ice, then with the aid of my ice picks climbed up the taller wall in front of me - it wasn't as hard as rock climbing as you can use the picks and spikes on your shoes to make suitable ledges as you go but it was a good ten hours of walking and climbing so I was quite exhausted by the end (especially as I had volunteered to carry one of the ropes which was twice the weight on the way back due to it being wet). We all brought sandwiches for lunch, sat on our waterproof jackets on the ice wearing just a couple of t-shirts with the sun beating down, very nice. Once the instructor was happy that we knew what we were doing, we were
bilaying eachother (using the rope as safety for when we fall), he took all four of our cameras and snapped away so I have some great pictures from that day. After Fox glacier we drove to Franz Josef glacier, the busier and more expensive of the two. We walked to the terminal face and took some photos but I don't think they compared to those I got at Fox, I also preferred the smaller and prettier village at Fox.

The next stop was Hokitika where there really isn't much to do. We found our way to eco-world with the promise of seeing live Kiwi birds (well you have to see a Kiwi when in NZ), after walking around the aquariums and looking at all the exotic fish and eels the size of my leg (no joke) we got to the dimly lit Kiwi enclosure where only one Kiwi wanted to show itself, he had one leg and hopped about for a bit looking cute and helpless. I bought a tiny Kiwi in the hope that it would make it the rest of the way around the world with me so that it can join the undoubtedly huge pile of baby Casey's soft toys. The campsite we stayed at was pretty busy but all I could hear when I went to bed at night was the sound of the crashing waves about 200 metres away. In the morning we drove to turquoise blue 'Hokitika gorge' which was very nice but swarming with sandflies.
On a boiling hot day, we drove on to Westport, stopping at Punakaiki for views of the pancake rocks, where the limestone has formrd in distinct layers and then been shaped by the acidity of the rain and the crashing of the waves, making formations that look surprisingly like piles of pancakes. If we had been here later in the day we could have seen the blow hole in action but we moved on to Westport where we stopped at a high viewpoint to watch the seals as the played on and around the rocks. The pups were about a month old and we stayed for ages to watch them, it was a hive of activity and we could have stayed there all day, unfortunately they were a bit too far away to get good photos or video. In the evening I walked on my own into the quiet town in the hope of finding internet, but instead I found a pub where I ate lamb shank (as much as I've enjoyed eating veggie food I needed to eat an animal!) washed down by a couple of beers.
On the way home I saw the best sunset yet but we weren't on the coast so my photos have industrial buildings and telegraph poles in the foreground. Today, my friends Stu (that's Stu who I lived with in Portsmouth) and Clare Hawthorn had a baby girl called Emily (12th Jan).

So, onwards again, in a very hot car to Nelson, bright sunshine all the way but rain as we approached Nelson (sod's law) so we drank tea and played yahtzee before putting up the tents during a dry moment. We drove to town and treated ourselves to Dominoes pizza. Found an internet cafe with a handful of Skype machines that were all in use until 20 minutes before they closed when I managed to call Mum. I also managed to transfer some much needed funds into my current account. In the last 2 months I have spent an average of 42 pound per day taking my 6 month total to 5,300 pound (although this doesn't include the 1,700 pound flights or the prepaid 2 week tour of India which cost almost a grand I think). Still, South America should be fairly cheap.

At the information centre in Nelson, we spent half a day sorting through the multitude of options of things to do in Abel Tasman national park. Eventually we settled on a $65 day of kayaking, followed the next day by a $40 sea taxi and trek. I emailed a copy of my driving licence to the car rental people so I could drive the car. Back at the site I managed to get ducklings to eat oats out of my hand while the mother duck made concerned noises waiting to go for me if I made any sudden movements. I made a nice salad for dinner (although a steak would have made it better). I drove back to the internet place and couldn't get on Skype at all. I tried to call Dad using my credit card from a payphone and it charged me $4 as soon as the BT callminder cut in - bargain!

