A Travellerspoint blog

Last words ...

sunny 25 °C

OK, it's pretty much the end of my holiday, and this will probably be my last blog entry.

I'll try and make it a short one.

Thursday - (28th September)
===========================

Didn't do much today. The weather was cr*p, so taking photos was out of the question.

Instead, I did some boring stuff (laundry, e-mails, etc), and spent several hours hanging out in a couple of local cafe's.

Friday - (29th September)
=========================

Woo hoo. It's sunny !

Decide it's too good an opportunity to waste, so head of into the city to try and amuse myself for the day.

I pick up some food, and a coffee, and wander down the banks of the Avon, to the Botanical Gardens.

There are lots of people messing about in boats, including a few punters. All very civilised.

I find a nice spot to camp out and have a picnic.

In the afternoon, I just wander back through the gardens to Cathedral Square, and watch a few guys duking it out on the giant chess board. I'm too chicken to play myself, though.

Spend most of the evening playing a card game called 'Uno' with a few of the guys from the hostel.

Saturday - (30th September)
===========================

Up at the seriously hideous time of 3am, to go to the airport.

My plane leaves at 6am, and should arrive at 7:30am (we cross 2 time zones on the way, so it's a 3 and a half hour flight).

Get chatting to a rather nice girl called Milou on the plane. Actually we just kind of smile at each other on the plane, but get a conversation going while we're waiting at customs...

Anyhow, we seem to get along, so we decide to try and get her a room in the same hostel as me.

When we get to the place I booked a room, we discover that I've booked my room for the 1st of November. Doh !

After a quick ring round, we find a room somewhere else.

Spend the rest of the day hanging out with Milou around the Rocks area of Sydney, which was nice.

Milou seems pretty cool, although slightly obsessed with brown jewelery.

She also doesn't seem to mind hanging out with someone 15 years older than she is. Bonus.

Sunday - (01st October)
=======================

The weather is even better today than yesterday, so we decide to go to the beach. Manly beach.

What we don't realise is that every other person within 22 miles of Sydney is also going to Manly today.

When we get to Manly (via a very crowded ferry), it turns out that there is a jazz festival on, plus it's a big holiday weekend.

We manage to find 5 square metres for ourselves on the beach, and just chill for a while.

Milou is waiting for a call from her cousin, who lives in Sydney. We don't know it yet, but she actually lives in Manly, about 5 minutes from the beach.

When she get's the call, Larissa (the aforementioned cousin) says she'll some to meet us.

Larissa seems pretty nice, when she turns up. She only stays for a short time, but arranges to take us out for a few beers later.

After a very chilled out afternoon, involving sunbathing, eating, drinking, and, of course, shopping for jewelery, we go round to Larissa's place.

A few beers later, we head off to town to try and find some where that's both cool, but will also let me in. A tricky proposition, even when I do have some decent clothes.

Currently I own one pair of jeans (badly ripped), and one pair of 'slacks'. I'd be lucky to get into McDonalds.

It takes 3 attempts, but I finally get into some place called 'Yu'.

Several gins, and some superb dance moves later, we all bugger off for a well earned kebab, and a kip !

Monday - (02nd October)
=======================

The lovely Milou and myself head off to Darling Harbour this morning. Apparently there's some kind of Latin music festival on.

The weather is really great again (sunny, hot) so we just hang out and enjoy it.

We manage to find the only Dutch eatery in Sydney to have lunch in. They're looking for new employees, and Milou is looking for a daytime job ... this may be a marriage made in heaven.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend Dutch food to my friends. Not unless they like fried mayonnaise, anyway.

The Latin festival isn't really exciting. A few minutes of latino music is quite enough to satisfy us.

Milou needs to be back at the hostel for 4ish, to try and persuade them to give her a job.

For 3 hours work, 4 nights a week, you can get a free room. That sounds like a good deal to me.

In the morning, I'm off (on my own - very sadly) on a day trip to the Blue Mountains. I'm getting picked up at 7:30am, so it's a boringly early night for me.

Just a few episodes of the Simpsons, a fiddle with my laptop, and it's up the wooden hill to beddy land...

