A Travellerspoint blog

The Final Verse - Australia

sunny 35 °C

Avid readers of this blog, of which I assume there are many, may have noticed that I never actually posted a final entry. This was mostly due to the fact that once I finished my trip, I sulked for a considerable amount of time and had no enthusiasm to write about the last leg. However, a mere 11 months late, I have decided to write about my time in Australia and Hong Kong.

The first port of call on my Aussie adventure was Brisbane. For two reasons - one being that I'm English, the other that I'd spent six weeks in New Zealand in winter - the glorious sunshine was something of a shock to the system, and within two days I was crimson. The problem was exacerbated my the fact that I'd been wearing my aviator sunglasses, leaving white circles around my eyes and making me look, in the words of one of my roommates, 'freaky' and 'like an alien'.
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Brisbane by Night

I made my way from Brisbane to Noosa - where I did little but lay on the beach during the day and drink at night - then to Hervey Bay. From Hervey I went on a two-day tour of Fraser Island, famous for being the world's largest sand island, its 75-mile beach, a shipwreck and, of course, dingos. The 'tropical' (wet) weather conditions put paid to any hopes of relaxing on the beautiful beaches, but didn't stop us hardcore members of the group taking a dip in the picturesque Lake McKenzie. It was, in a word, cold.

The next day the driver asked if anyone had an iPod to plug into the stereo, which I did. I put it on random, and out of roughly 2000 songs, the first two we were treated to were Natalie's Rap by The Lonely Island/Natalie Portman, and Jason Waste by Sway. If you're not familiar with these songs feel free to look them up, but be warned: they are quite, um... vulgar.

That evening a few of us countered the elements by warming up in the hot tub before dinner. Because I'm an idiot, I forgot to pack any shorts or underwear other than my swim trunks. Once out of the hot tub, I was therefore forced to trape through the cafe/restaurant area to the bathroom and attempt to use the hand dryer to dry my trunks, wearing nothing but a towel around my waist. While doing so, a very smartly dressed Irish chap walked in. As it turns out, he was the best man at the wedding taking place in the hotel, preparing for his big moment. Before I knew it, he was enthusiastically reciting his speech to me, in the gents, while I was naked but for my towel. It was an odd situation, but to be fair to the guy, his speech (the bit he read to me, anyway) was pretty damn funny!
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Me at the Maheno Shipwreck

Leaving Fraser and Hervey behind me, I headed to Agnes Water and Town of 1770, where a kangaroo nearly killed me. For a very reasonable $55, I decided to do the Scooterroo tour. Basically, you get to ride a Chopper motorbike around for a few hours, taking in the sights of this little town. All was going swimmingly until a huge kangaroo, being a complete moron, decided to cross the usually quiet road just as 25 or so motorbikes were racing towards it. Inevitably, it was me he jumped out in front of. I had been going at 80kph, and thankfully managed to slow down to about 60 just as he leapt over my front wheel, no more than 2 or 3 feet from my face. It was genuinely terrifying, as I'm fairly sure I'd have come of a hell of a lot worse than Skippy! One near-death experience aside, the tour was brilliant. Those of us at the front were having drag races which, considering none of us had any experience on bikes, was probably somewhat reckless (and also, thankfully, wreckless).

That evening at the pub, by being the first person to collect a dirty sock, a piece of chalk, a bra and a condom, I won... a free Scooterroo ticket! I managed to sell it for $40, which I used to drink as much as I could in the hour I had before my overnight bus trip to Airlie Beach. I slept well!

At the hostel in Airlie, my winning ways continued as my team - me, an Aussie girl and an Irish lass - stormed to quiz victory with a quite stunning score of 9/20. That may not seem like that good a score, but as it was general knowledge, it technically means we know 45% of everything there is to know in the world, which is a lot. Our collective genius was rewarded with a bottle of what was loosely called champaign. We continued the victory celebrations in town, where someone, for no reason that I can remember, gave me a football (which I later lost in a bush). The most memorable event of the night occurred on the way home, when I got chatting to a girl called Storm. In my drunken and cynical state, I demanded proof that her name really was Storm; she duly obliged by showing me her passport, which quite clearly stated her given name as... Storm. It is, without doubt, my favourite name ever (edging out Kirby, who I met in Agnes Water).

The following evening I boarded the Anaconda III. The next three days and nights were the stuff dreams are made of. We sailed through the magnificent Whitsunday Islands (74 of 'em), including the phenomenal Whitehaven beach, before heading out to sea where I was able to tick off the final item on my mental to-do list: dive the Great Barrier Reef. It was every bit as magical as it sounds. I was particularly hoping to see a shark, and it wasn't long before my wish was granted; about 10 minutes into my first dive one of the little fellas (about six ft) cruised on past us, before turning around and giving us a look at his pretty face.

Sharks aside, there were thousands of fish, coming in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours, with the reef itself providing a beautiful backdrop. Stunning. Due to financial constrains and the fact my right ear was playing up, I only did two dives. While other dives were taking place, the rest of us took the opportunity to go snorkelling, which wasn't a bad consolation prize; there was still a vast array of fish to be seen, including a massive, umm... ugly green thing (my marine knowledge is somewhat limited) known locally as Elvis. Diving and snorkelling aside, we spent much of the time soaking up the sun, whale watching and fishing. The three days flew by; I had glorious weather, great company, and good food. Can't ask for much more than that!
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Relaxing aboard Anaconda III

Leaving Airlie Beach, I headed to Townsville for two nights. I had a day to kill, so the lady at the hostel recommended I go for a walk up Castle Hill, and was even kind enough to drop me off at the start of the track. As she drove off, I noticed a sign warning of steep inclines and loose rock, recommending the walk only be done by those of adequate fitness. Usually I ignore that sort of stuff, but on this occasion there was a slight issue: I was wearing flip-flops. The sensible thing to do would have been to walk to the other side of the hill and walk up the nice tarmac path, but where's the fun in that? So, on I went. After roughly 4 minutes, I fell over. I picked myself up and cautiously carried on at a rather sluggish pace. It was hard work. To rub salt in the wound, it was one of the hottest days I've had in Australia. To rub sulphuric acid in the wound, I'd forgotten to bring any water with me. When I finally reached the summit, 60 sweaty minutes later, there was, thank God, a water fountain. Having re-hydrated myself, I took in the lovely views, before making my way back down. Again, I opted against the tarmac option, and had several near death experiences along the way. I'll learn, one day...

The final stop on my journey was Cairns, the party town. In an attempt to save money, I told myself I wouldn't drink for the five nights I was there. However, accommodation was a lot less than I'd budgeted for, so I had all this money left over, what else was I meant to do with it? Anyhow, the decision was taken out of my hands when I befriended a group of Irish lads. It was only ever going to end one way. Highlights of the Goon-fuelled nights out included me somehow finding myself participating in a bar-top dancing competition (I came 2nd), a Jagger style wig, and bumping into Arj Barker (he of Flight of the Conchords fame) in Gilligan's. In between the drinking, there was some daytime, which we spent exploring the town. We gatecrashed a wedding at the Botanical Gardens, which was quite frankly the worst reception imaginable, conducted by a vicar who seemed to think he was a stand-up comic. We got told off for touching the stretch Hummer.

My final day in Cairns was spent at the beach, where a group of us had a superb barbecue in the glorious sun. I tucked into a lovely kangaroo steak, thinking of the 'roo that had attempted to kill me earlier in the trip as I did so. With that, my time down-under was over, and I was soon at the airport waiting for my mammoth 18-hour journey to Hong Kong (via Auckland).

