A Travellerspoint blog

Chile!

Our first port of call in South America

sunny 30 °C
View World Tour on Curleys's travel map.

Getting to Santiago proved slightly more problematic than we had anticipated.

On Tuesday 5th February we made our way to Auckland airport, massively excited at the thought of starting the next chapter of our travelling adventure. After queuing for quite some time,we were finally called over to the check in counter just as a Lan Chile representative came over to inform us that no one else was to be checked in. 20 minutes and much confusion later it transpired that our plane had been grounded in Sydney and we would not be flying for another 24hrs. The airport staff were all very good and after an hours wait we were all taken by coach to a nearby hotel for the evening and ushered back to the airport the following day in time to catch our flight.

On Wednesday 6th our South America adventure started in earnest. As usual I didn't sleep at all and spent the flight watching the entire library of films that were available. Gav did manage to grab a few hours but still we were both very dazed and confused by the time we landed in Santiago. It didn't help that we were living the same day twice. As we had travelled through the international date line, we departed Auckland at 5.25pm and, after a 12 hour flight, landed in Santiago at 12.45pm on the same day. That was a first for both of us.

Getting to the city from the airport was very easy as we used one of the airport shuttle buses. A chap called Richard tried in vein to have a conversation with us on the shuttle but Gav and I could barely remember our names at that point let alone anything else. Must have been an interesting journey for Richard.....not!

We stayed in the Bellavista Hostel which is a great hostel in the Bella Vista area of Santiago and had opted for a private room - as we probably would do for the rest of our trip (we are so over dorm rooms!). First things first....Zzzzzzzzzzzz, sleep was required. I think we literally threw ourselves onto the bed fully clothed and gently slipped into comas. Hunger woke us at around 7pm that evening.

Our Hostel was in a great location. Bella Vista is a lovely area full of traditional, brightly painted buildings, bars, restaurants and clubs. And so our first attempts to speak Spanish. The airport and hostel staff had all spoken English but we knew this would not be the case everywhere. Armed with our second-hand Lonely Planet Spanish phrasebook we hit the streets of Bella Vista. We didn't have to venture far to find a great little restaurant, called Golinder, which served traditional Chilean food and nice cold beer.

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It's pretty painful when you try to have a conversation with someone whilst referring to a phrasebook for every second word but with the help of a patient waiter we managed to order steak dinners and a large bottle of Escudo beer to share. Then more sleep.......... in our hostel, (not the restaurant I hasten to add).

Aaaah, the pleasures of jet lag. We were both wide awake at 3.30am, managed to drift off again at around 7am only to find it was nearly 11am when we woke again. Bugger. Desperate not to waste the day we headed off to explore Santiago.

Central Santiago, El Centro, is a little grubby and cramped and is seemingly filled with an infinite amount of fast food restaurants. The surrounding areas of Barrios Bella Vista and Santa Lucia, for example, are far more pleasant to spend the majority of time in, however, the colonial architecture in central Santiago is not to be missed. The gorgeous Plaza de Armas was well worth exploring. Also very worth while was a visit to the Fine Arts Museum, although the contents were not outstanding in my opinion, the building itself was lovely.

Catedral de Santiago, Central Post Office & Plaza de Armas
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We found a little cafe that seemed to be really popular with locals and so decided it would be a good bet for a cheap lunch. Using our so very basic Spanish we managed to order a salad for me and a steak burger for Gav however we have since learnt that the ‘steak’ burger that we had ordered was most probably horse meat. If it was horse, I have to say it tasted pretty good.

That evening we found another restaurant called El Caramaño which served excellent traditional local dishes. I had a sort of beef casserole topped with mashed corn whilst Gav tried chicken breast stuffed with meat and vegetables. Excellent washed down with a very good Chilean red that cost the equivalent of 3 quid.

Still very tired we called it a night pretty early only to wake up at 2.30am and again at 6.30am. Unbelievably the next time we woke up it was 4.30pm!

We set an alarm to ensure we woke up at a reasonable time on Saturday 9th and set off for Cerro San Cristobel. A hill that displays a 14 metre high Virgin de la Inmaculada Concepcion statue, that can be seen from all over the city. A short walk from our hostel took us to the foot of the hill and the point at which the funicular that takes you to the statue can be boarded. From the foot of the statue we had 360 degree views of the city - well as much as we could see through the smog (the city smog can get so bad at times that it can make your throat sore and your eyes water).

Cerro San Cristobel
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We then took the cable car to Piscina Tapahue which is a lovely open air pool up on Cerro Cristobel. We had heard that there was a nicer pool a little further along and so walked maybe 2km, up hill, in the blazing heat to find it. Pisca Antilèn was very much worth the walk. The views of the city with the Andes in the background were amazing.

Pisca Antilèn
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Saturday night in Santiago, it would simply be rude not to go out wouldn't it? First stop was Bar Conception, just around the corner from the hostel. It starts off as a bar restaurant and later removes the tables and chairs inside and becomes more of a club. Excellent, if a little too strong, Mojitos and slightly dodgy music but a really nice atmosphere. At 12am the club we had planned to go to, La Feria, was pretty empty according to the door men so we went off in search of another bar or club. Where we ended up was a sort of Chilean hip hop club. Dingy club, warm beer and sweaty bodies. After an hour we headed back to La Feria which was by that time fairly busy. The music was a little old by UK standards and, due to fridge issues, all the beer had been frozen and then defrosted and so was disgustingly flat but it was still a good night.

Something that was a little different about being out in Santiago was the smoking policies. Most restaurants and all bars and clubs allow smoking within the premises. I smoke but have become quite happy with not being able to smoke in public places. It was really strange to have our eyes stinging in the club because of the smoke and to come home with our clothes stinking of cigarettes. I definitely prefer stepping outside for a ciggie when I want one and being able to sit in a smoke free bar (so remind me I said that when I am back in the UK and having to step outside in the freezing cold for a ciggie).

On Monday 11th we took the Metro and then the bus to Valparaiso "The Jewel of the Pacific" which is 2 hrs away from Santiago. Valparaiso (which translates to Paradise Valley) is a world heritage site which consists of a fairly unattractive, flat central port area, El Pan, that is surrounded by dozens of charming, picturesque hills that are sprinkled with brightly coloured houses. The city is particularly beautiful at night when all the houses on the hills are lit up.

Valparaiso
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Each of the hills has it's own funicular to enable you to get to the top without exerting too much energy, alternatively you can take the steep stairs. One guy told me that the girls in Valparaiso have the best asses in Chile as a result of climbing up all those stairs every day.

Caracol Hostel, our home for the next three nights, was on Cerro Bellavista. Cerro Bellavista was also home to Museo a Cielo Abierto, an open air museum displaying large murals painted by students of Universidad Catalica's Instituto de Arte.

After checking in and dropping off our bags we set off to explore. Cerro Conception and Cerro Alegra were our first stops. Ascensa Conception is the oldest of the 15 funiculars in the city and leads you up to the most beautiful of all the hills, Cerro Conception from which you can easily stroll over to Cerro Alegra. Walking around taking in the art on the walls, the brightly painted homes and charming cobbled streets passes a few hours easily. When all of the little bars and restaurants open early evening the atmosphere changes from quaint to trendy and another few hours can easily be spent over dinner.

