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    Friday, 29 January 2010

    Making our way to Taupo and Wellington

    Giant Sheep, Tirau [Enlarge & More]

    We were off for a few weeks on another road trip. Our destination was the South Island of New Zealand but first we had to get to Wellington where we would catch a ferry south. As soon as we left Waihi it started drizzling. It drizzled most of the time we were on the road, which wasn’t a great start. On the road south we passed a few towns along the main highways. Each town seems to have a gimmick to lure the passer by to stop. The one that caught my eye was Tirau where they had a giant sheep and dog! It’s a great way to lure you in to spend some of your cash!

    Lake Taupo at Sunset [Enlarge & More]

    A three hour drive from Waihi we arrived in Taupo where we were going to spend a night before heading to Wellington. The town of Taupo is built around a crater lake which was created by a huge volcanic eruption, which apparently was seen in China. I felt like I was looking at the sea the first time I saw it. It’s huge, the clouds were hiding whatever was on the other side and waves lapped the beach that had formed at its rim.

    Huka Falls, Taupo [Enlarge & More]

    The lake itself feeds the River Waikato which starts life with a pretty impressive set of falls, known as the Huka Falls. They are amazingly blue with really fast running water shooting down them. While I was stood there watching the water rush past a mad canoeist ventured down the falls. He must have been pretty competent as he made it look really easy. I remember my kayak experience in Laos where I could not even keep the kayak upright on a pretty calm river. I was spellbound as he made his way down.

    Craters of the Moon, Taupo [Enlarge & More]

    Just opposite the falls is a geothermic site called The Craters of the Moon. It’s where the water near the surface is heated to above 140c turning it into steam that escapes out of the ground. We chose a good time to go as it was quiet with a handful of people visiting. As you walk round the site on walkways you pass varying steam plumes. Some make the ground look like a fire has just been extinguished and it is still smouldering. Others are in full flow and surround you in a rotten egg smell which is caused by the sulphur. For the Lord of the Rings fans, I could imagine Gollum skulking around in the steam.

    Craters of the Moon, Taupo [Enlarge & More]

    It was a pretty cool day but while we walked around both of us noticed the heat coming off the ground. It was like having one of those outdoor heaters following us around and keeping us nice and toasty. As we were leaving it started to rain pretty heavily and we made our way to our motel for the night.

    Train Station, Wellington [Enlarge & More]

    The rain did stop for about half an hour for me to go out and have a look at the sun setting over the lake. It was beautiful and filled me with hope that the next day the weather would turn and we’d have the sun and blue skies back.

    The next day turned out to be worse and the five hour drive to Wellington was accompanied by rain. Part of the journey takes in the Desert Road which is at 2000m and goes through some beautiful landscapes. What we saw was rain and cloud and not much else. We will do the same journey on the way back so fingers crossed it’s sunny next time.

    Stepping out into Wellington it was quiet, even deserted. I think it was due to it being anniversary weekend for Wellington. The locals had taken the opportunity to take a long weekend away as they had the Monday off.

    Dismayed statue, Wellington [Enlarge & More]

    The capitol Wellington was one of the places I had been looking forward to seeing in New Zealand. I don’t know why but it was a little landmark in my head when we’d planned the trip over seven months ago. I’m going to have to reserve judgement on Wellington as it was cold and wet. In our travels I have noticed that the weather plays a big part in how I feel about a place. In South East Asia we were in monsoon season pretty much all the time we were there. It rained but it was predictable and it soon stopped. While it rained it was still hot and sometimes it bought a welcome relief from the heat. Where we stayed in high altitude in Asia, and in Australia and now in New Zealand if it rains, it’s not predictable and it’s cold. In fact it’s just like home and makes the nicest places look pretty miserable. I don’t think I saw Wellington at its best.

    An anchor, Wellington [Enlarge & More]

    The second day the weather brightened up a little for us to take a stroll around. Along the harbour front an old anchor was being lifted out of the water. It was interesting to watch what they were up to. Apparently it was being lifted to check before being sunk again until they had enough money to restore it.

