Category Archives: Beaches

Port Elizabeth to Durban- The Eastern Cape and Transkei

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Hello rural South Africa!

21st March and the start of our 2 whole days in Port Elizabeth. We were staying in a backpackers called 99 Miles Beach Lodge who had mixed up our booking a little bit which resulted in us getting a free upgrade to a double en suite room for free- result! So our time here got off to a good start. Day 1 and we were booked onto a 1/2 day township tour called ‘The Real City Tour’ with a company called ‘Calabash Tours’. Nelson was our tour guide and had grown up, and still lived in, a township in New Brighton so he was super knowledgeable about everything, passionate but not in a cringe way. He first gave us a tour of PE CBD pointing out all the historic sites from pre-colonial, colonial and apartheid days. Whenever he mentioned Mandela, he shouted his whole title (Baba Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Nelson Mandela kaMphakanyiswa Gadla kaMadiba) and hit his fist on the ceiling of the car in celebration. He was 18 in 1994 when the first democratic election was held and he voted for Mandela. So to the townships…a corner stone of Apartheid was the segregation of people according to race, especially whites and blacks. The government uplifted Black people from the areas they had classified as white only area in Port Elizabeth and dumped them in areas outside of the CBD called townships. There families were given no compensation, only a piece of land with a brick-built outhouse toilet with a rubber bucket inside it. No drainage, no electricity and a single tap for water for a whole wave of families. With no building materials, these families built shelters out of whatever they could find, hence the metal/wood shacks that are now synonymous with our image our ‘townships’. In between the white and black areas were large bits of land which were left undeveloped- known as ‘Buffer Zones’. PE has 10 townships which are still home to 500,000 people. Apartheid policies are now abolished but choice and finance are the new barriers to integration. Black people are unlikely to afford a house in a previously white only area; and even if they did have the money many prefer living in the townships near friends and family. We visited the 7 oldest townships in PE including New Brighton, Kwazakhele and Zwide. They were all different. One which had now emerged as a middle class area where the township now looked like a UK housing estate. Some townships where the shack houses had been replaced with single storey brick buildings with drainage and electricity. But there were still plenty where families still lived in shacks without sanitation and electricity. The government have a housing programme target of replacing all the temporary shacks with brick homes by 2020. As Nelson took us to a view-point overlooking the sprawling townships, I couldn’t help feeling that achieving that target was optimistic. We drove through Embizweni Square which is an informal business hub in the township area, full of lots of little shipping containers from which locals run their business from. This was the place to come for a haircut as there were loads and loads of salons and barbers! It is here were you can also pick up a ‘smiley’- a sheeps head which the ladies on the street boil and then cut in half for their dinners to eat! The sheep once boiled looks like it is smiling at you whilst your eating it, hence the name. Needless to say it looked gross! Just off the square we stopped off at a ‘Shebeen’- what was an illegal drinking house during the Apartheid years. The Apartheid government banned black people from selling alcohol so people used to just go around to someones home and buy and drink socially there. Nelson bought us a drink at the former Shebeen, now called the Ship Inn, before we headed to our final stop at the township called Ramaphasa Village to visit a community arts and craft project. Hedd made a new friend with a little boy who lived next door who mocked him on his little arm muscles but still demanded Hedd pick him up and spin him around lots of times. It was a mix of cute and funny to watch! It was also here that I experienced first hand ‘Township Dust’. PE is so windy and the paths in the township are unsealed so as a big gust drove through the township a load of dust threw up and landed in my left eye. Man it was painful! So we ended the tour me half blind, but both agreeing it was well worth it.

After a chilled out morning on our second and final day in PE, we got picked up from our hostel for our ‘Tooth and Claw’ Game Drive at Schotia Private Reserve. It was a 40 minute journey to Schotia and my goodness what a 40 minutes. We had got picked up by the reserves owner called Peter and initiated by him we were treated to intense discussions about post apartheid South Africa and his stance against positive discrimination and then his views on how to solve Rhino poaching which involved the decriminalising ivory selling to rid the black market! I did my best to passively umm and nod and we both breathed a sigh of relief when we arrived and were able to get out of the 4×4! So Schotia Safaris- a privately owned and managed reserve, owned by the Bean family since 1833. The oldest private game viewing reserve in the Cape Province, it was also the first to have lions that can hunt for themselves. Its well stocked with over 2000 animals and over 40 species on the reserve. Our ranger was called Malcolm and as we drove off from base and through the gates of the reserve we both admitted to humming the Jurassic Park theme tune in our heads! We had 2x 2 hour game drives with a tea break in the middle and then a bush dinner afterward and we saw loads of animals. Lions, antelope, giraffe, vervet monkeys, zebra, rhino, hippo, warthog, kudu…. The park is split 1/3rd, 2/3rd’s to keep the rhino and lions separate so the lions don’t eat them and in the ‘no-lion’ part Hedd and I got to ride on the seat mounted outside of the 4×4 on the bonnet. When Malcolm first offered it to me I though he was pulling my leg but it was perfectly safe and I got to see the zebra really close up and Hedd the giraffe. It was amazing to be out of the 4×4 in the open air so close to the animals. Back in the 4×4 and I was busy ticking off all the animals we’d seen on the checklist Malcolm gave us, and having worrying exchanges with Hedd at the fact that we had eaten some of them (kudu, ostrich…)! Which was only reinforced come tea time at the open air lapa in the middle of the park, where we were served roast springbok! Ah well, we’re carnivores after all! After dinner we had another 30 minutes of night viewing to get a glimpse of nocturnal creatures. It’s also the best time to try to see a ‘kill’. Although we saw lions, they looked ready for bed rather than hunters at the ready so we settled for the sights of porcupines and hares as we drove back to the main gates. 4 1/2 hour game drive, a lovely dinner and a great guide in Malcolm; Hedd and I felt like we’d got great value for money and it definitely wet our appetite for our 4 day safari we were planning on doing in Chobe National Park, Botswana, a couple of weeks later.

6.30am pick up by the Baz Bus for our 7 hour journey to Port St Johns on South Africa’s wild coast. As we travelled further East we began to see a dramatic change in the landscape and feel of South Africa. Whereas the Garden Route was pretty westernised, the Eastern Cape was far from it and from Port Albert we were travelling the Transkei. 1.5-2.5 thousand meters above seas level, stray animals wandering the road and town after town where we saw no white faces apart from those travelling in the bus. This was one of the most scenic parts of South Africa but also the poorest. The Transkei was an independent country before 1994. Known as one of the ‘Homelands’, the Apartheid Government gave the corrupt government of these tribe based countries too little money to run the area. That plus their rurality resulted in the Homelands such as Transkei falling behind other parts of SA economically, leaving them the poorest part of SA after 1994 when Mandela abolished the homelands creating 1 nation 1 president. Mandela was born and brought up in Transkei and we drove past the villages where he was born and brought up. By the side of the road there is also the big house that the ANC gave Mandela at his retirement from government. It is within the grounds of this house that Mandela requested a replica to be built of the prison cottage Mandela was held in under house arrest after he was moved from Robben Island, and you can see it from the road. Mandela still to this day says that this cottage is the best house he has ever lived in! As we completed our drive through this rustic outcrop of SA with its sparse villages of thatch roofed huts, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we reflected how unlikely yet magical it was that this area grew such a powerful leader as Nelson Mandela. We got dropped off at a random Shell garage in a place called Mthatha by the Baz Bus and then picked up by our shuttle to take us to Port St John on the coast. We soon realised however that this shuttle bus was not exclusive, and it took us 2 hours to make the journey to the coast as we picked up and dropped off lots of different people along the way! We stayed at Amampondo Backpackers on Second Beach at Port St John and it was much more rustic accommodation than we were used to in SA- mud floors and walkways, bamboo outdoor bathrooms…rough and ready but after a little getting used to, we were game! 24th March and we woke up to torrential rain. Our plan to go for a hike and then to the beach were de-funked so we had a lie in, a bamboo shower and lazed the day away at the covered (fortunately!) bar. We soon got invited to join in a board game called 30 Seconds- a South African version of Trival Pursuit vs Articulate. Needless to say Hedd and I struggled, on average only knowing what 3 out of the 5 things on the card were that we had to then try to describe to our team. Who knew there were so many different South African cricket/rugby captains! Our last morning in Port St John and hoorah no rain! We ventured down the muddy path to Second Beach and it definitely lived up to its name- ‘wild’. Rocky cliffs, noisy waves breaking and 2 massive cows with horns just sitting on the beach minding their own business. After mooching about on the beach and having beans on toast for brunch it was time to leave on our crazy shuttle bus back to Mthatha. It again took us 2 hours, picking and dropping off people seemingly from and to the middle of nowhere along the way! But we got to the Shell Garage pick up safe and sound and in good time to catch our Baz Bus connection to Durban. I had good intentions of catching up on my diary writing but I abandoned that and just watch the amazing landscape through the frame of my window. Transkei is truly beautiful; valleys and mountains like grass topped versions of Table Mountain everywhere plus the best pink and orange sunsets. We even got to a see a Transkei special of a horse all saddled up galloping down the middle of the road, parting the traffic like an emergency vehicle as it went. Goodness knows where its rider was! 7 hours later, leaving Transkei and entering Kwazulu-Natal province, we eventually arrived in Durban at 10.30pm. Good to no-one at 10.30pm, we crashed into bed at our hostel Hippo Hide looking forward to our tour into Zululand the next day.