Valparaiso street art
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Tuesday 12th was spent strolling around and stopping for coffees. On Wednesday 13th we took the Metro over to Vina del Mar, a popular weekend destination for Santiaguinos. We took a long walk through the centre, along the river and along the long stretch of coast line.

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Caracol hostel is an intimate hostel that makes it very easy to get chatting to the other people that are staying there. That evening it seemed that everyone that was staying at the hostel stayed in for dinner and so we all got to know each other.

Christian, AKA Genius, Harvard student who speaks numerous languages and knows everything about everything
Claude, The Crazy French Man. Hilarious guy who asks "Oh my God, what did I did (sic) to deserve this"
Rafael, The Boy from Ipanema (well Copacabana actually but I couldn't think of a song about that)
Anna & Carolina, Sisters from Buenos Aires who spent hours giving us list of things to see and do in their home city and whom we hope to meet up with again whilst we are there

Claude knew a bar in town and so at around 1am we all headed out to a typical Chilean smokey bar for ridiculously cheap beer and laughs. A large local guy befriended Gavin and asked if he could film us and kept repeating "sexo, sexo, sexo" into his ear. He later fell asleep at his table and whilst sleeping was dribbling onto his shirt (the "sexo" guy, not Gav). The funicular stop running at 10pm and so we had to make our way from and back to the hostel via the stairs. I'm glad we were in a group because the gangs of youths (yep, that'e me sounding old) hanging around on the stairs would be quite intimidating if there were just one or two of us.

The following day we headed back to Vina del Mar with Claude, Rafael and Christian. Anna and Carolina had moved to a hotel there and we had planned to meet up with them later in the day for a drink. We had a very long lunch in a restaurant over looking the sea which included two Pisco Sours for me. Pisco Sour is Pisco blended with egg white, lemons, sugar and ice and is delicious. Both Chile and Peru claim to have invented Pisco, a type of brandy. Most people believe that it was in fact Peru that invented the drink but the argument still carries on and if you are found entering Peru with Pisco from Chile it will be confiscated!

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Once we met up with the girls we decided to take a walk to Renaca beach which in fact turned out to be a very long walk indeed, we think maybe around 10km. After dinner we made sure to catch the bus back! Back to the hostel for showers, change of clothes and home made Pisco Sours and then back to Vina del Mar to meet the girls and head to a club (although we didn't make it to a club at all. By the time we left the bar we were in, most of the clubs were closed and so after saying our farewells to the girls, we called it a night and around 4am headed back to the hostel by bus.

The following day we said goodbye to Christian as he had decided to stay a little longer in Valparaiso and Gav and I along with Claude and Rafael headed to Santiago by bus. After lunching together we said goodbye to Claude and made plans to meet Rafael in Pucón a couple of days later.

Pucón is in Chile's lake district and to reach it from Santiago we had to travel 10 hours by bus and chose to do so over night. We travelled in Semi Cama class which meant we had virtually fully reclining seats, foot rests and someone to tuck us in with pillows and blankets. It’s a really comfortable journey and means you save on a nights accommodation and wake up fresh in your destination. Of course, we had a snorer on the bus which disturbed my sleep a little. Well, I have to complain about a snorer at least once on every blog entry don't I?

By this stage we had taught ourselves a few Spanish phrases including how to ask for directions. This came in handy when we alighted the bus on the morning of Saturday 10th and were trying to find our hostel. The problem being, we could ask for directions but then where then totally unable to understand the answers given to us. Chilean Spanish is so fast, people that speak fluent Spanish have told us they really struggle to understand Chilean Spanish. The last letters are dropped off words and the words themselves are moulded together so that a sentence just sounds like one long incomprehensible word. Anyway, we managed to find our hostel eventually and after an hours rest we set off to explore the lovely city of Pucón.

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Sunday 17th started at 4am for us as we had booked on a trip to climb Villarrica volcano. We chose the ealiest trip as we wanted the opportunity to climb the volcano before hundreds of other people arrived to do the same. Also, groups are often forced to turn back and are unable to reach the summit due to bad weather so we hoped that the early start would give us the opportunity to reach the top without the weather turning on us.

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Half way up our guide informed us that if the smoke pouring from the volcano did not die down a little we would be unable to go all the way to the summit. The sulphur fumes are very toxic and can cause breathing difficulties and in the worst case scenario, suffocation. Luckily, the volcano decided to allow us to have a go and the smoke died down as we approached the top.

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The final 50 minutes of climbing were the hardest, oh boy was it ever. It was the steepest part of the volcano and maybe the altitude made it a little harder but thankfully after 5 hours of hard climbing up steep rock face, ice climbing and snow walking we reached the 2847 metre high summit. What a fantastic feeling! I'd seen a shooting star on the way up the mountain before sunrise and wished "to get up this bloody mountain", see, wishes do come true!

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The summit!
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There was more to come. As part of the descent back down the volcano we got to take off our crampons, don our waterproofs and slide down three huge ice slides. It was so much fun! It would almost be worth climbing back up again just to be able to slide back down (I said almost).

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The more than deserved beer following our climb!
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We had arranged to meet up again with Rafael that evening and were delighted that Claude had decided to come along to Pucón with him. After catching up on each others activities for the last couple of days we headed out to the bars of Avenue O´Higgins.

The following day, Monday 18th, we decided to hire mountain bikes to better explore Pucón and after visitng Largo Villarrica we cycled over to Rio Trancura. My legs were already aching from the climb the previous day after riding a mountain bike all day so was my butt!

Rafael & Claude
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Pucón has numerous hot springs and to relieve our aching muscles we decided to visit one that evening bringing with us a couple of bottles of wine to enjoy whilst soaking under the stars. Talking of stars, three of us managed to see a shooting star at the same time that night. All together now, aaaaaah!

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Tuesday 19th was our beach day. The four of us headed to the beach and Lago Villarrica and stayed there all day. Sleeping, chatting, laughing and occasionally swimming.

Lago Villarrica
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Gav and I along with Claude were leaving for Santiago by overnight bus that evening and sadly we had to say goodbye to Rafael (if we ever make it to Brazil for carnival we'll definitely know who to call!).

We arrived back at the Hostel Bellavista on Wednesday 20th and spent the next few days generally having a ball with Claude and Kim, a Dutch girl who was also staying at the hostel.

On Wednesday 20th after visiting Pablo Neruda's Santiago home, the Fine Arts Museum and Cerro St Lucia, we held a roof top barbeque during which we were able to watch the total lunar eclipse and afterwards we headed to Bar Conception for Mojitos and dancing.

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Thursday 21st was Gavin's birthday celebration, our last night in Chile and our last night with Claude (although we hope to meet Claude again in Argentina). Gav's birthday is actually on 22nd but as we were leaving early that morning we decided to celebrate a day early with a view to carrying on the party past midnight and into 22nd. The night involved a roof top barbeque, a chocolate birthday cake and a trip to Bar Conception. In fact we partied on to the point that I didn't have time to sleep before our taxi picked us up at 6.45am (birthday boy just managed an hour as he had sneakily packed eariler in the day). We were asleep on the flight before it left the tarmac and slept through to landing in Lima airport 3 hours later.

