A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: steve1000

New Zealand South Island

We arrived on the South island where we plan to spend 3 of our 5 weeks in New Zealand. We got off to a good start with a walking tour of Christchurch to check out the earthquake damage and find a spot to celebrate the arrival of 2011. The earthquake damage ranged from total to subtle. The venue for the evening would be the Irish bar on Cathedral square. The square itself playing host to an open air celebration with fireworks once we got bored, or kicked out, of the pub.

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Several Guinness later and a round of Auld Lang Syne and it’s 2011 – Happy New Year.

We hired a car for our time in New Zealand and the roads are a joy to drive. Only three complaints – the roads through the mountains are quite windy and my driving makes Niamh sick. Second is the lack of radio stations (if you exclude the AM stations playing Christian rock.) The final complaint is the number of campervans which might be more numerous than the sheep.

If a person sat down to design a country to serve as the world’s geography field trip then New Zealand would be it. Glacial valleys, river valleys, volcano craters, tourism, hydro-electric power are just some of the GCSE curriculum available here. Thanks to Niamh’s coaching I am now bandying around terms such as terminal moraine with the best of them.

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Our tour has taken in mountains (which I wanted to climb but sensibly wasn’t allowed to,) glaciers (which I was allowed to climb on,) valleys and hills. We have driven, kayaked, walked, ice walked and power jet boated.

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We’ve seen penguins, seals, sea lions, harris hawks and dolphins – all in their natural environments. We’ve yet to see a Kiwi though.

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Some of the sites have just been amazing, Milford Sound, Mount Cook and the Speights Brewery being a few that particularly stand out. Even the places you drive through, to get to whichever extraordinary destination you are heading to, would be a destination in its own right back home.

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Other than the wildlife and landscapes we have also managed to catch up with a couple more friends. Saul and his lovely girlfriend, from university days and James and Gayle from Cayman days. Both ended up in too much consumption and a painful drive the following day.

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Next we head to the North Island where we hope to find volcanic activity and radio reception.

Posted by steve1000 20:09 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Sydney & Blue Mountains

We’ve fallen behind on this blogging milarky once again. Unfortunately the lack of free internet, or perhaps more accurately the outrageous expense of internet is as much a feature of New Zealand as Australia. Still it’s catch up time so I have to cast my mind back one month to Christmas in Sydney.

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(I have posted a bunch more photos on the photo site for your perusal.)

After Christmas we checked out of the Sheraton, the hostels this close to New Year were charging amounts which could only be considered theft so we had booked a 3 day tour of the Blue Mountains that came with accommodation. The weather was pretty bad and we spent most of the first day being told what we might see if it weren’t so misty.

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After a day of disappointing views and freezing (well 12c) temperatures we gratefully arrived at our hostel to discover that we have been allocated a dorm room. My first taste of the real backpacking experience. The YHA in the Blue Mountains had that faint hint of sweat that one would imagine accompanies the malodorous backpacker. As it turned out our dorm also had the lingering aroma so things were not onto a good start.

I spent a good period of my life at boarding school sharing a dorm with 20 other teenage boys so I wasn’t too fazed and got a fairly good night sleep. Niamh wasn’t so lucky. She was woken twice in the night. First by a gentleman requesting that she get out of the bed as he was planning to sleep there. Niamh dealt with this in an expert manner, essentially a spot of growling followed by a spot of ignoring the new guest. The second disturbance was more distressing - Handy Andy in the top bunk causing the entire bed to shake along with his nocturnal entertainment.

We tried being backpackers, we really did, but the smell and the other disturbances were just too much. We jumped on the bus back to Sydney and checked into the Hilton for a long, well earned shower.

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Before we left Australia we had a chance to catch up with another friend from Cayman, Lloyd. Having just flown back from South Africa he cast off the jetlag and treated us to dinner, drinks and the view from the roof patio at his apartment. If you squint a bit you can just make out the harbour bridge.

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Next morning it’s off to New Zealand.

Posted by steve1000 19:32 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Byron Bay to Sydney

Part one - Merry Christmas

We came to Byron Bay as another stop off to break up our journey down to Sydney. We found a lovely little town, if a bit hippy. This was the first of our stops where, due to our late bookings and the approaching Christmas holiday, it became cheaper to stay in a hotel than a hostel. So continuing on from our spot of luck in Fraser Island we enjoyed staying in relative luxury.

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As a laid back town we enjoyed wandering around the boutique shops, eating fish and chips, watching the sun set over the ocean, taking a stroll around the headland and marvelling at the bravery of the turkeys wandering in plain sight this close to Christmas day.

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After some careful consideration we decided not to attend the winter solstice gathering, despite the free food and drums, as a number of attendees appeared to have personal hygiene issues.

One overnight bus later and we find ourselves in Sydney, our last stop in Australia. We will be here for Christmas and flying out on New Year’s Eve – it would have been nice to stay to see the fireworks on NYE but the cost of accommodation and availability of flights would not allow.

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Our first hotel is the Travelodge where we stay for two nights, one day to wander around the city and another day spent touring the wineries of the Hunter Valley. Our wine tour included 3 stops where they took us through their wines from dry whites, fruity reds, sparkling whites & reds, desert wines, port and even jungle juice. All of these served up with cheese and crackers. Not a bad day and in a display of restraint we only bought four bottles of wine.

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Throughout Australia we (more Stiamh than Niamh) have been disappointed by the lack of festive spirit. Very few houses have decorated, Christmas music is not to be heard, and even the shopping centres seem drab and empty. To some in the midst of an over commercial Christmas, that started in July, this probably sounds ideal. To those of us not lucky enough to have snow and having to tolerate sunshine and beaches, that Christmas joy is proving an elusive sentiment.

