A Travellerspoint blog

Western Austrailia

sunny 30 °C

So in order to get to the other side of a country bigger than Europe we had to fly about 41/2 hours to Perth. One of the most isolated cities in the world far away on the west coast which lots of people rave about..... lets see! We were staying with Nick and Ol at their place in Fremantle which is about 20 minutes south of Perth and right on the coast. Fortunately the temperature had sky rocketed compared to Sydney and the skies were blue. We planned to spend the remaining time in Oz in the area so enough time to explore, stock up on some home comforts and chill out catching up on some stuff.... In fact a lot of time would be spent hanging out at the lovely house with Stimpy and Bullseye the friendly house pooches, cooking, walking, reading and bit of drinking thrown in for fun.

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Fremantle or Freo definitely had a colonial feel about it, with the first settlers arriving in the 1820's. One of the oldest buildings being Fremantle prison, funny that seen as they shipped out a load of British convicts who had to build their own prison! At the same time the modern harbourside was heaving with people there for the sailing world championship, the qualifying event for the 2012 Olympics. We watched some of the windsurfers take to the waves but they went too far out to be able to follow what was going on, and there is a limit to watching sail boats heading far out to sea. Freo is also home to some of AC/DC's founding members including Bonn Scott, who's grave in Freo is a major tourist attraction. We visited the nearly old Fremantle Markets which had loads of nice food on offer and lots of touristy nik naks. Talking of nice food, Cappucino strip is home to some seriously nice looking cakes, chocolates and ice creams, no doubt we tried a few places!

Only 20 minutes on the train gets you into Perth city centre, a nice modern city on the banks of the Swan river & who have a district called Welshpool. Just next to the railway station is the district of Northbrigde which is home to loads of restaurants and pubs, so being as it was lunch time when we got there it was a must to see what culinary delights they had on offer. Yet again the good old Asian food hall came up trumps meaning we could have a selection of different food and be able to sit in the same restaurant, genius idea! The rest of our time in the city centre was spent wandering around they even have a mock tudor lane full of tiny shops offering British goods, of course at a premium & even though Meurig is partial to some yorkshire gold he wasn't about to pay £12 for a box of tea bags! Down on the esplanade they have the Perth Big Bell which is a modern bell tower and clock, their catchphrase being 'they have big ben, we have big bells' never knew there was clock/bell envy!!!

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After over a week of indulging in home comfort we roll out of Fremantle in our Hyundai Getz rental with some camping gear borrowed from Nick in search of south western delights. First destination Margaret River 4ish hours south, but with a quick stop over in quite sandfly infested Bunbury for lunch, but as we continue south the heavens properly open. Margret River, renowned for its wine is a lush green area between the coast and arid desert, with wineries and mini producers of chocolate to preserves of all kind. After stocking up with provisions we head out to Conto Reserve to set up camp in the coastal forest and cook up our steak wraps on the free BBQ for dinner. Luckily the dark clouds head off north and eventually expose the sun and clear starry night, an amazing sight but a tad colder than we expected. That night Sian gave up on the tent (never one for hard floors) and ended up in the car, but morning soon came and we warmed up quickly with a croissant and te/coffee in the sun.

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After a bit of gravel tracking in vain in search of a beach we settle for a view of the rocky coastline before heading further south, eventually arriving at the most South-Westerly point in Australia. Cape Leeuwin & Lighthouse where the Southern Ocean meats the Indian Ocean. It is a rugged coast line scattered with small thin beaches, and apparently home to some “in season” highly venomous snakes, so we stayed clear of the bush and stuck to the paths on the walk round. The rest of the afternoon was spent making the journey via the scenic route over to Pemberton (pitt stop for cider) where we were then headed for the nearby Warren National Park. Our home for the night was Drafty's campground next to the picturesque warren river and they provided you with a camp kitchen and timber for the fire pitt, luxury.

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After a much warmer night in the tent, probably due to the fact that we bought a cheap sleeping bag, we went off around the park to explore the ancient karri trees. In the Park there was the Dave Evans bicentennial tree, a tree top lookout for bush fires built at a staggering 68 meters high. The tree was covered in thin-ish metal poles punched into it, then held together with a few strands of chicken wire, easy to climb..... yeah right. They had a lower lookout point at 25 meters and Sian made it to there second time round mostly down to competitive spirit after watching some other people manage it. Meurig on the other hand was determined to make it to the top, nutter. His decent was very careful and slow, but got down in one piece. The views from the top were amazing but Sian will have to make do with the photos. A little interesting fact was that Dave Evans was a Welshman who moved over to Australia in the 1920's with his parents and became a state politician and the tree was adapted to help lookout for bushfire and named after him. After the scary morning the afternoon was far more leisurely with a visit to the valley of giants and a walk along the 40meter swaying suspended walkway, nothing compared to the tree climb! We finished a lovely sunny day at the shady campsite next to a lovely beach and had a buffet supper of what we had left in the esky cooler.

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Our final day down south started off well with a treat, a slap up breakfast on the terrace in the coastal town of Albany, an old Georgan whaling settlement before then setting off up the Albany highway on the drive back towards Fremantle. On the way up though wes stopped at Mount Barker at their bakery and made a slight detour off road through the Stirling Ranges, a national reserve full of red dirt tracks, mountains and probably as outback as we were going to get. Again the views from the lookouts of the red rugged landscape against a simpsons-esque sky were great and vast. But eventually after a day on the road we made it back to Fremantle just in time for a Nick speciality, homemade pizzas in his own woodfired pizza oven, delicious.

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By sheer coincidence and some help from facebook it turned out that one of Sian's Cardiff Uni couse mates Rachael was living in Perth with her husband Alex. They invited us over to their place for a delicious bbq in Subiaco, close to the subiaco Aussie rules ground. As it turns out Meurig was on the same course as Alex also in Cardiff Uni just a few years apart and we found out that there is a nice little community of Cardiff connected people living in Perth. It's a small world & Perth seems to be where lots of people move to!

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The run up to Christmas was a bit different this year, to be honest with sunny +30º days and light till past 8 it was never going to be a normal one, but without the darkness you don’t get the festive lights which break up our winter at home!! Imagine winter without Christmas and NY, dreary....... So with weather for BBQ's, that is what we did. Down at Swan river just off the coast we had some great food cooked on the free park BBQ and let the dogs swim in the crystal clear water whilst having a drink or two. Nick also took us on a bit of a tour through the rather posh north Fremantle and took a wonder through a half build and abandoned multimillion dollar Indian mansion of a bankrupt fraudulent mine owner. The building was ridiculous, dome roofs like the Taj Mahal, high ceilings, too many rooms to count, and all over at least 8 plots, stupendous!!

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Christmas eve was shopping day not for presents just for food + drink. We headed down the fish market and picked up a north-western snapper, some squid and picked up some salmon, squid and scallop herb discs... yum!!! We then popped over to the Italian food hall and picked up some veg, massive green olives, coffee, caviare and bits before heading to the bottle shop to stock up with wine and cider. Job done. Christmas day didn’t end up to unusual really, Pancakes with syrup, ice cream and fruit for breakfast, fresh calamari with a Scrambled egg/cream cheese/caviare dip and biscuits for the first course, baked snapper with herbs and steamed veg for mains and then to round it all off, a home made apple/cinnamon strudel with ice cream! Not a turkey in site, 32º + and sunny, lovely!! But no Boxing day slothing for us, time to hit the road again, or the air, and to South America and Santiago De Chile, via Sydney and surprisingly Auckland (again)....

