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.

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.

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.

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.

November 20th, 2003

I have been on a 3 day trip to the Atherton Tablelands, which is a world heritage listed rainforrest area south of Cairns. It is about 600-800m above sea level so is not too hot. The scenery is really beautiful, consisting of rolling hills with bits of rainforrest - the whole thing was rainforrest 100 years ago but 94% was cleared for wood and for agriculture. The area is now protected, and there are schemes underway to replace the rainforrest in some areas.

I saw a lot of waterfalls on this tour, and they are different from a lot of the other places I have been to, the whole area being of volcanic origin rather than sandstone. The basalt rocks that form the waterfalls are in interesting regular patterns

The main problem with the trip was that there are loads of interesting places not accessible to tours, so I felt that we were only goning to the more mainstream locations. I think I would have liked to do a guided rainforrest treck and try to find some more remote areas. Maybe next time.

November 17th, 2003

I am now back on dry land, and I am also now a certified diver. Woohoo. After spending 3 days on a boat it is kind of weird not having the ground moving underneath me - it actually feels like the ground is moving even when it isn’t.

The diving was really cool, although it took until at least the 4th dive for me to start to get used to it and not be really nervous. The people were also great - I will point them out on the photos when I put them up. After the 4th dive we were certified, so on the next one Nikki (my dive buddy) and I were able to dive together without anyone else and explore the reef ourselves. The reef itself is fairly amazing although not as colourful as you see in pictures - the light towards the red end of the spectrum is absorbed more than the blue so everything tends to look a bit brown. On the other hand, there are loads of fish all over the place, and they are all sorts of wonderful colours.

The timing for the dives was fairly hard, with the first dive being at 6am, before brakefast and the second at 8, after brakefast. On the day when we spend a full day on the boat we got in 4 dives, including one night dive, which was quite creepy.

As well as the open water course, some of us also did some of the dives in the adventure dive course, the night dive was one of them. Another was a deep dive, done this morning, which was to 30m (25 actually) where you are only allowed to be at that depth for 20 minutes, so as to avoid decompression sickness. I was very apprehensive about that one. The final one was the naturalist dive, where you just had to spot 5 different fish (one glance) from a table and 5 different types of coral.

I will definitely dive again, particularly as I have spent $300 on fins as the normal sort do not agree with my kicking style (non-existant).

November 12th, 2003

Today I took the skyrail, which is a cable car (strictly a gondola) to a town called Kuranda, in the hills and surrounded by rainforrest. It was a really cool journey, going above the rainforrest canopy and looking down at all the trees and into the valleys.

Kuranda was quite cool but full of tourists, especially Japanese. One of the main attractions is the markets, selling handicrafts and things - they were interesting but I had no intention of buying anything. I also looked in a few photography galleries - there were really spectacular landscape photographs in wide format and I may buy a book of work by one of the photographers as he has a gallery in Cairns. I also looked in a fruit bat sanctuary, and the guy showed everone some of the bats and let us stroke them. They are not actually related to the other sorts of bats and are in fact primates - their closest relative is the lemur. They can also see perfectly well.

Finally I went on a bit of a walk in the forrest, which was interesting, but it was all laid out with a wooden walkway to walk along so it was quite tame. I went back on the scenic railway, again more spectacular scenary but my seat was on the opposite side to the side where everything was happening so I was a bit annoyed.

November 11th, 2003

I am now in Cairns, on the east coast. The weather is tropical and I have a hangover after a post-tour drinking session followed by a visit to a pub/club which played cheesy music. Seems like a nice place, very geared up for tourists of which there are many. Also surrounded by forrested hills, but there are no beaches here only mud flats. To go to beaches you have to go somewhere else, but I am not bothered.

The trip to Cairns was an overland trip with a company called Desert Venturer, and consisted of three days of driving along really remote roads, some unsealed, and staying in random places like a cattle station. There were 26 of us, which makes a change from the normal small groups, and we had a large 48 seat coach so plenty of room. I decided to name the coach The Venerable Coach, a reference which probably few people will get, as it was farily old being made in the 80’s. On the other hand, apparently most modern coaches would not survive being regularly driven along dirt roads without falling apart.

The trip was really interesting, seeing the land change from the red sand and small bushes of the centre through to the dry grasslands of the north Queensland outback, and finally to the tropical rainforrests of the coast. I think it is a great way to see the real Australia, such as Middleton, which is in the middle of nowhere, has a population of 6 and consists of a pub and nothing else. It was also very hot along the way, reaching into the high 30s, and this is only spring - in summer it can get up to 50 degrees. Cairns is a lot cooler, but it is also fairly humid.

November 4th, 2003

Day 2 of Adelaide to Alice trip

We continued to explore the flinders ranges today. There are now seven people on the bus, plus Tom the driver - this is a consequence of the deal with oz experience and adventure tours which means that adventure tours have to run a bus every day even when there are not that many people.

On the bus are Sarah, who is Irish, Camilla and Anna from Denmark, Beate from Germany, Jen from Canada, Shu-Lan from Japan (apologies if I have spelled your name wrong). Of all of them, Camilla and Sarah make most of the noise, and were two of the three we collected yesterday. This is good as I was worried the bus would be a bit quiet.

We drove around in the morning and in the afternoon we climbed Mt. Ohlssen Bagge, which is on the edge of Wilpena Pound, a sort of great big basin thing. The views were fairly spectacular although the walk was tough being fairly steep all the way. On the way up I bumped into some of the girls I had met on the tour around Darwin - they were on an adventure tours trip from Darwin to Adelaide.

In the evening we stayed in a place called Rawnsley Park, on the other side of Wilpena Pound. We had a great view of Rawnsley Bluff, on the rim of the Pound but managed to miss the sunset while having dinner - it would have been crap anyway as it was a bit too cloudy.

While exploring around the camp, I decided to climb a hill nearby. While climbing I saw all sorts of exotic looking birds - it is strange to see bright green parrots in the wild. As the hill started levelling off I decided to run a bit, the quicker to get out of the trees around me. Suddenly there were no more trees and I found myself running along a ridge at the top, with the ground sloping down on either side and big mountains in the distance. It reminded me of lord of the rings, and was probably one of the cooler things that has happened in this trip.

November 4th, 2003

Day 3

Got up rediculously early for a long drive north. We ended up eventually at Coober Pedy, our stop for the night, and a very weird place.

Coober Pedy, surrounded by not very much at all, was settled in 1914 by people returning from WW1 as an opal mining town. Because there was no wood around and the soldiers had experience of digging trenches etc. and because it was stupidly hot (up to 50 degrees in summer) they ended up living underground. The name is aboriginal and means white man in a hole.

The place looks like some sort of post-apocalypse landscape, with little or no vegetation and lots of old mining machinery all over the place - Mad Max 3 was filmed in the area and Red Planet nearby. It is very eery, and I would not like to live there, although living underground would be good as the temperature is fairly constant all year round.

We also saw lots of aboriginies sitting around getting drunk - it seems a bit tradgic that they can’t adapt to our society, but on the other hand the government could be at fault for giving them the money to do nothing.