A Travellerspoint blog

Auckland - the end of our New Zealand adventure

semi-overcast 20 °C

And so to our final stop in New Zealand, 'the city of sails'.

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Our first view of Auckland from the state highway

We stayed in the pretty suburb of Grey Lynn - the streets all lined with ornate white wooden period homes.

We really liked Auckland. It was surprisingly easy and quick to get into the city centre from the surburbs, and the city itself was very manageable. I always say I'm not a city girl, but we both commented on how nice it was to be back in a larger place, and we felt at ease straight away.

We also decided to hang the budget a bit... it's always more challenging sticking to it in a city and as it was our last few days in NZ, we wanted to enjoy city life!

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Yay, we're back in the bars!

To give the city some context, our host said Aucklanders view Melbourne and Sydney as halfway cities between London and Auckland. Having been to all four I'd say that was a good reflection.

Our first evening was spent in a local bar doing the pub quiz. Turns out the quizmaster was from Bolton... cue Ant and him naming streets, districts and schools to reminisce. He was billed as a comedian, Ant commented that he was living off the back of Peter Kay a bit... and we reckoned he was less funny than he thought he was. Sadly the 'Dorset Dimwits' didn't perform at all well and came a measley 7th out of 9 teams. We blame it on some antipodean questions and the fact most teams had more people in them. What we needed was a pair of clarts to join us.

We ended up spending more time than we would have liked running errands and shopping for essentials... but we figured it was our best bet to get the things we needed. One of which being thermals! Ooh la la! We'd read that Bolivia can be extremely cold with wind chill down to -40c (whaaat?!) so some good quality layers were a must. I just wish we looked more like Iceman (from 'The Incredibles') in our skintight clobber than the reality glaring back at us in the mirror of lumps and bumps trying to escape!

Auckland doesn't have many iconic sights or famous architecture - of course the Skytower being the most recognisable feature - but it does have a beautiful art gallery. In fact it was awarded World Building of the Year for 2013-2014 at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore. The original gallery building has been renovated, plus there's an ultra modern expansion which seems to fit seamlessly. The design is stunning, particularly when looking up at the impressive entrance.

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Inside it was an oasis of calm and tranquility, there was even a cellist playing which really added to the atmosphere as we wandered around. It was refreshing to be able to take photos of most of the work on display, so here's some snaps from the interior...

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The rest of our time in the city was spent casually strolling the streets and waterfront.

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An established members' club... very London

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The K' Road - the grungy alternative thoroughfare of Auckland... strip bars, tattoo parlours and gay clubs

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A lot of the focus for eating and drinking is along the marinas and wharfs, and downtown has suffered a bit as a result. Because of the space available closer to the water, they've been able to get really creative with recreational places and the Silo Park area had a fun, quirky edge to it.

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We gawped at some multi-million dollar yachts, one of which was the most beautiful we'd ever seen, and enjoyed seeing the city start to light up.

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The next surburb to us, Ponsonby, is one of the best (and most diverse) places to dine out and people watch. We tried a few places including our newly-discovered beloved Malaysian cuisine. So good to be eating roti canai again. Damn we need a Malaysian restaurant in Bournemouth!

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Cool Ponsonby 'park art' as a tribute to previously demolished city buildings - I really liked this idea

An afternoon spent in Devonport, just across the harbour from the city...

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Our last day in New Zealand was spent doing our new favourite pastime... wine tasting. We caught the ferry to Waiheke Island, located 45 mins out into the bay, where we visited three very different wineries. We walked through fields between each vineyard, autumn shadows cast long, the vines glowed red against a pale blue sky and there was a lazy hazy feel about the place. It felt pretty special.

One downside was that the wineries all charged for tastings which hadn't been the case for the others we've been to. But the wine isn't mass produced here and the volumes are tiny compared to say Marlborough.

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We had heavy hearts that our time in NZ was drawing to a close, it's been a truly wonderful journey since arriving in Christchurch two and a half months ago. We've gained such a fondness for the country and its people.

I'll probably do an 'NZ wrap up' for the next blog as we've often been asked what our highlights have been by Kiwis and folks back home.

Posted by Galavantie 18:36 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Whangarei Heads provides Kiwi hospitality by the bucketload!

semi-overcast 22 °C

From the Bay of Islands we headed south - about half way towards Auckland - to a place called Whangerai Heads.

This stay was basically a masterclass in Kiwi neighbourhood hospitality.

Our base (yup, you guessed it... another airbnb pad) was a converted garage which might not sound terribly appealing, but it was a very cosy one-bedroomed self-contained unit with kitchen, lounge and bathroom. It was a brilliant little home for Easter.

