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    Friday, 30 April 2010

    May 2010 Desktop Wallpaper

    Here is a desktop for May 2010. The picture was taken from our hotel window in Vang Vieng, Laos.

    Click here for image


    Thursday, 29 April 2010

    8 Fantastic days on Easter Island, Chile

    It took us over 30 hours to get to Easter Island from New Zealand, via Santiago, but we did not lose a day while travelling. In fact we arrived just after we left; it was like we’d gone back in time thanks to the International Date Line. It was a fitting journey to Easter Island having travelled back in time, as it added to the island’s mystery.

    The island itself is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and is the remotest inhabited island on Earth with mainland Chile being over 3000 km away. And in the grand scheme of things it’s tiny at only 12 km at its widest point, so literarily a pin prick on the Earth’s surface. The locals know Easter Island as Rapa Nui and the Chileans know it as Isla de Pascua. It also has a fourth name, the navel of the earth due to its position in the centre of the Pacific Ocean.

    The whole reason for coming to Easter Island was to see the stone statues called Moai which had been carved and erected by a long since extinct civilisation, or that’s what I thought. Looking into it a little further 60% of the population were Rapanui and descendants of the original inhabitants; so they’re not so extinct.

    We’d booked ourselves into the Tuapae Cabañas for eight days and were greeted at the Airport with a garland of flowers by the owner. I felt a little dazed after travelling for so long, so it was nice to see a smiley face with our name on a card – not a luxury we’ve been used to that often. The Cabañas were actually only a short walk from the airport. I noticed on the short walk there that it was very humid; a real change from New Zealand and that it had been raining. For a minute I felt like we’d stepped back into South East Asia – it was a good feeling.

    The 8 days on the island were spent seeing the sights and getting to know the locals – well, our host Raquel and her friends and family anyway. More on that later; but first the sights.

    The sights are dotted around the island, which is made up of 3 extinct volcanoes. To help us get around we hired a car for 4 of the days which made getting to some of the more remote sites easier. All our driving on unsealed roads in New Zealand paid dividend as the roads varied from pretty good to pot holed dirt tracks. The only difference was that we went for the cheapest option so no 4X4 to help.

    I did get a bit carried away while on the island, I took as many pictures as I did in Laos or Cambodia. I couldn’t help myself and I also thought how often do you get a chance to spend 8 days on Easter Island. The sites around the island are in different states of restoration, for me the ones that have been restored were the ones I liked the most. Jono preferred the ones that were in their original state. Having said that, both made for really interesting exploration.

    Hopefully I’ll have done justice to how mesmerising and a beautiful place it is. On the first evening we were there we saw an amazing sunset, it turned out to be the first of many on the island.

    This was taken at Ahu Tahai. An Ahu is the platform the Moai (stone statues) stand on.

    One of the first Moai we saw was in the town itself, Hanga Roa. It was standing looking over the football pitch so even if no one else showed up the local teams would have one person looking over. There are different theories for why the statues were carved and how they were erected. Wikipedia is a good source if you are interested.

    All the statues are unique and this one shows the topknot that would have been on each one. It’s a reddish colour and was quarried from a different part of the island.

    The most impressive site for me was Ahu Tongariki. It has 15 Moai standing in line. Our first glimpse of it was from above and we were both taken aback by what we saw.

    We got to see them close up later. We actually went back to this site several times; with the island being so small and us having a car it was easy and definitely worth it. There are a lot of horses on the island and on one visit it was deserted apart from two horses grazing in front. I thought it made for a good picture.

    I got this one heading back to the car. Looking at it now it still amazes me that such an old civilisation was able to carve these huge statues weighing tonnes, transport them here and then erect them.

    This final one shows the distance these particular Moai had to be transported as on the right you can see the site they were carved from – Rano Raraku.

    I’ve already mentioned that the Moai were carved and transported to their final resting spots and it’s there that you really get a feel for how prolific the making of the Moai was.

    Most of the Moai are buried so you don’t get to see how big they are. Thanks to a horse I got this one which gives you a feel for how big they really are, even though the head is partially buried.

    It’s a pretty eerie place as wherever you look you get to see heads. It’s like they are keeping an eye on you. I had the same feeling when we were in Bayon at Angkor in Cambodia.

    The final one is this set is my favourite. Even though you don’t get to see the detail, the silhouettes really add to the mystery of the place.

    Other Moai that were interesting were the ones at Ahu Akivi. Mainly because unlike all the others on the island they face outwards to the sea. They face the point where the sun sets at the equinox, giving this site astronomical significance.

    Another set of Moai are at Anakena beach. and these were interesting as they were placed on the beach.

    Most of the Moai are in their original state, toppled over either by natural disaster like a tsunami or during in-fighting between the islanders. This was one of our favourite sites. In this photo you can see the top knot sat just away from the toppled Moai

    Aside from the Moai there are other sites to see including petroglyphs and a village based at one of the volcanic craters.

    The village was the base for the birdman cult and this next picture shows some depictions of the birdman. Basically, there was a competition each year to be the head of the tribe by swimming out into the shark infested water to the islands in the photo and returning with the first egg laid by a native bird.

    If you are interested in seeing more photos head over to the Flickr site. As I said, I took a lot.

    The island had one more surprise for us which I was not expecting - the people of the island, who were lovely. Our host Raquel was really lovely, mainly thanks to her we got to see a side of the island that we may not have otherwise.

    It all started with an evening meal of barbequed fish and followed with an invite to a family birthday party.

