A Travellerspoint blog

East Coast Adventure

Sea, surfers, sand and sea-sickness!

After dropping off Mavis and Gerry at the airport, we drove north and slightly inland to Hunter Valley, famed in these parts for its wine-making (and sampling thereof!).

It was noticably warmer after the distinctly English climate of Melbourne as we strolled down country lanes in search of local wineries, which were very attractively landscaped and beautifully set within rolling hills with horses and tropical birds roaming freely.
Lucy indulged in 2 separate tastings at different wineries and seemed to have a bit of a knack for it as she bought a couple of bottles and giggled her way home in the afternoon sun!

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Driving north again, we arrived in the seaside town of Newcastle to find it a place of contrasts - a rather shabby and superficial beach on one side of the bay in sharp contrast to the newly regenerated and cultured dockland area around the headland.

Here we visited Blackbutt Reserve, 20 KM of bushland in the town's suburbs complete with birds, wombats, emus, bats, wallabies and of course koalas!

Of course we indulged in a koala encounter, Lucy having to be persuaded in the strongest possible terms to take the startled creature out of her rucksack on more than one occasion!

We also took a rainforest walk and came across hundreds of bats nesting and flying around the trees above our heads. It was all very 'otherwordly' - the heat, smell, bat calls and 'whump whump' sounds from their flapping wings all made us feel like part of some strange horror film set somewhere in the deepest parts of an alien wilderness!
Take a look at the video to see for yourselves...

The coastal headland area of Port Stephens is comprised of numerous scenic and charming bays with gorgeous beaches and friendly laid-back charm that other parts of the East Coast now lack in their clamour to capitalise fully on the area's increasingly aggressive commercialisation.

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On our first afternoon there, we took a summit walk near Nelson Bay to admire the area from above. The summit path was a little steep and treachorous, which became all the more apparant when a local Aussie girl (Amy) came running down the hill behind us, only to twist her ankle and then fall on her knee as she tumbled right next to us. Her sister Teegan was with her but couldn't get hold of their parents mobiles, so We did the only decent thing which was to carry her all the way down the path to the base of the hill!

While carrying her down, one of the sisters' teachers (Liz) came along and offered us some help, and so eventually we got Amy back down the hill, where she was put in Liz's car and taken home!
The next evening, Liz and her husband turned up at our hostel and offered to take us out for a meal, as long as we agreed to be quizzed about Europe and the UK as they were doing some travelling themselves in 2010. It sounded like a good deal to us!

Their whole family were actually present at the meal, Amy and Teegan's Mum had sent a card and present along with Liz for us which was a nice touch.

We also indulged in some sand-boarding while in the area, take a look at this video for how NOT to do it!

We took a dolphin and whale watching cruise here. From September to November, whales are migrating south along the coastline, mothers staying with their calves near the coast which makes for good whale-spotting! There are also an abundance of dolphins around Nelson Bay, which can be seen just walking around the marinas in town.

Unfortunately, as soon as the boat left the bay and tuned off its engines on open sea, Richard was sick as a dog and had to lie on the back of the boat for the whole morning. Lucy got a great view of a calf and mother whale though, as well as a pod of dolphins who tagged on our bow wave for a while playfully jumping in and out of the water alongside us before darting off to chase a school of fish at an impressive 20 knots through the water.

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Our next port of call was Bellingen, a quaint and bewitching alternative 'new-age' town with gorgeous cafes, interesting galleries, museums and boutiques and a fascinating national park rainforest just up the road!

The Dorrigo National Park Rainforest was suitably impressive, with accessible walks through its amazing collection of trees and creeping vines leading into a deep valley towards the pretty Tristania Falls.

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While in 'Bello', the huge dustcloud (some of you may remember this being on the news) which had blown in from the outback and covered most of New South Wales and Queensland (a not inconsiderable land mass!) arrived in Bellingen, turning the morning sun a strange light blue colour and the sky an eerie yellow! It was a strange sight to behold, like a thick yellow mist had descended and given the world a creepy duotone tinge!