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Our hosts were a well travelled, cool, older couple who were very friendly and welcoming. On Good Friday we were invited to join them for some drinks in the garden with a handful of neighbours, which then prompted an invite to a slow roast pork dinner... mmmm.

The neighbours were a great bunch and we all got on so well. This meal prompted an invite to the neighbours place for a Saturday night film in their cinema room. Very cool! Kye and Ross had the most beautiful house which they'd renovated and had a huge TV screen in their basement room. Because there's plenty of space between the houses they were able to crank the surround sound up so it was just like a mini cinema. The film choice was great too - O Brother Where Art Thou - but it did tickle us when one of the neighbours who'd seen it a few times already, made comments throughout like "oh this bit's good" and "that's not the last you'll see of him!" etc etc...

It struck us just how welcoming everyone was, a real sense of community and friendship in the street, and how much they all had to do with each others lives. Ross would go out spear fishing and if he caught more than he needed, his neighbours would benefit... they would often just drop in to each others homes for tea/coffee... it was all very refreshing.

The entire region had a popular two day arts trail over Easter - much like the Dorset and Purbeck Art Weeks back home - where artists open up their homes/studios or exhibit as a co-operative in a few local halls and schools. The weather was becoming changeable so it was a great thing to do to escape sudden heavy showers. The standard was pretty mixed but we saw some fabulous things... sadly most of which were either too expensive or too big to send home. We did treat ourselves to some ceramic dishes, packaged tightly and now winging their way back home!

Between drives to and from some of the art places, we found Ocean Beach. Wow! A great sweep of a beach with several surfers enjoying the Pacific breakers.

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Easter Sunday we had a knock at the door and the neighbours asked if we wanted to join them for a local walk around Busby Head. Again, we were bowled over by just how friendly these folks were... or is this 'normality' and we're just more of a reserved, keep-ourselves-to-ourselves lot back home?! They even gave us some little Easter eggs and bought us icecreams!

It was a lovely amble with hidden coves and gorgeous views... the 'Heads' are a really beautiful part of NZ.

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That evening our hosts invited us for drinks on their spectacular deck overlooking Parua Bay, the view just crying out for a panoramic shot...

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On our last day in the area, we tackled the short but steep ascent to Mount Manaia - an iconic peak dominating this region. The 1000-odd steps to get up it were rewarded with superb views.

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The silver fern - NZ's official sporting emblem

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Mount Manaia

A totally chilled and fab stay with super friendly folks! Next (and final... booooo!) stop in New Zealand - the bright city lights of Auckland...

Posted by Galavantie 01:52 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The breathtaking Bay of Islands

all seasons in one day 24 °C

From the Coromandel Peninsula we headed west and further north again into Northland - the uppermost region of New Zealand's North Island. The weather was still incredible for the time of year - even the locals had started to comment on how unusually warm it was. Happy days!

Along the way we walked up to Ruapekapeka Pa - the site of the last battle in the north 1845-46 between Colonial forces and the Maori iwi, Ngapuhi. It's one of the largest and most complex pa (fortress) in New Zealand.

The Maori chief, Te Ruki Kawiti, built a ‘bats nest’ of tunnels, rifles pits and trenches to defend against the firepower of the British. Despite being completely outnumbered and facing a bombardment of gunfire and cannons, they managed to defend the pa for 12 days before making a retreat.

All that remains today are earthworks but it's a hugely important historical site, particularly for Maori. When we turned up there were two large groups being guided around, plus a guy on his own singing/chanting. We were the only non-Maori visitors and considering the history of the site, were a little unsure if our presence would be entirely welcomed... but far from it, there were plenty of smiles and hellos.

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I don't think we've been anywhere where the only visitor attraction is the public toilets, but Kawakawa can now stake this claim.

The toilets were designed by a reclusive Austrian artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who emigrated to NZ and lived in Kawakawa from 1975.

The existing toilet block was renovated in the late 1990s using the community's recycled old glass bottles, irregular ceramic tiles and coloured glass - his realised vision even incorporates a tree and living grass roof. Very reminiscent of Gaudi and, as toilets go, they were pretty special.

Other than the impressive WC facilities, there are vivid pottery columns, mosaic shop fronts and bench seats dotted along Kawakawa's main road.

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With Easter looming, we decided to do the Bay of Islands first as it's a very popular spot for holidaying Kiwis and can get really overcrowded. We also decided to stay in Russell rather Paihai (the main BOI base), as we'd read it's more picturesque and not as busy.

Russell has a great story behind it. By the early 1800s, word had spread about what Captain Cook had declared a “most noble anchorage” with its deep-water harbour. Foreign ships started arriving in numbers to Russell (then Kororareka), especially British and American whalers stopping in for provisions and time ashore.