Would Sydney come through for us.... not really. We have been to carols sung by the local youth choir and seen a number of quite pleasant trees and lights. Tonight (Christmas Eve) we will be going to Darling Harbour to hear more carols and see the fireworks. If that all fails we might have to take desperate measures and head to midnight mass to see if the Church can succeed where Woolworths has failed.

Today we have moved to the Sheraton hotel where we will be until the 27th. The bathroom here is bigger than some of the hostel rooms we have stayed in up to this point. We did briefly consider renting out the wardrobe to a couple of backpackers. We made enquiries about the hotel’s Christmas lunch but a Sydney Christmas is more about seafood and less about turkey and $240 per person for a seafood buffet is a little too much. Instead we have found a small hotel that does a turkey lunch and we have a few bits of cheese and ham and a couple of bottles of wine hidden in our mini bar.

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Suffice to say we will have a lovely Christmas despite our humbug surroundings and we wish everyone a fantastic merry Christmas.

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Posted by steve1000 23:41 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Brisbane

all seasons in one day

Australia is pretty big – the whole of Europe fits very comfortably into Australia and you get a real sense of the size from the hours spent on the bus plotted on a map. Over a few trips we’ve spent the best part of 24hrs on the bus and covered only a small amount of the east coast. To break up the bus journeys we were looking for stop off points. Brisbane wouldn’t have been a top choice except for one important thing – it has a Kopy! Adam aka Kopy is an old friend of Stiamh’s from uni days. Not having seen him since a fairly lively Halloween party five years ago I was keen to meet up.

Adam took us out to see the sights of Brisbane ie a big hill with impressive views across the city and a bridge designed by the same guy that did Sydney Harbour Bridge. Most importantly he and Kate took us out for a couple of XXXX Ales and a good sized steak.

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I remember Adam starting at University as the quintessential physics student, witnessed, if not somewhat responsible for, his degeneration into a drunken fool. He is now a married man with a full time job, a baby on the way and an interest in sport– the circle of life and all that. It was great to catch up.

To continue the theme in Brisbane we managed to catch up with Ryan and Oonagh who were staying in the same hostel as us. We went out for dinner and drinks but this time we left the travel sickness pills at home. We’re really pleased to have met these two especially since they have done an excellent job of selling London to young Niamh. Hopefully we’ll be able to meet up again for a couple of beers when we finish our travels in April (or May, perhaps June – definitely by July.......)

Posted by steve1000 23:31 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Airlie Beach & Whitsunday Islands

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If there is one thing they seem to do well in Australia, it is their outdoor space. Boardwalks running along the coast, outdoor pools with excellent facilities, not just toilets and showers but gas BBQs, gazebos etc. The BBQs used to be coin operated but since people kept breaking in and stealing the loot, now they run many of them for free.

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Airlie beach is our jumping off point for a 3 day catamaran cruise of the Whitsunday Islands. So far on our trip we have (with the exception of the odd train journey) had private rooms. This cruise would be our first time sharing, and in close quarters too. When we arrived on the cat, we were given our briefing and then sent to our rooms (cabins?) and were delighted to discover that we had been allocated a private double. Not even the furnace like temperature and 6” fan whose noise could outgun a Boeing 747 could challenge our relief or dampen our enthusiasm.

The first afternoon was spent sitting on deck in the sunshine, a little snorkelling and generally being patronised by the two girls that were running the show on board. We came to the conclusion that a few seasons of work on the budget boat (56 drunken backpackers to seven tour guides) the girls were only capable of treating their charges like children, even if they happened to be 12 upstanding members of the community like our good selves. We were very forgiving though and got our revenge by refusing to do any diving. They got a little irked by this, being certified divers and choosing an “adventure” trip which specialised in diving they saw us as a nice little earner.

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The snorkelling was good but we didn’t see anything new or exciting but it was very pleasant and a welcome opportunity to cool off.

After a couple of quiet beers we settled into our cabin / hot box for the night. At first we were just too warm, unbearably so, but then the waves picked up and our cat was being thrown around with doors flying open and slamming shut. At about 4.30am our skipper decided enough was enough and fired up the engines to find some calmer waters to sleep out the rest of the night.

If the heated accommodation couldn’t dampen our spirits the weather on day two certainly could. The rain didn’t really affect the snorkelling but between trips into the water there were few opportunities to dry off and get warm. Any attempt to enter the inner sanctum of the boat was met with an abrupt scolding from our newfound surrogate parents.

Our jaunt on shore to see Whitehaven beach was a particular highlight. Given the wet weather and lack of rain coats we found ourselves hiking through the forests on the island in wetsuits. Whitehaven beach itself was beautiful in the rain so must be absolutely stunning in the sunshine which is supported by all the postcards we have seen subsequently.

Back on board we discover rough seas and a broken engine – fortunately we still had one functioning so we set off again in search of still waters. This took a little time, meanwhile everyone was beginning to feel a little nauseous. Sniamh to the rescue with the travel sickness pills picked up in Vietnam. Sniamh, Ryan and Oonagh all dosed up and washed our medicine down with a couple of beers. Oonagh was the first to note that we all had saucer sized pupils and that she felt a little strange, so much so that she had to go and have a little lie down. God bless Vietnamese pharmacists – I certainly wouldn’t use the word stoned – pleasantly relaxed and a little chilled would sum it all up rather nicely – would someone please pass the munchies.

The next day the seas were calm and the sun was shining as we chugged back to Airlie Beach with one engine. Safely back on land we spent the rest of the afternoon at the lagoon before catching our bus to Hervey Bay.

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Posted by steve1000 22:08 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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