Gavin's birthday
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Just before I go could I please ask that we have a moments silence for our camera. You may have noticed that our pictures are becoming progressively more pink. Alas, I must inform you that our camera is dying. On some of the photos of New Zealand you may have noticed a slight pinkish tinge and it's now obvious that the problem is getting worse. We are reluctant to buy a new camera abroad because of warranties etc but equally are gutted that there are so many pictures that we may not be able to print on our return. I'll have to see if I can Photoshop them to amend the colours maybe?

On that sad note I bid you adiós until our next installment.

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Posted by Curleys 15:25 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

New Zealand - The South Island

Adventures in Colin the Campervan continued....

all seasons in one day 23 °C
View World Tour on Curleys's travel map.

Lots of people had advised us to spend more time in the South Island than the North with the promise that there was more to see and do in the South. Having had such an excellent, jam packed week in the North we were curious to see how the South would compare. Our ferry crossing into the South Island was a good indication.

After watching 'Spy Kids' in the TV lounge of the ferry and then napping for some time we awoke to see luscious green covered mountains through the ferry window and went out on deck and take a proper look. We were travelling through the Marlborough Sounds which is truly stunning. If the ferry crossing was this good we were sure not to be disappointed by the rest of the island.

Attractive!
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Views from the ferry
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The ferry docked in the lovely little town of Picton where we all pottered around separately for the day.

Picton
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The Department of Conservation (DOC) run campsites all over New Zealand that range from the very basic to fully serviced and most are in gorgeous settings in National Parks and the like. Our first night on the South Island was spent at the DOC run campsite at Mistletoe Bay on the Queen Charlotte Track. Mistletoe Bay is around 45km from Picton and as well as being perfectly situated for the walk along the track that we all planned to do the following day, it meant that we had an opportunity to drive the Queen Charlotte Drive (although the numerous stops to take pictures of the stunning views did slow us down a little).

Mistletoe Bay Campsite
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Walks along the Queen Charlotte Track give amazing views of the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru sounds. We walked for around 4 hours, with Gav and I doing a slightly different route to Sylvie as we decided to climb up to a viewpoint which gave us spectacular 360 degree views. After loosing each other and a few "so where are you again?" and "I'm by the grassy hill" calls to mobiles we decided to head back to the campsite for a spot of lunch.

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Queen Charlotte Track, Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds
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We've just climbed to the top of there...
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We had planned to meet up with Sue and Jane for a wine tasting day and so next stop was Watson's Way Backpackers in Renwick which is in the heart of Marlborough wine region. We booked a half-day tour with Marlborough Wine Tours, which was in fact more like a full day tour. It was great as we were able to suggest wineries that we would like to visit and the number of wineries included in the tour seemed to be unlimited. Other than a couple of wineries that we had in mind, we were happy to go with the suggestions of our guide and driver for the day. Believe it or not we visited so many that in the end we asked if we could call it a day and head back. I know, I know....we asked if we could stop drinking!!! Of course we bought a number of the wines we sampled and have spent the last few weeks enjoying them. We are now just stuck with a bottle of desert wine (must have been late on in the day, and after numerous tastings, that we purchased that one).

Marlborough wine tasting tour
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Later that day we nipped to the local supermarket for supplies and then on to a pub called the Cork and Keg where you can use the barbeques for free to knock yourself up a bit of dinner whilst having a beer or two. Oddly the manager will let you use the barbeque but wont supply plates or cutlery and suggested we buy these from the local supermarket. Fortunately our campervan comes with everything so Gav ran back to gather up crockery for us to save us having to eat our meal off the beer garden floor.

No more drink for you!
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Sadly that was the last we were going to see of Sue and Jane until we get back to the UK. Bye S&J, we love you!

Kaikoura was our destination on Tuesday 15th. About 30km before Kaikoura is the home of the South Island's largest seal colony. Our guide book said that there are usually dozens of them lolling around on the rocks but we found hundreds of them. They have a pretty pungent odour I have to say but none-the-less they are very cute. It's so interesting to see how agile they are in the water and how clumbersum they seem out of it.

Fur Seals
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Wednesday 16th saw Gavin and I off on a whale watching trip whilst Sylvie went to swim with dolphins. Sylvie had an amazing experience with around 100 dusky dolphins swimming and playing with her group. Dusky dolphins are exceptionally playful and like to show off so Sylvie was treated to some great dolphin acrobatics. We were lucky enough to see two Sperm Whales, Dusky Dolphins, Fur Seals and Royal Albatross.

Whale watching tour
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On that afternoon we all met up to do the Kaikora Peninsular Walk. Already a little tired from our morning activities, the walk felt a little harder than it should of done and so at the end we treated ourselves to fresh crayfish, cooked on a roadside stall along with scallops in a garlic sauce. All devoured at roadside tables along with a glass of our recently purchased Marlborough wine. Aaaah!

Kaikora Peninsular Walk
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On we go and Christchurch is our next stop on Thursday 17th. That evening we sampled Christchurch's nightlife with a few drinks in Oxford Terrace or "The Strip" as it's known and then on to Dux de Lux for dinner. I ended up getting my meal and a bottle of wine for free as I had to wait so long for it to come out which I thought was very kind of them.

Christchurch
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Next in our tour of NZ was Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and the DOC campsite that was right at the foot of Mount Cook.

During the drive down we were able to see the stunning Tekapo and Pukaki lakes.

En-route to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
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Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
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On the following morning, Saturday 19th, we had our first introduction to Kea, which are very naughty mountain parrots. We saw them jumping around on people's tents, pulling at rubber seals around car windows and generally being pretty boisterous and noisy.

After brekkie we took ourselves off for a walk along the Hooker Valley Track which is one of the many walks that can be done in the National Park. Just a 2 1/2 hour loop walk from the campsite enabled us to have great views of Mount Cook, the Hooker River and the Hooker Glacier.

Hooker Valley Track, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
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That afternoon we were driving south to Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula. The main reason for heading there was to hopefully spend some time viewing the rare, yellow-eyed penguins. It turned into a bit of an adventure to say the least.

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We knew that the best time to view the penguins was at dusk when they travelled back to shore after spending the day feeding and so that evening we set of from our campsite in Dunedin for the 30 minute drive to Sandfly Bay in the Otago Peninsular (fortunately there were no sandflies at Sandfly Bay!). Upon arrival a sign informed us that it was a 40 minute walk (read: scramble and fall) through the sand dunes and along the beach to the DOC hide that had been set up to enable people to view the penguins without disturbing them. The penguins are very shy and if they see people on the beach they simply will not come ashore, even if they have chicks to feed.

Sandfly Bay
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We were absolutely delighted that we were lucky enough to spot two New Zealand, or Hooker's, Sea Lions on the beach whilst walking to the hide. They are not the slightest bit intimidated by humans and are much larger than the fur seals we had seen in Kaikoura. Numerous signs warned visitors to keep a safe distance and that's exactly what we did!

Hooker's sea lions
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So up to the hide, where we waited....and waited....and waited. Lots of other people had arrived and left again. It was pretty cold and windy but we persevered. Well that is until some animal started searching in the bushes behind us and scared Sylvia and I into the decision that it was time to go. We’ve since learnt that the screeching that we heard was more than likely the penguins as they have a distinctive high pitched call. It sounded like a Yeti to us so we were not taking any chances.

We did manage to see four penguins in all so it was worth the wait.

