Goodbye North Island, Hello Beautiful South

by Kt

28.01.2012

Title, once again, provided courtesy of M.Hatter Suggestions Ltd.

So, we were leaving the North Island, at Wellington, to catch the ferry to the south island. I was sorry to say goodbye to Wellington in a way. There were areas I hadn’t quite made it to, but had looked longingly at from the bus (the buses are, like Auckland, super efficient and seem to charge off the overhead electricity lines which cover the main streets). Gorgeous art deco buildings painted bright colours containing interesting shops and restaurants. Of course there lies the problem and the reason that it was good not to be there longer. Shops, bars and restaurants are not ideal for the backpacker budget. We briefly went up to an area called Newtown suggested to us by our barman the night before which was obviously up and coming but didn’t have a lot going on. The oddest thing was that tons of the shops were selling Lais – never worked out why that was. Plus there was lots of drunks and weirdos so made me feel homesick for Brighton!

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There was one shop, in central Wellington, which I’m amazed Mark let me in, as he normally rolls his eyes if I am closer than 10 yards of a book shop. It was a massive shop, with some new, but mainly second hand books. It was mind blowing. Everything you could possibly think of. I particularly like the book on how to build a funky chicken coop. I would love a shop like that at home. Most second hand book shops are stuffy and dis-organised. But I couldn’t by anything anyway so it was really just tortuous.

The weather had taken a turn for the worse and there was rain and gales which was making life outside the comfy hostel, less than tempting. We are gonna miss that hostel and our private bathroom and TV but I think actually, after only 3 days we were a bit sick of all the mainly brainless crud that was on and the tendency we had to sit and watch said crud, rather than get up and go out and do something. So, it’s actually a good thing to have it just now and then. Feels more like a treat.

The ferry terminal was an easy, short trip from the train station, from which are hostel was conveniently situated opposite.
The ease of check in and the journey itself was a revelation after our 20 hour journey from hell in Fiji (which incidentally covered about the same distance as this 3 hour one!!!). It was all straight forward and you could see immediately as the boat pulled in down into Picton, that the landscape of the south island was quite different to the north.

As usual in New Zealand the journey consisted of very tricky directions. It was get onto Highway 1 and follow it all the way to Kaikoura. This is a small seaside town about half way between Picton and Christchurch. I’ve barely used the maps in New Zealand it’s usually so simple. There were some amazing mountains we went past and through and we were both quite impressed. Whereas the north was mainly just trees and farms, this was more varied, spread out and colourful. The number of sheep, however, I did notice increased big time.
The trip down the highway found very little traffic. This was 5.30pm on a Friday night – not being able to move on any road in the south east of England at that time, I couldn’t quite work out what was going on. Plus this was the main route from the ferry down to Christchurch and much of the south. New Zealand isn’t busy at the best of times, not even in the cities, but this was just bizarre.
We did, however, not always move quickly due to some windy roads but also due to the fact that quite a few of the vintage cars we had seen on our way down to Wellington, had come back to the south island on the ferry so, with most highways being one lane, you had to wait until there was a special passing lane portion of the road, which wasn’t very often here. But that was ok. It didn’t hold us up much and there were some great cars to goggle at.
After we’d passed the last vintage car, we didn’t see a huge amount of cars for the rest of the journey. The highway, moved out to follow the coast which was quite stunning. The strangest thing was though, the colour of beach. It was grey. Not like some of the brown sand beaches we’d seen but quite a light, slate grey. I’d never heard of grey beaches before.
We’d seen a sign at Picton which said that Kaikoura was 128 kilometres away. That would be the last distance sign we would see. So we didn’t really have much of an idea how far away we were from the place for most of the journey. When we did eventually make it we were pleased to see that it did live up to the description of ‘quaint, seaside town’ that so many places profess to be and quite frankly just aren’t (Encinitas, San Diego – I’m looking at you).

This little town is home to lots of sea life – whales, dolphins, seals and is famous for it’s crayfish, which the town is named after – I think Kaikoura means ‘to catch crayfish’ or something like that. Pretty quickly upon reaching town, and scanning the menus in the various restaurants we were gutted to realise that crayfish are lobster prices (in fact I think they are virtually lobsters anyhow).

The beach, just 2 minutes down the road from where we are staying is pebble, so like Brighton on that front, but the pebbles are all grey – like the sandy beaches were. The pebbles are gorgeous – the kind you’d pay a fortune for to put in your garden, in the zen corner or around your water feature.

