A Travellerspoint blog

Iceland

The final stop

overcast 11 °C
View Around the world in a few months! on Labgirluk's travel map.


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The flight was relatively short for an overnight one although there was a 4 hour time change so wouldn’t land till 9 am. However, I, unfortunately, ended up with a chair that wouldn’t recline so ended up with no leg room once the person in front had reclined their chair. I was ever thankful for my trtl neck pillow as I woke up without a sore neck in the morning. Bleary eyed maybe and not really rested but no sore neck! ☺️ The joy of being back in the EU, speedy customs... Was out and bag collected fairly quickly. From there it was go and find an airport transfer bus to Reykjavík city and for a little extra they then transfer you in to a mini bus and drop you at the stop nearest your hotel. In my case right outside my hotel... A definite bonus.
As I arrived at the hotel quite a few hours before check in (3pm!) I dumped my main bag in the luggage store and chilled in the lobby for a while (making the most of the free WiFi) before heading next door to noodle nation for some lunch. Not very Icelandic I know but quick, easy and close... I was too tired at this point to care. 3pm on the dot I checked in and took my bag up to my room. I’d also had to contact STA that morning as I’d not yet received any vouchers for either activity I was booked on in Iceland... Thankfully these came through so I could rest until I had to go out. This need was probably one of the best beds I’d slept on in any hostel. I didn’t include hotels or friend’s beds in this...
I was off to The Blue Lagoon, a thermal hot pool (6th one during this trip, if you include hot water beach and the self serve hole digging at Hahei, NZ) back over towards Keflavik, the airport I’d come from just that morning! As seems to be the norm for Reykjavík I was picked up from the stop outside the hotel by a transfer minibus and taken to the main bus terminal for that bus company and then transferred on to the main bus taking us to the blue lagoon. Half an hour or so later we arrived and checked in. I was given my wristband that would work the lockers as well as show I was entitled to a free drink at the in-water bar and a silica mud face mask. In Iceland communal changing is the norm and for the lagoon you needed to shower naked first and then don your swimsuit. They also recommended slapping a load of conditioner on your hair as the silica in the water dries it out. I showered, slapped on the conditioner, put my bikini on and was then ready to hit the lagoon. Walking out of a nice warm building to 10c (it was about 7pm by this time) temp meant I headed into the water with haste... The water was very milky due to all the silica and minerals. The pool itself was quite large and segmented. Not having my glasses on as well as the steam coming off the lagoon surface meant I couldn’t see where anything was, especially the bar! Finally finding a map and figuring out where to go I aimed directly for the bar. One pint of cider later I was then slowly walking around the lagoon making sure I didn’t slip or accidentally drop my drink, nor dunk the bottom of it in the warm water....
After finishing the drink I headed to the mask bar. Some were managing to drink with their mask on but I decided it would get messy so waited till after for my mask. One mask applied I then headed back for another tour of the lagoon, thankfully not feeling a ninny as many others were sporting a mask too, and found a corner to chill in (maybe relax would be a better word considering I was in a thermal pool!) and let the mask do its thing before rinsing it off in the water.... Eventually it was time to get out, shower (more conditioner for the hair!) and dress to get ready for the return bus ride. It felt very odd still being in full daylight at gone 10pm, and knowing it would stay like that till after I’d gone to sleep and it would be light when I woke up the following day.. Thank god for black out curtains... ????
Thursday saw me up and out fairly early for a day trip around the Golden Circle and finishing the day at the secret lagoon. After we picked everyone up we headed out of the city and the surrounding towns and drove to the Þingvellir national Park where we were taken to the place where ancient parliament was held. They figured out that if the speaker faced away from the rest and talked to the naturally created rock face their voice would echo and amplify so all could hear the speech. Other major events are also held here, even now. It was also here that the trail split open when a fissure appeared. In the past this area was a road through the area... Some pretty amazing views too. At this point we were still on the North Pacific continent but on leaving there and heading to Geysir we effectively left the North Pacific continent and entered no man’s land, an area between the continental plates. The Eurasian plate was about 7km away and there was a small Icelandic plate also in existence. At the end of the North Pacific plate there were many gorges visible, created as a result of the plates moving. We were effectively driving on a lava bed, where lava had bubbled up as the plates moved apart and solidified as it cooled.
We arrived at Geysir, the site of the Strokkur geyser as well as a couple of other wells, but these ones just bubble/boil and not explode! Dropped off at the top car park we then wandered to look at the wells and streams before going to watch Strokkur do its thing. Fortunately it goes off pretty frequently, every 4 to 7 minutes, so could watch a couple of times, work out the time between each ‘fountain’ of water to get the best shot! Apparently the time can vary from day to day but in each day it will be fairly consistent. The day I was there it went off every 4 or so minutes so not long to wait really. We had been warned to watch where the wind was blowing too and not to stand in the direction the water was going as it could scald if not careful. Interestingly, either people weren’t told, didn’t listen or didn’t believe as there were a few standing right where the water was heading.... The noise when the geyser went off confirmed that 1) they got wet and possibly 2) the water was still hot! It had just shot boiling water into the air..... Thankfully the 10c air temp helped cool it down a bit. Idiots! I stood at the opposite end where the water was trickling down to the stream and got a nice under foot heat pad from the water running down the rocks and warming them on its way.... Got my photos and a video so I was happy. Had a wander round the gift shop before it was time to get back on the bus. We had the added excitement that one of the group had lost her camera. She’d had it in the bus just before arriving at the top car park but didn’t have it on her when she went to take a photo of the info board near the car park entrance. I was pretty certain someone would have picked it up and put it somewhere visible. Checked in the visitor centre and nothing handed in so we went back to the top car park. My faith in the other tourists was justified and her camera was sitting on a post so it was visible from the bus in the car park. One happy person, and thankfully one still working camera, even though it had been dropped and out in the drizzle....
A 10-15 min drive later we were at Gullfoss, an amazing waterfall. Fast flowing and rushing through a gorge it was incredible being able to get so close to it – thankfully I’d put on the raincoat as you did quite wet during the walk there, from the splash back... As per many tourist areas there was the usual fun of avoiding certain nationalities who seem to think it was ok to barge through, not consider other people, watch where they were walking and generally push to the front to get the ‘best’ photo.... Not the first time I’d had to cope with this but it still grated all the same. I have learnt how to effectively use my elbows while pushing forward myself.... ????
From Gullfoss we headed to the added extra of the tour. Some time at the Secret Lagoon (not so secret anymore!) in Flúðir. This lagoon was so completely different from the blue lagoon, apart from the naked showering beforehand. No silica, less commercialised, heat source was water trickling in from geyser wells just by the lagoon so you could get close to the hotter water coming in if you wanted (did try and it was hot), and was just a more chilled out hot pool experience. We even got given pool noodles to use as float aids. They were also more strict about what you could wear in the water. One man got the whistle and told to take his t-shirt off, another girl just coming out of the changing room was stopped before she could get in with her t-shirt on. At the blue lagoon, I’m sure there were plenty wearing t shirts and long sleeved tops in the water.
From there it was back to Reykjavík and dropped off, as required, at the various stops. Too tired to figure out food so thank god for leftover carrot cake oreos and some tasty coconut ice topped white chocolate that I’d bought in NZ. Not the healthiest but enough to keep me going. A long but enjoyable day was had.
My last full day in Iceland was spent visiting Reykjavík. First thing I felt I should see was the phallological museum directly opposite the hotel. You kinda stared at it every time you waited at the bus stop so googled it and felt it could be interesting. It was too. Had an audio tour by the museum founder/owner with info about the different specimens; background about where they came from and any other bits of interesting information including the interesting fact that they shrink when dried for the taxidermy process –this, I think, is why many were then stored in liquid in glass jars. It was quite fascinating and learnt all sorts about size, shape, differences between animal type etc. The only really cheesy part of it was in the gift shop at the end with some of the willy themed items on sale. From there it was time to see the rest of the city...
I’d bought a city sightseeing hop-on, hop-off (hoho) bus ticket as I’d thought that would be the easiest way to get to the various places and see a bit of the city at the same time. It had worked well in Canberra and LA so guessed it would work here too. The bonus this time was that the voucher was on my phone (so didn’t have to go find a main office to get a ticket) and the nearest bus stop (stop 7 on the map) was just around the corner from the hotel. The only issue I had was I couldn’t find a timetable on line that gave the bus times at the various stops so had to do a bit of guessing. Luckily I guessed that correctly too and I only had a 10 min wait for the bus.. ☺️
On I jumped and decided to take a tour all the way round to stop 3 where there were some other museums I was interested in visiting. I looked at the maritime museum and decided against that, partly due to cost but also just didn’t fancy it when I got there, so went to find the Whales of Iceland museum. I happened to come across an ice cream shop on the way so a very tasty, but not so healthy, lunch of ice cream was had while I walked around to the other museum. This museum had information and life-size models of the whales/dolphins you could see in the ocean around Iceland. Was nice to get some more info about the sperm whales and right whales after reading/hearing about them at the whale museum in Nantucket as well as the others. It was also incredible seeing just how big these creatures are. One day I would like to see a living one in the wild. I’d best add that to my new bucket list...
Once I’d had my fill of the whales I walked back towards stop no. 3 and found the little Aurora museum. This one explained how the northern lights are created and why different colours can be seen, as well as a selfie spot to get a picture with the northern lights in the background – probably only time I’ll be in the same spot as those since I picked the wrong time of year to be able to see them – also picked the wrong time to see the southern lights while down under too. They also had VR headsets to enjoy the northern lights in 360° splendour. After this I felt I needed a little walk and leg stretch so walked along the old harbour back towards stop no. 1, near the harpa conference centre. On the way on the old harbour dockside there were sculptures and information boards about the history of Iceland and Reykjavík. It was nice looking at the ships too, including 2 coastguard ships – I think I am definitely my father’s daughter! I could have walked up to the next port of call – Hallgrims church – but decided that I might as well make the most of the bus since I’d paid for it already! This church has a 73m high tower with a viewing area. The first 8 floors have to be taken by lift (couldn’t see a ‘take the stairs’ option anywhere obvious) and this brought me out behind the clock faces. From there a couple flights up to the view area above the clocks. No glassed in windows but all with grills and little foot stools so you can climb up and see out comfortably. Could get a 360° view of Reykjavík and surrounding area. I liked being able to see the colourful streets below with the buildings all painted different colours next to each other as well as the sea and hills in the distance. Once back down I caught the next hoho bus for one last visit – Perlan. This is a glass domed building built on top of 6 hot water tanks with an interesting exhibition on Iceland and its history, and included a walk through an ice cave, where I had a little sit down on an ice throne. Also included was access to the observation deck which wrapped around the whole building. From there I could see back into the city and the harbour behind it.
This day had been relatively warm, around 14/15c at times, but as I was waiting for the bus it tried to rain... Thankfully it didn’t last as I then had a walk down Laugavegur (one of the main shopping streets right on my hotel doorstep) to find both dinner and a post-box to send my last postcard of the trip to Bish, so that she could add it to her wall of cards. Didn’t realise just how far down I’d have to walk to find one either! They are not overly abundant I had found as I’d carried the card for a couple days without seeing any post-boxes! I also resorted to a Subway for my dinner. Something I knew I could eat and wasn’t massively expensive – well by Icelandic standards anyway. It would also do for brunch the following day since I was on a 12.30pm flight and unlikely to get any food. Headed back to the hotel for my last evening.
The following day I was up and out relatively early to catch the transfer minibus back to the bus hub. This bus was picking up not just airport transfers but also day trippers. We had a couple of no shows but instead of just driving off the driver radioed back to base who then tried to contact the person to find out where they were. As there had been no response we had to leave without them as the rest of us needed to swap to the main buses. These had also been held back for us so that none of us missed them. I felt this was pretty good service and duty of care. They could have easily just driven off every time without checking on the no shows to ensure we made it to the buses on time. A quick and traffic free journey back to the airport meant I was there in plenty of time. Check in and security was quick and gave me time to do a bit of shopping and use up the last of my money. Once the gate was announced there was up to a 20 min walk as it included a secondary security check. Thankfully there was no queue and I was through in plenty of time.
Boarding and flight was uneventful and thankfully only 3 hours long and a 1 hour time difference. Although Iceland is in same time zone as the UK they don’t observe daylight savings time so for 6 months of the year they are 1 hour behind the UK and for the other 6 months the same as the UK... At least it meant my jet lag was reduced in a controlled manner from – 8 hrs in LA to – 5 hrs in Boston and then just – 1 hr in Iceland... We landed on time but at the furthest end of the T1 gates which meant a long long walk back to T2 arrivals. This was the first time in 4 months I could walk through passport control quickly, as I could still go through the EU passport channel, and not have to deal with immigration. Even with the walk and passport control we still beat the luggage. Thankfully mine was quickly delivered and I was out meeting the car driver in just under an hour from landing. I was on my way home and this epic journey was over...

Posted by Labgirluk 14:41 Archived in Iceland Tagged geyser iceland reykjavik blue_lagoon strokkur golden_circle gullfoss þingvellir_national_park secret_lagoon Comments (0)

USA - part 3

Cape Cod

sunny 24 °C
View Around the world in a few months! on Labgirluk's travel map.