    The fish had to be some of the tastiest I’ve had and we ate it straight off the BBQ. It was a little toasty huddled over the barbeque eating, but a really memorable meal.

    Later we were entertained with a sing song. The whole evening had a really relaxed feel about it and it was a real pleasure to have been part of it.

    The guy playing the accordion also runs a dance troupe which we went to see. The traditional Rapanui dancing was amazing and one of the best traditional dancing shows we’d seen on our travels.

    I felt very privileged to be lucky enough to spend time on Easter Island. I loved the mystery of the place and really enjoyed taking photographs. I never got tired of seeing something unusual while I was there. The final few pictures for me capture life on the island.

    We absolutely loved our time on Easter Island. If you ever get a chance to go, you must. It lived up to all my expectations and more thanks to the lovely islanders.


    Tuesday, 27 April 2010

    Featured Travel Photo

    Chaing Mai was full of surprises. Elephants playing football was definitely one of them.


    Saturday, 24 April 2010

    Our time in New Zealand

    Arriving in New Zealand [Enlarge]

    When I came back to New Zealand for the first time in five years, I did not realise how much I would appreciate being back. I had really been looking forward to seeing my family for a long time, but I’d never really missed New Zealand. From the moment we stepped out of the airport and drove out of Auckland, all I kept thinking was how beautiful everything was. And how nice it was to be home.

    Milford Sound [Enlarge]

    We started slowly because we were tired after travelling a lot, and it was Christmas time and so was a good time to take it easy. But we started doing small trips quite quickly – going around the Coromandel, going to Auckland, visiting Tauranga and Mt. Manganui all provided a nice gentle but tantalising taste of New Zealand which built into a crescendo as we started to journey farther afield. Upon reaching the South Island, things started to happen more quickly – we saw amazing sight after amazing sight, and things just seemed to be getting better all the time. For me, the highlight was getting to Milford Sound and going on the boat and seeing the amazing scenery, while for Mahmoud the highlight was the gentle and tranquil scenery of Lake Tekapo, and the beauty of the night sky at Mt John Observatory. Coming back to the North Island, we visited the far north of the country and we loved the rugged nature of it – and by contrast the friendliness of it’s people.

    On the Farm [Enlarge]

    Closer to home, we stayed with my Mum for most of the rest of the time in New Zealand. We both enjoyed staying on the farm, and it was an eye opener for Mahmoud especially, as he’d not spent a lot of time around animals before. After a few weeks, Mahmoud and Chloe the Labrador were firm friends! I just enjoyed seeing everyone everyday. I tried to appreciate every day that I was home and with the people I’m close to.

    Final Days in New Zealand [Enlarge]

    But invariably, time never stops. Before we knew it, it was time to go. We left New Zealand to continue our travels across the Pacific and into South America. Easter Island was the next stop on the itinerary – Moai and the Rapanui people await us.

    Thursday, 22 April 2010

    Tremendous Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand - Photoblog

    The Tongariro Crossing was one of the must do things on my list before getting to New Zealand. It was billed as the best one day hike in New Zealand and some of the scenes in Lord of the Rings where shot there. It had to be impressive.

    We had an opportunity when we first arrived in New Zealand to do the crossing but we chose to take it easy after travelling for 6 months. We also had an opportunity to do it later but something stopped us from doing it, I think I’d tweaked my back. Finally we did get a chance to do it, the weather forecast for the Tongariro National Park was good for at least a couple of days, so we headed down to Turangi, a town just outside Lake Taupo.

    We checked in the day before the crossing and arranged for a 45 minute bus transfer from Turangi to the park.

    On the day of the crossing we were up nice and early and at the park by 6:30, having left our hotel at 5:45. It was still dark as we set off for the 20km hike. We knew we’d need to finish it in about 7/8 hours as the bus would come and pick us up at the other end at 2:30pm.

    The following set of photographs documents the hike with all the spectacular scenery.

    A dark mist start to the crossing

    We started the upward climb hoping the weather would clear up as predicted.

    It was a pretty chilly as we started to climb.

    We got high enough to leave the clouds behind to reveal the sun starting to illuminate the peaks with the moon still making an appearance.

    Looking out, we were still a few hours away from the top at 1900m above seal level.

    There was a reminder as we climbed that we were entering a volcanic area.

    It was frosty in the South Crater as this shows. It’s a great view of Mt. Ngaurahoe in the background.

    As we climbed the ridge of the crater this view took my breath away, it was much better than anything I had expected. In the distance was the desert road

    The ground was steaming from geothermal activity.

    We started to make our way down the scree slope of the South Crater towards the Emerald Lakes.

    First glimpse of the Emerald Lakes.

    The lakes were perfectly still making for a fantastic reflection photo.

    As we made our way through the South Crater it was definitely a scene out of Lord of the Rings.

    We’d made it to the Blue Lake where we took some time to chill.

    Looking back to Mt Ngauruhoe we could see signs of past lava flows seeming frozen in mid flow.

    Finally several hours later we were on our way down. The views of Lakes Rotoaia and Taupo in the distance were amazing.

    The route is marked well and on a clear day they are easy to see.

    Finally we left the high altitude and made our way back through the native bush to be picked up.

    I was a little concerned over fitness when we decided to do the crossing but there was nothing to worry about. It’s not easy but very doable – the brilliant weather may have made it a lot easier. It’s an amazing one day hike and I have to say it deserves the title of best one day hike in New Zealand.

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