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Byron Bay was, at one time, a haven for hippies who came to the area for the laid-back vibes and great beaches. Today, bongs have been replaced with Billabong outlets but elements of the old hippy influences remain amongst the backpacker hostels and greyhound buses.

We had a quick look round before driving to Cape Byron, which boasts an impressively maintained lighthouse and its claim of being the most easterly point in Australia!

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Feeling the need for respite from the east coast culture for a while, we headed inland to the strange and sleepy town of Murwillumbah, where our hostel was situated on the banks of a river and had large pet lizards wandering around for company!

We used this as a base to visit the fantastically superficial and unappealing stretch of coastline known as the Gold Coast, which could perhaps be described as a hot Blackpool.
We took one look and decided not to park Maggie, opting instead to drive through Surfer's Paradise and visit 'The Spit', a marina a couple of miles up the coast which comprised of over-priced clothes shops and some of the biggest yachts you're likely to see around these waters!

Brisbane was probably our favourite city in Australia, an opinion perhaps influenced by the fact that neither of us were ill, the weather was great and were staying a great area with plenty of culture and places to relax and watch the world go by.
The South Bank Parklands, near our hostel, was where you could find art galleries, theatres, fairs, markets, beautiful gardens and even an urban beach, complete with sand, palm tress, pools, water fountains and grassy banks for sun-bathing.

Most people who come to Hervey Bay do so to visit Fraser Island, us being no exception to this rule. Fraser Island is extremely expensive to visit due to its inaccessibility and lack of accommodation options, so we decided to take a day-trip there to get a feel for the island by taking a nature walk along a beach and through some woodlands, parts of which were used to train special operations soldiers for WWII (the rusting remnants of an old training camp can still be seen).

Magnetic Island had come highly recommended from friends and so we were looking forward to seeing what it had to offer. Lucy jumped for joy when we were checking into our bush-bungalow accommodation and saw that we could have hold a koala bear in the affiliated wildlife park next to the resort!

The tour at the park the following day didn't disappoint! We handled or were at close quarters with crocodiles, tropical birds, lizards and of course Lucy got to cuddle a koala bear while Richard took plenty of photos to record the occasion!

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We also found out from the park ranger that while on our way up the coast, we'd wandered briefly around coastline that boasted the most concentrated number of aggressive saltwater crocodiles (unlike their freshwater counter-parts, these WILL attack and eat you!) in the entire country! Gulp! We agreed to be a little more aware of our environment moving forward!

While on the island, which we both loved almost straight away, we walked over some steep cliffs and through fire-damaged bushlands to bask in the glorious sunshine of the splendidly named Radical Bay, where the warm sea rolled towards us in huge waves, which made for some good improvised body-surfing fun!

On the way home from Radical Bay, we stopped to watch the sun go down over the ocean and found a local chippy to provide a taste of home as we enjoyed a very scenic end to the day.

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Before Magnetic Island, we'd made the decision to miss out Cairnes and travel inland through the outback to Ayers Rock (Uluru) and Kakadu National Park to get a taste of the 'real' Australia before heading north to Darwin to fly to Singapore!

Posted by rioandlucy 21:18 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Riley Re-union Down Under

Markets, mountains and Maggies maiden trip

Three emotional Riley’s were re-united in Sydney International airport, it seemed that Mavis and Gerry were just happy to find Lucy in one piece after recent events!

The following morning Lucy had to visit her surgeon, and got the all clear much to the relief of everyone!
Over the next few days we hit Sydney, packing in as many of the sights as possible. We took a trip over to Manly on the ferry and got spectacular views of both The Harbour Bridge and The Opera House, which was surprisingly small.

