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    Monday, 29 March 2010

    Featured Travel Photo

    This was taken by chance while we were having something to eat on a street stall in Kota Bharu, Malaysia

    Friday, 26 March 2010

    Rotorua- A New Zealand Gem?

    Blogging [Enlarge]

    Something has happened where both of us are struggling to write blog entries. It may be because we are doing less or just that having been on the road for nearly 10 months it becomes harder. I was always writing this for myself as a form of diary but I also know that some of my family and friends back home were interested in keeping up to date on our adventure so that does motivate me to write it.

    When we planned the trip at the beginning we split the trip up into legs, India was the first, South East Asia was the second, Australia was the fourth and New Zealand the fifth. New Zealand was always where we would take a ‘break’ from travelling as the constant moving from place to place does get tiring. I’ve loved my time in New Zealand and will miss the people and place. I’m sure for Jono it’ll be even harder leaving his family who have all without exception been fantastic people to get to know while we have been living here. I’m sure we’ll write more on this in future blog entries.

    Our time in New Zealand has been filled with bursts of ‘tourist’ activities as well as a lot of chilling. Having a base at Jono’s Mum’s has been perfect, it’s been like a home from home. The New Zealand summer has been absolutely brilliant and as New Zealand settles into autumn we are making our plans on what to see and do in South America, our sixth and final leg. I’ve started to re-familiarise myself with a little Spanish, thanks to some free podcasts off iTunes and get a chill every time I think about stepping onto Easter Island, our first stop in South America. Thanks to Twitter, I’ve made some virtual friends out there and I know that in Chile, even with the awful devastation caused by the earthquake it’ll still be ok to go.

    Anyway back to what we’ve been upto…..

    Rotorua [Enlarge]

    For me the place that first comes to mind when I think about New Zealand is Rotorua and it was one place I knew I had to see. Since watching a children’s programme back in the late 70’s which I think was set in the geothermal areas of Rotorua, it’s one places that has fascinated me. The show made it look like a magical place with steam rising out of the ground, tattooed people in traditional dress and children having adventures. I did a quick search on the internet but can’t find the name of the programme, if you know then please let me know.

    Rotorua town itself is locally know as Roto-vegas or Rotten-rua. I don’t think either are disparaging, the first is because I think it’s a party town and the second is because of the rotten egg smell that lingers around the town from the geothermal activity. The latter is definitely true, when you first arrive it assaults the sense of smell and as soon as you think you’ve got used it another wave of rotten egg hits you smack in the face.

    All alone, Rotorua [Enlarge]

    The odd thing is it’s the middle of summer, a lovely hot day but you see steam coming off the ground as you look around. On closer inspection, it’s not a vent for man made steam but naturally occurring and the amazing thing is it’s in the local parks, by the road side and I’m assuming in peoples gardens.

    The main place to see the activity is at Whakarewarewa. It’s where you can see the main active geyser spouting plumes of steam into the air. Like clockwork it does this every 30 minutes or so and in the past the plumes of steam have been as high as 30m. When we were there it was an impressive 10m and we timed it just right to miss all the crowds to get a good view.

    Haka, Rotorua [Enlarge]

    I think that’s pretty much all there is to see, maybe in the winter the mud pools may have more water so be a little more impressive. Personally, I thought the ones at the Craters of the Moon were much better. The entry fee can be combined with a cultural show, which I was really keen to do as you get to see the Haka performed. I feel like Simon Cowell at this point by saying it was pretty average, it came across that they did the same performance two or three times a day, seven days a week.

    Blue Lake, Rotorua [Enlarge]

    For me Rotorua will be memorable for another reason, we stayed in a motel room with a Spa Bath and I couldn’t resist trying it out. It’s memorable because it’s the first bath I’ve taken since we left home. For those of you who know me I love my baths and sitting relaxing with the bubbles I realised I’d missed it.

    I think it’s worth mentioning that we’d been to Rotorua before for a day trip as it doesn’t take too long to get there from Waihi. That time we explored the surrounding area with it’s lakes and mountains. That day the lakes were the highlight, there were two lakes next to each other, one was a deep blue colour and the other was green. It was amazing to see them side by side.

