A Travellerspoint blog

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Golden Bay to Wellington

Well, I don't really know where to begin with the last week...it's all been a bit of a blur...we had a yummy bbq on the friday of the conference and bade farewell to Hazel, who headed north to Sydney, and to Robin and Vivienne, who headed south to Queenstown. Myself and Nico picked up our rent-a-dent, which was in fact a v fancy car, not a dent in sight, and headed out as far north-west as you can go on South Island to a great little hostel in the middle of nowhere on the edge of Golden Bay called the Innlet. The lady who owns it hails from Woodstown (that's about a 20 min drive from my parent's house) and grew up in Waterford! (Thanks for the tip Isobel!) It's very much off the beaten track as the closest buses get to it is a small village about 10km away and all the hop-on hop-off backpacker buses don't make it to the area. We spent Sunday visiting the end of the peninsula - Wharariki Beach, Cape Farewell and Farewell Spit, where Nico took his first dip in the Tasman Sea and we both met our fist sandflies!!! The area is beautiful but one day really only serves to whet the appetite and two nights at the hostel also seemed insufficient - there's an air about the place that just makes one not want to leave - most of the guests stay for a few weeks.

On the Monday we left Golden Bay for Abel Tasman National Park, and we arrived in plenty of time to go for a half day 11 km tramp from Anchorage back to Marahau - the village at the edge of the park where we were staying. We stayed in a teepee for the two nights we were there!! The place was amazing. All the brochures show pictures of white and golden beaches, turquoise seas, blue skies and yellow kayaks - and that's EXACTLY how it was!! We were so lucky with the weather. The second day we spent there we went on a guided kayak trip from Torrent Bay to Bark Bay where we stopped for an amazing lunch of greenshell mussels and lamb kebabs and then we kayaked back to Torrent Bay via the seal colony on some island I can't remember the name of. We did a short tramp thro' the bush where the guide was filling us with info about the local flora and fauna - he knew heaps and was really very into telling us all about it. In fact he was quite hobbit-like, practically running up the tracks in his bare feet with us all panting to keep up and he not more than 5 foot tall...hardly anyone in this country seems to wear shoes!!

On Wednesday we said goodbye to Abel Tasman and to the glorious sunshine of the previous week and headed to Picton. On the way we stopped at the Cawthron Institute (Marine science research place) in Nelson and met some people and visited the place and generally schmoozed..By the time we got to Picton there wasn't much time to do anything but drop back our dent and eat and drink. The following day we were dropped out at Ship Cove at the beginning of the Queen Charlotte trail in the Marlborough Sounds (think Killary only much bigger and covered in dense vegetation) and from there we tramped back the 15 or so kms to Furneau Lodge. There were some clouds and a bit of rain but the sun was trying to break thro' and there's so much vegetation that even when it was raining we weren't really getting wet. We had a long soak in the outdoor hot tub when we got back to the hostel with some cold beers followed by take away pizza and more beer.

This country is really so set up for backpackers and those who want to go tramping for days on end. There are water taxis in both Abel Tasman and for the Queen charlotte trail that will take you to any place on the trail and collect you from any place on the trail and will even take your bags to your next accomodation so that you can walk the trail without their weight - tis class! When we arrived at Anchorage in Abel Tasman there was this huge pile of ruck sacks that had been dropped off by water taxi and that belonged to people who were going to be walking to there at some stage that day - and it was safe to leave stuff like that!!

Anyways, on Friday we left South Island and headed to Wellington on the slowest ferry in the world. There we met up with Mairead - a Cork girl that used to work with us in the lab but has been living in NZ for the past 3 years and she took us to our hostel in her funky 1978 car!!! There are so many really old cars on the roads in this country!! We had a very chilled out Friday evening - drinking wine at her place and catching up. Then we hit Wellington - the busiest place we'd been to for 2 weeks - the pubs don't seem to shut and there were people everywhere and nowhere seemed to be charging money for late night music. We did a bit of a pub crawl and had a very late morning the next day. Wellington is a pretty cool place - incredibly windy tho' - all the time!!