Port Elizabeth to Durban in a snapshot:

    • Weather= Wet and windy, with a sunny day in PE
    • Food= A student diet of beans and tomato pasta!
    • Drink= Squash
    • Favourite animal of all time= The Giraffe
    • Not a place to come in the rain= The Wild Coast
    • But don’t miss it= for its amazing modern history

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

I really enjoyed this section of our trip. We’d had fun in Cape Town and fun along the Garden Route, but this part of the trip while also fun was more culturally rewarding. We learnt so much more about the real South Africa today. We saw how some white South African’s (namely the owner of the Game Reserve) were unhappy with the Black Economic Empowerment programme designed to increase the upward mobility of black South Africans in the country. The owner of the Game Reserve was adamant that it was impossible to say that everybody in South Africa is equal while this policy was in place. Personally, given the history of the country and the fact that segregation still exists in the form of economic segregation (the majority of white South Africans are wealthy and the majority of black South African’s are still poor) then the policy has merit. We got a glimpse of the real difference in Port Elizabeth as we left the predominantly middle class area where our hostel was built and went to visit some townships and informal settlements. The difference was staggering. Our guide was fantastic and gave us a real insight into these communities, he would almost explode with joy when shouting out Nelson Mandela’s name and praised the government for their programme of upgrading the townships. The task is massive, and will never be complete by the government’s deadline of 2020, but progress is being made and that is positive.

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Sydney- The Wedding and Other Adventures

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Always love a good wedding! 

Our first afternoon in Sydney started in the pub around the corner from Lucy’s flat in the area of Balmain (North West of the Harbour Bridge). Lucy is a Royals girl and has been living and working over in Sydney for 2 years and kindly was putting us up for 2 nights, so we were in the pub waiting for her to get back from work. 2 glasses of wine later and she was home and after a merry catch up over another couple of bottles of wine we all stumbled into our respective beds wondering where the evening had gone!

Oh my goodness did we feel delicate the next morning. I saw Lucy off at 7am as she had a rowing race to get to (needless to say she wasn’t feeling quite up for it!) and I eventually managed to coax Hedd out of bed to start getting ready for Ian and Teresa’s Wedding. Ian and Teresa are Royal Chester Rowing friends again. Ian was the Boat Club Captain when I first joined RCRC and Teresa his long-term Aussie partner. They both did the Caledonian Crossing Challenge last year, which saw us all row across Scotland through the canals and lochs, and thats where they met Hedd and we discovered that perhaps our paths could cross in Sydney over their special day. And so it came about- an invite to a wedding in Sydney for 2 backpackers! At 10am we began our mission to Narrabean (North of Sydney, up the coast) which saw us catch a bus to Circular Quay, then a ferry across to Manley and then another bus to Rowland Reserve, Narrabean. In all it took us 3 hours! We were one of the first to the large catamaran where the floating ceremony was to take place and, as it began to shower, was ushered onto the boat by the celebrant called Mary to get out of the rain. At 13.30 the coach with the guests staying in Narrabean arrived along with the Grooms Party. So a bit about the Grooms Party outfits- they were in beige deck shoes, blue Chino’s, beige/off white linen shirts and then a beige and thin blue stripped linen blazer. Very nice and wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in the Stewards enclosure at Henley Regatta! I soon spotted Laura, Andy and Steve- the other RCRC guests and rushed out to greet them. It was so lovely but equally so bizarre to see them , at a wedding, on the other side of the world, after 5 months of not seeing them every week! We managed to catch up on news before heading onto the boat for the arrival of the bridal party. The bridal party arrived in a blue and cream stretched VW camper van. Oh my goodness it was too cool for school! And Teresa looked absolutely stunning in an off white satin halterneck dress with fitted body and full chiffon skirt, with a delicate lace bolero. Her hair was big and pinned back with dramatic eye makeup and daring red lipstick. The flowers were devine- pastel blue pansies and cream roses. I would say the theme was 1950’s chic vintage drama, and the whole thing was gorgeous! With everyone on board we set sail to a pretty cove to moor up and start the wedding ceremony. There was a string quartet and they played as Teresa and her 2 grown up daughters, the bridesmaids, walked down the aisle. They both looked so happy and in love. They said beautiful vows- not the traditional religious one. There was a line about “my arms being your home”  and such like- lovely! Then Emma, Ian’s daughter, read a poem and then Ian read a tear jerking reading about Teresa being the best of him. Then it was the giving of rings, the kiss and the couple signed the register to the band playing ‘All you Need is Love’. All in all a great, down to earth, personal ceremony. There were nibbles and drinks at the free bar as the photographer organised us all into the various groups for the photos. We braved the top deck for those as the showers had died down. And then we set sail for the marina and during the journey we had the speeches- Erin, chief bridesmaid and Teresa’s oldest daughter; Steve, best man and my ‘Chester Dad’ from RCRC; and Ian, groom saying his thanks. We got back to the marina around 4pm and all had a group shot outside the boat before the whole wedding party got whisked off in the stretched VW camper for more official photos. All us guests got back on the bus and got dropped off at the bar just down the road from the evening reception which was to start at 6pm. After being so careful with my dress the whole day, the destruction of the dress began as the velcro from my rain jacket pulled and puckered the chiffon over-layer of my skirt on the bus- oh dear, at least it survived the ceremony! At 6pm we managed to blag ourselves a ride in the VW camper limo to the evening reception as it had started to pour down with rain. Plus it was too good an opportunity to miss- very very cool wedding transportation! Then we were at Narrabean Surf Club enjoying yet another free bar! Steve, bless him, had brought the Royals flag with him from Chester and had put it up in the venue, so when Lucy had arrived all us Royals had a picture underneath it with the bride and groom. And the night continued with many more glasses of champagne, more yummy finger food and dancing to the live band. Hedd made the mistake of switching to the red wine and soon got the nickname ‘Disaster Boy’ as he fell asleep in a chair as the night came to an end! Lucy very kindly saw that we all arrived back to her flat safe and sound at the end of a great day.

04.03.12 will only be known to us, Hedd especially, as the day after the night before! I joined Lucy on the sofa with copious cups of tea and movies from 10am. Hedd didn’t rise from the horizontal position until 3pm! We said our goodbyes to Lucy and ventured out once more to navigate ourselves to Narrabean where we were staying with the rest of the royals gang for the rest of our time in Australia. This time though we didn’t bother with the ferry and just 2 uncomfortable bus journeys later (in our hung over state) we arrived at Ian and Teresa’s apartment right on Narrabean Beach. It was an absolutely stunning spot and we couldn’t quite believe our luck as we dumped our rucksacks in our room stepping out on our personal balcony overlooking the ocean! BBQ for dinner and plenty of reminiscing over the events of yesterday and Royals banter about Hedd and his antics with the red wine! Being apart of the Royals extended family for nearly 2 years, he was used to such ribbing! We slumped into bed at 11.30pm still feeling delicate but looking forward to our day of sailing the next morning.

We woke up to the sound of the ocean, a mere 50 meters from us. Such a gorgeous way to wake up. After showering, breakfast and putting our sea legs on, we all drove to Church Point Marina for our day of sailing on Ian and Teresa’s yacht. Debbie- another Royals lady had just flown into Sydney that morning and met us straight from the airport at the marina too for the day sailing! Very impressive stamina! So our boat was called Wind Maiden- 40 ft, 3 cabin boat, worth $225,000, and Ian and Teresa were trusting us lot to sail it! We got loaded up with drinks, food and bodies and then pushed off from the marina. My first job was to collect in the buoys and then I was on the head sail port side windlass with Debbie, pulling in or letting out as we tacked and jibed our way out and around the estuary. The weather was stunning; clear blue skies, warm and sunny. Almost a shame that the weather didn’t come a day earlier for Ian and Teresa’s wedding but Teresa didn’t mind as she said she would have been too hot in her dress else. Where we were sailing was also beautiful- pretty little bays, high top hills and we even passed the beach and little town that is used to film Home & Away! Hedd got a go at steering and, after almost tipping us all in by over-steering on the jibs, got the hand of it and quite fancied himself as a skipper! By the time we had reached Refuge Bay- our lunch stop- my arms felt like they had had a good workout. We enjoyed a lovely meat and salad lunch, washed down of course with a beer. After a while relaxing on the boat we all got our swimmers on, jumped off the boat and swam to the beach at Refuge Bay. There was a waterfall at the beach and we all enjoyed a neck and back massage as the water thundered on top of us as we stood underneath it. It was then time to swim back to the boat and set sail back towards the marina. None of us had any concept of time and we were surprised that it was as late as 4.30pm when we got back to Church Point. We dropped Hedd and Debbie off at this point as Hedd’s back was feeling tender and Debbie was just exhausted from her flight, and took on board 3 other crew members who actually knew how to sail. Which was a really good thing as now we were going to take part in a race, Ian as skipper and Andy, Teresa and I crewing along with the 3 experts. I was on the port side head sail windlass again with Andy this time and Teresa was on the main sail. It was a handicapped race with different categories going off at different times with the intention that we would all finish together (mayhem!). There were 25 boats in our category but over 100 boats in total taking part, which made for a fab sight as we all set sail with the sun slowly setting. Our race began at 5.30pm and Ian did really well steering us into good wind giving us an ace start. At the start and around the 2 markers we had to go around were the most exciting parts as all the boats bunch together and jostle for the best position. It was funny how some sections of the race could be slow-paced and calm as the wind drops and then the very next minute be so rapid and frantic as we get a gust and try to go the most with it. Very exciting and definitely wet my appetite for getting into sailing much more when I get home. The whole event lasted about 2 hours which went by in a blink of an eye, and we got back to the flat after stowing the boat after 8pm. BBQ again for dinner and we all headed to bed happily tired after a full and jammed packed day of sailing.