    Whakarewarewa, Rotorua [Enlarge]

    Some places for me live up to my expectations such as when I saw Angkor Wat for the first time. Others don’t, the Sphinx in Egypt was one. At the time I was really disappointed as it was much smaller than I had imagined, so close to civilisation and not in some desert oasis. Rotorua was the same, it is one of the most active geothermal sites in the world but I couldn’t help feel it’s past it’s sell by date. However, many years later I look back in marvel at the Sphinx, it truly is amazing and can’t even imagine why I was disappointed at the time and maybe I’ll feel the same about Rotorua.

    ( If you did not get to see the videos in the blog entry from Kaikoura of the Whale and Dolphins, click here as I think something went wrong with those who have registered to get an email. They are in the body of the post.)

    Tuesday, 23 March 2010

    Featured Travel Photo

    Battambang, Cambodia

    Sunday, 21 March 2010

    Whale watching in Kaikoura

    Tram, Christchurh [Enlarge]

    We were on the homeward stretch - in terms of our South Island visit anyway. On our way back up towards the ferry in Picton, we had a few stops to make. After Lake Tekapo, the first of these stops was Christchurch.

    After a pretty drive through Mackenzie Country and then through central Canterbury during which we saw rivers, mountains and farmlands, we finally arrived on the outskirts of Christchurch. Planning to stay two nights in the South Island’s largest city, we navigated our way to the main and most central “motel street”, where we drove into the first motel we saw – which turned out to be perfectly acceptable!

    Lonely Planet actually had not been that kind about Christchurch, and seemed to imply that the people there were maybe slightly unwelcoming. We didn’t really find that though, we were actually quite surprised at the multiculturalism that was present in the city centre, and we enjoyed having a good wander around, looking at the architecture, the river and the pretty gardens around the fringe of the city. Cathedral Square was a real highlight, with the cathedral as a backdrop to an interesting location where people gather in the heart of the city.

    Punting on River Avon, Christchurch [Enlarge]

    The river fringes central Christchurch, and we enjoyed a walk along that and then into the botanical gardens. The gardens were very pretty to walk through, full of beautiful trees and interesting sculptures. We had a good walk through them, and then enjoyed a couple of art centres. One of these was placed in an old school building, and carefully laid out with different wings featuring different types of crafts. It was good to wander around and look at what was on offer. Personally, I liked the fudge shop.

    After a couple of days in Christchurch, we set off up the coast to Kaikoura. This was a pretty drive, largely along the coast up a relatively narrow State Highway 1. As far as journey times go this one was pretty short, and we were in Kaikoura just after lunch. We had some significant trouble finding accommodation for the two nights we were planning to stay, but after some searching we did eventually settle on an overpriced motel along the seafront. It did seem that Kaikoura was heavily touristed, and we suffered in our searches for decent accommodation. Still, we did have good views of the coast and the mountains which was a bonus.

    Kaikoura Beach,New Zealand [Enlarge]

    Kaikoura township was dull compared to some places we’d been, but we were there for the same reason as everyone else – whales. The first thing we did after sorting out our accommodation was to book a whale watching tour. We were reasonably lucky and managed to get on a 9.30am tour for the following day.

    We turned up at the designated time, and after faffing about for half an hour, then watching a safety video, and finally boarding a bus to be driven to the boat on the other side of the peninsula, we were on the boat! Our troubles were not over though – the water was very choppy. We both started feeling seasick very quickly. There was some interesting commentary being done by one of the tour guides and on the screen behind him, but I couldn’t focus on that – I felt so ill! We saw a few albatross’, and finally got the word that a whale had surfaced. We sped off across the water towards the whale. It turned out to be a Sperm Whale, and the poor thing seemed quite unfazed by the madness going on about it – two boatloads of tourists circling it, plus two planes and a helicopter circling overhead. It was amazing to see, but the best bit was when it dove after about five minutes – with the classic whale-tail-in-the-air scenario going on. Mahmoud was gutted, as just as the whale did it’s dive, the battery on his camera ran out!

    Video of the Sperm Whale as it dives:

    Dusky Dolphin, Kaikoura [Enlarge]

    All was not lost though, and feeling more seasick than ever we whizzed off across the bay towards land, where we encountered an enormous pod of dolphins – about 500 in total our guide reckoned. They were amazing to watch, scooting along next to the boat, jumping out of the water and playing all around us. There was just so much to see – I took quite a lot of video, and Mahmoud was able to get a good variety of shots of them having fun. No one wanted to leave, but eventually we went back into the cabin and started off back to Kaikoura. The seasickness was worse than ever on the way back, and the waves were really big. I think everyone was pretty relieved to be back on dry land at the end of the trip!

