Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Tongariro Crossing

After the excitement of the rafting in Rotorua, we headed further south for a couple of hours until we hit a town called National Park ( cunning name huh ? ). The reason for stopping here was to walk the Tongariro Crossing. It’s a 19km hike with a 900 climb to pass between two volcanoes, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe plus we added another 5km and another 300m climb to get to one of te peaks. Knackering. The area was used by Peter Jackson as a location for Mount Doom when he was filming the Lord of the Rings films. It was a fabulous walk, but jeez, we’ve got out of shape since leaving South America. . . . . .Lucky the scenery was good !

Here's the view the previous evening and then another of the same mountain once we got up close.









There were some fabulous views on the way back down. On the left are the Emerald Lakes ( you would not want to drink this water ) and on the right is a view all the way back to Lake Taupo.











Here's a quick video vista from the tops.

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Rotorua


First thing you need to know about Rotorua is that it smells. Bad eggs. Sulphur. A tag-team chuff off with Baz and Lav..

It's about 3 hours drive south from Auckland and it is one of the main geo-thermal areas in New Zealand. The town is surrounded by bubbling mud pools, smelly fumeroles, sulphur pools, geysers, old craters and such like. We visited place called Waimangu Thermal Park and by the time we walked around it, we were ready for something less smelly.......





Which is fortunate, 'cos Rotorua is also the major adrenalin activity centre for the North Island. We decided to raft down the Kaituna River. It was quoted as grade 5 ( which is supposed to be quite bumpy ), but the major selling point was the bit where the raft careers off a seven metre high waterfall. Not too much to say about it, other than have a look at the following sequence of photos..... ( it's us honest ! )


Nice waterfall.




Too late to change our minds...


Touch down !


Submerged somewhere. And breathe !


It's also worth including this photo from a later rapid. The foot poking out of the water on the left of the image is Athena's ! Don't worry folks, we fished her out.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Auckland Part II

On the advice of Joe ( our mate from Leeds who lived here in NZ for several years ) during our posh meal out up the Auckland Skytower ( see photo of me and the Dog bravely standing on the glass floor - Athena and Becky were chicken ! ) we decided to stay an extra day in Auckland.

Joe took us for a 1/2 hour drive out of the city centre and showed off some of the surrounding scenery. First stop was the Karekare beach ( photo on the left ) which is where The Piano was filmed. Apparantly....... I'd never heard of the film....



Next up was the stupendous Piha beach. What a spot. Even better than that was just around the corner through a rock ravine called The Gap. We suddenly had our own private beach with personalised wave machine. Nice warm water too. We had a great time throwing the ball around in the waves, until Joe manage to hit the Dog right in the eye after a deflection from yours truly.....

On the way home we took a short hike up to see Kitekite falls. Beautiful scenery all within a short drive of the city centre, and no crowds......




Here's a bit of vid of our private beach.



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Saturday, 26 January 2008

Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is a beautiful spot about 3 hours north of Auckland. It's a bit like a backpacker's Cornwall, but the water is about 21 degrees. Top cheese.


Unfortunately, just like Cornwall the weather can be fickle. We had hoped to spend the next day sailing on a tall ship, but we were met with a Grimsby Drizzle. So, we hopped into the car and drove across to the North coast, where we found some lovely deserted beaches. The waves were pretty fierce, but it was great fun frolicing about in them as they tried to batter us into submission.

For the evening, we headed back into Paihia and then caught a ferry across to the posh town of Russel. Lovely spot with nice old colonial buildings, just across the water from the spot where the British Crown signed a treaty with the Maoris to initiate modern New Zealand. We had a very expensive fancy pants tea on the water front, but look at the view we had..

We broke the trip home by dropping into Goat Island. Great fun in the surf, especially when the local ducks joined us. I kid you not. Those fellas were bloody good at it too, but a couple took some nasty hits when the hit the beach at too higher rate of knots....