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Leaving Logan Airport my sat nav informed us that the usual route to Cape cod (route 3) was saying an extra 30 or more minutes added to the usual 1 ½ hour drive. The alternative route (24 and 495), without any delays, would be shorter than the original route with delays so that was the route we took…. Thank god for sat nav as I had no idea where we were going and it was dark out…. Finally arrived just before 2am.. I was exhausted from a long day of driving and Claire was jet lagged so once we got in, shown our rooms by Diane (friend of a friend who had kindly offered to put us up in her summer house on the Cape) we pretty much crashed for the rest of the night. I had fun getting on to the bed though as the top of the mattress came up to my hip so it was a definite climb into bed scenario for me…
Once we were both up, dressed, fed and I’d helped unstick some windows (shoddy workmanship by painters!) Diane suggested she show us around Cape Cod. This gave me a day off driving and she could show us all the back roads and non tourist stuff in the area. Firstly she showed us the local beaches as we planned to go to the beach in the afternoon.. Quite quiet as parking and access is for locals only. We were then driven through Osterville and Craigville (some posh houses in those places!) to Hyannis port (to see where the nantucket ferry went from) and then on to the area where the Kennedy compound is for a bit of shameless touristy ogling – surprisingly modest in style and setting. From there we headed to the jfk memorial and the Korean War memorial next to it. At this point Diane got a call that she needed to go home as an electrician was turning up so we decided we’d have lunch there and could then go to the beach… Weeellll, the heavy rain, thunder and lightning put paid to that plan so instead we got back in the car, after realising the museum in the village had shut at 4pm so we’d missed going to that too, and headed back out to look at more of the Cape.
This time we headed to the North side of the cape as Diane wanted to show us a particular beach, corporation beach. What we were surprised at was the beware sharks sign up at the beach edge of the car park. We’d been told about the sharks on the east side (been attracted by the growing seal population on the Cape) but didn’t think they’d got round on to the North side of the Cape... After that we headed back to the East Coast and Chatham. Here, we went to Lighthouse beach, mainly so I could get a lighthouse picture for mum, but also I wanted to have a paddle and see how cold the water was…. Again, this beach also had shark warnings up but as I was only paddling up to my knees I felt I was safe enough… The water was quite nippy too… but hey, when one needs a paddle one has to suffer cold legs for the cause…☺️ From there we moved on to the fish pier. Part off it was shut so we could only go to the end of the main dock. We were lucky enough to see a couple of seals in the water too. Someone mentioned that usually there are a lot more but that might be to do with the fish scraps being thrown out from the market… as none were being thrown out there was no draw to keep the seals at the dock.
The weather had turned again and hunger forced us to find something quick and simple – panera breads it was (had learnt about this place last October and it’s quick and simple with some lovely food to choose from without breaking the bank). I even managed to get a picture or 2 of the sunset as we left… my only sunset/sunrise pictures from New England.
Sunday saw Claire and I head over the state border into Rhode Island for a day in Newport. The day was glorious so we were really lucky. Our first stop was one of the mansion ‘summer cottages’ that line the coast. The one we chose to visit was probably the most well known and largest of them all – The Breakers, owned by the Vanderbilt family. It truly was a mansion. The tour of the house and a walk around the garden took us well over an hour and that didn’t include all the rooms, just a good sampling of them… We then left the car and headed to the cliff walk to have a look at the backs of some of the other houses along the cliff. This was an intriguing mix of path and rocks to walk on. It was not a buggy or wheelchair friendly path…. After returning to the car we made our way to the ocean drive to have a look at the coast line and other houses along the way. Claire had read in the guide book about a frozen lemonade called Del’s and if you saw one to have one.. We happened to see a van in one of the car parks so a little detour was done and 2 cups of the most delicious frozen lemonade was bought. Having straws would have helped but Claire forgot to grab a couple so we had fun ‘drinking’ frozen lemonade while driving along…
Whilst out walking along the cliff path I’d booked us on the 5pm trip aboard the schooner Adirondack II. Once we’d driven the ocean drive it was time to head to downtown Newport and try and find a parking space so that we could have some food before going out sailing… Easier said than done… all the car parks marked on the map were either full or limited to 3 hours so we aimed for one last one, marked on the map, only to come across another one with 3 spaces left. This one was close by and had no time limit. Space sold! We headed to a bar close by for a v late lunch and had a very good fish and chips. Claire had also ordered calamari as a starter but I’d decided I didn’t need that much food. As it happened the portion sizes were massive so the calamari only got partially eaten. From there it was a shortish walk to the wharf - we’d also passed another Del’s so I opted to have another to drink while waiting for the boat.
The schooner had seats down each side and about 30 of us boarded, including 3 dogs… then there was the captain and 3 crew members. The weather was perfect for sailing. The sun was shining and there was a good breeze to fill the sails. The 3 crew members also gave us info and stories about what we could see around us and entertained us well. The sailing was so smooth too. Going around 8 knots and heeling nicely. They even let the kids on board have a go at steering. On the way back we got on to live action versions of animated films. Lively discussion of the ones already done and the ones they should do… and this was just the adults….
Once back on dry land dessert beckoned us – in the form of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. There just happened to be a shop near the car park and would have been rude not to… after that it was a simple case of turn on sat nav and drive home… once back we crashed pretty much straight away as we were going to be up early the next day for our next excursion – a day trip to Nantucket Island.
I’d tried to book the ferry online but for some reason it hadn’t gone through so we made it to the terminal in good time to get our cheap day return tickets for the fast ferry across to Nantucket. This was a 1 hour ferry ride and thankfully could get some seats outside as it was warm and sunny. As we had to pass the whaling museum to get to anywhere else we decided to do that first… not really knowing the exact history of Nantucket and whaling it was an informative museum and not really showing the graphic side to whaling (artistic impressions of sorts), which I know would have upset some, as well as learning new info about sperm whales. From there we found the visitor info centre as we wanted to take a bus tour of the island and see things beyond Nantucket Town. The first one we tried only had availability at 3pm, too late for us, so booked with the second company online. This gave us time to find some food for an early lunch and then head to the start point.
The bus tour was good. Showed us around Nantucket Town and the places that have a story. Then we crossed the island to siasconset (sia often dropped and known as sconset) where the bus wasn’t allowed to stop but could move very slowly as required for picture taking opportunities…. We then headed north where we could stop in a layby and admire the sankaty lighthouse the far side of the golf course (one of four on the island!). From there it was back into town and tour over… As we’d not managed the beach either is the previous days we found one nearby. Not the clearest of water but it was near the harbour and had boats moored nearby but it was clean enough and had toilets close by for changing in… I was changed and in the water straight away. Much warmer than the other day so that was good. Even got Claire in the water… I was happy as got my swim in the Atlantic checked off on my list of places to swim. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing on the beach til it was time to get dressed and head back to the ferry..
Diane met us at the other end and took us to her favourite place to eat, The Black Cat, in Hyannis. Rather than wait for a table we found 3 seats together at the bar. Unlike in England the bars are set up for people to eat at them rather than just collect a drink and then move away. It was really enjoyable as we got to meet others eating at the bar and chatted to them. They always ask questions when they hear an English accent and we got to find out why they were in Cape cod too. Following that it was hometime and packing time…
The following morning Diane was expecting some painters to be turning up to discuss the issues she has with the finish on the paint on the outside of the house, plus the shoddy finish to the upstairs windows… As is often the case they were late and in the meantime I was looking at the paint info she’d printed off. I recognised it as it just happened to be a product by my ex employer who had sent samples over to the UK for evaluation the previous year. I may not work for them anymore but I still knew enough about the product, along with handy info sheets off the website, that then had me speaking to the contractor’s technical guy about why the paint was still shiny and tacky a month after being applied! Eventually the painters turned up (as well as driving their van into an overhanging large branch and gouging a hole in the van roof) and I got called out to explain to them the issue. Think they understood but I think they were also shocked that someone was there that knew the product that well….
Paint sorted, car packed and we were on our way to Boston via Plimoth Plantation, and if time Plymouth itself. This time we managed to go up route 3 so was the only time we’d gone over the other bridge that connects Cape cod with the mainland. An easy run up route 3 to exit 5 but then missed the turn to back on to route 3 heading south for a junction. Thankfully trusty sat nav showed us another way. More interesting as well. Parked up in a mostly empty car park and headed to the plantation. This place is a living museum type place about the pilgrims who had settled there and the native American Indians who already lived there. In the native village those dressed in native clothes are actual descendants of the native tribe. Those in modern dress were knowledgeable staff. In both cases they were all happy to answer any questions you had for them.
From there you walk up to the craft centre and see how some traditional items are made, pottery, weaving and headdress making. Continuing on you come to a 17th century pilgrim village. All those dressed up are actors that speak as they would have in those times, even if you ask a modern type question (such as ‘can I take a photograph?‘) bit otherwise they would give info about what they’re doing, who they are and why they came over etc. Here our luck ran out and it started raining on us. Neither of us had brought our coats with us, although I had brought my cap so at least my glasses were dry, if nothing else!
Made it back to the main building and stopped for lunch. Got to have indian pudding, something I’d sort of tasted back in October (my friend Inga had made a version of it) so was interested in trying this version. It was still yummy. Got talking to a lady who joined our table and ended up giving her advice about what to see and do in Sydney as she was going there as part of a cruise… Eventually left and got back in the car to head to downtown Plymouth as we had enough time to spare. Found a free car park and had a nice walk through a park to the waterfront. Here lies Plymouth rock, a big lump of rock with 1620 etched into it – the date the first pilgrims set foot on American soil. Reading the blurb this is unlikely to be the actual rock that they stepped on but has become a symbol of this all the same. That summed up the whole of the downtown Plymouth area so we went back to the car and started the final leg back to the airport. All seemed to be going well til near the airport and then got confused with 2 conflicting signs plus sat nav.. Either I followed sat nav and took left lane (signposted airport express Lane) or the right lane that said Logan Airport. After getting it wrong when picking Claire up I followed the Logan signs.. BIG MISTAKE… Stuck in a tunnel for what felt like forever, watching all the locals speed down the right hand lane only to push in right at the end to go left, to then go mental trying to follow the signs for fuel at the airport. In the end I gave up and returned the car ¾ full and paid the extra. Annoyingly you could see the fuel station from the rental return garage but getting to it was a nightmare. It was the same last October, which is why I nearly lost it and just returned the car as is. They really need to improve their signposts…..
Car returned we caught the shuttle bus to terminal E and went to check in. I was lucky and Icelandair let me check in 4 hours early so I could go through straight away and find Claire. Spent the next couple of hours together, showing her the Boston sign and just chilling, till it was her time to board. I then headed to my gate, at the other end of the terminal and down some stairs, to wait til my flight was ready to board.
Next stop Iceland….

Posted by Labgirluk 15:41 Archived in USA Tagged cape_cod newport nantucket plimoth_plantation plymouth_rock schooner_sailing adirondack_ii Comments (0)

USA - part 2

Vermont and New Hampshire

all seasons in one day 22 °C
View Around the world in a few months! on Labgirluk's travel map.


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Think the passenger next to me by the window was a nervous flyer, if all the leg bouncing and reaction to asking to have the blinds shut was anything to go by... After a rude awakening from the light pouring through the window we were lucky enough to have landed early and could immediately go to our gate. As it was an internal flight it was a quick exit (no security) and once my bag was collected I headed out to the car rentals on the shuttle bus (a repeat of what I’d done with mum back in October) and went to choose my car (how dollar operates apparently)… The only one that was a hatchback was a Fiesta so opted for that. Also knowing Fiestas well meant I was more comfortable driving it on my own…
I had decided to spend the day exploring on my way to the B&B I was staying at for the next 3 nights – my treat to myself after 3 months of on and off hostel living – and decided I didn’t want to just sit on the freeway but have a look around at the same time and see places I’d not been to before. Looking at the map I could take route 2 (Mohawk trail) from just west of Boston and could follow it all the way across to south of the Green mountains but still in Massachusetts – so that’s what I did. I even found myself near Deerfield, an historic town that we’d visited last October with friends, so had a little detour to take a picture of the bridge we’d gone over, before continuing on to Shelburne Falls. This was a little town but found the visitor centre and they mentioned about the falls and the glacier potholes in some rocks so went and had a look at those before carrying on. I had seen a maple sugarhouse nearby in the map but was told that they were shut so that idea went out of the window…
From Shelburne Falls I took route 112 north, crossed into Vermont, and picked up route 100 at Whitingham and continued north. This route is also called the ‘scenic route 100 byway’ and runs north – south through the middle of the state of Vermont. This effectively meant I followed the East side of the green mountains up to Waterbury, only stopping once for a look at a nice waterfall. The scenery was amazing and so different to my last visit, when I got to experience the varied colours of autumn. This time everything was just so green. Once through the hell of Waterbury, major roadworks going on in town, and over the intersection with the i-89 I headed to one of my favourite places in Vermont - Ben and Jerry’s factory - for a break and some of their ice cream…. Soooo tasty. From there it was just another 6 or 7 miles till my final destination for the next 3 days – The Little River Inn. After staying there last October I knew I had to go back as the food and accommodation was really good, the hot tub was a godsend and it was a nice location for visiting big hills… Unfortunately there were still roadworks outside but this time I’d chosen a room at the back of the Inn so hopefully the noise wouldn’t be so bad.. Headed for the hot tub and then a lovely relaxing bath – so nice to be able to have one of those as last one had been early May and before that early March! Showers were the norm…
As I was quite tired after the overnight flight, time change and then long drive the day before my original plan to hike up Mt Mansfield was abandoned. I headed to the gondola as I thought I could get that up to the top and then walk the rest of the way to the summit, only this was closed till the 22nd. Alternative plan was to drive up the auto road and then walk to the summit from there so this is what I did. After a 5 mile drive up mostly unsealed road with some nice hairpin turns I eventually reached the car park, put on the hiking boots as I decided not to try it in my sandals! This was not a walk as such but more of a walk with quite a bit of scrambling over rocks following little white lines painted on to the rocks and keeping within the string edging the path to avoid stepping on precious alone flora/fauna.
1.5 miles later, taking about an hour to do it, I reached ‘the chin’- the summit of Mt Mansfield, best point in Vermont. Amazing views from there so worth the effort. Even though it was hazy to the west you could clearly see Lake Champlain and the Adirondack range behind, in New York state, and the camel’s hump to the south. On the east side you could see the gondola, Stowe and all the other things I’d seen last October, only with green trees this time and no fall colours… and the bugs that kept bombarding us. Not just midges but bigger beetle like creatures, possibly fireflies. Not biters thankfully but kept trying to get in my bag, down my top etc! After a short break it was time to head back to the car. A slightly easier walk as it was mostly downhill but there was still all the scrambling to do over the rocks. Once back at the car it was time to head into town for some fuel – both for me and the car! I succumbed to a subway but this one was set up at the back of the gas station with the nicest guy running the place. He was more than happy to make your sandwich however you wanted it, adapting the official menu to suit… and the choice of cheese – at least 4 to choose from unlike the one option back home. With my sandwich and drink I headed into stowe only to find the sidewalks were all being redone so parking was a nightmare. Eventually found a spot and headed to some benches to enjoy lunch in the sun…
After lunch it was time to have another look around the town. Nothing had really changed from the last visit so I headed back to the Inn and chilled in the lounge area with book and rest of subway sarnie for my dinner. Another family staying popped in before going out for dinner so had a chat with them. I’d met them at breakfast so we were giving each other an update on what we’d done during the day. Everyone who has stayed there has been so friendly and happy to chat to others also staying – also happened during last visit. My type of place really… ???? It was also nice to be able to chill in a lounge area with a lovely view out of the window rather than being stuck in a bedroom or having to go out.
The following day I had thought about going to Canada but it was raining and the thought of driving for 3 hours to Montreal, finding parking, walking around and then driving back for another 3 hours didn’t really appeal. Instead I decided to head to the west side of the state and visit Shelburne museum, just south of Burlington. This is an outdoor museum with old buildings/structures that have been donated and physically moved to the museum. This included a steam paddle boat (used to cross lake champlain between ny state and vermont), a lighthouse, a 2 lane covered bridge to name a few! Thankfully it was warm so I could wear my shorts and sandals. Much quicker to dry. The coat did pretty well to be fair. Never sure just how waterproof packaway raincoats are! This one only failed at the very bottom at the front where it was taking the brunt of the rain and all the water that was pouring off me too! Eventually I was too wet to stay any longer and gave up – I’d seen all that I’d really wanted to see. Luckily for me, just over the road was the Vermont Teddy Bear factory.
This factory pretty much started the build a bear style bear. I’d been given a free tour voucher from the family from the Inn so I did that. It was really interesting to see how the parts are made, what the stuffing is made of and the fact there is a lifetime warranty on them and can be sent to the hospital to be fixed if required. Not only could you buy ones that you stuff all parts they also have ones where you can choose your arms, legs, head etc and then get them attached to the body, that you choose and stuff to your liking. This means your bear could have different coloured arms and legs, all 4 being different if you so wanted to… and all limbs and head can move. They had examples of those with multi coloured limbs and they just looked freaky! I couldn’t resist though and bought a small stuff your own 15” Holstein bear – black and white with a pink nose and eyes with ‘born in vermont’ visible in the irises. This one is the only 15” bear actually made at that factory, hence the eyes and different label. The others are made elsewhere. I even got to wish on his heart, chose what to fill him with (love, friendship, giggles etc) and then pressed the foot peddle to add his stuffing. Once sewn up I cut the cord and the time recorded was when he was ‘born’ – also recorded on his birth certificate. I’ve called him Monty as he’s from Vermont… I decided that the hot tub would be required too, especially as the rain had eased off by that time. I had also bought some very tasty ginger infused cider from Vermont so felt very decadent drinking a cider while reading a book in the hot tub… The Inn had also had some new guests arrive that day so before and after the hot tub we were having a chat about all sorts…. One thing that was confusing me was that most Americans were asking if I was Australian… I didn’t think I’d picked up an accent but only those that knew British accents were asking if I was a brit! Will see what the brits think when I get home…! ☺️
The following morning was a lazy start as it was going to be a long day… Breakfast was superb, as per usual, and then headed back to my room to chill and pack. Left as late as possible and headed north to take the scenic route across into New Hampshire and the white mountains – decided to take a different route to last time too. Today I was going up Mount Washington, and to the top this time! Last time mum and I only made it to the skyline on the cog railway, due to ice and rime, so this time I was driving up. I’d also joined and become a member of the Mount Washington observatory so I could have a tour of the weather station at the summit. Arrived to find the top shrouded in fog but that wasn’t stopping me, I was going up. Paid my money, got given a CD that I could have listened to on the way up (if my sat nav holder wasn’t in the CD drive I would have!), an info sheet on how to drive up and down the road and a sticker for my car (not going on the hire car but will stick it somewhere). This road was 8 miles long, sealed (apart from a little bit in the middle), had no edge barrier and went to the summit at over 6000 feet (nearly 2000m)… The added bit of fun was driving up this road in the fog as I got higher up … Meant I had no view as I was going up so just kept going. It was 2 cars wide so no pulling over but you could tell some didn’t really feel so comfortable as I kept coming up against those driving in the middle of the road, and usually when I was on the outside with the drop my side! Some felt the need to put on their hazards too!
Arrived at the top some 20-30 minutes later (think this and Mt mansfield are slowest I’ve ever driven over a distance!) and donned my jumper and raincoat. I’d already put on my long sleeved t shirt when I’d stopped for lunch but I was still in shorts and sandals though… From there it was a short walk up some steps to the summit and the observatory. There were 2 others that had also paid for membership to do the tour so the 3 of us were taken into the weather station and met Ian, who was doing the tour. He just happened to be the person mum and I talked to last October when we did live from the rock pile at the observatory’s discovery centre in Conway! He showed us all the instrumentation, how they worked, why they used them, etc, and then took us on a tour of the rest of the facilities. Went downstairs to the living quarters – kitchen, bedrooms, larder, living area - and found out members can volunteer to be a helper for a week; cook, clean and help out in the weather station (hmmm, wonder if I could do that? !). We then headed up to the roof of the tower where the instruments are set up. Thankfully it wasn’t raining or blowing a gale otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to go up there.. The instruments were saying it was 41f (5c) out there but that didn’t factor in any wind chill…. And I was still in shorts and sandals - brrr….! Up some spiral stairs and then 2 sets of ladders and we were outside on the tower. Only bit left was heading up to the extra bit where the instruments actually were. Had to make sure only touched red metal (otherwise the instruments record you as a blip forever in the charts!) and involved a bit of crawling under a bar to get there. Once up there I was technically the highest person on the mountain as this tower is higher than the actual summit… once we’d all been up and taken some photos – not many coz fog was still quite thick at this time – we headed back down and tour was then over. After this I went to the actual summit, had a look around the original hut that used to be the weather station and quarters, and then the observation deck. Here the wind was really cold and my legs really felt it… Headed indoors and had a chat with the cog railway guys and happened to see Eli the brakeman that had been on the road the cog railway when I did it in October. Still the same character…
Headed out to watch the trains head back down and then back to the car. Just as I was leaving the fog was blowing away so got a couple pictures. As I drove down further all the fog blew away – should have turned around at one of the turnout stops (meant to help with brake cooling or scenery enjoying) and gone back up to take pics but I didn’t for some reason – and could then see the road and the drop down the side… Didn’t worry me and the car coped perfectly well without overheating either engine or brakes… From there I headed south towards Boston, to pick up Claire from the airport. On the way I HAD to pass through Conway (was on the way), which just happened to have an outlet village and I had time to kill before going to the airport… what a hardship….! ???? I was well behaved and only bought items I had been looking for during the trip before stopping at a restaurant for some dinner. Left there around 9pm so that I arrived at Logan around 11.45pm-midnight, giving Claire plenty of time to get through customs/security. Found the cell parking lot, a free half hour parking lot to wait for a call. I hit my half hour just as I got the message from Claire to say through security… found the pick up point and Claire easily and we were off to Cape Cod for the next few days…..

