Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Well, this is it, my last day of backpacking...
My last two days in Auckland have been suprisingly good, I got a free opportunity to jump off the Sky Tower here in Auckland yesterday - you'll see it in all my pictures of the city, its quite high! and this morning I finished my trip in style with a cruise around the harbour on a 1995 America's Cup yacht, taking the helm and scudding along at over 10 knots blew the cobwebs out, thats for sure! I have just been for a slap-up feast at the Auckland Fish Market and am just writing this update before I go to get the Airport Bus to really start my journey home.
I'm not sure how to sum it all up really, it doesn't seem real that this is the end yet. Its been amazing obviously and I can't say how happy I am to have been able to do all these things this year. I've visited 20 countries and circumnavigated the globe, I've watched Whales breach in the Southern Ocean, woven a silk scarf in Laos, rafted the Zambezi, woken to a view of the highest point on Earth, walked with Lions, maintained Noble Silence for 10 days, hiked in the land of Dragons, shared a meal with a Mewari goatherd, bungeed in the shadow of Victoria Falls, witnessed the frustration of the displaced Tibetan nation in Dharamsala and the dying days of an ancient monarchy in Nepal, dived with Dolphins and Manta Rays in Indonensia, camped on Desert Islands, chugged through the Mekong Delta, flown over the 12 Apostles, thrown myself off the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere, been gored by a Holy Cow in Agra, danced all tribal in the Okavango Delta, smelt the burning ghats of Varanasi, explored the wonders of Angkor, walked in Buddha's footsteps and watched a Tiger emerge from the jungle in the morning gloom. Not bad for 319 days.
So, this is it folks - sign off time. Thanks for reading and leaving me all the messages and hopefully I'll be seeing you all soon for a proper catch-up. At least if you've been following the blog you won't have to sit through any photo sessions!
Its been a pleasure,
Goodnight & Good Luck,
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Well I have just hopped off my bus back from the Northland and Cape Reinga, the most northerly point of New Zealand and thought I would write my update straight away.
I haven't got very long here in New Zealand so I've just seen Auckland and the far north, but its been quite a laugh. The first wierd thing was bumping into Bertie from the Tiger Reserve yet again, that now makes Bangkok, Sydney and Auckland where we have totally randomly met. Anyway, he was with a crowd who have been on the Kiwi Experience bus all around the South Island so I went out with him and that gang. We had a great time and got home in the early hours and the next morning I woke up to realise that I had missed my bus to go north so ran to the office in a panic... it was perhaps a bit too good a night out!
Not too much of a problem as it turned out and I was on my way on a public bus an hour or two later. Its still winter here so everything is deserted, which makes it pretty nice actually. Once we arrived in Paihia at the Bay Of Islands I got a bike from the hostel and set off to go to Waitingi Treaty Grounds. This is where the British Resident got the local Maori chiefs to officially petition the British Crown for protection and effectively is the document which formed the nation. It was quite far thinking compared to what happened in Australia in that it codified that New Zealand was made up of both Maori and European settlers and that ALL deserved protection and were equally important in the nation. Its a really peaceful place with a stunning 360 degree view over the Bay and was a nice spot to wander around for the afternoon.
The next day we all tramped onto the bus in the early hours to begin the long drive north to Cape Reinga. New Zealand is obviously really sparsely populated and the roads are all quite small and windy so its pretty nice scenery to drive through, but it just got wilder and wilder as we got closer to the Cape. The end of the land is really sacred to the Maori as they consider that all souls eventually move north to the Cape to ascend to the spirit world so there are tons of earthworks going on to move the touristy side away from the sacred parts of the land. It is however, a very beautiful spot with visibly strong riptides swirling around the base of the cliffs as the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. Its very windswept and looking south you can see the start of huge sand dunes which make up the northern end of Ninety Mile Beach. Hopefully the pictures will help to show you.
We got a bit more up close and personal with the sand dunes on the way down to the beach as we hopped out of the bus to go Sand boarding - whizzing down ridiculously steep dunes on a Body board! Lots of screaming and hilarity ensued, particularly when our bus driver (fifty-something old dude called Wally) showed us the running jump mount of the board which gave enough speed to aqua-plane across the stream bed at the bottom of the dune!
After tiring ourselves out scrambling up the face of the dune a few times for second and third attempts we continued onto the beach. Ninety mile beach is actually 64 miles long - go figure, but was a total delight. We stopped periodically to dig for clams in the surf, get out and run about, coo over the little Seal pups who were waiting for their mums to come back and chat to the long-line fishermen who dotted the beach. We had to be careful though, if we had stopped the bus on wet sand, we would have apparently sunk up to the axles very quickly, luckily Wally knew what he was doing and made it off in one piece. We did pass a few car wrecks half buried my sand who had not been so lucky though!