I've been travelling with Tom and Sasha for three weeks now and it's been pretty good. With Sasha being veggie and doing most of the cooking I have eaten well, they are Buddhist and neither of them drink much so I haven't drunk much either and am feeling quite healthy as a result. When the weather is rubbish or there is not much to keep us entertained we can always play cards, and it has been a convenient and cheap way to see probably more of the south island than I could have done any other way. Tom wants me to stay at least until the 24th of January as that's his birthday and we both want to skydive over lake Taupo, but I am starting to get the itch for hitch hiking again soon as I'm not really meeting any new people and it's all a bit too easy, plus I am missing meat and ale! (I have discovered Mac's Sassy red though - a lovely local tipple!)

So anyway, a 06.15 start, and luckily again, when I need it most the weather is good. A drive to Mauharu (the Abel Tasman starting point) where we filled out forms, applied sun screen, had a safety lesson and kayaked off in a double and a single kayak. Just like when I swim, my shoulders felt like they had cramp after no time at all and it seemed like really hard work. From 09.00 to 14.00 we paddled about 24km around an island, to watering cove and back along the coast to Mauharu stopping at several nice coves and beaches for snack/lunch/shoulder recovery stops. I managed to capsize whilst trying to get in from the beach with camera still in my pocket, luckily it somehow stayed dry and I transferred it to the dry bag, I then capsized again and looked like a complete wally. My shoulders and probably my technique improved as the day went on and the route back had a little current behind us. We booked in to the campsite at Mauharu and played cards.

The 10.30 water taxi (speed boat) took us to Bark Bay, we walked south for about three hours to Anchorage, the few clouds dissappeared and we had over an hour to swim in the icy sea and sunbathe on the beautiful beach before the 16.00 return boat trip which seemed so much bumpier than the outward trip despite the stillness of the water. The walk, described by the lonely planet as the best section of this coastal stretch was mostly under the cover of forest and not that remarkable. Sasha saw a dolphin on the way back but the rest of us missed it. In the evening we watched 'Ugly Betty' (never again) and 'Ian Wright's unfit kids'.

We drove back to Nelson the next morning, where we ate at a Thai restaurant with a good, cheap lunchtime menu. I then drove the incredibly windy road to Picton. The weather went from sun to dark cloud and rain. We drank tea and pitched tents. I started to read 'The 5 people you meet in heaven' by Mitch Albom although I am also reading Shantaram. The games room had pool, table footy and air hockey, we played all three followed by shit head and 15's and an episode of Black Adder.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

5th - 7th January (Wanaka and Haast)

On the way out of Queenstown we stopped for a while at the worlds first bungy and watched some jumpers. One girl went into the river from head to waist - that looked really cool and I was tempted to waste more money but didn't. We drove on to Wanaka, stopping at puzzle world just before we arrived, viewing all the perception altering displays and puzzles before spending 72 minutes in the hot sun wandering around the extremely frustrating first ever 3d maze. The 6th saw my first overcast sky of the new year. We drove along a long bumpy gravel road to the start of the Rob Roy walk, when we arrived it was raining so we sat in the car playing cards for a while, eventually we went for it, walked for one minute (there and back!), I was the only one with a waterproof jacket. On the way back the sky cleared and we stopped for a pleasant lakeside walk. Later, I spent a while uploading all of my Oz and NZ pictures on to flickr, so click on the flickr icon to the right to see the latest pics - but be warned NZ is very picturesque so I have taken lots of scenery pictures that are probably mostly boring and not very good, in the hope that there are a few of picture postcard perfection. Wanaka is very nice but the weather isn't. We didn't stay long, packed our tents and drove to Haast on the west coast. The weather was sunny and cloudy all day and I played with my boomerang for the first time (almost got it to come back to me), then drove north to Jackson bay where the lonely planet describes some beautiful red rock mountain views as 'unforgettable', I will never forget those views after a long, bumpy and windy drive, of completely unobscured f#ck all. There is nothing to stop in Haast for, if the sky is clear the route to and from Haast is quite scenic, just don't stop! The music in the car is an odd mix. Tom likes Britney, Hindi pop, Thai pop, Michael Jackson and thankfully the Beatles, Sasha has generally better taste although she is a big fan of Alanis Morrisette, at times the journeys are quite painful!