Posted by Labgirluk 13:37 Archived in USA Tagged vermont new_hampshire stowe mohawk_trail mount_mansfield shelburne_museum vermont_teddy_bear mount_washington ben_and_jerry's Comments (0)

USA - part 1

City of Angels? Los Angeles

semi-overcast 25 °C
View Around the world in a few months! on Labgirluk's travel map.


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Landed at LAX ahead of schedule (about 20 min) which meant our gate wasn’t ready.. We then sat on the tarmac waiting for the captain to be told which gate, and then waited some more after getting to the gate only to be told it was the wrong one! Then it was the hell of immigration and passport control at a large international American airport.. Lots of queuing, question answering (business/pleasure, what food, when last in USA, how long for etc) and waiting… Eventually got through, had the passport stamped and through to baggage claim. My bag appeared to be one of last still on the conveyor so I must have been in longest queue ever… once the bag was collected there was another queue to go past the sniffer dogs to get out of the controlled area.
Finally through and met up with one of girls who’d also flown from Fiji and had been at one of the resorts the same time as me. We found out about the supershuttle and headed for their stand – cheaper than a taxi, easier than the bus – and then booked on to the next bus going our way. She was staying in santa monica and I was in Venice. Another hostel without a lift and the reception on the 1st floor! OK for those with backpacks, less OK for those with cases… Thankfully someone kindly helped me with my bag but I still had another floor after that up to my room. Nice room with good sturdy beds and a decent en suite. Even the ocean view was a good one as we were just behind the shops and above them so could see straight on to the beach and the sea beyond. Went for a little wander to get some fresh air and orientate myself slightly. Surprised at the sheer number of homeless people on the benches or the beach but they didn’t harass in any way. All the shops were open late too and people going around on skateboards (normal or motorised), e-bikes, push bikes, e-scooters etc. Jet lag didn’t seem to affect me (slept ok on the plane and going over date line and going back in time didn’t seem to cause me any problems either) but headed to bed reasonably early to make sure… Glad I did as I was woken up in the night by the girls from the lower bunks arriving back and having a shower in the middle of the night. Found out they’d been to a rock concert so were a tad sweaty from that…
After breakfast (free at hostel but limited options – waffles and syrup was better than nothing) I headed to the ocean walk and walked towards santa monica, with a detour to a verizon shop to enquire about a sim card. Bizarrely their sim cards don’t work in Sony phones but I did have both the shop assistants admire my phone asking questions on camera and cost. Have found that apple and Samsung have the monopoly everywhere (oz, nz and usa at least) so a new phone case hasn’t been able to be found either – this one was mostly dead at this point and being held together in places by just the edging thread…. From there went back to the beach and continued to santa monica. Got to the starline ticket desk only to be told that I needed to get my vouchers/tickets sorted at the main terminal – in Hollywood! As a result I got to experience the LA subway system and realised just how expensive everything transport related is in the UK! After paying $2 for a tap card the single trip cost me all of $1.75. For an hour’s ride on the subway….. It costs me more than that to do a 15 min bus ride back home…..
Arriving at the hollywood/Highland Station I found the main terminal eventually and exchanged a copy of my ID for both bus tickets (4 days in total) and went off to find some lunch… after that I found a sim card so I was back in contact with the world and headed to the hop on hop off bus. Decided to take a full red route (hollywood) tour before heading back to the swap over stop to get a yellow route bus back to santa monica. Saw lots of stuff and was told loads of typically cheesy tourist facts. Back in Hollywood got off at stop before last and walked along Hollywood and one side of the star walk (they’re on both sides of the road and there are hundreds of them!) back to the start point before jumping back on a red bus to take me to stop 7 and on to the yellow bus – decided that I might as well use them since I’d already paid for them…
Yellow bus dropped us off near the pier so headed back that way, found some over priced food (too hungry by that point) on the pier and then headed back to Venice beach along the ocean front walk. Plenty of people still out walking so didn’t feel unsafe despite the number of homeless around. They kept themselves to themselves most of the time.
After breakfast (yep waffles and syrup again!) I headed back out to the beach, walking along the shoreline this time, and back to santa monica to catch the yellow bus to Beverly Hills – today’s destination – and the sights on the other half of the yellow bus route tour! This route took us through Westwood and past ucla before stopping in Beverly hills.
First thing to do – Rodeo Drive, baby! A must see even if no chance of going in any of the shops – was definitely not dressed for visiting any of those shops! A wide road with posh shops on either side and palm trees growing between pavement/road and central reservation. And some of the cars driving/parked there were obviously expensive…. Definitely a well off area! ???? Then walked onto Wiltshire Boulevard and saw the hotel used in Pretty Woman (where she breaks in to his room and then has to climb out onto the ledge when he comes back) before heading for Beverly Drive and lunch - The Cheesecake Factory. A Chicken Caesar salad (ginormous) and diet coke was followed by the biggest slice of cheesecake I’ve ever seen – cinnabon cinnamon swirl cheesecake was my dessert of choice. When it mentions layerS of cheesecake they’re not wrong. It actually had 2 or 3 layers of cheesecake (cake base plus topping) to make the one big cheesecake. It beat me so was packed up, along with a plastic spoon, for me to eat later.... From there I headed to the Beverly hills sign and generally admired the buildings, some of which have been used in various films based in the area, before heading back to the bus to go back to the beach and the hostel. After eating the rest of the cheesecake I headed on to the beach to get some sunset photos. Due to the permanent haze (well it seemed permanent to me) the sunset was a bit wishy washy and nothing like I’d experienced to date. Still more to add to the collection...
My final full day in LA day saw me heading back to santa monica after stopping to watch the skate boarding at the purpose built park near my hostel. Was pretty amazing watching what some could do with 4 wheels and a bit of wood..... I picked up the yellow bus and then the red bus as I wanted to visit the farmers market at fairfax and then Melrose avenue. Got off at the farmer’s Market, bought an ice cream and then pretty much decided I didn’t want to do shops so got the next red bus so I could get back to Beverly hills without walking, as originally planned, as it was just too hot and sticky. Once back at santa monica I decided to walk the shoreline one last time. I still had no desire to go in the sea more than getting my feet wet as I walked along. The water was relatively cold, murky and had a yellow tinge to the edge as it hit the shore – probably from the seaweed but it did put me off swimming in it. Think I’d been spoilt with all my previous experiences in oz, nz and Fiji...
Back at the hostel I had dinner at the surfside restaurant linked with the hostel. V tasty and not a bad price with the hostel discount. While I was there a band set up and started playing – Tommy peacock. Good music but rather loud as I was right by where the band was set up. From there it was back to my room and repack – having to add more stuff to my carry on as the check in luggage was 50lb for the next flight, which equates to less than the 23kg for all the other flights!
My final day in la.... No need to get up and out early as my flight wasn’t until 10.30pm and thankfully check out wasn’t until 11am. Missed brekkie though... Checked out at 11am on the dot and put my bags into storage before heading towards the canals... Not quite as big or grand as the Italian Venice but still quite pretty and a nice walk. Also these canals are tidal so, as it was lowish tide when I was there, the canoes tied up were all half out of the water, and floating platforms were looking decidedly drunk... Met a local walking his dog and had a nice chat about the area – the history of the canals, how the houses have changed with non locals buying up the houses and building bigger ones in place of the original single storey houses, etc – before heading to the Venice fishing pier (apparently it’s actually Washington pier as that’s the area it’s in and continues on from w Washington blvd). Just a piece of concrete sticking out to sea designed for people to fish from but there were some homeless sat on the benches at the end and I didn’t feel comfortable staying around that area so head back to the beach straight away. From there I found a comfy spot on the beach, near the hostel, and camped out for the rest of the day till it was time to head back and figure out the best way to the airport.... My luck was in as there was someone else collecting luggage and heading to the airport as I collected mine so we shared an uber to the airport. Saved me a few dollars... Checked in and through security much quicker than expected so had plenty of time to chill... What I hadn’t realised is that as I hadn’t had my seat assigned at check in I needed to get it done in advance of boarding... Apparently being a supersaver fare seats are allocated after everyone else! I went to get it sorted about 10 mins before boarding – oops! As it happens I was lucky and ended up being assigned a priority seat, more leg room, nearer the front of the plane etc. And thankfully there were charging ports as my phone needed to be fully charged for sat nav use the following day....
Soon I’d be back in the lovely New England area... Can safely say I don’t feel the need to go back to LA but also glad I did visit it so that I know I don’t need to go back and don’t have any ‘what if’s’ going around my brain... There are others places I’d prefer to visit again. I also know I’m not a City girl in the slightest...

Posted by Labgirluk 18:57 Archived in USA Tagged los_angeles hollywood venice_beach santa_monica_pier beverly_hills starline Comments (0)

Fiji

Island hopping

sunny 30 °C
View Around the world in a few months! on Labgirluk's travel map.