Auckland

We're in New Zealand now and have met up with our travelling chums from South America, The Dog and Becky. The weather wasn't looking too great when we first got here, but that didn't stop us cruising down to the docks for some tea. Auckland is known as the 'City of Sails' and there were plenty of boats bobbing around in the harbour to justify the name. The next day was a bit lazy to be honest. We cruised around the town checking out the sights and also performing dull tasks that needed to be done. We did visit an excellent museum though. The Auckland Museum had some great stuff in it, including a 'volcano experience' ( which was scary ) and also a demonstation of the Haka by a bunch of Maoris ( also scary ). Me and the Dog thought about facing them down with some Morris dancing, but our hankerchiefs didn't match and I'd forgotten my bells..
The next morning we were up early to head further North into the North Island, but we popped up to the peak of Mount Eden, an extinct volcano, for a spiffo view of the city. The tall building you can see is called the Sky Tower. We're off up there for tea tonight ( and will meet up with our mate Joe from Leeds - it's a small world ! )

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Sunday, 20 January 2008

Sydney Finale

Well, we're off to Auckland tomorrow, so it was time for a last supper in Oz. We were invited around to Vince and Janice's ( Shelby's Mum and Dad ) for more fantastic Aussie hospitality. Janice created a fantastic roast lamb dinner while we enjoyed a sound and light show as a massive storm passed over us. We were also entertained by a passing Cockatoo which was nice. It was a lovely evening, though everyone was a bit tired after the previous night's performance. Especially cousin Dean who finally got home to bed at 11am. . .. What a hero !

The joy of being fed was tempered somewhat by having to prise open my wallet to buy a new pair of trainers. My old pair have had holes in since we left South America and the rainstorm cruelly exposed their weaknesses. I played 'The Last Post' on a kazzoo as I lowered them into the bin...

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo Action Vid.

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Out on the Sauce in Sydney

We returned to Tristan and Shelby's house in Sydney for our final few days in Oz. They'd read the bit on the blog about us liking Melbourne, so they insisted on a big night out in the city to correct our vision....


We headed into the Rocks area, under the south end of the Harbour Bridge. It's one of the oldest parts of the city and has retained many of the original buildings and, if you avoid the really touristy bits, still has loads of really good pubs. We met up with Shelby's cousin Dean ( we'd met him in the UK and he'd just returned from Calgary in Canada - these Aussies get around ) and embarked on a good old fashioned pub crawl. Pretty soon, the harbour bridge was looking like the photo on the right. We found one pub, The Mercantile, that had a great band playing so stayed there for a bit while Dean chatted up the table of girls next to us. Impressive technique ! All in all a great night out on the sauce.


Next morning was a bit slow, but fortunately, Sydney has a huge selection of beaches and coves to swim in, so a bit of salt water therapy removed any lingering hangover symptoms. Fair play to Sydney !

Friday, 18 January 2008

Canberra

There are two routes heading back from Bega to Syndey. The route via Canberra was only going to add a little, so we thought we'd pop in to see the nation's capital for a few hours. Malcolm had advised us that the War Memorial was worth a visit. It was. It's a great museum with lots of interesting hardware ( including a DeHaviland Mosquito ! Woah ! ), but the plaques of names around the outside of the museum remind everyone what the place is really about.
Canberra itself is a 'new'city. It didn't exist until after the term of the century when, to prevent an argument between Sydney and Melbourne, the national capital was placed there. The whole city was planned out so it's a bit like a Milton Keynes but on a very grand scale. Best bit is the parliament building which is actually buried in a hill. I suspect Australia is governed by Hobbits. Hope they don't find out...

OasToastler

My old boss from Reynard lives about 1/2 way between Melbourne and Sydney ( still about 7 hours drive from Melbourne ) so we called in for a couple of nights to see what Malcolm, Joey, Charlotte, Chloe and Boo were up to.



They now live on a cattle farm about half an hour from the coast and about half hour from Bega, the nearest town. The house is fantastic. We saw some photos of the property when they first moved out and there's certainly been a lot of thought and effort put into it over the last few years.