I couldn’t quite believe it when my alarm went off at 5.15am the next day. But it was indeed time for me to get up and get ready for my early morning outing with Mosman Rowing Club. All rowing occurs super early in Sydney as that is when the weather is coolest and also so people can row before work. So that’s where I found myself, in a car with Ian, Debbie and Andy at 5.30am off to Spit Point for an outing on the flooded river bed there. We decided to go out in a quad and Ian put me at stroke with the responsibility of setting the rhythm and steering! Needless to say I had a furrowed brow come the end after all the concentration. We were on the water by 6.15am with lights on our boat to guide the way as it was still dark. We sculled to Sugarloaf Bay on the still lake like water watching the sun come up as we rowed, enjoyed the views of the limestone rock sides and mangrove forests, and then rowed back to the club. We were all finished, boated packed away and ready for a cuppa at the cafe across the road by 7.45am! By the time we were back at the flat at 8.15am, it felt like I’d already been up and active for half a day…a very efficient workout and a super experience! After a bit of Africa travel planning, Hedd and I ventured out into Sydney city on the bus to do some sightseeing. We wandered down to Circular Quay and along to the area called The Rocks where we were afforded with a great view of both the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. We sat on a bench admiring the view as we ate our homemade sandwiches. There was an absolutely ginormous cruise ship too in the harbour and we both reflected how terrifying it must have been on that Italian cruise liner that sunk last month. After lunch we strolled back around the harbour to the Opera House and booked ourselves onto the 1pm $35 Sydney Opera House Tour which was a 90 minute tour inside the building and around the theatres. Our guide was really knowledgable, explaining the architecture of the building and all about the acoustics. We saw inside the 2 drama theatres and also 1 of the 2 big Halls. Not the Opera Hall though, the Concert Hall; I think we would have had to have been on the $100 tour to see inside the Opera Theatre! As we were in the Concert Hall, Sydney Symphony Orchestra were rehearsing so we got to stand and listen to them which was a big bonus. They sounded wonderful. We also got to go out onto one of the Opera House’s Balconies which had a stunning view of the Harbour Bridge. The tour ended with a film all about the Opera House’s history and construction which was super interesting…. The Opera House design was selected in a global competition. Many of the designs were boring boxes but this one guy- Jørn Utzon- from Denmark submitted an extremely rough pencil stretch of a building of waves. His design was dismissed originally. But one member of the judging panel was late in arriving and insisted on reviewing all the previously dismissed designs. On seeing Utzon’s sketch he proclaimed him the winner. However that original build time of 3 years and 9 million budget was a complete under-estimate and many more years and millions later and a change of Australian government resulted in Utzon being squeezed out of the project before its completion. Utzon never actually visited the Opera House, his life’s work and crowing accomplishment, after it was finished. Very sad story. The Sydney Opera House is the 2nd most globally recognised image after the MacDonald’s Golden Arches, so Utzon achieved his original design brief of creating an iconic building for Australia. After the tour we grabbed a cold drink and sat on the Opera House promenade enjoying the sunshine and the view. We met up with Lucy and Steve late afternoon to have a goodbye drink and thank Lucy again for putting us up, and then Steve, Hedd and I took the 50 minute bus back to Narrabean together. We got back at 7pm just in time to freshen up and go for a ‘last supper’ as a gang of royals before we all flew off to our various different locations the next day. We were sharing an airport taxi with Laura and Sophie, who were going off to NZ, early the next morning so we said goodbye and a massive thank you to Ian and Teresa that evening. By the time we had packed and tidied up it was midnight and we crashed into bed trying not to think about the fact that we had to be up just 5 hours later!

6am pick up, 1 1/2 hour journey and $74 dollars lighter we all arrived at Sydney airport international departures. We said our goodbyes to Laura and Sophie and gave them some last-minute tips on NZ, before checking in for our flight to Cape Town and the start of our final leg of the trip. I couldn’t believe we were at our last continent already but any sadness was soon replaced by excitement at the prospect of visiting my favourite place, Africa, once again.

 Sydney in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Rain on the big day, but sunshine on the whole
  • Food= Yummy food in miniature at the wedding and a lot of BBQs!
  • Drink= Champagne Bellini’s and too much red wine for Hedd!
  • Damage caused by the Royals reunion= Surprisingly none
  • Favourite Day= Hard to pick, the wedding and the day of sailing were equally superb

Hedd’s (not so wise) words of wisdom!:

At every wedding there has to be someone who get’s a bit over excited, drinks too much and makes a bit of a fool of themselves. It’s almost a certainty. Unfortunately, at Ian and Theresa’s wedding that was me. A combination of drinking all day, a free bar (having been on such a strict budget for over 4 months) and some not so wise words when referring to the Shiraz provided at the free bar. I shall certainly never profess that I can “drink this stuff all night” ever again. That being said, before I got too drunk and fell asleep I had a wonderful time at what was the most laid back and fun wedding I have ever attended. The ceremony, on a boat was a first for me and was such a beautiful setting and very fitting for the happy couple. I want to say congratulations to Ian and Theresa, to wish them all the best for the future, to thank them for their hospitality and to promise that next time we meet, I shall stay away from the red wine!!

A Weekend in Melbourne, Australia

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I still don’t get cricket!

After pondering how my rucksack had gained 2 kilo’s, enjoying a reasonable 3 1/2 hour flight to Sydney with Meryl Streep as the Iron Lady for company, and then a quick commuter flight to Melbourne we arrived at our first port of call in Australia. We were staying in West Melbourne in Miami Hotel and a bargain $17 SkyBus took us there where we crashed into bed after a long day travelling.

Saturday 18th Feb and our first day of exploring the city. We picked up some supplies and made, what has now become customary, cheese and relish sandwiches and then headed down Spencer Street to pick up the River Yarra for a leisurely stroll to Federation Square- the cities main plaza. Being a weekend there were plenty of rowers out on the water which I took great pleasure at watching (/scrutinising…they were novice crews!) Federation Square is known as ‘the place to meet’ but really its just a big square! They did have a Sustainable Living Exhibition on though so there was lots of stalls pushing all things ethical and green which was interesting to browse through. Plus there were nice deck chairs in the sun to eat our sandwiches for lunch. But my goodness was it hot!

We continued the fight against desiccation during a stride to the MCG- Melbourne Cricket Ground. And it is within this massive oval structure where we attempted to  educate ourselves in the sport of cricket, buying a bargain $10 Domestic One Day Cup Match ticket, Victoria vs South Australia. We didn’t get off to a great start, choosing to sit in level 1 (padded seats you see) and in the shade. The atmosphere up there was nill and it was cold and we found ourselves dozing off with just a big cold gust of wind waking us up each time! So we decided to head downstairs to ground level to sit in the sun with more people around us. Still not a huge amount of atmosphere, just not enough of a crowd, but the pints of cider and snacks helped us get into the game more. This sustained us for 12 overs, 1 1/2 hours of play. And then we just lost the enthusiasm to live again, but agreed to stick it out to 25 overs- 1/4 of the game. We were rewarded with 1 catch out! So 25 overs came and we made a quick exit, agreeing that we were more 20-20 people than the die-hard fans that are able to endure 100 overs. 100 overs! Goodness me, they are blessed with more patience than me!

We walked from the MCG over the river to the very lovely looking boathouse’s that line the Yarra River. This also gave me a chance to sneak a look into see what boats they had- all top of the range Filippi and Empachers, very nice. Before I got caught for snooping we continued our stroll along the river to Southbank- a fancy area full of bars and restaurants. As we mooched about with our ice creams we had just purchased, it struck us both that Melbourne would be an ace city to live in in your 20’s and 30’s if you earned enough to enjoy its cosmopolitan chilled hide aways. It had a very compelling chilled out yet lively vibe which we liked. Crossing the river again at Kings Street we hopped onto the City Circle Tram which is a vintage style tram which goes right around the city with a little commentary pointing out the key sites you are passing along the way…and its free-woop! We went along Harbour Esplanade, past the Etihad Stadium to New Quay and the Waterfront City Docklands and then back into the City to Spencer Street where we hopped off to walk back to our hotel. Sausage salad for tea which we cooked in the hotels little kitchen then bed; pleased with ourselves that we’d done a lot with our first day in the city.