Saturday was spent wandering the streets and shops of Wellington (poor Nico!) and going up the cable car to the botanic gardens for a view of the city and a snooze! In the evening we went to see one of the things kiwis do best - rugby!! We went to one of the super 14 games (for any non-rugby fans...like myself...it's a Heineken cup equivalent with teams from South Africa, Oz and NZ...I think!!), anyways local team the Hurricanes were playing against the Bulls from SA, we had great seats and the atmosphere was great. Nico was in his element explaining to us in great detail what was going on, while myself and Mairead were talent spotting with a pair of binoculars and a camera!! The Hurricanes won..

This morning (Sunday), after another run in with a car breakdown and an AA call-out, we took a quick spin up some other hill for a view of the city before dropping Nico at the airport for his flight back to Christchurch, he flies back to Ireland tomorrow together with his 70+ sandfly bites that he has been carefully counting over the past week - a warrior proud of his war wounds!! Myself and Mairead went driving out around the coast and had some quality coffee-drinking and catching up girly time...

Anyways, that's all for now (if you've made it this far!), hope all is well with ye all..

Take care xx

Posted by niscratz 05:52 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Wellington to Auckland and beyond..

Well, so much has happened in the past 2 weeks that I'm sure to bore the tears off ye all if I go into details...but since my flight has been delayed by an hour and a half, and I was at the airport 3 hours before the original flight time, and the internet is free here (altho' I've already been hogging it for too long and am probably making people mad!), then prepare to be bored..

So I left Wellington on a Monday morning (the 2nd?, can't remember now) and took a bus up to National Park. That's a village with 2 streets, at least 3 hostels and a great pizza place...not much else...not somewhere you'd want to get stuck! It's a busy enough place tho' cos people use it as a base for skiing in the winter and walking the Tongariro Crossing in the summer. I booked myself on a bus to the beginning of the Crossing the following day. The weather was fab the day I did the walk, fortunately cos they cancel it if the weather's too bad...as anyone reading Rebecca's blog will know..

The Tongariro Crossing is reputedly NZ's best one day walk. It's about 17 km long through Tongariro Nat. Pk. This NP contains 3 volcanoes - still active - along the fault line between the pacific and australasian plates I think - anyways, the walk goes between the 2 northern volcanoes, one of which is better known as Mt Doom from the recent LOTR films. Unfortunately there isn't really time to climb to the summit of Mt Doom (Mt Ngarahoe is it's real name I think), esp. if you want to stop for lunch and lots of photos. It's not a circular route either, so there's no going back - the bus meets you at a specific time at the far end and if you're not there then it's kind of tough! Anyways, it was an amazing walk along craters, some filled with turquoise waters, parts of it looked like a moonscape but for the last hour or so you end up going thro' lush green forested area. There's lots of steaming gases along the way, lots of yellow sulphuric deposits and some not so pleasant smelling parts...a geologists dream!

I did the walk with a Sydney girl, Kate, that was in my dorm and a Swiss guy, Chris, who we met on the bus and we bumped into an English guy, Javid, who I'd met on the bus from Wellington the previous day, but was on a different bus from the village that morning, towards the end of the walk. The 4 of us got on really well and had pizza and beers that night. The following day myself and Javid took lifts with Kate and Chris to Taupo, where we had a lovely picnic lunch (weather still fab), sat in a natural hot spring for an hour and a half (perfect for soaking those aching muscles from the previous day) and visited the Huka falls. After that Chris headed off as he'd to fly home the following day. Myself and Javid continued as far as Rotorua with Kate.