The farm covers about two hundred and seventy acres of beautiful countryside. They keep about seventy head of low maintenance beef cattle on the farm, though Malcolm reckons that this is really more of a hobby at the moment, rather than a serious attempt at making a profit. There are also six horses which Joey, Charlotte and Chloe compete with in local and national events. I counted about five cats too, including one with only one eye. There was also a great selection of HUGE spiders.....

Malcolm has also built a great bloke's shed on the farm for his toys. The Auto Union's at one end, the current hot-rod project is in the middle and a variety of tools, benders, drills and a drawing board live at the other. Happy as a pig in shit just about sums it up.

For visitors, Hotel Oastler offers a penthouse apartment on the highest point of their property. It's called the Murray Shack after Malcolm's brother and the views from it are awesome. One of my fondest memories would be sitting on chemical loo at the back of the shack in the morning and admiring the scenery. We forgot to take the camera the first day, and the second morning was a bit overcast, so I've borrowed some of Malcolm's photo's to show it off. There's a sweep of video at the bottom of the post too.

We had a great time there. For those of you that knew Malcolm in the UK, rest assured that he's still pleasantly unhinged. Joey, Charlotte, Chloe and Boo were great fun and made us feel very welcome. It was a real shame that we had to move on back to Sydney, but our time in Oz is now running out fast.

Murray Shack Vista.

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Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Melbourne

After a brief panic trying to find some accommodation ( all the budget places were full, so we had to go mid-range - $120 a night !!! Talk about wallet-throb !! ) we settled into life in Melbourne. Sorry to say this in front of the Sydney Skippies, but we really like Melbourne. Yes, Syndey has the beaches and the harbour, but the city centre isn't really upto Melbourne's standard. The buildings, both old and new are more spectacular, the way the centre is laid out is much more pedestrian friendly, the parks are beautiful and plenty, but most importantly, THEY SELL BEER. Finding decent grog in the beer desert that is Australia has been difficult, but Melbourne just about cuts the mustard with several micro-brewary pubs. It's not Yorkshire or Belgium, but it was pretty good. Check out the smile below !








While we were in town, it would have been a shame not to pop along to the Australian Open Tennis. We got tickets for the opening day in the Rod Laver Arena ( equivalent of centre court ) where we saw Serena Williams beat Jarmila Gajdosova, world number one Justine Henin beat Aiko Nakamura and then Jo Tsonga beat Scottish world number nine, Andy Murray. Great entertainment. Can't figure out how Serena Williams, who looks like she could play for Wigan at the back of the scrum, and Justine Henin, who looks like she'd be left on the bench for the Wigan Ladies Tiddywinks team, can both be top ranking players in the same sport...

The Great Ocean Road

We flew down to Melbourne ( a mere 1 1/2 hours from Sydney ! ) with the intention of driving along The Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road runs from Geelong, through Torquay, Lorne, Apollo Bay and Port Cambell, finishing after about 100 miles or so in Warrnabool. It's famous for it's beautiful coastline and forests. We picked up a car ( thanks Shane ! ) and headed off....

It pretty much lived up to it's billing. Have a squiz at the photos.

I'm not going to attempt to describe the coastline !




























And the forests ( including more Koala bears than you could shake a stick at ) were pretty good too. Whatcha reckon about that fern Dr Bob ?







Here a couple of vids. First a sweep of the coast near Torquay and then some high speed Koala manouvres.

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Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Deep Sea Fishing for Chickens

A friend of Shelby's Mum and Dad had offered us the use of his little boat, so we filled up the esky with grog and headed down to the wharf. We got the boat untied and fired up the throbbing two cylinder inboard diesel engine and went ..... no where....
A quick phone call to the owner taught us that the propeller is only fixed onto the prop shaft by a taper and that it had probably just worked loose. So, I was despatched over the side with an adjustable spanner and orders to not come back until I'd fixed it ( hence deep breaths in the photo ). A quick wave of the magic spanner taught the boat who was boss and we were off into the bay.
The weather was a bit overcast, but it was still a spiffo way to spend the morning. The boat wasn't exactly fast, in fact we got overtaken by a couple of smart-arses in canoes at one point, but speed isn't everything. We anchored up for a spot of lunch and then after a suitable wait, we ventured into the water for olympic doggy paddle racing, throwing balls at each others heads, diving down the anchor chain and general pratting about on the water. Athena and I had a bit of a wibble when Tristan and Shelby admitted that the water could have sharks in it....

