Location: Franz Joseph, New Zealand
Hello again from New Zealand's cold but beautiful South Island.
Its seems like only yesterday when we last wrote from Cairns. In fact it has been a fun packed few weeks of exploring. We flew from Cairns to Melbourne and enjoyed a night with the cast from Neighbours which included a gig by Dr Karls band Waiting Room. The next morning which explored Melbourne and then rented a car to head off and check out The Great Ocean Road! Great it certainly was! An hour after leaving Melbourne we were weaving along the coastal round stopping and checking out surf beaches and little towns. We took 3 days to loop all the way along the Great Ocean Road to Port Fairy and up to the Grampian Mountain Range for a quick hike and back to Melbourne clocking up and impressive 1000km! All in time for a night coach back to Sydney and our flight to Auckland!
We decided to get a little help exploring New Zealand so we jumped on a Kiwi Experience Bus from Auckland, after picking up notes of the good places from Collettes friends Jenny and Sarah who had just finished their tour. We slowly wiggled our way down the North Island stopping at Mercury Bay, Rotarua which had amazing lugeing but was a bit on the smelly side as all the hot springs came with an excess of sulphur! We had a great time at a traditional Maori evening concert and both enjoyed a meal cooked in the ground! Next was Waitomo where we explored old Gold Mines and did Black Water Rafting which is basically floating through underground cave systems in a rubber ring and jumping of waterfalls into big black holes! The caves were inhabited by little gloworms making for a nights sky type scene in the caves. Next was Taupo where Matt threw himself off a bridge bungy jumping while Cet watched! We took a day out here to do the Tongeriro Crossing which is rightly so rated as one of the Top 10 Day Hikes in the world, the 18km track takes you up the side of an active volcano and along the ridge of two other volcanoes and down into the valley, (for Lord of the Ring fans we climbed Mount Doom!) we did it in 6hours and both said we do it again tomorrow it was that amazing!
Next stop was a remote spot called River Valley where we hoped to go white water rafting but the rain made the water levels too high  so we enjoyed a roast dinner and a night in front of a huge log fire. Next day we headed to our last stop of the North Island, the capital of Wellington, there we checked out the Museum and had fun with all the interactive displays including earthquake simulator! There we 15 of us on the bus and we got to know the whole group but Wellington was the last stop for many of them, the next morning the remaining 6 of us jumped on the ferry to Picton on the South Island.
From Picton we headed to Nelson for the night, via a winery, and pulled the extra layers out our bags for the weather gets colder from there onwards! Next stop was Westport where Matt jumped on a high speed Jet Boat to explore the valley. After that we headed down the Pacific Coastal Highway checking out the weird and wonderful rock formations along the rugged coast. We stopped at a great little hostel where the whole bus dressed up for a party the Theme being anything beginning with P! So Collette dressed up as Pocahontas and Matt as a Priest and we had a great night with the rest of the bus a larger group now of about 40!
Next stop is our current location at the edge of the Southern Alps in the little town of Franz Joseph. We arrived at lunch time just in time to jump in a little plane and jump out of it at 12,000 feet. A rather speechless Cet finally admitted she had enjoyed it but probably wouldnt do it again and of course Matt loved it! The jump gave amazing views from the Alps and the Foz Glacier all the way to the Coast. Tomorrow we both head off up the Franz Joseph Glacier, Matt climbing it vertically and Collette trekking up it for 8 hours. Well let you know how it goes!
Thanks to everyone for your messages, we cant believe were home is just over 4 weeks and are looking forward to seeing you all and tucking into a Roast Dinner! But were still enjoying it and havent even reached our last country yet!
Location: Cairns, Australia
Hello all from a sunny Australia!
We are currently in Cairns as we are writing this; we have finished our journey up the east Coast of Australia, and are leaving Cairns this evening for a flight to Melbourne (we couldnt leave Australia without driving down the Great Ocean Road and meeting the Neighbours cast!!), and after Melbourne we return to Sydney so we can fly to New Zealand.
The East coast has been amazing- the weather has been fantastic, with lots of sunbathing (which we didnt expect considering its supposed to be winter here!) The further up the east coast you go, the better the weather, and so thousands of backpackers are doing the same thing we are doing right now- starting in Sydney and getting buses up to Cairns, making for a fantastic atmosphere and lots of fun!
Our first stop, Byron Bay was amazing. A gorgeous little town that doesnt seem overburdened by all the backpackers, and still seems peaceful and quiet (in the day time at least! At night its a different story
.) We did a walk to the famous lighthouse there, standing on the most easterly point of Australia, and watched a beautiful sunset. There are loads of secluded beaches around the bay, so we enjoyed the lovely weather and worked on our tans (well, Matt did. Collettes tan has yet to materialize!)