Rotorua is the smelliest town I've been to - lots of rotten-egg sulphur smells about the place (it's on the same fault line). The night we got there, the 3 of us went to an organised hangi at a Maori village. It was v cheesy touristy, but good all the same. They entertained us with traditional dances, music and, of course, the haka. The food was great and afterwards we got a tour around their forest area checking out the trees and the glow worms and all that. The following morning we continued our geothermal adventures with a trip to Waiokata, NZ's geothermal wonderland including a geyser that goes off at the same time everyday (after someone drops some soap down the crater!), lots of bubbling water and mud, more smelly sulphur and lots of different coloured deopsits. We were back in Rotorua by lunch time to meet my English friend Marcus, who's been living in Auckland for over 2 years now, and his kiwi girlfriend Jade. All 5 of us got on really well and we headed off zorbing that afternoon. For those of you who haven't been here yet, imagine 2 massive beach balls, one slightly smaller than the other and inside the other with a very cushined layer of air between, add some warm water and any fools that want to get inside (myself, Javid and Kate got in one together) and roll it 200m down a hill...this is zorbing and it's definitely worth doing! After that we went to the Polynesian spa, where we hung out in 4 different outdoor pools ranging from 38 to 42 degC with a view over Lake Rotorua (altho' it was dark when we were there) for an hour and a half...on the way back to the hostel we got some fush n chups NZ style..

The following day (Rotorua is a bit of an activity central), the 5 of us went to the luge track (think go-carting but with gravity instead of engines) and raced each other down each of the 3 tracks on offer. After that Kate left to head to the east coast and Javid decided to spend his last few days in NZ with the 3 of us - as much for the comfort of Marcus' car as our great company I reckon . We headed west to Waitomo, another small place in the middle of nowhere, where we ended up in a really scummy hostel, but the attraction there is the cave systems. Myself and Javid did the 5 hour Black Abyss adventure through the caves the following day (that's Easter Sat btw, in case you've lost track!). This began with a 45 m abseil into the cave and also included a swinging accross in the dark on a rope thing (technical words failing me here..), rafting through the cave on tyre tubes, climbing up big waterfalls, sliding down small waterfalls, drinking hot orange and eating chocolate and checking out the glow worms. Screaming alot and getting cold were also integral parts of the adventure! That evening we headed up to Raglan, a small town with a big beach and big waves, for the Easter weekend. The hostel we stayed at was class, full of surfers and some hippy types, very chilled out and all the accomodation was in old train carriages that had been converted. We spent 2 days there generally chilling out...playing frisbee and cricket on the beach, boogie-boarding in the waves and eating, drinking and playing cards in the hostel. Still the weather was fab...not a cloud in the sky on the Monday!!

On Tuesday the fun was over for Marcus, Jade and Javid. We drove up to Auckland where we dropped Javid at the airport and then crashed at Marcus and Jade's place for a few hours. The fun was not over for me, however, altho' I was ready to sleep for a week at that stage. I went out that night to catch up with Karl, a kiwi friend of mine who was my instructor when I did my DM course on the Aran Islands a few years ago. I met him at the apartment he shares with his lovely French girlfriend and we had some of his home brew and caught up til Liz, the girlf, came home from work. We all went out for a yummy Italian and had a lovely time (he sends his love to all of you that know him...Mercer, Cooney, Orla...). The following day he helped me organise myself to get some diving in up north of Auckland. I rented a car and headed up to Tutukaka,the base for diving the Poor Knights Islands. Got one days diving in there - it was great - lots of morays and scorpionfish. Had an interesting trip back to shore (the islands are a long way off - maybe an hour by boat..) in very high seas - was more like being on a rollercoaster than a boat. I should point out by the way,that the first rain I saw was when we arrived into Auckland - and since then it's rained every day - really short but very heavy showers, apparently typical for the area especially now that winter is setting in..Anyways, there wasn't much going on in Tutukaka and on Friday I headed for Goat Island which is a marine reserve (as are the Poor Knights) and met up with an Irish guy who works at Auckland Uni in the marine lab at the reserve. Had an interesting lunch with him and then went for a snorkel around the island - such an large number of fishes in such a small area I have never seen and I swear one of them was following me around - they're not at all shy! Stayed in a really cute caravan that night at a campsite that would have been great with a group of people and some beer but was instead full of families with small kids that woke really early in the morning.