Well, that's all folks.

I'll be back home on the 5th October.

My housemates think I'll be back on the 6th, so that'll be a lovely surprise for them...

Posted by richardn 01:18 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Wellington to Christchurch (via Middle Earth)

overcast 14 °C

Sunday - (24th September)
=========================

Bit of a geek filled morning, this morning...

My camera is full (no mean feat, when your memory card is 2Gb), so I copy all the files to disk, and clear it out.

It's only the 2nd time I've had to do it. If all my stuff gets nicked, at least I'll still have my pictures :)

Spend the rest of the morning (2+ hours) uploading piccies, and my blog. The internet is soooo sloooow here.

After all this hard work <cough>, I treat myself to a slap up lunch - Tulsi's $7 lunchtime curry special. It's actually rather nice (Aloo Gobi + rice + nan).

In the afternoon I brave the miserable weather and take the cable car up to the botanical gardens. It would be very lovely on a sunny day, but it's very windy, cloudy, and cold. I wimp out after about an hour of wandering round, and head back down for a nice hot coffee.

When you see the pictures of the cable car, remember how I suffered for my art !

In the evening I get to indulge one of my fave hobbies - World domination - as a couple of the guys are playing Risk.

Monday - (25th September)
=========================

Today I'm on a Lord of The Rings (LOTR from now on) tour, that takes you to various LOTR related sites around Wellington.

There are 8 of us on the tour, plus our guide, Nathan.

Nathan tells us that he was an extra in the movies, and played one of the elves at Helms Deep (in the second film).

He is unable to prove this claim with photographic evidence, so I am a teensy bit sceptical.

Still, he is pretty knowledgeable about the movies, and very enthusiastic about them.

We have a kind of 'nerd rating' given to us, that represents how anal we are about the films. You'll be pleased to hear that I was only 3rd. First and second were both girls.

On the other hand, I'm the only one who has read the book 10 times....

First up we visit Mt.Victoria, right in the heart of Wellington. A few of the 'leaving the shire' scenes in film 1 were shot here. I've tried to get the same angle/shot so you can see it in the pictures.

Afterwards, we go for a drive down the coast towards an area known as Miramar. On the way, we stop to look at the boat used in King Kong. I hated King Kong. Just thought I'd mention it.

Miramar is where Peter Jackson (PJ henceforth) lives, and we drive by his house (it's right on the coast), and past many of the houses the cast stayed in while they were filming here. The girls all sigh as we pass Orlando Blooms house.

The top 2 nerds both think that Orlando was cool in the movie. I think he was made far too 'cool' compared to the books, where he's more of tree hugger.

After venting my Orlando spleen, I feel much better. Thanks for listening.

In Miramar, we stop for brunch at a really nice place called 'The Chocolate Fish Cafe'. It's very popular with actors who are working at the (very nearby) studios. All the chairs are hand painted, and the walls have lots of 'shiny things' stuck to them. Nice.

After our refreshments, we tootle up the road to take a look at WETA Workshop (the creature/costume/SFX shop). It appears, mainly, to be a bunch of old warehouses.

From Miramar, we head out of Wellington, to the site where they built the Helms Deep, and Minas Tirith sets.

This is the most unlikely location - a working quarry. PJ paid the quarry operators to move location for a year, while they were filming.

You can still see where the sets went, though. Unfortunately, I forgot to get a picture of the set shots, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Our next stop is Rivendell, which was filmed in a really nice location called Kaitoko Park.

The set was made to fit in-between the trees on site, in-order to nake it feel very natural.

Our guide completes the atmosphere by giving us his Legolas impression.

The final place we visit is the Gardens of Isengard (used in film 1), which are in a local park.

We get another fine scene recreation here, with Nathan taking the part of Saruman, and one of the guys taking on Gandalf. It's like being there.

Back at the hostel, it's another chilled out evening. One of the girls puts on Chocolat (the movie), which I've never seen. Surprisingly, I thought it was pretty good.

Tuesday - (26th September)
==========================

It's goodbye to Wellington, as I'm off to the South Island today.