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As shopping is a pastime enjoyed by the Riley contingent we visited numerous markets, we wandered The Rocks Sunday Market, stopping for morning tea and scones. We discovered that the loud and colourful Paddy’s Market, with it’s endless supply of tourist ’tat’ and fantastic fruit and vegetable market, was excellent for bagging a bargain as closing time looms. We also sauntered through the elegant Queen Victoria Building which takes up an entire block and has a fabulous animated Royal Clock hanging from the glass domed ceiling.

We strolled through the botanical gardens, enjoying the warm spring sunshine, and visited Darling Harbour to see the huge cruise ships.

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Lucy and Mavis decided to venture up to the top of the Sky Tower and were rewarded with some incredible views of the city and as it was a clear day also got a glimpse of the Blue Mountains in the distance.

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With our time in Sydney almost up we got the bus back to Bondi where we picked up Maggie the Mitsubishi Magna, as with our trip to New Zealand we decided to buy a car which we’re hoping to sell at the end of our trip in Darwin. We enjoyed lunch by the beach, making the most of the sun before we headed south over the next few days to the cooler climes of Melbourne.

After insuring the car we loaded up our luggage, (it’s a good job we bought a station wagon after all!) and set off towards Melbourne, reaching Wagga Wagga, our half way point by early evening and found a bed for the night. We briefly explored the town the following day before getting back on the road.

It was a good 5 hour drive to Melbourne and Maggie appeared to be coping well with her load, thankfully!
While Mavis and Gerry explored Melbourne we had to register the car with VicRoads, unfortunately some of the paperwork wasn’t quite right, but after a call to the previous owners we had an appointment with a garage the following Monday morning to sort everything out, hopefully!

Unfortunately Melbourne was a tad grey and drizzly while we were there but we managed to see some of what the city has to offer. We saw the house that Captain Cook lived in, which was bought and transported to Australia where it was rebuilt, even the herb garden has been replanted! We also visited the Victoria Art Gallery, to see it’s impressive European collection before indulging in a little more retail therapy at the nearby Victoria Market!

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We left Melbourne and drove to Albury on the New South Wales/Victoria border, where we stayed overnight before our appointment at the garage to finalise our registration of Maggie. It was a team effort but we made good use of what little facilities the hostel kitchen offered and enjoyed a tremendous Sunday roast, what a treat!

With all the correct paperwork finally in hand from the garage we were now able to fully register Maggie, so we headed back north on our way to the Blue Mountains, we had a long drive ahead of us but we eventually got to Katoomba as dusk was falling. Too tired to cook, the unanimous decision was that the Chinese restaurant over the road looked inviting, so we decideed to pay a visit and enjoyed a superb meal!

It was pretty chilly but we enjoyed lovely bright skies as we explored what the area had to offer, Mavis and Gerry caught the scenic train into Sydney to pick up a few last minute presents (there’s no stopping the shopping!) while we put our walking boots on and walked up to Echo Point where we saw the Three Sisters, a terrific rock formation. Richard took the cliff edge rock steps down to the viewing point, while Lucy decided to wait on land a little firmer! We then took the cliff edge walk to see the Katoomba Cascade and waterfalls, both of which were beautiful and well worth the walk.

It really was magnificent, reminiscent of the Grand Canyon but on a much smaller scale, and also much greener, added to this the wonderful blue haze that comes from a fine mist of eucalyptus oil from the thousands of trees that surround it makes this a very beautiful place.

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In the evening we drove back to Echo Point to see the Three Sister illuminated, we also witnessed a terrific lightening storm over Sydney, with sheet and fork lightening lighting up the skies miles away, an excellent reminder of how vast this country is and just how small we really are.

The following day the four of us walked to the Katoomba Cascade and took in the stunning views along the way to the falls and it was just as wonderful as it was the day before! We then drove out to the aptly named Sublime Point, with its 180 degree views of the Jamieson Valley, and the reverse of the Three Sisters. Breathtaking!

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It was a tad chilly so Gerry decided the only way for us to warm up would be with a nice warm cuppa and a slice of cake and who are we to argue?!