On the way back down we stopped to visit Kauri forest spots which still have specimens of the magnificent Kauri tree. These forests once covered Northern New Zealand but very intensive logging, both for the Kauri tree and its gum and then clearning of the land for pasture means there are only pockets of forest left. There are however still huge Kauri trees lurking in the forests, we went to see one this morning on the way back down to Auckland - its called Tane Mahuta after the Maori forest God and is the largest living Kauri. Its absolutely HUGE and is apparently over 1000 years old. There used to be bigger ones than Tane Mahuta but they've been logged out to satisfy the demands for the timber and gum (sap from the Kauri) which was used in the production process of Linoleum. The younger tree trunks were used for ships Masts as they are so tall and straight - Kauri shed their lower branches as they grow to leave a thick tall trunk and then a smallish canopy of branches right at the top of the trunk.
So we motored back to Auckland this afternoon and I'm now back here with a day and a half to fill before flying out tomorrow night. There are still a few people around who I met here before I went north and I intend to get out on the harbour in a boat at some point - Auckland is called the City of Sails after all.
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
You may notice I've finally found a computer that has the magic trifector of USB port, good connection & Image manipulation software to allow me to upload tons of pics from Indonesia through to Melbourne. Don't worry there are more to come but I'll add them when I get back to Auckalnd after my little trip up to the Northland and Cape Reinga.
Back in a few days so enjoy the weekend! D-6 for arrival back in Blighty...
Location: Sydney, Australia
Its struggling to feel like travelling here in Australia as I've been staying at people's houses and have still only done one night in a hostel (Canberra on the way down to Melbourne). That said I am having a great time here in Australia and can definitely imagine myself living here while I work on my visa.
After a lovely couple of days staying with Haley and Craig I headed off to the Great Ocean Road via the Grampians. This is the area of Australia on the coast and inland between Melbourne and Adelaide on the southern coast. I got up at the crack of dawn to catch a lift into the city with Craig and then hopped on a bus off into the hills. It took about three hours to drive up into the mountains which looked suspiciously like The Blue Mountains near Sydney, but (if its possible) even colder. The big difference for me however was the presence of wild Kangaroos! The type around this area are called Eastern Greys and are pretty big actually as they hop about the towns and fields. We spent the day driving around to different viewpoints and doing short walks which finished with a spectacular view from the escarpment at the edge of the range over miles of flat open farmland while a rainbow formed stretching from the scudding grey clouds down to the fields. Lovely. That evening, those of us doing the 3 day trip met with our new groups for the next few days. They were a typical bunch of twentysomething, loud, young 'uns free for the first time and eager to tell everyone in a four mile radius about it... They weren't too bad really and their eager enthusiasm meant the food was cooked and the dishes done in quicktime so I didn't have any compaints, but there was a Czech woman and her teenage daughter on the trip who had obviously been mis-sold and seemed to regard everything (especially the mixed dorm sleeping arrangements) with utter horror. I'm not sure they really dug the backpacker way of travelling.
As the weather closed in the next day we hiked up to a viewpoint called The Pinnacle, kind of nice to get the blood pumping with in the morning and we all tramped back to the bus damp from the drizzle and red-faced from the climb, the bus immediately steamed up and didn't de-mist for the next 2 days! We ran downhill to the coast where we were promised some bursts of sunshine and started working our way along the Great Ocean Road. I've always wanted to do this coastal drive and it truly is spectacular. The weather was really changeable, they say in Victoria State that you get four seasons in one hour in Spring and they're not wrong! The Southern Ocean makes landfall here and it brings a change in the weather about every ten minutes, from driving rain and overcast skies, to brilliant sunshine, rainbows and blue skies seemingly instantaneously. It actually made a pretty good backdrop to do the coastal drive as he hopped in and out of the bus a the various viewpoints and photo stops. The 12 Apostles are now actually only 11 as one fell down but the coast is dramatic, rugged and rough. We kept our eyes open for Southern Right Whales and their calves, but no luck that day - however yours truly did have one little stroke of luck... Backpackers on bus trips get a discount on the helicoper ride over the 12 apostles, but due to the bad-ish weather & the hand to mouth existence of the twentysomething backpacker, no-one else wanted to spend the money on what might be drizzly helicopter ride. I therefore got bumped up from the standard 10 minute ride in a knackered old 'copter, to a 20 minute cruise up and down the coastline in a spanking, sparkling, shiny and new 'copter with three other people who paid easily double what I did. You see they needed a minimum of 2 to do the backpacker trip and I was only 1 - but I smiled very sweetly - and obviously pushed all the right buttons as I also got assigned the front seat next to the pilot so got ace floor to ceiling glass in front of me and the best view on the coast. Go me! We finished the day with a very dramatic windswept sunset over the 12 apostles before running back to the bus and huddling by the fire at the hostel trying to get the feeling back into our fingers, toes and cheeks... a very good day.