Posted by Meurig ac Sian 16:41 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

New South Wales down to Sydney

overcast 15 °C

After rolling over the boarder on the Greyhound into New South Wales, first up was Byron Bay, A chilled out, hippyfied, surfing playground with coffee shops everywhere. We missed out Surfers Paradise before leaving Queensland as we would have landed there right in the middle of schoolies season, riot police and all!!! Apparently the kids who have just left school go away for two weeks en mass, get pissed, cause havoc & generally annoy the locals! The police were on hand with horses and riot gear to keep things in order, seemed a bit heavy handed but according to some locals the little blighters can get a bit rowdy. Aquarius was our hostel which had it's own bar, pool area and free evening meals! The night we arrived was the culmination of movember so there was karaoke arranged and all the boys were sporting their best efforts, Some good, some bad & some ugly, the girls tried to join in by drawing a fake tash with eyeliner, Sian just looked like a French
waiter!

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We had our surf lesson booked for the morning after so didn't get too carried away with the drinking even though happy hour was nice & cheap'ish! We woke up to a grey & drizzly morning, not ideal for surfing but our tutor seemed to think that there would be less wind & it would make it a bit easier for us, we'll see. Only a small group of four, so we would get enough pointers & help from the tutor. We were the only newbies as the two other girls had had at least one other lesson previously. When we arrived at Lennox head the weather was a little brighter but it was definitely windy. We went over the moves and practiced on the sand before we were let loose in the rough sea with the added challenge of a side current! One of the girls told us that her other lesson conditions were a lot easier than this, nothing like jumping in at the deep end then. With the help of the guide we were getting our balance together and getting halfway to standing before falling off. All the pushing, lifting and fighting the current was serious exercise so we were given a short break. When we went back in to the froth Sian got straight on the board and managed to catch a good wave, stand and ride it in to shore without the tutor. That feat wasn't repeated, not for lack of trying though! Meurig managed to stand a few times but it didn't help that we both went to catch the same wave and Sian's board clonked him on the head. After a tiring 3 hours session we took nice dip in the tea tree lake and headed back to Byron in time for lunch, or a massive amount of cake and coffee, nice & healthy.

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The next day was a lot more chilled out and was spent mostly on the beach and taking advantage of the free BBQ at the hostel ! We walked down the beach and headed up to the lighthouse up on Cape Byron, which is the most easterly point of Australia, the views from there were stunning. A walk back along the Captain Cook trail took us back Byron beach for sunset with a few kite surfers doing there stuff. Byron Bay was a great little place and wished that we had spend more time there, could have also worked longer perfecting our surfing skills!

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We left Byron to head a little further down the coast to Coffs Harbour. It was mainly a quick stop off to break up the journey down to Sydney and we had been told that the YHA there was nice. Our stop over was just enough time to use the pool, check out the beach, & tale a stroll up the river into town. The YHA was in the jetty area so not close to town but a nice 45 mins walk. The place wasn't a massive draw for tourists mainly a decent place to stop and avoid a near 24 hours bus ride down to Sydney. So after our stop over we jumped onto the night bus to our last destination along our Greyhound east coast trip. Unfortunately the bus was late picking up and turned up at 2am, and then 10 minutes down the road the driver had to take his scheduled pit stop, but as we started up again the bus's head lights didn’t. As a result we didn’t go anywhere until the sun rise!! Fantastic!

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We stayed in the Glebe area of Sydney for the first few days in the YHA with our new free membership cards, hello discounts. The area is close to the uni and has loads of nice picturesque terrace houses with cafes, bakery's and restaurants spotted down the main road. We headed down town on the bus for a look and got to the harbour front to see the bridge and the opera house as it got dark, the bridge was definitely impressive not sure about the beige opera house, quite a 70's concrete design! We thought it was suppose to be white! The next couple of day's were spent wandering around the city centre, checking out the Sydney museum, climbing up the bridge tower to get a birds eye view, checked out the free bridge museum, walked over, under and around it, and then through the old refurbished dock's area the Rock's, nice and posh. We went to the Aquarium on Darling Harbour in the hope of seeing a platypus, but had to be content with some penguins, sharks and Dugongs. With a trip to Sydney harbour not complete without jumping on and off the famous green and yellow passenger boats streaming across one end to the other.

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After getting a taste of Sydney city centre we head out east for a couple of nights to the infamous
Bondi Beach. The weather up until now had been quite disappointing not what you expect from a Sydney summer but as we rocked up at our Bondi YHA the sun came out to welcome us, great timing for the Hostel BBQ that night. First things firsts, head on down to the beach and chill out with the hundreds of sunbathers watching the surfing and volleyball on a glorious Saturday. After soaking up some beach atmosphere we lunch on some fish and chips on the grass bank with the seagulls and walk the beach with a massive, thick 99 ice cream with sprinkles, sickly.com. To the south we took a coastal walk heading down towards Coogee beach, walking between the rocky coast and some very nice prime sea view houses. Some great little bays on the way, beaches and cliffs buzzing with people making the most of the good weekend weather before the sun disappears. Next stop Sydney centre again just for a night & our dorm was in the city centre train station YHA within an old train coach, the only down side being the location right next rail tracks. That day we had arranged to catch up with Brad and Mark from the welsh pub in Wellington for some drinks and BBQ at Marks house in San Souci, not far from Botany bay. It was a great laugh catching up and meeting their family and friends and Mark got out his turbo charged BBQ, well in the garage because of the rain.

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Inland is Katoomba, a smallish town right up in the Blue mountains, a two hour train ride from Sydney. We had been warned that the climate definitely changes up there so we packed some warm things and headed off. Katoomba is a tourist highlight mainly because of the spectacular views nearby of the three sisters and the blue mountains national park all around. We only had a day to spend up there so we made the most of the walking tracks, viewpoints, and the many steps down to the valley floor! They seriously felt like they went on and on but I suppose we were quite high up! Luckily we didn't have to climb up a never ending staircase at the other end of the valley as they had the worlds most vertical train ride back up to the top, no wonder the carriage was engulfed in cages! Katoomba town is full of very enticing coffee shops and bakeries so after a hard afternoon walking around we finished off with coffee and cake, well deserved. Turns out we picked the right day to go walking in the area because the next morning was pretty wet and cold, time to head back to sunny Sydney I think. Ye right!!

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So back in the city once more and the last day on the east cost, so time to tick off a few things we had missed earlier. First things first though, Foooooood and off we trotted to the food hall in Paddy's market, fairly similar to the ones in Asia just a little more modern and cleaner but loads on offer. Meurig definitely indulged in a huge plate of Chinese offerings and Sian had Sushi, Cardiff could do with one of these! Manly was the next destination on the north side of the harbour and a great place for a surf apparently, not many out that day. Unfortunately the weather had followed us from Katoomba and Manly beach was a little grey and cloudy so it was only a pit stop for us and a quick walk through town before jumping back on the ferry into town. Sydney ferries had been voted one of the best companies in Australia to work for and it's surprising how many people use them, I suppose it's a long way round by road from some of the coves around the harbour. The ferries are also a very lazy way of seeing the sights along the river so we jumped on the next ferry inland past the Olympic park until the boat turned round & headed back downstream, and eventually back under harbour bridge. To finish off the last day in Sydney we had a few drinks and some snacks in the out door bar right next to the opera house on the waterfront.

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Posted by Meurig ac Sian 06:45 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Queensland Coast

North to South

sunny 27 °C

G'day, from the country of marsupials, schooners (about a half pint) and free public BBQ's!! And if you don’t have a ute your not a true blue man!!!

After a long night on the floor of Auckland departures (seems everyone had the same idea as us!) we eventually got underway and arrived early morning in Brisbane. A bit of a wait was in store, 7 hours until our flight to Cairns but we got there in the end and found the hostel painlessly. We were staying in Corona backpackers which was cosy, clean, cheap and right in the city centre with the added bonus of a free evening meal in the Woolshed pub. The free meals were basic eg. Spag bol or chilli but you could upgrade to the bar meals for a few dollars which were bigger and quite tasty. Cairns centre is hugely geared towards tourism in the way of day trips here, there and everywhere and is helped by being close to the Great Barrier Reef. The city doesn't have a central beach but to compensate for this there's a huge lagoon near the coast with fake sand and plenty of free bbq's. We looked into the various trips & offers available and decided to do the Greyhound east coast lite which included our travel plus all the main destinations & activities on route to Sydney. We also arranged a two day trip up to Cape Tribulation to experience Australia's oldest rainforest!