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Thankfully this flight was uneventful and on time. After about an hour in the air we flew over the northern most tip of the North Island and out of NZ air space. The next land we’d see would be Fiji, a group of islands in the South Pacific ocean. On landing and going through customs I was thankful I had declared food items on the landing card as, not having checked their rules, honey is on their no go list for biosecurity. Luckily they were willing to store it, for a fee of course, at the airport for me to collect as I leave the country. 15fjd was still cheaper than the cost to have sent the jars home from NZ. Just glad they weren’t destroyed automatically. Glad I’d made sure they had remained sealed too... As a result of the customs delay I had to wait for the next airport run shuttle. After checking in (shuttle bus had to take a detour via bread and kava shopping!) I got my bed in a 34 bed dorm, thankfully split into pods of 4 so not too bad. First things first, boots and trousers swapped for flip flops and shorts (I’d already stripped down to my strappy t shirt at the airport to cool down)! From there headed out the back of the hotel straight on to the beach before having dinner in the restaurant. That night was free kava time night so felt I should experience this fijian specialty while it was on offer... The 2 guys were set up in the sand pit entertainment area with a large blanket on the ground, the large kava bowl and a couple of guitars. They were also entertaining us with some good singing too.
On coming to the blanket you take your shoes off and sit in front of the men and say bula (hello in fijian) and have a bit of a chit chat. The kava is the powdered root of a tree so they have the powder in a muslin type pouch and soak it in the liquid (water with some kava already in) in the big bowl and squeeze out some more. If need be some more water is added. This can be repeated as they need to top up the main bowl. To accept kava (drunk out of a coconut shell bowl) you clap your hands one on top of other like you are cupping a spider to throw out of a window, not like ‘well done’ flat handed, and say bula. You then have to drink the kava in one go (is a suspension so if you don’t the kava will drop to bottom of bowl) and then cup clap 3 times. This type of clapping is apparently a sign of respect in Fiji. I was on my own to start with but then a couple of others joined and I had to drink again! Couldn’t described flavour really (bitter, woody possibly) but you could feel the tingle on your lips, gums and tongue after drinking it. Listened to a couple of songs and then said thank you (vinaka) and headed back to my room and repacked for my week of island hopping. Thankfully I was coming back to the same hotel after so could leave my big bag behind and just take what was necessary for the week... Saved a lot of hassle.
Once at the port I picked up my tickets – for some reason mine weren’t already printed out so they printed them again and then it was time to board the ferry. I was heading to Long Beach resort first (I had booked a 1 coconut deal so that meant more basic accommodation etc but meals included so people were all going to different places depending on their deals and what they’d booked) so had a 4 hour catamaran ferry ride to my first island. Passed quickly enough and chatted to a local student who was with a group heading to one of the furthest resorts and had a task to ask others on the ferry about why they chose Fiji etc. Had a good chat while sitting in the sun...
Finally arrived at Long Beach resort just before 1pm and a few of us disembarked into a small tender while any luggage/parcels were passed down from the ferry. This was to become our norm for the next few days.... The tender then took us from the deeper water where the ferry could go to the island beaching the boat as close as possible. Then it was clamber out and walk through the shallows to the beach (this also became the norm and shoes were pretty much discarded at this point). The guys from the boat carried the luggage.... We were welcomed by Kitty, one of the ones on the tender and had the ways of the resort explained to us. This was a family run resort with pretty much everyone being related to each other in some way and all very friendly. Meal times were eaten together and were whatever Toby the chef made. He was amazing at adapting the food for the various dietary requirements (mine and another girl’s) as well as cooking for the others. It was simple but plentiful and tasty. We ate at set meal times and were announced by the beating on a big bit of hollow wood as a well walking up to the sleeping area and yelling whichever meal it was.... Also no paddling at low tide as there was an increased risk of being stung by a sting ray as they burrow in the sand if they don’t get out in time before the tide gets too low for them to swim off...
It was here that I realised that my tickets hadn’t all been printed out, as all the full monty extra activity tickets were missing. Had great fun then trying to call Awesome Adventures and fix it. They confirmed I was full monty and would send my tickets with the boat the following day. After that it was learning how to make the most of Fiji time and relax, or play with little 1 year old Wane (such a cute kid) the son of one of the family. His mum Megan, a Scott who met and married one of the guys, was more than happy for us to help entertain him as he didn’t seem interested in having his naps at all... Other than that it was chill in a hammock, settle in and eventually play volleyball (yeah, I’m still not any good at it!) with some of the others staying at the resort too. When they left to go on a walk Alex (another girl doing same package as me) and I decided to go to the beach and take sunset photos. Afterwards we think we opted for the better activity as got good photos compared to the others and didn’t have to do a walk in the heat either...
After dinner we chilled some more and then all but Alex and I went to bed. We stayed up chatting to Wane (intermediate as we called him – baby Wane’s dad’s cousin I think is best relationship I could figure) and he made us Fijian tea – lemon tree leaves in hot water with some sugar to sweeten it. Think this is about the only tea I could ever drink, as not really tea in the true sense but flavoured sweetened hot water. We just chatted about Fijian culture and how Fijian families work compared to British/European ways.
The following day was a busy one, heading up to the northern most part of the islands to visit the caves. Not really knowing where they were we were surprised when we were in the taxi boat for about an hour, with a stop at one of the other resorts to pick up 2 others. When we got there we had to strip to our swimming stuff in the boat and leave all our stuff there. We climbed out of the boat and waded to shore where we were told that there was another group currently in the caves and he would call us when it was time. In the meantime we had a look at some items for sale and I bought a pretty bracelet. When it was time we had to walk back into the water and around a bit of rock to some steps (health and safety not really big here as rocks were quite slippery), up those and then down some to the 1st cave (ducking under a low hanging rock while going down the steps!) and into the water in the cave. This one had an open roof so could see what we were doing. Once the previous group were out it was our turn to go to the next cave – via a 2 metre underwater pitch black tunnel – which was completely dark when the guide’s torch was facing the other way. Once all were through we were told some stories but a mixture of people chatting in an echo-y cave and a Fijian accent it was difficult to understand it all. After that it was back through the tunnel to the 1st cave and time to get out and head back to the boat.. The others managed to get in gracefully (water was deeper than when we got out and rocks were slippery and they were all taller than me – my excuse and sticking to it!). I, on the other hand, apparently looked like a seal getting out! Not elegant at all but it worked and gave them a laugh.
From there we headed back to our resort and away from the rain that was now coming down. It also felt warmer as we moved south too. We got back in time for lunch and welcome the new guests to the island, and say bye to those heading off. Once they were settled in we got our snorkelling gear and with those and a towel we headed to the resort boat to go snorkelling in the blue lagoon. As it was low tide we had to walk through the shallows (that we’d been told not to walk in due to risk of sting rays in the sand!) following Wane, as he’d have scared them off, so his route would be ‘safe‘ and into a little blue boat. Wane then punted us across the stretch of water to goat Island – so called due to the wild goats that live on it – and around the edge of that to the resort boat anchored at deeper water. All because it was low tide... We then headed up to the blue lagoon and the corals where pretty fish swim. We were also given some slightly mouldy bread to feed the fish. On with our fins and in the water we went. I had my camera with me so could take photos and videos underwater properly this time. Got a pretty amazing video of the fish eating the bread out of my hand. While we were snorkelling the boat went off to do some shopping and went to pick up some kids and a local from our island who had been on that island for a picnic... By that time we were getting a bit cold and bored so we were thankful when the boat turned up. The return trip also involved mooring over on goat Island and getting the other boat back over to the resort. Toby the chef came to get us and had great delight in pointing out all the sting ray to us from his stood up position in the boat – as we were sat down we missed them all. We also spent the crossing trying not to rock the boat as it didn’t feel that sturdy with us all in, but Toby claimed that as long as he was smiling there was no need to worry... After a tepid shower (no hot water in the island unless you boil it) Fijian tea all round it was.
After dinner we made sure Wane carried out his agreement to show us how to basket weave with coconut tree leaves and then a coconut demo – which coconut is good or not, how to husk it with your hands and a stick, how to open the coconut with a rock (where the weak point is) and then how to scrape out the meat. Some of us had a go at that using a special scraper. Still hard work but better than a knife or anything else. From there he got some cubed papaya, squeezed on a bit of lime juice and then used another part of the coconut tree to act as the muslin and squeezed out the coconut milk from the meat over the fruit. Rather tasty. Def want to try cooking more with coconut milk from now on. Creamy but not cream and both dairy and lactose free. Can’t be a bad thing at all.
The rest of the evening was chillaxing (only word for it) before all crashing once again.
The following day a few were heading further north and Alex and I South in the afternoon. After chilling for a bit in the morning we both had some quality play time with baby Wane – Megan reckoned she could have had a lie in with all of us looking after the baby and him happily letting us. Even Wane (inter) helped and kept him occupied with a guitar til Wane jr got some orange to eat. Alex and I were both going to the same island, about half an hour south, but to resorts next door to each other. Alex headed to Korovou and I went to White Sandy Beach. Both lovely but very different. Both owned by the same family – sisters I think – but very different styles in some ways. Think as Korovou used to be a 2 coconut (slightly higher standard accommodation) resort the amenities were better. They had a pool and the dining area was larger and a volley ball area. They did have a 17 bed dorm though...
I was welcomed to White sandy beach with the ladies singing traditional Fijian songs and offered a glass of fresh orange diluted in water - tasty. This was another small resort, but bigger than Long Beach, with bungalows for couples/twin beds and then 2 dorms, one with 8 beds and other with 6 beds. There were only 6 of us so they split us between the rooms so all were only on bottom bunks, 4 in one room and 2 in the other. After dinner we were treated to some entertainment from the ladies and a couple of the guys. Unlike long beach, which was predominantly men as front of house, white sandy beach was mainly run by the women with the guys helping out as required (boat, some activities, background stuff). For the evening entertainment we had songs and dancing, with one of the guys joining in the singing (siti – not sure how to spell his name but that’s how it sounded like!) and one only joining in for the dancing (Abo) – could only presume he didn’t like singing, or couldn’t sing! After a few songs we were then all made to get up and join in... Thankfully it was sort of dancing, and no singing, and kind of follow the leader so that wasn’t too bad. After that the others opted to go over to the other resort to see the others they knew there. I opted to chill in a hammock and read for a while but ended up chatting to Abo, who’d come to entertain us with riddles and the like but had found everyone gone, finding out more about the resort and who’s who etc.
The following day was supposed to be swimming with manta rays but I’d taken ill after breakfast and daren’t leave the resort..... Luckily Abo kindly agreed to take my camera with him and record the manta rays for me. Looking at the footage after I think he did a better job than I would have – he could dive better than I can (can swim under water quite happily normally but put fins on me and a snorkel and mask and I become a floatation device!) so he got some amazing close up footage of the 2 manta rays they found. I spent the day either in a hammock or in bed resting – sleep wasn’t happening for some reason and def no eating was happening – til the following day.
The next day I felt a bit better and managed a pancake and Fijian tea for brekkie. The day turned out to be a bit of a wash out, quite literally. It had been raining quite heavily during the night and this looked to continue on and off during the day. I just about managed to get my washing in before it was wetter than it was before it went out! At one point it was raining so hard the water was a good inch in places – thankfully I’d pretty much abandoned shoes on arrival at the islands a couple days before so just walked around barefoot the whole time so the rain made no difference there. As a pick me up I got myself a nice full body massage and boy, was it good and needed. They used coconut oil and nothing else so I also got moisturised at the same time... At some point during the morning, while trying to entertain guests when they can’t go outside due to the torrential rain, logic puzzles were started... Abo started with one that I figured out but one of the German guests, Maya, had a good one that I couldn’t figure out (still can’t) but I was called for my massage so ran away and never figured out the answer... The boat picked up the North bound passenger pretty much on time, to the surprise of those at the resort, as I think they were expecting it to be late due to the weather, but no new guests on that boat. The southbound boat would be at least 2 ½ hours later once it had gone to the other resorts and turned back, and factored in the weather... Thankfully by the time it was my turn to leave it had stopped raining and the guys were really kind to me and the others in the boat as the ferry guys commented we were the first people to arrive on board dry.....!
Met up with Alex in the downstairs seating area – along with 3 others from the Korovou resort – but she was looking peaky already. Kindly lent her my travel bands as I didn’t need them. I seemed to have had no issues with boats and choppy water during my travels – which surprised me knowing how ill I used to get on boats. We endured a 3 hour trip including a chat with the on board travel agents about the fact that the planned seaspray experience (boat trip to castaway filming location, bbq lunch, swimming etc) had been cancelled due to maintenance and had to choose between a refund or a day at mala mala beach club with a $50 food and beverage voucher. As the island we were going to, South Seas Island, was really small and gets over run by day trippers (200 due the day we left) Alex and I opted for mala mala. If nothing else it would be nice to see how the other half live and visit a 4th island plus it was bigger so would absorb an extra 200 people more easily.... We also decided that if weather was going to be horrible we’d cancel and get the refund...
Reached south seas a bit later than scheduled (due to the weather and not Fiji time!) and transferred to the tender without any issues. On arrival we were given the usual spiel about meal times, what can be done free of charge and about heading off/checking out the following day before being shown to our dorm. Their had been stories going around the island about bed bugs in this dorm and to head to the right hand side. First thing checked was the mattress around the seams/edges. All looked OK to us. We then headed back downstairs to wait for the dinner drum... Just my luck dinner was curry, curry or curry. The veg soup also seemed to have a curry flavour about it (asked chef what spices were in it and he didn’t appear to know what cumin or turmeric were so didn’t feel very hopeful that it would be free of those spices as he claimed!) so I left it after 2 tiny tastes and I just had a bit of rice and pineapple for dessert. Stomach didn’t like that so headed to bed dead early.
The following morning I woke up early (not surprisingly after the early to bed the night before) and managed to read till nearly sunrise. Then I sneaked out and watched the sun come up. This island was pretty small – could walk around it in 3 or 4 mins – so was easy to find east and catch the sun coming up. Another one to add to the collection... From there it was shower, pack and check out in time for the transfer to mala mala about a 15 min boat ride away (seriously, if you don’t like boats visiting the islands off the mainland is not for you!). We got there about 5 mins ahead of the mainland ferry bringing the hordes to the island. We managed to check in, get our chit card and grab the loungers we wanted before the masses descended on them... I headed straight into the sea to cool down as it was already hot and little to no breeze around. Didn’t stay in too long but it was nice for cooling off.
The rest of the day was spent moving from the lounger to the pool back to the lounger to lunch back to lounger and then the pool again... Generally a very veggie day – almost too much vegging... At the end of the day we caught the transfer vessel back to the mainland and our island hopping adventure was over. We were all transferred back to our respective hotels (Alex and I were on different buses so had to say bye at the port) and time to check back in to the dorm of 34! It was heaving as there were a load who’d arrived from the airport that day to go island hopping the following day and us who were staying a night or 2 before going on to new places.... After sorting out my bed I headed outside as could hear music and cheering and wanted to check out the entertainment for the evening. Looked to be some Fijian guys dressed in sulu’s (sarong type wrap – over shorts thankfully) showing a big group Fijian dance moves. My amusing. After that they moved on to a fire show with double ended fire sticks. They then moved us on to the beach to continue the show finishing up with 5 of them spinning their fire sticks while in diff positions, including on backs, shoulders and in their backs in the sand. Video’d some of them as they were pretty impressive, even if one did try to set his sulu alight when passing the stick through his legs! A minor blip in the grand scheme of things.
The next day was my last in Fiji. After checking out I moved all the way to the sun loungers, out the back of the hotel facing the sea, and found a shady one to chill out on for the day. Pretty much didn’t move apart from to buy water and order some lunch... Soon the time came to get changed and head to the airport. Luckily there was a girl also heading to the airport so we shared the taxi, and the cost. Once there I had to head back to arrivals to collect my honey. While there picked up a free sim card so I could have Internet for the 3 hours I was in the airport – they give you 1.5-2gb free for 48hrs so you have time to sort out what you want as a package. Not bad...
After that check in and wait.....
1 week was def not long enough for me in Fiji.... Almost wished I could have moved my LA flight to 4 days later and stayed there and then just transferred from one flight to the next. But it wasn’t to be (not wasting prepaid hostel booking!) and LA was somewhere I wanted to see to say I’ve done it.... I will be going back, and sooner rather than later I feel. I’m not done with Fiji yet.....

Posted by Labgirluk 23:14 Archived in Fiji Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises snorkelling caves hammock relaxing blue_lagoon manta_ray island_time fiji_time clear_water Comments (0)

New Zealand - part 6

Christchurch stay, Inc lake tekapo

4 °C
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Caught the diamond harbour ferry easily enough (Lorraine had dropped off a metro card and timetables at the motel the night before) and thankfully had a nice person carry my bag up the steps at the other end. Nick (Lorraine’s husband) thankfully met me at the wharf, as there was no way I’d have been able to drag the bag up the hill to their place.... Ben, their eldest son had kindly given up his room so I could sleep in there for the duration and he had the sofa bed in the ‘games’ room. It made more sense when I found out he was having a couple friends stay over one night, as they were off due to a teacher’s strike... That day was so warm I even managed to sit outside in shorts and t shirt for a bit enjoying the view and reading a book...
As Lorraine still had work I was fitting my sightseeing around her work schedule. On Monday, as she was on a late, we dropped Fred (her youngest son) at school and then headed to a spot at the cashmere end of Dyer’s pass Road and went for a walk up the hill to the sign of the kiwi cafe, on the crater rim walkway route where it crosses Dyer’s Pass. I headed up a bit more of the crater rim walkway to a nice viewpoint of diamond harbour while Lorraine headed into the cafe. I joined her for a tasty date scone (my breakfast) before we headed back down. On the walk down she pointed out the mountain biking track over on the other side of the valley and could see a zip line... We then headed over there to have a look. Once I read the info I immediately went and booked in for the Friday, as I’d decided to hire a car for thurs /Fri as Lorraine was working both of those days... My comment to mum about giving up the ‘dangerous’ activities went out of the window at that point! Sorry mum! ☺️
Tuesday I opted for a ‘quiet’ day around diamond harbour and thought a nice walk along the coastal walkway would be nice.... Getting down to the walkway was hair raising enough and then the walkway itself was a narrow track right on edge of cliff and a bit more challenging than expected at times... Got good views though of Purau Bay. Met a man on the way round planting out some indigenous plants near a bench in his wife’s memory. I then had a tasty custard square (think custard slice but fluffier custard and desiccated coconut on the icing) at the local cafe, met some locals (most are ex-pats to be honest!) and then headed back home to chill out for the rest of the day.
Wednesday saw Lorraine, Fred (teacher’s strike so no school for him) and I head to Akaroa to hopefully swim with the Hector dolphins that live in the oceans around there. It was a lovely drive around the bay and over the passes (diamond harbour and akaroa harbour are essentially volcanic craters so lots of hills around the edges) and arrived in plenty of time. We were kitted out in 5mm neoprene wetsuits, booties and gloves. I was using my goggles rather than a mask but we had no hood.... Hector dolphins are small so fins aren’t used either. They also only hang around in small groups of 3-5 dolphins so unlikely to see any large pods of them. There were only 5 of us on this trip and we headed out to the harbour entrance and the Pacific ocean in this small covered speedboat (holds max 12 swimmers, the skipper and the sidekick). Lee it was relatively calm in the harbour once out in open water the swells were much larger and we would swerve quite quickly if dolphins were spotted. Fred seemed to be quite good at spotting them too...
Twice 2 of us (me and another guy with a fancy camera) got in the water when we thought the dolphins were going to play but in both cases they disappeared. The wetsuit was surprisingly good as I found out when I dipped my face under water to look below me – boy was the water cold, about 10/11c I was told! – didn’t do that again! We were unlucky and didn’t get to swim with the dolphins but we did see them and I got some photos. We also said hello to the local seal colony while having a hot chocolate (the others) and gingernut biscuits. On the way back to the wharf the others managed to see a dolphin and 2 blue penguins in the harbour area. Gutted I missed them.
On Thursday I headed out towards the airport to pick up my hire car – a little yellow hyundai getz. From there I headed south on SH1 - destination Moeraki Boulder beach and then Oamaru after that to see some penguins. Took about 3 ½ hours to get to the boulders and it was worth it. Thankfully I hadn’t got there any earlier as the tide was still going out and they would have been hidden if I’d got there any earlier... An amazing natural phenomenon that has resulted in round boulders poking out of the sand. From there I headed back north to Oamaru and Bushy Beach Scenic Reserve. Here, there are viewing points over one of the beaches that the rare yellow-eyed penguins use to get to their burrows. Unfortunately I wasn’t lucky enough to see any as I had to leave after an hour so that I could go to the blue penguin colony viewing in Oamaru. I was so glad I bought the premium viewing ticket as, not only did we get comfy seats and blanket (did have to share with someone), we also were sat within a metre or so of the paths the penguins take back to their burrows. The seals sleeping all around didn’t bother them either, as new zealand fur seals don’t easy penguin! To add to the atmosphere there was also a power cut in the south oamaru area so the orange flood lights used for us to see them (orange doesn’t bother the penguins apparently) went out and we only had the solar powered generated lights still lit. Luckily we were so close that we could still see the penguins as they came up the rocks and run through the penguin gateways into the sanctuary area. Once there they went and stood under or near the walkway to cool off before heading home to find their partner and possibly a chick. After only seeing a few at Philip Island, back at the start of my oz trip, it was incredible to see so many and so close too. The guy, I was sharing the blanket with, and I were ridiculously excited by it all but it was nice to have another English speaking adult (others were all Chinese I think) with me to excitedly point out the penguins near us. After at least 4 or 5 rafts (groups of 10-20 penguins that come to shore together in a raft style) we headed back to the main building, along a walkway that took you past many of the burrows. Here you could see some standing outside cooling down while others you hear the noises between the pair inside the burrows – hopefully loving welcoming sounds rather than ‘where do you think you’ve been?‘ sounds... From there I headed back to Christchurch getting in quite late, and thankful for no early start in the morning...
On Friday I had a little drive around up to sugarloaf mountain to see if the look out mentioned was any better than the one I’d found on Monday – it wasn’t – and then it was time to head to the adventure park for my zip line tour... I’d already done 2 zip line tours in NZ already, Rotorua Canopy tour and shotover canyon fox in Queenstown, so this would be a nice comparison. This tour consisted of 4 zip lines; the first 2 were around the 400-500m mark and were classed as ‘warm up’ lines... The other 2 on the tour with me had never zip lined before so it was good for them to get the feel of it. The 3rd line is the highest line in NZ, and the 2nd longest, as well as crossing over from one hill to the other and above the chairlift.... The longest, at 1.1km long, was line 4... But first we had to take the 10 min chairlift ride up to the top of the hill and admire the views once up there. The harnesses were more like seats so we could only face forwards and lean back to get as streamlined as possible to go fast. Not going upside down, backwards or anything else like that. To be honest at the speeds we were going it would have been hard to do anything more than lie back... The only requirements were to hold on to the bar, with head back, feet up and knees not together at start and finish. Seeing the speed with which you hit the brake at the end you can see why.... The 2 longest lines had us going at speeds of up to 90-100kph, weight and streamlining dependent. I opted for as fast as possible... Thankfully the go pro recorded it so just need to download the videos at some point...
Once back at base, and obligatory me in a harness photo taken, lunch was enjoyed and time to take the car back. Got the bus back into town and met Lorraine from work. As we were later than anticipated we went straight out for dinner. Lorraine had booked a table for us a gebbies pass cafe where they do a bistro night every few weeks on a Friday night. Limited menu but the food was so good and plentiful. Once back home it was time to pack for our weekend away – New Zealand celebrate the Queen’s birthday by having a long weekend – as were off to Lake Tekapo. We’d also seen the weather forecast and there had been a massive snow dump over the higher grounds in hills and mountain ranges. Yep I was going to get snow.... ????
Due the amount of rain in Christchurch footie practise was off for the boys. I was catching a lift with friends of Lorraine (they only had 3 in their car so would mean not being squashed in the other car. Got a lift to the ferry as it was so wet, the ferry got slammed by waves crossing the harbour and I got worked just walking the short distance to where my lift was.. Thankfully they’d come close to the steps coz the was a river crossing the road where we should have met... We’d also read in the travel updates that chains would be necessary so they popped home for those. Meant I got to see another area of Christchurch, this time new South Brighton...
Back on the road we headed south (back over the longest bridge in NZ at Rakaia) before turning off to take the Thompson’s pass to Geraldine rather than stay in SH1. A quick coffee stop at Geraldine before carrying on to Fairlie and lunch back at the bakehouse. A venison and cranberry pie was consumed this time – absolutely delicious as per the last pie I’d had there! From there we carried on and the snow started to be evident.. Then we turned the corner and everything was white. I think I amused Sam and Hayley (this giving me a lift) with my excitement. But... Sam did pander to my whims and stopped so I could take a photo or 2... Thankfully the roads had been ploughed so chains weren’t required and the rest of the drive was uneventful.
The house was a lovely 2 storey house with the living area upstairs so you had an amazing view of the lake and mt. John from the door to ceiling windows. I ended up sharing the bunk room with the 3 boys while the 3 couples got the other rooms. For dinner we shared the cooking so one of the others had provided spag bol and I did my usual chicken stroganoff (with added veg) – got this perfected now... ????
The following day some of the others got up at silly o’clock to go to a local pub to watch the Liverpool v spurs match. The 4 of us left behind had a chilled morning and waited for their return – we’d checked the results on the news so knew they’d all be in a happy mood as they were supporting Liverpool... After that we got ready to go into town. Some of us were ice skating and then going in the hot pools. After ice skating I opted for walking up Mt. John to admire the scenery and snow, since I was going to be experiencing the hot pools that night with the stars’n’soak ticket I’d bought. It was icy in places and hard work at times but the view was well worth it. The view of the 2 lakes as well as the snow covered mountains all around was just incredible. I then bought and posted my mum a postcard from the highest postbox in the southern hemisphere (let’s hope she gets it before I get home...) in the cafe at the top, as well as enjoying a bit of carrot cake and a hot ginger, lemon and honey drink – finally found a hot drink I like... From there it was time to head back down and back to the house for dinner and a nap.....
One of the others was kind enough to drop me at the shuttle pick up point and once that arrived headed back to the hot springs. The first hour was spent looking at the stars, clusters, nebulas and planets through 4 telescopes. Seeing the rings around Saturn and Jupiter’s moons was just amazing and the Milky way was so clear – absolutely no clouds in the sky. From there we moved into the hot pools and given a floating hammock so you could lie back and look at the stars in comfort and under water. It was freezing temperatures so it was odd lying in a hot pool while the air was so cold. At the end we were taken back in the shuttle, and thankfully dropped off at the door so I didn’t have to walk back to the house from the pick up point.
Monday we headed back to Christchurch. Sam kindly taking us back on the inland scenic route so I could by the base of mt. Hutt and get some pictures. Could even see the road that takes people up to the ski field. Apparently it’s not a nice road though... Got dropped back at the ferry so after crossing the harbour walked up the hill and generally crashed for the afternoon....
Tuesday and Wednesday were spent sightseeing in the city as well as a trip on the city tram and on the way home up the gondola. Visited various places including The Canterbury museum, the Transitional Church (made from cardboard), the 185 white chairs memorial in memory of those who died in the 2011 quake, Victoria Park and regent’s Street. Apart from it being cold it was a good couple of days, exploring the city.
Thursday saw us up and out early to take Fred to school. We then headed out to Sumner, via the bays rather than going over the pass or through the tunnel. This town was on the south side of pegasus Bay, south east of Christchurch. From here you could see the snow covered kaikoura mountain range in the distance with the beach and sea in front of you. Another amazing view.... A late breakfast was enjoyed at the beach front cafe. My last meal on Kiwi soil.... From there it was time to head to the airport and say good bye to not only Lorraine but also my amazing month in New Zealand....
(due to WiFi limitations, and this site I can't upload the other 19 photos I want to link to this entry. There should be a little bit of everything but I'll put up rest of photos in an additional entry - just coz I want to show them off...)