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A short drive up the road is home to the furry seal colony. These are indeed furry and some of them at certain angles look like bears.
There are vast areas of rocks around there, upon which you can walk out a fair way.

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We are here for 7 nights, the longest we’ve stayed anywhere since our first stop at the Beachhouse in Fiji. We are looking forward to chilling out a bit and just feeling a bit more at home somewhere. Our hostel the Albatross is lovely, if a little cramped in the communal areas and we have the beach close by, the shops a short walk away and stunning scenery all around. We went up to a lookout point only to find that we are on some kind of small peninsula and have the beach on both sides of us. So we’re not going to be short of things to do (or not do, which will also be nice).

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For those of you complaining that there are never pictures of me on here (hello Mum), here you go – this is as good as you’re gonna get :)

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And best news of all – the sun has come out and it has warmed right up (hopefully no more lady jeans for Mark!).

Wellington – Oh happy days are here again

By Kt

26.01.2012

We are in the lovely city of Wellington, we have a room with our own bathroom and… a TV. wooohooo. shallow I know – but we’ve had tv for only 2 nights in fiji (with only 3 channels) since leaving at the beginning of december. I’ve missed it. I like that brain dead feeling. I welcome it back. Even if the TV signal is a bit dodge and is anything but clear, in fact all channels are like they were when you had an upstairs tv in the 80s with it’s own ariel – it is still TV!!!

Anyhow, so since my last blog my mood has improved, mainly due to having some time in dullsville mountain lodge to get online and sort out a ton of stuff. I have also come to the conclusion that I am going to do things my way. The main bit of advice that I saw and got over and over again before going travelling was to just book a few days somewhere and then decide what you’ll do and where you’ll go from then. The idea being that everything is flexible and you can just live a wonderful, impromptu life going where ever the wind takes you. Well, let me tell you, that has not worked and has not only caused stress it has cost money! I am by nature a bit of a control freak so I normally like to have things in order when it comes to accommodation etc. But, I’d realised that I had to change. I was prepared to let the fear go and go with these travel gurus. Well, it worked fairly well in Fiji. It’s a laid back place and you could pretty much do things on the fly. But in New Zealand, it is not working. I have since learned that in New Zealand and Australia, these days, that demand outweighs availability. So, having not booked things even 3 or 4 weeks in advance, all the best and cheaper options are getting snapped up, leaving you with lack of choice and costlier options. I think this is even more so for booking the private rooms, there probably is much more flexibility with the dorms. So, I’m going ahead and booking the rest of New Zealand and a fair chunk of Australia – and boy do I feel happier with that decision. Of course it’ll backfire at times, but we’ve already experienced not being able to stay places we like as long as we’d like and being stuck longer than we liked in places we thought sucked – that’s just the nature of the travel. You can’t avoid it – not least because in most countries you need to show an onward ticket to prove you’re not going to stay in their country longer than they want. And inflexible flights are cheaper. Oh it’s a vicious cycle is it not?

Anyhow – turning back into an early ‘booker’ has cheered me up, as has finding some solutions to my Australia dilemma. The hostels in Australia are all hideously expensive and to add insult to injury they all sound awful. I don’t want to spend 60 quid a night on places that are dirty and noisy. Barely a decent review for any hostel in Adelaide, Melbourne or Sydney. So, I decided to have a look on ‘airbnb’. This is a site I joined a few months before we went away but never really looked into properly. It’s a basically people renting out rooms in their homes, or sometimes the whole home, to people who are members of airbnb. They don’t have to accept your booking if they don’t like the look of you. You can get recommendations from people who know you (thanks Lucy n Rach!) and also when you have stayed with people they can review you.
Anyhow, there are some fab properties out there. Mark thought it would be a bit weird to stay in peoples homes and share their kitchens or whatever, but then I pointed out that every time we went to a new hostel we felt awkward and had to share with multiple strangers who can change everyday. We’ve also decided to slow down our travel and booking places on a weekly rate can be a fair bit cheaper than nightly.
To cut a long and I’m sure by now you’re finding, boring, story short. We have booked some fantastic places to stay in Australia for same price or cheaper than a scummy hostel. The first place in Adelaide is in a gorgeous house, converted from part of a 1970s juice factory, about 20 mins from city centre. Colour me happy!!!

