Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Tuesday, December 16th, 2003

Finally in Auckland, in another Chinese-run internet cafe - they seem to be cornering the market over here. I have checked into another of the ultra-modern Base Backpackers hostels, like the one in Wellington this one has only been open a week. I am now doing my washing, and will be getting drunk tonight even though I have to get a coach at 8:15 tomorrow morning, but it is the end of the Kiwi Experience trip.

I don’t know that I will have much time to explore Auckland, but everyone who has been there says it is rubbish. My first impression is that it is very spread out, holding only around 1.5 million people but being twice the size of London. It is claimed that it is the 4th largest city in the world in terms of area. It has a harbour and it also has a sky tower, built to give the place a landmark and looking like a phallic hypodermic syringe, if such a thing is possible.

Monday, December 15th, 2003

Now in Rotorua, supposedly one of the most minging towns in New Zealand. This is on account of the large amount of geothermal activity resulting in hydrogen sulphide gas being released into the air. It doesn’t actually smell that much, but occasionally you get quite a strong whiff of it. The main industry here is tourism, and there are piles of hotels, all with their own geothermal spa baths - even my hostel has one and it is a dump.

Upon arriving I walked the 2km to a geothermal park, called Whakarawarawa, with the ‘Whak’ part being pronounced ‘Fuck’, the only time this word can be used in polite society. The thermal park had lots of pools of boiling mud that bubbled away and also steam vents, where steam comes out of the rocks, often leaving sulphur around the mouth. There were also a couple of geysers, which were cool, and the Maori arts and crafts institute, which was interesting. All in all the whole thing was great, but there are better thermal parks outside town but the shuttle bus only goes early in the morning, i.e. before I had arrived, so I couldn’t go.

In the evening I went to a Maori cultural concert and hangi, leaving at 6ish. The concert consisted of a greeting ceremony where a maori in full warrior gear came out and danced around shouting at us and trying to intimidate us (us being the several busloads of tourists) before putting down a peace offering which was accepted by one of our ‘chiefs’. We then went into the meeting house and watched a performance, where they showed us some of the maori weapons and musical instruments then did some song and dance and ended with the haka (thing they do before a battle to intimidate the enemy - the all blacks do it before a match). It was then on to the hangi, which is a feast cooked by putting the food in a pit on top of hot rocks, covering with earth then letting it steam for 3-4 hours. The food was amazing and we all ate as much as we could (being impoverished backpackers). We then all went home at 10pm, with the bus driver making us sing. It all sounds a bit cheesy, but it was great.

I had a fairly sleepless night as my dorm was overlooking the bar, which played loud music until 3 in the morning. After that, there were 2 drunken twats in the dorm who snored a lot. I am now in a different dorm (or rather different room of the same dorm) so it should be better.

Today I went on a day trip to Waitomo, known for having loads of limestone caves nearby. There are various options involving crawling around in wet caves to sitting on a lorry inner-tube and floating around an underwater river looking at glow worms. I was down to do something called the Haggas Honking Holes, described as Indiana Jones crossed with being put through a washing machine on a rope. Unfortunately it was cancelled, but they upgraded me to the Lost World, which is a dry activity involving abseiling 100m down a huge hole in the ground before looking in a few caves and working your way up. The abseiling in particular was spectacular, the hole is lined with ferns and is slightly misty giving it an other-worldy feel, although the harness did cut off the circulation to my legs a bit. We then made our way up to the surface, including climbing a 30m ladder. It was a really spectacular trip, and was good because there were only 4 of us, plus the guide. It was then back to Rotorua for the night. Off to Auckland tomorrow.

Saturday, December 13th, 2003

Taupo, which has a big lake which is actually a volcano, supposedly active. The last time it went off was around 2000 years ago and is recorded in Roman chronicles - if it erupted again then it would probably wipe out most of the north island.

I walked on the Tongariro crossing today, in the Tongariro national park. This is an area with 3 active volcanos in and was used in Lord of the Rings to film Mordor, which gives you an idea of what it is like. Unfortunately the entire walk was spent in low cloud and constant rain, which meant that I didn’t see anything apart from some brightly coloured rocks. Doh! I also got very wet, and was practically swimming up the mountains.