So that brings us up to yesterday, when I drove back to Auckland, stopping for lunch with the Irish guy and his family on the way. Last night I went out with Marcus and Jade and some of their friends for one friend's birthday celebrations, today we did a fly by tour of Auckland, and now I'm at the airport waiting for my flight to Sydney...it's sad to be leaving NZ especially with so much unseen, but it's been a great few weeks and I can't complain

Hope all's well with ye all and apologies for the marathon blog - but I'm sure some of ye will appreciate the excuse to take a break from work

Some pics from NZ: http://www.flickr.com/photos/niscratz/sets/72157626213396275/


Posted by niscratz 05:54 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Sydney City and Beaches

Well, have just spent the last 2 days with my 83 year old grand-aunt in Sydney and managed to have the scariest experience of the trip so far... Elizabeth, my grand-aunt, doesn't like to drive in the dark, so she asked one of her friends to take her to the airport to collect me...her friend, at 76, is no spring chicken either..and they picked me up 1.5 hrs after I landed - I was almost the last person here and they were closing up..the ladies had gotten lost en route. Anyways, sitting into the car with Sr. Dorothy was about the most dangerous thing I've done. She's a speed demon but doesn't seem to realise it, criss-crosses lanes like it's going out of fashion and, having realised we were heading in the wrong direction AGAIN (!?), stopped quite suddenly to pull a U-ee (or however you're suppsed to spell such words..) in the inside lane of a 3-lane highway Needless to say there was plenty of beeping from behind, but fortunately the roads weren't too busy as it was late enough in the night...I was never so happy to be alive as when we finally arrived at our destination.

After that experience, the rest of my stay here has been stress-free.. On Monday we spent the day (using public transport - phew!) visiting parts of the city and south of the city. We started at Watson's Point at the southern head of the harbour, then went south to Bondi - not as impressive as I had imagined...much smaller than it looks in photos. It was windy enough to put us both off swimming. From there we headed into the city centre where we visited Hyde Park, the Anglican cathedral, the outside of town hall (they wouldn't let us in cos there was some concert on), the Victoria something building and finally Darling Harbour. From there, as night was falling and the city lights were coming on, we took a ferry under the bridge to Circular Quay - it was lovely.

The following day we were exploring the northern beaches (by car - but fortunately Elizabeth is a far better driver than her friend and I was able to do some of it too) beginning with Balmoral, then onto Manly and finally up the coast to Palm Beach. There Elizabeth took out her picnic basket, filled with everything you could possibly need - cutlery, delf, napkins and even a table cloth!!! How cute!! Anyways, there seemed to be alot of activity at the far end of the beach and, as Palm Beach is the location of the beach and surf club in 'Home and Away', I went to investigate.. I'd heard that they only film there once a week and luckily for me that was Tuesday!!! So I took a wander up the beach to see what was going on. At first I was trying to skirt around it all (they were at the surf club by this stage, not the beach), feeling a bit intrusive and foolish armed with my camera, but I quickly realised that the big group congregated in the area were not in fact cast and crew as I had imagined, but lots of other tourists armed with cameras. I joined them (50% at least of whom were Irish - the GAA jerseys and pale skin a dead giveaway). Anyways, to cut a long story short, I got to see 3 scenes being filmed, mostly with newer actors whose names I don't know...but Alf Stewart was in one scene and he was really nice - he offered to have his photo taken with everyone!!! So now, the hightlight of my Sydney visit (and maybe even the whole trip - how sad is that?!) was meeting him and getting my photo taken with him

Anyways, we also did manage a swim - or rather, a roll about in the waves cos swimming is impossible there unless you go beyond the waves to the potentially shark-infested waters... Not surprisinly, Elizabeth was in swimming too..all 4 ft of her..even tho' I found it difficult to avoid the washing-machine sensation there..Oh yeah, and I nearly forgot, while I was checking out the filming, I bumped into Ciara Hayden, a girl from secondary school whom I hadn't seen since we left school 10 years ago!! How small a world is that?!