The area which includes Cape Tribulation is the Daintree national park and is about a 4 hour drive north of Cairns. So we were picked up early by our guide George who we later learned was an Aboriginal elder, should have been obvious from all his in-depth local knowledge and dreamtime explanations. We travelled along the Captain Cook highway which hugged the coast & our first stop on route was Mossman gorge which also has an Aboriginal community still living close. The water in the gorge was nice, clear and definitely refreshing. I think only one out of our group was brave enough to go for a dip!! George was on hand with local tea and biscuits before we set off towards the Daintree river. There isn't a bridge over the river so we had to wait for a small cable ferry to take us across. We were now officially in crocodile country and George had a few stories about people & children who had met their maker following a crocodile attack! But seriously why would you go swimming in a river, in the dark after a few drinks at a party??? The roads got a lot narrower and windier the other side of the river with forest encroaching on both sides. Along the road north we stopped and we were guided through a native rainforest walk, with George pointing out useful, interesting and unique plants, as he's an expert plant specialist in his spare time!!.

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Cape Tribulation is home to the endangered Cassowary, a human sized colourful bird which is a cross between an emu and peacock and can be around 5ft tall. The signs along the road warned drivers that they can be seen at night crossing the roads, so no road kill please as there aren't many left in the wild! We arrived at the small Cape Tribulation village and got dropped off at our accommodation, Ferntrees lodge. We had the afternoon & next morning to explore the area before rejoining the bus for the second half of the trip. We headed towards the cape and beach after checking with reception about the stingers (box jellyfish) and the whereabouts of any crocs, apparently there was a “friendly” one living in the nearby creeks so just keep an eye out. All the landscape had been named by Captain Cook on the endeavour in about 1770 on their way up the east coast and by the looks of it, nothing much had changed, with the rainforest carpeting the hills and mountains and rolling down right on to the immaculate beach. Since the government turned this area back into a nature reserve all additional development has been stopped and with nothing built on, or near the beach the area has turning back into unspoilt beauty,with the odd person summoning the courage for a paddle...!! After a walk down the beach from the cape viewing point, we finish the day on a camp-site just of the beach, eating fresh stone baked pizza and a stubby (or bottle) of XXXX, lovely!!! All we had to do after was find our way back to the resort through the forest in the dark, lol easy....

With the only the morning left to explore, we check out early and headed down to the beach via a nature walk Cassowary spotting (failed), and chill out on the sand, before walking further down the beach to the creek, crocodile spotting (failed). After a morning stroll, we made it back to the resort only to find the unknown posh pool at the bottom of the resort so we dive in before jumping on the bus on time nice and soggy! The guide this time was Wayne from Port Douglas, and he drove us back south jokingly, dropping us off at the Croc boat tour where we took a cruse up river and were lucky enough to spot a 7ft Croc along a lovely cruse up the Daintree river, and later a stop at a fruit orchard with experimental native fruit flavour ice cream which was not so lovely, but refreshing!

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Next day in Cairns was our first package trip on the Down Under Snorkel and Dive Boat to the Great Barrier Reef, and even managed to get $20 introduction dive offer!!! Where better to do your first dive, Awesome!!!! After an early start and an hour or so boat cruise we reach a section of the largest coral reef in the world, and straight up after our safety briefing were suited and ready in our flashy blue Lycra stinger suits!!! We headed down after a couple of exercises, arm in arm to a sandy spot in-between the coral and knelt on the bottom and got up close to a massive clam and to some hard and soft coral. Sian got a bit spooked and headed up early, but the rest of us carried on down to about 5m, breaking off individually checking out all the massive coral formations from underneath, wicked!!! The crystal clear waters had a visibility of about 10-12m maybe more, with colourful coral types and masses of huge fish everywhere, it was great just to snorkelling around! Our lunch was a Ausse BBQ and buffet which was lovely, but a full stomach is not ideal for diving and snorkelling!!! After lunch Meurig jumped at a second opportunity for a dive at the second location, for an additional fee of course... Hooked!!! Sian opted for the more relaxed snorkelling and went exploring with the camera, whilst Meurig went off again for a 20min dive down to maybe 8m following the Divemaster round on a loop through and under the network of big coral sections, and seeing a 1.5m black reef shark a sting ray and awesome clams and sea slugs along the way. After a day full of activity, sea and sun we head back to port entertained by some live improvised reggae/rock by a crew member, great fun!!

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After nearly a week in the Cairns area we started our journey down the east coast to Townsville where we could catch the ferry over to Magnetic island. Apparently the name comes from the strange behaviour of Captain Cook's compass as he sailed past the island! We stayed at the Bungalow Bay YHA which had a Koala resort next door, the rooms were like alpine cabins and the place did amazing pizzas. That afternoon we passed a group of really noisy parrots being fed, like unbelievably noisy! Not sure if it was the best idea but Sian picked up some of the food and some parrots swarmed towards her, perched on her arm and left a fair few scratches from their sharp claws! The YHA was in Horseshoe bay where there was a long sandy beach, a few nice bars & restaurants. That evening we took advantage of our meal deal for the pizzas and they had half price jugs of stongbow on offer. We spent a lazy day at the beach, swimming within the safety of the stinger enclosure. It feels a bit funny swimming around in a square net when the rest of the sea is empty but safety first eh and those stingers can be nasty! Meurig managed to find a chip shop for a bite to eat but again like in NZ no vinegar on the chips, weird. That night the hostel staff were putting on bingo for alcoholic prizes. With horseshoe bay not being the liveliest of places at night the hostel bar was usually full so there were a few bingo goers. Meurig managed to get a free drink but also was in the running for a larger prize but had to do a challenge against 2 other girls. The task was to eat some dry bran flakes the quickest, right this should be easy for him.... Oh no Meurig was beaten by a girl at one of his favourite pastimes, eating, so no free jug of cider for us.

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Magnetic Island had a fair few walking tracks so we decided to get a bit more active and walk around some of the headlands and down to the various bays. We got some free snorkel’s from the hostel and off we trotted. First stop was Arthur bay then over the headland to Florence bay where we were told the best snorkelling was to be done. Unfortunately one of the masks was a dud and the rough tide was making visibility difficult but we saw a few fish and what we thought was a small ray. Onwards and upwards over the next headland to radical bay to a deserted beach resort, we found some palm trees to shelter from the sweltering midday sun. After a quick stop we continued over the stony oven feeling headland past the path to balding bay the naturist beach, even with the prospect of seeing some naked bodies it looked like bit too much of a climb so we headed back over to horseshoe bay for a cool drink. The rest of the day was spent chillaxing in the poolside hammocks, nice, before tackling the WW2 defence fort on top of the hill to go wild Koala spotting in the evening. That night was vour last on the island, the hostel bar was hosting a quiz night where we teamed up with one of our roomies from the Netherlands, a German & a girl from Chilli, maybe the multinational aspect would help. We weren't the winners but it was a laugh and again the pizzas were pretty damn tasty.

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In Townsville we stayed at the Reef lodge hostel which was quite close to the ferry terminal and had decent reviews even if the guy at reception was lacking a personality and happiness! Townsville is home to the Reef HQ where they have the only aquarium with a living reef in one of the tanks. We went in for a look and they had an impressive amount of sea creatures living there and at one of the shark talks it was only the two of us there so we got a one to one presentation from one of the guides and were able to ask all the questions we liked! We got to watch the small croc being fed, a stinger presentation and were taken for a tour of the turtle hospital. They had a few turtles in there recovering from various illnesses but there one one which was absolutely massive, its healthy weight was meant to be over 100kg. The town itself wasn't overwhelming and probably had a bit more life during the weekends rather than on a Wednesday night! But the next destination would definitely be lively, Airlie beach & gateway to the Whitsunday Islands.