So, we left the lodge place to drive down to Wellington and as we were leaving and we were glad to be leaving the cold. I found the landscape fairly boring and thought could see the same anywhere, until Mark pointed out that one of the mountains was in fact a volcano, which we don’t see everyday. Oops – oh yeah! Still, the first 3 hours of our journey to Wellington was pretty boring. Fields of cows and sheep and trees and mountains and winding roads. For HOURS! As we got a couple of hours away from Wellington, it got much more appealing. Lots of cute little towns. There was even a vintage car event in one of the towns, so for miles we passed an interesting array of lush vehicles (I lurve vintage cars). The towns of Bull and Foxton (although that made me think of the scumbag estate agents) were particularly charming. I so wished we’d travelled a couple of hours further than the lodge and stayed in one of these places. The sun came out and we followed the coast with the sea sparkling and made Wellington in really great time.

Our first delight was our hostel – which is a gorgeous converted art deco hotel so our room was like a normal hotel one. As mentioned above, we were super excited about the TV and having our own bathroom for the first time since Fiji. The first floor is the old restaurant and bar and we have the old hotel kitchen available to cook in which is cool. It has one of the big walk in fridges and tons of work stations. Proper Masterchef I thought!!

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Chilled out Wellington

by Kt

26.01.2012

Wellington is a lovely, chilled out city. Pretty small but packs a lot in.

We started our first morning with a ‘free’ breakfast. Ok, it wasn’t free but we bought a few things on groupon before we left and while in Fiji, so because we’d paid for them so long ago they now seem free. Was nice to have a posh brekkie – miss that the most about Brighton. Our breakfast habit had gotten way out of hand.

We went up to the Cuba street area. It’s a quite arty area, with lots of quirky, cool and retro places (oh joy!). I could have bought so much to ship home.

Then we went to the big museum by the harbour – it was free so we thought we’d give it a go. It was a pretty impressive place. Huge and loads of interactive displays. We even came across some people practicing their haka. We just followed the sound of the shouting.
The harbour area was well done – lots of cut out areas so you could see the water below. We saw a stringray down in one of them. Lots of gorgeous restaurants and bars – we had to show much self discipline, although it is a fair bit cheaper in Wellington than much of Auckland and more surprisingly, than Rotorua where the restaurants were pretty poor quality as apposed to the gorgeous ones here.

It’s a pretty accessible city. Really easy going, colourful and I could definitely (perhaps more so than Auckland) be more than happy to live here for a few months, maybe more.

Highlight of Wellington:
Mark balanced a coin on a lemon in the hostel bar and got a free drink

Lowlight of Wellington:
I fell over – big time! I tripped up the curb and somehow couldn’t find by footing again and tumbled over, in comic, embarrassing (and painful) style. And I hadn’t even had a drink. Go figure!

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Rotorua – a few things rolled into one

by Kt

21.01.2012

After a rather dull 7+ hour drive (New Zealand, as we’ve driven through so far is pretty much same as UK countryside – bit uninspring), we reached Rotorua which is kind of north of the middle of the North Island of New Zealand.
It’s slap bang in the middle of tons of geothermal styleee activity so is a tourism mecca and quite soon upon arrival we got our first whiff of sulphur. It’s a bit like when I worked in Slough and you’d get the smell of chocolate from the Mars factory, faintly on the wind, which I didn’t find very pleasant either, but this is the faint whiff of – well the only thing I can liken it to is stink bombs. Do kids still have them? But it’s really like that – not nice.

The hostel is interesting. We really like it – it’s kind of a bit tired, but painted brightly and has on murals on the walls and in the kitchens and in the hallway everyone can use marker pens to write/draw whatever they like.
If anyone remembers when we did similar in our bathroom, Mark has drawn one of those creepy men – he’s called Peter apparently!!
We also have our own little thermal bath in the backyard. It’s a yucky brown colour, but that is just the nature of them, it’s not dirty.
It is, however, pretty warm and you can’t stay in it for long, not that we’ve done much more than soaked our feet.
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Our room was a bit of a shock. I had fallen for booking a ‘Twin’ room. Having done this in Fiji no problem, I hadn’t realied that in New Zealand this often means bunkbeds. Our room, Mark thinks, basically looks like a prison cell. Admittedly, it’s not the cosiest but luckily there’s loads of communal places to hang out. It’s actually not like the unsturdy, thin bunkbeds I remember from my youth, it’s remarkably stable and pretty wide and actually quite comfy. I opted for top bunk, which I’m rather regretting, not just because it can be a bit of a bind clambering down in the middle of the night, or in the morning when not feeling so fresh, but mostly because Mark finds it highly amusing to poke me from below, through the slats, or lean his hand around the back and pull my hair. Oh the hilarity. I find it so funny. Everytime. Really I do!