It’s all kicking off this morning in Canberra with a potential leadership challenge, Julia Gillard vs Kevin Rudd. We watched the GMTV equivalent news program with interest with our wheetabix and both agreed that the whole thing was ridiculous. She’s no Maggie Thatcher but by the sounds she not doing a bad job. Today we headed to the beach- St Kilda to be precise which in South of the city along the coast. We caught the city circle tram again and completed the loop passing Flagstaff gardens, the State Library of Victoria and Parliament House; hopping off at Federation Square to catch the number 16 tram to St Kilda. (Top tip- buy a Sunday Saver travel card at Finders Station to get unlimited travel for $3.50…bargain!) After around a 20 minute tram ride we arrived in St Kilda- a very bohemian place full of artist and musicians. Every Sunday a market fills the Esplanade selling arts and craft items and I enjoyed browsing the stalls before we headed to St Kilda Pier- the site of many Royal visits apparently back in the day. At dawn and dusk you also may get a sight of the St Kilda Penguins; at 11am all we saw were their droppings!

As we strolled back along the pier we spied a load of coloured tents and flags further down the beach front so we skipped off to check it out. Turns out it was the National Beach Volleyball Series Melbourne Tournament and there was a grand stand and volleyball courts all laid out. The event

was sponsored by Garnier so as we walked through the event we got loads of free samples of shampoo, moisturiser, makeup and deodorant which I loved! Then we sat on a massive Garnier branded bean bag to watch the volleyball tournament in the glorious sunshine. And all for free, we couldn’t believe our luck! First up was the Men’s Semi Finals, then a celebrity match and then came the Women’s Final. It was great fun and the commentators were brilliant and we had a constant supply of ice-cold ice tea for free from the Lipton Stand. It must have shown that we were having an ace time as we got snapped by the Garnier photographer to be uploaded to their website! After whiling away the afternoon we walked back to the Esplanade and caught a crammed number 16 tram back to the city. Picked up a can of baked beans on the way home for a cheapo student dinner and enjoyed it watching Harry Potter on the telly. All in all an ace and inexpensive day in the city.

Monday 20th and time to say bye to Melbourne as we caught a taxi back towards the airport to pick up our Hippie camper van to start our Aussie road trip. The Great Ocean Road here we come…!

Melbourne in a snapshot:

  • Weather=Hot, hot, hot- 30 degrees plus + 20 minute burn time
  • Food=Cheese and relish sandwiches
  • Drink=Freebie Lipton Ice Tea
  • Free internet discovery= Peter Pans Adventure Travel Office on Elizabeth Street
  •  Team Gillard or Team Rudd= Team Gillard
  • Look out for…=…free festivals, sporting events, exhibitions- this cities full of them!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

I was really looking forward to Melbourne. I’d heard a lot of good things, great food, great nightlife…but unfortunately when you’re a traveller low on funds and eating beans on toast of dinner – Melbourne isn’t that great. On the Saturday we went to a cricket match. This is the first time I’ve ever been to a cricket match and it will probably be my last, it was so, so bloody boring. It was only really enjoyable when we shared our one cider – we left after 25 overs (about half way through the game – couldn’t stand any more!). Now, on the Sunday we went to St Kilda and enjoyed a lovely free day courtesy of the Garnier and Lipton Ice Tea sponsored volley ball tournament. Now this was fun, and before you say it not because it was girls in skimpy outfits (Volley Ball girls are too skinny and have no curves anyway!!). The men’s match that we watched was an enthralling match that went the whole distance to the 3rd set. I had no idea it was such a physically demanding game. Much more entertaining than the cricket and it was free, which as someone who’s been travelling for over 4 months now, you really appreciate the free things in life!

South Islands North Coast- Picton and Abel Tasman

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Welcome to the Stray Bus!

So after cramming all of our stuff into our backpacks again (previously strewn all over a rental car!) we took the $2 shuttle bus to the InterIslander ferry terminal for our 08.25am crossing to Picton- the gateway to NZ’s  South Island. We got an ace seat in the ‘atrium’- floor to ceiling window seating area- at the back of the boat and sat back for 3 hours and enjoyed the ride. The Marlborough Sounds is a flooded sea valley so has lots of little islands which the boat cruised around. Very beautiful ride and it was sunny- yey! We got in at 11.30am and was greeted by a Sequoia Lodge shuttle bus which took us to our hostel for the night. The hostel was nice enough, but best of all they gave all guests free hot chocolate pudding and ice cream each night. It was yum! We just chilled out in Picton for the day and enjoyed the sunshine. Hedd got his hair cut and went from looking like part yeti to an army recruit with short back and sides! Oops!

Next morning it was time to meet up with the our transport for the next 3 1/2 weeks- The Stray Bus. So Stray is a backpacker bus which drives you around, you can hop on and off, it guarantees you hostel accommodation for your first night in places and stops off at some cool places along the way. There are lots of different passes you can buy. But we were on the Short Ron. The map opposite shows the route. And today (25th) we were traveling to Abel Tasman- NZ’s smallest national park but the second most visited after Tongariro National Park. There were 24 of us on the bus and our driver was called Ms P. Quite a few of the people had been on the bus together since Auckland so there was a bit of a click on the go but everyone was nice enough. It was Ms P’s first time driving such a big coach and she took the corners pretty sharp so the tummy muscles got a good work out trying to keep myself in my seat! It was weird not knowing where exactly we were going, or stopping or how long we were going to be driving for after being so independent in North Island. But equally it was nice not driving and just going with the flow. Plus there is not many roads in South Island so if we had rented a car we would have just ended up behind a Stray bus anyway; so might as well be on it! So the first drive towards Nelson was through the Marlborough wine region which was very pretty. Marlborough is the biggest wine exporting region in NZ and they have gravelly soil great for grape growing just like Hawkes Bay. We made our first stop at Bouldevines Wine Celler near Blenheim to do a wine tasting. We tasted 4 whites for $2 and bought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to have with our free BBQ that night that Stray was putting on for us. After tasting some fudge and different oils and chutneys it was back on the bus. We dropped some people off at Nelson and then continued forward through a place called Havelock which is a little town known for its green lipped mussels which they farm in the Sounds. Then it was onwards to Motueka- the last town before the National Park for a supermarket dash. Apparently Motueka is the one place Hippies and Farmers get on. The town used to be known for tobacco production but now they just grow hops for beer (and marijuana for the hippies!) It was just another 20 minutes to get to Marahau- the village just by the entrance of Abel Tasman National Park and where we would be staying for the next 3 nights. We were booked into The Barn in a little 2 person cabin which was very lovely and enjoyed a great BBQ that evening with the gang from the bus.

Next morning we decided to rent Freedom Sea Kayaks for the day ($55). We went with Independent Guides based at the hostel next door called Old McDonald Farm and Mitch, the owner, kitted us up, ran through a safety briefing and a quick lesson in kayaking before taking us and our kayaks down to the beach. We had to show we were semi-competent in the water (tick box exercise because Hedd and I passed and we were complete crap!) and then Mitch let us roam free!  Oh my goodness it was awful! We tried to paddle out and around Fisherman Island- absolutely over ambitious at our ability- and gave up half way as Hedd’s back was hurting, my shoulder was hurting and plainly it was exhausting! Hedd was setting the rhythm, although he would be the first to admit he has little, and I was attempting to steer with a rudder attached to foot loops that I had to almost dislocate my ankles to operate. All in all a frustrating time! But we made it around the first headland and beached at Appletree Bay, relieved to be out of the plastic prison that was our Kayak! Okay okay that was melodramatic, and after a sandwich, cereal bar and a sunbathe we ‘manned up’ and got back in the kayak. The going was still tough but we actually began to enjoy it as we kept close to the coastline looking at all the different bays. We made it to the end point for a 1 day freedom kayak called Watering Bay; surprising ourselves that we made it; and then headed back stopping at Observation Bay for our last sandwich and apple. The beach rivalled any beach we saw in Fiji- white sands and the water clear aquamarine. Although the water unfortunately was about 10 degrees cooler than the bath waters of Fiji. From Observation Beach we then made the long paddle home to Marahau beach. The favourable wind Mitch had promised us had not materialised and the trip home was long, hard and frustrating. We eventually dragged our kayak onto shore at 4pm, supporting the various bits of our body that ached. Semi pleased we did it as we got to see some of the bays in the National Park that are only accessible from the sea, but not for me sea kayaking I don’t think!

So the 27th January saw us exploring the rest of the park via water taxi and by foot. We got picked up from The Barn at 9am and taken to Aqua Taxi HQ to board our boat there which was on a trailer on the back of a tractor! This then tugged us to the beach for launch. You can imagine the chinese photo snappers loved that sight as we drive along the road to the beach! We had gone for a 1 day trip called the ‘Slice of Paradise’ where we would travel the length of the park to Mutton Cove and then back to Barks Bay where we would get dropped off and walk the 4 hours to Anchorage to be picked up again and taken back to Marahau. Our skipper whisked us off in our speed boat to see our first sight- the Split Apple Rock. Legend has it that it was broken clean in half by Captain Cook as he sailed past and shot at it with a cannon ball. Reality is a that it is young granite and full of iron which caused it to split in half after the impact of years of wind, rain and waves. We then zoomed off again passing Fisherman Island and settling by Adele Island to view Observation Beach. The whole area and the names of things have a lot to do with an explorer called Dumont d’Urville. He was the first European to spend much time in Abel Tasman back in the 1800’s and sort to complete Cooks charting of New Zealand. Story is that he got a bit friendly with a Maori lady whilst here and out of guilt for his wife back in France, named an island after her- Adele Island. Observation Beach is called such, as it is the beach from which Dumont d’Urville used the stars and super clever maths to locate NZ on the globe for the first time. His longitude and latitude positions were so good that they were used up until the 1960’s when they were then replaced with the coordinates from the satellites up in space. Worked out that Dumont d’Urville’s was only 2 km out! Fair flipping play! We then zoomed off again up the coast, stopping at Tonga Island to see the seal colony there. The seals were pretty lazy and our skipper told us they actually wait for the tide to rise to them instead of moving themselves to bath! We then continued to Totoranui and then right up to Mutton Cove at the top tip of the National Park. We saw Separation Point which is a headland with a little lighthouse on it and marks the point where the park ends and Golden Sandy Bay begins. We saw seals again and a wild boar. Then we turned back towards Barks Bay. On the way we saw Dusky Dolphins! Very unusual to see them as they are quite shy and smaller than the bottle nose dolphin. But they have lovely markings on them and 2 of them same up close. Our skipper was even chuft that he got to see them. Our last detour before Barks Bay was to a place called Shag Harbour. Its only accessible by boat at high tide and we had to go through this tiny entrance and then we found ourselves in a blue lagoon. The water was so clear we saw a sting ray swimming at the bottom on the shallow waters. Very beautiful place.