This means taking a car ferry to Picton, which takes about 3-4 hours.

After some brekky (another visit to Mojo), I drive over to the ferry terminal (it's right in the centre of Wellington) and check in my car.

The ferry doesn't leave for another hour, so I wander back into town, just for something to do.

We actually leave later than we should, but I'm in no rush, and I'm not bothered.

The bestway to describe the weather is 'ominous'.

There are lots of low lying clouds around, all of them are grey. Here and there, you can see small chinks of light grey cloud.

20 minutes into the trip, it starts raining, so it's off below decks to get some lunch.

We arrive at about 5pm, after a pretty smooth (but wet) crossing, where I head off to Kaikoura, about 2 hours away.

After a pretty uneventful drive, I get to Kaikoura at about 7:30, and go and grab some dinner (seafood chowder - yummy).

Wednesday - (27th September)
============================

I'm off (hopefully) dolphin watching today.

The weather looks good, with blue sky and sunshine. First time I've seen a blue sky for about 5 days !

Kaikoura has a lovely backdrop, with snowy mountains off in the distance. All very photogenic.

The dolphin tour starts at 8:30am, but spectators (like me) just sit around for 30 mins while the swimmers (NOT like me) get their wetsuits organised.

We actually leave at 9ish, on 3 separate boats (it's a popular tour).

20 minutes later we see the dolphins. There are actually loads of them (about 100), and they are jumping about (some are doing somersaults!).

It's definitely the coolest thing, ever.

The swimmers get in the water as the dolphins go past, and try and 'entertain' them (by diving down, making squeaky noises, telling whale jokes, etc).

Eventually the dolphins all swim off, so the swimmers come back on board, and the boat moves to get in front of them again.

As the boat moves through the water, a few dolphins come and swim in the bow wave, which is great. You can really see how quick and agile they are.

We get back to shore at about noon, and everyone seems pretty happy.

I'm just hoping one or two pictures come out OK.

I have my lunch (BLT butties) in my car, and get gradually surrounded by seagulls. If feels like a scene from 'The Birds'.

The drive to Christchurch (my final destination) takes about 2 hours.

As I have some spare time, I stop off in a place called Lyttelton, which is supposed to have some nice views. I couldn't find them, though.

Get to my hostel at 5ish. It looks very nice, with the rooms organised in a quadrangle around a nice little garden. The rooms have underfloor heating, and it all seems rather Roman.

After a quick dip in the tepidarium, I head into the town centre

I walk down the banks of the Avon, grab a few piccies, and get some sushi for dinner.

Posted by richardn 16:13 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Auckland - Cape Reinga - Wellington

semi-overcast 16 °C

Sunday - (17th September)
=========================

Bye bye Auckland, hello Open Road.

That's the plan, anyhow.

It all starts reasonably well, as my car hasn't been stolen, vandalised, or clamped. Bonus.

After a quick brekky, and a stop to buy some sushi for lunch, I'm off. Well, as far as the petrol station, that is.

$40 (that's about 14 quid for half a tank), and 30 minutes later, I'm leaving Auckland on New Zealands main road - "Route 1".

It looks like the A34 ... there's none of that '2 lane' nonsense here ...

At least there isn't much traffic to get in the way. Most of the traffic that there is seem to be either campervans, or the ubiquitous ute (with the same exhaust/alloy wheel options you get in outback Oz).

The countryside is cross between the highlands of Scotland, the Lake District and Ireland (green, hilly, rural).

Haven't seen the preponderance of sheep I expected, though... Maybe they keep them in their houses ? Perhaps what the Aussies say is true, and the sheep really ARE in charge ? Perhaps the sheep are wearing camouflage ? Perhaps I'm rambling ?

I stop for lunch at a small place called Sullivans Bay, where I eat my sushi, and it starts to rain.

The rest of the afternoon is spent driving to a town called Paihia, which is the main town in the Bay of Islands area.

You can tell it's a big town, because it's got more than one street ...

Don't really do much in the evening, apart from having a quick wander down to the beach, and watching a video with some of the girls who are staying here.