Posted by Labgirluk 12:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged snow lake_tekapo christchurch zip_lining swimming_with_dolphins Comments (0)

New Zealand - part 5

Queenstown to Christchurch, Inc a day trip to Doubtful Sound

sunny 10 °C
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After an adrenaline packed day, for some of us, we had an early start as we were spending the day on the Doubtful Sound. This involved a 2 ½ hr drive to Manapouri to join the cruise, an hour’s boat trip across lake manapouri to the Dock in West arm by the hydro station, an hour’s bus drive over the wilmott pass (one of the most expensive roads ever built) to deep cove in the Doubtful Sound, a fjord within fjordland national park. We were then treated to a 3 hour cruise which included going right up to the entrance to the Tasman Sea and admiring a seal colony on some rocks right at the entrance too. We also experienced some amazing views; waterfalls, sheer cliffs rising out of the water, etc as well as enjoying the silence in one of the arms after all power and engines on the boat were shut down. If only everyone respected the request for complete silence, no photos, and no moving around on the boat....! When there was silence on-board the only sound was a waterfall somewhere and maybe some birds. So peaceful. From there we headed back to Deep cove dock, back over wilmott pass, across lake manapouri and then back to queenstown. A long day but well worth it.
The following day we were starting the drive towards Christchurch with an overnight stop at Twizel on the way. As with all our journeys this wasn’t to be a straight through trip but lots of stops and beautiful views on the way.
The first stop was Arrowtown, which we’d quickly passed through on the way into Queenstown. Here we could see the lovely autumn colours of the trees (some very red ones as well as the usual orange colours) and explored the old mining town, that still looked as if it belonged to the olden days. We passed the original A. J. Hackett bungee jumping bridge, so stopped to watch a couple of people flinging themselves off the bridge towards the icy water below - don't think they opted for the dunking option as that water would be very very cold... From there we travelled to Cromwell for our snacks and picnic lunch shopping. We also had the obligatory group photo under the giant fruit sculpture (think Cromwell may be known for its fruit) before we carried on and over the Lindis pass. As the weather was so nice we stopped for our picnic lunch by the edge of Lake Pukaki, a glacier fed lake. For some reason Ashley (who had spent the whole trip being cold - she’s from Florida so not used to it!) decided to confirm this by dunking her hand in the water and holding it there for as long as possible... Think it stayed numb for a while after! Was an amazing place to have lunch though.
From there we headed up past the lake towards Mount Cook Village. We didn’t go to the village but turned off to go to the Tasman glacier viewpoint, up a little hill with lots of steps! It was worth it to see the glacier in the background with Lake Tasman below us. Once back down we drove round to the hooker valley and walked up to kea point (no kea were spotted on this walk though) and watched the sunset over Mount Cook – well it was behind the mountains but had a lovely light reflection on the west face of Mt. Cook. After this it was time to head to our lodgings for the night, mountain chalet motel, in Twizel and dinner at the ministry of works. Some of us stayed out a little longer in the freezing (literally) weather to look at the stars as it was a clear night. Well worth it though.
The following morning saw us up and out just as the sun was rising. Looked like a Christmas card picture with the frost in the ground and the sunrise over the buildings, and especially with a big solitary pine in the middle of the field... First stop on the road to Christchurch was Lake Tekapo and the church of the good shepherd. This is one of the most sought after churches for getting married in, due to the location and views around it – upto 2 year waiting list – and we could see why. There was even an Asian group there with the woman dressed in wedding finery having pictures taken in the grounds of the church. Do not believe they’d got married there (was about 9am at the time) but apparently this is a common thing for some asians to do, having pictures taken at various famous places around the world... On we carried to Fairlie and its amazing bakehouse and infamous pies. We were there at 9.30am on a Sunday morning and there was decent queue already. Some ate their pies as a second /hot breakfast. I kept mine for a mid morning snack... Was still warm as just as delicious when I finally ate it.
We passed through Geraldine (spoke to someone from there on the airport bus in Sydney so it had stuck in my mind) and then Ashburton (also stuck in my mind as the 2 Americans on the tasmanian tour live and work there) before stopping at Rakaia. 2 of us couldn’t resist having a play on the see-saw in the playground, although it was a ’safe’ one as it was sprung in such a way that it always stayed horizontal when not in use.
We reached Christchurch in plenty of time so we parked up and headed to the little high eatery for some lunch before we had a short tour of some notable areas of the city by a member of the rekindle organisation (www.rekindle.org.nz) – including a dance-o-mat, where an old washing machine had been converted to a stereo that you can plug your phone into and dance on the sprung mats! They are partially funded by planeterra, the philanthropic arm of gadventures, so part of our tour fee goes towards that funding. After the tour we headed to their workshop in the arts centre, an old University of Canterbury building. All these buildings are being renovated/restored after the 2010/11 quakes damaged many of them. There we learnt to make string/rope from the local cordyline plant leaves that had fallen to the ground. Theoretically this can be done with any plants of this family and make good biodegradable string for use in the garden.... This was the last formally organised activity of our tour. After checking in to our rooms we headed down to the restaurant linked to the motel for our last dinner. A couple of speeches were made and a present/card presented to Jonno, who had made a good tour excellent, before tucking into good food and enjoying a few drinks (well the usual group were chucked out at closing....).
The final morning saw us having brekkie and then Jonno kindly dropped us off at various places, most going to the museum before heading to the airport, and me at Lyttelton to catch the ferry across to diamond harbour for my next leg of the NZ tour – a 10 day break staying with friends...
Loved this tour, even though it was a whistle stop tour. We got to see the highlights of New Zealand, as the tour title said. Good memories to take with me.

Posted by Labgirluk 14:10 Archived in New Zealand Tagged lake_tekapo mount_cook doubtful_sound arrowtown twizel tasman_glacier fairlie_bakehouse rakaia dance-o-mat rekindle Comments (0)

New Zealand - part 4

Franz Josef to Queenstown

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View Around the world in a few months! on Labgirluk's travel map.


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After an action packed day the previous day we had an early start leaving Franz Josef village at 7 to make our way to Queenstown. If done in one go you could do it in about 5 hours but that wasn’t our plan and plenty of stops on the way were being factored in. On the way out of town we had to go over the newly rebuilt bridge that replaced the one that got swept away a couple months ago. This bridge had been rebuilt by the NZ military within about 3 weeks of being demolished by a raging torrent of water. From there we headed to Lake Matheson to have a walk around and watch the sunrise from various points. We were lucky and had a mostly clear sky so could see both Mt Cook and Mt. Tasman in the distance, as well as reflected in the still waters of the lake, and the beautiful colours of sunrise in the sky. This was a lovely way to blow the cobwebs away from an early start in the dark.
Moving on from there we headed to ship creek, so named for the large number of ship wrecks that have occurred in that area. This was another area that the sand flies were attacking us – repellent was gratefully used and applied liberally – so we spent a load of time batting them away. This beach is known for having greenstone (pounamu) dotted around, amongst the grey stones. Often you can only see the beautiful green patina when wetted or polished so not so easy to find when just wandering around on a beach. A few of us had a look for a stone as a souvenir. All but Jonno and Al were back waiting at the bus – apparently Jonno took Al off to sample some of the native berries (yep still both alive!) – and while we were waiting the local fantail birds were having a feast with all the sand flies that were amassing around us. Was a pretty amazing experience watching this little bird fearlessly darting around us feasting on the flies. We were happy as it reduced the flies coming near us!
We carried on south, along SH6 and over the Haast bridge, the longest one way bridge in new Zealand – a whopping 737m long. Either you wait at one end for it to be clear or you have to use one of the passing places built into the bridge design. As we were in a bus with trailer we could pretty much just keep on going... Going through the Haast pass we got a perfect cloud free view of Mt Aspiring. This is also a rare occurrence so we were doing well with these amazing views. I even got a nice picture going over one of the bridges with the Haast River in the fore and Mt. Aspiring in the background. From there we stopped for a couple of waterfalls; thunder creek falls and fantail falls. In both cases Jonno decided to walk through the glacial water to get a ‘better’ picture - now we know why he wore shorts and all terrain sandals... ???? The water was the most amazing blue though. We had another stop at boundary creek on the shore of Lake Wanaka where we all wanted to try our hand at skimming stones – Christy started it quite early on in the tour and now most of us have been having a go – and admiring the beautiful view, especially as the Lake was still so had another lovely reflection picture opportunity.
We then carried on to Wanaka itself to see the most photographed tree in New Zealand.... This tree is growing in the lake itself. It was originally a post but it started growing and is now a tree on its own growing out of the water. From there we continued on to Queenstown, over the crown range and around at Cardrona and the distillery there. There was also Bradrona at the entrance where a fence is covered with bras, set up by New Zealand breast cancer foundation. None of us wished to donate a bra at this point. We (well the women) were all too attached to the ones they’d brought to give them up! We then popped into the distillery to taste the various malts they have... This is not just whisky we tried malt vodka, elderflower liqueur, orange liqueur, malt gin and also a whisky. All very interesting flavours – think elderflower liqueur was my preferred out of all of them, even though it was pretty high in the alcohol content! We were supposed to have had a stop, and possibly a drink, at the cardrona hotel, a 19th century hotel /pub, but unfortunately it was shut as we passed it so that plan was out of the window! Instead we drove through Arrowtown, an olde worlde style town on the outskirts of Queenstown, before arriving at our lodgings for the next 3 nights. After a walk into town for dinner, for some of us, we all pretty much crashed for the night knowing we were all having a couple of busy days.
The following day we were all doing different activities. There were people doing quad biking, skydiving, ledge bungee jumping, shotover jet, horse riding, cruising on ss earnslaw (steamboat) or shotover canyon fox and swing jumping. Others went up the gondola or just enjoyed looking around the town. My activities of choice were the earnslaw cruise and ‘gourmet’ bbq lunch in the morning followed by the fox and swing jumps in the afternoon! I was concerned that I was eating a big meal before throwing myself off the side of a cliff a couple of times which might limit my food intake but I wasn’t overly concerned!
A group of us headed down to the wharf in the morning to catch the steamboat. 2 of the group were only doing the cruise so they stayed on board once we docked at Walter’s Peak and the rest of us trouped off.. We were then treated to a sheep shearing and rounding up show... Feisty little lamb being sheared kept making his displeasure known and kicked around a lot. Lots of oooing and ahhing from the Chinese contingent... Think it must have been their first close up sighting of a lamb, and one being sheared! Eventually he was sheared and put back in his pen. Then on to the rounding up. His short haired collie also elicited some oohs and ahs from the crowd, especially when she easily jumped over the fence into the field with the sheep. They did their thing and brought in 4 of the 5 lambs in the field – Mr. No. 5 was not having any of it and kept away from the crowd so was left in the field. From there we were ushered to the main house (we were confused as we thought we’d be going on a farm tour before the meal but apparently it was just the farm show and then the meal) and seated at our reserved table. The food was buffet style and so much of it. Almost too much to choose from without being completely glutinous (still thinking of the afternoon activities at this point!). Had little bits of everything I liked the look of. The meat was cooked beautifully and there were various roast veggies, salads, breads, cheeses and dessert to sample... As it was a beautiful day most people waited outside our had a look around the gift shop for the steamer to come back and pick us up.
I had a 15 min window between scheduled docking time in Queenstown and check in time for the afternoon activities. Just my luck that the boat was running late... Thankfully the distance between the 2 places was all of a 3 minute fast walk so still made it in time but had made sure I was first off the boat and not caught up amongst the masses disembarking... Checking in was easy enough and having to be weighed again with a dodgy shark (looked like a starfish with teeth and an eye tbh!) drawn on my hand to help the guys up on the swings know what adjustments need to be made etc. After that we all bungled in the transfer bus and off we went. Some were doing the swing first, some doing swing only, and 3 of us doing fox first. These jumps were just incredible. The fox is basically a zip line with a 5m drop at the start before zipping across the canyon. How you leave the side is up to you. One guy ran and flipped, the other ran and supermanned (his words, claims it was intentional and not a failed flip!). I opted for a reverse forwards, where I gave them the control of letting go and I couldn’t see when I was going to be released... The 5m drop was over in a blink of the eye and then I was zipping across the canyon. We then came back over on another line and headed to the shop to look at the photos before going on to the swing jump area.
Back into another harness and time to think about how I want to jump off a platform and drop 60m before going for a swing over the river...! I decided to go backwards again but this time I’ll be leaning backwards, being held on by the guys by the harness, and he’ll just let go and I’ll fall! It was amazing. The fall was over so quickly I didn’t have time to think about it and then I was swinging at the bottom, about 20m above the river. After a few swings I was then winched back up to the platform. We had also been told of a special offer of a second swing for only $20. After doing the first one I decided that a second one was in order. As I had done the first one backwards I was challenged to do the second one forwards. The other 2 decided to do a pindrop style so I thought I might as well join them. This involved holding your hands behind your back for the whole drop, bending forward til heels come off and then jumping sidewards and dropping! Pictures and videos were bought as proof....
That evening most of us headed back into town to try the infamous Fergburger burgers. Sweet bambi (venison) burger was mighty tasty, and also incredibly large! A place I’d recommend for anyone visiting Queenstown. The following day was going to be an early start for our visit to Doubtful Sound.....

Posted by Labgirluk 15:20 Archived in New Zealand Tagged waterfalls wanaka lake_wanaka steamboat sheep_shearing fergburger shotover_canyon_fox shotover_canyon_swing ss_earnslaw cardrona_distillery haast_bridge Comments (0)

New Zealand - part 3

Christchurch to Franz Josef

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View Around the world in a few months! on Labgirluk's travel map.