Unfortunately I was feeling pretty under the weather during my three days in Hong Kong, which was not helped by the overwhelming heat. However, I wasn't going to let that stop me. Having walked down the Avenue of the Stars, Hong Kong's answer to Hollywood's Walk of Fame, I visited the excellent Museum of History. After the sun had gone down, I took my spot on the harbour to watch the sensational Symphony of Lights: a music, laser and light show that illuminates Hong Kong's dramatic skyline.

Most of the following day was spent at the rather impressive Tian Tan Buddha and exploring Hong Kong island, although I was unfortunately unable to make it up Victoria Peak. And that was it. After three phenomenal months, I was on my way to the airport, ready to fly back to sunny England.

Looking back at it a year on, I can say without doubt that it was the best few months of my life. I saw some amazing places, did some brilliant, stupid and ridiculous things and met many wonderful people (many of whom I'm happily still in touch with). When I was younger I wasn't bothered about travelling, however this trip whetted my appetite immeasurably. It's a big world out there, and with this trip I have only scratched the surface. So, stay tuned. There will be more to come!

Posted by Daniel.J.B 03:50 Archived in Australia Tagged snorkelling fraser_island australia adventure brisbane noosa scuba_diving travelling cairns great_barrier_reef hong_kong townsville airlie_beach hervey_bay whitsunday_islands Comments (0)

Entry 7 - New Zealand (Queenstown to Oamaru)

The final farewell!

all seasons in one day 5 °C

I love Queenstown. I could happily spend an awful lot of time there, but unfortunately I had only one week. I say it's unfortunate, but for the sake of my health and bank balance, it was probably a good thing.

Some people may think it's strange for me to come to a place like this, the "Adventure Capital of the World™", and talk firstly about food. If you do think that, it's because you haven't been to Fergburger. If you have been there, you'll understand where I'm coming from. This legendary fast food outlet (I use that term loosely, as it takes a considerable amount of time to actually get your food) produces the most ridiculous, delicious, heart-attack inducing burgers you could think of. I don't know whether to be ashamed or proud to admit that in six days, I had four burgers from there (the first night was a little healthier, having all-you-can-eat pizza from World Bar), the highlight of which was undoubtedly the enormous Big Al. To quote the menu, "Al delivers a double serving of New Zealand beef (1/2lb), lashings of bacon, a whole lotta cheese, 2 eggs, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, red onion, relish & a big wad of aioli." I actually had to take a nap after completing this monstrosity.*

When I wasn't eating, I found time to do one or two other things in Queenstown, such as leap off a platform 134m from the ground. I had always planned to jump the infamous Nevis Bungy**, but was glad to find that a five others on my bus - Keir, Jon, Becky, Gary and Sofia - were also preparing to take the leap of faith. In comparison to most Monday mornings, this one was quite surreal. Having survived a somewhat hairy bus ride through the mountains, we arrived at the jump site, where Sofia casually claimed "it's not that high." I don't know if all Swedes have this warped sense of perspective, but her calm demeanour was in stark contrast to my own. One of the promotional leaflets for the jump summed up my feelings in a quite poetic manner: "even my shit was scared."
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Before long we were harnessed up and led outside. As the above picture demonstrates, the jump site is suspended above the Nevis River by a 380 metre long cable. To get there, you have to travel across in an open top metal cable car similar in size to a hot air balloon basket. Even this I found terrifying, and I was seriously questioning my sanity as it slowly made its way across. I clambered into the surprisingly large cabin to find a glass floor. Great. While everyone else tussled for the best viewing spot, I sat at the back and stared at the ceiling, talking to myself like a complete nut-job. After 3 or 4 people had jumped (and, happily, survived), my name was called. I sat down to be strapped in, pulled a deceivingly calm smile for the camera, while the bloke gave me final instructions. I didn't hear a word he said. As I shuffled towards to edge, I had little to no control over my limbs; my arms were all over the place, and my legs went all Bruce Grobbelaar on me***.

"Three, two, one..."

I jumped... ish.

What I actually did was bend my knees, lean forward, and fall over, allowing gravity to take over. It was not the most stylish bungy jump you will ever see, but it did the job. For the next 7 seconds or so I was free-falling towards the river. In most circumstances, I'd have been admiring the exquisite scenery around me. As it happens, I was too nervous to even scream; I reckon I'm one of the few people to do the jump in complete silence. Then, it was over. With adrenaline pumping through my veins, I almost forgot to pull the cord around my ankles that released the harness from your feet, meaning you are brought back up head-first rather than upside down. Thankfully I remembered, so was finally able to enjoy my surroundings while being inched up. Before I knew it, I was back in the cabin, and soon on the cable car back to solid land.
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People often compare bungy jumping to skydiving, but for me they're chalk and cheese. I absolutely loved the skydive, it was immense fun, but not all that scary. The bungy jump, in contrast, was petrifying. Because of this, the burst of adrenaline keeps you buzzing for hours, even days, after. To get the best of both worlds, do both!

I slept well that night. This was thanks partly to the bungy, partly to Big Al, and partly to the obscene amount of Jägermeister I consumed that evening in order to win a t-shirt from the Buffalo Bar!

The next day we decided to get the Skyline Gondola to Bob's Peak for a spot of luging. We got to the top and were ski-lifted to the start of the track, and got ready to roll (not race, as that was against the rules. We would never break the rules). The term 'luge' is used rather loosely, it's more like go-karting without an engine, not at all like actual luging. It was good fun none-the-less, thanks in no small part to our Brazilian friend, Tiago, who was clearly of the opinion that breaking is for the weak, even for tight hairpins. This, admittedly, made him very quick. It also meant he was the only one of our group of nine to crash. Three times.

If you've read my other blogs from New Zealand, you'll notice a chap called Nick crops up a fair few times (if you haven't read them, why not?). We actually met on the Magic Bus from Auckland to Rotorua, and just so happened to have the same itinerary from there to Queenstown, so spent about 3 weeks travelling together. Luckily we got on, and have done an awful lot in those 3 weeks. Queenstown, however, is where we would go our separate ways, as Nick only had four nights, along with most of the others in the group. We therefore headed to our newly-Christened local, Buffalo (we had 2-for-1 drinks all week), for an emotional farewell; well, it wasn't actually that emotional, a manly handshake and not-so-manly hug, but you get the point. While travelling alone has a great many benefits, it was brilliant to have someone to travel with for that length of time; skydiving, camping and hiking, to name a few, would not have been quite so awesome had I done them by myself (or possibly not at all).

Anyhow, if there was one thing that decreased heavily in Queenstown, it was my money. If one thing increased, it was my weight. In an attempt to buck both of these trends, I spent most of the next day walking, spending hours exploring the east side of the lake. The fresh air and spectacular scenery must have gone to my head, because I had a strange urge to jog part of the way back. 15 minutes after acting upon this urge, my enthusiasm had vanished and I carried on walking. I'll just have to wait until Australia to lose the weight, as I wont be able to afford food there.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the ski and snowboarding dependent economies Wanaka and Queenstown have been badly hit by the lack of snow. Much to their relief, but my annoyance, the weather took a turn for the cold for my last few days in Queenstown, limiting what we could do. With the weather particularly bad, we killed time playing Yeniv, a brilliant Israeli card game (thanks to Nick for that one). When we dared venture outside, we had a couple of rounds of frisbee golf. I was worse than useless first time around, scoring well over 100, but fell in love with the game anyway. My second round was somewhat more respectable, as I carded an 88 (I have no idea if that is actually respectable, but I'd take that in normal golf).
We ventured to Buffalo for one final time that evening, before jumping on the bus the following morning. To sum up Queenstown: I spent too much, I ate too much, I drank too much. But I had a damn good time in the process!