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Airlie Beach seemed little more than a main street running along the coast with a section of beach and a big lagoon in the esplanade with a good collection of bars/clubs, cafes and food outlets. We got dropped off by the greyhound near the beach and made our way over to the opposite side of town to the X-base hostel. The place was collection of chalets round a pool and garden including hammocks, so not a bad hostel then really. With our trip booked in a couple of day's all that was left to do was chill out at the pool and spend a day down the lagoon, sampling the local fish and chips (with vinegar) and check out a few of the bars. On the day of the trip we dump our big bags at the hostel, picked up some cider at the liquor store and headed off the wrong way up over the peninsular instead of round but made it on time to the harbour to catch the Pride of Airlie boat.

The trip was a 3day, 2night but as we were picked up at 1pm, more like 2day, and our accommodation was in a deserted resort on Molle island, not on board but it did come with a added bonus of a pool and nice bed. The first day was “sailing” out to the island and with no activities except a walking tour on the island, all that was left to do was crack out the drinks and meet the people on board whilst basking in the sun. We ended up in a nice enough dorm with a golf course view with three medics from Aberdeen uni and to Sian's delight all girls + meurig, for a change! The rest of the day was taken up by food, drinking games and chat in the comical navel themed resort bar (with some fancy ballroom foot work from some frenchies some of the best entertainment of the night).

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The next day was a full day on the boat travelling further in to the collection of islands which looked a lot like flooded hills, first stop Whitehaven beach voted one of the best beaches in the world, and has the finest sand around, nearly powder and made from pure silica so squeaky under foot. They're still unsure how the silica came to be there but best guess is a volcano dumped it there many many years ago. A lovely part of the world, the water crystal clear, with turtles bobbing up and fish everywhere, and at this time of year stingers too, as a result the sexy Lycra suits came out again. After a couple of hours on the beach playing cricket and general beach activities we jump on board for lunch and head off to a snorkelling location, with a strong current the boat dropped us at one end and picked up at the other, so good lazy snorkelling. As the water based activities were finished for the day the drinking could begin, and surprisingly the Irish leading the way with everyone gearing/drinking up for the Karaoke that evening in the resort bar. With drinking games and 2 for 1 drink offers the night turns into a bit of a blur, but there was some group singing in there some were and even a must have Tom Jones duet, classic.

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With a early check out and another disappointing breakfast, the boat surprisingly was a bit less lively the following morning, with most finding it difficult to summon the energy for another snorkel, but there are worst things to do than lethargicly floating in warmish water watching the underwater world go by (it would have been easy pickings for a Shark). The trip concluded with an attempt to sail back into dock, but with little wind everyone just ended up drying off in the sun, with the exemption of our Irish friends who sheltered in the cabin. It was a good trip made by the people on board, the food could have definitively been better...!!!

With a night to rest in Airlie Beach before heading down to Rockhampton we end up meeting most of the boat trippers in the bar that night for some discounted food and drink, and end up hitting some bar/clubs pretty much a continuation of the previous night and just as late too!!!

After a long coach journey south we end up in the inland town/city of Rockhampton and as we found out cattle farming country. Nothing much here but our aim was to go inland and escape the coast for a while and see some outback, but unfortunately with no hire options available we couldn’t get inland to Carnarvon Gorge an apparently impressive national park, but as our hostel owner said “Not all is lost there's a Rodeo in town tonight” and even better a free one!!! So after a cycle round town the following day and a picnic in the free botanic gardens and zoo we head down to the rodeo ring at the Great Western Steak House where they were doing a buy 1 get 1 free t bone steaks. The place felt a bit like we were in the USA but we had a great time eating steak and watching men & boys aged 13 and up jumping on bulls of all sizes.

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As much as the rodeo in Rocky was fun there wasn't much more in the way of activities so headed south to Hervey bay where we would start our Fraser Island trip. We stayed at Flashpackers Hervey Bay which was a spangly new hostel near the beach and not too expensive, which makes a nice change! Hervey bay itself is just a cluster of different villages lined along the coast so strictly I think we stayed in Torquay. Unfortunately the pool in the hostel wasn't quite finished so we headed to the beach instead & that night had a free 'sausage sizzle' with guests in the hostel kitchen, Bonus.

It was a fairly early start from Hervey bay for the ferry to Fraser Island, the biggest sand island in the world and we were on a 2 day, 1 night tour there with Dingo's. After a nice calm 45min ferry crossing we got to the port were we met by our guide Dave who looked a hell of a lot like crocodile dundee and turned out to be seriously well read when it came to biochemistry, not what comes to mind first when you think of tour guides! The bus was bright pink and had massive wheels to cope with the soft, sandy roads! It was possible to do a self drive on the island, but as they were suffering a fairly dry period it turned out to be a bad time to be a 4wd novice as we had to help out a few tourists and a tour bus stuck in the dry sand. The only bits of tarmac on the island are in the resorts and the rest is made up of sandy tracks winding through to bush. The ride was a bit bumpy but no worries as Dave knew his stuff and we didn't get stuck like some of the others. Dave took us to Basin lake which was full to the top, as they had a really wet winter, apparently due to sun spots effecting the climate which also has a pattern correlating with the financial crashes over the past century, and with even more rain predicted to come in 2012 he also believes the real recession will come too, we’ll see! Before lunch we went on a bush walk for about an hour passing all the native plants and trees growing on and in this sandy land. Luckily the food on this trip was a hell of a lot better than the Whitsunday trip and we had a nice buffet lunch in the forest only disrupted by the monster flies who were biting everyone, even through people's clothes. We had a nice few hours at Lake McKenzie which is definitely as good as it looks in the photos, fresh crystal clear water, white sand and the weather was spot on too. The lake was a bit chillier than it looked but after the initial shock it was nice & refreshing. The downside to not having tarmac roads is that you can't get anywhere fast but that gave Dave plenty of time to tell us about the biochemical effects of drugs, alcohol and poison on the human body on route back. We stayed in the wilderness lodge which had cool little chalets and a nice bar/restaurant. Again the food didn't disappoint and we made the most of the buffet!

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Day two of the trip included a lot of driving along the seriously long beach and first off a visit to the Maheno shipwreck which sank in 1935 due to a cyclone. It's pretty rusty nowadays but it's still in tact enough to make it a decent photo opportunity, that is if you can get a shot with no other tourists included!! Just a short trip up the beach you can have a look at the pinnacles coloured sand rocks, layered coloured sand varying degrees of red, oranges and golds, again another photo op. With a longer drive up to the beach you get to Indian head and the champagne pools. The pools are rocky outcrops on a lovely beach, battered by the waves making the white frothy water look like foaming champagne! Just make sure you're not sat on one of the rocks when one of the big waves come over because it certainly pushes you one way or another = cuts & scrapes! After another equally good buffet lunch the bus heads back to Indian head where we climbed right to the cliff face to see the marine life below. It was pretty busy down there with 4 turtles bobbing around, stingrays and we could see a shark approaching!!! arghhh. The ride back on the beach wasn't as smooth as the tide had come right in and Dave had to manoeuvre around the pounding waves and the soft boggy sand. A quick dip in Eli creek for tea and cookies(we hit it the same time as everyone else so it was tourist central) then back to our lodges before our last buffet before leaving the island. Great food, amazing guide and all in all the cool dingo tour was definitely worth it. We spent the night again at Flashpackers before jumping on the greyhound bus bound for Brisvegas (local speak for Brisbane).