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Well it started off well. We were all on board and seatbelts on, ready to leave on time. Then the engines got shut down and we were told that we’d be taking on some people from a cancelled flight to Timaru... Once they’d boarded we’d all settled back in only to be told we were waiting for one more transferred passenger... After a few minutes a clearly unhappy captain came on the system and apologised as there had been a miss-communication and said last person wasn’t, in fact, coming on board... We eventually took off an hour later than scheduled... The weather was clear so had a lovely view of the east coast and got a few shots of the snow-capped mountains in the background and the sea in the fore.
Once in Christchurch we set off as soon as we’d collected bags and loaded the bus/trailer and headed north to Kaikoura. We had a quick stop in Cheviot to grab some lunch and then carried on to Kaikoura. After checking in to our lodgings for the night, The White Morph, we headed out to South Bay to do a little headland walk, ending at Keen’s point. Here, there were seals just resting on the boardwalk or in the grass just by where you walk. Don’t get too close or they may bark, or worse, at you... But generally they just lay there enjoying their rest and ignoring the fact that everyone had to walk around them. We all headed out for dinner to a place called ‘The Whaler’. Food was pretty good.
The following morning 3 off us headed out to air kaikoura aero club airfield, while others went off to go swimming with dolphins or whale watching by boat. Of the 3 of us, 1 was whale watching by plane. The other 2, of which I was one of those, were going to be piloting a plane... After being weighed (really didn’t like that but it was necessary) the pilot and I headed to the little 2 seater plane and got settled in, strapped in and headphones on. The pilot was doing the take off and landing but after showing me what to do let me control the plane and fly around over the Kaikoura area. It was an amazing feeling but the controls were so sensitive and, with it being a light plane, any changes in wind and air pockets meant you were constantly adjusting height and keeping the wings level. Too soon it was time to hand over controls and come in to land. He landed the plane on the grass runway as it’s gentler on the tyres and a softer landing for us. As a result of this I now have a certificate and 0.4hrs that can logged if I want to consider learning to fly.
After being dropped back into town I gave in and bought myself a down jacket (had hoped to get away with multiple layers but that wasn’t working) and then a quick tasty lunch from Asian Taste (a little cabin but good food) before all meeting up to head on to our next stop off the tour.
Back on the road after lunch and heading southwards to go to Hanmer Spring, turning off to go via Waiau and Marble Point Winery for a quick wine tasting. Some of the wines weren’t to my taste (Riesling and red were def not my cup of tea, sav blanc was ok and same for chardonnay), but the honey mead/wine and manuka honey liqueur were definitely more to my liking! Back on the road we passed through Rotherham (extremely small village and nothing like where I live!) and eventually arrived in Hanmer Springs.
Jonno had kindly offered to cook for us so those that wanted to went across the road to the Hanmer Springs thermal pools... This was bliss. The pools were large and different ones had different temperatures and properties. I ended up spending most of my time in the Hexagonal pool – temp of approx 38-40c and a high mineral mix – leaving my skin super soft and me majorly chilled out...
The following morning we were up and out at a decent time so that we could travel over to Franz Josef. As the weather looked good Jonno decided we would go over Arthur’s pass rather than Lewis pass. It would take a little bit longer but the views were worth it. We had some cloud as we left but we were rewarded with it lifting as we travelled. After driving back to state highway 1 and heading towards Christchurch we turned off at Amberley and headed across towards the west coast. Randomly we passed through Oxford and then a few kilometres later Sheffield. In both cases blink and you’d miss them, unlike the UK ones... We did stop at Springfield for a group photo with the giant doughnut... Once on the west coast we had a quick stop at hokitika to have a nosey at the greenstone shops, then Ross, an ex gold mining town. Unfortunately, due to it being a Sunday nothing was open for us to have a look around. We did the obligatory group shot in the giant picture frame and Al, one of the guys in our group, ‘volunteered’ to go in the stocks and be photographed....
On the outskirts of Franz Josef we had a quick detour to the beach at Okarito to watch the sunset. Had to slap on the bug repellent as there were a few sand flies around – not as many as expected but still enough! We arrived at the Rainforest Retreat and checked in before heading to the on site resort bar/restaurant for dinner and a few drinks – had to make the most of happy hour and a late start the following day...
The following day everyone got ready for their various activities. Some went up for a scenic helicopter flight, some quad biking, some heli hiking and others just going for walks around the area. I opted for the heli hike.... A 3 hour hike up on the glacier, after being helicoptered up there, and then down back down after. You can no longer walk up the glacier after the landslide took out the road to get to the base. They made the decision that the only way to get up there now is by helicopter. After getting togged up in waterproof trousers and jacket we then got socks, boots and carry bag. Hat and gloves were also added if required. In the bag were the crampons we’d need to be able to walk on the ice and not fall on our butts all the time!
We were a group of 11, with 7 being from our tour group, and were taken up to the start point in 2 helicopters. We were told, while waiting to come down, that the guides have to create and maintain the heli pad themselves. Only allowed 6 new heli pads a year, due to their destructive nature – creating a flat area big enough to land a helicopter and not catch the rotors on overhead ice is not good for the glacier so they’re limited to the number of new ones they can create. There was another group ahead of us and one behind us. Once on the ice it was time to put the crampons on. Easy enough to put on but harder to remember you have an extra inch in height in the form of spikes. You need to lift your leg slightly higher than normal to walk or climb steps. Thankfully a pole was also supplied to help us as well as hints and tips on how best to walk in crampons. After the group was all sorted we were off. Up a few steps and then we see the first bit.. Down some steps into a crevasse and then steps up the other side. For any parts they felt we’d need extra help they had added a rope hand rail. At times this was gratefully used, in addition to the pole.
We walked through narrow gaps, under arches, slid down through a hole with steps in the other side as well as walking on the top of the ice. We even walked past a small waterfall where it was melting higher up and making its way down the ice to the river below. We had a short break on a flat area for snack time... Here, there were ice covered puddles of water but we had a bit more freedom walking around than up until then. In some places we had to follow the steps of the guide pretty closely to ensure we walked on the solid ice... After our break we carried on and started to head back towards the helipad. While having a break and chat we heard very loud rumbling. Over on the other side of the glacier, near the top, there was a large rockfall happening. Big dust cloud resulted but didn’t come near us. Someone radio’d our guide asking about the rockfall location (normally on other side of glacier, nearer where we were walking, so this was a rare sighting seeing one in the right hand cliff face) and then asked if he’d got any good photos of it!
From there we headed back down into the crevasses to make our way back to the start. In the past they used to do a ‘there and back’ route but that caused problems getting groups past each other so they changed to a loop route – also means we got experience more of the glacier too. The ice in places was so blue, and in other white, all depending on time of year the ice was formed, or whether it was water or snow created, angle of ice etc. We were also told that the glacier moves up to a metre a week in winter but up to 1 metre a day in summer... This means that in winter every week new routes have to be set up and steps created but in summer that is a daily check and reset of steps etc as required. Even on our hike the guide was having to pick axe at the steps to improve them or widen gaps we were walking through.
The whole experience was just amazing. Originally I was only going to go on a scenic flight. Thankfully I, well Jonno, managed to get it cancelled and changed to this. Hadn’t been on my bucket list but it rapidly got added....
Once back down at base and divested of all the gear some of us headed into the hot pools for a bit of relaxation before dinner.
This trip has certainly been one roller-coaster of new and amazing experiences... And this isn’t the end of it....

Posted by Labgirluk 11:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sunset sunrise hanmer_springs kaikoura franz_josef hot_pools piloting arthur's_pass snow_capped_mountains Comments (0)

New Zealand - part 2

Auckland to Wellington

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View Around the world in a few months! on Labgirluk's travel map.


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Arrived at the hotel, still raining, and checked in. Nice enough hotel, Ramada, and eventually met my room mate for the night. She’d arrived from the UK that morning so was still getting over her jet lag… We all met up in the hotel lobby in the evening to meet our CEO, chief experience officer (as named by G Adventures), Jonno and the rest of the group. There are 16 of us ranging from mid 20s to 70s. Some are solo travellers, some married couples and some family pairs (sisters and father/son) so a total mix really. From there we headed to Elliot Stables, a food court type place with lots of different cuisine options but they bring it to the table and thankfully ours was reserved as it was busy. As I was so stuffed from the late lunch in titirangi I opted for the healthy dinner of cider and smoothie! Was tasty all the same…
The following day saw us leave Auckland and start our way south towards our lodgings for the night in hahei. We stopped for lunch at tairua and then carried on to our lodgings, tatahi Lodge, and checked in before we went out, dropping off the majority of the group to go on a boat ‘tour’ to cathedral cove – it says tour but it’s a tour in a speed boat dipping in and out of the coves between hahei beach and cathedral cove. 4 of us opted to take the walk to the cove and back. Luckily I was in shorts and sandals so I could go paddling and walk through the archway to cathedral cove as the tide was high enough to soak people’s legs if they got the timing wrong, but low enough that I could paddle through even if I got the timing wrong… Once back at the resort it was time to change into swimwear and grab a shovel. We were off to dig ourselves a pool at hot water beach…..! Yep, we were literally digging out the sand to make a shallow pool that the water welled up into from underground. The trick was finding a geothermal outlet but not digging completely on top otherwise the water was too hot. You needed to dig a cool bit to one side too so that the hot mixed with the cool to make a temp you were comfy with.. Easier said than done. Using a previously dug one did help somewhat but some were just too hot to even dip a toe in! We got there at dusk so saw a lovely sunset and then headed back in the dark. A quick shower to rince off salt and sand and then to ‘the pourhouse’ for dinner, all of a 2 min walk from where we were staying.
Tuesday morning saw us leave about 8am – Jonno had told us we’d be having some early starts but this was a lie-in compared to some early starts I’ve had over last couple of months! – back over some hills and headed to Rotorua. We stopped on the way at Paeroa (famous for L&P – lemon & Paeroa, a lemon flavoured spring water drink from that town!) to get a group photo in front of a giant bottle of said drink and then Matamata for lunch. This is the closest town to Hobbiton and their info centre is designed on a hobbit house. Unfortunately, due to lack of time (and extortionate cost) we didn’t go there but was a good photo stop all the same.
On arrival at Rotorua those going rafting were picked up by their company and those going zip lining were also collected. The rest were having a wander around town or going for a walk in a redwood forest. I opted for zip lining. Could only fit in the original tour with our timings but still, 6 lines and 2 bridges plus a nice bit of a nature walk including highly informative conservation talk, was a good afternoon out! The reserve we were zip lining in (Dansey Scenic Reserve) is a virgin native reserve, which means it has never been logged or cut down. Some of those trees were seriously big…. And boy, was it fun… think I may need to find some more of these to do, either while travelling or once back home. The first 2 lines we could only launch in a normal manner (forwards) but were encouraged to let the arms go and lean back etc while zooming across amongst the trees. Between 1st and 2nd lines we also had a bridge to cross. Quite a long one and quite wobbly. Being harnessed to a guide wire was definitely reassuring.
3rd line was the longest one at 220m. This one started from a massive kauri tree. The platform was about halfway up! For this one they were encouraging us to launch backwards, ideally without arms holding on to the harness straps, and lean back to admire the tree. Ideally we were supposed to then look down at something but I kinda forgot as I was having too much fun leaning back! Had a little nature walk where we saw a pretty rare blue mushroom – only out for about a week – and I got to feed a North Island Robin before we moved on to line number 4. From here we had a little bridge to cross. No hand wires this time and also a photo op while proving the wires and harnesses are truly safe. Yep, we moved to halfway on the bridge, turned to the side, leaned back, straightened our legs, and posed! A few of us did do one leg off poses, and one of the guys turned around and leaned forward on his harness.. After this a quick line number 5 and then the last one to bring us back down to ground.. For this one we were challenged to go upside down.. I managed to get ¾ of way there but couldn’t get completely upside down but not far off – if it had been a longer run I would have tried again. A couple of them manage to get upside down. The ultimate aim was upside down and no hands – only the guides managed that, and even then Charlie nearly lost her rucksack when she went upside down – she cleverly caught it though!
From Rotorua we made our way to the Tamaki Maori village, where not only would we be spending the evening at their dinner and show event but also staying overnight. The experience was out of this world and the welcome, information and show was incredible, not to mention humbling. As we were staying overnight we had some afternoon tea with traditional fry bread, kind of like a doughnut but you cut it in half and have jam and cream with it like a scone! We also had to sing a welcome song. As we had no idea what to sing Jonno taught us a maori kindergarten song – basically the maori version of run rabbit, run rabbit! I think they did very well not corpsing with laughter at our attempt to be honest… We were also told that as the overnighters we had to sing a song to those just coming for the evening. We were then taught another kids song where they learn the vowels. We also had to learn some hand actions! From there we were taken to our sleeping quarters – one room for all 16 of us…. We were told about the meaning of the woodwork on the outside and the reasoning behind no shoes inside the building.
We grabbed some warm top layers and followed the hosts to the village entry where we were treated to the welcome. At this point we weren’t allowed to smile, laugh, move, although we were allowed to take photos. Once the welcome was over we moved on and learnt about different aspects of the maori culture, from tattoos, housing, cooking over hot rocks (saw our dinner come out of the ‘oven’) , learning games, and other such facts. Once we’d learnt all this we moved indoors to the dinner part. All the hot food had been cooked in the hot rock pits – lamb, chicken, potatoes, stuffing, veggies, corn. All very tasty.
Once dinner was over and we’d not yet sung we thought we’d got away with it, but no.. We were asked to come up and sing the vowel song to the rest of the room. Trying not to laugh was the hardest part I think… Thankfully we were treated to a couple of songs by the staff afterwards so this eclipsed our efforts. The maori race all seem to have beautiful singing voices. Must be something genetic as not one couldn’t sing amazingly. This signalled the end of the evening for the non overnighters and they all trouped back to their coaches and went back to wherever they were staying. We were then free for the rest of the evening, to either go to bed or head to the hot tubs – either standard one with bubbles or a geo thermal style one.
The following morning we had a quick breakfast and then we were off – the long drive day down to Wellington via waiotapu and the thermal wonderland (stinky, hot and acidic at times but amazing) followed by the lady knox geyser. We stopped at taupo for lunch and then otaki to watch the sunset from the beach before getting into Wellington about 6.30. We stayed at the CQ Hotel in Cuba street, a new hotel to the gadventures tour, so we checked in, grabbed our raincoats (chucking it down) and headed out to dinner at the flying burrito brothers.
Our final day on the North Island was a ‘free’ day and most opted to keep it low key. In the morning jonno took us on an orientation tour of the city which ended at the start of the cable car that went to the top of the botanical gardens. I opted for this. What I hadn’t realised was that the gardens are on a slope and not the flat area at the top, that I had anticipated. They were also smaller than I thought so walking around was quicker but still tiring with all the ups and downs. After this I caught the cable car back down and went to the Te Papa museum. This is the museum of New Zealand so covered all aspects from extinct birds/animals, Maoris, immigration, creation of the country etc. My quiet day wasn’t quite so quiet by the end of it. Dinner was at Bresolin, a restaurant just down the road. It specialises in slow cooked meats and between the others beef brisket, lamb shoulder and pork belly were sampled.
This ended our visit to the North Island. The next stage – flying from Wellington to Christchurch and the south island…

Posted by Labgirluk 13:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged auckland wellington hahei te_papa hot_water_beach waiotapu rotorua_canopy_tour tamaki_maori_village lady_knox_geyser Comments (0)

New Zealand - part 1 (yep gonna have a few of these too!)

Chilling with the family - Mangawhai and North shore, Auckland

sunny 22 °C
View Around the world in a few months! on Labgirluk's travel map.