    Te Papa Museum, Wellington [Enlarge & More]

    As the weather still on the dull side we headed to the Te Papa museum. As museums go it was on of the better ones we have visited, a modern well laid out building. It was brilliant to pick up the history of New Zealand, both Maori and Pakeha (the Maori word for white person).

    Reality, Wellington [Enlarge & More]

    It was a shame the weather was not great for our visit to Wellington. I’m hoping when we return from the South Island it is better, so I get to see a different side to it. As for the South Island, we had the crossing the next day and I was keeping my fingers crossed for good weather. Otherwise the 3 hour crossing was not going to be much fun.

    Monday, 25 January 2010

    Featured Photo

    Boy with corn in Vientiane, Laos

    Friday, 22 January 2010

    A Trip to Auckland

    Auckland Skyline [Enlarge & More]
    In spite of being in New Zealand for over a month, we still had not been to the biggest city in the country yet. As my sister lives on the outskirts of the city in a rural area, it was the perfect place for us to go and visit and be shown around by her and Giles!

    Miranda Hot Springs [Enlarge & More]
    On the drive up from Waihi we stopped at Miranda Hotsprings, a thermal-heated set of swimming pools near the coast. It was a good opportunity for a swim, but to be honest the weather was a little warm to sit in a 30 degree pool! Still, it was pretty quiet and nice not to be surrounded by lots of kids and families – we pretty much had the pool to ourselves!

    Dinner at Jo and Giles [Enlarge & More]
    We arrived at Jo & Giles’ place and enjoyed a lovely evening meal in the garden, accompanied by their pet chicken Mr. Bopper (not on the plate, it’s a real chicken). We also visited the horses and did other rural stuff. Even though it’s just minutes from the Auckland suburbs there, it feels like you’re right out in the countryside which is nice.

    Sky Tower Reflection [Enlarge & More]
    The following day we visited Auckland city. At just over 1 million people, Auckland is definitely not the largest place we’ve visited, and it showed. It was really cute – the largest city in New Zealand! It was much nicer than I remembered, mainly as every other time I’ve been to Auckland it’s rained. Not that day though – it was all sunshine and blue sky. Giles’ sister, Lucinda was our Auckland expert for the day, and she guided us around the city.

    View from the ferry [Enlarge & More]
    Walking down Queen Street (the main street of central Auckland) was interesting, and then we took the ferry across to Devonport – the harbour was very pretty. The ferry ride was just 15 minutes, I think I’d have liked to stay on the water a bit longer! The boat was crammed with tourists, and I overheard one of the ferry staff saying “Why are they all going to Devonport? There’s nothing there!”

    Sitting on Mount Victoria [Enlarge & More]
    Well, Devonport was actually lovely – we had a bit of lunch and then climbed up Mt. Victoria. Outstanding views on top. We could see Rangitoto Island, most of the city and right out across to the Coromandel Peninsular, where we’d been just a few days before. There was a man flying a remote controlled glider up there, he seemed to really enjoy it – gave us a little thrill when he zoomed it over our heads. We then hiked back down and visited a funny shop which sells stuff imported from the UK. There was all sorts of random stuff in there, like Marks & Spencer’s bean soup – how odd. We bought some sweets and Jo bought some chocolate fingers. Yum yum.

    Waiting for the ferry [Enlarge & More]
    A ferry ride back and a short drive later, we reached Mission Bay – full of people lounging about on a slightly dirty beach. It reminded me of a beach we visited in Mumbai, that’s not very good is it! We did have some lovely icecream there – so good! After that it was back to our base for the night and a good bit of sleep.

    Gannet Colony, Muriwai [Enlarge & More]
    The following day I felt rough, like I’d been scraped along the ground in the night. It turned out I was getting a cold (I have no voice right now), but at the time we marched on with plans and visited some of the west coast beaches. We checked out Muriwai. The sea was really rough and the sand was very black. We watched Giles do a bit of body boarding which looked difficult given the rough seas, and then we wandered up onto the cliffs and had a look at a gannet colony – one of New Zealand’s two colonies. There were a lot of birds there, and reading about them was really interesting. They were quite smelly though!