Upon wandering around Rotorua centre, our first afternoon, we weren’t overly impressed. Obviously you’re not here for the town, as such, but it was a bit on the cheap and tacky side, a bit like Blackpool or Niagra. Not awful, but just that special way that such places can be.
On the upside, cheap is what we needed. Drinks were a bit cheaper than we’d had in a while, so we celebrated, by, well, having too many. Big suprise, hey? Ending the night at Joe’s diner where Mark burgered it up and I had a cheese and tomato toasty – blinder.

The next day we decided to be a little more cultured and did a couple of hours walking around the town in the route suggested by the guy in our hostel. There is a big park in the town which had fenced off areas for the geothermal activity and it was amazing just walking around there. There were boggy bits, different coloured bits, bits that were literally boiling. All rather cool and, of course, smelly. We then wandered around down by the river. Considering it’s still summer season it was terribly quiet. Some jet boats, sea planes and helicopters knocking around without much action going on. We made our way over to the next geothermal area, behind the museum and came across the Blue Baths. This is a place that was built in the 30s for pleasure bathing and has a big ballroom that opens onto an outdoor pool. They’d recently done it up, after it had closed in the early 80s, but not too much ‘newness’ thankfully and it was kind of a bit crumbly but in a good way. The main pool was thermally heated, at 30 degrees, which was divine. It never went over 4’7 in depth, as it is meant for having fun more than swimming and then they had two smaller, dipping pools either side that were 40 degrees which is hotter than it sounds.
The whole time we were there they were playing 30s music which made it all the lovelier. The whole vibe of the place was just old skool, cheeky chic and I so just wanted to just drape myself over the edges of the pool, drink a martini and call everybody ‘darling’.

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Not such a diamond geezer… then a deluge of fun

by Kt

21.01.2012

Is that the worst title I’ve done so far? Mm. Ah well, you can blame Mark for those suggestions.

Anyway, we had a second day of activity – believe it or not. Mark and I getting off our backsides – two days running.
We had an early start to go to the Wai-o-tapu thermal wonderland which basically was a huge space, half an hour south of Rotorua which had tons of stuff going on in a geo thermal kind of way. There were volcanic craters and various pools in various colours, doing various different kinds of bubbling and spurting and stuff. Am I selling it? Probably not, but it was amazing. The smell, however, was way, way stronger than the places we had experienced so far and a couple of times I was actually retching. The normal, holding your breath and not breathing through your nose thing didn’t always work so you’d kind of get a mouthful and could taste the smell. Difficult to describe, but was seriously nasty. The worst point was when we were walking back along past a vast area called the ‘Champagne Pool’ and the wind blew the huge amount of steam directly at us and it took a good 30 seconds to walk through. A fog of grossness. Yuk. Much as it’s all been fascinating, I am definitely ready to leave the smells behind. I usually have such a strong stomach, but these really get to me for some reason.

At 10.15 each day one of their geisers, the ‘Lady Knox’ (not named after Amanda, despite Marks distasteful suggestion) would go off, so everybody rushed down the road a bit to watch this happen. We’d heard rumours in town that this was given a little helping hand, but when the ‘show’ started they did fess up to this and they apparently add some organic matter of some kind to get it going at a set time, rather than wait for the sporadic 7 – 72 hours it would do on it’s own. It felt a little wrong and I wasn’t expecting an amphitheater type setup, but I’d never seen one before so thought would give it a go. Mark thought it was a bit lame, but I don’t know what he was expecting – something natural spurting water 20 foot in the air is pretty impressive, I think. Maybe we’ve all become a little spoilt by man made things, like the Bellagio in Vegas. If only nature could be so entertaining!

After the geiser (hence the title by the way, if you hadn’t guessed), we did some further trails around – some of them pretty steep to give some amazing views at some of the larger expanses. We were particularly thrilled when one cameras battery died and the other one ran out of space.Ah well, after my favourite, the green pool, nothing quite lived up to it anyway. I do like a bit of colour, but much of this thermal stuff is brown and grey – gets old quickly. I’m really rubbish with my attention span for this nature malarkey.