The next stop was to the Edinburgh of New Zealand, Dunedin, where I would spend three nights. To be honest, following Queenstown, this made me more than a little depressed. My spirits were raised, however, with the knowledge that Dunedin had two particular attractions: Speight's Brewery and the Cadbury factory; if there's two things that can cheer me up, it's beer and chocolate.

I got to the hostel about 4, where I killed a couple of hours talking to the two Aussie lads in my room, before setting off for the brewery. The tour itself was entirely forgettable, but for the tasters at the end. Thankfully Ellen, who I'd met on the way to Wanaka, didn't like one or two of the beers, so I kindly "tasted" those for her as well, like a true gent. I got back to the hostel to find the aforementioned Aussies, as well as two other English lads, getting ready to head into town. They asked if I fancied it and, seeing as it was Saturday night, it would have been rude to say no.

I'd judged Dunedin to be boring, but, being a uni city, it came to life after dark, and was a surprisingly good night out. A particular highlight was attempting - and failing - to convince a local woman that I was not Irish, nor had I ever set foot in Ireland. She wasn't having any of it, so I called her Australian and left it at that.

The next day I met up with two of the Queenstown group, Jack and Tim, who had rented a camper. We found somewhere that served a Sunday roast for $10, which made us all very happy, before going on a road trip to the beach. In contrast to Dunedin's rather drab appearance, the beach was surprisingly nice, as was the weather. Once we got back we set about finding somewhere that would be showing the British Grand Prix that evening. As it was a Sunday, and the race didn't start until midnight local time, I was not confident of success. At around quarter to 12, we finally found a bar that was still open, and had televisions. The landlord agreed to put the F1 on and remain open, on the condition that we bought enough drinks to make it worth his while; a condition we were more than happy to comply with.

For our final day in Dunedin, we did the tour of the Cadbury factory. Much like the brewery, the tour itself was pretty forgettable (after all, it's just a working factory), but we got more than our fair share of samples, so everyone went away happy.
I've got a few extra days to kill, so rather than travel all the way to Lake Tekapo the next day, I decided to hop off at a place called Oamaru, where I'm sat right now. In a few hours I'm heading to the beach to see some penguins which, as those of you who know me personally may know, is quite exciting for me!****

I then have two more stops, Lake Tekapo and Kaikoura, before flying from Christchurch to Brisbane. Assuming this will be my last blog from New Zealand, I'd like to thank everyone - locals and fellow travellers - for making my stay here unbelievably brilliant. I have loved my time in this wonderful country; Australia has quite a job on its hands to match it.

  • * Re-reading my previous blogs, I realise I had earlier described the Pizza Burger I had in San Diego as "the greatest burger of all time, bar none." I can only apologise for this ignorant and uninformed statement, which now looks like meaningless hyperbole. I was young and naive. Again, sorry.
  • ** At 134 metres, The Nevis is the highest commercial bungy in Australasia, but not the world (it is, in fact, a lowly 8th). That title goes to the Macau Tower, in China. Near Hong Kong. The final stop on my trip. Just sayin'...
  • *** For those of you who don't know, Bruce Grobbelaar was a goalkeeper who would attempt to put off opposing penalty takers by doing 'spaghetti legs'. I'm sure it's on YouTube somewhere!
  • **** One of my earliest memories from my childhood was carrying around the imaginatively named Teddy and Penguin stuffed toys everywhere I went. Since then, penguins have always been my favourite animal.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 00:30 Archived in New Zealand Tagged snow queenstown adventure ski bungy new_zealand dunedin jump oamaru luge thrill_seeking fergburger frisbee_golf Comments (0)

6th Installment - New Zealand (S. Island; Picton to Wanaka)

all seasons in one day 4 °C

Departing Wellington, it was time to jump aboard the ferry and head to the South Island. The idea is to get the ferry on either a Wednesday, Friday or Sunday, as the Magic Bus will be ready and waiting at the terminal to head to Nelson. Simple. Nick and myself, however, managed to confuse ourselves and booked it for the Tuesday. As the tickets are non-refundable, it meant we had no choice but to spend a night in the tiny town of Picton. The idea of spending 24 hours there with absolutely nothing to do was not the most appealing, so we each forked out $35 and rented a car. By doing so, we were able to get off the beaten track and visit fascinating landmarks such as the Mussel Capital of the World™, Havelock, where we had lunch at a cafe that had daily supplies of fresh mussels. I had a burger. The roads in the area are the sort of ones Top Gear visit when searching for the best in the world, winding and weaving between the mountains. It was made all the more interesting by the dangerous and often hidden piles of rubble dotted around, caused by mud and rock slides.

Having got back in one piece, we caught up with the bus the following morning, and were finally heading to Nelson, where we would be spending three nights. Much to the shock of my travel buddies Nick and Annika, I have never once been camping. I can honestly say I've never found the idea of sleeping outside on a hard surface, with nothing but a bit of fabric protecting me from the elements, particularly appealing. Call me soft, but a nice comfy bed in a room with central heating is much more my cup of tea. Having said that, I'm willing to give anything a go once, so I agreed to spend the night at the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park.

Having spent the first night in Nelson, we set off at some early time to Marahau, where we boarded an Aqua Taxi to Awaroa. In contrast to its rather mundane name, the Aqua Taxi was an exciting experience in itself, with the speedboat regularly getting launched into the air by the violent waves thumping into it. It calmed down for five minutes to catch a glimpse of the extremely cute seal colony at Tonga Island, before continuing the bone crunching ride. With my internal organs re-arranged, we reached Awaroa, where we began a 23km hike to our camp for the night, Anchorage. Thanks in part to the wet and windy weather, the trek was pretty hard going. A particular lowlight was when my left foot, nice white trainer 'n' all, suddenly disappeared into the thick mud below. Nick found this very amusing for roughly 6 seconds, at which point his laughter was abruptly halted as his right foot went the same way. Karma.

We made it to the camp-site just before dark, set up the tent, and took shelter in a nearby hut. There was only one sensible thing to do at this point: get drunk and play cards, so we duly obliged.

After a surprisingly comfortable and warm(ish) night*, we packed our stuff and began the 11.5km walk back to Awaroa. Thankfully the weather was much kinder to us, with the clear blue sky and blazing sunshine enhancing the spectacular scenery around us. We made our way back to Nelson, where we jumped into the hot tub to soothe our aching muscles. From there, we heading to a pub that served excellent local beer, and could have fish and chips delivered to your table. In a word: Heaven!
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The morning after it was time to visit a small town called Greymouth, a place pretty much as dull as the name suggests. It does, however, have one redeeming feature: Monteith's Brewery. As far as redeeming features go, that's not a bad one. For a mere $30 (roughly £15) you get a tour, a meal, and beer. Lots and lots of beer. As a result, I developed a certain affection for the place, and thoroughly enjoyed my brief stay there (what I remember of it, anyhow).