After Byron bay, we got our bus to Brisbane. Again blessed with perfect weather, we spent the day in Brisbanes botanic gardens, walking among the mangrove trees, and that night we met up with Sarah and Brendan, who we worked with at the Duck in the Pond. Sarah and Brendan have been living in Brisbane for a while now, and so were able to show us the nightlife, and explain things we didnt yet understand about Australia (like the difference between a mini, a midi and a schooner! all sizes of draft beer!) None of them, to Matts annoyance, a proper sized pint!
After Brisbane we went to Noosa, another lovely beach-side town, and explored the stunning Noosa National Park. Again, we spent a few days basking in the sun on the beach (yes, its a hard life!) and partying at night. Both Byron Bay and Noosa were stunning and we could have easily spent weeks and weeks at each of them.
After Noosa we went to Hervey Bay, the departure point for our 3day trip to Fraser Island. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world, popular with groups of backpackers. We were put into groups of 10 (4 Brits, 2 Scots, 2 Swiss, and 2 French), and given a 4x4. Two people were sent off to buy the groups supply of food, while the rest of us loaded up the car. We got the ferry to Fraser Island, and the 10 of us set off exploring this giant sand island with Matt at the wheel! Fraser Island has some gorgeous sights and we started by visiting Lake Mackenzie, a beautiful fresh water lake which is crystal clear while the sand is soft and white. After a night in tents (that Matt superbly put up!) we headed to the North of the Island to the Champagne Pools , which are pools of bubbles caused by the sea crashing into the rock pools. The whole of our Fraser Island trip was so much fun- camping in tents, cooking our own food on the BBQ, and lots of drinking games at night! Both of us agree it has definitely been one of our favourite things we have done so far throughout our trip. A highlight though was on the second morning when we were driving up the beach at 7am and saw a pod of migrating whales as they made their way up to warmer waters.
After we returned from Fraser Island (and were able to have long, hot showers again- luxury!), we got on a night bus and took the 13hour journey to Airlie beach, where we would depart for our 3day sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands. There were 29 of us on the boat- a 16million pound pro maxi racing yacht called Condor, which is the only boat ever to have won every single major ocean race in the world - twice! It was quite a tight squeeze, living in very small sailors quarters, and not a great start for Collette who refused to break with tradition and was sea sick almost immediately. Charming. The first day was spent sailing to the other side of the Whitsunday Islands, so we could get an early start visiting Whitehaven beach in the morning (one of the top 3beaches in the world). Matt enjoyed hoisting the sails and steering the boat, while Collette fed the fishes! The food on the boat was lovely, and after a delicious meal, we moored the boat and everyone sat on deck drinking and getting to know one another. We had a fantastic night, but it was a very odd feeling to have the constant swaying- it felt like wed had far too much to drink, and this was before we even started drinking!
The next day we woke up to rain, but visited Whitehaven beach nonetheless (on one of the worlds best beaches in rain jackets, how ironic!), and the crew were right, it really was a stunning beach. We saw some giant creepy-crawlies on our walk back, and then went snorkeling twice in the afternoon. The second evening was spent the same as the first- sitting on deck playing games and drinking. Lots of fun was had by all! The view of the stars was amazing, being miles from land and any light meant the milky way and the southern cross were clearly visible it also was strange to see some constellations upside down (being in the southern hemisphere!)
The next morning, as we headed back to Airlie Beach, the sun came out (Murphys law!), and so we sat with our legs over the side, and enjoyed sailing in the sun.
After Airlie beach, we went up to Magnetic Island, a small island with a population of just 2,500. We spent a few days here, and stayed in a Koala park, so we got to hold Koalas, crocodiles, lizards, birds, and we saw all sort of native Australian animals. An Irish couple who were on the sailing boat with us were also staying in the same place, as were their friends, so the six of us had drinks together, then went down to beach with a fishing rod to catch some fish at night! This was a huge success, and the boys managed to catch four GIANT fish, which we all had for breakfast the next morning! Very delicious!
After we left Magnetic Island, we came up to Cairns, where we are now, and have spent the last few days window shopping (because our backpacks are as full as they can get already!) and planning out how to spend our time in New Zealand.
Both of us will be sad to leave the East Coast, as we have had some fantastic times here, made some great memories and met some amazing people. It is definitely understandable how so many people can spend from 2weeks to an entire life time on the East Coast alone!
Location: Byron Bay, Australia
G'day, and hello from Down Under! Firstly can we thank everyone for all our messages, and confirm that we are all in one piece after the China earthquake!