    Video of the enormous pod of Dusky Dolphins:

    Kaikoura, New Zeland [Enlarge]

    After our trip we felt ill for a few hours and had to have a lie down. Once we’d recovered we did a bit of exploring on the Kaikoura peninsula. At the end of the peninsula there was a seal colony which was interesting to see. By this point we’d seen quite a few seals, but at this one we nearly tripped over a couple of seals which were having a sleep. Further back down the peninsula we saw some interesting geographical and historical sites – there was plenty to see!

    Chocolate Cake, Kaikoura [Enlarge]

    That evening, as it was Mahmoud’s birthday, we went out for a meal at a local Thai restaurant. Mahmoud had a half crayfish – a must-have in Kaikoura as they’re caught locally. Unfortunately they’re also priced really highly – the half crayfish cost nearly $45! Fortunately, it was tasty.

    Picton, New Zealand [Enlarge]

    The following day we were off and out of Kaikoura (and away from the bad weather). We were headed back to familiar pastures – Picton. The drive was once again, stunning. We drove first along the coast (and past more seals), and then inland, through Blenheim and wine country, and then on to Picton. We’d come full circle!

    Smart people had booked their accommodation prior to arriving in Picton as it gets pretty busy there with the ferry to Wellington picking up and dropping off people all the time, but we hadn’t booked anything when we arrived. As such, we had to drive around a bit, but eventually settled on a motel just out of town. It ended up being quite a picturesque and quiet spot, so it worked out well. We took a quick drive up the coast too – there were some brilliant views of Marlborough Sounds up some of the back roads in the area.

    Marlborough Sound [Enlarge]

    And so the following day we left the South Island. We were really lucky with the ferry crossing this time around, as the weather was much better – in fact it was swelteringly hot and piercingly sunny. We sat up on top of the ship for most of the journey. It was a much better boat than the last one we’d taken, and with the good weather the views of Marlborough Sound were spectacular. It was a very rocky crossing though, and we found that we had to sit up on top of the boat to prevent seasickness. It was well worth it though, and as we came into Wellington Harbour the wind really picked up and the temperature dropped a bit. We drove off the ferry – being back in Wellington was like being back in old territory! We were sorry to have left the scenic South Island – but we were able to relax that night, satisfied with the knowledge that our South Island trip had been among some of the best time of our 9 month trip so far.

    Saturday, 20 March 2010

    Sunrise, Waihi Beach, New Zealand

    It was well worth getting up early this morning as the sunrise on Waihi beach was beautiful. A great way to start Sunday morning!

    Tuesday, 9 March 2010

    Featured Travel Photo

    Hua Hin, Thailand

    Saturday, 6 March 2010

    Lake Tekapo - Photoblog

    My favourite place we’ve visited in New Zealand so far is Lake Tekapo. From the amazingly blue lake to the spectacular night sky, it truly is a really special place.

    The lake is a milky blue colour from all the sediment that was churned up when a glacier melted to create the lake. The water temperature is an average 8-10C, so it’s not one for swimming in, well not for me.

    Lake Tekapo has been given World Heritage Status for it’s night sky, which I thought was odd before we arrived. However when you look up at the night sky, it’s just literally out of this world. With Lake Tekapo being some 700m above sea level and with minimal to no light pollution, you are left with a canvas of stars to enjoy. The night sky is so special that one of the main observatories in the world is situated on Mount John overlooking the lake for even better views.

    I had fun taking photographs to capture the place and these are some of my favourites

    First glimpse of the lake, which shows how blue it is.

    The tiny church of good Shepherd, perched by the amazing lake.

    Our ‘Cairn’ at the top of Mt John.

    Sun setting over the lake capturing the last rays on the hills in the distance before the night sky is lit up with the stars.

    The amazing evening sky providing a great backdrop for the church.

    Close up of the magical lake water as the light fades for the day.

    The observatory by day at over 1000m.

    From the observatory by night, the Southern Cross taken by me with the help of an expert astro-photographer.

    This is what you are looking at. The Southern Cross is made up of four stars which are the same four starts that appear on the New Zealand flag. The two stars, alpha and beta Centauri are very bright in the night sky and are used as the pointers to identify the Southern Cross.

    The clouds of Magellan taken from the observatory - just look for what look like clouds. They are actually other galaxies within the universe.