In a seemingly unrelated matter, when I was about 5 or 6 I had a bad reaction to washing powder. Since then, my clothes have been washed with a powder that is soft and kind to my sensitive skin, and I have long forgotten about this particular allergy. When I reached Franz Josef, I was reminded of it in a quite nasty fashion. Having done the excellent full-day hike of the glacier**, I returned back to the hostel to grab a quick shower. My arm had been itching, but I assumed it was just a bite; I was wrong. I don't wish to go into too much detail, but my body was not a pretty sight [Insert Joke About How My Body Is Never A Pretty Sight]. To make matters worse, the tiny town of Franz Josef doesn't have a pharmacy, so I had to make-do with some cream from the local corner shop. The next day we headed south to the nearby Fox Glacier, where I hand-washed every item of clothing I had with a chemical-free washing powder. Never have I been so grateful to be able to wear my own clothes!

With that drama over and done with Nick, Sofia and I awoke early to take on the Mt Fox Route, a (supposedly) 8 hour return trek, suitable for "fit, experienced and properly equipped people." I'm not sure as I completely fulfil any of that criteria, but it looked like fun none-the-less. It turned out to be the most technically challenging trek I've done thus far, the steep - sometimes vertical - terrain proving a worthy adversary. Once at the 4400ft high peak, our reward was a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding snow-tipped mountains and the Fox Glacier. After the most scenic lunch I've ever had, we began to make our way back. Due to the extreme gradient of the track, and the speed at which we were taking it, the descent was an absolute knee-killer. I fell over on more than one occasion, and nearly fell over on many more, until the terrain finally began to even out. We completed the journey in a respectable five and a half hours, much to the satisfaction of my competitive nature. As the light faded, we were treated to a magnificent multi-coloured sunset, nicely finishing off what had been a fine day.
mt_fox.jpg
The bus picked us up the next morning, stopping off at Lake Matheson, or Mirror Lake, supposedly one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand (how they figure that out, I do not know). As its nickname suggests, the lake mirrors the mountainous background, due to the water being extremely still. In my humble and usually disregarded opinion, it wasn't that impressive; I've seen a couple of other lakes here that use the same phenomenon to a much more spectacular effect. What I was impressed with was the delicious egg and bacon pie at the cafe, splendid!

Next stop was Wanaka, a town that could have been plucked straight from the Swiss Alps. At least, I think it could - I've never actually been to the Swiss Alps, but it definitely has that ski vibe to it. There was also a frustrated atmosphere around the town as, along with Queenstown, Wanaka should be covered in a blanket of snow by now. Unfortunately for the avid skiers and snowboarders, the snow is still yet to come. I, on the other hand, was delighted with the conditions, and took the opportunity to go for a scenic walk. I'd planned to rent a bike, cycle 50km to Mt Aspiring National Park, and take on a challenging looking hike. The guy at the bike shop talked me out of it though, as he reckoned it would be at least an 8 hour round trip on the bike, leaving no time for walking, and suggested I got the bus instead.

I took his advice, and stood outside for what seemed an eternity waiting for the non-existent bus. At this point, I was getting cold (it may not have been snowing, but it was by no means warm), so decided to begin walking and attempted to hitch-hike. Unfortunately, once out of Wanaka, none of the cars that went by stopped for me. When I say 'none', I mean 'neither', as only 2 cars passed in the hour and a half I walked. I was getting somewhat frustrated at this point, so gave up and wandered around Lake Wanaka for a few hours. It was nice, but not quite the mammoth hike I'd prepared myself for. On the plus side, it was completely deserted, so I was able to sing out loud to my music without being laughed at or beaten up. Every cloud...

That evening, shockingly, we went to the pub. Beer cost $4 rather than $7.50 that night if you worked in hospitality, which, as it happens, was exactly what we were doing with our 48 hours in Wanaka (*wink wink, nudge nudge*). I entered a killer pool competition***, and using some tactical positioning from myself Nick and Sofia, I beat some clearly superior players to claim second place, and a free pint!

We had the morning free before hopping back into the bus. Destination: Queenstown. For those of you not familiar with Queenstown, it is the "Adventure Capital of the World™", and I would be spending a week there. This could be dangerous...

  • * Mildly Amusing Anecdote #1: At about 2am, Nick quietly asked if anyone was awake. As it happened, all three of us were. I, however, had somehow managed to do a 180° turn. Nick asked me how this had happened, to which I tiredly responded "lost my bearings", quite some feat considering there was three of us in a two-man tent!
  • ** Mildly Amusing Anecdote #2: Being an idiot, I had promised Annika I'd take a picture of myself barefooted on the ice. I kept my word, as the below photo proves, also stripping down to shorts and t-shirt. It was, needless to say, cold.
  • *** For those of you not aware of the rules of killer pool, players (10 of us in this case) take it in turns to shoot, and can pot any ball on the table. If you miss, you lose one of your three lives. Pot the black and gain one life. Last man standing wins.

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Posted by Daniel.J.B 23:01 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains snow beer trek walk ice ski snowboard glacier new_zealand hike fox_glacier picton wanaka nelson franz_josef abel_tasman_national_park queenston Comments (0)

v5.0 - New Zealand (North Island; Auckland to Wellington)

Climbing up mountains one day, jumping out of a plane the next

all seasons in one day 12 °C

After a week of beautiful weather in the paradise islands of French Polynesia, it was time to head to Auckland for the start of my six week New Zealand adventure. Upon arrival at the airport I was greeted with some homely British weather conditions; it was wet, windy and cold, not particularly suited to my attire of shorts and t-shirt. Once I'd made my way to the city, I headed to the Base hostel, which would be my home for the next four nights. It's fair to say that they know their clientele, as the first night they were offering free pizza at the bar, a God-send to us budget conscious travellers. Having had more than my fair share, and beating anyone who dared challenge me at pool, I was about ready for bed.

To be brutally honest, four nights in Auckland was roughly three nights too many; it's a nice enough city but by day three I was getting seriously bored. The silver lining to this particular cloud was that in not doing anything, I saved myself a fair chunk of cash, which I would be putting to very good use in the days to come.

By Monday morning I was glad to see the sight of the Magic Bus, ready to take me south to Rotorua. When on the bus I got talking to an English lad called Nick, a Scotsman called Kieran and an Austrian called... um... well, none of us could actually remember his name, so we simply called him Austria, which worked well. We spent the afternoon and evening taking in the sights and smells of Rotorua (for those of you not familiar will Rotorua, large parts of it smell unfortunately similar to rotton eggs due to the geothermal activity releasing sulphur into the air - it's not nice). In the morning our bus took us to Wai-O-Tapu National Park, where various elements in the land produce an incredable array of colours* in the surrounding lakes, craters and caves. Particular highlights included Devil's Home, Devil's Ink Pot, Devil's Bath, Devil's Cave and the rather sinisterly named... Rainbow Crater.

The park also features Lady Knox Geyser, which erupts at the same time every day. To my disappointment, this is not a natural phenomenon (it does erupt naturally, but its timing is unpredictable); the eruption is induced with the addition of soap. While it was in impressive spectacle, the whole event had something of a Blue Peter feel to it.

After spending a couple of hours at Wai-O-Tapu, we hopped back on the bus and headed south to Lake Taupo, where we'd be spending three nights.
Mt Tongariro, Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe provide Taupo with a stunning backdrop. Since Monday, it had been my lifelong ambition to climb the snow tipped Mt Ngauruhoe, better known as Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings. Along with Nick, I therefore signed up to do the Tongariro Crossing trek on the Wednesday. Unfortunately, due to adverse weather conditions, attempting to reach the summit of Ngauruhoe unaided would have resulted in a severe case of death, so we had to make do with the smaller peak of Tongariro.