    Mist,Piha Beach [Enlarge & More]
    After that we drove a strangely long distance to go a very short way down the coast (no direct roads) to Piha, the infamous surf beach near Auckland. It was quite calm that day, and the cameras set up to film the surf rescue TV series there were not rolling – there was no one to rescue! We enjoyed a wander along the beach. It was very misty with sea surf, and despite it not being a perfect blue-sky day it was very atmospheric and beautiful. You can tell why The Piano was filmed in the region.

    Opera House [Enlarge & More]
    After that it was back to Jo & Giles’ place, where we packed up our stuff ready to go. It had been a weekend packed with activity and fun, and we’d been treated well by our hosts. Sadly I felt ill and we had to go back to Waihi to pack up and get ready for our next adventure – our trip to the South Island.

    Tuesday, 19 January 2010

    Round the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

    Coromandel Peninsula [Enlarge & More]
    The time had come to start venturing away from the farm and Waihi to explore further afield, as up to now we had stuck to day trips. On the day we set off to explore the Coromandel peninsula it was a slow start. By slow I mean we were definitely out of practice in packing up and heading to the next destination. We had got it down to a fine art, as it would only take us 15 minutes to have all our belonging packed away in our bags. Having been living at Jono’s Mums, I’d got used to spreading out a bit. We did eventually get ourselves together and were ready to set off.

    The Surf [Enlarge & More]
    One of the real bonuses of travelling in New Zealand for us is that we get the use of a four by four Toyota Surf, thanks to David. It means we don’t have limitation on where we go and what roads we are allowed to use, as some roads are off limits if you have a hire car. It also means we are not reliant on public transport and this makes us truly mobile.

    Port Charles [Enlarge & More]
    We packed up the Surf with what we thought we needed for a few days and headed out. The Coromandel is a mountain range that runs along the east coast of New Zealand just south east of Auckland and north of Waihi. Our first destination was Port Charles, a bay at the northern tip of the peninsula.

    A Coromandel Beach [Enlarge & More]
    One of the things I struggled with before we headed out was how long it would take to drive around. After Australia where the distances were so enormous and you would travel for hours just to get a short distance on the map, New Zealand was more like travelling back home distance wise. If we’d gone straight to Port Charles it would have taken 2.5 hours but we meandered our way up taking the full day.

    View from a lookout [Enlarge & More]
    We took the west coast up the peninsula and I have to say the drive was so dramatic that it was difficult to take it all in. I think I’ll appreciate the beauty even more in a few months time. What I’ve found so far is that there is never a dull bit when traveling around New Zealand. Each scene you stop to take in is picture postcard perfect. The towns you pass along the way have a certain charm but are similar in feel and appearance, so the scenery is the attraction for me.

    The Road to Stony Bay [Enlarge & More]
    Jono did most of the driving on this occasion as he’s explored the Coromandel before. This left me free to enjoy the view and take pictures along the way. The roads are narrow and very windy which adds to the dramatic nature. The closer we got to Port Charles the road got worse. It turned into a ‘metal road’ which is a term I had not heard before. It’s a unsealed road but not a dirt road as it does have gravel on it.

    The Bach [Enlarge & More]
    We’d arranged to stay at a bach in Port Charles, which is basically a holiday home. It was owned by someone Jono’s mum knew and was very affordable. Our first task after arriving in Port Charles was to find and get into the bach. Finding it was not a problem as there were only a few properties in the area. It was pretty secluded and very quiet. The getting in bit was more of a challenge as we did not have a key. I did feel a little odd holding Jono’s legs as he slid in through a gap we’d made after levering the window open.

    Stony Bay [Enlarge & More]
    Once we’d settled in and I’d had a cuppa we headed over to Stony Bay, a cove further north at the end of the road. The road up to now had been rough but the next stretch was worse as a sign indicated - “Not maintained by the council – proceed with caution”, as a result we were rewarded by a secluded bay with a stony beach. I think the sign must put a lot off. As we rounded the corner after climbing up some hair pin bends, the view of the bay was breath taking. Once down in the bay, it was so serene and made a great place to take some photos. Which always makes me happy.