Watching a video, in this case, means 'Shakespeare in Love'. Great.

The hostel is pretty nice, though. With a good kitchen/TV area, and smart/clean bathrooms attached to each of the bedrooms.

Monday - (18th September)
=========================

I'm going for the cultural approach this morning, by paying a visit to Waitangi. This is place where the country of New Zealand (as we know it) was born, when the British Crown and the Mauri tribes signed the 'Treaty of Waitangi'.

Compared to Australia, the Mauri people got a much better deal than the Aborigines.

Waitangi is only a 2km walk from Paihia. I was tempted to go in the car, but I guess the exercise will do me good.

The centre at Waitangi is actually rather interesting, and also very nicely looked after.

My local 'guide' explains the circumstances that led to the treaty, and we visit the spot where the document was signed.

There's also an awesome Mauri war canoe to see (it's 37m long and can seat 160 people).

I'll put up a picture, Mike, so you can get 'canoe envy'.

After all this cultural stuff, my brain needs a rest, so I take the walk to Hararu falls (10km round trip).

While the falls are nice, they aren't worth a 10km walk...

When I get back to Waitangi my feet are, to be blunt, f***ed. The 2km walk back to the hostel is the longest 20 minutes ever.

In the evening, it's a case of chilling in the TV room again. This evenings chick flick is 'What Women Want'. At least it's better than the Shakespeare one.

I do finally get to choose a film (Men in Black 2), but that's only after all the girls have gone to bed.

Tuesday - (19th September)
==========================

No walking today, which is just as well, as my feet would probably fall right off.

I'm booked on a boat trip around the Bay of Islands in the morning.

Yesterday the boats ran across Killer Whales, and there's supposed to be a 90% chance of seeing dolphins normally.

Still haven't seen any dolphins up close yet, so I really hope there are some around.

The boat trip is pretty nice (the weather is sunny for one thing), but there are NO seabound mammals to see, whatsoever. Bum.

Probably the best part of the trip is where our boat 'sails' (even though it doesn't have sails) through the 'Hole in the Rock'.

For those who don't know the 'Hole in the Rock' is, in fact, a big hole in a rock. Imaginative name, huh ?

The boat drops us off at Russell at lunchtime. Russell is a small town, across the water from Paihia.

It used to be called 'The Hellhole of the Pacific'. Now it's more of a place for old Kiwi's to come and die (think Eastbourne).

After some food and a quick wander round, I head back to Paihia on the passenger ferry.

Most of the afternoon is spent doing my laundry (how dull), and the evening in the TV room.

Wednesday - (20th September)
============================

Lots of driving to do today...

First off, I drive North to Cape Reinga, the most Northern point in N.Z.

This is a really great road, very windy, with virtually no traffic, with the final 20Km being just a gravel track.

The gravel section is pretty slippy, and I have visions of my car plunging off a cliff into the sea, in the same kind of style as a cheap TV movie (including the obligatory explosion)...

Along the way, I make a quick stop on 90 mile beach (why not 145 kilometer beach, I hear you ask). Various bus trips take you for a drive along the beach, but I can't do this in my hire car, so I have to make do with a quick walk on the sand.

The Cape itself is very windy, and the weather is best described as 'threatening'. If you've ever seen the film 'The Fog', you'll know what I mean.

At least the lighthouse makes for some interesting pictures.

I go for a quick walk down to the beach, below the cape. It's not really sun-bathing weather though.

I now decide that I can make it to Auckland (or nearby) by the end of the day.

This means a long drive (in the end it takes about 6 hours), but it will 'gain' me one day to spend somewhere else... The drive

Finally (at about 7pm), I get to Auckland.

At least the hostel is really nice, and quite homely (including a log fire in the TV room). I'm too tired to do anything other than watch the movie of the evening (some Arnie movie called 'End of Days') and chill out.

Thursday - (21st September)
===========================

Today is a Lord of the Rings day, as I'm off to see the Hobbiton set at a place called Matamata.

It's on some private farmland about 3 hours drive South of Auckland.

The drive is rather boring for the first 2 hours, but gets more interesting when I get off the main road.