As far as consolation prizes go, this wasn't a bad one. Having reached the summit a good 15 minutes before anyone else on our coachload of 28 (there was one lad who provided us with some competition, but his map reading skills let him down), we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Blue Lake and Emerald Lakes (pictured below). After we'd taken pictures, had a bite to eat and a bit of a rest, it was time to head back. As we crossed back past the Blue Lake we were exposed to the most violent winds I have ever experienced. Not being the biggest guy in the world, I was forced to stop on several occassions in order to prevent being blown over, and to shield my face from the waves of dust being hurled through the air. Once through that particular hazard, it was simply a case of strolling back down the mountain, before heading back to Taupo for a couple of well earned beers.
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After a day of hard work on Wednesday, Nick and I decided to take things easy on Thursday... by going skydiving! While it was bitterly cold, it was a beautifully clear and still morning - perfect conditions for jumping out of a plane. The hostel rang the company (Freefall), and 10 minutes later we were being whisked away. With barely enough time for any nerves to raise their heads, we were in our jumpsuits, strapped in and airborn. At a guess, I'd say we were in the air for about 20 minutes before the first of our group was flung out, followed by Nick, then myself.

To be honest, I was surprised by the fact that I wasn't actually that scared, nowhere near as much as I was doing a bungee jump a couple of years back. Once you're sat on the edge of the plane, you have very little say in what happens next; the instructor decides when you're going, whether you're ready or not. Before you know it, you're falling at somewhere close to 200kph. The rush of adrenaline is extraordinary, without doubt one of the best experiences of my life. Once the parachute was ejected things slowed down somewhat, and I had time to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings from this unique vantage point, with a glorious view of Lake Taupo (which, apparently, is larger than Singapore), and the mountain trio in the background. Having finally done it, I would recomment skydiving to anyone and everyone. It was absolutely amazing, and I would jump at the chance (sorry) to do it again!

The following day we got the bus back to the Tongariro National Park, via Waitomo Caves, famous for the glow worms that illuminate the walls. We spent Friday night at the picturesque hostel at the National Park, before heading to the capital city, Wellington, the final stop before ferrying over to the South Island. That evening a group of us headed to the Westpac Stadium to watch Wellington Hurricanes take on Canterbury Crusaders (featuring Dan Carter, apparently one of the best players in the world), the first rugby game I've ever attended. Aside from a Mexican wave that completed five laps of the stadium, the atmosphere was somewhat subdued. This may have had something to do with the Hurricanes shocking inability to keep hold of the ball, causing them to blow several gilt-edged chances as they slumped to a 16-9 defeat. After the rugby, we went into town, sampling Wellington's lively night life, returning at something o'clock in the morning.

After a much needed lay-in the following morning, myself, Nick, Jen, Alex and Rachel - all of whom I met on the bus - visited the Te Papa Museum, where I learned that I could cause an earthquake that would destory the world simply by jumping as hard as I could. Who knew? With that insightful information in mind, I went with Jen to explore the rest of the city, stumbling upon a hidden gem in the Olympic Museum. While it was roughly the size of a shoe box, it had some interesting memorabilia, including the medals of New Zealand's most successful Olympian (2 golds, 1 silver, but one of the gold medals was 'on tour') and, rather bizarrely, the torch from the 2000 games in Sydney.

It was then back to the hostel for some pizza (is having pizza four times in a week considered unhealthy?), before a good old pub quiz. Thanks mostly to the two answers I contributed, we claimed third place and a $20 bar tab!

At the time of writing, I'm currently seeing out my last day in Wellington (going to have some left-over pizza in a minute), before leaving for Picton in the South Island tomorrow morning. If, as everyone says, the South Island is that much better than the North, I should have a rather interesting four weeks in store. Until then, I'll leave you with some news that may be of some comfort to all you at home: the weather here is bad, and getting worse. The South Island is going to be absolutely freezing. However, this does result in stunning scenery, and lends itself nicely to activities such as glacier walking at Franz Josef, so I'm not going to complain!

  • * Science Lesson #1:

Sulphur = Yellow
Collodial sulphur/ferrous salts = Green
Antimony = Orange
Manganese oxide = Purple
Silica = White
Iron oxide = Red/brown
Sulphur and carbon = Black

Posted by Daniel.J.B 01:24 Archived in New Zealand Tagged auckland rotorua new_zealand national_park wellington rugby sky_diving lake_taupo wai_o_tapu Comments (0)

Episode 4 - Polynesia

A Hitchhiker's Guide To Polynesia

sunny 35 °C

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I arrived in Tahiti at roughly 5am, and by the time I'd made it from the plane to the terminal building I was sweating! It was that hot.
The first thing I did upon arrival was withdraw 20 grand in cash (the money here is amazing) and hire a car. Now, being under 25, they told me I was only allowed a grade 1 car, which in this case was a very fetching white Fiat Panda. I don't know if any of you Internetians have ever been to Tahiti, but it's not what you'd call flat. The wee Panda was happy enough going downhill, but going uphill, bless her, she struggled. I realised this because the first thing I decided to do was drive up a couple of mountains and go exploring. 

Once out of Bear Grylls mode, I realised I had no idea where I actually was, nor where I would be sleeping that night, which was quite important. Using my excellent sense of direction (Pacific Ocean on my left, big mountains on my right) I made my way to the hub of the island, Papeete.
Upon arrival I didn't think it would take me long to find the address of the hostel I was hoping to stay at, but I was wrong. So very wrong! The road system in Papeete is utterly ridiculous, and the Tahitian natives are mental drivers, with little to no regard for road markings, right of way, or speed limits. Throw in a bunch of suicidal scooter and cyclists, combine with dogs sleeping in the road, add two shots of vodka, shake a little, and you've got yourself a  Disastertastrophy cocktail.

What's worse is that I've never before driven a left hand drive car, nor on the right side of the road. So while all that other gubbins was going on around me, I was concentrating on not opening the door to change gear or having a head-on collision. I eventually reached the hostel which, thankfully, had vacancies. I staggered to my bed and lapsed into a coma. Fortunately, the coma lasted little longer than a normal night's sleep (cynics would question whether it was in fact a coma at all), so I was up at a respectable hour to discover what Tahiti had to offer.

Now, I didn't want to get there and compare everything to the Cook Islands, but inevitably, that's exactly what I did.
Strike one went to Tahiti; the scenery is utterly stunning. The Cook Islands - or to be specific, Rarotonga - is hardly ugly, but Tahiti is considerably bigger, allowing for a wider variety of views and landscapes. Just when you think it can't get any more beautiful, you turn a corner and are blown away by something new. My right index finger suffered from severe camera cramp (I'm assuming that's a legitimate medical term).
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From there on in however, Tahiti begins to lose its' way. For a start, there's not really that much to do that isn't prohibitively expensive. While I had the car, I did a full lap of the island, stopping at any point of interest. I went on a fair few treks, discovering some hidden gems, such as a couple of picturesque waterfalls and lagoons. Other than that, there's a great local market, but not a lot else. By the fourth day I was starting to get a bit, well... bored.