Deep sea fishing for chickens with Cap'n Skippy...

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Monday, 7 January 2008

Sydney City Tour


Having been in Oz for nearly 3 weeks, we thought it was about time for us to use up some shoe leather and cruise into Sydney city centre....

We've both been lucky enough to have been to Sydney twice before ( never at the same time !), but even so, it's hard to resist the lure of the harbour. And even though I know it's only a scaled and tarted up version of the Tyne Bridge in the 'Toon, the Harbour Bridge is still a magnificent sight. And then there's the Opera House, though in this case somebody seems to have erected a 800ft statue of Athena in the way which was most inconvenient for the other tourists .....

I could waffle on about what we did for the rest of the day, but other than the great old pubs in the Rocks, it doesn't really compare to the harbour, so I'm not going to attempt to jazz it up.

Just in case you're unsure about which is our favourite bit of the city, here's some video...

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Welcome back to the SCG ....

The Aussies were playing a test series against India while we were travelling around. The second test was being played in the SCG ( Sydney Cricket Ground ) so we went along for the fifth day to see all the action. It was a cracking day out. The Indians were about sixty three ahead after the 1st innings, but the Aussies dug deep and scored a throbbing four hundred and one in their second to set up a great finale for the final session. Their score was probably a bit too high to lure the Indians into going for the win, so the mid-afternoon's play was actually a bit dull as the Indians tried to drag out a draw. A small collapse later in the afternoon resulted in a very tense final few overs, but with two overs to go, and with India having three wickets in hand, it looked like India would definately get their draw. However, never discount the Aussies. .... Ricky Ponting brought in Michael Clark to bowl and he took the three wickets with five balls ! What a fantastic finish ! With that win, Ponting's boys now share the international record for the consecutive numbers of test won, at sixteen. What a bunch of gits...

Here a bit of video, featuring commentary from the doyen himself, a four from the Indians, alot of crowd noise and some very shaky camera work....
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By the way. Watching Brett Lee bowl is bloody boring. It's so fast, you can't even see the ball. Imagine what its like trying to hit it !

Saturday, 5 January 2008

New Year Down Under.

After a few extra days catching some rays and enjoying the surf in Port Macquarie, we loaded up the cars again and head further up the East coast to Sawtell, a great little seaside town just outside Coffs Harbour. Vince and Janice ( Shelby's Mum and Dad ) and their friends Bruce and Penny had very genorously organised a lovely house on a river estuary for us all to stay in. Have a look at the view from the back garden !

Just up the road from Sawtell is Coff's Harbour. As well as being the home to the Big Banana ( thus attracting the common Smythe Gibbon ) it also gave us our first taste of the cyclone that was building just off the east coast. The surf was pretty huge by this point ( way bigger than surf guru Vince thought safe to brave ) and was breaking over the top of the harbour wall. Walking back was going to be a bit dicey...


After a couple of days around Coff's, Tristan, Shelby, Zara, Athena and I carried on further north to the famous beach town of Byron Bay ( it was named after the poet by Captain Cook apparantly ). We got there late afternoon on New Years Eve, but we were so knackered by the 5 hour trog in appalling weather that we were all in bed by 10:30pm. Rock and roll !!

The following day we started to explore some of the awesome beaches, though the pesky cyclone was making its presence felt and the weather was becoming very English ( The two photos below were only taken a few minutes apart ) ..... It didn't stop us having a great few days bobbing around in the bays, though surfing was definately out for sane humans as the waves were very vicious. Byron as a town made me feel a bit old to be honest. I think we'd have fitted in a bit better about 10 years ago !