We finally got dropped off at Barks Bay at 12 noon, 50 minutes later than planned after the pleasantly eventful water taxi trip up the National Parks coastline. We had some lunch on the beach and then headed off on the Abel Tasman Coastal Path. The DOC guideline walking times said 4 hours to Anchorage. We had 3 1/2 hours before our water taxi ride back to Marahau so we went set a storming pace as we walked through forested headlines and coast line hugging track. It really was a lovely track to walk. Our first stop was at South Head to check out the view-point 10 minutes off the track. Abel Tasman certainly is stunning- challenging Coromandel Peninsular as my favourite place in NZ for sure! Then we headed inland, up and over various headlands and the Falls River. The glimpses you got of the coast along the way were just beautiful. Especially Frenchman Bay which, as it was high-tide, was covered creating a turquoise/aquamarine lagoon (see the pic opposite). Gorgeous! And some lucky bugger had a house on it! Then we made our way to Torrent Bay and had a rest and a snack on the beach there. Torrent Bay is one of the few places in the park with holiday homes on it. It was private land which DOC allowed the people to keep after turning it into a National Park. Its only accessible by boat now as the December floods washed the access roads through the park away and DOC aren’t rebuilding them. Although I hear a lot of the owners have their own helicopters too so I can’t say they are too fussed! As it was high tide we had to take the long 1 hour route to Anchorage instead of the mere 20 minute beach stroll you can do at low tide! Nightmare! So we stormed it again around Torrent Bay and up and over the headland. We stopped off at Cleopatra’s Pool which is a clear pebbly stream which gushes over a rock making a slide. We had our swimmers on with the intention of trying out the natural slide. But alas no time so we settled for dipping our toes in the icy water. To get to the pool you had to cross the river using non submerged stones. Needless to say there was plenty of screams on my front. But no injury, accidents or falling in so all was good! We walked the last little bit and arrived at Anchorage at 3.50pm for our 4pm pick up. Perfect timing! Our skipper this time around didn’t hang about and we were back at Marahau being towed by tractor out of the sea before we knew it. The tractor took us back to HQ and then we caught a lift to The Barn with a Kayaking instructor (ironic!). All in all a great day in the National Park.

The sun had gone in and it was much colder than yesterday, so we showered, wrapped up warm, had tea and retired to bed with a book with our jumpers still on! Tomorrow was departure day on a new Stray Bus with new people again. But this time we were heading for the West coast…..

Picton and Abel Tasman in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Sunny woop woop! Top temperature 28 degrees but cold cold nights
  • Food= Spag bol (classic) and free chocolate pudding
  • Drink= Sav’ Blanc and L&P (NZ lemon drink)
  • Watch out for= Sandflies (the bites itch for days!)
  • Top activity to do if you’re looking for an argument= Sea Kayaking!
  • Proof that you only get what you pay for= Hedd’s short back and sides Picton haircut!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

Whenever I’ve seen people kayaking on rivers or on the sea, they’ve always looked so peaceful and I thought that looks like a nice leisurely way to spend a day. So when we were in Abel Tasman it seemed like a perfect opportunity to try it – the place is famed for kayaking. So here are my words of wisdom for anyone out there who thinks that taking their significant other for a day of kayaking would be a lovely way to spend the day together – DONT!! It is bloody hard work, can lead to bickering and can result in lots of swearing!! Ok, we may have enjoyed the bit in the middle, the gentle paddling between coves, but the paddling out there and most definitely the long stretch back to the shore was exhausting. So if your thinking about a romantic day on the water, kayaking might not be what you’re looking for!!

New Zealand North Island Road Trip- Coromandel Peninsula and Rotorua

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“The journey is the destination”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we were now getting used to the morning routine- up around 8am, shower in the communal block, breakie of wheetabix and a cuppa, pack up the tent and out of the campsite by 10am. We made our way south on route 1 back to Auckland, taking in the last stretch of the Twin Discovery Coast Road. All the roads in NZ are like our A roads at home- 1 lane each way- so getting on a multi-lane motorway around Auckland was a bit of a shock. But we made it through okay and then headed East towards the Coromandel Peninsula. Our aim was to get to Hot Water Beach on the East coast on the peninsula, but had some back up options just in case because of our experience with the super slow roads in the upper Northland region. But we got there in no time at all (2 1/2 hr from Auckland). The Coromandel Peninsula is gorgeous. Green forests and scenic coastline everywhere. There are a lot of advertisements along the side of the road trying to tempt the cosmopolitan business people of Auckland to buy a “Boat, Bach and Beach house” to “live the dream”. And you can see why. Its my favourite part of the North Island so far. There was only 1 campsite at Hot Water Beach (HWB) which was the ‘HWB Top 10 Holiday Park’. Not our favourite has to be said (absolutely packed with young families) but great location and we were pleased to be out of the car enjoying the sunny weather.  So  HWB…scalding water pulses out of the sand at low tide. I’m still not 100% how/why (hot spring underneath the beach?). But you can access the hot spring area to dig your very own hot water pool 2 hours before and after low tide. We had just missed low tide for that afternoon and as we had to make tracks south the next morning, we realised that to how our HWB experience we would have to get up for the 3.45am low tide the next morning! So we hired our spade from reception, set our alarm for 4.30am and got an early night.

We got down to the beach just after 5am, guided by our head torch through the wooded footpath. We followed our directions (turn left from footpath and find a hot bit in front of the rocks), and soon found a bit where steam was rising from the sand and we could feel the warmth even through our sandals. Needless to say we were the only crazy ones there at that time, so we had the beach all to ourselves which is rare by all accounts. By the time we had dug a pit the tide was pretty much on us. But we managed to dip our toes in the pool…it was boiling!…before the tide came and washed our efforts away. We were only there 15 mins really, and then made our way back to camp and back to bed for 2 hours. Not the greatest HWB experience but an experience all the same and we were pleased we had made the effort to do it!

After shower, breakie, pack the tent away (you know the score!) we made our way a little more north to Hahei to visit Cathedral Cove. From the carpark it is a 20 minute walk down to the beach. We got there by 10am which was great as it was still really quiet (it gets rammed by lunch time). The beach is a “wow” one- white sands, white rocks, sea caves, archways and waterfalls. We spent some time on the beach through the archway, but realised the tide was still coming in and we didn’t want to get stranded so we had to lift all our stuff over our heads and leg it back through the arch to the main beach…quite a funny sight! However in the frenzy, Hedd lost his second pair of sunglasses on the trip being hit sideways by a wave! I wonder how many pairs he’ll get through come the end of the 5 1/2 months! We braved the waterfall, which was freezing, and then headed into the sea to play amongst the waves. Before we knew it, these waves got enormous and we were being bashed about by them. In the end a huge one took Hedd and I under and spit us out at the shore with me frankly trying to put my bikini back on and Hedd nursing a nasty sand burn on his hip! We called it a day then, rinsing off under the waterfall and enjoying the sun on the beach. As the crowds began to come at mid day we headed back up the hill to the car, had lunch overlooking the stunning coast, and then headed back on the road south towards Rotorua.

So Rotorua as a city is a bit of a dump. The locals call it RotoVegas as its gambling its natural charms for a quick tourist buck. But Rotorua is the most geothermal area in NZ and the world (after Yellowstone, Iceland and Kamchatka), and smells like one too! The first thing we noticed when driving in Rotorua was the smell of eggs from the sulphur in the hot springs! We camped up at Kiwipackers near the centre of town but in the less smelly end, had tea and went to bed- we were exhausted after our 4.30am start!

So our full day in Rotorua (13th Jan) began with a visit to the Mud Pool just outside Rotorua in Waiotapu. Mudpools I discovered occur when steam condenses into water near the soil surface resulting in a acidic soup turning the surrounding rock into a soft mud that bubbles and burps as more steam and gas escapes. Geology lesson aside, the mud pools were really fun to watch as the belching holes flung mud burps at each other, hissing and spluttering and plopping as they went. We then continued on the Waiotapu loop road to Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. The pools are fed by the Te Manaroa spring which had the largest discharge of boiling water in NZ. From the boiling spring there is a network of terraces set up to cool the water so by the time they get in the pools the water is a cosy 34-39 degrees.  Plus its mineral water so no rotten egg sulphur smell here! The local community funded the thermal pools development too so it was a quite reasonable $18 entry.