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So was Brisbane Australia's answer to Las Vegas, uhmmm not sure it's quite in the same league but it's a nicely sized, modern city which benefits from the sunny Queensland weather. Our hostel wasn't so flash this time but more of a cosy feel in the Woodduck mainly because most of the people there were long termers working in the city. The city has a lot of Victorian style buildings and modern skyscrappers along the river. It's not quite on the coast so to make up for it they have created the Streets Beach on the south side of the river which is a lagoon with sandy areas to make it feel beachy. We took a trip up to Mount Coot-Tha which was about 7km out of town on the bus. The sky was a little hazy but we managed to get a decent view over Brisbane's city centre and the sprawling suburbs of the hills and coast beyond. We walked down one of the many walking tracks and had our picnic lunch in one of the bbq areas along the track! Can't believe how many free gas bbq's there are in public areas, wish it was the same at home! We made a visit to the planetarium which was right near the bus stop and managed to catch the show, a film on Galactic collisions in space. Then the guy gave the audience a virtual tour of the night sky detailing where you could see the various stars e.g Orion and the Southern Cross, but unfortunately it was too cloudy that evening.

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Another day was spent following the lonely planet walking tour of the city. First it took you on to the southbank past the cultural area where the museum was closed for maintenance so no chance of having a look, past streets beach & the lagoon, over the walkway bridge and to the mangrove boardwalk in the city botanic garden, and past the sleek skyscrappers and upmarket riverside restaurants and appartments. Of course we couldn't visit Brisbane without going to Steve Irwin's Australia zoo, even if if it's about an hour train ride north & we did miss the first train!! We did get there just in time to get to the crocoseum and see the croc and bird show, where they fed the rather large croc by dangling bits of meat and waiting for him to come up and snap! Apparently humans are faster then crocs on land so it's ok!!!!! We got to pet some Koalas, feed some kangaroos and walabys, see some tasmanian devils, and visit Africa where they had rhinos, zebras and giraffes! It was well worth going but the only sad thing was that it would have been loads more fun if Steve Irwin was there! It started to rain on the afternoon of our last day so looks like we were heading out of Queensland at the right time, before the overdue rainy season started!

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Posted by Meurig ac Sian 20:32 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

New Zealand South Island

all seasons in one day

South Island

Ferry to Picton

After an early start to reach our 8am boat in Wellington we splashed out on a fry up on the ferry and watched Wellington harbour and the north island disappear, we could even see our mini car park peninsular on our way past. The ferry on the way to Picton enters through the Marlborough sounds, with the route to port not always obvious as we weaved past all the forested bays and out reaches. Off the ferry out of the port, we elect to turn right and therefore travel anti clock wise round the south island as we hoped to make Queenstown for the semi finals. Our first spot was to be Golden bay, in the Abel Tasmen National Park at the very north west, and meandered through Blenheim and Nelson on the way. After over a week without any luxury facilities we head for a Top 10 camp site to recharge and scrub up, but the winding hilly road took longer than we thought. Unfortunately due to the weather we could only imagine it to be lovely in the sunny warm weather, with beaches, coves and forests nestled around what would be a great place for Kayaking.

Sun rise at the Belinda bay, Wellignton

Sun rise at the Belinda bay, Wellignton

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To escape the depressing spring weather we head south taking a short cut along a back road towards Lewis Pass, travelling through some impressive scenery, the beginning of the Southern Alps and backbone of the south island. The pass was a nice enough drive but the blustery weather at the top convinced us to go back down and camp at the foot of the main divide, which also happened to be located right on top of the Alpine fault. In the morning we headed off to Greymouth on the west coast to stock up (and look for a Welsh Flag) and book a Franz Josef Glacier trek for the next day. We continue down the long western Route 6 road and stopped off for a white bait pattie at a chippy for lunch, apparently a must and a local speciality especially during the whitebaiting season. We arrive in Franz Josef village in the absolute pouring rain and decide quickly to just top up with expensive petrol and retire to the DOC camp out of town straight away and hope for better weather the next day.

The made it through all terrain!

The made it through all terrain!

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To our delight and luck the weather when we were woken by the alarm was blue sky's and sun, a rarity in the wettest place in New Zealand, and we arrived in time to check in and collect our equipment, boots, coat and crampons. Unfortunately we couldn’t stretch to the helicopter trip up over and land on the top so we had to settle for the ½ day guided trek, so with our guide we were shuttled to the car park close to the location of the original terminal face and had to walk 40 minutes to the location of the existing terminal face of the glacier. The scenery to the foot of the glacier was amazing with steep cliffs either side as we walked up the stony bed next to the bright blue milky river and the glacier disappearing up into the mountains. To access the glacier we climbed a steep pile of gravel dumped by the reseeding glacier and at the top donned our metal crampons and off we set on to the foot of the glacier following our guide with his big ice pick. Our route took us up round and through these amazing ice structures all made from compressed snow over a 100 years old, broken, sheared and coloured in different shades of blue and white. Never seen anything like it in real life! Apparently the naturally reseeding glacier has accelerated over the past 5 years and is melting and collapsing at an unprecedented rate, if it continues it won't be long until it disappears totally. In the afternoon we head south to the Fox glacier not to far away and attempted to get to the upper view point only to be thwarted by a large cold river crossing (nothing like a cold river to stop you in your tracks) , so we head back to the van and to our beach side camp at Gillespie beach down a windy gravely track.

Lake Mapourika after the rain

Lake Mapourika after the rain

Franz Joseph glacier valley

Franz Joseph glacier valley

Franz Joseph glacier

Franz Joseph glacier

on the ice

on the ice

Bruce Bay

Bruce Bay

It was Friday before the big semi final game so, we made tracks early for Queeentown further down south. Route 6 follows the west coast and looking at the trees the west obviously gets constantly battered by the blustery Tasman sea and the roaring 40's and every now and again you come across the braided river crossings, masses amount of gravel dumped by huge volumes of water, and all are crossed by long one lane bridges some looking in better condition than others. The route then cuts in at Haast and up through the Haast pass and into Mount Aspiring National Park with loads of waterfalls, gorges such as the gates of Haast, and pools along the way tempting you to stop. We had lunch at a DOC on an out reach on lake Wanaka with absolute stunning views of the landscape with just an annoying blanket of cloud hiding the tips of the mountains. After chilling longer than planned we follow the road down, over and around, past lake Hawea and continue until we hit a range of snow tipped mountains called the Remarkables overlooking Queenstown and the Z shaped lake Wakatipu. We find a British chippy run by a welsh man and indulge in some fish and chips WITH vinegar (first time in NZ) and wonder out of town to a camp on the lake shore.

Haast bridge

Haast bridge

Lake Hawera

Lake Hawera

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The day had arrived the biggest game in Welsh rugby history ever, and after being woken up by the camp ranger for the camping fee we head into town and to a proper campsite on the outskrts, there was to be no more driving that day and probably the next too...... With the lucky unwashed red shirt we head into town and check the place out. We have lunch at the infamous Ferg Burger, lovely Venison burgers and they are as good as everyone says, then visit the underwater lake aquarium on the towns jetty, and see some humongous fish (probably rainbow trout) just swimming around these big thick glass windows with the occasional duck driving deep down. No wander they were hanging around with every 50c slotted into the machine some food was delivered to them. After checking out the country fair going on and getting some internet (checking flights to Auckland from Christchurch for a potential final) we head back to the camp & prepare for the game (i.e. Sian do her hair and meurig drink some quality cheap cider, to settle the nerves). After spotting a drinks deal in a bar we head down town early & flagless to get a table with plenty of Scots and Irish cheering support, and the odd blue frenchy around looking unusually unsettled.