As our fortnight together came to an end, we chatted about what a fabulous time we’d all had during the past couple of weeks, and how quickly it had flown by, but we were reminded that in just 6 months we’ll be reunited in another airport - Manchester - not quite as exotic, but definitely something to look forward to!! We packed Maggie up one last time with all our bags and drove Mavis and Gerry to Sydney airport for their mammoth flight home.
We could put it off no longer, and our farewell was just as tearful as expected.

And so ends the Riley’s big adventure down under - all except for one Riley of course.

She and Richard were heading north to pastures new. Byron Bay, Magnetic Island, Brisbane, and even an unexpected outback adventure to Ayers Rock and Kakadu National Park awaited them…

Posted by rioandlucy 21:17 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Beaches, Bugs and Bladders!

Island paradises, reggae buses and emergency operations - this post has got the lot!

So here we are again folks, and sorry it's been so long!

As some of you know, it's been an eventful 6 weeks or so, and so we have a lot to catch up on, so here goes...

We touched (bumped!) down in Fiji to be welcomed by extreme humidity and torrential rain - definitely not what we'd signed up for!

Happily, we awoke the following morning to be greeted by glorious hot sunshine, so like good English citizens we ran down the beach for maximum sun exposure time - however we're sensible when it comes to the factor 30, so worry not!

After a few days relaxing on New Town Beach, we decided on a 7-day trip around the Yasawa Islands -deciding to stay on 3 of them for 2 nights apiece.

On the first day, after a slight soaking on the Yasawa Flyer (a big yellow catamaran which takes you close to your island of choice before a small water-taxi picks you up), we got an even bigger soaking as we approached our first resort - Safe Landing on the island of Nacula, one of the furthest north from the mainland.

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As you can see, these islands really are about as close to paradise as you can get, and our bure was situated right on the beach, complete with a handy hammock attached to a couple of coconut trees for good measure!

One of the highlights was walking around the bay before sunset to sample afternoon tea Fiji-style - check out the local Starbucks:

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As we sipped our tea, we watched the school bus dropping the kids off - they leave for school on Monday morning and come back on Friday afternoon!

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On Sunday morning, we were invited to the village church to join the locals in their weekly prayers. Needless to say we were somewhat taken aback when a pumping house beat erupted from the LOUD pa system, and the preacher started to 'Dad dance' around the open-air church while the congregation ran freely underneath the coconut tress, also getting their groove on! Of course, we stood there like stiffs at the front, clapping politely and looking slightly bewildered!
We all agreed that if the C of E introduced raving into their Sunday sermons, we'd all be on board!!

The 2nd resort we visited was the aptly named 'White Sandy Beach' on Naviti Island.
The snorkelling here was amazing - you only needed to swim 30 metres out before comingacross a deep coral shelf with the most incredible array of multi-coloured fish of all shapes and sizes, as well as the coral itself which was like something off the BBC's Blue Planet!

At this point, we have to mention the lovely cold outdoor shower that came with our bure - we soon realised that middle of the afternoon was the best time to use this - you didn't want any shade or cool breeze to make matters any worse!

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Our third and final resort was Wayalailai on the Waya Island. Here, all the profits from the resort were channelled back into the village, providing better homes and scholarships for the children.

Here, we went on a rather scary and unsafe rock walk (Lucy declined the opportunity to cross a narrow ridge with huge drops on either side, after watching our guide John literally drag a nervous Canadian girl across by her arm..!):

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We also sampled a Kava ceremony (where you clap and smile even though you've just drunk a foul tasting gritty pummelled root!) and did some more snorkelling. Lucy also learnt how to weave on the beach with some of the older women from the village, and made herself a bracelet and ring.