After the pools we felt pretty wiped out, so headed back to camp to chill before our evening activities began- jam packed day! We got picked up at 6pm for our Mitai Maori Village experience which included a Hangi Dinner, and our night time Rainbow Springs tour. First thing we noticed when we got dropped off at the ‘village’ was the amount of people- loads of us! We had to cue to get into the holding pen, oh sorry the marque, and shown to our table for the evening. Our MC for the evening was funny, if a little odd, and asked everyone where they were from greeting each nation in their own language each time. Even Welsh! It was quite impressive. Worked out that we were a ‘tribe’ of 25 nations that evening. The massive ‘tribe’ got split up into 2  and got taken to see the Hangi meal. Traditionally the Maori food gets cooked underground in mud on hot stones. However health and safety means the ‘village’ can’t do this for mass catering so the food in just put in the hangi arrangement to keep it warm. A bit disappointing. We then got taken down to the small river to see the Maori warriors come in on a ancient war canoe. That was quite cool to see and they all made funny faces, wide eyed and tongues sticking out. Although some of the guys didn’t look too warrior to me…a bit too many take aways from down the road the ‘village chief’ later told us! We were then taken to an open air auditorium with a raised stage with a set up village on top of it to see the Maori concert. All the guys and girls were in traditional dress with painted faces, arms, legs and even bums! They performed lots of songs and dances for us and performed the Hacker at the end. It was fun to watch but completely contrived and I even caught some of the ‘Maori’s’ yawning during the show which was a bit sad to see. We all then headed back to the holding pen, ooh sorry marque, for the ‘Hangi’ meal. Far play to Mitai, the food was delicious- lamb, chicken, stuffing, roast sweet and normal potatoes, veg, salad, 4 choices of dessert….yum! After dinner the MC “to fill time”, told us some Maori stories which were actually really interesting and we both felt that there should have been more of that in the evening and not less. But alas no!

We were quite ready when the staff from the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park came to pick us up for the next part of the night. We went and saw the glow worms at the spring, twinkling in the dark. Then the guide took us around the park, showing us trout up close and lots of birds. The guide was super knowledgeable and passionate about animals and told us all about the plants we were passing and the animal sounds we were hearing in the night. But the highlight absolutely was the kiwi enclosure. They are nocturnal creatures so you have to come at night to see them. So at 9.30pm we were perfectly times and after around 10 mins of silently waiting, a kiwi came out to forage for bugs. Oh my goodness, these animals are cute! Hedd and I were right at the front and the kiwi kept on going around and around in circles foraging right in front of us so we got to see them up close. They are fluffy balls of features with beady eyes and a long cream beak and they are so cool! Seeing one so close made my night. So verdict on the evening- overpriced and contrived but perhaps the only way to experience Maori culture up close in Rotorua? I hope I’m wrong. But the kiwi encounter topped it all by far!

Coromandel Peninsula and Rotorua in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot and sunny on Coromandel Peninsula. Showery and a bit cold in Rotorua.
  • Food= Wheetabix breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and anything on toast for tea!
  • Drink= Cider and Kiwi ‘L&P lemon and lime drink’
  • Car snack of choice= Mint Imperials
  • Coolest animal encountered so far on this trip= THE KIWI!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

The drive to the Coromandel was fun, we twisted and turned through a forest for what seemed like forever before emerging on the east coast. The coastline looked lovely and I wish we had spend more time there. We only had 1 night and half a day but we crammed a lot into that time. Getting up at 4am to go to hot water beach was a bit farcical and set the tone for the rest of the day, where I ended up getting robbed and beaten up by the sea at Cathedral Cove. Yes, you heard me, the SEA! Bloody waves first they knocked my sunglasses off my head, then they knocked me off my feet. I’ve never been dragged under by the current before, quite scary and painful as I slammed against the sand and suffered quite a bad “sand burn”. But despite this, I loved the Coromandel area and would go back there again for round 2 with the sea!!

I was planning to rant and rave about our time in Rotorua next, but as this is supposed to be a short section I’ll just say this: If you want to learn about the Mauri people, don’t go visit any Mauri villages in Rotorua, go to a museum or talk to the locals, save your money. The show we went on was tourism at its worse, fake, crammed with “typical tourists” and far too expensive! It made me very grateful for our authentic village visits Fiji. That being said, the lamb they served was very good!

Island Living- The Yasawa’s, Fiji

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Last year I spent New Years on the Island of Anglesea, Wales; this year I was on an Island in the Yasawa’s, Fiji…not a bad jump I’d say!

So my boxing day 2011 was spent on a flight to Nadi, Fiji (pronounced Nandi…I don’t know why!) to spend 10 days touring the Yasawa Islands, North West of the mainland. We got into out hostel in Nadi late afternoon and went straight to the beach. Not often I spend boxing day swimming in bath water warm seas; it was a welcome change! The next morning we set off for the Yasawa’s- a chain of volcanic islands varying from larger islands with steep hills and lovely lagoons, to tiny low-lying island which you can walk around in 10 minutes. We were travelling on a package called the Ultimate Lai from Awesome Adventures company and it was great that everything was organised for us so we didn’t have to think too much and could have a bit of a break from independent travel. The islands are accessed by a fast catamaran (ours was called Cheeta) and it was a bumpy ride! Bowts of sea sickness were unwelcomingly frequent as we travelled to the very north island of the Yasawa’s called Nacula and our first stop on our tour….

Nabula Lodge, Nacula Island- 27.12.11- 29.12.11

My goodness were we thankful to get on solid (well solid’ish, it is sand after all!) land after 6 hours of a swaying catamaran! I felt like I was a contestant on ‘Shipwrecked’ as I jumped into the little water taxi to take us the rest of the way and wadded through the sea to the shore of our first Fijian island. The resort on the face of it was shabby chic but the staff were so welcoming. We just made it into the dining room just off the beach when the rain started. And when it rains, it pours in the Yasawa’s as we were to discover over the next couple of days! In a brief intermission in the wet weather we got shown to our ‘Bure’- a traditional Fijian hut with wooden sides and a straw roof- which we would call home for 2 nights. It had a lovely little veranda out front and was right by the beach. We chilled on the covered veranda watching the rain until dinner time, which was announced with the banging of the ‘Laili’ (a wooden drum) which seems to be the form of notification for all sorts of things…meetings, weddings, christenings etc etc. Food was basic but perfectly edible and accompanied by sneaky swigs of Archers and lemonade that we sneaked onto the island from duty-free! After dinner was BULA time, basically an excuse for the staff to get us up and “shake what your mumma gave you” (i quote!), even Hedd! The weather still hadn’t improved come the next day but we caught the water taxi to a nearby island to go caving. The first limestone cave was an open ceiling cave with a pool 10-15 meters deep. We then had to dive underwater and swim through a tunnel to get to the inner closed ceiling cave. The tunnel entrance was a deep dive to get into and really dark. There was a guide on either end shining a torch and you just had to take a deep breath and go for it. It was a relief once you reached the surface on the other side I tell you. The inner cave was really cool and the guide got us singing and shouting so we could hear the echo’s. He also said you haven’t been to the Yasawa’s until you have visited this cave so that’s that one ticked then! We had sun by that afternoon so we made the most of it and went to Blue Lagoon beach to snorkel. I didn’t have fins through and cut my feet on coral so we ended up just chilling on the beach after!  That night was our first encounter of the local hallucinogenic drink called ‘kava’. It is made in a big bowl filled with water, where the server puts a ground root called kava in a muslin bag and then infuses the water with it like you do with tea. The result in a dirty dish water looking drink! And it doesn’t taste much better than it looks like…like your drinking soapy muddy water! Before you take the drink you have to clap once and shout BULA, then you have to down it and then clap 3 times and say vinaka. If you want a small amount you say ‘low tide’ and a large amount ‘high tide’. We got given a ‘tsunami’ bowl which was massive and full to the brim! I managed 1 tsunami and 2 high tides before calling it a day. Yuk! The next morning  we took a trip to the local village (1 of 4 on the island). We had to cover our shoulders and knees and I was baking! The village was made up of 4 tribes (family groups- grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousin etc) and was headed by the Chief who is the authority before the Police in the village, and in charge of preserving order and tradition. We got to meet the chief and ask him questions. We then got to meet some of the villagers and have a tour of their houses. The trip cost $5 each which is kept collectively to renew grey water butts and fund the education of the children of the village. Education is compulsory in Fiji from 6-12 years old and the children of the village have to board at a school 3 hours boat ride away. They have to go to Nadi (the main land) for secondary school. And I complained about the 30 minute walk to Devonport High in my school days (in my defence it was up hill most of the way!)

Korovou Resort, Naviti Island- 29.12.11- 30.12.11

So that afternoon we said bye to Nabula Lodge and got back on the fast catamaran to our next island and resort 1 hour away called Korovou. From the boat the resort look gorgeous- sweeping white sandy beach with hammocks hanging inbetween the palm trees. We were in a Bure by the sea again and had our own steps down to the beach. Before dinner we walked over the headland through a mini forest (avoiding the many gecko’s on route), to reach Honeymoon beach on the other side. My goodness it was pretty. Aquamarine waters and white white sand. When we arrived the beach was empty so we renamed it Hedd and Helen beach and enjoyed an afternoon at our own private beach! BULA time on this island involved us playing bowling using water bottles for pins and a coconut for the bowling ball! I was just as bad as I am at home with bowling and the girls side inevitably lost to the boys, resulting in a forfeit of dancing to All the Single Ladies, Beyonce, for the boys- very embarrassing! 