Friday, January 05, 2007

1st - 4th January (Extreme sports in Queenstown)

Started the year with a bad head that lasted all day. Packed up the tent and used the internet for a while to read all my happy new year messages. We loaded up the car and headed for Queenstown, stopping in Te Anau again for lunch, and arrived at Lakeview holiday park between the lake and the gondola ride where there were a few chalets, several motor homes and millions of tents ($15 per person). The facilities were pretty good but the showers cost a dollar a go and it costs $5 to hire a cupboard in the kitchen, I was of course outraged and refused to eat or shower! Camping hasn't really saved me a fortune as it's only about $6 per night cheaper but it's good fun and makes a change from the hostels. I made a veg stir-fry using green curry paste(about time I did some of the cooking!) and I won at the great card game I have just learnt, called 15's.

The next morning I sat in the sun reading Tom's book 'Shantaram' which is set in India and so far is very good, it's also very big. The others took advantage of the fine weather to sort through all the stuff in the car. At midday Sasha went into town to try to replace a glasses lense that cracked whilst sat in the heat of the car window while Tom and I took a steep 45 minute hike up to the top of the gondola ride to get to the luge (gravity powered go-karts on two different race tracks), we paid for 5 rides and had a great time bullying all of the litle kids off the track. Tom got the better of me but he had done it before. A nice steak and cheese pie from the cafe before walking back down. Sasha beat me at 15's (stupid game), while Tom used the internet then I sat in the sun and read while Tom and Sasha cooked veg tortillas. Sasha then kicked ass at Yanif before I scored a record 413 at Yahtzee, Tom left disillusioned after winning nothing!

Sasha decided to make pancakes for breakfast which nearly took us until lunch. After that we wandered into town knowing that we wanted to do something but not knowing what. At 14.30 Tom and I booked a bungy jump, luckily there was a 15.30 cancellation for us to go on giving Tom time to change into suitable footwear and me time to eat fish and chips (well, it could be my last meal!) but neither of us much time to think about it. At 134 metres, the Nevis bungy is the highest in NZ and one of the highest in the world so it seemed like the one to do! We got fitted out like some kind of production line and in no time at all we were shuffling forwards in our ankle cuffs towards a big drop suspended over a canyon. I'm not trying to sound all butch and hard but neither Tom or I felt any fear, I had a strange sickly feel in my stomach when I prepaid for it but that's normal for me! Everything happened very quickly and there wasn't much time to worry about it. The initial millisecond of knowing my body had leant forward to the point of no return was scary, then an 8.5 second fall which at first felt very strange and then exhilerating. The bounce at the bottom was very smooth, not at all jerky like I had expected. It was fantastic but over too quickly, can't wait to skydive for a slightly longer flying sensation. I declined the pricey dvd but paid up for a combo where I do the canyon swing at a reduced price tomorrow. Bungy $210, canyon swing $60, the look on my face priceless (I also bought the $39 t-shirt). In the evening I cooked bangers and mash for Tom and I, and a ready made veg lasagne for Sasha then went to town to use the internet.