    Video of road from Stony Bay to Port Charles:

    Cooks Beach [Enlarge & More]
    The next day we were up nice and early . As I was packing up the Surf I pulled my back and was in agony after that. As I’ve already mentioned the distances are not great and we made good time heading back to Whitianga our next stop for the night. Along the way we nipped into coves and beaches, one of my favourites was just outside Whitianga called Cooks Beach. It’s where Captain James Cook planted the English flag and declared New Zealand for King George III.

    Cathedral Cove [Enlarge & More]
    Once at Whitianga we decided to carry on and head back to Waihi as it wasn’t too far and we had plenty of time. One of the places to see along the way is Cathedral Cove. It’s famous and must be in all the guide books as it was packed when we got there. I’ve gotten so used to traveling off season that it comes as a bit of a surprise to see other tourists. We knew we were in for trouble when we saw a sign outside the tiny town of Hahei saying that the car park at Cathedral Cove was full and to take the park and ride in for $2. We ignored it and did find a space in the car park, pure luck on our part as a car had just pulled out. The walk down to the cove was pleasant enough but the cove itself was really disappointing. There were way too many people for the tiny beach and any charm had left with the boat that dropped off the ice cream vendor for the day.

    Puka Hill [Enlarge & More]
    The final stop on the way back was at Tairua where we climbed up Puka hill. My back wasn’t happy but the view was amazing so well worth it.

    The two day trip has really got me excited about exploring further and in particular the South Island. My camera will be in overdrive I’m sure.

    Monday, 18 January 2010

    Featured Photo

    Sairee Beach in Thailand

    Monday, 11 January 2010

    Back Home in New Zealand

    Welcome Meal[Enlarge & More]

    For me, one of the things I’d been looking forward to most in our trip was returning to New Zealand for the first time in nearly five years. This was a good opportunity for me to catch up with some much needed family time, and for both Mahmoud and I to take a little rest from travelling. We were knackered! You’ll have seen Mahmoud’s previous blog post about time on the farm, which has been good fun and definitely a part of life when staying with my family. That’s not all we’ve done though – weaved in with our “rest”, we’ve done a fair bit of sightseeing already in our first three weeks in New Zealand!

    Waihi Beach [Enlarge & More]

    We’re staying near the town of Waihi – which is where I grew up and went to school. It’s on the east coast of the North Island, about two hours south-east of Auckland. Although it’s very familiar to me it’s also changed a lot in the last few years, so there has been plenty for me to catch up on and for Mahmoud to see for the first time. The most pleasant feature in Waihi is the 10km long surf beach – great for walking along and for swimming on. At this time of the year it’s pretty busy, although now that Christmas is over it’s died down a bit.

    Jo & Giles [Enlarge & More]

    We did a tough 7km one-way walk from Waihi Beach to Homunga Bay, near where my Mum lives. We did it with my sister, Jo, and her boyfriend, Giles. We were knackered after going one way (and it was lucky we’d left the car at the other end so could drive back) – they, with loads of energy, walked back the way they’d come!

    Pump House [Enlarge & More]

    Waihi also has a very large open pit gold mine, which the two of us walked around (a 4km walk around the rim). This was, surprisingly, very good with excellent views of the shockingly deep pit. The old pumphouse (by old, we’re talking 19th century which is not particularly old when you’re used to “old” buildings in England!) has been restored well, and when we did our “pit walk” we saw a wedding party having their photographs taken next to it. Sweet!

    Mount Maunganui [Enlarge & More]

    We recently did a day trip to nearby Tauranga, where we did another walk up Mount Maunganui (with Jo and Giles again!). Tauranga is a nice town, and the 5th largest city in New Zealand – it’s not particularly big which says a lot about town sizes in NZ! The climb up Mount Maunganui (just over 200m) is not particularly high, but given that everything else in the immediate vicinity is at sea level it made for some great views! Plus it felt pretty good to get to the top of something and not be totally knackered.