Waya Lailai Eco Resort, Waya Lailai Island- 30.12.11- 02.01.12

After 1 night in Korovou we were off again to our 3rd island called Waya Lailai. This island was my favourite and was incredibly pretty, with a lovely beach and a huge white rock rising up in the background (you can see it in the pic opposite). After a chilled evening getting to know the resort (i.e. lying in hammocks and trying a few of their cocktails!), the next morning (new years eve) we went on a snorkeling trip to a deep water reef to swim with the reef sharks. My snorkel was broken so I ended up just holding my breath which defeats the object slightly! But the reef was great and the guide had some fish for bait so the reef sharks came up really close. It wasn’t too scary as they are not that big, 1 1/2 meter long and 1/5 meter wide, but I did slightly freak out when one touched my leg and ended up sputtering out sea water at the surface! That lunch time we went with the staff to their annual new years staff picnic to a little island around the side of the island. The food was all laid out of banana leaves and they had a big huskies ice cooler full of drinks; it was a pretty cool way to spend new years eve afternoon. Then it was back for a quick shower (cold- no hot water on the Yasawa’s), to get ready for new years eve celebrations 2011-12. After dinner we were all given free bubbly and taken to the field for a show of BULA dancing and Fijian tradition. They guys danced with fans and Fijian weapons, wooping and clapping as they went. The wife of the resort owner also talked us through some Fijian traditions and showed us traditional dress (sarongs, or ‘sure’s’). The staff choir also came together to sing some of the traditional songs of the islands. It sounded like Ladysmith Black Mambazo group but with more clapping and slightly more smile in the singing. They then got us dancing with the men (who are incredible buff for people who have a slow pace of life!) before heading back to the bar for more complimentary bubbly and snacks as we waited for 12 o’clock. When midnight came, we got all in a circle and shouted the countdown and then it was all handshakes and kisses wishing everyone a Happy New Year, and of course more bubbly! Hedd and I wondered down to the beach to speak to family and watch the first 2012 waves. I fell on the only concrete steps in a whole resort of sand and cut my knee…not that I was too fussed as I continued to speak to Mum without a pause! It hurts now though! We spent the next day chilling in hammocks and drinking plenty of water. I got a massage on the beach which was so relaxing and we went swimming in the sea. The next morning (2nd) we got up at 5am to walk to the summit (‘the big white rock) to watch sun rise. Our guide had got a bit drunk on Kava and beer the night before so we didn’t set off until 5.45am after one of our group woke him up with a torch! It was still pitch black and the stars were spectacular as we set off up the hill guided by our half asleep/hungover guide and head torches. We reached the top just after the sun broke the horizon. It was a little cloudy but the sun turned the clouds a vivid orange which was very pretty. This was the last day on Waya Lailai and we made the most of it. That morning we took a water taxi and got drop off at the sand bar which joins Waya (big island) with Waya Lailai (small island). On the sand bar the waves crashed onto it from both sides which made for great fun running along the bar and playing chicken with the waves. I felt like I was on ‘Ultimate Wipe Out’, just needed Hammonds witty, yet so scripted, commentary! After getting picked up and having lunch, we went to the village to learn how to weave with the dried leaves the locals use to make ‘carpet’ and jewellery etc. I made a bracelet and Hedd even weaved a bookmark (he was incredibly proud of his efforts!) 

Beachcomber Resort, Beachcomber Island- 02.01.12- 03.01.12 

So Beachcomber Island was our last island on the tour. Fondly known locally as the ‘party island’, we stepped off onto the island feeling as though we had stumbled into a 18-30 holiday crossed with Freshers week! After grabbing a quick dinner and some cocktails we settled down to watch the first (of many) organised drinking games of the night…the boat race. Mightily funny when you’re not involved, especially as the teams had to dance to their favourite song before starting, and our friend Liz was in one of the teams so we cheered her on. As the band started up again singing the Beachcomber Song, where the lyrics are “At Beachcomber, where the girls are easy and the guys are hard”, we decided perhaps we were quite tired after our 4.45am atart and should escape to bed!

The next morning we walked around the island which took 7 minutes (!), before heading onto our Seaspray Day Sailing Adventure on a big ship with sails (aka a schooner). It was all-inclusive day, so as soon as we got on board the Champagne was out which I enjoyed sipping from my plastic cup as we set sail from Mana Island towards Mondriki Island where they filmed the Castaway movie. The island is tiny and uninhabited (due to lack of fresh water and flat land) and the ‘HELP ME’ sign in the sand is still there. I managed to dive quite gracefully off the boat and snorkel about for an hour or so, seeing lots of different colourful fish, before heading back on board for BBQ lunch, which was yum! The early afternoon was whiled away drinking more bubbly and listening to the staff play on their guitars. We then stopped off at Yanuya Island where we visited the village and had Kava with the chief…I only had a low tide this time! We then headed up to the school and the library, watched the locals play a peculiar version of rounders (with pieces of 4×4 and coconut shells!) and finished off at the shell market before getting the little boat back to our big boat, ‘Seaspray’. From Mana Island, where we started, we got dropped off to catch the fast catamaran back to Nadi, arriving to the mainland early evening. All in all an ace day (plus managed to smuggle a full bottle of wine off the ship)!

After an overnight stay at Nadi Bay Resort, we got our flight to Auckland on the 4th. Not after a 8 hour delay though…we have been lucky though with all our travels on whole, so not complaints that we had to spend another day in Fiji. Oh the trials…!

 Note: This post has been brought to you in Fiji Time, in conjunction with Bad Weather Camping Ltd. and CrapInternet.com

The Yasawa Islands in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot hot hot (even in the storms!), with a welcome sea breeze
  • Food= Curry (randomly) and a lot of fresh pineapple
  • Drink= ‘Tribe’ (Smirnoff ice equivalent), ‘Fiji Gold’ (the local brew), Cava (yuky soapy muddy water!)
  • Favourite Island= Waya Lailai
  • Fijian words spoken most often= ‘BULA!’ (hello **must be almost shouted when used**) and ‘Vinaka’ (thank you)
  • Favourite Fijian philosophy= ‘More Beer, More Beer, Happy New Year’!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

BULA, BULA, BULA!!!  I don’t think I’ve ever said a word as often in such a short space of time. In Fiji, everybody says hello to you and they all do it with a smile on their faces. The Yasawa islands were beautiful, the weather when it wasnt raining was hot, hot, hot and the people were so friendly. My favourite parts however, were the village visits we went on. It was good to see how the villagers lived and how much impact the resorts had on them. It was good to hear from one of the Chiefs that most of the money from tourists goes towards improving water infrastructure and towards education and the villages seemed to be keeping most of their traditions alive. I hope that this continues for a long time. VINAKA FIJI, VINAKA.

Our Last Days in South America- Vina del Mar and Santiago

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The last pisco sours have been had; good-bye South America…

So the bus from San Pedro to Vina del Mar was our longest yet- 23 hours! We got on at San Pedro at 1pm and got off 12.30pm the next day. We went ‘cama’ (wider, more comfy seats) so it wasn’t as brutal as it sounds. Plus I got my second Christmas build up surprise from Hedd- the ‘Love Actually’ film on the iPod. So I got to watch that on the way which made me feel very Christmasy! However I had a nasty surprise when I collected my bag from the storage part of the bus. It was slightly damp and smelt like urine! Absolutely disgusting and definitely an example of the darker underside backpacking. Luckily the backpack cover bag that my backpack was in got the worst of it. Needless to say, the first thing I did when I got to our hostel was to wash the cover bag and empty my backpack and wash down the outside, then bleach dry it in the sun! Yuk yuk yuk! The hostel we stayed in was called ‘Little Castle’ and was in the Cerro Castillo area of the seaside city, up on the headland so we had a good view over the city centre. The hostel reminded me of university hall crossed with a rickety old London flat! Felt really comfortable and the owner Patricio was lovely. So Vina del Mar is where the city folk from Santiago come on holiday. The city wraps itself between 2 headlands and has a lovely beach and promenade. So the first afternoon we were there we of course headed to the beach. We strolled along the promenade lined with little stalls selling bits and bobs and settled ourselves on the very clean sandy beach to watch the waves. Now these waves were huge and broke and swelled really close into shore. Surfers actually stood on the sand and when they wanted to ride the wave, ran into the sea and jumped on their boards on the way; the waves were that close. We watched the sun go down whilst eating delicious ice cream on the sea front terrace of ‘Enjoy del Mar’ restaurant….very nice.