    One from our motel of the Milky Way, our galaxy.

    One final one of my favourite view in New Zealand from the top of Mount John.

    Monday, 1 March 2010

    Bluff - Southern most tip of New Zealand

    Bluff [Enlarge]

    We left Lake Te Anau behind early in the morning and then headed to Bluff, the equivalent to Lands End in the UK. The only reason for us going was to get a picture under the signs telling us how far it was to the different capitals of the world. I got my picture and I’m pretty sure it’s the furthest I’ve been away from the UK, at 18958KM.

    History of Bluff [Enlarge]

    There isn’t anything else at Bluff but it’s a pretty interesting place as it’s the oldest European settlement in New Zealand, founded in 1824, not that long ago relatively speaking. The idea was to stop over in Invercargill, the town of which Bluff is the port. However as we drove though looking for a motel, we were faced with one NO VACANCY sign after another. We found out later that there was some sort of farmers’ convention in town which is why Invercargill was so busy.

    View from Bluff [Enlarge]

    Anyway faced with this we decided to head out of town on our hunt for a room for the night. We headed east to Curio Bay where we were on the hunt for accommodation but I think everyone else who was planning to stay in Invercargill had got there before us. At Curio Bay there was a petrified forest which was only visible at low tide. Luckily for us it was low tide so we got to have a look. It’s pretty peculiar as what you see is rock formations which on closer inspection are petrified bits of wood. On closer inspection you can actually see the wood grain.

    Yellow Eyed Penguin [Enlarge]

    More exciting, I got to see my first penguin of this trip, a Yellow-Eyed Penguin native to New Zealand. There is supposed to be a whole colony there but it was a little early in the afternoon as they were still out fishing. The lone penguin we did see was looking out to sea like he or she was waiting. I could have watched it for ages but we still had to find somewhere to stay before it got too late. We headed on and by now we were starting to run low on diesel, stupidly we had not filled up when we had the chance.

    Mclean Falls, Catlins [Enlarge]

    Eventually we did find a place for the night at Mcleans Falls Holiday Park in the centre of the Catlins, a forested area. It was a little overpriced but the building we were in had an interesting history. It had originally been the top half of the Te Anau Hotel. It was a brilliant example of recycling. The good thing about staying here was we got to explore the surrounding are - we walked through podocarp forest and found McCleans Waterfall - a really lovely walk with a magical waterfall at the end of it.

    Sea Lions, Surat Bay [Enlarge]

    We headed off early the next morning as the sun was still rising over the Pacific Ocean. One of the fun bits of travelling like we have is venturing off onto side roads. On this occasion we headed to Surat Bay which lay at the end of a dirt road. We knew that in the area there were Sea Lions so we went looking in the bay. It didn’t take long for us to find them - a couple of adolescent males playing on the beach. The adolescent males like to chase passers by so we stayed well back. Some Japanese tourists got a little too close and were chased off very quickly. Form a safe distance it was a very funny sight watching them running away.

    Robert Burns, Dunedin [Enlarge]

    We’d had fantastic weather up until now but it was getting worse as we headed along the east coast. Dunedin was our next stop which has strong links with Scotland and as we drove in it reminded me a little of an old UK town. I believe it was set up by Scottish settlers and the name is the Gaelic for Edinburgh.

    Sandfly Bay [Enlarge]

    While in Dunedin we ventured out onto the Otago Peninsula in search of Albatross. Sometimes a bit of investigation helps and on this occasion as we arrived at the hide we realised it cost $30 each to get in. We had to be content at seeing them flying past. Sandfly Bay was next on our list of things to do on the peninsula, we arrived and it was blowing a gale. A quick run to the lookout and back was all we could manage. There were great views but it was freezing. After that we decided to call it a day and head back to the city centre.

    The steepest street [Enlarge]

    Dunedin has the steepest street in the “world” according to the Guinness Book of Records. It’s steep, especially at the top, which is also not tarmaced as it melts off and slips down the hill in the heat. When we were there it was blowing a gale and it was pretty cold so no fear of any tarmac melting. Dunedin again was ok as a city but still did not match the natural wonders New Zealand has to offer.

    Dunedin [Enlarge]

    I didn’t like the change in weather, we’d been spoilt with glorious weather up until now on our trip to the South Island. We were headed back inland so I was hoping the good weather would return as we left the east coast.

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