We were quite dejected when we had to leave the Yasawa Islands, but all good things must come to an end! We sailed back into Denarau port on the mainland just as the sun was setting over another gorgeous day in Fiji:

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We then decided to visit the Coral Coast on the south of the main island. To get there, we negotiated 2 local buses, both of which had very basic suspension, deafening engines and erratic drivers who saw traffic ahead as a challenge to overtake on corners and scare the living daylights out of us! Bizzarely, one of the buses was fitted with a nightclub sound-system that any boy racer would be proud of! When we sat off, a UB40 track blasted out which, as if this wasn't bizzare enough, kept skipping and repeating over and over as we hit many a pot-hole along the way. While Lucy and I sat there laughing at this farce, the Fijian passengers sat there looking stoney-faced and bored, which added to the comical scene before us!

Having made it, we spent a couple of days at the Beach House resort, where Richard had a dose of 'Nadi Belly' for a couple of days but nothing too serious. We then moved to the unexpected luxury of the Bedarra Beach Resort, where we were treated to a huge air-conditioned en-suite room, welcome drinks, room service and evening meals on a terrace over-looking the sea.

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Bliss, or it should have been! Unfortunately, it was then Lucy's turn to come down with an illness, which lasted for more than a couple of days. We eventually visited a doctor in Sigatoka, who prescribed her some anti-biotics and lots of plain food!

This seemed to do the trick and we spent a final couple of days in Fiji back in New Town Beach again, nice and handy for the airport up the road. On our final night, we had a meal with an Irish couple we'd met on the Yasawa Islands before once more cramming all our worldly possessions into our rucksacks and getting an early night for the flight in the morning.

After an uneventful flight, we landed in a sunny and warm Sydney and caught a cab to our hostel on Coogee Beach, round the bay from Bondi. Unfortunately, Lucy was starting to feel worse again, and the next day was spent frustratingly trying to navigate the city and get to grips with the local transport system! We also found another hostel in Bondi, as our place in Coogee left a lot to be desired.

By the evening, Lucy was feeling worse still and so we booked her an appointment at a local medical centre for the next morning. On examination, Lucy was advised to go immediately to the A&E department of the hospital, as there seemed to be a serious problem in her abdominal area.

Within a couple of hours, poor Lucy was on a drip, pumped full of morphine and being told that she would be staying on ward for some time while they diagnosed the problem. Meanwhile, Richard was catching cabs, packing bags, moving everything to the new hostel in Bondi, putting together overnight bags for Lucy and speaking to her family while trying to catch a bite to eat!!

The next day, Lucy was informed that she had gall stones and that her inflamed gall bladder would need to be removed. Surgery was scheduled for 2 days later and Lucy bravely looked on the bright side. At least we weren't in Fiji anymore or in a remote part of Cambodia and her folks would see her good as new in a couple of weeks!

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The operation went well, but took a lot longer than expected, so a concerned Richard rushed out from the TV room as Lucy was wheeled back into her room that evening.
After a brief call home to reassure the folks that all went well, it was a case of resting up and letting time and nature do their thing.
3 days later, Lucy was allowed out of hospital and gingerly arrived at the hostel in Bondi, who'd been very good to us - arranging lifts, giving us half-price rent, room upgrades, clean bedding and towels everyday. They even gave us a vase for Lucy's huge bunches of flowers!

The last week or so, which brings us up to date, has mostly been spent relaxing on Bondi Beach and looking for a suitable car to drive the 4,000KM north up the east coast to Darwin.

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Happily, we found such a car today and are picking it up next week once it's been put through it's road-worthy tests. In the meantime, Gerry and Mavis arrive tomorrow, much to Lucy's excitement, and so we'll finally get to see the sights of Sydney that we've been putting off, such as the Sydney Opera House, harbour area, circular quay, Manly and so on.

We hope you're all well back home, do leave us a comment and keep it touch!

Richard and Lucy.

Posted by rioandlucy 04:33 Archived in Australia Comments (6)

Fjords, Glaciers, Seals and Sales!

From Doubtful Sound to a tearful farewell...