If you look really closely....
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As I mentioned it was a steep climb and scramble through the sand dunes and along the beach to get to the hide. The route was not marked as such, we just followed the people that were in front of us.....ah, and now it was 11pm and absolutely pitch black, no route markers and no people to follow......we were lost. Once we had tip-toed across the beach, terrified of disturbing the shy little penguins, we arrived at the bottom of the sand dunes. Thank God I had packed a little torch in my bag as without it we may had been running around is circles in those sand dunes until daybreak. We aimed for the top and after 30 minutes of thrashing around we found the path back to the car park.

We are still finding sand in our clothes and shoes now.

The worlds steepest street is in Dunedin. Driving the camper van up was a daft idea. The road is so steep that all the fuel went to the back end of the tank causing the engine to cut out.
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Sunday 20th and on to Te Anau. I'll have to stop describing how beautiful, gorgeous or stunning each place we went to was - just take it from now on that everywhere was beautiful, gorgeous or stunning! The view from our campsite was straight out over the lake so Gav and I were more than happy to laze around in the sun whilst Sylvie went off for an explore.

Lake Te Anau
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A chap that worked at the campsite came over to us with a huge trout that had been freshly caught from the lake that day. Did we want it? He had too many and was more than happy to give it to us as long as we would eat it and not waste it. Excellent! Barbequed trout and salad for dinner it was.

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The following morning we drove the very short distance to Manopouri for our tour of the Doubtful Sound. We travelled by boat across Lake Manopouri, then were taken by coach through the Fiordland forest, had a stop off at Manopouri underground hydro power station (more of interest to Gavin than to Sylvie and I), followed by a cruise around Doubtful Sound.

Doubtful Sound
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Okay, on we go. After our eight hour tour of Doubtful we jumped back into Colin the Camper and made our way up to Milford. It was at Milford that we had our introduction to Sandflies. Tiny little black flies that our guidebooks had warned us about. There are squillions of them along the West Coast of the South Island. They bite and their bites are itchier than mosquito bites. God they are annoying.

Road block and Mirror Lake en-route to Milford
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Milford
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On Tuesday 22nd Gav and I were being picked up at 7.15am for our kayaking tour of Milford Sound. When we woke that morning it was raining and it did not stop raining for the entire day. Oh well, at least then it didn't matter if we capsized as we would already be soaking wet. Fortunately we didn't capsize and we did manage to stay relatively dry by wearing our own waterproofs. Kayaking through Milford Sound is such a wonderful way to explore it. We saw yellow eyed penguins and had fur seals playing around our kayaks. We were in a small group of around 8 along with our guide, Kelly, and at times it felt like we had the whole of Milford Sound to ourselves. We enjoyed it so much and (apart from the swarms of sandflies and the odd occasion when Gav and I bickered when we were unable to row in time or even get our kayak to travel in the same direction as the rest of the group) had an excellent day.

Back to the campervan to throw some food at our faces and then on to Queenstown. Phew, we were getting a bit tired by now but had just a week left of travelling around the South Island and were determined to fit as much in as possible.

We expected Queenstown to be, well, tacky. We had read all about it being the adventure capital of New Zealand and almost expected neon sign reading "bungee jump here" and the like. In fact it was far from how we'd imagined it and definitely somewhere we all said we could spend a lot more time. It has a very picturesque setting around Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkables in the background, with an alpine village feel. Sue and Jane had text us to say how much they thought we would like Queenstown and most importantly had sent us a list of the best bars to visit. Great, we were set!

We spent Wednesday 23rd strolling around the shops and cafes and then heading out to the bars on the evening. How nice to walk into the bars on a freezing cold night and for so many of them to have roaring open fires, some even with outdoor fires. We toured about the bars until about 2am safe in the knowledge that we didn't have too far to drive the next day.

Queenstown

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Did I say we didn't have too far to drive the next day? Well that's what we thought.......we'd got it wrong. In fact it was going to be a 10 hour drive to our next destination, Franz Josef Glacier. Copious amounts of coffee for the Curleys please!!!

As we were leaving Queenstown we happened to drive past the site of the worlds first ever bungee jump. There were signs for free viewing and it looked like someone was about to jump so we decided to run over and take a look. Next thing we know, Gavin is throwing himself off the bridge! He let out a kind of guttural roar as he hurled himself of the bridge and fell 43 metres with his hands dipping into the water of the river below.

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There is just no stopping him now. I dread to think what extreme sport is going to be next on his list.

En-route to Franz Josef we visited Lake Dunstan, Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson. Lake Matheson is one of the most photographed sights in New Zealand as it has perfect reflections of Mount Cook at times. Unfortunately it was not the case when we visited as there was cloud around the peak of Mount Cook but it was very pretty none-the-less.

Lake Dunstan and Mt Aspiring
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Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson
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On Friday 25th Gav and I went ice climbing on the Franz Josef Glacier. What an adventure, it was great. We had our ice picks and crampons to enable us to climb through the peaks and valleys and squeeze through the tiniest, claustrophobia inducing cracks. One of the best bits was sitting on the ice to eat lunch. We were saying to ourselves "we're sat on the Franz Josef Glacier eating a ham buttie"....surreal. It does feel pretty amazing when we get to do the things that we started reading about maybe two or more years ago. All the planning and saving and then all of a sudden, we're there.

We walked for hours and after an 8am start got back to the camp site for about 6pm exhausted.

Just....enough....energy....to....lift...a glass....of beer.....

Franz Josef Glacier
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Mmm notice our pictures have acquired an odd pink tinge...more on that later.

Nooooooooooo! It was time to start heading back. Colin the Camper had to be back in Auckland on Monday 28th and so the next couple of days were spent on the road getting the van back to the depot. A few days prior we had noticed that the front right indicator unit on the van was loose. The next thing we noticed was that it was gone. Bugger. Britz Rentals take a $5,000 bond for campervans. They don’t just take your credit card details just in case, they actually take the five grand off you. We did not want to loose any part of $5,000 and so during the drive back had a number of phone calls to various Britz bods and eventually they agreed not to charge us. It was a bit dodgy driving all that way with no right indicator and Gav did have to stick his arm out of the window every now and then but we made it in one piece.

And so back in Auckland. We decided to stay in the suburbs of Auckland rather than the city and were a little gutted to see everything we missed out on during our first stay. Ponsonby and Parnell are the two suburbs that we stayed in. Both areas are great and have an entirely different feel to the drab city centre.

Sylvia left us to head back to the UK on Tuesday 29th and after that Gav and I mainly slept, spent time in internet cafes blogging and generally passing time before our flight to Santiago on 5th Feb.

We were thrilled about heading over to South America although a little bit sad that we were not going to be able to get to Brazil for Carnival. It's our own fault, we didn't confirm our flights in time but, hey, everything happens for a reason (that's what we are telling ourselves anyway). We decided to cut Brazil out of our itinerary completely and spend the final two months of our trip in Chile, Peru and Argentina.

South America here we come!

Posted by Curleys 21:08 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

New Zealand - The North Island

Adventures in Colin the Campervan

all seasons in one day 26 °C

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We had a great flight and were able to see a gorgeous sunset which turned the sky all sort of wonderful colours as we descended into Auckland. Sylvia was travelling into Auckland on a separate flight, as were Sue and Jane who were also spending the majority of the month in New Zealand. Unfortunately they had a terrible time with delays (some poor bugger had a heart attack in the check in queue).