Whaling became a major industry, and continued so for the next hundred years. Entrepreneurial local Maori traded with the newcomers - which included their women. The place filled with 'grogshops' and brothels, and gained itself quite a reputation. It was rough, rowdy and sometimes violent, earning the nickname “the Hellhole of the Pacific”.

Today it couldn't be more different. It's almost too cutesy/twee, and has been rebranded 'Romantic Russell' appealing to an altogether more genteel crowd - y'know, oysters and chardonnay. We were definitely the most underdressed!

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Amidst the debauchery, the missionaries were busying themselves building the Anglican Christ Church - the oldest church in New Zealand. The first service, conducted in both Maori and English, took place in 1836. You can still see musket ball holes in the old weatherboards left from the battle in 1845.

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The first licensed hotel in New Zealand - granted in 1827. Something you said Ant?

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Entering a kiwi zone

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Fish & chips/seagull chaos - we had over 60 around us at one point!

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'Romantic Russell'

We had a fabulous base, a studio apartment with it's own deck with incredible harbour views. We loved it so much we extended our stay twice. I think our host, Andrea, thought we might never leave. But she did us a good deal for which we were very grateful.

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Tui - a native bird

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Our amazing pad (and the views and gardens) for 6 nights - the longest we've stayed anywhere since Thailand in November

We had incredible weather for the first two days then it was as if someone had flicked the Autumn switch on. In rolled a big Pacific weather system which brought strong gusts and heavy rain for 24 hours, and a few further days of grey skies. During the bad weather spell we spent the time planning South America, getting some accommodation booked in Chile and enjoying some lazy time. Oh, and getting a tattoo. Ha! More on that later...

But before the weather turned, we had a glorious day out on a boat in the bay to see all the islands that this area is known for. We picked the historic 'Cream Trip' - so called because islanders used to leave the cream from their milk in containers which were picked up by boats to turn into butter on the mainland. As tourism began, people would ask to go with the boat so they could see the bay and the islands visited. The route which operates today is pretty much unchanged from the original 'cream trip'.

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We saw several dolphins in much smaller pods than in Kaikoura, and these were the larger bottle nosed species

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1 million-year old rocks with the same formations as the Giant's Causeway - just a minutiae 64 million years separating them

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Our lunch stop for a sunbathe and swim

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Impressive navigation skills going through the 'Hole in the Rock'

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Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Our visit here was really worthwhile and should be on every visitor's list to New Zealand. We took a guided tour and learnt a great deal about the signing of the Treaty in 1840. The Treaty is New Zealand's founding document - an agreement between the British Crown and Maori, about rights, resources and mana (respect).

There were two versions of the Treaty - one in English and one translated from English into Maori. None of the Maori chiefs at that time could read or write English, so the translation was done by a British commissioner. What the Maori were told the Treaty said, and what it actually said, were different.

After Chiefs had signed, the details of what they had agreed to started to out. This understandably caused a great deal of grievance and was a main factor in the ensuing battles in Northland.

It has only been relatively recently that the Crown have acknowledged what happened and formally apologised to Maori people, with a subsequent handing-back of some land ownership. It's a complex issue, one which we barely scratched the surface, and much debate continues to this day.

In addition to the historical aspect of the grounds, they also put on a cultural performance which includes a traditional greeting, singing, dancing and the haka. They put on a really excellent show and seeing the haka up close was powerful and a bit spine-tingly - it wasn't hard to feel quite intimidated by it. Despite being a display for tourists, because it's such a revered part of Maori culture, it was done with passion, vigour and authenticity.

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The world's largest ceremonial war canoe

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Messing about on a dull day...

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It's been a while since we've done some backpacker jumps

So back to the tattoo!

It was our last morning in the area, and the day before I'd stopped by in Russell's tattoo parlour. Considering its gentrified crowd these days, we were a bit bemused that it had a tattoo shop at all, but after a bit of research we discovered it was a well-known and recommended place serving north Northland.

I've been considering to tattoo or not to tattoo for err... 25 years. Now, some might say if it's taken me that long to umm and ahhh I shouldn't get one. But truth be told I've never really given it a great deal of thought as to what I'd like, least of all where, and the years just rolled on. One thing travelling does is give you time, and lots of it, to contemplate a whole host of things.

So the idea to get a tattoo has never left me, and it was the right time to get thinking about what to have. Over the months I've been googling for inspiration, with the idea that something related to this part of the world would be good - a reminder of my incredible travelling experience and New Zealand.

And where better to get one than in the ex-hellhole of the Pacific!!

I found an element of a larger micro-Polynesia tattoo which I liked and the circular design immediately lent itself to beneath my ankle. So after 25 years, I was in the parlour one day and getting it done the next! No messing.