Well bollocks to that then, after Sam's tackle and even with 14 men & our inability to kick it was to be 3rd at best, and our best chance for years and years to come probably to get to the coveted final gone!!! Scraping some positive out of the result, we wouldn't be flying back to Auckland early so then spending three weeks in the south island giving it the time it deserves, BUT STIILL!!! As you can imagine the mood the next day was not massively positive, but the glorious weather had turned up, helping us decide to jump off the side of a mountain....!!!! Unfortunately there are many extreme sports/ activities to do around and about Queenstown, our budget couldn't stretch to all, let alone have the time to do them, so we chose Paragliding. More time in the sky than skydiving and half the price. Jumping off at a ski resort the view was unbelievable and the conditions apparently perfect and the sky crystal clear, AMAZING!!! Looks so easy to do and the guides told us south Wales is one of the best places in the UK for it so look out the valley’s!!!!

just about to jump of the mountain paragliding

just about to jump of the mountain paragliding

Remarkables, Queenstown.

Remarkables, Queenstown.

one of many ferg burgers, amazing!

one of many ferg burgers, amazing!

Down to Milford sound

After a loop up high on a mountain road with great views we head south west on some long straight roads to the Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO world heritage area of outstanding beauty much of which was formed in a similar way to the fiords in Scandinavia through ice, so in reality the sound should actually be called a fiord. We ran out of time to get there in one day so we camped down in one of the many DOC camps in the area, it's obviously really busy in the summer.

Our destination for one of the must do boat tours was Milford Sounds (named after a welsh seal hunter from our very own Milford Haven) and to get there you need to take the road up and up through the dramatic snow capped mountains, scattered with long waterfalls and through a tunnel at the top to enter the Cleddau Valley (again sound familiar) which drops down into the miss named fiord. There's really not much of anything in this isolated spot, so we rock up at the port and jump on the next cheap tour boat for a 2 hour cruise out to sea. Along the way the Captain describes what we see and gets within meters of the sides of the fiord and points out all the classic big glacier hallmarks, Mitre Point the highest mountain and Mount Pembroke also quite impressive. We also see a colony of seals sunning themselves and get under a big waterfall to wash the bow of the ship but making sure we were all inside first. After the cruise we headed back on the same road out of Firodland but stopped randomly in a site called The Casm. It was a huge space carved out of the rock by all the water that flows through the river. Sian bumped into Nigel Owens the ref and had a chat about New Zealand and the rugby, then back it was up the hill and through the old, dark tunnel. We stopped just outside the opening at the other side as the were some Kia parrots hanging around. There was a guy there trying to get an up close photo shoot with them by enticing them with a baguette!! Meurig managed to get a decent shot thanks to the man's efforts, cheers. Our next destination was Invercargile, New Zealand's most southern city but due to the distance we got to a beach side camp site about half an our from the city. We got there just in time for sun set and Meurig was able to reach a small island literally just before the tide came back in!

Milford sound

Milford sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

windy Milford Sound

windy Milford Sound

Milford sound

Milford sound

misty cleddau valley

misty cleddau valley

We drove through Invercargile the next morning and headed to Bluff the most southerly mainland part of NZ. As with Cape Reigna in the north we got to the infamous sign post with distances to worldwide cities and also the mountain top lookout where you can see Stuart Island. We made our way along the Catlins coast to visit Curio Bay where there is a petrified beach. When the tide is out it is possible to see pieces of trees which were around the same time as dinosaurs. On the opposite side of the headland the beach has a more usual look and sometime you are able to see dolphins, unfortunately we didn't! We followed the coast road up towards Dunedin via nugget point and made it to Otago peninsular before nightfall. The area is home to the small yellow eyed penguin and there is a penguin sanctuary there which rescues injured penguins and ensures that the healthy ones have a safe place to nest. With the numbers of these penguins reducing year on year we had to visit, try to see some of these guys and visit the penguin hospital. We had to walk through trench like tunnels and watch some of the penguins through binoculars whilst trying to hide because apparently these penguins like to live alone (never thought we'd turn into bird watchers!). Also at the end of the peninsular there is an albatross centre but we were too late for the morning tour, booo. That afternoon we headed into Dunedin centre to see how much of an influence the Scottish settlers had in the area. Some of the buildings did look similar to some older buildings up in Edinburgh and the train station is probably the most decorated train station I've ever seen. In the octagon central area of the city there was a makeshift camp full of protesters against capitalist governments, shows how much news we've seen over the last few weeks as we had no idea this was going on! We had a five hour journey north to Christchurch to make as our van needed to be back there for an MOT the next day, so onwards & upwards.

Orepuki free cammping

Orepuki free cammping

Bluff point

Bluff point

Nugget point, Catlins coast

Nugget point, Catlins coast

Otago peninsular

Otago peninsular

Yellow eyed Pengiun

Yellow eyed Pengiun

The route took us past the spherical boulders which was noted as a tourist attraction in our guide so we thought we'd make a quick stop to check it out. It was indeed a cluster of stone boulders strewn across the beach and in the water. Not really sure how they got there and to be honest it looked pretty surreal but like a lot of other areas in NZ there is every likelihood that it's a strange natural event. Continuing on route we travelled through the towns of Omaru and Timaru and up through South Canterbury farmlands. The area was flat for miles and miles and it was possible to see the snow covered southern alps in the centre. We eventually got to a free camp just as darkness approached thanks to the motor association map given to us, it definitely came in handy for free overnight stops! It was a fairly early start to make it to Christchurch by 9am and to the escape office but luckily we didn't have to wait too long for the van to be sorted. We headed into the centre of the city but due to the earthquake in February there were huge restrictions for traffic and pedestrians in the central area. We managed to find a spot to park and decided to have a walk around the cordoned area. The damage to some of the buildings was shocking and some of the older building had serious visible damage to them, including the cathedral in the central square. Huge cranes are in the process of dismantling buildings and hundreds of other empty buildings had official graffiti on them, we assumed it's to indicate if the building needs to be destroyed or not! The bridge of remembrance was closed off with flowers, pictures and notes for those who died. Unfortunately the city seemed eerily quiet and we decided to move on to Kaikoura where we would be able to watch Wales play in the third place playoff and hopefully see some sperm whales in the next few days.

Round Stones

Round Stones

Christchurch Center, as close as we could get

Christchurch Center, as close as we could get

Kaikoura is a coastal town on the north east not close to much, but just off the coast is one of the deepest underwater gorges and as a result an area rich in marine wildlife big and small. Along with many fish, squid and crustaceans the area is the home of male sperm whales, too cold for females and pups but great feeding for the adult males who use a wax substance in their big head to dive the depths in search of squid. So after watching a disappointing finale by the Welsh rugby team in the sports club/camp we planned to head out the next morning for a boat cruse in search of the local attraction. However the trip was delayed to the next day as the whales had left the area after a feeding frenzy earlier in the week. So we sailed out next morning in search of the whales but even with all the detection devises, two boats and a plane no whales were found, we had to be content with video's on the big screen, a small pod of dusky dolphins and a albatross being the only wildlife.
After a no show by the whales we decided to make a move up to Hanmer Springs. It was final day so we needed to make sure we weren't in the sticks and close to a pub. Hanmer was very touristy due to it's hot springs which had lots of different pools at different temperatures, some with that familiar egg like sulphur smell and a bit of a water park for entertainment. The place was pretty packed with most people waiting for the game to start at 9 that evening. We found a decent size pub with a good size tv and waited for the big event. I think the kiwis were pretty confident that this would be a winner for them seen as they had beaten France convincingly a few weeks prior but as the game went on it got a bit tense in the pub! Not surprising as the All Blacks got through and beat France by 1 point (god that sounds familiar!!!!!). So 25 years of waiting over and a bit of celebration in the pub, well for about 10 minutes then people started to go home, quieten down and even ask the one lonely supporter who was excited to quieten down! Uhm I thought New Zealand had just won the world cup at home or am I mistaken!!!! I can't even imagine what Wales would have been like, it was mayhem after a grand slam let alone a Webb Ellis trophy! Maybe it's because we aren't used to wining as often as the AB's are, still we are talking about the biggest prize in rugby here. Our campsite was a few miles out of town and Sian was des so off we went a little bit shocked by the absence of the revelry and celebrations we were expecting. The camping guide/map came up trumps with another free site and when we woke the next day to glorious sunshine it turns out it was a lovely country park, bonus.