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We then went to the do the Luge. This is something that was invented/designed by a guy in Rotorua and is kind of like the luge, in that the thing you are driving in slides down a sloped track, but you can steer it and you have breaks. You first had to get a ‘gondola’, which was basically a cable-car, up the mountain to a kind of mini amusement park, which had a restaurant and a few ride type things you could do including the luge. The view up there was pretty impressive, looking out over the huge lake Rotorua.
To start off our luging, we helmeted up, so you looked a total numpty and then started on the mandatory beginners ride on your luge.
It seemed good fun at first, you could control your speed to a degree and you were going through some nice scenery but it was a a bit trickier than it seemed as you had to hold the handles pretty tight and they kept slipping away from me and if they fell out of your hands completely you came to a stop. About half way down I came to such a stop and didn’t really know how to get going. I now know I could have just gotten out and shoved the thing, but there hadn’t really been much safety info before hand, other than showing you the brakes, so I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to. So, I just sat there for a while, trying to shake it into action, like a total muppet, as a few people whizzed by. I eventually got it going and got to almost the end, before it came to a stand still again, this time with a queue of kids behind me, most of which managed to siddle past, while in the distance Mark laughed at my being stranded and my grumpy face. I scrambled out, in the end, muttering to myself as we’d booked 5 luges each, at not a cheap price and I hadn’t enjoyed it one bit and was generally huffing and puffing. Where you ended the luge, you were half way down the mountain and the only way of getting out was back up on a chair lift. My mood wasn’t improved when I didn’t hit ours in time, not having been on one before, trying to jump on as it took off with Mark, was not very successful. So, on my lonely ascent back up the mountain (ok, not that lonely, Mark was within shouting distance), I calmed down a bit and enjoyed the scenery and figured I’d give it another go and then give the rest of my luges to some kids as they seemed to all be having a ball.
So, second go, we decided to go on the intermediate run, and amazingly, this time, I had a ball. I had a slightly different luge car (or whatever they might be called). I won’t bore you with details, or blame my bad run on the car, although, this, I did believed, was paramount to my initial rubbishness. The intermedidate run was faster and with more hear raising corners, and as Mark put it, he didn’t have time to go to the toilet and have a cup of tea, whilst waiting for me to get down this time (for the record there was no toilet or tea facilities down there – pah!).
We did all our 5 luges, the last two on the advanced runs and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I got much quicker and generally less embarrassing each time. It was a bit pricey for each luge, so we decided to call it a day, which involved the stair lift half way back up the mountain and then the gondola all the way down.

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National Park Village – middle of nowhere in the rain

by Kt

21.01.2012

I picked our next hostel (yes, me, Mark doesn’t really get involved in such practicalities, he likes the surprise – which normally finds him disliking it for the first hour or two but loving it by the time we leave), because it was on the way down to Wellington and it was quite remote, with internet, so we could spend a bit of time, not distracted by the world and catching up on stuff. With the macbook dying in Fiji, I didn’t really get a chance to do any planning for New Zealand and have found that, at time, has been quite detrimental, in particular, I have found the hostels get booked up early, so I don’t know how anyone does the ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ / ‘see which way the wind takes you’ type travel. Actually, I do, the dorms are pretty straight forward, it’s the double rooms which get booked up early and can be horribly pricey.
Anyhow, I really have to take some time to think about what on earth we are going to do in Australia before we go as that is going to be a bit of a scary one, seeing as it is horrifyingly pricey. I thought New Zealand was expensive, but Oz double rooms seem to be about 25% percent more expensive that here even. I have a sinking feeling that doing the three months we’d hoped for might not happen, if we’re going to keep travelling for more than a year. Anyhow, that has left me with a bit of a munk on. Have you noticed, how steadily my days have more mention of moody and grumpiness? I was naive enough to think I’d be skipping around picking daisies and singing everywhere we went, but I waexpect to be quite so fed up, quite as often as I have been lately. I think the moving about, not being able to do anything, like cook, wash and even sleep easily can get a bit tiresome. Not to mention trying to live to budget. I will try, however, not to litter the blog with moaning, as I can imagine that would be pretty annoying for anyone stuck in the cold/at work or both.
But if it makes you feel any better, we have arrived in a very cold and wet national park. The fact that the nearest bathroom means going outside, and then walking for 5 mins – I won’t even mention that in case it sounds like moaning. Marks pretty un-impressed and a bit bored at this point (I’m hogging the netbook, obviously). It is incredible the effect the weather has when you are travelling. If it was just as sunny and lovely as it has been the past few days, this place would feel, heavenly. We’d sit out on the decking, reading enjoying the warm and looking around thinking what a lovely setting we are in. But it’s raining and it’s cold so we are in our room with the heater on, feeling miffed that we have to walk such a long way to make a cup of tea and wondering if am going to be able to find anything suitable to cook the chicken breasts in later (I know that doesn’t sound like slumming it, but trust me, chicken and veg is the fanciest meal we’ll have cooked so far – most places don’t even have ovens).
On the upside, we can’t really spend any money here. Well, that is if we can manage to stay out of the tavern place down the road.
Plus, as well as catching up on correspondence (chasing the insurance company about our broken macbook and arguing with Groupon NZ about a badly described voucher I bought…. oh it does feel good to get it all out), and scouring the internet for cheap ways to do Oz, we can also catch up on those long missed tasks. I believe Mark, for instance, is going to cut his finger AND toe nails. I may tackle that hard skin on my feet and perhaps even pluck my eyebrows. Oh the glamour!