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Joking about - it was a bit tender at times but not as painful as I was anticipating

I wasn't sure at first that I liked his interpretation of it, and he had a slightly cavalier approach, which as first-timer to an ink needle wasn't always appreciated. I did go through a panicked stage of "what the feck have I done?!", but it was just a case of needing some time to get used to having it. I catch myself admiring my new permanent art and was secretly chuffed to have a compliment on day 2 from someone who doesn't "normally like tattoos, but I like that one".

Here it is!

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A frangipani flower encircled by small triangles which represent teeth in the Polynesian design

Posted by Galavantie 23:11 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Slowing the pace on the Coromandel Peninsula

sunny 24 °C

There's not masses to say about this bit as we took a breather from doing too much and basically chilled out. So this blog is more a showcase of pics as much as anything.

We stayed on the Coromandel Peninsula for 8 days, and despite a wet start and cloudy end, in between we enjoyed record-breaking temperatures for the time of year (Autumn temps of 28c!).

Our first stop was Waihi beach and unfortunately a wet day, but we'd committed ourselves to a 3.5 hour coast path walk so we stuck with it! Our host was kind enough to drive us up the coast to the start so we just had to walk back. It was clearly not a well walked trail as one part the path had been completely swept away by a landslide!! We could see the path the other side but had to scramble down and across the slip in order to pick it up again. There were also some scarily steep drops to the rocks and sea beneath.

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And then there was no path...

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A bleak but equally beautiful beach - I imagined it might have been a similar sight which greeted Captain Cook on one of the many untouched beaches he encountered

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Waihi beach

Waihi itself is a very cute old goldrush town, complete with a still functioning gold mine.

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I love the sense you get of a cross-section view of the land

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Further north was Whitianga, our next base. We really liked it here - perhaps because our timing coincided with the amazing spell of weather, but there were tonnes of great beaches to check out and a small ferryboat to take you across the harbour to explore the opposite headland.

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Yup - completely deserted

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Otama beach - our favourite in New Zealand so far

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Flaxmill Bay

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Info about Captain Cook's landing near to Cook's Beach and basically nailed up on someone's garden fence!

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Cathedral Cove

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Pampas grass will be so evocative of New Zealand to me now - it's so common in the North Island

Around here there's a famous spot called Hot Water Beach where water heated from a past volcanic chamber reaches the surface. At low tide it's possible to dig yourself your own hot water spa pool. Cool! I mean errr... hot.

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First dig... nadda

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Then we saw a crowd gathered, who'd found the bubbling water...

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... trouble was despite being close to low tide, the sea kept doing this!

The swells must have been too big as the waves were still rushing in at quite a pace, so it was impossible to dig our own pool. We stuck our feet in the hot bit but that was all.

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Hot Water Beach

Our next stop on the west coast of the peninsula was Coromandel itself. It was much smaller than we were expecting, we'd booked three nights here and it was quickly apparent it might have been three too many... but we did find a few local things to explore, and used our stay as a opportunity to start learning Spanish in readiness for our next continent!

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I appear to have something in my shoe...

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Who knew cows liked pumpkins?!

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Coromandel's historic drinking hole

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Free-range pigs on the side of the road

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Amazing Kauri trees - there's not many left after the loggers destroyed so many in the 19th century

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Tree love, it's official - he's now a travelling hippie

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A spontaneous waterfall dip!

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Castle Rock - an extremely remote spot

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So beautiful and a lot like the Lake District we thought

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Thames is the largest town serving the Coromandel Peninsula, a good-looking 'gold rush' high street and several heritage buildings intact.

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Man's car outside man's club. Smell the testosterone ladies.

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A ubiquitous worn-out sofa outside a youth club

Posted by Galavantie 22:33 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

200 days on the road

Wednesday 9 April marked our 200 day milestone (or 28.5 weeks, or 6 months and 3 weeks), so it feels about right for another one of those "how are we really doing" blogs.

I read somewhere - I think on another blog on this site - that at three months the journey stops being a trip and becomes a lifestyle, and that certainly strikes a chord.

So beyond the scenic photos and write-ups of places and sights, I thought I'd get down to some nitty gritty details about some of our, often daily, routines.

Baggage - we come with a lot of it!

So we started off light way back in September, but we seem to have been accumulating ever since...

We left the UK with our main backpacks weighing in at very respectable 9kg and 12kg on the scales. Since then we have been adding stuff (souvenirs, some extra clothes), and despite already posting two packages home, at the last weigh-in they were 13kg and 18kg respectively.

We've also gotten super lazy with our packs... because we have a car. We have now split our main pack into two bags - one we permanently leave in the boot which contains a few clothes we're currently not needing, and the other which is full of things we're using all the time. They haven't been used as 'backpacks' since arriving in Christchurch two months ago. Laaaaazy!