The great thing about these sort of places is the ability to island hop. As I felt I'd seen all there was to see in Tahiti, I decided to get a ferry over to the island of Moorea and spend a couple of nights there. The boredom soon subsided. Once the ferry arrived, I planned to get a bus to Haapiti where I would look for the superbly named 'Mark's Place' in the hope of a bed. I failed to realise that, as it was Sunday, there was no bus service (at least not in the 2 hours I waited). I therefore got my map out, which was pretty useless as it didn't state to what scale it was, and tried to figure out if it was within walking distance, bearing in mind I had all my luggage with me. Using a couple of landmarks as reference points, I figured it would take me about an hour and a half to walk, which I could handle.

2 hours later, I realised I was wrong. I was only about 20% of the way there, and there was no way my body would survive another 8 hours in that heat. I checked my map and came to the conclusion that I was in the middle of roughly nowhere. With no phone to call a taxi, I opted for the next best thing: hitchhiking (coincidentally, I'm reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on my Kindle). After a surprisingly short amount of time, I'd been picked up by a hilariously insane Moorean chap,  and was sat in the back seat of a car that was literally unable to travel above 20mph without risk of falling apart.

More by luck than judgement, I was at Mark's Place. Mark, a very pleasant fellow from Ohio, booked me in. Excellent. I then did a 360 and noticed that Moorea was as stunning as nearby Tahiti. With little else to do, I decided to go for a walk and take a few nice pictures, before returning back to Mark's for dinner. It, however, didn't quite go to plan because, while on my way back, I was called over by a group of lads drinking beer. Now, we all know the saying 'don't speak to strangers'. If we were to elaborate on this saying, it would probably go something like 'don't speak to strangers, particularly if they're drinking beer and smoking, whilst you're in a foreign country by yourself, where you don't speak the language, and are quite clearly a tourist'.

As you can probably guess, I failed to heed this advice. What happened for the next x hours is a bit of a blur, partly because I joined them in their aforementioned activities, partly because it was all completely surreal. Despite the obvious language barrier*, they embraced me into their considerably sized family (seriously, I was holding a baby at one point!). While they seemed friendly enough, occasionally they would speak to each other in French, look at me, and laugh. I'm not going to lie, it made me somewhat apprehensive. This apprehension was exacerbated by the fact that the warming afternoon sun had been replaced by complete darkness, and I wasn't entirely sure how to get back to Mark's.

Trying not to offend them, but also being concerned for my own safety, I politely declined the offer of dinner and a bed for the night, not to mention the proposal to marry the mother of the baby, and headed back. Two brothers also had to walk back in the same direction, so escorted me most of the way. One of them turned off to his home, leaving me in the company of one of the scariest looking blokes I've ever seen (I've never considered face tattoos particularly friendly), in complete darkness. Thankfully, I made it back to the hostel safely, where I had time to reflect on what a bizarre night it had been.

Whilst eating my beef flavoured Ramen noodles, I started to wish I'd accepted the offer of dinner. I also wish I'd accepted the offer of a bed, because my hut, beautiful though it was, can best be described as a wooden tent, as it did little to protect you from the elements, specifically the winds that were raging outside. This was largely due to the fact that in place of glass windows, it had mesh netting. There were curtains, but using these to try and keep the wind out was as useful as trying to control a fire by putting a cardboard box over it.

After a breezy night, I had one full day in Moorea. Thankfully Mark was on hand to advise me on how best to spent it, creating a mini itinerary for me. Mid morning I set of on the Three Coconut Walk, an epic trek through the forest. The route had been decimated by winds, with several trees and bridges falling victim, making for some interesting, and often dangerous, obstacles. Assuming you survive these, after about 2 and a half hours your effort is rewarded with a sensational, glorious, magnificent panoramic view of the island. After a spot of lunch, I headed back to Mark's, where I grabbed a bicycle and some snorkeling gear, and headed to the beach. The water was beginning to get a bit violent by the time I got there, so I didn't have too much time, but still spotted some beautifully coloured tropical fish, as well as a particularly shy hermit crab. I then sat on the beach watching the sun set, before heading back for dinner. All-in-all, a very successful day.

It was then simply a case of getting back to Tahiti, killing a few hours, and heading to the airport. Needless to say, it didn't work out that way (you're surprised, I can tell). I had to check out by 10am, and was due to be picked up at 1pm to get the ferry at 2.45pm. All very straight forward. However, I had not had anything to eat or drink since the afternoon before, and the local shops only took cash, of which I had none. I therefore decided I needed to get to one of only two ATMs on the island. Now, most people learn from their mistakes. Not me; I've worked out I make the same mistake an average six times before even beginning to learn. I looked at my trusted map, and decided I could make it to the ATM, buy food and drink, and make it back with time to spare. I forgot - despite being there almost a week- that mornings are agonizingly hot, I had all my luggage with me and, on account of not having drank in roughly 15 hours, I was on the verge of dehydration. By the time I'd made it to the ATM, got cash, drank 1.5 litres of water, eaten a ham sandwich, an apple and half a pack of Oreos, it was 12.53.

With no buses in sight (Moorean public transport, to put it lightly, isn't the best), I had only one option: hitchhike, again. I was this time picked up by the most amazingly kind-hearted Tahitian lady, Valerie, and her daughter. Rather than simply take me to the dock, Valerie took me to her home, gave me some of the most delicious home grown fruit imaginable, and gave me a tour of her back garden. Most back gardens don't require a spine-tingling, head-bashing, ear-popping, 4x4 trip in order to gain access, but this was not like most back gardens; it was unbelievable, the view was breathtaking. After insisting I take more fruit, which I gladly accepted, Valerie dropped me off at the dock, leaving with me her address and phone number should I ever happen to pass through Moorea in the future.
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I made it to the ferry with time in hand, and finally made it back to Tahiti. I made sure I got to the airport in plenty of time. When I say plenty of time, I mean 14 hours before my flight was due to depart! Why is it that when I allow time for unexpected occurrences, they never materialize? Oh well, next stop is Auckland and six weeks in New Zealand. It's fair to say, I'm excited!

  • * Mildly Amusing Anecdote #1: At one point they asked me to say what I could in French. Having exhausted my limited vocabulary (hello, goodbye, yes, no, please, 1-10), I resorted to reciting the lyrics to Flight of the Conchord's Foux Du FaFa. Parlez-vous le Francais? Non.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 17:45 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged french_polynesia tahiti moorea Comments (0)

Chapter 3 - San Diego

Stay Classy San Diego

sunny 30 °C

So, after the airport shenanigans documented in blog 2, I finally arrived in San Diego. After the day I'd had, I would have killed for a beer or 9. Thankfully for the other guests, it didn't come to that, as the hostel had already organised a night out at a local club (usually $40 entry). At this point, I'd like to describe in detail what happened. Unfortunately, neither I, nor any of my newly made friends, could recall much at all the following morning. I have managed to piece together some key events: I dropped my phone in the toilet; the club was huge, and had a fire on the roof; drinks were flippin' expensive; I played some jazz flute; a copious amount of tequila was consumed by all.

With heads feeling rather sore the following morning, a few of us decided the best hangover cure was beer (they say 60% of the time, it works every time). We stumbled a few block to the wonderfully named Nicky Rotten's and planted ourselves next to the biggest TV. Two good things then happened. Firstly, Barcelona gave United a footballing lesson. Secondly, I had the greatest burger of all time, bar none. It was called the 'Pizza Burger'. Combining a pizza with a burger is so brilliantly simple, I can't believe I've not done it before. It was, in a word, glorious. I love Pizza Burger. By 2 o'clock, it was officially a good day; come 3 o'clock, it was to become a brilliant one.