Sydney is a great city - I can really see the appeal for living here...next time I'll have to stay a little longer. Again, hope all is well with all of ye..

Some pics from Sydney: http://www.flickr.com/photos/niscratz/sets/72157626295004746/


Posted by niscratz 05:55 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Beijing and the Great Wall

Well, the past 2 days have been amazing!! Arrived in Beijing late enough on Wed, went straight to the hostel after a not-too-tiring 12 hour flight spent catching up on lots of films that I've missed at the cinema in the past couple of months. Been sharing a dorm with 3 girls from Siberia of all places. Spent yesterday with Jessica, an Aussie I met on the shuttle from the airport to the hostel, and Erica, an American we met at breakfast. We visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and all that area. Unfortunately (or not) Mao's mausoleum has been closed for 6 months for renovations, so there was no viewing of the embalmed communist general. There were also renovations going on in the Forbidden City and a few of the buildings were surrounded by scaffolding - I guess it's all to do with getting Beijing in shape for the Olympics next year. We wandered up to the lake for some lunch and then taxied it to the silk market which was a little dissappointing to be honest. There's no such thing as browsing there - if you so much as glance sideways at something, you get bombarded by the very persistant sellers and it's all about bargaining a price which I'm not too fond of...so we didn't stay for too long.

The best thing about the day tho' wasn't any of the sights we saw (which all looked rather grey and colourless under the grey sky - thought it was the pollution but apparently the sky over Beijing was blue today so it must have just been a cloudy day!), but just wandering the hutongs (alleyways) and main streets watching everyone and everything that was happening...there's so much going on.. Traffic here is chaotic - it's a bit like all the vehicles, from buses and trucks down to bikes, are all looking for the path of least resistance to their destination, and if that means driving on the footpath then so be it..cars, bikes and mopeds on the footpath, pedestrians pushing buggies and wheelchairs in the cycle lanes...it's crazy - why bother painting lanes on the road at all? There's alot of hooting of horns too - a quick little one to warn everyone around you that you're about to do something completely erratic and probably unnecessary, a really loud aggressive one if an erratic mover looks like the may crash into you.. And as for pedestrian crossings - well, they do have green and red men - but again I don't really see why, as all the traffic drives thro' the crossing regardless of the colour of the little man! So really, sitting at an intersection for a few hours would be highly entertaining...in my opinion anyways...

This morning I headed off on a hostel-organised trip to the Great Wall. We hiked about 8 km along the wall from Jinshanling to Simatai - and it was tough hiking, nearly even tougher than the Tongariro Crossing, cos of the unevenness of the pathways and the steepness of some of the slopes - needed to use all fours on several occasions! It was amazing tho'. I think we passed thro' 30 odd watchtowers, in varying states of disrepair. And the views of the mountains and the wall stretching ahead and behind us was wow. There were lots of locals trying to sell off souvenirs and drinks along the way, but being very rude meant that mostly they leave you alone and don't try to follow you along the track.

The food here is ridiculously cheap - in fact everything is, not just the food - main course and beer last night for less than a euro!! Lunch today from the supermarket the same... And speaking of food, I'm starving now and am meeting the others for dinner in 5... There's nothing more to say really except that 2 days is not enough, altho' it's better than nothing.. Tomorrow I fly back to Dublin and I'll be in work on Monday...how sad...

Take care and will see some of ye really soon

Some pics from Beijing: http://www.flickr.com/photos/niscratz/sets/72157626410776406/

Posted by niscratz 05:57 Archived in China Comments (0)

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