Then there's groceries. I am definitely turning into the bag lady. As we're self-catering as much as we can, we are lugging around essentials such as bread, cereals, milk, tea bags, spread, pasta, rice, oil etc... plus a host of other 'essentials' like biscuits, chocolate and alcohol. So every time we rock up somewhere, Ant takes the heavier rucksacks to and from the car whilst I transfer our mobile stock cupboard from boot to kitchen. When we're only staying somewhere for one night it's a bit of a pain.

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Errr... aren't we meant to be travelling light?

Techie bits and bobs

Pretty much anyone travelling these days has a range of gadgets and techno stuff to assist in planning, capturing moments and to stay connected to friends and family. Between us we have:

- 1 digital SLR camera
- 1 point-and-shoot compact camera
- 1 waterproof camera (not a necessity but seeing as we own one it's been fun to use)
- 2 x smartphones
- 1 x crappy cheapo phone with international sim just for calls
- 2 x e-readers, one of which is a wifi-enabled tablet
- 1 x ipad air
- 2 x ipods
- 1 x mini speakers for ipod

The list isn't to brag, but to highlight that all this stuff needs charging. Every single day. To be fair, Ant took up the mantle early on and I've pretty much left him to it... but it's a daily rigmarole of digging out the right leads/adapters/cables and rotating all the devices so that we can stay connected/take pics/read/plan/blog and so forth. And when some places only seem to have one spare socket it's often a challenge. Ant can regularly be found moving beds, unplugging bedside lamps or kitchen appliances to get our necessary plug-ins!

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Which one do I need??

The restrictions of the budget!

We're moving on to a new place on average every 3 days, and with new towns come new cafes, bars, restaurants... and we pretty much can't justify going into any of them! Ok... we have the odd cuppa and the occasional drink here and there, but our budget is such that we can't go out for the night drinking and eating in all the inviting places we see along the way. It is a cause of frustration but that's just the way it is. We're probably having more quiet nights in than we ever did at home!

We set the same daily budget for the entire trip (£100 per day) and what's clearly apparent is it's not a realistic one for Oz and NZ.

In this part of the world 45-50% of our budget is going on accommodation (compared to just 20% when we were in Asia). Just under a fifth of the budget is on car rental, leaving roughly 30%-35% for food, petrol and anything else. So we're finding that we can live on our budget fine, but it's the extras such as entry fees/excursion costs which are causing us to go over budget. We've passed up on a lot of stuff because of this but at the same time we can't come to all these amazing places and not do some of the things they're famous for... e.g. going to the Bay of Islands and not doing a boat trip to actually see them...

A well-worn traveller's adage before setting off is to 'halve your clothes and double your money'. Whilst we've not had to do either, the sentiment is sound advice.

That all said, we should see a massive difference in South America and the cost of living will plummet again.

Planning

We try to flesh out a rough plan at least 2-3 weeks ahead, we don't always stick to it but we've had endless scribbles such as these!

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Diet

Sometimes our ability to cook is limited and all we have is a kettle, toaster and microwave. We had beans on toast 3 nights out of 4 one week! Conversely in some accommodations we've been able to roast up veggies, cook a nice steak (sounds extravagant but they're about half the price than in the UK) and enjoy a proper home-cooked meal.

Accommodation choices

I've mentioned before that we're not generally doing hostels. It's not really our thing and whilst folks are generally very friendly we're at a stage where we want something a bit more comfortable. There's no doubt airbnb has been a godsend.

I'll give you a good example - all of which we have stayed at...

Option 1 - double room in a busy hostel with shared bathroom and full kitchen facilities

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Nice room, shame about the noise and morning bathroom queue

Option 2 - a bland motel room next to noisy main road, with ensuite bathroom and limited cooking (toaster & microwave)

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Dull, functional, dull, functional

Option 3 - a beautiful self-contained studio apartment via airbnb with good sized bathroom, full kitchen facilities and a sun deck with harbour views to die for (where we currently are!)

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Heaven!

The cheapest? Ok, no prizes for guessing the hostel, but it's probably not as cheap as you might think... they're only dirt cheap if you're doing dorms.

And the dearest? The motel. A travesty, I know. The hostel is £44 a night, the gorgeous studio £47 a night and the motel £57 a night!! Madness eh.

Of course as soon as you have use of a full kitchen you can eat healthily and well, control spends and completely self-cater so the motel loses out on all counts. I guess my point is it pays massively to look around, and the increased availability of homestays (i.e. not registered B&Bs) offers a really enhanced experience and unbeatable value for money.

Losing our momentum?

A week or so back we starting to feel that the shine was wearing off travelling. It hit us both at the same time and we tried to rationalise the cause. We had slowed the pace down because we had so much time left in New Zealand, our days became less purposeful and we perhaps had too much time on our hands. We questioned whether we'd done the right thing by extending our time here.