New Zealand – Up in the Northlands – KeriKeri Farm Hostel

by Kt

18.01.2012

We have a car – yey – first time in over 6 weeks and it feels very liberating.

A long and quite boring drive brought us up to the north of the north island to KeriKeri. There were supposed to be amazing beaches here so came with Mark diving in mind, but unfortunately the cost is just crazy so he couldn’t, even though he really fancied doing the sunken Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow warrior. But 130 quid for a couple of dives – just crazy. It was costing about 70 in Fiji and that was pricey.

Anyhow, no matter as we are staying in the most divine hostel ever. It is the KeriKeri Farm hostel and is a small holding who grow organic oranges. As if orange orchards and free oranges and tangerines aren’t fabulous enough, we have a couple of lovely dogs, odd looking chickens, some with chicks, a sheep and a 2 Kune (pronounced kooney) pigs, who are a proper new zealand, mauri breed and are gorgeous as!!! (I have a weakness for pigs and rabbits). It’s a laid back place, all wooden and cozy, and decked with a small pool. It’s just a lovely place to be and we added and extra day to our stay here and only wished we could add more.

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We’ve not done a whole lot – most of the boat trips and stuff is uber expensive and it’s so nice on the farm, we wanted to make the most of staying there – though it does seem ridiculous after a 4 hour drive up here.

The one place we did go to was the Glow worm caves. I think there are 3 or 4 instances of these around New Zealand, but I’d heard this was a good, family run and cheaper one. It was very cool. Glow worms actually do rock. When the lights are turned out in the cave it’s like looking up at constellations of stars and all it is are these funny worms hanging off the ceiling via webs.
Cool glow worm fact 1 – they are very territorial and if one gets on anothers turf they will eat them!
Cool glow worm fact 2 – after all this wonderful existence as a glow worm, once they hatch and become flies they live for 3 days – that’s rather sucky.
Cool glow worm fact 3 – and the best as far as i’m concerned – they glow brighter the more hungry they are!!! I want to glow bright when I am hungry – great diet plan or what??

Fiji – in summary

by Kt

17.01.2012

We were very taken by Fiji. It is definitely somewhere, were it not so far away, I could imagine having a second home and spending a lot of time.
Mark in particular didn’t want to leave and since leaving, constantly talks about going back.

It’s a strange country, with a lot of contradictions. It is a place where there is a lot of poverty and a lot of wealth. It’s the friendliest place I have ever been – and not just in a friendly to tourist way – as you drive or walk around the Fijians say hello to each other whether they know each other or not. However, it does have a military dictatorship, rather than a democratic government.
One of things I noticed reading the local papers or watching Fijian news is that they are very community based. Villages work in co-operatives selling their fruit. Raising money to buy more land for their village. Starting many community initiatives to help themselves and others. I guess it’s kind of what David Cameron, too late in the social history of Britain, keeps trying to bring back. I’m not sure it’s possible to bring back that kind of feeling after all that time – but I won’t go into what I think about our divvy prime minister – but as Fiji struggles to come out of being a third world nation, I think it might be that which sees them through. It is a place of hope. And it’s not often, in all honestly, you can honestly say that. Respect and affection for elders as well as for each other, and a certain code of morality in the younger Fijians is noticeable in how alien and old fashioned it is to me. It is of course not to say, there isn’t plenty of bad pennies and that lots of the young’ns don’t drink too much beer or cava and get into scraps but it’s just that the overall leaning of the youth isn’t disillusionment and destruction. I think possibly, the coming from small communities and the fact that Fiji is indeed a lovely place that they all seem to love, are key factors. I just hope I’m right and that Fiji has a promising future. The government has agreed to hold democratic elections in the next year. There are big investments being made in Fiji by the Chinese, whilst the Australian and New Zealand government are backing off. Will be interesting to see how this will work out in the coming years.