Within a week of leaving the UK I'd come to the conclusion that being sensible was synonymous with being boring. With this glaringly flawed ethos in mind, I put my name down for the trip to Tijuana, Mexico! Mexico's "border control" (I use that term loosely) is somewhat less sophisticated than their northern neighbours'. In favour of fingerprinting and iris scans, they've gone for the not-so-subtle approach of a revolving door, and one man with a gun. In fairness, it was a bloody big gun. We strolled over the border, and went to do some shopping. It was here I made a frankly inspired purchase.

I opted against the bottle of 96% proof spirit, instead spending $10 on a bright blue Mexican wrestling mask (Google image search Rey Mysterio and you'll get the idea). We went for some $2 beers and $1 tequilas, before heading for food. Usually, restaurants, pool clubs, nightclubs and tattoo parlours are separate establishments, but not in Mexico. After we ordered our food, we wandered past the dance floor to the pool table where, in between shots, we were able to watch a girl get a hideous design printed on her back! 

With fajitas, tacos and nachos consumed, the waiter returned with yet more tequila. He proceeded to perform a rather amusing ritual of going around the table, yanking everyone's head back, and pouring a couple of shots worth down everyone's throat. With that, we were ready to hit the club! Once I'd had a few more beers, and possibly some more tequila, I inevitably thought it would be a fantastic idea to crack out the wrestling mask. I'm not so sure it was, but it made for some interesting photos.

Having got precisely seven minutes of sleep that night, I decided to pay a visit to the zoo and meet some pandas. While I wasn't overly impressed with the zoo overall (Singapore blows it away), pandas are stunning creatures, I could've watched them all day! The father was a big chap, I tried to get an interview with him, but they said 'no, you can’t do that he’s a live bear, he will literally rip your face off.' Oh well.

Monday's weather was glorious and, with it being my last day in San Diego, I decided to take a trip to Mission Beach. It was horrible. Overcrowded and full of people trying to sell you expensive rubbish (I bought a hat). I didn't hang around long, and on my travels back stumbled across a place called Old Town, which I decided to explore. I'm glad I did, the place was amazing; it was like stepping onto the set of a western! Before I knew it, I'd spent the rest of the day in saloons, cigar shops and brothels (joking...).

Once back I decided to have a quiet night in, as I had a bus to LA to catch on the morning before flying out. My plan was going well, up until someone asked me if I wanted to come out, to which I instantly responded: 'sure'.

After another fun night, I opted against getting the bus in favour of a road trip with a group of Australians who were heading to Hollywood. This was a good choice - much more comfortable, and they dropped me off right at the airport. Turns out they aren't a bad bunch, the Aussies!

The only downside was a 10 hour wait at one of the most depressing places on Earth, LAX! Within 2 hours, I was in a glass case of emotion.
Eventually though, I was on my way to paradise. I arrived in Tahiti at roughly 5am, and it was hot. Very hot. Good times...

  • * Awesome Trivia #1: How many Anchorman references can you spot?

Posted by Daniel.J.B 17:18 Archived in USA Tagged beaches san_diego mexico zoo usa panda tijuana Comments (0)

Part II - Toronto

lol O Canada

sunny 20 °C

Toronto had quite a job to do; being the follow-up act to New York City is no mean feat. But, with the CN Tower providing a commanding stage presence, it performed admirably. Where-as NYC punches you in the face with a succession of head banging rock numbers, Toronto slows things down a bit with a some soothing melodies.

From almost anywhere in the city, the awesome CN Tower dominates the skyline. After spending Monday doing roughly nothing, I decided to wander down to see it up close and personal on Tuesday. I hadn't planned on going up it, but having seen the sheer size of the thing (1,815ft/553m), I couldn't resist. The elevator fires you up to the observation level 1,136ft from the ground (equivalent to 113 stories). From here you get an impressive view of the city and beyond.

More impressive, though, is the glass floor one level down. Convincing your brain that it is perfectly safe to step forward, when nothing but 2.5" of glass separates you from plummeting to the ground, is not easy! I paid a wee bit extra to go to the Sky Pod a little higher up, which at 1,465ft was the world's highest public observation gallery until 2008. If you ever get the chance, don't bother; the view is exactly the same. I explored the city for the rest of the day* before getting a relatively early night. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve, knowing that in the morning I would be able to tick off one the top items on my 'to see' list.
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The CN Tower may be Toronto's ace in the pack, but it comes a distant second when it comes to Ontario as a whole.
The bus arrived at Niagara Falls at about 11.30am. The first glimpse I got was of the American Falls, which was pretty impressive; I then cocked my head a little to the right, and saw the famous Horseshoe Falls (Canadian side). I can't think of one single superlative that does justice to how incredible that sight is, so I'll use a bunch: breathtaking, epic, powerful, amazing, astonishing, staggering, mind-blowing... you get the point.

I didn't have much time to take it in as, along with the rest of the tour group, I was ushered along to the 'Maid of the Mist' boat ride. I'd paid an extra $16 for the experience and - unlike the Sky Pod - it was worth every penny. Sorry, cent. The boat takes you as close as is safe to the foot of the Falls, and it is from here you get the best understanding of how awe-inspiringly powerful it really is. The sight and sound of over 100,000 cubic feet of water crashing down every second, with the mist floating overhead, is one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.

After that we had a few hours to explore the rest of the area. I used this time productively, A) taking lots of pictures, B) getting a burger** and C) going up the Skylon Tower. Again, I paid extra for this. Again, it was worth it. While I wouldn't say it was a must-do, like Maid of the Mist, the 360° observation deck gives you a stunning view of the Falls from above, providing a plethora of new photo opportunities. So engrossed was I, that I failed to realise the time; I was (only slightly) late back to the bus, where I was greeted with an ironic cheer.

Leaving the Falls, we stopped off at the beautifully quaint town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, before going for a bit of wine tasting. It was amusing watching half the group act like connoisseurs, swirling and sniffing the wine before taking a delicate sip. Me? I necked it. I'd never heard of ice-wine before, let alone taste it, but I absolutely love it. Unfortunately, it is extremely expensive, as it takes roughly 30 times the number of grapes to make as regular wine. Damn my expensive taste. After the wine was tasted, it was back to Toronto. I returned to the hostel and made myself a delicious pasta dish (for the third consecutive day), just as the weather - which had been beautiful all day*** - went into thunderstorm mode. All-in-all, Wednesday was epic³.
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For my final day in Toronto, I decided to go on Trip Advisor. I'd run out of my own ideas, so consulted the people of the internet ('Internetians' as they shall be referred to from here on in). According to the Internetians, the Royal Ontario Museum was 'a great way to spend a few hours' and a 'must see'. This was in stark contrast to the opinion of an Irish couple I spoke to, who said it was 'rubbish and boring'. I figured the Irish are just an uncultured bunch, so decided to go for it. I'm with the Internetians, I thought it was brilliant, particularly the African, ancient Egyptian and ancient Greek exhibits (although the Roman one was closed, to my disappointment).

With that, my time in Toronto came to an end. Next stop: San Diego! Or at least, that was the plan.