Thursday, December 11th, 2003

Ok, now in Wellington, the capital city of NZ. But first the way I got here. The first day after Queenstown was spent getting up to Christchurch, quite a long way. This involved travelling over the Canterbury Plains, rolling grassed hills with mountains in the distance. Part of Lord of the Rings was filmed here, in particular places like Edoras, where the Riders of Rohan are. There are also many lakes, used in a hydro-electric scheme which apparently supplied 75% of the power for the country. The lakes are a really bright turquoise blue, on account of all the powdered rock made by the glaciers which feed them - they look really amazing.

I only stayed one night in Christchurch as I have been there before at the start of the trip. Wanting to save the partying for another night, I stayed at the YHA hostel, which was really flash and all the pans in the kitchen had handels on them, which is a bonus.

On from Christchurch to Kaikoura. Like the last time I was there the weather was a bit crap, but luckily the whale watching was still happening. This involved driving out on a fast boat and periodically stopping so that the captain can look for whales using an underwater directional microphone. It was quite fun with the whole tracking whales down thing - they only stay on the surface for around 5 minutes before going back down to look for food.

On from Kaikoura to Wellington, crossing from the south to the north island by ferry. Wellington is built around a harbour, and the ground slopes up steeply from the water, so it looks really pretty. I have been walking around all day, going to the national museum and then looking at the parliament building (known as the beehive) and finally wandering around a street called Cuba Street. This is where the Nu-metal fraternity seem to hand out, along with all the interesting people, and there are masses of coffee shops everywhere. I had a coffee in a place called Fidel’s, because I thought I should.

I am staying at a place called Base Backpackers, which has only just opened, and seems really flash - maybe it’s just the fact that they have electronic card locks on all the doors like an expensive hotel. It also has a bar, selling cheap drinks, and myself and several others did the bar quiz last night. We came third, beaten by 4 south africans who I keep bumping into wherever I go. It is getting a bit hard to socialise as the people in the bus keep changing as they are all spending different lengths of time in different places but I can usually find someone I know. Oh, the hostal is also accross the road from the cinema where they had the premier to lord of the rings - return of the king. The cinema has a giant fibreglass model of a dragon type thing on the rood, but the national museum has a model of Barad Dur, Saurons tower in it.

Sunday, December 7th, 2003

Today I went on the canyon swing, that and the jet boating being my sole concessions to extreme sports. The canyon swing is another marvellous invention which allows you to jump of high things without the usual problems, i.e. death by splat, and as I really wanted to throw myself off something but couldn’t afford bungee jumping or skydiving I thought I would give it a go. In the canyon swing you are attached to a 109m rope which is pretty much horizontal over the Shotover River canyon (where they do white water rafting and jet boating). You then jump off the ledge, and free fall for about 60m before the rope kicks in decelerating you at 3 gees, and resulting in you going horizontally at about 100 mph. Some say it is better than bungee jumping.

In the actual jump, you go up to the edge, look down and think "that’s a long way down, I’m going to die, what the f*** am I doing". You then try not to think about it and jump. In my first jump I don’t remember the jumping part, I just remember suddenly thinking "shit, I’m falling" but you don’t feel any force as it is free fall, just hear the rushing of the wind and see the scenery flying past. Then the rope kicks in and you swing around. When you come to rest they winch you back to the top. I liked it so much I went again, this time jumping backwards. I then wore a stupid grin on my face for the rest of the afternoon, and had to go on a long walk to calm down.

Saturday, December 6th, 2003

This entry covers the trip to Milford Sound and the walk on the Routeburn Track, so there.

‘Twas bright and early (about 7ish) that we boarded a Kiwi Experience bus for the Milford Sound trip. Our driver was Toffa, a Maori with a mullet, or maybe a mulleted Maori - maybe the mullet is some sort of special Maori haircut. Anyway, Toffa had done that route over 800 times so we were fairly confident that he could handle the bus.