River on the way to Hanmer springs

River on the way to Hanmer springs

mountain view

mountain view

We headed next for Arthur pass, one of the east to west routes on the south island, and travel up, round and through the Southern Alps passing some dramatic terrain and a couple of isolated villages, a great drive. We decide we have a little extra time so we decide to take the west coast route again re tracing our steps round to Mount Cook national park so we can drive the central road which we'd missed, hoped for some better weather this time and also on the off chance we find Sian's missing walking shoe. We stayed in the same DOC campsite outside Franz Josef and then continue driving through the great scenery and even find Sian's lonely, wet shoe by chance next to a waterfall we'd previously stopped at, so that's where it went mystery solved.

The drive up to Mount Cook was definitely interesting. The town of Twizel is high up and surrounded by really baron countryside and man made canals for a hydro plant. The water in these canals were almost a turquoise & a bit cloudy at the same time. As we got nearer to Mount Cook village the dark clouds in the distance were above us and the rain was lashing down. Due to the pretty awful weather, cloud cover was thick and low so we couldn't see any of the mountains surrounding us only a very grey looking village. The rain turned into the worst thunder storm we have ever heard. The rumbles were echoing through the valley and the wind was blowing so hard the van was shacking non-stop & we had to try to move it to a slightly sheltered area!! Even through all this noise and shaking Sian slept like a baby but Meurig on the other hand couldn't quite nod off. After a rough night we woke up to the warden banging on the door wanting some fees plus blue sky and no rain in sight. We set off on one of the many walks in the area which would lead us to the Hooker glacier but the bridge over the river was closed for repair, great timing! On the way to find another path we passed the stone memorial to fallen climbers on Mount Cook. A surprising number of people most of them being in their twenties when they perished. From this memorial the view of Mount Cook was pretty amazing now that the sky was clear and blue. We were able to get get up to the Kia viewpoint, passing an American guy on route who told us that the views were more beautiful than his wife, charming. He did have a point, the view of the glacier and the river flowing from it was indeed beautiful but we don't know what his wife looks like so can't comment! In Mount Cook village they have the Sir Edmund Hillary centre with info and clips from his climb to the top of Everest and turns out his training was done on Mount Cook. A few km down the road is the Tasman glacier which has also receded over time and now there are big icecaps floating in the melt water river. With time in the van running out we had to keep on going and drove down to Lake Tekapo which was one of the top tourist sights in the south. The water is so blue that the reflection of the snow capped mountains is clearly visible on the lake, fantastic scenery.

Doc camspite mount cook

Doc camspite mount cook

mount cook

mount cook

kea point lookout

kea point lookout

View of mount cook

View of mount cook

Tasman glacier and valley

Tasman glacier and valley

View lunch time

View lunch time

Heading north through the last of the hilly terrain into the flat industrial farm land we stop quickly in Timaru then onwards to a free camp on the coast towards Christchurch not far from Ashburton. In the morning we awake to the sight of a little community by the sea side, camper vans, caravans and a buses huddled together, sheltered behind the flood defences. Standing on the rocks you notice a disorderly line of people in all weather gear and waders sieving the waves with a triangular netts, trying to catch little white fish or white baiting as its known. Over breakfast we chat to a ex merchant navy man from Liverpool who jumped ship nearly 40years ago and never looked back, with his strong accent still renaming we discuss everything from the seasonal fishing community there, his evacuation to a Welsh farm near Aberystwyth during the war and all the problems with the world today, we even had a farmer in his pick up join in and put the world to rights, quite interesting and good to hear NZ have similar problems to us at home.

With only two nights left in the van we drove towards our final destination Christchurch again, but only for a quick stop at Pak'n Save to splash out on some meat, lamb, beef rump steak and a selection of sausages for the BBQ and then onwards to Banks Peninsular east of Christchurch. The green hilly peninsular is a world away from the city, not too far distance wise but with the windy, narrow, steep roads it took longer than anticipated. Our camp area was a free camp on the shore of Wainui Beach one of the many inlets in Akaroa Harbour, and fired up the BBQ with the sun disappearing over the hill tops and revealing the stars. We woke up to the blistering sun and blue skies (the last three days had to be the best weather in weeks) so all we did was lounge around, walked the mussel covered rocks and went for a wonder round the bay to Akaroa town an old French settlement to pick up more meat for our last BBQ & drove back to the same spot via the mountain scenic route.

Wainui Bay

Wainui Bay

BBQ on the Banks peninsular, last Van day

BBQ on the Banks peninsular, last Van day

So it had arrived, the LAST day in the van, sad times!!! It was an early start to get back to the escape office & get to the airport in time for our midday flight back to Auckland. It was all going smoothly until we sat down in departures and tried to find the laptop to get some wifi........ shit where's the laptop! It dawned on us that we'd probably left in the escape office whilst struggling to get our makeshift bags into the taxi. We called the taxi driver and asked him to pick it up & deliver it back to us, he agreed for a fee. Sorted well as soon as he turned up which wasn't exactly straight away but we made the flight in time, phew. We have to say Air New Zealand have the best safety video we've seen so far, it's camp, funny and stars some of the all blacks, think it's the only one we've paid attention to! We got to our hostel in Auckland no probs not expecting anymore hiccups as we'd got to know Auckland pretty well previously. Oh here comes another little problem a sign in the hostel reception saying that Qantas had ground all of their flights, great!! We got in touch with our travel butler and it was decided that we had to shift our flights to Oz forward one day, so one more unexpected night in NZ. We went to see Tim before we left, caught up about the rugby, the road trip & future destinations. So we had a full day to spend in the city and it started with a full brekkie, a bit of a wander around town then a trip to the cinema to see The Inbetweeners. I haven't watched such a funny film in ages, absolutely hilarious. After making use of some drinks vouchers at the hostel bar and some free punch we headed to the airport to bunk down for the night because the new flight times weren't as convenient as the old ones!! With a bit of a snooze we boarded the plane and said goodbye to NZ, it was a great 2 months and we'll be back..............

Posted by Meurig ac Sian 05:07 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

New Zealand North Island Part 2

all seasons in one day

Across to Rotoroua, Taupo and round up to Hamilton

We had to leave New Plymouth the morning after the game to head 4 hours north-east to Rotorua to meet Olivia, who was on a short holiday in NZ and had been to the Ireland vs Russia game. Thankfully Meurig volunteered to drive because Sian was feeling a bit worse for ware after the previous day's enjoyment! We managed to find where Olivia was staying, the most Irish hostel we've ever seen, The Blarney Rock, right next door to the Irish pub! So in celebrating a Welsh & Irish win we had a few drinks that night and caught up on goings on. Luckily one of the big hostels in town had a car park for campers so we got somewhere cheap to stay and discounts at the bar, sweet as! Next day we decided to try the luge and sky lift seen as we had enjoyed it in Singapore and apparently Rotorua is the birth place of the luge so it had to be done. This time the course was longer, through a forest with more corners and definitely faster. Meurig was quick to cross the finish line before the girls as he couldn't face being beaten again!! (HA) Verdict – even better than Singapore, well worth it. We thought we'd best take in some culture & history rather than just leisure so we headed for a guided tour of Whakarewera thermal village. There is still a native Maori tribe living there and they still use the hot thermal steam and water to cook underground and bathe outdoors. The village was right next to two geysers Pohutu and Prince of Wales (apparently because the water makes the shape of the 3 feathers) and luckily we got to watch them blow. That evening the hostel bar was holding bar games and the first prize was $600 worth of activities including sky dive etc. After being on Sian's case all day she decided to sign up as long as Olivia did also. Unfortunately the organiser said they were full after Sian's name went on the list but Olivia was standby or at least she thought! Obviously the girl organising couldn't count and she needed one more, haha Olivia is in. Neither Sian nor Olivia were even close to getting first prize but at least they got a few free jager bombs out of it plus a free T shirt! Next morning we headed for the Polynesian spa to try out the thermal pools and it was like having a nice hot bath with the added benefit of the volcanic minerals, and the view over looking Lake Rotorua was lush. Olivia had her bus booked back to Auckland so we said goodbye and we headed back to the thermal village where they were putting on a Maori show, including singing, dancing, stories and learning some Maori. We camped that evening just outside Rotorua next to Lake Okareka, the scenery was great and definitely a popular spot, & a bit of a well needed detox.