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So the plane landed an hour late, I had to declare my boots as I'd been hiking in them in Australia, and also that I'd been touching/handling animals other than domestic cats and dogs. The boots got checked and all bags sent through the x-ray machine; the animal handling they didn't even ask about!
Met my great aunt Michelle (my dad’s uncle’s wife), who had kindly agreed to let me stay with her for the few days between arriving in New Zealand and the start of my next tour. She lives up near Mangawhai (pronounced mangafai) on the auckland/northland border so meant I could visit an area that wasn’t included in my tour. As she was off on a hunt over the weekend we had a few days to visit the northland area and then I’d be heading to my cousin’s (well my dad’s cousin) who lives nearer Auckland City for the weekend before heading to the hotel for the tour start.
On the Monday we didn’t get home till 3am so a lie in was in order and a rest day was very welcome. Michelle lives on a farm so got to meet many of the animals as I wandered around. We also headed into the nearby town of Wellsford to get a few essentials – namely a NZ sim card so I was back in contact with the world and not reliant just on WiFi and then had a quick drive around of the local area. It was pretty but as the tide was out some of the views weren’t as spectacular as they could have been. The highlight was the visit to the local chocolate shop, Bennetts. Some seriously good chocolate there, especially their 42 degrees below variety (feijoa fruit liqueur in a white chocolate case).
Tuesday saw us head into Warkworth as Michelle had a full morning of dog grooming on. This was a lovely little town set alongside a river, but was weird seeing a street sign for Alnwick street. There was also a sign indicating all the other Warkworth’s it was associated to, including the one down the road from my friends in Northumberland... I headed for a mooch around the shops before going for a walk along the river. At times it really felt like I was back in UK as the trees were losing their leaves rather than the bark, like in Australia.. It’s definitely autumn here, even though I was still in shorts and strappy t-shirt and rather warm... After lunch we headed to some friends of Michelle’s who’d invited us around for afternoon tea (well lemonade in my case) and cake. A rather lovely house with an amazing view and a tasty cake was eaten, along with some gossip and a good chat... That evening I cooked. I was making stroganoff again but with beef mince. This time I checked that the paprika in the cupboard was the correct version and not the hot version that I’d accidentally used in Tasmania! No desire to blow heads off again! Thankfully this one was a success and went down well...
Wednesday saw us heading north towards the Bay of Islands via a stop a Whangarei, a walk around the harbour – and a nice ice cream on the way around - and a stop at Kawakawa to admire the Hunterwasser designed toilets! From there we drove to Opua and caught the car ferry across the water to Russell. You can drive there but it takes quite a bit longer so we opted for the quick car ferry route. Once docked we drove into Russell and found somewhere to park up. We had been recommended to have lunch at the Duke of Marlborough so off we went. Food was OK but probably not worth the cost. The view was good as we were looking over the bay. We had a little walk around and then went for a drive to long beach and then headed up to the flagstaff lookout for a lovely view of the Bay of Islands. Once we had visited everything we wanted to we headed back to the car ferry and back to Opua so we could go to our lodgings for the night – the very comfy spare rooms at some friends of Michelle (and she has many of them). We settled in and got changed for a meal out in Paihia to celebrate her friend Wendy’s birthday. We went to a restaurant called Charlotte’s Kitchen, right at the end of the wharf. Food was good too and good company.
Thursday morning saw us heading back to Paihia to go out on a 3 hour cruise around the Bay of Islands. Within 45 mins of leaving we encountered the promised dolphins – bottlenose ones – happily swimming in front of the catamaran. We even got to see a mum with 2 young, one of which seemed intent on nipping its sibling’s tail fin, while still cruising in front of the boat. No acrobatics though... We were shown various islands and areas of interest before heading out to the ‘hole in the rock’. If the conditions are right the boat can make it through the hole but unfortunately for us the wind direction meant that there would have been a high chance of the boat being splatted against the nasty looking rocks at the entrance. Instead we got to see masses of fish just below the surface (eating some surface algae I think) – quite an incredible sight. I stood up the front of the boat during the cruise back to Paihia and saw lots of other birds diving for fish etc. All very beautiful and a lovely morning out on the water.
Once back on land we went to find a quick bite to eat before heading back home. Michelle had been a tad seasick on the cruise (!) so let me drive home... I did rather enjoy that! Once home we fed the animals (2 pigs, 7 goats, 2 horses, 3 miniature horses, 3 cats, 4 dogs and a whole bunch of chickens) before collapsing on the sofa for the evening – well till another of Michelle’s friends turned up. She stayed for dinner so some more chatting was done over dinner.
Friday was lie in morning while Michelle groomed a dog, then we took her horse truck to be fixed (another jaunt in her car) before coming back and heading out on the quad bike to check on the cows.. Was great fun being a quad bike passenger but very bouncy... Fixed a fence in a couple of places where the cows had managed to push their way through (tasty grass on the other side) before feeding the animals, collecting the horse truck, packing the horse truck and finishing my packing.. Michelle was heading off hunting at the weekend so had arranged with a cousin (well 2nd cousin really – she’s dad’s cousin who he’s never met), who lived on outskirts of Auckland, for me to stay there for a couple of days.
We travelled down to Orewa, where we met Lisa, had dinner (nice Thai place we found), swapped my bags from one car to the other and then I headed off into the unknown with a new relative... Home for the next 2 nights was in the area of Unsworth heights on the North shore of Auckland with Colin, Lisa and their gorgeous German shepherd, Hood.
On Saturday we had a drive around, had a coffee with one of their sons (Mat), and stopped at one tree hill, within Cornwall Park, for a walk up and look out over Auckland and surrounding area. Currently it’s multiple tree hill as some person decided to hack at the one tree that was there and killed it so there are a few trees growing and will be cut back to just the one again once they’ve grown to the correct size. Once up high you can see the layout and how all the other hills are ex volcanoes.. Not a lot else to visit so we headed home, vegged in the hot tub for a while with a drink and then had a tasty roast for a very late dinner..
Sunday morning was a lie in/veg day as it was chucking it down outside. Nearly opted for another veg out in the hot tub but we decided that we should go out and do a bit more sightseeing while in the area. This time we headed over to the west coast (not very far in this part of nz to be honest!) and piha. No getting out of the car nor picture taking as the weather was just plain miserable. A late lunch was had at Park Road Kitchen in Titirangi. Extremely nice food and very filling too.
This ended my chill out time and time to be dropped off at the hotel in the city centre for the start of my next tour...

Posted by Labgirluk 11:38 Archived in New Zealand Tagged auckland one_tree_hill dolphins paihia northland bay_of_islands piha russell whangarei mangawhai hole_in_the_rock Comments (0)

Australia - part 13

Darwin and Sydney - the end of my Aussie tour

all seasons in one day 25 °C
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So the organised tours were over for Australia. I had booked a couple extra days in Darwin to chill before heading to Sydney for a few days. Denisa had an extra day and Mette 3 days. This meant we all had a bit longer together before we separated and went our different ways. I had to move hostels as I’d booked a different one for the extra 2 nights (at point of booking hadn’t known where I’d be staying for the last night of the tour but wish I could have stayed in same place) so I packed up and moved across the road (quite literally) to dump my bags and then headed back to the yha to meet up with the other 2. We decided that it was a chill out day and hit the few shops Darwin had in the city centre! With the temperature and humidity it was hard work doing anything much...
Denisa found a shop she fell in love with and bought a couple of dresses, I found a souvenir shop to get a postcard (friend from previous tours wanted one of Darwin so I got one for her) and Mette found some boots she wanted (well had to order them in but she’d have them in a couple of days time – a bit quicker than we’d been led to believe how NT works (there is a saying that NT stands for ‘not today, not tomorrow, not Tuesday, not Thursday and never on time)..
From there we headed back to our respective hostels and collapsed for rest of day. The air conditioning was bliss. I headed to the pool for a bit but then retreated to the air con’d bedroom.. I’m def not cut out for hot and humid... ????
The following day, 1st May so technically the start of the dry season, started with rain! Still warm though but sent the humidity through the roof. We headed back towards the waterfront as there was beach volleyball on the beach at the lagoon. Unfortunately the rain made it non spectator friendly so they idea was abandoned. We looked at the wave lagoon but decided against that to coz of the weather... Ah well, back to the shops it was!
I found some lovely natural soap (avoiding buying some more shower gel and trying natural product instead), Denisa succumbed to a jacket she’d keen in love with the day before (same shop as dresses – cotton on. Not a bad shop) and then we had a look in the aboriginal art galleries... Uh oh! That was my downfall.. So not only am I the proud owner of 2 smaller pieces of art bought down at uluru I am now the soon to be owner of a large piece of original artwork (being shipped to my parents for ease). The TV will never go on the wall above the fireplace now... ???? I just fell in love with it and couldn’t resist.... I also had to go back to the hostel to get my outdoor credit card to pay for it too. We found a nice pub on the way that did a very reasonably priced meal plus drink to keep us going....
After that we were shopped out... We said bye to Denisa and saw her off on the airport shuttle for her next adventure - back to Bali. Just Mette and I left... We headed over to the beach to watch the sunset. We found a nice spot on the grass above the beach at Cullen Bay and saw the sun setting over the sea. Quite a few clouds but it made for an amazing light show over the water...
My last day in Darwin was a short one as my airport airport was at 12. Got up and checked out earlyish (using the lovely free luggage storage facility at the hostel) and headed across the road to crocosaurus cove. A pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Even got to hold another snake (getting a liking for this), a blue tongued lizard and stroked a baby croc (wasn’t paying to hold it and have a photo with it). Saw them feeding big crocs, barramundi, manta rays (so cute as they come right up and out to take the fish from the handler) and watched people go in the ‘cage of death’ – a glass tube that the person is inside and is dropped into one of the croc pens. They then wake the croc up and entice it closer to the tube with food. You’re safe in the tube and can go under water with goggles or face mask on to see croc swimming around you... Also Burt, the croc from croc Dundee is also a resident here (about 80 now they reckon) so another croc Dundee link during my time outback... Met Mette while there so got to say bye to her again.
The journey to the airport was fun as listening to the driver discuss the various pick ups with base and other drivers. No idea what had gone on but it was amusing listening to them trying to figure out who was picking up from where... Checking in was fine and boarding all went to plan.... Until someone noticed that a row of seats was wobbly. Maintenance came on to check it out, decided they didn’t have the parts to hand so we all disembarked while they raided the Qantas maintenance door for the required parts. Thankfully we were all back on board and ready to go an hour after we should have left!
Sydney Airport train link was easy to deal with and same goes for buying an opal card. Much cheaper than buying the journey as a single, espec as I knew I’d be using it whilst in Sydney. After a 10 min train ride to Central, it was a quick walk to the wake up hostel. Getting out of the station prob took the longest as they’re doing works on it so areas were shut off and it was fun trying to figure out the exit required, and then how to get to it! I now know how to find my way around that station! Headed to my room (7th floor 10 bed mixed sex dorm) and just pretty much crashed.
Decided to go to taronga zoo on the Friday. A quick 3 stop train ride (double decker trains and so smooth) and I was at circular quay. I’d bought my ticket online the night before so I headed straight for the zoo ferry and crossed the harbour to the zoo. As I’d already got my ticket I could take the sky safari (cable car) to the top and the zoo entrance. The zoo is on a hill so you start at the top and work your way back down to the ferry. Clever! What I hadn’t factored in was the amount it was going to rain! No umbrella, no rain coat, no plastic bag in the bag to keep everything dry. Only bonus was that I’d thought I might head to Manly so had packed my swim stuff and, more importantly, a towel! Managed to watch the bird show from under a tree but then resorted to buying a poncho from the shop. Unintended souvenir but nevertheless another souvenir and a useful one too... Due to the weather and it being a Friday it was quite quiet too. The animals were cute and it was weird seeing so many that I’d so recently seen in the wild.. From there I headed back to the city on the ferry and caught a train back to the hostel so I could dry out...
Saturday was a lovely dry sunny day. Decided to walk down to the quay and get the ferry over to Manly before heading back for my ultimate experience – twilight harbour bridge climb! The beach was lovely and the water fairly warm (well it was when I paddled in it!) and plenty were surfing. I just had a nice chilled walk and sit down before heading back to the city on the ferry. Needing to be well fed and watered before climbing I resorted to a quick fix – MacDonald’s! Not proud but a necessity for being quick and easy... Then it was time to go get ready for my climb.
The group all get togged up in a jumpsuit, I got a glasses lanyard, clipped on to jumpsuit, baseball cap (also clipped on to jumpsuit) before putting a harness on. After that we had a fleece and raincoat clipped on to the harness and finally a radio with head set. We then had to have a practise going up and down the near vertical steps, making sure person in front is off before you start. Then it was the off. Up some steps to get to the walkway to take us to the start of the climb – this takes us under the roadway from the Bridgeclimb centre to the start of the steel work part of the bridge, on the east side of the bridge. We had the extra of entertainment below of a taco and tequila festival with some very dodgy wrestling going on! At the end of this we crossed over stepping over bits and making sure to duck our heads too. Then we got to the section with the near vertical steps that took us outside and the main bridge arch.
The arch itself was an easy walk up, with regular stops for photos and information about what we could see. Think we had one of the best guides (Mitch) as he was highly amusing and extremely un-pc! We laughed most of the time we were up there.. ???? At the top we crossed over to the other side, had a bit more of a chat, and then headed back down, with another photo stop on the way. Back down the near vertical steps and along the walkway on the west side, back past the dodgy wrestlers (hadn’t got any better in that time) and then crossed over back to the east side and back into the climb centre. In all we were there for 3 hours. Once I get to a computer I’ll download the photos I bought and upload them. Some of them are classics...!
As Sydney decided this weekend was the weekend to do track works the closest station was shut so a little evening walk to the next one was in order. A quick train back to the hostel, packing and crashing was the order of the evening...
My last day in Australia... Checked out and put luggage in storage at the hostel and headed on foot down to the harbour. This time all stations were shut and also out to the airport. Had to factor in the replacement bus service to my timings – so glad I checked it the night before so was forewarned. Walked through some of The Rocks Market, spending some money on the way(!), before heading to the pylon lookout at the harbour end east side pylon. We’d been given a complimentary ticket at the bridge climb so wasn’t wasting that! 200 steps later and I was at the top and had a fab view of Sydney and the harbour as well as the bridge. Could even see some people climbing it... Was nice to see what I’d done the night before.
Once back down headed back towards the rocks and the rest of the market. And, as per usual when I forget my raincoat, it chucked it down! I found a nice restaurant doing a special offer on waygu beef cheese burgers – aussie style. Fitting for my last meal out in Australia I thought.
Thankfully I opted to head back to the hostel early as the bus replacement service was heaving – both the one back to Central and then the one out to the airport... Eventually made it, checked in (remembering the whole small liquid thing – not having had to do that for 2 months while travel around Australia) and headed for the airport lounge, as I’d booked myself into the Sydney one since I enjoyed the Heathrow one so much. Thanks go to moneysavingexpert for the discount code... ☺️
Think my run of good luck with the flights must have ended just before the Darwin to Sydney flight. This one was late in, so we were late out and then sat for ages waiting for a take off slot... Cue one late take off, and one late arrival..
But bye bye Australia and hello New Zealand....

Posted by Labgirluk 23:33 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney darwin crocosaurus_cove the_rocks_market harbour_bridgeclimb Comments (0)

Australia - part 12

Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks, NT

sunny 36 °C
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After our well earned day off we (Mette, Denisa and I) were up and out early for a 6.40am pick up. We had to check out of our room and put our luggage in the hostel storage – another small bag trip but as this was the third one we’d perfected the packing-ish – think Denisa was traumatised by all the packing and repacking we were having to do. I just opted to hardly unpack and just swap dirty for clean clothes. Most of the time you needed the same stuff so just had to find clean versions... ????
This time a big 4wd bus turned up with a trailer.. Once on we realised that 2 already on the bus were on our previous tour.. They’d booked last minute. Thankfully this time we were only 13 in a 17 seater so we weren’t squished like sardines, and there was more leg room too.
We headed back down the Stuart Highway but this time turned off on to the Arnhem highway and aimed for Kakadu National Park. This tour would see us doing only a mere 960km over the 3 days and based around 3 highways with diverts off to visit the various places. We stopped at Corroboree Park tavern before we got to the national park to say hello to Annaburroo, the albino buffalo (named after the area she was found in). We also got to see first hand the sheer number of wild wallabies in the area. We’d see them constantly over the next few days, as well as the whistling kites overhead.
At the entrance to the park we stopped for the obligatory shot at the big sign to prove we were really there – Mon, our tour guide, maintained no photo, no proof of being there... As we went over South Alligator creek we had our first, but no means last, sighting of a wild crocodile – just floating in the middle of the creek (big wide one that we went over on a bridge). Usually they’re nearer the edge but he (say he coz it was a big’un) was just slap bang in the middle.
We continued on for a while looking at the scenery and wildlife spotting (or just plain sleeping in some people’s case!) and headed for ubirr and some aboriginal rock art, all pretty old and amazing to see, and a breath-taking lookout – the views were incredible and apparently it is the spot that Mick Dundee went to when he ‘made a call’ in Crocodile Dundee 1! On the return back down we had a quick bite to eat (do it yourself sarnies as per the other tours) and then headed to the warradjan cultural centre at cooinda, via the kakadu highway (3rd highway we’d be travelling on) for a look around before driving round the corner to our campsite for the night. This time we were in tents. These ones are permanent ones raised off the ground slightly and with proper beds, mattresses and power (bedside light and fan). This is a permanent campsite within a campsite that the tour company has set up.
We all headed to the pool while Mon sorted tea (felt guilty not helping but she was happy on her own). Some of us managed to find a quiet smaller pool rather than the bigger main one the rest of the group went to. It was also where all the families staying at the resort were going to so our little pool remained child free and not busy. Dinner was a nice and simple chicken and veg stir fry (bbq style). Some went to the pub afterwards but I opted to stay back and catch up on blog writing.... I was getting so far behind.
The following morning we had an early start as we were off on a crocodile cruise on Yellow water. All we had to do was get up and dressed by 6.15 as we would be having breakfast when we got back... Practically a lie-in for us! Normally the tour guide would take us to the boat dock but due to the amount of water on the road the boat company ferried us from the resort to the boats. We settled in our seats and gently moved out onto the water and soon enough we had our next sighting of a crocodile, but before that we saw the iconic Jabiru bird, native to these parts of Australia, in what should have been the car park but was currently under water... The boat driver/guide brought us in close to the croc, which didn’t seem at all phased about us being there and staring at it, and we all took our photos. As we went around looking for more crocs all the birds and plants were being pointed out too. Lotus lilies, snowflake lilies, melaleuca trees, pandanus aquatica, sea eagles, egrets, whistling ducks, honking geese, lily pad waders (inc chicks) as well as the crocodiles. We were also shown a crocodile’s nest with potential mummy croc close by keeping an eye on it. They’re not sure if it’s a real nest or a phantom pregnancy nest due to the unusual weather they had recently. Only time will tell...
After a lovely couple of hours on the water we headed back to the campsite and breakfast. We then put our swimmers on as today was a swimming day at the bottom of gunlom falls; a nice path for about 2/3rds of walk there and then a scramble over the rocks to get up, and then down, to the pool. We went to the Upper pool as it has a nice waterfall coming into the pool and can get a free shoulder massage once you get under the water flow. There was a def knack in getting into place but once there a ledge under water meant you could wedge yourself into place... The water then flowed over the edge of the 2nd pool and managed to get a couple of ‘infinity pool’ shots. Just waiting to get them from Mon, who took them for us on her phone. They have the view of kakadu in the background.
Eventually we had to get out and head back, scrambling back down the rocks to get to the path. If we’d dried ourselves off at the pool we were wet again but the time we got to the bus – the heat and humidity was horrible at times. One late lunch was eaten and then back on the road to head to Mount bundy, our next campsite. On the way we stopped at pine creek (we had also stopped there on the way to darwin for one of their home made ice creams) and sampled another of their ice creams (mango this time, strawberry and white chocolate the previous time)...
Mount bundy campsite also had permanent tents for us but the toilets were a bit more rustic than the last campsite... They had also replaced one of the yellow (anti bug) lights in the kitchen for a normal white one... Cue bugs galore around the light. The bug killer spray was well used that night! The resident toads in the kitchen were most happy at the easy dinner though.... There were loads of free roaming animals too; a Shetland pony, that thought he was a dog, a dog, a couple of peacocks (lacking tail feathers as the new ones were only just starting to grow back out) and loads of peahens. There were also, in paddocks and not roaming free around the campsite, a couple of bulls, horses, donkeys, pig, Guinea fowl to name a few. The buffalo, in the same paddock as the donkeys and pig, were not friendly or tame so kept well away from us, and us them.
Once we decided we’d been bitten enough by the midges while enjoying a drink at the bar we headed back to the kitchen for a lovely steak and salad dinner. Some then headed to bed while others chatted in the kitchen for a while longer. Or last morning of the tour was a proper lie in for us – breakfast from 6.45 and not leaving till 8am! We had to clear out our stuff and sweep our the tents. We then took all our leftover food and fed it to the animals. The donkeys loved the bread and the pig got all the leftover salad. Happy animals. From there we had a quick refuel stop at Adelaide River Station, where the buffalo from Croc Dundee 1 is stuffed and stood on the corner of the bar.. From there we turned off Stuart Highway and passed through Batchelor, a small place but big on ideas. Has the institute for indigenous tertiary education, a replica of Karlstein Castle (guy who built it missed the view when he moved there so built a miniature replica – go figure!) and is the gateway into Litchfield national park – this park is one of the few free parks, and the only one we visited during this tour. From there we had a quick stop at banyan tree, where I got to cuddle another snake, this time a children’s python (name not a python of the children!).. So cute. I can see why people have them as pets.
We then stopped at the termite mounds. Here there are examples of both active and non active magnetic termite mounds, and also cathedral termite mounds. One was protected as it’s believed to still be active and around 70 years old. The 1st 40 years worth is underground and we could only see the 3m of mound visible above ground. The other was most definitely inactive as it had been invaded and overrun by meat ants... You could see where they were exiting and entering the inactive mound.
We then got to our first waterfall of the day – Florence falls. This one had 135 steps down to the plunge pool area, and even had metal steps into the pool. No inelegant getting in and out at this place! We had the guys do some posing on a rock in front of the falls and we also found a big rock for a group photo. This was a nice pool just for swimming around in. Instead of climbing the 135 steps back up we had a pleasant walk (pleasant as it was cloudy so not burning hot but also very beautiful scenery) through the rainforest with a more gentle incline back to the car park. Normally we would have had a quick swim at wangi falls but the pool had been closed due to croc and turbulent water risks.. We just went for a look at the falls while Mon bbq’d our lunch (they have proper gas bbq stations in most parks in Australia – some free, some have to pay to use but always near picnic benches). After our lovely last lunch, in the rain as well (felt like the picnics I had as a child but warmer!), we packed up and headed to our last stop of the tour – Buley Rockhole. This was an easy walk to the pools and, due to the rain, we went down with just our towels and shoes (cameras optional but I had my phone in its waterproof case just in case). Here the pool was deep enough to jump or dive into from a ledge. Then there was a nice sitting ledge to get another natural falls neck /shoulder massage.. Some of us decided to have a bombing competition – I won, purely on surface area hitting the water factor! ☺️ I also had a couple of dives which was fun.
After this it was head back to darwin and the end of our Northern Territory Top End tour....