Next day we drove inland into Cape Otway to go to the canopy walkway in the temperate rainforest. The whole Victoria southern coastline used to be backed by temperate rainforest but as ever, logging and clearing to make pastureland has decimated the forest. Cape Otway has some pockets though and the canopy walkway is a great way to see it. I thought it was going to be a bit dull as it was still raining, quite cold and a bit bleak, but actually it was a really lovely morning. When its raining is the best time to see the forest (its called a rainforest after all) and the view from the walkways 25-50m up is amazing. There are huge treeferns, lots of birds, mosses and lichens which hang off the branches making it look a bit Middle-Earth and these huge, straight up and down Mountain Ash trees which are the tallest flowering plants on earth (the huge firs of North America don't flower). The trees have enormous buttressed roots and the big ones are hundreds of years old - they really are majestic and the rain water runs down the smooth trunks (they are a type of Eucalypt like most trees in Oz) like a waterfall. The rest of the day was spent driving back along the incredibly scenic coastline stopping at Apollo Bay for fish and chip lunch and homemade Christmas Pudding Ice-cream (very, very good), a small beach campsite to hunt down wild Koalas - they are sooo cute, Bells Beach - for like the first time ever, there were like NO surfers dude, Torquay - the home of Quiksilver & Billabong and finally motored back into Melbourne on friday evening. We fitted alot in, but it was a really fun trip considering the weather was Baltic at worst.
The next couple days were spent in Melbourne staying with my friend Helen, who I first met in Mysore in India in January - she is now nursing and living in the suburb of Maryibyrnong which is really close to Flemington Racecourse where the Melbourne Gold Cup is run in November each year. We had a whirlwind of going out and eating out including a trip to the Telstra Dome to see the Adelaide Crows stuff the Essendon Bombers at Aussie Rules football, a day walking down an Indian memory lane eating Masala Dosas at a South Indian Cafe and going to see a Bollywood movie at the cinema and a day on the cheap where we watched the Olypmics on the massive screen in Federation Square followed by an afternoon looking at coffee table books in the impressive reading room of the Victoria State Library. The Aussie Rules Football stands out as being one of the best things so far about Australia, the game is fast-paced and really watchable, the crowd is a cross-section of society from kids with faces painted to Grannies on an afternoon out, all the way onto old geezers who have a radio plugged in their ear to hear whats happening in other games. Its way more interesting to watch than football and dare I say it Rubgy, and though its pretty confusing at first, there are nearly 40 people on the field once you count the 5 officials, its actually really engaging. The players are also incredibly fit (in every sense of the word) they run around the oval for 4 quarters if 28 minutes each and tackle as hard as in Rugby - hilairously no-one can be sent off during the game they are simply booked and there is a tribunal on Monday morning where the issue is raised and punishments are meted out. Its all quite cut and dry really.
One thing I was really pleased about was that I caught up with my friend Greg who also works for Cadbury and who I met in Ghana last year on the Earthwatch project I went on. He was the candidate from Australia and though I had lost his email, handily checked my blog and saw I was in Melbourne, hence we met up for a drink at a bar in the centre and chatted about how life's treated us over the last year. I also managed to see Joenie, one of the girls off the truck tour in Africa, I stayed at her place my last night in Melbourne and she took me to the Healsville Sanctuary, a Zoo in the Dandenong Hills outside Melbourne where they keep all native Australian animals. I saw Dingos, Platypuses, Wombats, Tassie Devils, Koalas, Roos, Wallabies, Shingle-back Lizards, Goannas and much much more. It was great to see Joenie again and talk about times on the truck and I felt I ticked alot of animal boxes by going to the Zoo!
My 13hr bus ride back up to Sydney was long and relatively dull but driving around Oz does give you the chance to start to realise how big this country is. Its the size of Europe with a population of 20 million and you can drive for hours without seeing any people. You might see the odd house and cars on the highway but actual people are few and far between! We drove for 2 hours out of Canberra along the bottom of a hill ridge next to a totally flat plain which must have stretched about 10 miles across to the hills in the distance and didn't see a soul and only passed 14 cars. This is leaving the nation's Capital city!
So I've been back in Sydney for almost a week and have been trying to sort out the boring stuff about living here. Thanks to my long-suffering hosts Carrie and Jeremy, nearly everything is in place. I'm going to rent a room from one of their friends, I've been introduced to lots of their friends and I've done some initial meetings with recruitment people ready to pick up when I get back. So its all coming together! I'm looking forward to coming back to Balmain and getting settled into a life here - if only till next year.
So tomorrow I head off to Auckland to start my journey home, but I have about a week there before I hit the UK shores on the 3rd September... hope to be seeing you all soon!