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Accruing accommodation karmic debt in New South Wales

After bidding farewell to NZ, I arrived in Sydney to multiple cries of 'isn't it a relief that it's cooler today?'. As i'd just come from rain and chilliness, I couldn't really agree but it seems i'd missed a heatwave during which the temperature didn't drop below something like 35 degrees at night!

I spent a few days in Sydney staying with Kylie (who I met on the Western Australia trip) in Bondi who really looked after me with guided tours of little known (to tourists) local spots, visits to delicious eateries, good company and my first possum sighting on her balcony. We went to a local beach at Neilson Park where the water was crystal clear and bright turquoise, saw incredible views of the city from Sydney's prime suicide spot, ate amazing falafel, even better pizza and caught up on gossip. I was also cooked for by Deirdre (who I also met in WA) and caught up with Amy Emap with whom I climbed to the top of the concrete pylon next to the Harbour Bridge (why spend $200 when you can get away with a tenner on its cheaper friend?).

On a mission to see different parts of the city, I browsed in little trinket/antiquey shops in New Town, wandered around the park in Kensington, had a beer infront of the harbour in The Rocks, perved on lifeguards in Bondi, found a funky art gallery in Paddington and got a little bit scared in Kings Cross. Came to the conclusion that i could definitely live in Sydney if it were necessary.

After a few days, I abused Kylie's hospitality further and caught a lift up to Newcastle (apparently she was rewarded by the fact that as she had a passenger, we were able to drive in the cheeky overtaking lane) where I stayed in a really friendly hostel. From there I took myself off to Port Stephens which is a stunning bay with lots of dolphins, so it seemed rude not to get a boat trip out to see them. This trip didn't involve the opportunity to sing to the dolphins unfortunately, but i did get to plunge myself into the sea via a surprisingly steep slide. Lucky I didn't shriek like a banshee in front of a load of strangers when I went down it...

I also did a day trip into the Hunter Valley which was fantastic. I was the only person on the trip on their own but as we started with champagne tasting at 10am, I soon managed to infiltrate a lovely group of friends who'd come over from Sydney for the day to do the trip. We went to several wineries, a chocolate factory, a cheese factory (where I REALLY hope I correctly remembered Nicki's email address when offered the chance to sign up to a cheese newsletter...) - all of which involved lots of deliciousness and very little use of the spitoon.

My next journey was via train to Armidale where I was met by the lovely Hadley who left choir about a year ago. It was really lovely to catch up and he and his parents were ridiculously good to me - I had my own bathroom, woke up to a freshly squeezed juice every morning, got taken to the cinema (The King's Speech - excellent!), had my feet licked clean by the dog every day... I felt worryingly at home and didn't really ever want to leave! Hadley was a great tour guide and took me to see the local sights which ranged from the beautiful to the hilarious. Lots of gorgeous waterfalls, ravines and gorges; loads of kangaroos boinging through the bush; a spectacular (and inexplicable) collection of miniature cows, handmade by a very talented lady by the name of Mary using tiny squares of genuine cow hide; the 'Armidale Folk Museum' where a man of mighty beard and a man of questionable sanity enthused about the cow collection and the series of photos in which we were sure to spot our relatives...

The highlight was a trip to the former mining villages (well, fields...) of Metz and Hillgrove. Since the collapse of the local mining industry, all the buildings have been moved away but that hasn't stopped a roaring tourist trade developing as a series of plaques have been put up commemorating where the buildings USED to be, giving you a real sense of direction and nostalgia as you drive down empty streets through deserted farmland. I think we both lost it slighty when given the opportunity to play on abandoned rusty farmyard equipment at the 'Museum of Rural Life and Industry'. Great photo opportunities and a LOT of laughs.