Some death metal from somebody's car stereo around midnight and 06.00 disrupted my sleep. The three of us used the free gondola ride tickets that we managed to blag. Tom and Sasha took photographs and video footage of my canyon swing which is really just a 43 metre rope swing, but almost as much fun as the bungy. There is a cliff jump bungy that goes from the same spot, so we stood in the sun, watched and took photos of other jumpers. Later, Tom and Sasha went into town while i read and sweated in the sun. After a cool shower I joined the others for Sasha's 18.00 hangliding which she thoroughly enjoyed, then off to 'Fergburger' which does great burgers from $9, but I was hungry and went for the massive $14 burger with all the trimmings. Oh yes! Went to burn a cd and copied jump and swing footage from Tom and Sasha's cameras.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

28th December 2006 until the early hours of 2007

After a short walk to the main road south and a five minute wait, got picked up by Tom and Sasha who I had met at the Christmas dinner table in Oamaru (what are the chances?), they didn't even have room for me really as they are camping and their car was piled high with stuff. Anyway, they made room and I squeezed in for a drive through the Catlins national park area in the south-east, stopping at nugget point where a few little islands sticking out of the water are supposed to look like gold nuggets in the right light (clearly not in this overcast weather though!) We stopped at the petrified forest on the south coast where clear fossils of fallen trees could be seen in the rocks - we were also treated to a close up view of a lone yellow eyed penguin. Finally we got to a campsite near to Invercargill where we pitched our tents (luckily they had one spare and I had bought a sleeping bag recently), Sasha made a veggie casserole and then they taught me Yahtzee. We weren't too far from a busy road and none of us slept too well.

In the morning we packed up our tents in the rain and bundled our stuff into the car. We drove to a supermarket in Invercargill, Tom and Sasha bought some food, I bought $40 of fuel and some cadburys banoffee pie chocolate that dad would love. Drove on to Te Anau where we stopped for lunch, I had a nice small venison pie with chips. On towards Milford sound stopping at several scenic lookouts where we got some close ups of a kea (an endangered parrot that has become over familiar with humans who have fed it things that aren't good for it) and some footage of it tring to pull the rubber seal away from someones car door. Arrived at Milford sound lodge, about the only place to stay around here and took the last two campsites at $15 per person (all the rooms were booked up as well), after pitching the tents Sasha made some pasta and vegetables and we sat up chatting.

The weather looked good so we decided to go for a walk. We paid for another night at the campsite and also booked a cruise on Milford sound for tomorrow ($92 each). We slowly walked the key summit track taking lots of photos as we went - lots of strange looking woodland with a multitude of mosses, lichens, fungi and algae growing up and hanging off the branches of the trees, looked pretty weird. On arrival at the summit we sat and ate the sandwiches that Sasha had made, it was sunny but with a refreshing cool drizzle. In the evening Tom made a nice veg curry and we played Yanif and Yahtzee. I had to get up in the night for the toilet, it was freezing cold outside without a cloud in the sky, probably more stars than I have ever seen. Ten minutes later I could hear a single bird making a regular high pitched sound as it flew from one end of the basin, overhead to the other end, everything else, apart from distant waterfalls, was perfectly silent.

From the 31st of December, the day of our Milford sound cruise up until the 5th of January we had nothing but glorious weather, about bloody time! This, of course, made the Milford sound cruise very nice indeed although it did mean that many of the numerous waterfalls into the sound were dry - every silver lining has a cloud! The water was beautifully clear, the views of the mountains were complimented by the occaisional whisp of cloud, the seals were bathing on the rocks and the view from the underwater observatory that we stopped at was clear (but crowded with too many people).

After the boat had dropped us off I spotted one of the most unusual things any of us had ever seen - a rainbow that encircled the sun, it stayed there for at least an hour. Back at the campsite I made like a seal and basked in the sun for a while, Sasha did some jacket potatoes with a selection of toppings and we headed back to the sound in order to try to catch a nice sunset, we failed but got some nice shots anyway until the sandflys became too much for me and I had no choice but to take refuge in the nearby 'Blue Duck Bar' until at least 01.00 when the sandflys go to bed. I drank quite a lot of beer but it was the sudden addition of sparkly stuff at midnight that sent me squiffy, at which point dancing to MC Hammer and singing 'Who the f&ck is Alice?' seemed like a great idea!