The route started by skirting around the edge of lake Wakatipu, before heading off into a large valley full of sheep fields. After two hours we reached Te Anau, on the shore of Lake Te Anau - I think part of Lord of the Rings was filmed there. The bus then struck into more scenic country, with steeper valley walls lined with trees and still some snow at the top. This continued while the bus steadily climbed to the Homer Tunnel, which is at about 700m or so, is one lane, no lighting and a fairly steep descent. After that it was a very windy road down the mountains to Milford Sound, the most scenic place in the world (apparently).

The first thing about Milford Sound is that it is not a sound. A sound is where a V-shaped river valley is flooded by the rising sea, this is a fjord, where a U-shaped glacial valley was flooded by the sea. It is named by a welshman after Milford Haven.

We boarded the cruise boat and set off for the 3 hour cruise. For a while we had dolphins swimming along aside the boad, and occasionally jumping out of the water, which was really cool as it doesn’t always happen. We did a slow circuit of the fjord, looking at the valley walls which slope up almost vertically but still seem to manage to have trees on them. We also stopped in the underwater observatory, where you go down about 10m and look at coral and fish through very thick windows. The coral grows in little window boxes on the side of the observatory.

Finally the cruise ended and we got back on the bus for the trip back. I got off at Te Anau, to start the Routeburn Track the next day.

Routeburn Track Day1

The track starts at The Divide, at 532m, a sort of high point on the road. The track starts by going diagonally up the valley wall, which is very steep and covered with trees. The trees cling to a layer of organic matter which is formed from rottin moss - there is very little soil.

I think this is temperate rainforrest, which seems to involve loads of moss and lichen covering absolutely everything, and loads of ferns as well as trees. It is really beautiful especially around the numerous small creeks and waterfalls of which there are many.

At the top of the valley wall is an optional path to Key Summit, which I took as I had plenty of time and the weather was good so I could see the view. The path goes above the tree line and through an area of alpine bog, and gave a great view of the valley. It is all the better as there is a little cloud which was swirling around the top of the mountains.

Back on the main track the path continues through the forrest until Earland Falls, which are 80m high and very impressive, but hard to photograph in a way that captures the whole thing.

The path continues up, then eventually descends to MacKensie hut, at 1073m and the end of the day of walking. The hut consists of a large communal area with kitchen, a bunkroom above and a toilet block. I sat on the deck outside the front door and watched as the mountains became more dramatic as the clouds rolled in. Soon it started to get cold and started to rain so I went inside.

Day 2

This was the walk over Harris Saddle, the highest point in the track, to Routeburn Falls hut. The track started in the trees, which was good as it was raining. It soon passed out of the bushline and I started to get wet - my upper body was ok, protected by my jacket, but I was only wearing shorts so they got wet but it was not too much of a problem. I was walking in my beaten up DMs, which are full of holes to let the water in but people with proper gore-tex boots did not fare much better.

Once I had left the shelter of the valley the wind was very strong, driving the rain into my face and almost pushing me off the path at times - long drop down the side of the valley. Apparently the wind was reaching 80kph. I was absolutely freezing but eventually managed to get to Harris Shelter at 1255m where some other walkers took pity on me and gave me coffee - they had a stove with them.

The walk onwards was mostly downhill, and the wind and rain eased off long enough to get a good view of the valley and lake Harris. The mountains looked really pretty with dark rock and spots of white snow, but there was a lot of cloud so I couldn’t see the far away mountains. I found myself humming the music from Lord of the Rings again, for the first time in the day.

The wind and rain soon came back and I struggled on to Routeburn Falls hut, which is at 1000m and just within the tree line perched on a steep slope near the falls of the same name. I was really glad to be there as it meant that I could take my wet shoes and socks off and warm up by the fire. We all spent the rest of the afternoon listening to the wind and rain, I think that being soaking wet really makes you appreciate getting to the hut. The day’s walking only actually took about 4 hours, and everyone arrived in plenty of time that they could have walked to the end of the track if they had wanted to. Noone did.