Posted by Hoodfish 16:31 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Caving, wining and fancy dressing

Once one road was eventually re-opened, we were able to make it out of Coromandel Town and down the other side of the Peninsula, stopping to get over the disappointment of missing the rafting, top up our tans and admire lifeguards at Tairua which was a lovely little town with a beautiful beach and DELICIOUS ice cream. From there we headed south and a small navigational mishap (NOT my fault. I SWEAR the turning wasn't signposted. Honest.) lead us back to Rotorua where we ended the day in a huge bath full of Japanese tourists at the Polynesian Hot Springs. Which was surprisingly relaxing with lovely views over the lake and mild hilarity as we surreptitiously (i'm sure) observed the German couple who spent the whole time taking photo of each other looking quizzically into the middle distance; the middle aged couple who were snogging like teenagers and splashing each other; and the hairy man who eventually spurred our departure by shuffling crab-like on all fours towards us.

The next day we went to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Well, how can you miss a place with a name like that?! It's basically a geothermal area with lots of sulphur and other minerals creating weird and wonderful aromas, coloured pools, bubbling mud, geysers, hot springs... the highlight of which is the eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser at 10.15 each morning. On the drive there, I was musing about how it might be that it erupts at the same time every day. Maybe it was something to do with the moon? Or a build up of pressure which just happens to be released every 24 hours (ok, so i'm not a scientist). The explanation we weren't expecting was that at exactly 10.15 every morning, a reliable Thermal Wonderland employee rocks up with a bar of soap and chucks it into the mouth of the geyser, causing it to spout 10 metres into the air to the amazement and utter hysteria of the gathered onlookers. Comedy gold.

Our next stop was Taupo where we visited the Huka Falls over which something ridiculous like 200,000 litres of water fall per second. The next day Kim went rafting and I got up at 5.30 to get the bus to National Park to embark upon the 19.4km trek across the Tongariro Crossing. I was SO lucky with the weather - there wasn't a cloud in the sky and whilst it got pretty windy up top, conditions were basically perfect. Later in the week the route was closed due to weather so i felt like NZ weather gods had fully made up for disappointment caused by weather-based cancellations earlier in the trip.

The views were breathtaking. It started with a big old upward climb for several hours, (overlooking Lord of the Rings' 'Mount Doom') and then amazing panoramic views across the landscape of moon-like barrenness, hills, mountains, bright green lakes, red craters and general loveliness. I opted to do the extra 3k hike to the summit but unfortunately by that time my walking boots had declared war on my feet and i couldn't really walk up and forwards without grimacing and grunting every step. This was alarming my fellow trekkers so i tried walking sideways or backwards for a while but concluded that that was probably not my most sensible plan so sacrificed the extra view for the sanity of my heels.

Made it down in time for the first bus back into town and had a bit of a doze by the lake, watching a man working at an 'ultimate hole in one' stall where you have to get the ball into the hole that's on a pontoon floating in the middle of the lake go out in scuba gear with a torch and a big net to collect the balls that missed. That amused me probably more than it should.

The next day we headed off to Waitomo for a day's caving which was SO much fun. We got kitted out in wetsuits, socks, wellies and helmets and squeezed ourselves into the caves where thousands of glow worms live. We were somewhat disgusted to learn that they're actually maggots and the the source of the glowing is actually their poo, but I have to say there's something in the argument that visits to glowing maggot poo caves might sound less appealing.

Throughout the course of our 3 hours underground, we crawled through tunnels that were literally the width of a body (to narrow to even be on your hands and knees!), got covered in mud, went 'black water rafting' (lower adrenalin than it sounds - you sit on an inflatable ring being pulled along by the guide as you admire the glowing of the maggot poo), swum through underwater rivers and somewhat incongruously played ring-a-ring-a roses. It was brilliant!

We headed back to Taupo then drove to Napier on the east coast the next day. It's a lovely place that was entirely rebuilt in the 30s after an earthquake in the Art Deco style (the rebuilding, that is. Not the earthquake.) - there's a slightly odd beach, quaint shopping area and mighty fine ice cream. There are also many MANY vineyards and wineries so we stopped at a few places on the way in, then drove over to a few more, along with a cheese place and a honey place that both offered free tastings.

We discovered that the Rugby 7s had pretty much taken up all accommodation within 150k of Wellington so we were forced (sigh) to spend an extra day in Napier and do a wine tour which was lots more enjoyable than having to drive ourselves between vineyards!