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Next day we went for a drive around the area next to Tarawera mountain, which was an old volcano which erupted in the 1880/90's and covered the pink & white mineral terraces (would have been the 8th wonder of the world) with only paintings left to show what they were like. Just next to mount is Lake Tarawera where we stumbled upon some locals already drinking in the sunshine and apparently preparing for a big party by the lake that evening to mark the start of the new fishing season, I'm sure the fishermen at home aren't this fun! We had an invite but unfortunately we had to head towards Taupo as we'd arranged to meet with Nia. We managed to watch the Boks v Samoa in a pub/hotel just outside Taupo and they kindly let us stay in the car park & even let us use there natural thermal shower out back! There is definitely a lot of geothermal activity in the area and we visited a natural mud pool with mud so hot it was bubbling & fizzing, looked other worldy (But no pictures because meurig deleted that day). We also did a short thermal walk in Wairakei natural thermal valley with steam rising up from various holes in the ground and then on to Hukka Falls on the Waitomo river which was pretty impressive. They did have jet boats going up to the huge spray area from the falls but out of our budget! After watching a dam being opened and water flooding down another gorge on the Waitomo river we headed into Taupo itself, managing to park up by the lake and find a pub to watch Australia v Russia and Scotland v England, and slept over night next to a gang vans. Next morning we met up with Nia for brunch and caught up on lots including her recent wedding to Lance & life in NZ. We then had to shoot over to Hamilton back to the Glenview club in time for the Wales v Fiji, the last of the pool games for Wales and the weather wasn't looking good. Again the atmosphere was good, the match was great with a great result for Wales & our emergency ponchos definitely came in use as the heavens well & truly open! Oh well, I'm sure the best place to dry off is in the pub to watch Ireland v Italy.

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Hamilton down to Wellington

We spent a day in Hamilton looking around the town centre minus all the rugby supporters and decided that we were now going to delay our trip over to the south island and head to Wellington in time for the Wales v Ireland quarter final. We stayed another night in the Glenview club with a few rugby stragglers but the place was pretty empty without everyone else. Next stop, Waitomo caves about an hour south of Hamilton. The area is made up of limestone and over time huge caves have developed and are home to masses of glow worms! We were guided underground by Norm a local caver and sat in a dinghy in total darkness in the caves. The amount of light inside the cave once our eye's adjusted, from the glow worms was amazing, looked like a strip of intense stars on a really clear night. We were taken into another cave nearby with no glow worms but impressive structures, with the cave cut through a vault which you walk under to get to the end. Next step was the journey down south heading for Wellington. We travelled as far as we could after the caves until dark and got to a camp site in the National Park near mount Ruahpeu. We then made our way down to Whanganui, stopped for a cake and used the free internet in the library (still can't believe you have to pay for internet in NZ) and ended up stopping off for the night at Foxton beach on the west of the peninsular which looked like a surfers paradise in summer. Unfortunately temperatures were not summer like but the sky was clear and we had an amazing sunset. We continued south but decided to stop off in Waikanae to do a 3 hour hike over the top of some hills through some native bush, recommended to us and said to have nice views along the coast. The track started off on what was a residential street and as we were getting our stuff together the woman who lived opposite, Denise started to chat to us. She and her husband Ted had been campervaning in Europe and she insisted we could use their shower after the walk and she'd put some washing in for us whilst we were walking, which was really kind of her. By the time we got back the washing was dry, we had a shower and they gave us a list of places we should visit/stay in the south island, and we told them what we could about south France where they are going next summer.

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We made it down to Wellington that evening, had a drive round town, saw the stadium (or cake tin as the locals nickname it), and headed for some of the rocky bays along the south coast with our fish & chips in search of penguins! The search was fruitless as it became too dark to see anything outside and we found a beachside toilet & car park which allowed campers to stay. Our next task was finding somewhere to stay over the next three nights that wasn't a million miles away from town but where you were actually allowed to stay overnight. Due to the fact 2 quarter finals were in town that weekend the inner city sites were full but we spotted a car park with a few campers already parked up. We got a spot and it turns out our neighbours were some of the boys from the car park in New Plymouth, plus another welsh couple Hari & Jody and some Irish lads in a cool old fashioned van Kieran & Larnock and a New Zealander “Mr Crawley”. That morning there was also another van sprayed in the colours of the Irish flag with signatures of some of the team down the side. Apparently this van has it's own facebook page and a film crew turned up to interview the lads. We walked towards town and passed the Welsh team bus outside their hotel so we decided to wait outside to greet them as they headed off for the captains run in the stadium. Geggs (our neighbour) arrived with the Sam our captain sign, the Welsh world cup song his friend wrote which was a hit with the Welsh fans in NZ helped by you tube & facebook. We saw the players get on the bus and a lot of them smiled when they saw the sign, apparently they have heard it and Sam did some of the moves on his way into the bus, hilarious. We carried on into town, strolled down the waterfront , walked through the parliament area and headed on the tram up the hill to the view point. Wellington is quite a small capital city and as there is not a lot of land that's flat, it seems a bit squished and spreads thinly along the coast. It was Friday night before the game and time for a drink so we headed to The Welsh Dragon Pub (“the only welsh pub in the southern hemisphere), & unsurprisingly the place was full of fans. The building used to be old public toilets but thankfully it'd didn't smell like that anymore and the place was decked full of rugby shirts, flags & signed photos of the owner with famous Welshies who'd been there, Kelly Jones being one, very jealous. We started chatting to a couple of guy's Brad an Aussie from Sydney and a guy from Swansea called Mark who had moved to Sydney years ago & said if we didn't have tickets and we'd like some he'd help us out, and quickly pointed us in the direction of a man who had 2 for sale. With some bargaining from Meurig and some help from Mr Jones we got 2 tickets at half their face value to the big game, wohoo we were going!

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Match day started off pretty wet and windy as Wellington normally is by the sounds of it, but that didn’t stop the banter in the car park. We waited for a bus that never seemed as if it would show up but thankfully two girls stopped and gave us a lift into town & straight to the dragon it was! The place was heaving and there were cues early on, felt like Cardiff on match day. After a few hours of singing & drinking, a few more pub stops we made it to the stadium where the Irish definitely outnumbered the Welsh so we made as much noise as we could. Come 80 minutes we were pretty dam happy with the result and how the boys played and headed back into town to celebrate, oh yeah and watch France beat England. By the time we got back to the car park most people were back so we commiserated with Keiran and celebrated with Jodi & Hari, great laugh and no hard feelings, Awesome! Plus to finish off the night the penguins were in town and we found one nestled between some rocks not 5m from the camper! We woke to a lovely sunny day for the Springboks Aussie match, why couldn't it have been like this yesterday. We watched most of the game in the harbour side fanzone then headed off to our second home the dragon for the last time to watch the All Blacks v Argentina game before hitting the sack for an early morning ferry.

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Posted by Meurig ac Sian 15:48 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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