Anyhow, enough of my dull social commentary – here are some miscallaneous facts about Fiji:

  • All over Fiji, there are animals (goats, cows, horses) tied up in random places along roadsides and in fields. This is where individuals or families own the animals but not land and because there is so much greenery in Fiji, they can feed on the lush vegetation surrounding wherever they are tied up that day. It’s an odd sight at first, but you soon come to expect it and I can’t imagine Fiji without it.
  • There was a song that kept playing on the radio – ‘She likes the taste of my sugar cane’ – I kid you not – I presume it is from the Caribbean, but oh dear me, who came up with that!
  • At the Suva Prison all along the outside wall, there was a vodafone advert painted on. Vodafone in general seemed to have more of a presence in Fiji than anything else. I wonder if it will take over Coca-Cola or McDonalds as the dominating brand we see all around the world.
  • When the Cava is passed around – they do a long slow clapping when you you drink each time. Not sure if have mentioned much about Cava up to now. It’s the boiled roots of the cava plant and is soaked in cool water and drunk from a large wooden bowl, in scoops of smaller wooden bowls. It’s an acquired taste and I quite liked it. It doesn’t have a huge affect but it kind makes you go a bit fuzzy and relaxed. However, I did learn that the day after a big cava session for me was way worse than a hangover. It gave me a blinder of a headache and I tended to be grumpy all day (yes, more than usual, i know!!!) But I guess the nice thing about drinking cava is that you don’t sit in a corner, it is a social thing. You all sit around the bowl, hopefully with someone playing guitar and singing, and you take it if you want, but not if you don’t want to. Asking for ‘low tide’ means you get a small amount to save your head.
  • 50% of the population is Fijian, the other 50% is Indo-Fijian. It was odd, because there was a lot of Indian food, business around and the familiarity in that made me feel at home, alongside song of the little britishness things left over from the colonial days of course.
  • Home-made banana jam is lovely – it tasted bit like those strawberry n cream sweets you get – campino I think they are called. Not at all as you would imagine, in that it’s not bananary.
  • When the main Fijian TV channel closes at night they play the national anthem. I don’t know why, but I liked that. Seemed fitting with Fijians old school charm.
  • One of the main stores you find in most towns in Fiji is ‘Courts’ and it is the same logo as the one we used to have in the UK and sells the same kind of stuff. I guess they parted ways with the UK company which I think went under in the 90s sometime as it became an old fashioned kind of concept as a place to shop, but it’s big here and always find that funny. Anyone remember the ‘we sincerely hope to see you all in courts’ song from the tv ads? No? just me?

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Arriving in New Zealand – it’s too easy in Auckland

by Kt

17.01.2012

After having been in Auckland for less than 24 hours, I had been pleasantly surprised to find I loved the place.

We were staying in Parnell, a rather chic suburb which I do rather like but isnt terribly suited to a backpacker budget. Even Mark loved it when we first walked around, lamenting that he wanted our normal lives back so we could go in the amazing restaurants that lined the main street of the suburb.
We went out exploring on our first afternoon and ended up at a some rather costly bars while we discussed whether to throw caution to the wind and have a fairly fancy meal to reward ourselves (for what I don’t know – lasting 5 weeks in Fiji – such trauma). But a few bars later, including one where the man who ran the bar and I had a fascinating (to us, not to Mark) converstatoion about the social history of New Zealand and much of Europe. He also helped me plan our entire route around the North Island. Needless to say, we never quite made it to that sophisticated meal but instead went to a burger bar, which to be fair, was the most expensive burger bar known to mankind so I think it could still be counted as ‘fancy’.

The city centre was generally unspiring, but then aren’t they all. You only had to walk a few blocks from the central city to find somewhere interesting or nice though. We were surprised to find around some of the harbour area was quite cool things with a restaurants built in big cargo crates and our personal favourite, the oversized sun loungers which both of us could lay on with still room for another one or two people (yeah I know!). They’d made what was once an incredibly industrial, harbour area into a stylish and unusual area. I believe this whole area was regenerated for last years rugby world cup. There were lots of restaurants and a fish market but it was quite quiet so I do wonder if it will last. It’s a lot of high capacity restaurants to fill.

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One of the other things that have found impressive (this is really old lady of me) but the public transport is just fantastic. Incredibly cheap, quick, on time, frequent, with the news and weather on a tv screen and free wifi on-board – are you kidding me?? It’s like public transport on the Truman Show or something. It’s just nice, at the very least, to see that the drivers don’t have to be encased due to the threat of violence.