We also have South America 'looming' over us. We have been feeling anxious about it as we've heard a few too many negative things, we don't speak the language, and it means we'll be back to 'proper travelling' (being in Oz and NZ is really just a home from home and as we've been here since early December we've had it easy for 4 months).

Being a true backpacker again is no bad thing - I think we need it to challenge us again, but it's obviously been preying on our minds.

But it didn't last long and we've since been feeling a lot more positive, it was just a lull and a bit of a flat time for us. We're putting our efforts into some (albeit last minute!) Spanish and can now count from 1-100 (just), recite the alphabet and say a few key phrases. Along with a phrasebook we'll be fine, and we'll have a few laughs/frustrations along the way trying.

We always said that South America stands to be the most challenging but also the most rewarding travel of all our destinations. I suspect the continent will have a far greater impact and effect on us than any other. Maybe we're now just ready to leave the easy times behind, say an extremely fond farewell to New Zealand, and hit Latin America running. ¿Es muy bueno, si?

Posted by Galavantie 23:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Going subterranean in Waitomo

sunny 26 °C

The next stop was highly anticipated - going underground to see the glowworms of the Waitomo caves.

The drive there from New Plymouth was gorgeous... passing coastal scenery, villages with little more than beach shacks looking out to sea, rolling hills and lush green pastures.

Mokau en route...

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In Waitomo, of the half a dozen or so tour options available (it's on everyone's itinerary), we opted for a small group tour with 'Spellbound'. Hoardes of tourists arrive by the bus load and we really didn't fancy being part of a huge impersonal tour. Aside from having small groups, it's a family-run business with local knowledgeable guides, no 1 on Trip Advisor and they claim to have the largest colony of glowworms of all the caves (each tour company basically runs out of different cave systems so they don't get in each other's way.) Another USP for ours was their cave was used by the BBC when filming the glowworms for Sir David Attenborough's Planet Earth and Life in the Underground. Well, if it's good enough for them...

It was just us and another couple on the tour, and the glowworm cave was up first. Oh my... it was so beautiful and other-worldly. We had twenty minutes or so for our eyes to adjust to night vision and the ceiling of the cave sparkled with 1000s of tiny lights - so many, that their white light reflected on the water like moonlight as we floated through. It was as if LED lights had been embedded - a truly wow moment.

Glowworms are actually the larvae of a species of gnat. They hang sticky silk threads, shine a light out of their rear end and bingo - attract and ensnare their crunchy prey. They can hang as many as 70 threads around their nest, to which are attached droplets of mucus. The clever thing is that a hungry larva glows brighter than one which has recently eaten.

I wish I could take credit for the photos but as it was too dark, the tour company emails them to everyone afterwards with no copyright stipulations.

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Just magical

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The walk to cave two - reminded me of the Yorkshire Dales

The second cave - Cave of the Spirit - was to see usual cave formations and included some grizzly extras...

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Cave wetas - a type of ghastly grasshopper horror

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Skeleton of a moa - a huge flightless bird now extinct

I can put it off no longer, we are in New Zealand afterall. I need to talk about sheep!

There is a link here... Te Kuiti, our base when visiting the caves, is the self-proclaimed sheep shearing capital of the world. There's a ruddy great statue in the small town to shout about it.

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So here goes...

- there are 48.1 million sheep in NZ, but this figure peaked in 1982 when there were 70.3 million!
- the most common breed is Romney
- NZ sheep on average produce about 5kg of greasy wool per year
- NZ is the world's largest producer of strong wool which is mainly used in textiles such as carpets, rugs, upholstery, blankets etc
- NZ's wool production currently runs at 213,000 tonnes per year and represents 25% of the world's production
- NZ has just shy of 8,000 sheep farms utilising a total area of 8.3 million hectares
- there are 14 sheep to every New Zealander

Baaaaaaaaaaaaa.

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A kingfisher spotted as we were leaving town

We had a great AirBnB homestay in Te Kuiti, and a first for us as it was staying in a Maori home. The house, which was a beautiful 100+ year old building set on a hill overlooking the quaint town, was being lovingly restored by its owners. They don't live there but her father does - an extremely talented individual who's one of life's high achievers. The sort of person who makes you question what you've done with your own life!

He's pretty big in the Maori music scene as a talented musician and singer - he's done stuff at Abbey Road, owns a TV production company with his son in Auckland, made several documentaries, is a Social Anthropologist who did his PhD in South America, was a university lecturer and still gets invited to lecture in South America about their ancient civilisations... and is a super nice bloke too. Scared the bejesus out of us about South America with some of his stories mind...

From lovely Te Kuiti we had a couple of very quick stop-offs in Raglan and Hamilton.