Matamata itself is pretty unremarkable.

I have an hour to kill before the next tour, so I grab some lunch (fish and chips - wrapped in real newspaper), and grab a couple of piccies.

Finally our tour bus turns up. It's called Frodo. How sweet.

It takes about 10 minutes to drive out to the farm. The views here are pretty stunning, with uninterrupted countryside all around.

There are lots of sheep as well. It's just after lambing season, so most of the ewes have babies trailing after them. Mmmm, roast lamb ....

This place is the only one with some of the original set remaining (bad weather prevented them destroying it immediately), and so is a very popular tour.

I took quite a few pictures, so I guess you can judge how good it looks yourselves ...

After the tour, I drive South to a place called Taupo (which was the site of a huge volcanic eruption about 1500 years ago - so huge it ejected 800 cubic Km of ash into the air).

Lake Taupo is now in the place where the centre of the crater would be.

I arrive in Taupo at 7pm (ish), and go shopping for some dinner, then 'retire' for the evening, to watch 'The Empire Strikes Back'. It's not the same without a big TV, though :(

Friday - (22nd September)
=========================

The general plan for the day is to drive South, into Tongariro National Park, see the mountains (including Mt.Doom from LOTR), and stay somewhere round the area.

It starts out OK, as the weather in Taupo is really nice.

I decide to do a couple of things locally, before heading out.

First off, I visit 'The Craters of the Moon', which is a thermally active area (bubbling mud, steaming water, etc). It's quite interesting, but not as good as some of the places I saw in Iceland (a long time ago, on a holiday far away).

Just a short (10 minute) hop away are the Huka falls.

While not very tall, the sheer volume of water coming through them is impressive.

Further downstream are the Aritata rapids. 3 times per day, the hydro-electric power station upstream releases a surge of water into these rapids (purely for tourism purposes). This creates a really great spectacle. It also lets you ride a 'jet boat' up the rapids.

This is too cool to resist, so I cough up my (roughly) ?5 for a go.

The jet boat ride is definitely one of the best things I've done. As the boat gets upto about 80km/h, some of the rapids cause you to take off. Once you've take off, obviously, you have to 'land' again. Invariably, this involves a big splash, and a new wet patch.

35 minutes, and many wet patches, later I get off the boat with a big smile on my face.

I paid the extra ?0 to get the pictures, so make sure you look at 'em !

After my Taupo adventures, I make my (rather soggy) way towards Tongariro Park.

Unfortunately, the weather hasn't heard about my plan for the day. It's very cloudy, raining, and windy in the mountains.

I make an attempt to get up one of the peaks (by driving up one of the passes, to the ski lift area), but it's so cloudy I can hardly see the end of my nose.

Driving up here is pretty hair-raising (see one of the pictures, for an example).

After hanging around for an hour, hoping the weather will break, I decide to give up.

The weather is supposed to be the same on the following day, so there's no point staying in the area, and I make the decision to head South again, to try and get as close to Wellington as possible.

In the end I stay in a small place called 'Sansom', about 150Km North of Wellington.

The motel is really cheap (about 22 quid) and pretty decent.

Saturday - (23rd September)
===========================

It's only a 2 hour drive to Wellington this morning, and I arrive at my hostel at about 11am.

The hostel seems like a really nice, friendly place. Quite a few of the people staying have been here for 2 or 3 months !

I'm only here for 3 nights, though (I have a schedule to keep!).

Wellington has a bit of a San Fransisco feel about it - it's very windy, rather hilly, and lots of the houses look similar.

One of it's claims to fame, is that it has more coffee shops (per capita) than anywhere else (even New York).

The best one (supposedly) is called Mojo, and is only about 5 minutes walk away.

Seems like a natural place to start my afternoon ...

The coffee was very nice (they roast their own beans, apparently), and the chocolate brownie was fantastic.

I spend the next hour wandering around the quay side area, before heading to Te Papa (the Museum of New Zealand).

Entry to the museum is free (donations welcome) but it actually has lots of really excellent exhibits.

I nabbed a few photos of my favourites from floor 4 (I only did one of the 3 floors today).