Tuesday was our first and only full day in Vina del Mar and we started off early walking along the main drag called Valpariso Street, to the main place- Plaza Jose Francisco Vergara, which had lots of native plants and trees planted within it. We then headed to Museo de Arqueologia e Historia Francisco Fonck which for 2000 pesos we got to browse exhibitions on Chilean early history and about Easter Island. And it was in English and Spanish so we could read all the information boards and know what we were looking at! The Easter Island exhibition was the best, and it was interesting to read that it is still a mystery how the Rapa Nui people got to the island. There has been no remains found of early man on the island so that means man must have sailed there later on. Chileans dismiss that Rapa Nui people sailed over from Indonesians and instead advocate that it was people from Northern Chile that sailed the un-navigational seas to the Island. However the Indonesians is the most likely! I also didn’t know that the infamous Easter Island stone men- Moari’s- started off really small but grew in size t0 22 meters tall as the Rapa Nui elders tried to hold on to their spiritual traditions in the face of greater dilution with more visitors coming to the island from Europe and the South American continent, carving the Moari’s larger and larger (as you can see in the pic). After the museum we checked out the local market which is in the now dried up river bed which ‘flows’ through the city. We picked up some über inexpensive beach towels in prep for our 10 days on the beach in Fiji…mine is extremely grown up with multiple colourful cartoon zoo animals on it, hmmm! After a siesta, we made vegetable fajitas for dinner and then headed to the beach again for sun set. Our bus to Santiago on Wednesday didn’t go until 1pm, so in the morning we took a last stroll along the promenade going from headland to headland. And on the way we found a free outdoor gym, with a rowing machine! So I got a bit of training in whilst admiring the seaside view…Duncan (my coach in Chester) will be proud!

So we made it to Santiago okay after only a 1hr 1/2 bus ride, which made a very welcome change from our 23 hour bus ride only a few days previous! We caught a taxi (5,000 pesos, but could get one for around 3,000 if you walked a bit away from the bus terminal) to our Hostel called Princess Insolenta in the Brazil district of the city. Brazil is a bohemian, studenty area of the city and has lots of colonial type buildings. Quite pretty in fact. Our hostel is super funky and very music centred with travellers strumming their guitars in the shared courtyard…gave the place a really nice atmosphere. We (well me mainly!) had collected a few presents and souvenirs on our 2 months around South America which were making our backpacks bulge, so we headed to the post office to send a few parcels home. The post office was packed! Everyone doing their last-minute Christmas card sending and there was a band outside playing Christmas tunes, which eased the long wait in the que. Luckily we were eventually served by a very efficient yet patient women who kindly guided us through the various custom forms and coped with our sheer lack of Spanish! Fingers crossed the parcels will make their way to their recipients in one piece sometime in 2012! We picked up some ingredients on the 40 minute walk back to our hostel and I rustled us up a good old spag bol for tea, with a glass or 2 of vino blanco to help with the cooking! Yesterday was our only full day in Santiago, but my gosh did we make the most of it! It was an early-ish start to get to the centre of Santiago (30 minute walk) on time for the start of a free walking tour with the ‘Spicy Chile’ company at 10am. The tour started at the Palacio de la Moneda which is Chile’s equivalent to the White House as it is where the President lives/works. We got there in time for the changing of the guards. This is a very elaborate affair which happens every other day. A whole heap of soldiers in their event uniform march across Avenue Libertador towards the Palace and there are soldiers on horseback in front and then a full army brass band behind. When they stopped at the back yard of the Palace (this was all open-no high gates or anything) the band then played Jingle Bells! So so Christmasy, it was lovely! Our tour guide was called Dani, and she was in her final term of studying Acting at uni. She knew her stuff and could answer all our questions. So a bit about Chile’s (scarily) recent history. In the 70’s a well-loved Communist President called Salvador Allende Crossens was overthrown by the leader of the army called General Augusto Pinochet who ran the country as a Dictatorship. For around 18 years the country was under this dictator and during this time human rights were squashed, there were frequent tortures and lots of people ‘disappeared’. The authorities are still finding the mass graves now- not nice. In 1989 the people revolted and the dictator killed himself. The people of Chile are politically passionate as a result and as Dani explained the history to us in front of the army display in the Palace’s back yard 2 local men pointed at the army and shouted at us “killers of the people”. In the 1990’s Thursdays were when the weekly protests took place. This isn’t so much the case now, but when we did see a protest on our walking tour when we stopped for a cuppa. It was a workers protest of factory staff of big multinationals such as Adidas and Loreal, protesting against the low minimum wage (200,000 pesos a month) and the big gap between those on the lowest and those on the highest wages in the company. Fair play I say, I wouldn’t be able to live on £250 a month!

From La Moneda Palace we walked towards Plaza de Armas and popped into the big catholic cathedral there. It was very ornate inside without being Gordy, and they had a fab nativity scene on display too which the photo opposite shows. Then it was onto the Parque Forestal area which is like Santiago’s equivalent of Central Park in New York. Within Parque Forestal we passed the Museo Bellas Artes which is a modern art gallery set up to help up and coming artists. The state do not subsidise art education at all in Chile. Actually the current President of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, sounds a bit of an arse as well. Dani told us that he isn’t well liked as he pledged in his election campaign that he would make public education free (even Chilean public primary/secondary schools, locals need to pay to send their children to), but instead he increased the price of schooling, out pricing many local families. He is a billionaire business man and apparently runs the country like an enterprise; i.e. just for profit.  That’s not what Government is all about. Hopefully the Chilean people will have better luck when it comes to Presidents next time round! We then made our way further east to Plaza Italia where there is a high-rise building which looks like an old mobile phone with an antennae and a big battery pack. It used to be the headquarters to Telefonics, the equivalent of BT in the UK…that’s taking corporate branding to the extreme! Then it was onto the bohemian (and posh) neighbourhoods of the city called Lastarria and Bellavista, which had lots of restaurants and cafes which spread out onto the streets- very nice. We passed Pablo Neruda’s house along the way who was a famous poet who lived in Santiago and won a Nobel Prize for literature. He loved the sea and all his homes he built to look like boats- La Chascona (his house in Santiago) is no exception.

We ended our tour at the bottom of Cerro San Cristobel which is a big hill which has a massive white Virgin Mary statue on top of it, “to protect over the city”. We took the funicular up to the top, (cost 1,800 pesos for a round ticket), to take in the view. The pic opposite is us at the top. As you can see the city is sprawling, only stopping when it hits the mountains to the South West. The virgin mary is beautiful up close, and the adjacent Chapel equally so. Plus Christmas hymns were being played out at the top which continued the Christmas theme of the day! After the funicular ride down the hill again, we had a quick-lunch, and then headed to the Santa Lucia area to visit the big artisan market there. It was also the place of choice to do a Christmas present buying dash for each other! Hedd started one end of the market, and me the other, and we met in the middle once we were done. It was really good fun hunting for pressies, at the same time as making sure we didn’t bump into each other! 30,000 pesos was the budget and I think I did pretty well with Hedd’s gifts…time will tell, hope he likes them when he opens them in 2 days time! After leaving the hostel at 9.20am we finally got back at 5.30pm. Needless to say our feet were aching and we crashed on the sofa with a cold drink! We were home just in time for my scheduled 6pm skype call home to my parents and Nan. It was my first time skyping and although I got the video call to work, I couldn’t get the headset to. So I had a visual but no sound! We ended up speaking on a mobile phone and watching each other on skype! Not quite how skype creators intended, but it was great all the same to see them all and see their lovely decorated Christmas trees. Ahh the wonders of technology…I just need to brush up on my technical ability for next time! For our last evening meal in South America we headed to a local restaurant, called Restaurant 69 on Ricardo Cumming Street, as recommended to us by our hostel owner from Vina del Mar. We had a traditional Chilean dish called Parrillada, which is essentially a simmering pot of different types of meat and sausage, served over a dish of hot coals. We got so much food for the price and as you can see Hedd struggled to finish his half of it! We had our last pisco sour too, to toast the end of the South American leg of our 5 1/2 month adventure.

So today we fly to Auckland, New Zealand. We have just chilled today, strolling around Brazil and sitting in the sun in Brazil square with an ice cream or two. I think we are good to go. We have scrubbed our hiking boots that we will be wearing on the plane. Apparently the immigration officers in New Zealand are really strict about foreign flora/fauna being brought into their country on shoes! Better to be safe than sorry! Just 1 hour until our taxi to Santiago airport arrives…can’t wait! Plus 2 days until Christmas Day, woop! Merry Christmas Eve Eve everyone!

Vina del Mar in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Warm with a lovely sea breeze
  • Food= Empanada’s and Ice cream
  • Drink= A glass of vino or two
  • Best fun had for free= Playing ‘chicken’ with the waves on the seaside (they only got me once!)

 

Santiago in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Scorchio! 30 degrees plus, but the buildings reflect the heat down so it feels like you are walking through a wall of heat
  • Food= Meat in the form of a Parrillada
  • Drink= Anything cold!
  • A ‘must do’ on your first day in the city= Spicy Chile’s free walking tour- you see so much of the city in one day and know all the best places to go back to.

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

So here we are, two months in South America completed. It´s been amazing, we have seen natural wonders, the remnants of ancient civilisations, incredible wildlife and met some wonderful people along the way. We have managed to do almost everything we set out to do (with the exception of the cancelled star tour) and although there is more we could have done here, I feel it´s the right time to move on and I{m looking forward to the next leg of our adventure. I am so pleased that we decided to do this, we have seen and experienced so much already and are not even half way through our trip. So as we sign off from South America and head to Auckland for our Christmas Day at the Airport, let me wish you all a “Nadolig Llawen”, “Feliz Navidad” or a “Merry Christmas”. See you in 2012…