Raglan is a lazy beach bum sort of place, a bit hippie and attracts tonnes of surfers due to having some of the best left hand breakers in the world. I don't even know what that means. But anyway, it was a cute place and we enjoyed a wander.

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Beautiful Bridal Veil Falls near to Raglan

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Life's a beach

Hamilton is one of NZ's major cities, and more than one Kiwi had said to us not to bother with it. We were passing anyway so had the chance to pick out two things of interest. The first was a statue of Richard O'Brien's character, Riff Raff. Richard was born here and spent the late 50's and 60's working as a hairdresser, presumably daydreaming about all kinds of whack sci-fi fantasy stuff which would, a decade later, lead him to conceive the masterpiece that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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Riff Raff

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Hamilton Gardens were also worth the visit. Numerous entrances within a central courtyard lead you off to individual expertly-executed themed gardens from around the world. Being early Autumn it wasn't the best time to catch most of the blooms, but it was still really worth a walk around.

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Japanese

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English

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Chinese

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Indian

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Italian Renaissance

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Tropical

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Anthony Cook - he talks to the animals. Bwok, bwok, bwok, bwokahhhhh!

Posted by Galavantie 22:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

New Plymouth & The Forgotten World Highway

overcast 17 °C

New Plymouth is located on the west coast, a bit out on a limb, and is dominated by Mount Taranaki.

To get there we took the Forgotten World Highway (forgotten to tarmac it in places as Ant pointed out), which regrettably we had done zero research on before we reached it. Turns out to be quite a famous route - 155kms long, it hugs the contours of the land and is very, very rural.

It gave us the chance to see tiny unchanged communities along the way - the most famous of which is Whangamomoana, population... around 40.

In protest to revised district boundaries when the local government tried to take Whangamomona out of Taranaki, the locals declared themselves an independent republic in 1989 and elected a series of presidents - only some of whom have been human.

Billy Gumboot the Goat was the first elected animal... he won by eating the other challengers ballots. In 2003, Tai the Poodle was elected but retired just one year later after an assassination attempt left him a nervous wreck. Murt "Murtle the Turtle" Kennard (human) is the current president. The local garage owner fought off strong competition from the first president, Ian Kjestrup, and a cross-dresser called "Miriam" to become the 4th President. He was re-elected in 2009 by one vote. He was re-elected again in 2011 by a landslide.

The Republic of Whangamomoana is still recognised today. You can even get your passport stamped in the historic hotel... perhaps a little touristy but we were gutted when we read about this after driving straight through the diddy settlement (which took all of five seconds) without stopping.

Every January they celebrate their Republic Day with a number of activities which attract thousands of visitors. These activities include sheep races, gumboot throwing, gutbuster races, whip cracking, possum skinning, and hold ups and shoot outs. Of course they do.

Bonkers community. Bloody love it.

The Forgotten World Highway was very remote... we'd turn a corner and see a large falcon eating carrion in the middle of the road, then around the next corner was a line of pelts over a wire fence...

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Ewwww

...and around the next, a drift of pigs. You get the idea.

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Actually, I had to google the collective term for pigs and this self-appointed mission uncovered a veritable list of treasures...

A congregation of alligators
A bench of bishops
A mess of iguanas
A shrewdness of apes
An observance of hermits
A gulp of cormorants
A band of gorillas (convenient for Damien Albarn)
A murder of crows
A convocation of eagles
A business of ferrets
An array of hedgehogs
A parliament of owls
A mob of kangaroos
A bloat of hippopotamuses
A company of moles
A superfluity of nuns (whaaaat?)
A bevy of quail
An unkindness of ravens
A gang of turkeys
A knot of toads

This is what happens when you don't have a job.

Aaaanyway, back to the trip...

On arrival, New Plymouth was cloudy and grey and didn't make a great first impression. We had booked a hostel this time, we're both not that enamoured with the hosteling thing but sometimes it's unavoidable when other options are out of our budget. The one we picked (Ducks & Drakes) had great reviews, and as hostels go it was pretty nice...

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...but it was also very busy, too many people for our liking and why do they have to be so bloody noisy?! Doors were opening and closing all night and it started up again early morning so it was a disturbed night. Jeez - I think we're just getting frickin' old!!

We snuck into the kitchen early, snuck out before the dinner rush and retreated to our room early like a right pair of antisocials. But we really couldn't be bothered to interact with anyone, and pretty much everyone else was German so they were all conversing in their native tongue anyway.

New Plymouth turned out to be possibly the most uninspiring part of our entire trip so far. I think a lot of it was down to the weather and we couldn't see the majestic Mt Taranaki due to low cloud cover. We decided not to get out walking which probably frustrated us both and there wasn't much else to do. I'm sure it's entirely different in the summer sunshine, we just got unlucky.