Posted by Labgirluk 02:04 Archived in Australia Tagged waterfalls camping kakadu crocodiles litchfield humid rock_art yellow_water crocodile_dundee Comments (0)

Australia - part 11

Alice Springs to Darwin

sunny 35 °C
View Around the world in a few months! on Labgirluk's travel map.


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Another early start – a 6.30am pick up this time. We were also joined by 3 others from the previous tour (the northen territory leg of this tour is 3 small tours joined together) so we were a group of 6 that already knew each other. Some of the others also knew each other so we were a lively bunch – when awake! We were also another full tour of 20 people but thankfully the air con was efficient in the bus...
We had 3 days to cover around 1500kms with 2 nights camping, one of which was swag and other a mixture of swag and tent. We were also only going to travel along one road – the Stuart Highway which connects Adelaide to Darwin – with detours off to the side to visit places along the way. First stop – tropic of capricorn latitude. We’re pretty much at the time of year when the sun comes up and goes down along the tropic of capricorn line. Standing there with our shadows in front of us you can see it pretty much lining up..
Next stop a roadhouse in aileron. The owner has created a few sculptures that depict the indigenous people. Bizarre but amazing... Following this we stopped at the telegraph station in Barrow creek, most famous for the murder of Peter Falconio while travelling with his partner Joanne Lees. She managed to escape and they caught the person they are sure who did it, but the body has never been found...
After a little bit longer on the bus we stopped again, but this time for lunch.. This place, Wycliffe Well, has a rather strong ufo/alien vibe about it, not to mention masses of flies. It was interesting trying to eat and drink while wearing a fly net, and not let any in! Back on the road after lunch and off to the first cultural visit of the tour – the devil’s marbles. Lots of rocks (large ones) that are almost round in some cases and look precariously stacked on top of each other etc (stacked by nature not by humans). Only one pile was sensitive, so could look at it but not take pics, but pics of others could be taken. Had a discussion with the tour guide about where the red rock comes from. His understanding was that it was rusted iron ore. Once back in mobile reception I showed him about how iron ore is not pure iron so doesn’t ‘rust’ but the red colour comes from the type of iron ore as it could also be black, grey or yellow! Might have confused him slightly but he was happy to learn new things...
From the devil’s marbles we got back on the highway, viewing many termite mounds on the way (cathedral termites), and continued north to our campsite at Banka Banka, about 600kms north of our start point. We were back in swags for the night but the temperature was considerably warmer than the previous swag camping nights so didn’t bother with the sleeping bag (these ones would have been free). We were also given bottom sheets and pillowcases, unlike the previous tour (think we should have had them though).... Luckily I also had my towel and shawl as I used them in the night to give me a bit of warmth and protection against the swag canvas as I opted not to have a sleeping bag – just too warm for one now...
We had a 5am start so that we were up and on our way before the flies came out to play, plus needing to cover another 600kms to reach the next campsite – get the the flies reduce massively and the fly nets are retired for the rest of the trip.. We were going via Mataranka thermal pools for a dip in the constant 32c water with a few roadhouse type stops on the way. We had a quick stop at Dunmarra and then a longer one at Daly Water’s pub (paid 5 bucks for a group photo to be stuck on the wall) as well as lunch at the pink panther pub in Elliott – the new owners took over the pub 5 weeks previously without being told about the crocodiles that were resident there (in their own enclosures with ponds etc not running lose!). We were treated to a visit to see them and watch Sam the saltwater Croc be fed!
Eventually we arrived at Mataranka, changed into our swim stuff and headed to the thermal pools. These have to be checked every day for crocs, and in the area too.... You become paranoid but better that than anything else...
After an enjoyable hour in the pool we had to get out and changed so we could head to our camp site for the night by Katherine Gorge. This was prob another 2 hour drive...and still on the same highway!
We stayed at the tour operator’s (wayoutback) private camp ground, with no one else near us apart from a few frogs and lots of bugs... This site had some tents but not enough for all 20 of us (guide had his king single swag so no tent for him needed). The tents are permanent structures with doors, beds and mattresses. They also sleep 2. Unusually most wanted to sleep swag so 7 kindly volunteered to tent it so the rest could go swag. I swagged it. It was much warmer here too so sleeping bags weren’t necessary but still used my shawl as a layer between me and the canvas. If I’d realised I would have got my sleeping bag liner out and used that... Ah well, I know for next time....
This time we chilled out around the campfire for a bit before heading to bed. Another early start in the morning and I also wanted to do some stargazing. The milky way has been so clear whilst outback as well as the stars. Loved watching the southern cross twist on its axis showing the way south at different times through the night – well worth waking up for at different times. Orion, still drunk, disappeared early in the eve behind the kitchen tent....
Another 5am start for us with a 6am minute’s silence while Jack, the tour guide, played the last post as it was Anzac day. After that we watched the sun come up, packed away our stuff and headed back on the road. Only a short drive away we parked up and headed into Nitmiluk national park (Katherine Gorge) and up to a look out. 3 of the group managed to wangle a helicopter ride – pilot is a friend of Jack’s and had been over the evening before so the guys had talked him into it then – we watched them overhead while up at the lookout.
After picking the guys up we were back on the road and continuing north to Edith Falls via what should have been a quick snack and refuel stop in Katherine! What hadn’t been factored in was an Anzac parade going along Stuart Highway, which runs straight through Katherine, and our only route out of town. We were stuck until the parade had gone through and the road was opened again... We accepted it and went and joined the locals to watch the parade. It was a small but lovely parade with some WWII veterans at the front in old style army jeeps. Following them were the police and then a few other service men and women and then the schools.
Finally got back in the road and headed to Edith falls. Had a good 20 min walk up to the Upper pool but that had a good deep pool and waterfall. There’s a small gap behind the fall that if you can swim through (not everyone is a strong enough swimmer to swim against the current at the base of the fall) you can hide behind it for a bit. The rock behind is very smooth so no hand hold to really help you stay there. Then you just let the current push you back or into the pool. A couple of the guys found a nice jumping platform into deep water that was devoid off rocks.. I found a slightly lower one that I was more comfy jumping from. Didn’t require a run and jump method just a jump one!
Time was up all too soon and then it was head back to the bus and carry on up the Stuart highway into Darwin. Arrived in Darwin late afternoon so we had time to check in and have a shower before meeting up with one of the others from the tour to head over to Mindil Beach Night Market. It was heaving. Having met up with her friends (live in same apartment block in Melbourne but originally from Darwin) we found out that not out was it first market of season but also the night before the Arafura games as well as the day after Anzac day (lots take the Friday off if Anzac falls on a Thurs) so the kids had descended on the market. They also do fireworks for market opening night so after a walk around we also saw those.
We had walked there and it had taken about half an hour. According to the Darwinians that was 20 mins too much. Too hot, too humid and too tiring. Walking is not a big past time here. Buses, cars, taxis are the best way to get around.
We (Mette, Denisa and I) had a free day before the next tour started. Gratefully needed. We spent it looking around the shops and then resting on the grass area by the public lagoon (can’t swim in the sea here coz of crocs so lagoon is only safe salt water area to swim). We had a quick dip but think it needs a proper clean out as not as clear as had expected it to be. Maybe need to check out the wave lagoon on my next free days in Darwin – after next tour!
Next tour – Kakadu and Litchfield national parks..

Posted by Labgirluk 16:51 Archived in Australia Tagged darwin flies daly_waters mataranka edith_falls swag_camping devil's_marbles Comments (0)

Australia - part 10

Mini tour of Red centre - the rocks!

sunny 27 °C
View Around the world in a few months! on Labgirluk's travel map.


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After an indecently early get up and taxi ride to the airport we left cairns for Alice Springs.. Randomly the quantas flight took us via Ayer's rock airport with a half hour wait in the airport, only to get back on same plane in same seats... It did, however, give us a lovely first view of Uluru..
Arriving on a Bank Holiday is not the best way to see a small town in the middle of nowhere – not a lot is open! Fortunately a few shops were open so we could buy our very necessary fly nets. They were the best buy ever! I also bought a new pack-away bag in an aboriginal design. Can’t miss me now!
Thankfully the hostel took pity on us residents and set up an offer of buy one drink at full price and get a meal for free! So for 6 dollars I got a bottle of cider and chilli con carne with cheese and tortilla chips... They also lay on brekkie for the early leavers between 4.30 and 8 so we knew we’d have breakfast the following morning too.
Up and having breakfast at 4.30am to be ready for a 4.50am pick up. Main case was being left in storage at the hostel and just what was required packed into the rucksack and brought along.
The trip from Alice springs to Ayer’s rock takes 4 ½ hours on a good run without breaks and only 3 right turns in all that distance! At the right turn from Stuart Highway to Lasseter highway we stopped at the Erldunda roadhouse, and then Curtin springs, for a break and refuel of the bus. On the way I got a lovely pic or 2 of the sunrise, while the rest of the bus slept.. We also passed Mount Conner, which many people think is Uluru, turn around and go back to Alice. We were still 200km from Uluru!
Arriving at Ayer’s rock airport mid morning to drop a couple of passengers off, and then 1 at a nice looking hotel at the resort, we headed to our camp ground. Meat and salad sarnies for lunch were made and eaten and then we had back to the resort to pick up the rest of our tour group. From there we headed to the national park and our first stop, Uluru. We went to the cultural centre first and read up about the history of the aboriginals in the area and the return of the land to them. I managed to buy a couple of small pieces of art for a decent price, and with info on the artists themselves. I was thankful I had left my main credit cards in the bus as I fell in love with a gorgeous piece of art at a steal for 3000 ausd (about £1500)! It was so mesmerising and had been named ‘galaxy’. I would have had to have it shipped directly home too. Still wish I’d bought it though.
From there we headed to the base of Uluru where the guide loudly talked to us about the reasons why we shouldn’t climb Uluru and that climbing will be banned from October on the 34th anniversary of the land being handed back to the aboriginals. There were still plenty climbing it though. I don’t think many really think about how they are disrespecting a sacred site nor how dangerous a climb it is. Instead we walked around the base and our guide gave us talks on certain areas and made sure we respected the sensitive sections and didn’t take photos in those marked up.
From there we headed to our camp for the night at Ayer’s rock camping ground. This was my first ever experience of sleeping swag. These ones were the older style so no frame to hold the canvas off the face/head. They all had a mattress and pillow in so we just added a sleeping bag and that was our bed for the night – under the stars. Mark , our guide also talked about the ‘monster flap’. A section of canvas that you could flip over the head to completely enclose you against the chill and bugs. Since learnt that only Mark used that phrase and other guides use the flap as a place to stand to take shoes off before getting into bed.....! I had rented a sleeping bag as I didn’t have room to carry one myself but I was a bit annoyed that many others who hadn’t pre-booked were still given a sleeping bag and didn’t get charged for the privilege....
We then trooped up to the camp ground sunset /sunrise look out point, not the best point as sunsets between Uluru and Kata-Tjuta and not behind it as we had thought it would, but it was private so much quieter then the main ones.
After dinner we sat around the table and played a game – no campfire allowed in this location.... We all crashed pretty early as most of us had been up since 4am and we were having another early morning call to get up, pack up, have brekkie before heading to the lookout for sunrise.
From here we travelled to Kata-Tjuta, another set of rocks nearby. Also red rock but a totally different layout. Kata-Tjuta translates to many heads and there are many separate rocks rising out of the ground. Here we went for a walk (!) to a couple of the lookouts. This involved lots of ups and downs and scrabbling over rocks and avoiding the loose ones as well as climbing a rock face – looked daunting but was easier going up than down... But the views were worth it. We then turned around and made our way back (about a 3 hr hike in total) and headed back to the camp ground for lunch before getting back in the bus for the 3 hour drive to the King’s creek station, our camp ground for the next night... This camp ground had a campfire so marshmallows had been bought in anticipation, as well as stopping on the side of the road on the way to collect firewood. This stuff was very definitely dry, unlike our last firewood forage in the rainforest!
Camp was set up again but this time we grabbed our swabs and set up in a ring around the camp fire, using the rolled up saga as comfy seats. Dinner was a bbq including kangaroo steak as well as a pork sausage with salad. The garlic bread was delayed so put on the fire and eaten afterwards, in some cases in between mouthfuls of campfire toasted marshmallows! A bizarre combination I can assure you.... 😆
Eventually we headed to bed as another 5am start was needed to get to King’s canyon and do the 3 hour walk before lunch! We arrived and were on our way up to the rum by 8am! We went from north to south so the first stage, up heart-attack hill, was completed while relatively cool. It was one steep hill of steps, and I still hate them! Once at the top though.... Breeze, no flies and breath-taking views... We walked along the ridge, and then down a dip to visit the garden of Eden. This is a pool up on the canyon ridge. Due to the stone make up of the canyon there is a layer of non porous shale that stops the water from draining away. Just amazing. From there back up on to the ridge and along some more. We saw some flat worm fossils as well as sea ripple effects worn into the stone – proof that the canyon and surrounding area used to be under the ocean many millions of years ago... Mind boggling!
Eventually we reached the end and headed back down to the bus. This one was a gentler descent as it was some steps with a bit of path instead of just steps. In some ways I’m glad we got the steep one done at the beginning as I don’t think I’d have liked going down them...
From there we had a 5 hour bus ride back to Alice springs, with stops at both Curtin springs (had bbq lunch there) and Erldunda roadhouse (ice cream stop) to break up the journey. This trip seemed to zoom along but that might have been something to do with the raucous card game we were playing in the back of the bus for most of the journey back! We arrived back in Alice about 5.30pm and were dropped off back at our hostel. Thankfully they were doing the meal for free with a drink deal so we did that, had a shower, repacked our small bags ready for the next 3 day tour – Alice Springs to Darwin...

Posted by Labgirluk 02:27 Archived in Australia Tagged sunset uluru sunrise kata_tjuta king's_canyon red_centre northern_territory swag_camping Comments (0)

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