Day 3

The day dawned bright and sunny, and I found out that the noise I had thought was rain when I was in bed was actually the waterfall nearby. As the weathere was good and I had plenty of time I walked around and photographed the falls.

I started on the track to the bottom of the valley. The trees are less dense than at the start and less covered by moss, but they were taller. A landslip in 1994 gave a great view into the valley, allowing you to see the forrested walls and the grassy bottom with river.

The river in question is the Route Burn, and is a tributary of the Dart river, used in the filming of Lord of the Rings and feeding into Lake Wakatipu, on the shore of which Queenstown is situated. I walk through the forrest with the river never far away, and I seem to frequently encounter waterfalls on the streams feeding into the river. The valley walls slope up sharply on either side and look spectacular when you can see them though the trees. The track crosses several rivers, using swing bridges - small suspension bridges which bounce and swing all over the place. Eat your heart out millenium bridge.

Slightly scary moments when I came to a section of wooden bridge which had been dameaged by falling rocks during the rain and associated piles of water. Luckily it held my weight, but loads of other people coming the other way had used it without incident. Near the end of the track, the whole path had been washed away in a landslip, which required a bit of a scramble - not easy with a big rucksack. Finally made it to the end and sat around on the grass for a couple of hours as I had plenty of time until the bus to take me back to queenstown.

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2003

Now in Queenstown, the anal bouncer capital of New Zealand, where even people who are obviously in their mid-20’s need ID to get into some shitty pub. They also do extreme sports here apparently.

So, previous stuff to get out of the way. I went jet boating, which is an interesting experience. The jet boat consists of a small boat in which about 7 people plus driver can sit. In the back is a big 7.5 litre engine, which is connected to a water jet the direction of which the steering wheel controls. This means the following: the boat can work in really shallow water without having a propellor to damage, it is fast, and it can turn pretty damn quick. All this was demonstrated by Doc, the slightly sleazy mad kiwi driver - I think I would not be satisfied if the driver was not slightly mad. Fun stuff involved driving at full speed towards big rocks then swerving around them at the last minute. There were also spins which made the two girls on the seat next to me go flying into me - Doc said it would probably be the only time I would have two girls on top of me.

We continued down the west coast, the distances are a lot shorter than in Australia but as the south island is mostly mountain the roads wind about a bit. New Zealand is basically the opposite of Australia in that the geology is very young (in geological terms) and the mountains are still being pushed up, although they are eroding at the same rate. There are also a lot of sheep here, around 50 million or 12 for every person. Don’t let that put you off, just admire all the lovely Lord of the Rings scenery.

We stayed the night in a pub/hostel in nowhere in particular and had a fancy dress party, as one does. The theme was american, as it was thanksgiving, and we were only allowed two items of clothing. Naturally I went as Osama Bin-Laden, which probably freaked out the americans on the bus, but it is remarkably cheap to fasion a Bin Laden costume.

The next day we continued on to Franz Josef, noteable because it has a glacier which descends right into the rainforrest area. The plan was to go for a guided hike high in the glacier - to do this you have to go by helicopter, which I really wanted to do. Unfortunately all the rain and clouds obscured the landing site so the trip was cancelled. Instead we walked up the bottom of the glacier wearing boots with big spikes on, with our guide pausing occasionally to cut steps in the ice with a pick axe.

Eventually, after much more Lord of the Rings scenery, we arrive at Queenstown, and in the usual manner of the Kiwi Experience bus they tried to get us to spend loads of money on extreme sports before we all went out and got drunk an encountered the aformentioned anal bouncers.

Today I climbed up a hill on the edge of town. It was good, and the views of the lake and mountains and everything were fairly spectacular. Queenstown is in a very scenic setting, being on a lake and surrounded by mountains. It is also nice and sunny, which makes a change from the west coast. The lake provides many opportunites for putting your life in danger, including something where you put on a parachute and are dragged along behind a boat making you fly into the air. I know this is done elsewhere but the kiwi difference is that you then bungy jump off the parachute. Costs a bit, though, so I won’t be doing that one.