Our last big trip with Mavis was all the way back down to Wellington, via Woodville - the cheesecake capital of New Zealand. Not a claim i was about to leave un-tested. We arrived in Wellington during the international Rugby 7s tournament and the city was FULL of people in fancy dress. It was incredible. We saw groups dressed Jenga pieces, pirates, Where's Wally... my personal highlight was a man in a full gorilla outfit in the supermarket pushing around a trolley of bananas. That made me very happy. We spent the evening in the company of some pirates, got tattooed with (mercifully washable) marker pen and watched chaos and colour unfold on the streets of Wellington as it turned into one giant street party. All of which was far more controlled and good natured than such an event would've been in the UK!

The next day was Waitangi Day but the weather stopped the 'wandering around the city watching the celebrations' being too much fun. Well, that and the fact that there didn't seem to actually BE any celebrations. So we pottered about between shops and cafes and generally had a nice time before having to say goodbye. Then I headed back to Matt and Leanne's for a few hours' sleep and an antisocially early lift to the airport where I bid a fond farewell to NZ which had treated me exceedingly well in the last 6 weeks and become one of my (if not the very) favourite countries in the world.

Posted by Hoodfish 23:52 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Driving Miss Hoodie

Motoring around the north of the north island

I bid farewell to the Magic Bus and met up with Kim (who I met on my Western Oz tour) in Auckland where we picked up a tiny tiny white car with JUST enough space for our 2 main bags in the boot if we angled them just right. Apparently an 'upgrade' on what we would've had which is a bit of a concern but hey, we jumped in, tried to establish the difference between the indicators and the windscreen wipers, christened her Mavis (the Mazda) and charged off on our adventures.

I've often said (not that i'm one to repeat myself) that i'm happy driving as long as there are no junctions to negotiate and no other drivers on the roads. Fortunately, those are pretty much the driving conditions in New Zealand so it was surprisingly easy. Kim and I are both from the 'get a bit stressed out and swear a lot' school of driving and traffic management so we got on pretty well!

First stop was Whangarei where we were welcomed back to Alicia's sister's family where i'd spent Christmas - lovely to see them all again and have a delicious homecooked meal (as opposed to the non-delicious hostel cooked meals to which i'm becoming accustomed). The next day we visited the Whangarei Falls then headed up to Paihia in the Bay of Islands via Keri Keri. The weather was gorgeous and the beach was beautiful. Kim also did a fine job of abusing connections she'd made the previous week so we got 1/2 price accommodation, an invite to a house party and a free ferry trip over to Russell where there's another beautiful beach and a really lovely trip through the Bay.

We also visited Waitangi - home of the treaty that began the relationship between the Maori people and the white settlers. It was a beautiful site up on the hills overlooking the Bay with an ENORMOUS war canoe, treaty house, traditional Maori meeting house, museum... It became clear I wasn't entirely absorbing all the relevant information when, an hour into our visit, I asked Kim 'So, who's this Busby chap then?' Turned out he was pretty much fundamental to the entire agreement. Must find a way to relocate my braincells...

After the Bay of Islands, we went even further north up to Taupo Bay where Kim had just spent 5 days surfing so we got another day's surfing plus accommodation and LOTS of delicious food for a bargain price. It was lots of fun surfing again, and a slightly different experience to Cornwall when I had to keep getting out of the sea to rub circulation back into my toes.

On the hottest day of the week, we decided to do our longest drive all the way down to Thames at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula. T'was a mammoth journey but we were kept amused by New Zealand radio which enjoys delving into the archives of music not heard in civilised society since 1996, coupled with a selection of 15 songs that have been released in the last 5 minutes. My favourite radio-moment (when James Blunt is singing about leaving you no choice but to stay the night, these are few and far between) was when there was an advert for a Maori radio station which proudly proclaimed to be the 'first Maori radio station IN THE WORLD'. Cos I hear there was a big race between France and Botswana to beat them to that particular title...

I'm rambling. So, we ended up in Thames for the night where there was a stunning sunset and a lonely hostel owner man who befriended his customers by feeding them homemade cake. I wasn't about to say no to that.