We drove to a small lighthouse no longer in use. It was open, that's about as much as I can say on it. We sat in the car looking out to sea eating our sandwiches like a couple of old people.

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We stumbled across a community stone-carving workshop... what a fab thing to do

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Back in the hostel for night two... we cooked dinner and already there was a very different, more relaxed vibe... less people and those there were a lot quieter. We felt a lot more comfortable so this time we stayed downstairs, spotted that they had Scrabble and settled down to a game with a glass of red.

It was brighter the morning we were leaving and just out of town we found the cool Te Rewa Rewa bridge.

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We also had a short stroll through an English style country garden...

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A reminder of home sweet home!

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Autumn starting to show

Both of us weren't sorry to be moving on from New Plymouth. It's a shame when that happens, but I guess we can't be wowed by everywhere.

Posted by Galavantie 03:57 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Tongariro Alpine Crossing... NZ's greatest one-day walk

sunny 19 °C

From Taupo, we headed south to Turangi in readiness to tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

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Cute church en route

Our motel...

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Hello, is this 1973?

This famous tramp (NZ's word for trekking/hiking/walking) was on our 'must do' list from the start.

It's a famed 19.4km track through the World Heritage Tongariro National Park and is hailed as one of the greatest one-day walks in the world.

Doing the walk is very dependent on the weather. Being an alpine crossing (they later included the word 'alpine' after too many people didn't take it seriously enough), the conditions can change quickly and there's little point doing it on a bad day - in fact often they won't allow it if it comprises safety. The difference between a good day and a bad day? Sometimes about half an hour...

But we had been keeping a close check on the weather and were fortunate to time it with a ridge of high pressure, meaning the whole of the North Island was bathed in autumnal sunshine and blue skies. The outlook was good!

We were up at 6am and in the car park waiting for our shuttle to the start at 7.20am. It was pretty chilly - as five layers and the fetching improvised socks for gloves testify...

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By the time the shuttle came and drove us to the start, we didn't actually get walking until 8.45am. By then it was already warming up and within five minutes we were rapidly peeling the layers off.

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At the start

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An easy boardwalk to kick us off

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Mount Ngauruhoe or 'Mount Doom' in the Lord of the Rings trilogy

The route can be walked in either direction but most people choose to start at Mangatepopo and end at Ketetahi, as you start at a higher elevation so there's less of an initial climb. It wasn't long before it was apparent just how many people also consider this walk a 'must do'. It was also apparent just how ill-equipped some people were to take on a mountain walk... jeans, blouses, bomber jackets and pumps were some of the inappropriate clobber people had chosen to wear. Crazy peeps.

The walk is notoriously windy on one of the crater sections and although we had wall-to-wall sunshine, the forecast was for 60kmph strong winds with a wind chill factor of -4c at the top. Sheesh!

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The first of two significant ascents was the aptly named Devil's Staircase. I needed frequent stops to admire the views and take photos... it had absolutely nothing to do with my red face and pounding heart rate.

After the climb we were rewarded with a pancake flat crater to walk on until ascent number two, which took us to the highest point on the walk - the rim of Red Crater.

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To give some scale, you can see the path we'd taken crossing the picture diagonally with the dots of people still doing it

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The reds of Red Crater were stunning

It was around about here that we started to get an appreciation of why several people had mentioned the wind... and on went the extra layers again. Going up wasn't so bad but on the summit and then descending down a narrow strip of scree and shale, the gusts were sudden and strong. We were sand and grit blasted with regularity and at one point the wind caused Ant to lose his footing. I also managed to fall backwards three times but that was due to the loose surface. It was precarious but we weren't in any real danger and the views were definitely worth the effort, as before us stretched some awe-inspiring scenery.

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Clinging to each other in the gusts!

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The very windy scree bit

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And the very rewarding views of Emerald Lakes

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Looking back at the steep bit we'd just done

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Again, looking back to the route - we'd come all the way down the peak on the right

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A previous lava flow

With the two ascents under our belts and the trickiest part of the walk done, we got a bit complacent commenting that the walk wasn't as challenging as we were psyched up for.

What we didn't take into account was that the last 9.5.km was all downhill - either a sloping track or steps. After a few more kms our joints and muscles were getting a pounding, not to mention general foot fatigue which had set in by this point.

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A healthy reminder that we were walking in an active volcanic area!

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The long winding path to go...

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The final stretch was forested and provided some welcome shade

Seeing the car park at the end sparked inner elation and happy faces! With stops it took us just under 8 hours from start to finish and we both agreed it probably was the best one-day hike we've ever done, if a little bit too popular.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Done.

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Posted by Galavantie 10:21 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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