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A slight mix-up with bookings meant that Sylvia and I had to share a twin room in a separate hostel to Gavin. It was fine though as the hostels were very close to each other and at least it meant that Sylvie and I didn't have to go into a dorm for a couple of nights.

The following day the three of us headed to one of the many Vulcan Lane cafes and restaurants for a slap up breakfast during which we planned our itinerary for our New Zealand adventure. Next was the Tourist Info office, Department of Conservation and the ferry depot to collect all the information we would need for the next few weeks.

A gentle stroll around the city followed by a lazy few hours in Albert Park were about as much as we felt up to for the rest of the day.

That evening the three of us met up with Sue and Jane and headed to Karangahape Road, known as 'K' Rd, to a Southern Indian restaurant called Satya for a delicious meal and followed this with a few beers at an Irish Bar on Vulcan Lane (Gav's eyes do light up when he sees that Guinness sign).

On Saturday we had an early start. Sylvie and I had to move over to the hostel that Gavin was in and then the three of us were shooting down to the ferry terminal to catch our ferries. Gav and I were heading to Rangitoto Island and Sylvie was off to Waiheke Island.

It takes 40 minutes by ferry to travel the 10km to Rangitoto Island, which is Auckland's youngest volcano, at just 600 years old. We planned to challenge ourselves to walk to the 850 metre high summit. It took us 4 hours, including a short stop for lunch, and I have to say was pretty exhausting. Once we had finished the walk, we sat on a bench to wait for our return ferry and both fell asleep. I only woke because of Gav's gentle snoring in my ear!

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On Sunday 6th we had a tour booked to the Bay of Islands. A 6.45am pick up was followed by a 4 hour coach journey to get to the Bay of Islands. We then had an informative talk on the Treaty of Waitangi and tour of the Treaty House, a traditional Māori meeting house and war canoe. Then it was onto our boat for a cruise around the Bay of Islands. The weather wasn't great but it was still very lovely.

Meeting house and war canoe at Waitangi
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Bay of Islands, incl. the 'hole in the rock'

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Once the cruise was over it was back onto our coach for the 4 hour journey back to Auckland City. The scenery during the drive was as stunning as that of the Bay of Islands itself, but we did struggle so to keep our eyes open to take it all in. Sylvia has some very amusing pictures and Gav and I asleep, mouths open, heads nodding, the whole shebang.

On Monday 7th we picked up our second campervan, we named him Colin. We were all looking forward to this camper as he was much larger than Kenneth and would mean that we did not have to move our backpacks around each time we wanted to make up our beds. Colin had a peculiar smell. It turned out that Colin's waste tank had not been emptied since he was last hired so we had the pleasure of driving our first few hours in what smelt like a public toilet.

Colin
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Our first night in Colin the Campervan was spent at Mount Mauganui Beachside Holiday Park, in the Bay of Plenty region. Wow, what a setting for a campsite. We had the back drop of the mountain behind us with a gorgeous long stretch of beach to our right.

Campsite at Mount Mauganui
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As soon as we parked up Gav and I changed our shoes and headed off to climb the mountain. It was just an hour up to the summit and back down again (maybe more of a hill than a mountain?) and following this the three of us grabbed our swimsuits and nipped to the Hot Salt Water Pools that were right next door to the campsite. A long soak in the exothermically heated pools was just what the doctor ordered. The pools are open so whilst soaking in water we were able to gaze up at the mountain - pretty spesh if you ask me.

Mount Mauganui
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Hot Salt Water Pools
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The following day, after a morning stroll along the beach, we headed onwards to Roturua. I have since heard that Roturua has a bad reputation and is called the 'Vegas of the North Island'. Well we definitely didn't see anything that would warrant such a reputation. It did smell though, it's described as rotten eggs but it's probably closer to the smell of a spent matchstick. The smell is caused by the hydrogen sulphide wafting up through all the cracks and crevices of the earth’s crust that occur in the region. Imagine a scene from a film like Jurassic Park, with rainforest covered mountains oozing steam and lava from recently erupted volcanoes, bubbling mud pools and steaming lakes. That's what Roturua is like and, in fact, many parts of the North Island. You feel that you would not be at all surprised should a dinosaur appear in front of you. Although as Jane said, she would be bloody surprised if a dinosaur came around the corner, and I guess in reality I would too, but you know what I mean don't you?

Our campsite was on the banks of Lake Roturua, with a hot water beach separating us from the waters of the lake. The campsites were all geothermically heated which is basically like having under-floor heating installed. I imagine not so great on a hot night for those in tents. All the houses around the campsite that have steam pouring out of the earth in their gardens is a very strange sight!

Our first activity in Roturua was to visit the Te Puia Thermal Reserve, which was a stunning introduction to the geysers, hotpools and mudpools in the area. We were also given a free Māori cultural display which included traditional song and dance.

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Sylvie ejoyed a lunch of fresh corn on the cob that had been cooked in a thermal pool
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That evening we were picked up from the campsite and taken to the Matai Cultural Village for a Māori cultural evening that along with traditional song and dance included a Hangi meal which is a selection of meats and vegetables that are slow cooked in a traditional Hangi earth oven. It was a very entertaining and informative evening.

Hangi meal
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(Cultural show pictures to follow!)

It became apparent that we would need lots of early starts if we were going to fit in everything we wanted to see and do so on Wednesday 9th we dragged ourselves out of bed to go and see the hot water beach at Lake Roturua. I know this might seem really obvious but the water is really very hot indeed.

Lake Roturua
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Kuira Park in the centre of Roturua
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Next we sped off to the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland determined to see the Lady Knox geyser erupt at 10.15am. We bumped into the lovely Sue and Jane in the car park and all wondered around the park together. There were some spectacular things to see there such as the Champagne Pool, however, the Lady Knox Geyser was a bit of a disappointment. Some chap comes out at 10.10am and pours a loads of what is basically washing powder into the spout of the Geyser and the geyser then spits it all back out again. Hmmmm. Apparently the washing powder just speeds up the process which would occur naturally around 4 times a day anyway. They just speed it up and have it happen at an exact time so that all of us lucky tourists get to see it without waiting around for hours. As I said, hmmmm.

Bubbling mud pool en-route to Wai-O-Tapu
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Wai-O-Tapu - Artists palette, Champagne Pool, thermal pool and Lake Ngakoro
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Next stop Taupo. Taupo is 80km south of Rotorua and is slap bang in the middle of the North Island. It has a magnificent lake in it's centre that reflects the Tongariro National Park's three volcanoes. We booked into a campsite a few kilometres out of the town and headed into town for a coffee whilst Sylvie took herself off on the 4hr walk to the Hukka falls and Craters of the Moon.

Lake Taupo
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Something Gavin and I were desperate to do was the Tongariro Crossing, a 7-8 hour, 18.5km hike from Mangatepopo to Ketetahi in the Tongariro National Park, 1886m high at it's higest point. It's described as one of New Zealand’s best one day hikes....it's also described as "challenging" but hey, we're up for a challenge!

On Thursday 10th we were picked up at 5.15am and taken by minibus to the starting point of the hike. During the journey the driver gave us leaflets and talked us through the times it should take, the dangers and gave us tips on how to complete the hike. That bit made me slightly nervous.