    Mount Te Aroha [Enlarge & More]

    While we’re on the subject of walks, we did do another one (yes, another!) up nearby Mt. Te Aroha. This was tiring. 953 meters above sea level, we had to climb just over 900 of that to get to the top. Funnily enough, we had Jo and Giles along (they like walks) and by the time we got to the top we were absolutely shattered. It was hard going the whole way, and very steep. Getting to the top felt like a real achievement, and we were rewarded with some fantastic views as the clouds skimmed over and around us. It’s a shame the weather wasn’t even better – there are some amazingly clear days in New Zealand, and I’m sure we could have seen further on a better day. Maybe we’ll have to do that walk again.

    Xmas Day Swim [Enlarge & More]

    In the last few weeks we have, of course, celebrated Christmas and the New Year. Mahmoud was adamant that he wanted to spend at least some of Christmas Day on the beach. Unfortunately, everyone else in New Zealand had the same idea and Waihi Beach and nearby Bowentown were both jam packed full of holiday makers. A short walk over the hill from Bowentown brought us to the tiny Shelly Bay – nearly all ours, apart from one other family. Jo, Giles and Mahmoud had a dip in the sea. I poked my toes in and wimped out, opting to stay further up the beach with Mum and David (Mum’s partner). Afterwards, we enjoyed a non-traditional Christmas meal – barbeque! New Years Day was a New Years in, not that that meant it wasn’t good! We spent some time at the beach, and in the evening Mahmoud and I cooked. We cooked some dhal and chicken curry, and also tried out a Thai green curry which Mahmoud had learned to cook on his cooking course in Thailand. After we’d blown everyone’s heads off with that, we blew up some fireworks in the garden which Bruce (Grandma’s partner) had brought along, and scared the wits out of the poor animals at Mum’s place. At midnight we played with sparklers, and some of us choked on the nasty smoke coming off of them – raspy throats all round!

    David on Opoutere [Enlarge & More]

    There are some lovely beaches near Waihi – we’re at the base of the Coromandel Peninsular here, and this means that there are beaches dotted all over the place. We spent Boxing Day at Opoutere Beach with Mum and David, where we went for a walk. The beach is not very developed, and requires a 15 minute walk from the carpark – as a result, it was pretty quiet. Apparently there’s a nudist beach right down the far end of it, but we didn’t walk that far! Nearby Whangamata was a great spot for a coffee afterwards – at only 30 minutes from my Mum’s place we’ll be going back at some point for sure.

    Raglan Coastline [Enlarge & More]

    We didn’t just stick to beaches on the east coast of New Zealand – we’ve gotten over to the other side of the North Island too! We visited the town of Raglan for a day, a really sweet sea-side holiday-makers place. This is set on a blue-green ocean, but the best part for me was the two hour drive we took down a gravel road south of the town. The views were amazing! I’d never been down that way before, and the views surpassed those of the Great Ocean Road in Australia in my opinion. It was stunning and rugged – the good weather helped too!

    Hamilton Gardens [Enlarge & More]

    Halfway between Raglan and Waihi is Hamilton, the place I went to university. In between checking the place out and watching Avatar at the cinema, we visited the Hamilton Gardens. I’d been once before but hadn’t been around the whole thing. They were brilliant – they contained different themed gardens based on styles from around the globe. The one I liked best was the Indian garden – it was just like stepping into India, only the garden was cleaner and had better flowers!

    Chloe [Enlarge & More]

    Aside from all the sightseeing, we have of course been spending time with my family. From making hay with Mum and David , to trying to keep up with Jo and Giles on walks, tea (and coffee) with Grandma and Bruce, and being showed around his farm by my Dad we’ve been pretty busy. The one who deserves the biggest mention though, is Chloe, my mother’s mad Labrador. She’s even managed to win over Mahmoud (the cats haven’t even got a look in). Straddling the line between intelligent and stupid, but edging dangerously close to clever, her penchant for tearing things to shreds and treating everything as a game has us constantly entertained. My recent attempt to wash her resulted in her running away halfway through the bath and standing just out of reach of the hose and barking at me. I did win the battle eventually, but I haven’t won the war!