Hi again everyone and hope you're all ready for a bumper update this month as we're flying to Fiji on Sunday and don't know when we'll be online again!!

As previously mentioned, we'd booked an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, part of one of the most beautiful Fjordland areas in the world. We were lucky to get this trip, as it was only scheduled due to the boat which runs on the nearby Milford Sound breaking down!

As we crossed Lake Manapouri on our way to Doubtful Sound, the weather was extremely cold with sleet and snow (not unusual for this area - the 2nd wettest in the world by all accounts, getting around 9 metres of rainfall per year!!) and we wondered just how much of the Fjord we would actually get to see! Luckily, the weather improved as we went over the pass towards the Fjord and by the time we alighted our boat, the Fjordland Navigator, it was a calm and moody evening amongst the imposing mountains and deep waters of this ancient area. After exploring the fjord on the tendercraft, we settled in for the night as it began to snow outside.

We were both up and out on the deck by 6am, keen to see the sun rise over mountains as we headed out to the Tasman Sea. The snow had stopped and it was a beautifully clear morning, meaning that the scenery was even more stunning as snow-capped mountains came into view as night turned into day with the rising sun.

We stopped next to some huge rocks on the edge of the ocean to view a seal colony before sailing back along the length of the fjord. Rather than try to describe the scenery, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves...

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Having been extremely lucky to get such great weather on this trip, we then headed back up to the Fox Glacier in the hope that we would be equally as lucky 2nd time around here, having had our first attempt to walk the glacier rained off.

Stopping overnight at Arrowtown, we continued north over a somewhat icey and treachurous Haast Pass to arrive in Fox, where we promptly booked the glacier walk for the following morning, having received a favourable weather report.

As predicted, it was a lovely sunny (and very cold) morning as we set off on a half-frozen bus to the base of the Fox Glacier, which was to be reached by foot. The conditions were very icy and we had to tackle some interesting terrain in order to reach our goal, including 800 steps, a steel ladder up a boulder and some extremely narrow paths around cliff-faces (don't let go of the chain or look down!).

It was well worth the effort and potential broken bones once we set foot on the glacier though. Amazing aqua-blue ice surrounded us which was shiny, smooth and had formed into the most wonderful shapes imaginable. A team of diggers had been on the ice at 6am to maintain the steps in the ice which helped us negotiate ridges and visit the center of the glacier where ice caves, tunnels and other amazing sights awaited.

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After these two rather expensive excursions, we decided to once again base ourselves in Arrowtown for a week in order to get our finances back in order. Arrowtown is a lovely little place and good for local walks with some great views of The Remarkables mountain range and Lake Hayes.
Speaking of Lake Hayes, we got lucky when we left the lights on the car and went for a 3 hour walk, returning to find poor Sharona's battery as flat as a pancake. No, that's not the lucky bit! 10 mins after making this discovery and a spectacularly unsuccessful push-start, along came a lovely Kiwi couple in a big 4x4 with a tow bar and rope which were used to great effect to give Sharona a 'pull-start'! We said 'thank you very much' with Roses by leaving a box under their windscreen wipers as they walked the lake!

We then decided to cross the south island to visit Dunedin, a town with heavy Scottish influence in the south-east of the island.

The number one attraction here was, of course, the Cadbury Factory Tour, where we gained an interesting insight into the processes involved in making our favourite brands, as well as a few local specialities, in addition to lots of free goodies which always goes down well!

With no time to waste, we then drove further north along the east coast in order to get to Christchurch for the weekend, where we had tickets to watch the famous All Blacks play Italy, courtesy of Natasha for Richard's birthday!

Along the way, we stopped at the Moeraki Boulders - huge spherical rocks formed on the beach by time, pressure and local geology. They were once part of the cliff face which has now eroded some distance from these impressive stones.