Oh, we are all smiles before the hard work begins aren't we....
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It was very challenging! The 'Devils Staircase' was the steepest climb up and I have to say I lost count of the amount of times I had to stop and catch my breath. Gavin 'Mountain Goat' Curley looked like he could have just jogged the whole thing and barely looked like he had used any energy at all until the very last 30 minutes or so. It was so worth the effort though, the views were out of this world. Every single step we took brought something new into our line of vision that made each (painful) step worthwhile.

Not so funny now is it young lady! The Devil's Staircase
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View from the Red Crater
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The Blue Lake and the Emerald Lakes
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She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes....
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Night-night
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I'm delighted that we finished the hike in 6 hours although we both promptly fell asleep as soon as we sat down on the minibus for the transfer back to the town.

That evening we camped in Reid Farm Campsite. Apparently some chap left his land to campers and backpackers and so all are allowed to camp there free of charge for up to 28 days. Of course there or no facilities but our campervan had a loo and Taupo has a "SuperLoo" which is a shower and loo block that you can use for a $2 fee. It has hairdryers etc and you can hire clean fluffy towels so it was no hardship to nip there to scrub our smelly selves before setting up camp for the night.

Reid Farm Campsite
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Did I mention that Taupo is the Skydive capital of New Zealand........oh didn't I?

15,000ft tandem skydive over Lake Taupo
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The official pictures taken on the day take up lots of memory so we can't add them on just yet as we have used our upload limit for the month. We'll update the page as soon as we can though.

We have the DVDs to entertain you all when we get home as well. You know that the camera never lies and that you will see that Sylv and I were actually ****ing ourselves. Gav was cool as a cucumber and was not the slightest bit apprehensive. You can really tell from his face that he loves every minute of the jump and got the most enjoyment from the experience of all three of us. He is already looking at when he can do his next one!

Still shell-shocked from our jump we drove for 5 hours from Taupo to Wellington and set up camp in the Lower Hutt area which is 13km out of the city. Sylv was left understandably a bit tired after throwing herself out of a plane and decided to stay in that evening whilst Gav and I went into Wellington for dinner and drinks. We celebrated being alive with a lovely tapas style meal and a bottle of local Savvy.

On Saturday 12th we had an 8am ferry crossing over to the South Island and on to the next part of our New Zealand adventure.

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Posted by Curleys 18:42 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Christmas is coming......and the Curleys are getting fat!

Christmas and New Year in Sydney

sunny 30 °C
View World Tour on Curleys's travel map.

We had booked two serviced apartments in a block that was situated in a suburb of Sydney called Petersham. There were 9 of us in total, 5 in the 3 bedroom penthouse apartment and 4 in an adjacent 2 bedroom apartment. Petersham is not the most central location but the price of the apartments reflected their location and we had struggled to find anything else that was suitable for 9 people.

Everyone meeting up in Sydney for Christmas and New Year and been decided on before Gavin and I had left the UK and it was something that we were massively looking forward to having not seen our friends for 8 months.

I got the initial feeling that something was up when I received a text from one the group. A few calls later it transpired that there was a pretty big balls up with our booking and once we all arrived at the apartments the extent of the balls up became clear. Basically the company had messed up somehow but were trying to blame anyone and everyone rather than take responsibility themselves and were less than apologetic for their mistake. The four that were in the two bedroom apartments were fine but the five of us that were in the penthouse were not. We simply could not have the apartment that we booked and the company had no other three bed apartments available to offer us. Based on the fact that it was 22nd December the likelihood of us finding anything else, through any other means, was pretty damned slim.

The solution the company offered was to put us up in a 2 bed apartment with one person on a sofa bed for a few nights. Following this we would have to move to the other side of Sydney and into 3 studio (read: bedsit) apartments. Gav and I would have one 'studio', Sue and Jane another and Sylvia another, with the other 4 people remaining in an apartment in Petersham. Clear as mud? Note quite the group Christmas and New Year we had planned eh?

I was not happy.

To cut a very long story short after a (ahem) conversation between myself and one of the managers, the five of us did move into the two bed apartment with a sofa bed, we stayed there for the duration and did not have to move to the other side of Sydney into the bedsits .....oh yeah, and we didn't pay a single penny. They gave us the whole apartment for 12 nights totally free of charge. A saving of £350 each. Nice.

Of course it didn't end there, the big boss turned up a couple of times and tried to throw his weight around. Unfortunately for him I have weight on my side too.....

Anyway enough on that, here's some piccies that hopefully show what a wicked, wicked time we had with everyone over Christmas and New Year. A huge thank you to everyone for making it such a brilliant 12 nights xxx

Oh no, Sue's found the beer!
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Not a bad effort for our first night in the apartment
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Sunday 23rd - Vicky's leaving drinks at the Bondi RSL and The Beach Road Hotel
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CHRISTMAS DAY

The local garden centre gave away their (almost dead) Christmas trees on Christmas morning.....
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Gordon Ramsey aint got nothing on me
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Sylvie takes a nap after dinner from which we woke her sometime (and many glasses of wine) later by singing Christmas Carols to her. As you can imagine, it was as though a group of angels had landed in the room and sang to her....
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Dinner was followed by drinking games, dares and general messiness
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Boxing Day - Sydney to Hobart Boat Race watched from South Head and then fish and chips at Watson's Bay
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Thursday 27th - Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. I know it looks like our heads have been superimposed but that is really us stood on top of the bridge at it's highest point
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Friday 28th - Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk with lunch at the Cogee Bay Hotel where Gav and I met up with Sara and Victoria whom we had met on our tour of WA. Later we headed out for drinks at the Loft Bar, Kings Street Wharf
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Saturday 29th - After shopping along Oxford Street and at the Paddington Market, we met up with Roger and Tracey for drinks at the Paddington Inn

Sunday 30th - Dinner at Sussex Thai (I think the waitress had her hand over the camera lens for that picture) followed by drinks at Cargo Bar, Darling Harbour
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NEW YEARS EVE! - Sydney fireworks watched from Mrs Macquairies Chair

Sue, Jane and I arrived at Mrs Macquaries chair at around 9am on the morning of New Years to secure a spot for everyone. Lucky we did as hundreds of other people had the same idea. Lots of queuing followed by a frantic dash with coolboxes and chairs followed. A little bit of stress was well worth though it as it was a wonderful day and night.

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Don't ask me. It's the Birmingham Bogle or something isn't it?
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(Fireworks pictures to follow. We've used our upload limit for the month!)

Happy New Year!
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NEW YEARS DAY! - Field Day
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Field Day was absolutely brilliant but apart from the excellent DJs that kept us rocking through the day and night, and of course the fabulous friends we were with, another reason that everyone enjoyed it so much was that they found away of earning money whilst they partied. Every beer or soft drink can that was brought back to the recycling desk earned you one whole shiny dollar. Now you can imagine how many cans are thrown all over the floor at an event like this. Our gang made hundreds of dollars, no exaggeration. Gav made $330, the others made more! There were a fair amount of others that cottoned onto the get rich quick scheme though and our collected cans had to be guarded to prevent them being nicked. It was hilarious seeing all these people running around the field, bin liners in hands, frantically grabbing cans as soon as the last sip had been consumed by an unsuspecting party goer.