After a couple of hours in the museum, I go for a wander around Wellington, grab some food (Lebanese today), and head back to the hostel.

Posted by richardn 17:32 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Auckland

overcast 15 °C

Thursday - (14th September)
===========================

Arrive in New Zealand at a really stupid time - 1am.

Can't check into my hostel, and can't catch a bus to the city until 6am, so I have to hang around for 5 hours.

When I finally get to my hostel at 8am, I just crash out for a few hours.

In the afternoon, I get the ferry to Rangitoto Island, which is a dormant volcano.

Auckland is surrounded by about 50 volcano cones, and Rangitoto is the most recent (600 years old).

The ferry ride is fun in itself, and takes about 30 minutes. It's sunny, but still pretty cold and windy on the top deck...

There's not much on the island (no one lives there), no shops, no toilets, not even a bin !

It's 3 hours until the return ferry arrives, so I decide to take the 1 hour walk to the summit of the volcano.

The walk doesn't actually take an hour (more like 45 minutes), but gets quite steep at the top. It's well worth it for the view, though.

When I get back to the city (after the walk down, and ferry ride back), have a quick wander around Aucklands shopping centre.

After splashing out on a new zoom lens, it's off to a nice Belgian Bar, where they sell huge plates of grilled mussells with the obligatory fries and mayonnaise. The mussells are great, and so it the mayo !

After my feed, it's back to the hostel to crash out.

Friday - (15th September)
=========================

More ferry action today, as I pop over to Devonport, which is on a peninsula north of the main city.

The dominating feature of Devonport are the 2 volcanic cones - Mt.Victoria and North Head.

I wander up Mt.Victoria to take in the views and get some pictures.

There's not much else to see around Devonport (although it does seem to have lots of secondhand book shops, which I make a purchase in), so I get the ferry back to the city.

In Auckland, I visit the Sky Tower, which is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. The view from the top is pretty cool, and they have the glass floor panels (just like the C.N.Tower in Toronto) which are very wierd to stand on.

Every 10 minutes or so, a paying nutcase sails past the windows, as they take the 'Sky Jump'. This is a 'controlled descent' down a couple of wires outside the building. As 328ft < 14,000ft, I feel no obligation to try it !

Pop into the local Irish bar, for a lovely pint of Kilkenny, and wander back to the hostel to read my new book for a while.

Saturday - (16th September)
===========================

Quite an early wake up this morning, as my room mate is up at 6:30am, so he can get some bus, to some place.

I do manage to get back to sleep for a while, but eventually the Saturday morning traffic gets me to take some positive action (having a shower in this case).

After a nice brekky (porridge with plums, cream and brown sugar), I go for a walk to Albert Park to grab a few piccies.

Then it's off to pick up my car, which I have for the next 13 days.

It takes quite a while to get my car, because it needs a wash when I go to pick it up.

While the guy is washing my car, 4 (very cute) Argentinian air hostesses arrive to pick up another car, and I have to wait for them (who would YOU serve first?).

Wonder if all Argentine girls are so nice ? Must go and find out, one day !

When I do, finally, get my car I just go for a drive along the coast to the West of Auckland.

Driving here isn't a problem, except for the facts that -

a) no roads have numbers, except for about 5 major roads.
b) the roads that DO have numbers don't seem to be signposted
c) in fact, nothing is sign posted

I have a road atlas, but it's bl**dy hard work finding your way about in the suburbs.

I drive back to Auckland before it gets dark (I know I'd get lost), and make a visit to Mt.Eden, which is the tallest of the volcanic peaks around Auckland.

The view is pretty cool from the top, but it starts to get windy, and begins to rain, just before sunset, so I head back to my hostel.

Posted by richardn 02:48 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

New Zealand, new number

sunny 15 °C

Now I'm in N.Z., I have a new phone number.

Should anyone want to get in touch rather urgently, it's -

+64 (0) 2102427560

So, from the U.K. it will probably be 00642102427560.

Please remember the 11 hour time difference !

Posted by richardn 21:22 Archived in New Zealand Tagged preparation Comments (1)

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