    Maori Carving [Enlarge & More]

    We’re just at the start of our New Zealand adventure, and there’s plenty more to do. We’re about to head off for a few days around the Coromandel, followed by some time with my sister in Auckland, and then we’ll be off around the South Island for a few weeks. Not to mention the other things we’ll be up to – casino and Sky Tower with Grandma, shooting possums with Dad, watching bubbling mud in Rotorua and exploring the Bay of Islands. Keep on reading!

    Sunday, 10 January 2010

    Featured Photo

    Tonights Dinner in Kota Bharu, originally uploaded by Homdaum.

    Central Market Kota Bharu, Malaysia

    Tuesday, 5 January 2010

    Farm Life In New Zealand

    On arriving in New Zealand it was time for us to take a break from the constant moving about. After 6 months of constant travelling I was looking forward to spending some time in one place.

    We spent the time leading up to Christmas and New Year with Jono’s family on his Mum and Dad’s farms. It’s a busy time of year on the farms which gave me the opportunity to take lots of photographs. This set, as you’ll see, has a farm theme.

    A lot of my pictures are taken in the late afternoon when the animals on the farm get fed. I like the one above as it really gives you a feel for the farm.

    One of the many horses on the farm, this one is Milly, an Arabian Mare. The afternoon light gives her a lovely shine.

    The Jersey calves are really cute. They are curious but a little jumpy when you get close. I had to make sure I avoided all the poo taking this one.

    As you walk round the farm, Chloe the Labrador is never far. I love this picture as it looks like she is surveying her farm to make sure all is as it should be.

    As I got to ‘know’ the cows my favourite has become number 15, as she is curious and will let me get pretty close to get a good shot. I like this one. It looks like she has a couple of bodyguards behind her keeping her safe.

    The sheep were being shorn on the farm, the woolshed made for a great place to take pictures. It was a tricky as I didn’t want to get in the way as there was a lot of activity going on.

    It’s a pretty back braking job and you can see that the sheep shearers have a lot of skill in handling the sheep.

    I think I captured the exhaustion well in this one. He’d been shearing since 8 in the morning and this was taken at 12:30 when the last ones were being finished.

    Here is a shot of a counter one of the shearers was using. I wonder how many sheep had been counted on it over the years.

    Christmas time is also a busy time for making sure there is enough feed for the animals in the winter months. The grass was being cut for making silage. The Grass is cut and then collected and baled and then wrapped in plastic for storage.

    A silage bale ready to be wrapped.

    Along with silage the grass was also cut to make hay. The grass is cut and then left to dry before it is scooped up and made into your traditional rectangle hay bales. All this is done when the weather is guaranteed to be fine so that grass does not spoil. This shot shows well the grass being cut on a sunny day.

    While the cutting was going on we were looking on and taking it easy. I like this picture as I think it gives off the feel of a relaxed summer’s day.

    A couple of days later the hay bales were made and collected.

    A few days later it was the turn of the lambs to be shorn and they had to be drafted. This was the process of separating the lambs from their mothers. The lambs were sent to the right and the sheep to the left.

    Once they were separated they looked great, all the shorn sheep in one pen and the lambs in another.

    The sheep were let ‘free’, they have a big herding instinct and madly follow each other. Watching them for a while I concluded that they are so stupid that they’d follow each other off a cliff face if you let them.

    As the weather was so lovely we did a lot of walking around the farm exploring the nooks and crannies. The good thing about New Zealand is that there are no snakes or venomous spiders so you are pretty safe walking around. The most dangerous thing you are likely to encounter is a bee.

    Apart from the Jersey cows there are others on the farm, I like the Red Devons and I particularly like this one. I imagine a Farside cartoon to this one, something along the lines of how trendy the other cows think she is with her ear pierced.

    Finally a couple of people shots, this is simply Farmer and his dog.

    And finally this photo because I just like it and it was taken on the farm and it’s a pretty common scene of people chatting over fences. We did also venture off the farm in the first couple of weeks in New Zealand and I’ll keep that for another post.

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