NEW YEARS DAY - We partied on at Candy's club after Field Day
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All too quickly our time together in Sydney came to an end. Sally, Teresa, Andrew and Kat all on left on 2nd Jan whilst the rest of us left for our flights to Auckland, New Zealand on 3rd Jan.

Gavin and I had had 5 excellent months in Australia and were very sad to be leaving, although of course we were looking forward to the next chapter of our adventures.

Posted by Curleys 17:55 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kenneth (Williams) The Camp Van

December in Oz

sunny 30 °C
View World Tour on Curleys's travel map.

We were up early of dawn on Monday 26th November to pack and catch our flight to Melbourne. Ordinarily we pack the evening before a flight, especially when in a dorm, as it's pretty annoying when someone decides to start packing up all their stuff at the crack of dawn as they haven't been bothered to do it the evening before. However, due to the 'Sunday Session' the previous day we were now that annoying couple packing at the crack of dawn.

We had decided to stay in more of large guest house than a hostel in an up-market suburb of Melbourne called South Yarra. My, oh my, what a great night's sleep we had that night. Bliss. It's such a nice feeling to get into a bed with crisp, clean linen after sleeping in so many grubby rooms. Also, as my Sister, Sylvia, was joining us in Melbourne we thought it would be a good idea to ease her into hostel life in a gentle fashion...and somewhere with clean bedding is a good start!

Images of Melbourne - Parliament & tram, State Library and train & tram
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Yarra River
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Before Sylvia joined us, Gavin and I decided to squeeze in a trip to the Great Ocean Road and well, if you are going to do it, do it properly - we decided to live it up a little and splashed out on a convertible car. I know, we'll be regretting it when we have to get second jobs in McDonald’s when we get home but frankly, bugger it, it was so much fun!

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The Great Ocean Road
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Our first stop off was at Picnic’s B&B in an area called Apollo Bay. The lady that ran the place was so cute and the room was so homely, think Mrs Bucket in Keeping up Appearances. I loved the fact that she brought out the milk jug with a little beaded doily on it.

Apollo Bay
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The lady from the B&B also gave us some great info on things to see and do during our trip along the G.O.R. Heeding her advice our next stop was the Cape Otway National Park to see if we could spot any Koalas and we saw heaps of them!

Otway Lighthouse
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We then drove on to Point Franklin which is a gorgeous, rugged coastline with barely anyone else around......apart from flies. Now, I know I'm going on about the flies now but take a look at this....

Point Franklin
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With our jumpers wrapped around our faces for protection, we stumbled back to the car to get away from the zillions of flies that inhabited the beach.

Next stops were The 12 Apostles (or 11 now that one has fallen over), London Bridge and The Arch.

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On to Warrnambooll and a gorgeous B&B called Herbs Hus which is a beautiful converted Victorian house with huge rooms that are filled with period features. As we were the only guests it actually felt like we had the whole house to our selves although the owner was just a tap on a door away if we needed her. She also has the most gorgeous baby daughter who I am afraid stole my attention whenever she was in the room. We had dinner at a lovely local restaurant called Beach Babylon. The kangaroo fillet was great (yep, I wont eat a dog but I'll eat a kangaroo....the line becomes blurred doesn't it).

The following day, Gavin gave up the controls and allowed me to drive the three hours to Lorne, on the return to Melbourne. It was all going so well until, when pulling in to a lay by to allow the faster drivers that were queuing up behind me to overtake, I managed to drive into a very large, very deep hole. The thing is Gavin had been virtually screaming at me to slow down but I had assumed it was just because he thought I was driving too fast to pull into the lay by when of course I knew I was not. I didn't realise he had seen the hole from some distance away but couldn't get the words out quickly enough to explain why he wanted me to slow down. Fortunately there was very little damage to the car and more fortunately still the hire company failed to notice it and so we were not charged for it. I didn't drive much further after that.

We headed back to the guest house in South Yarra and into a dorm room ready for Sylvie's arrival in a few days time.

On Friday 30th we went off for more of an explore and headed to Brunswick Street in an area of Melbourne called Fitzroy. Brunswick Street is littered with funky shops, cafes and bars and has a cool, edgy feel. Does the fact that I just said cool mean that I am so far from it that I should not have even been allowed onto Brunswick Street? That evening we headed to Chapel Street near to our guesthouse for drinks.

Street art on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
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On Saturday 1st December we jumped on the tram and headed to the beach in St Kilda. I don't think it's too unfair to say that the beach at St Kilda is not the best that we have seen however it does have some of the best cake shops I have ever seen. Acland Street is home to a number of old fashioned cake shops which are just impossible to walk past, along with shops, bars and restaurants and so of course we had a beer followed by a cake.

St Kilda
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I loooove cake
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Sylvia was due to arrive at the airport at 6.30am on Monday 3rd and so on the previous day, after making our huge "Sylvia McNeish" banner we had an early night. Sylvie's flight was slightly delayed and so by the time she arrived I had been holding the banner in the air for around an hour. The other people in the arrivals lounge were beginning to find it rather amusing and were asking me whether my arms were aching yet. When Sylvie arrived she came through a different door, walked in the opposite direction to where we were standing and therefore did not even see the banner. Oh well.

We all headed back to the hostel with the plan to grab some sleep before the Neighbours Triva night that we were going to that evening. Needless to say none of us slept and so Sylvia attended the Neighbours night in a sort of jet lagged haze. Now, the Neighbours night is not something Gav and I would have gone along to and we were only going to keep Sylvie company but I have to say, what a laugh! Yep it was tacky, and yes I didn't know who any of the 'stars' of the show were, having not watched Neighbours since I was about 13 years old, but it turned out to be a really good night. Sylvia sleepwalked back to the guest house.

Neighbours Trivia Night
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On 4th Dec we took Sylvie on a Melbourne city tour, through the Vietnamese area of Richmond, the city and Federation Square and on to Melbourne's 'Little Italy' Carlton where we stopped for lunch. Following which we headed to Brunswick Street in Fitzroy and after a leisurely coffee jumped on a tram and a train back to our room.

Melbourne alley art
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Wednesday 5th Dec was day two of Sylvie's whistle-stop tour of Melbourne. The day was spent along Chapel Street for a spot of window shopping (Gavin left us to our own devises for this section of the day, probably very relieved that I now had my sister to accompany me with any sort of shopping activities). That evening we all went along to the Queen Victoria Night Market and had dinner from the great food stalls whilst being entertained by the local police band. Mildly odd to see the band in their police uniforms singing a Fat Man Scoop song (the title of which I cannot recall) but they were very good.

Thursday 6th we were off to the Botanical Gardens to meet up with our friends Sally and Teresa who were in Melbourne as part of their month long tour of Australia. We would all be meeting up again at Christmas but as we were all in Melbourne at the same time it was a great opportunity to get together. A picnic in the Botanical gardens was our activity of choice and we picked a great day for it.

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That evening we met up with Sally and Teresa again for drinks at the Transport Hotel in Federation Square.

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Gav and I spent the majority of the following day in the Melbourne Museum whilst Sylvia had a look around the shops in Chapel Street and caught up on some sleep. We were off to Chinatown that evening for dinner and so after a group nana nap, off we went. We stopped off at a bar before dinner and got chatting to two local guys. Unfortunately by the time we had stopped chatting and laughing, the restaurant we had planned to go to was closed and that is why we ended up in the worst restaurant in the world. From the outside it looked fine and if our memory served us correctly it had been fairly busy when we had looked around earlier that evening. Lets just say this, after our starters arrived we decided to simply pay and leave rather than subject ourselves to the rest of the meal. Yep, it was that bad.