Since our last blog we have moved around a fair bit, our last couple of days in Bangkok were spent relaxing, enjoying Kho San Road and a day in the city's largest park where the lake is home to large fish, turtles and giant lizard / dragon things! Which we got to experience first hand when we went feeding them on a pedalo!
Next stop was Singapore where we treated ourselves to a nice Hotel for the 3days we were there. We were determined to fit in as much as we could so we grabbed dinner in China Town on the first night, then the next morning we headed for Sentosa Island which is just south of Singapore and is a popular retreat for locals and tourists alike with loads to do. We started off with the Aqaurium where we could feed and touch stingrays, starfish and many other underwater creatures. Next Matt managed to tempt Collette into doing the downhill Luge course - a cross between a toboggan and a gokart - which was very fast and very fun. It turned out to be Collette who was dragging Matt on for a second go! Next was Fort Siloso which was built as part of the islands defences during WW2, an odd fact is that its guns were never fired sea-ward; they were turned around and fired inland when enemy troops invaded from land rather than sea!
Before heading back to the mainland via cablecar we snapped a few photos on the most southernly point of Conitental Asia. We enjoyed dinner at a restaurant recommended by Collette's friend Roya (as were most of our other activities!) which was also voted as one of the Top 10 Restaurants in the World! The next day started with a tour of the Tiger Beer Brewery, Singapore's national beer! Next stop was Singapore Zoo which was amazing and very different to any zoo we've ever been to before, as animals have much more freedom and there were hardly any cages! This was followed by Singapore's famed Night Safari which lived up to its reuptation, it was fascinating to see the animals at night while walking through unlit paths. A quick look round Raffles Hotel Plaza and the Musuem hidden upstairs finished up our hectic exploration of Singapore and we headed for the airport which was an attraction in itself. Their new Termainal 3 has everything a seasoned traveller could possibly ask for- a giant 'grass wall', free internet, free movies and enough shops to keep Collette happy for a month!
Overall Singapore is an amazing little country that neither of us knew much about but we left there amazed by the cleanliness and politeness of it, as well as the smoothness of which everything operates
Next was China! Due to only having a week we didnt venture far from Beijing. We explored The Forbidden City and Tiannamen Sqaure which were both huge! The Forbidden City was like walking into the past with all the Emporer's different buildings and ancient architecture. The only downside was, as with alot of Beijing, parts were being built/restored in time for the upcomming olympic games. We journied out to The Great Wall and trekked along it for 10km, (there were easier 5km walks, with nicely restored bits of wall, but obviously that wasnt enough of a challenge for a certain someone!) It certainly is great and like the Taj Mahal, no picture does the size and scale justice. It is incomprehensible to imagine how they managed to build such a magnificent structure all those years ago! We finished off the last bit of the trek taking a zip-wire (flying fox) down from the wall. Matt even managed to convince Collette to have a go, and is sure he'll have her skydiving by the end of their trip!! We had wanted to go to Xi'an to visit the Tericotta Warriors but it was a bit further from Beijing than we had thought so we added to our list of things to come back and do - a list that is getting rather big!
We visited the 'Birds nest' Olympic Stadium which was very impressive but has quite a way to go to be finished before the games start! We explored the Summer Palace which was huge and filled with ancient buldings. The rest of our time was spent either exploring the old 'Hutongs' or alleys and expereincing real chinese food - on one occasion we ordered Chicken noodles only to find they put bits of the chicken in that we would rather they had left out!
Overall Beijing is an amazing place, it is in the middle of a huge building boom which has left a lot of its old parts flattened and replaced with sky-scrappers. It is definitely somewhere we want to come and explore with more time. It is, however, a city that seems remarkably unprepared for the upcoming olympic games it will be hosting in less than 80days time- building work occurs 24hours throughout the city and a constant cloud of pollution still hovers over Beijing- a day in Beijing is the equivalent of smoking 70 cigarettes a day!
We moved on from China to Sydney where we spent to first few days exploring the city and organising ourselves for the month ahead. Within 24hours of landing Matt had Collette walking in Mountains again, this time the Blue Mountains 2hrs outside Sydeny that form part of the Great Dividing Range. We explored the many bushwalks and waterfalls while gazing over the seemingly endless canyons, a very enjoyable day.
We spent a day exploring the Opera House and Harbour Bridge area, both fascinating icons of australia, and also looked around local markets and spent a day at Bondi Beach. Up until now, we have been eating out every night, but as Australia's prices are similar to those at home, life for us now involves living in hostels and cooking our own food, a completely different yet also fantastic experience.
We have now started making our way up the East Coast, currently in our first stop, Byron Bay. We are slowly heading upto Cairns before flying down to Melbourne and returning to Sydney in time to fly off to New Zealand. We hope you are all well and enjoying the beginnings of summer!