The drive along the peninsula to Coromandel Town was absolutely gorgeous - alongside tiny little bays and sweeping sea views on one side and lush green hills on the other. It took rather longer than expected as I was not really equipped to deal with the erratic windiness of the road at a speed of more than 3 miles an hour but i became proficient at pulling in to laybys to let the dozens of cars that had built up behind me pass every few minutes.

Coromandel Town itself was small and not especially exciting so the arrival of a cyclone which blocked the road back out for the next 24 hours wasn't really welcome. Especially as it meant missing the rafting trip that Kim was desperate to do and that we'd basically planned our trip around! However, while we were waiting for the roads to clear, the weather cleared up which gave me a chance to walk up to a viewpoint that gave me amazing views of the harbour and surrounding bays. We also whiled away some hours in a hot tub (becoming a habit...) and some hours in the sun in a beer garden so it wasn't all bad!

Posted by Hoodfish 16:46 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Heading Oop Norf

Back to my roots

So, I bid farewell to the South Island and was met at Wellington train station by Mr Matthew Turnbull who took me the scenic route back to his house in Island Bay - through the harbour and along the coast past beautiful little inlets and hills covered in little houses. Stunning. I was delighted to have a (double!!) bed in my own room with noone else snoring in it (the room, that is. I can't promise I wasn't snoring in the bed) and fully abused Matt and Leanne's hospitality and washing facilities.

Wellington is a really lovely place - cool city-like shops and bars etc, pretty waterfront, hills all around it and generally quite relaxed air to it. I spent my first day there walking up to the top of Mount Victoria for panoramic views of the city, wandering around the city replacing more clothing (old painful flip flips for new painful flip flops, bikini left drying in hostel room after spa pool dunking for bikini I will always dry within sight of my bed) and in Te Papa - the HUGE museum where I could've spent hours had I taken more of my brain with me. As it was, I spent about an hour wandering around and about 15 minutes in some ill advised simulator that shakes you around in your seat in front of footage of various madcap sights, ostensibly to give you the impression that you're on a motorbike, jumping out of a plane, swimming with an orca, a netball (no, not swimming with a netball. You actually ARE the netball...). However, all it really did was give me mild whiplash and scare the crap out of a tiny girl in the seat in front of me whose friend told their dad she was scared within the first 30 seconds. As they had to stop the 'ride' to let people get off he (i presume) didn't want to cause trouble so sypathetically told her to close her eyes. Great antidote to being rattled around in a chair like a ... [insert suitably comic metaphor here]. When the poor girl eventually took matters into her own hands and asked the guide dude to let her off she seriously looked like she'd be in therapy for the next 10 years. So that was $8 well spent.

Anyway. Where was I? Oh yes, I then got the cable car up the hill to the Botanical Gardens where I wandered about, admired the rose garden, 'interacted' with various sculptures (there was things to jump through, hit, listen to etc. I didn't strike up a conversation with them or anything) and became the human in the sun dial of human involvement, then Matt picked me up and we went back for dinner via a mini golf course on a metal scrap yard where all the course and its relevant (and utterly irrelevant) paraphenalia was made out of scrap metal. Odd, but entertaining!

The next day, as planned, I stole Matt's bike and went for an idyllic cycle along the coast. Unfortunately, as not planned, it started raining the moment I left the house (and, I might add, stopped the moment I got back). The sea was going crazy, the rain was in my face (my pants were wet...), the sky was all dark and moody looking and i grinned like a nutter the whole way around! Came back through town (and up a very very steep hill) and once again delighted in the simple pleasures as I warmed up with a cup of tea on a sofa in front of the TV! That night we went to a free outdoor concerts in the Botanical Gardens where we drank beer, dipped crackers into humous and watched a very cool band as the sun went down. Perfect.