Friday. 'One of those days' doesn't even begin to describe it. Firstly, I'd paid $20 for a shuttle bus to the airport, due to pick me up from a nearby hotel at 7.50 (my flight was at 10.30). I get there at 7.40 and wait. 8 o'clock, nothing. I wait until 20 past 8, as late as I possibly could, before giving up and getting a taxi ($55!). I was advised to get to the airport for 9 o'clock, I arrived at 9.03. I got checked in and all seemed well.

As those of you who have been to America post-9/11 will know, getting through customs is a tedious process involving fingerprinting and photographing, usually done once you arrive on US soil. Travelling from Canada (or Toronto, at least), they inexplicably carry out this process before departing. To add insult to injury, this weekend happens to be a holiday weekend, so there were 2 - TWO - officers working, with a queue of well over 100 at any given time. By the time I'd gotten through, it was gone 11, and my flight was long gone. I had two choices: wait until the following, or fly to Los Angeles and figure it out from there. I opted for the latter.

It was in the departure gate where I had my first slice of good fortune for the day. Next to me in the queue for customs had been two women - an Estonian and a Russian - who found themselves in the same predicament as myself. They decided to drive to San Diego, and asked me if I'd like to join them and split the rental, which I did. For the next three hours or so I found myself in the utterly bizarre situation of travelling in the back of a car with two complete strangers, very friendly though they were, driving down the west coast of America (which, incidentally, is a stunning route). It's fair to say I had not expected that when I'd woken up.

Around 7 hours later than originally planned, I finally arrived at my hostel, which is when the fun really started. The last three days have been pretty crazy; all shall be revealed in blog 3, so stay tuned for that!

  • * Mildly Amusing Anecdote #1: I saw an advert for a vodka that apparently "filters out inequality". Either the manufacturers don't understand the difference between 'quality' and 'equality', or it's a vodka that promotes equal rights. Either way, I like it.
  • ** Mildly Amusing Anecdote #2: The lads in front of me thought it would be funny to order their food in a British accent. The woman behind the counter was not fooled, and called them up on it. When I ordered mine, she said my attempt at a British accent was even worse. She looked quite embarrassed when I showed her my driving license.
  • *** Fun Fact #1: (Head - Hair) + Sunshine = Burnt Scalp.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 10:24 Archived in Canada Tagged san_diego airport toronto niagara_falls los_angeles canada cn_tower wine Comments (0)

The First Leg - New York

I heart NY

semi-overcast 22 °C

After an emotional farewell to the friends Thursday night, and an emotional farewell to the family Friday morning, it was finally time to leave British soil. As soon as I did, something annoying happened. When in economy class, it's fair to say you're not gifted with a huge amount of leg room. Most people are therefore gracious enough not to fully recline their seat. Most people, but never the ones sat in front of me! A bit of knee-in-the-back action, however, and she soon resumed the upright position.

One inconsiderate lady aside, the journey was pretty uneventful; I got through customs without making any jokes about having a bomb, and arrived at the hostel about 4pm. After some hardcore napping, I went to the welcoming party. I soon got talking to people from all over the globe, and got in a heated debate with an Australian girl regarding semantics. Whilst we agreed on the ambiguity of the term 'fag', I was a little underwhelmed when I realised what she meant when she said I could see her thong.

Saturday was... how can I put this eloquently? Mental. I was up at the crack of sparrows to meet Lady Liberty and visit Ellis Island, which was fascinating. I'd paid a little extra for the audio tour of both, only to forget to collect my headset at Ellis Islands, oops. Once I departed the ferry I was presented with the opportunity to purchase some intriguingly named Obama Condoms. I politely declined. Having stopped to watch a street performance from a quartet of hilarious, and very talented, break dancers, I decided to go to the Empire State Building. The bus terminal looked too confusing for my liking, so I decided to walk, despite the fact I didn't actually have any idea where it was. Turns out it's a very long way away. On my travels I stumbled upon Union Square, Ground Zero and Broadway, where I witnessed the rather elaborate union of messrs Tom and Zach. A quaint church it was not. What it was was a bright pink mobile chapel, complete with loud speakers pumping out music with far too much bass, and plenty of scantily clad dancers. It put Will and Kate's poxy efforts to shame.

Once I got to Broadway and Times Square I suspended my search for the Empire State Building in favour of M&M World. A solid choice - pretzel M&Ms are something special! I filled my boots, and decided to resume my original search. Thanks to my in-depth knowledge of the NY street track on Gran Turismo, I had a rough idea of where it was. Once there, I offended the street vendor when I told him I'd heard the SkyRide was 'crap', and just wanted to go to the observatory on the 86th floor. He begrudgingly sold me a ticket, which granted me the opportunity to queue. And queue. And queue a little more. I eventually reached the observatory, which in fairness was pretty spectacular. Having taken the stock photos, I joined the queue for the exit.
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As soon as I was back on terra firma, it began to rain, which put a slight dampner (ha!) on what had otherwise been a superb day. I got back to the hostel, had a quick shower, and got ready for the night out I'd signed up to. Having not heard another British accent up until then, I got talking to a couple of English girls, and we headed to what was without doubt the strangest club I've ever set foot in. Having been violated by the security guard (he didn't even buy me a drink), we were finally allowed entry. To say New Yorkers are a boisterous bunch would be an understatement; they're just plain mental! Us Brits are a more reserved lot, and by midnight the three of us had seen enough - too much in some cases - and jumped in a cab to Times Square. We found an Irish bar that, while not exactly quiet, was somewhat more tasteful than the club we left behind. After meeting some more interesting characters, we ended up back at the hostel about 4am.

Sunday was rather less hectic. I tagged along with Alex and Ruth - the English girls from the previous night - to visit Colombia University, Brooklyn Bridge and Bloomingdales. I then headed off to Rockefeller Center, and walked back to the hostel via Central Park (where I inevitably got lost). I then had a couple of hours to kill before heading off.

New York was a great way to start my trip. I've never been anywhere quite like it and, while 2 days was enough do pretty much everything I wanted to, I do love the place just for the sheer insanity of it all. It's certainly a place I think everyone should try and visit at some point if possible. I just hope the rest of my chosen locations live up to the high standards which have now been set.
I've just arrived at the hostel in Toronto (which is awesome) after a very long overnight bus journey. I'm probably just going to spend today recovering, explore Toronto properly tomorrow, and visit Niagara Falls on Wednesday.
I might post again from San Diego, otherwise you probably wont hear from me until New Zealand in a couple of weeks. Until then, I shall bid you farewell.

Dan.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 06:42 Archived in USA Tagged new_york times_square statue_of_liberty ellis_island broadway central_park empire_state_building Comments (2)

Nearly time!

22 hours and counting.

overcast

Well, this time tomorrow I'll be somewhere over the Atlantic, jetting towards New York. The packing is about done, just one or two last minute bits and pieces to do (go bowling, make pizza etc.).

My itinerary for the next 94 days or so is as follows:
20/05 - 22/05: New York
22/05 - 27/05: Toronto
27/05 - 31/05: San Diego
01/06 - 08/06: Tahiti
09/06 - 21/07: New Zealand (Auckland to Christchurch, via Rotorua, Taupo, National Park, Wellington, Nelson, Greymouth, Franz Josef, Queenstown, Dunedin, Lake Tekapo)
21/07 - 17/08: Australia (Brisbane to Cairns, via everything in between!)
18/07 - 21/08: Hong Kong.

I'll keep you all updated with my progress, hopefully every week or two. Hope you all have a good summer!

Dan.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 04:32 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

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