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Arriving in Christchurch on an extremely cold but mercifully dry evening, we walked from our hostel down to the Westpac Stadium in excited anticipation of seeing the All Blacks and their famous 'haka'.
We had some great seats behind the posts for the game as our thermals and hot coffee kept us warm inside and out!
The Italians looked a little concerned after watching the 'haka' (their anxious faces illuminated on the giant video screen for the gloating Kiwis to mock) and as soon as the All Blacks scored a try, they never looked like they believed they could get into the game.
New Zealand ran out comfortable 27-6 victors, much to the delight of the majority of the crowd.

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After this great experience, we headed north again - this time to the small town of Kaikoura, well-known in these parts for whale, seal and dolphin watching.
We explored the area on foot for a few days before getting a top tip from the manager of the hostel about a lesser-known waterfall and pool which serve as a nursery for baby seals when the ocean gets too rough.

This really was a special place, rarely do you see so many baby seals together in one place and they're extremely interested in people without being aggressive or territorial like their adult counterparts.
Take a look at this photo to see what we mean!

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Look closely at the photo above, how many baby seals can you spot in the water?! It was packed!

Also while in Kaikoura, we had a New Zealand mid-winter Christmas Day (hey why not?!) and also sold the mighty Sharona the Corona!

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Having been given a top tip about a website to advertise the car on, we had around 10 people lined up in Christchurch to view here. As luck would have it, a family drove to Kaikoura and offered us $1000 which we gladly accepted, having paid $1400 for her 3 months ago.
We were however sad to see Sharona drive off with her new owner, as she was a great little car to share our adventures with!

With the Fiji fund now looking healthy, we caught the trans-coastal express train down to Christchurch, passing some lovely scenery without having to keep an eye out for those crazy Kiwi drivers!

Which brings us up to present day. We've been relaxing in Christchurch for the last week or so, taking in the local sights. It's a lovely city - the cathedral, arts centre, art gallery, botanical gardens and Rivon Avon are all lovely.
We caught an excellent improvised comedy night at the Court Theatre called 'Scared Scriptless', which was loosely based on the TV show 'Whose Line is it Anyway'. It was so good that we plan to go again this weekend!

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All we need to do now is fit everything back into our rucksacks and we're ready for the sun, sea and sand of Fiji!

We're missing you all and hope to hear from you soon. Keep in touch!

Posted by rioandlucy 19:28 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Crossing the North South Divide

Taupo to Queenstown and everywhere in between

Hi again everyone, sorry it’s been a while since we last wrote, but hopefully you’ve had chance to look at the pictures? Anyway, here's another update for your reading pleasure!

Since our last exciting instalment, we've had a mixture of very energetic and very lazy days to go with the very mixed weather we've been having! Have you ever heard the song '4 seasons in one day’? It’s pretty apt here - the weather can be very changeable, especially when you're walking up mountains which are 3,000 feet above sea level!

On May 20th, we attempted to walk the Tongariro Crossing, one of New Zealand’s most famous walk past huge mountains and active volcanoes with breath-taking views to boot. Sadly, having rose at 6am and got all geared up to go, the road to the crossing was closed by snow.

Not to be deterred, our very helpful hostel owner showed us a walk we could do which afforded equally as spectacular scenery without the danger of being caught in dangerous blizzard conditions should the weather worsen.

So we walked past the Taranaki Falls in brilliant early morning sunshine on our way in-between Mt Ruapehu (2797m) and Mt Ngauraho (2287m), the latter used for the infamous Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Our aim was to reach the Tama Lakes by 1pm, in order to give us time to eat lunch and get back to the car before dusk approached. With snow partially obscuring the markers and ice everywhere, this wasn’t somewhere you wanted to be walking around in the dark!

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We reached the Lakes on time, sitting to admire their strange green colour while eating lunch. We began to notice clouds approaching on the horizon and so decided to make haste back down the mountain – we’d taken more than enough photos while the visibility was good in the morning.

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Around an hour away from the car, the clouds confirmed our suspicions with heavy snow and a real drop in temperature, at this point we were especially glad for our merino wool thermals and waterproofs! Our party of 7 all got back to our cars looking like snowmen but everyone agreed it had been a fantastic walk and well worth the sore feet!