One day after being the city, we decided to get off the bus at the K Road area, described as having lots of vintage and eclectic shops. I’ve fallen for this ruse before and have ended up going to some rubbish place with shops run by rich, bored housewives full of new stripped pine furniture and shabby chic stuff (plenty of that stuff in Hove!) or vintage clothes that cost three times that of buying something new, but no, K Road is the real deal. It is fantastic – tons of op shop style places with lush second hand clothes and accessories (Sunny G’s -god help me resist), tattoo parlours (god help Mark resist) with a few cool bars and cheap eats. It also looks like may be main gay area, which always is a good advert. I was practically swooning over all the cool stuff on sale. How unfair I can’t buy any of it. *Stamps feet stroppily*.

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We really liked Auckland, me particularly, it has a calm vibe yet is efficient and artsy. But after a few days, we were really struggling with our budget. We kept going to bars and eating out and we realised we have so much to learn about backpacking and had to kick some of our bad habits. That kind of took the shine off of Auckland a bit, without a car, the shops we went to for food were pricey too, but we tried to be good and eat in the hostel and resist all the temptation that surrounded us.

We also did a lot of walking. I like walking around cities. I think it’s the nosiness in me to some extent, but I also find it useful to get my bearings. But OMG – Auckland is soooooooo hilly. Just to get out of the hostel to get onto the main road each day was a choice of 1 of 3 steep hills. One of them was almost completely vertical – worse than the worst hill we went up in San Francisco even.
The major downside was it showed how unfit we were. The upside being that after a few days we were already much fitter.

New Zealand – Auckland – a long trip in search of sculpture

by Kt

17.01.2012

I can only begin this blog by apologising to Mark.
“I am sorry – if only I’d known, I wouldn’t have suggested it. Please forgive me.”

So, not for the first time, I fell for the close up pictures on the front of the ‘What’s On in Auckland’ magazine and after reading about Sculptures in the Garden display they had on at the Auckland Botanical Gardens, thought that if nothing else, I’d like to go to this. I like large sculptures and on a sunday they apparently have music in the park, mandolin orchestras and the like. Sounded perfect.
So off we set on Sunday morning. We had to go into the city centre to catch a bus south. The bus was to take an hour but it’s ok, it’d be worth it.
So the bus trundled on the south road out of Auckland. I had been hoping for some nice scenery but basically the whole trip was industrial estates and out of town shopping. The bus was a little late and we set off on the 15 minute walk to the gardens. 15 minutes? my backside was it 15 minutes!!! In the heat, up hill, on the never-ending road. Was more like 30 minutes.
So by the time we arrived, tired, hungry and somewhat grumpy, we had been travelling for about 2 hours.
As I looked at the leaflet I’d got at the vistors centre and looked out into the gardens at man playing double-bass while a middle-aged lady, who was good, sang some kind of jazz song, out on the concrete, I realised that perhaps in the description of this place and the event, they had somewhat ‘over-egged the pudding’.
The gardens were pretty enough, but we don’t really do gardens. In fact that kind of thing bores us senseless and upon discovering the undersized for the number of people, cafe was our only choice of sustenance, we decided our only option was to get around the sculptures as quickly as possible and get heading back. We had of course, also, by this point sussed out that the sculptures were looking like they may also disappoint. They were not on a very grand scale and in the large setting of the gardens, frankly, didn’t work well at all.
But we plowed on around, slowly losing the will to live but took the opportunity to try to get some decent photos.
The floating sculptures that I had so been looking forward to, turned out to be pretty but incredibly small. They were what had originally suckered me in. Someone had taken a super-close up of one of them and made it look like they were a couple of feet high, not a couple of inches.

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We quickly headed back to the bus. At least the way back was down hill, so a little quicker. In our hunger we bought something from a rather odd bakery place. Mark had some cookie thing and I had a pizza topping which seemed to have been put on a sweet bread – like you get in an iced bun – a mistake, or that’s the way they like them – who knows?
Anyhow, we headed back, stopping off at K Road, just to cheer ourselves up a bit. I tried to find some bars, back towards Grafton that I thought I’d seen, which turned out not to be there, which lead to us having to do more walking, by which time, how shall I put it, Mark and I were not best of friends.

Anyhow, lesson learnt. Not the kind of thing to head off to when you don’t have a car and aren’t sure of the content. And as I pointed out to Mark, it was a sunny day, he wasn’t working in London so he should be grateful.. shouldn’t he??!!