The next day it was an early start to get my penultimate bus up to Rotorua (the perfect hide out for those with flatulence. "That smell? Oh no! It wasn't me! There are lots of natural gases in the area!"). I had my first real Maori experience ( i say 'real'. I do, of course, mean 'utterly fabricated for the purpose of amusing tourists' but still realistic!) - we were picked up from the hostel (by a crazy driver who learned every one of the 44 people on board's names just by asking them who they were as they got in AND sang a song from each of their countries!) and taken to a Maori village. Someone from our bus was nominate the 'chief' and as we entered the reception area bit, a warrior came out and did a traditional dancing/chanting/face pulling/tongue sticking out ritual to determine whether or not we came in peace. Our chief then picked up the leaf that had been laid on the floor to indicate that we did, and we were led through into their village and spent about 15 minutes wandering between the different buildings where people showed us how they learn to manouvre their spears, cook their food etc. Then we were shown where the 'Hangi' (traditional meal) was being cooked in a huge hole in the ground under leaves, traditional aluminium foil and hot coals before being lead into the meeting house for a song and dance performance.

Ignorant as I am, my only real frame of reference was the Haka so I was amazed by the singing, dancing and musical instrument playing. It was absolutely beautiful - really melodic with incredible harmonies. I found it quite moving and was very embarrassed that i'd just expected them to beat their chests and stick their tongues out! There was a fair amount of that too but it was by no means the most noteworthy element of it!

The Hangi itself was great. We sat on long tables and had a buffet of meat, veg, polenta-like stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mussels - all cooked in the underground oven - and salads, followed by pavlova, steamed choc pudding and fruit salad. Yum.

My final bus journey up to Auckland was quite entertaining - there were only 8 of us so we played playstation Who Wants To Be A Millionnaire in English, German and Dutch and tried to get our bus driver to teach us the Haka. None of the above were completed with much success but we had a larf.

Posted by Hoodfish 00:06 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Back up the east coast of the south island

After leaving Lake Tekapo, I had to retrace my steps (Christchurch to Picton) in order to get the ferry up to the north island - but with a brief stop at the Rangitata River to go white water rafting which was ACE!

We got kitted out with extra trendy wetsuit, wetsuit boots, thermal top, big wind jacket and life jacket and thrown in a raft going down the river in a gale. For some reason they chose to put the 2 older couples (who included large grown men) AND the extra trainee guide in one boat, leaving 4 tiny little women to go in the other boat. It turns out we didn't weigh quite enough to fight the wind so spent a large portion of the first 20 minutes on the river washing up on the bank! Once we rounded the corner away from the wind and into the rapids, however, we were away and it was SO much fun. We went through a variety of rapids, up to grade 5 (the highest grade that can be rafted. Check me) and i loved it. We also had the 'opportunity' to swim down a section of the river, jump off 4m and 10m rocks and mess about in a rapid where our guide got us stuck and engineered my not-so-graceful exit (and re-entry) to the boat for comedy photo opportunities. I have to conceed, as may many who've seen the pics on facebook, that the comedy value was pretty high so i'll try to forget the fear...

I had about 12 hours in Christchurch and went out for dinner and drinks with a couple of the girls I met in Tekapo, then it was back up to Kaikoura where I was SOOOOOOOOO tempted to go swimming with dolphins again!! I resisted and spent the day with a lovely girl wandering through town, watching a sheep shearing show (we were the only audience members which led to a strangely intimate shearing experience) and eating delicious crayfish fritters from a road side cabin. We finished up with a dip in the hostel spa pool and a bottle of wine on the terrace watching the sun set so not a bad alternative to dolphins!

My final south island stop was in Picton where i'd planned to go for a big hike around the Marlborough Sounds. However, it was pouring with rain so I did the decent thing and booked myself onto a wine tour through the Marlborough region which is famous for Sauvingnon Blanc. For future reference: copious amounts of wine is a wonderful antidote to bad weather! When i got back to the hostel I joined a few folk in a few games of cards, some other ridiculous games (including Ride the Bus...), a fair amount of wine and a lot of laughter. Once again, the night ended in a hot tub. I could get used to this!

I'd been a bit nervous about the ferry crossing over to the North Island as i'd heard a lot about the Cook Strait being particularly choppy and the bus driver yesterday had uttered the immortal words "For those of you on the ferry today, I hope you didn't have much lunch..." but I was SO lucky. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and I spent the whole 3 hour crossing relaxing on the boat's sun deck! Result.

Posted by Hoodfish 23:52 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)