The end, for now.

Wednesday, November 26th, 2003

I have been travelling for 3 days now on the Kiwi Experience bus, known to many as The Big Green Vagina Liner, which takes you from place to place and also helps organising accomodation and activities. The first day was a bit of a washout, I was supposed to go whale watching but the weather was too bad so the trip was cancelled along with the dolphin swimming which a lot of other people were doing. We ended up sitting in the hostel doing nothing.

Today the weather was merely overcast, as we went to the Abel Tasman national park to do stuff. I had decided not to do the sea kayaking as I can’t be bothered with the things any more, so instead I opted for a trip which went on a water taxi up the coast and a walk along part of the coastal path (which would take 3 days to do the whole thing) then the water taxi back. The walk was really cool, up and down the hills largely missing from Australia, surrounded by trees and random ferns which gave the place a slightly pre-historic feel apart from the crowds of walkers. By the time we got the water taxi to go back the waves had got a bit higher and the boat became practically airborn every time it hit a large wave, which was fun in a slightly scary way. Anyway, the Kiwis excel at finding interesting ways to put their lives in danger so I wouldn’t trust them to have a simple boat trip without an element of the extreme.

I am now in a place called Westport, which is probably one of the least interesting places in the country, but it is just a place to stay. Tomorrow I go on a jet boat, another Kiwi favourite, which is a very powerful boat designed to go up and down rivers at dangerous speeds. Should be fun.

Sunday, November 23rd, 2003

I am in Christchurch in New Zealand, and staying in a hostel that is miles away from town, but was the only place that had any space. There seem to be loads of people around for some reason, even though the rugby has only just finished. I have also had trouble getting a place on the kiwi experience bus so that they have upgraded me to a different pass so that I don’t have to hang around in Christchurch for a week.

The hostel I am at is fairly cool, but most of the people there are working and have been there for a long time. This gives the place a good atmosphere, especially during the rugby world cup final, where half the people were English and most of the rest were Irish and therefore supporting Australia.

I now have to decide what to do for the time in New Zealand as I gave it very little thought while I was in Oz. The kiwi experience guide seems to mention a lot of extreme sports - I have a vague feeling they do that sort of thing around here. What I would really like to do is some sort of long distance walking trail, and see some lord of the rings scenery.

I haven’t had much of a chance to look around Christchurch, and I will be leaving tomorrow but my kiwi experience pass seems to come back here later. It is a bit strange here as all the roads seem to be named after English towns and cities - the place I am staying at is on Manchester street, and I have seen places like Oxford terrace and Cambridge terrace. Christchurch is the largest city on the south island but that is relative as it only has around 300000 people.

Saturday, November 22nd, 2003

Fucking internet terminal in sydney airport just lost the whole entry I just wrote. At least it is free. Anyway, here goes again:

Sydney: a few old builings in the center surrounded by large tower blocks. It is not especially nice, although the harbour and opera house and botanic gardens are nice. I went around in one morning and saw most of the good stuff, although I didn’t go into the aquarium as I had already found nemo (probably, not sure what he looks like) on the reef.

I took the ferry to Manly, at the entrance to the harbour, and it is worth it just for the ferry ride which gives you a good view of the harbour and is cheaper than a cruise. Manly, so called because an early explorer saw some aborigines on the shore and thought they looked manly, is a suburb of sydney and looks a bit like a tropical-type version of a cornish seaside town. It has a beach with lots of surfers and people sunbathing even though it was a cloudy day.

In the afternoon I eventually met up with Vicky, and we wandered down to look at the opera house, which is not as impressive as in the photographs. I think it would have looked better in stainless steel rather than white tiles. It rained, so we took shelter - all the shops have cover-type-things which extend over the pavement keeping you dry, something I have noticed a lot over here. We went to a random bar, eventually finding one which was not full of english rugby fans who although an agreeable lot tend to take up a lot of space, and we wanted to sit down after all the walking. We ended up goning to a jazz club, which is something I don’t normally get to do when travelling on my own. It is much better than going to the usual backpacker pubs.