After a well earned rest we drove north to Taupo, after finally summoning up a small amount of energy to explore we were advised that the Huka Falls were quite a spectacle to behold.

We walked through an attractive park, the trees in all their autumnal glory and the river below steaming where a geothermal pool joined its cool waters. Following the river along, we heard the falls long before we saw them. The falls are long and narrow with only a 10 metre drop, but the volume of water passing through is equivalent to 400 tonnes per second!! The sight and sound of such power is truly awe-inspiring.

We spend a couple of days relaxing in Taupo before venturing south east to Napier, famous for its art-deco architecture. Following a devastating earthquake in 1931 – the largest in New Zealand’s recorded history the city had to be rebuilt. Unfortunately we only see rain clouds here so move on quickly to Wellington in search of drier weather.

After looking at the dire hostel reviews for Wellington we decide to stay outside of the city in the coastal town of Plimmerton just 20kms up the road. On arriving at the Moana Lodge we’re happy with our decision, it’s one of the nicest places we’ve stayed, with just about everything you could want for, they even baked a birthday cake for Richard!!

We had fun exploring the area, just outside Wellington there is a seal winter ‘Haul out’ where the males come out of the sea to re-condition over the winter months, generally feeding and lazing on the rocks all day!

While in Wellington, we dragged ourselves out of bed at the crazy hour of 5am to drive into town to watch the Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona in an Irish bar. Unfortunately, the game didn’t quite go to plan and United lost 2-0. That’s all Richard can bear to type about that!

On June 3rd we bid a fond farewell to the north island and caught the Wellington to Picton ferry. It was a lovely sunny day, so despite the biting wind we sat on the front deck and admired the gorgeous scenery as it unfolded in front of us – clear blue water, lush forests lining hills with sprinklings of cloud at their peak, dramatic sweeping coastlines with islands liberally dotted around and inviting little bays with sail-boats moored up and tiny boardwalks. A wonderful introduction to the south island, which we’d been told was even prettier than the north and we were starting to believe it.

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The following day we took a 6 hour walk over the Queen Charlotte Sound to further linger on the sights we’d enjoyed on the ferry. Again we were lucky with the weather and took some great photos.

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We then decided that we’d like to travel south to try and walk the Fox Glacier and enjoy an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, both activities potentially requiring us to wait until the weather permitted us to enjoy them, as the west of the south island is notorious for its wet weather.

We spent a couple of days in Nelson, where we sampled a Kiwi Saturday morning food market and also visited the geographical centre of New Zealand!

Travelling south again, we stayed overnight in Greymouth before heading to the Franz Josef/Fox Glaciers area to enquire about walking up one of them. Unfortunately, the forecast for the whole of the next week was rain and more rain, so we stayed overnight before heading down towards Queenstown on the Haast Pass, one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring drives we’ve ever experienced.

We’re currently staying just outside Queenstown in Arrowtown, which is an old gold mining town and has a wonderfully preserved high street from its former prospecting days. We decided against panning in the river, it looked a little too cold!! The town also has a fascinating restored Chinese settlement where we explored the old storehouse and tiny dwellings made form old tin sheets and built into cliff faces.

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Queenstown itself is a little commercialised, geared towards party-goers and thrill seekers but nonetheless is beautifully situated on Lake Wakatipu and overlooked by the imposing and magnificently snow-capped Remarkables mountain range. It has the feeling of a small alpine ski resort, rather than a town in New Zealand.

Tomorrow we drive to Manapouri, where we will stay prior to our over-night cruise on Doubtful Sound, one of the most remote and beautiful fjords in the country. We’re crossing everything for good weather, though we have heard it’s still a striking place in poor weather.

As always we hope to hear from you soon, take care of yourselves

Richard and Lucy

Posted by rioandlucy 20:36 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

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