Melbourne Museum, Royal Exhibition Centre and War Memorial
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The evening of 8th was spent in Carlton for an excellent Italian meal and the 9th was spent packing as the following day we were flying to Brisbane to pick up our campervan which we then planned to drive back to Sydney in time to join our friends for Christmas and New Year.

Melbourne sunsets
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Is it because I iz black? A stall we came across at a craft market in Melbourne
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Our first night in Brisbane was spent in a hostel as we didn't pick up the camper until the following morning. To occupy ourselves in the meantime we took ourselves on a walking tour of the city which I have to say totally changed our opinion of Brisbane. Gav and I had spent a little time in Brisbane during our honeymoon in 2004 and were less than impressed with it, however, the walking tour showed us how much of the city we hadn't seen before and how much more of an interesting place it was than we'd thought.

Images of Brisbane - Eternal Flame, City Hall, signal box art and City Beach
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On Tuesday 11th Gav collected the campervan first thing and we set off on our road trip.

Our home for the next 12 nights
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Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
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We drove to the Gold Coast on Wednesday 12 and had our first trip to Surfers Paradise.....in the pouring rain.

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We spent a couple of days at Surfers visiting Wet 'n' Wild Water Park and Dream World. Both of which were really good fun but the absolute best attraction was the Giant Drop at Dream World. You sit in a carriage with 7 other people and are slowly lifted up to a height of 120 metres where you are held for 20 seconds. After 20 seconds you are dropped with such speed that you cannot even scream, in fact breathing is almost impossible. Gav and I went on three times.

Giant drop and Sylvie and Gav on the log flume
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On Friday 14th we drove to the Lamington National Park and stayed in a campsite at the Binna Burra Lodge. The drive to the lodge was pretty hairy as it was late and therefore pitch black during the last couple of hours of driving and when you are driving along mountain top, winding roads, with sheer, barrier free drops at your side that isn't too much fun. Thank God that Gav was driving and not me as I suspect we would not be here now to tell the tale if I were at the wheel. The campsite was pretty basic and in the middle of the forest, which left Sylvie far from impressed after the long drive. She was even less impressed after a rabid, crazed possum chased after her during the night. I heard her screaming, "let me in, let me in" but thought it was simply an insect that had frightened her. She managed to blurt out, "one of them things...fluffy tail" as she scrambled back into the camper. We did stop laughing at some point but I have to say the possum did remain outside the camper for some time looking at us all in a menacing fashion. We took bathroom breaks in twos for the rest of the evening.

Lamington National Park, Gold Coast Hinterland
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We were lucky enough to see heaps of wildlife whilst we were there including Pademelons, which are small, nocturnal, marsupials that are similar in appearance to kangaroos.

The following day after checking out the views from the lodge we headed off on a trek to the Gwongoorool Pool. Which was a pretty steep 3km down to the pool and of course 3km climb back up. Sylvia splashed her face with lovely cool water from one of the waterfalls during our ascent back to the van to cool down a little only then to have her next brush with nature when she realised a leech had managed to grab a hold of her. Gav to the rescue!

We then drove on to Ninbin which is a surreal little place. In 1973 a bunch of university students held the Aquarius Festival in Nimbin which was a "total cultural experience through lifestyle and participation". Following the festival a number of people stayed around to continue living the dream with other like minded people. The result is an 'alternative' sort of town where, although still illegal, cannabis can be bought and smoked in local cafes etc. Taking a look at some of the people in the town, I suspect cannabis is not the only substance that is readily available in Nimbin!

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Onwards to Byron Bay where I subjected myself to the hottest Thai salad I have ever had. I do like spicy food but I think someone in the kitchen was having a laugh with this one! We followed dinner with a few cocktails - well I needed something to put out the raging fire that was happening on my tongue! My lips felt swollen and were burning and without going into any detail I was slightly concerned about the after effect of eating so much chilli.

Byron Bay
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Gav and Sylv had booked surfing lessons for the following day. I have had surfing lessons previously and, though it was tonnes of fun, I knew I was useless and did not need further proof of the fact. I instead spent the day strolling around the pretty town of Byron Bay, reading the papers on the beach and generally enjoyed doing nothing. Knowing that the others would be starving when they had finished I nipped to the local supermarket to pick up supplies for Gavin's famous McCurleys which we were to have for lunch. Two things went a little wrong that day, firstly we got a parking ticket for not being parked at a 90 degree angle....... I kid you not. Secondly, the surf lessons were cut short as the current was became too strong for the instructor to continue. However, on the upside Gav and Sylv did get half of the money they had paid for the lesson back and those McCurleys, barbecued on the beachside and eaten whilst sat by the sand, watching the world go by, tasted pretty damned good.

For those that are curious a McCurley is Gavin's take on a McDonalds bacon & egg McMuffin and it's delicious. Ask him to knock you one up next time you see him. Although Sylvie did knock up a 'McNeish' recently which is her version and is up there with the McCurley I have to say.

Next stop was Coffs Harbour. Our campsite was right by Park Beach so first thing the following morning Gav and I took our pre-brekkie walk along the beach which was followed by a swim and the invention of a game we have called Sea Stunts. Sea Stunts involves flinging yourself into the waves in a position suggested by the other players, for example I might shout "scissor kick" and we would both have to jump into the next large wave whilst doing a scissor kick. Backwards flip, gambole, belly flop etc are other suggestions. All I will say is don't knock it 'till you've tried it because we have had no end of fun with this game.

Coffs Harbour
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Later we all took a walk along Coffs' Historic Jetty and were lucky enough to see a couple of turtles swimming around. A mooch around town followed by a couple of hours at the beach and then back on the road for our 2 hour drive to Port Macquarie.

Historic Jetty at Coffs Harbour
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It rained that evening, in fact it rained quite a lot. We had planned to treat ourselves to fish and chips at a local chippie we had read about and were not going to let the rain put us off so off we trundled. It was a little further than we anticipated but they were excellent fish and chips. The owner of the restaurant, a fellow Pom, was even kind enough to drop us off at the local pub and let us devour our fish and chips in his car during the journey.

Port Macquarie
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On Tuesday 18th we nipped to Port Macquarie's Town Beach for our morning walk and sea stunts session before heading on to Nelson Bay, Port Stephens. As well as visiting the lighthouse and One Mile Beach, we of course sampled the famous pies from Ned's Pie Shop.

Nelson's Bay and sea stunts at One Mile Beach
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Stockton Bight sand dunes, en-route to the Central Coast
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We then travelled through the Central Coast area and stayed at an eerie campsite at The Entrance and the following day drove through the Northern Beaches, en-route to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains.

Gav and I had visited the Blue Mountains previously but as Sylvie had not we were more than happy to go again. It's such a beautiful area and we were able to combine the visit with a trip to the Jenolan Caves.

Jenolan Caves

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After spending a couple of days enjoying the Blue Mountains area we continued on to Sydney where we were to drop off the campervan and check into our luxurious apartment with all of our friends................hmmmm more to follow on that saga on the next entry!

Until then ta-ta xxx

Posted by Curleys 17:02 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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