Wednesday, 29 April 2009

April Showers

The ferry across to Picton was uneventful. Not an unpleasent experience, but not one I would rush to do again. Fortunately, unlike my previous boat experience going towards the reef, I was not sea sick and fell asleep for the most part. I know how to have fun.

I arrived in Picton and most people don't stay here, but I decided to and I am so glad about that decision. What a lovely little town. And my hostel was fantastic. Cheap, free breakfast, open fire and to cap it off free chocolate pudding at night WITH ice cream. That may not sound that fab to you, but apart from the cake extravaganza in Wellington, I've not had many desserts recently.

Now Saturday was something called ANZAC day which essentially was the Kiwi and Australian rememberence day for the great wars and everyone gets a day of work. Or so I thought. After the complete shutting down of Auckland on Easter Friday, I assumed that a Saturday holiday in a small town would deem everything closed. As such I hadn't planned to do anything that day. However, to my surprise everything was open. This did not change my plans, I had decided to do a self-guided walk and I was going to do it (plus, hello, free!). However, I got the times slightly wrong and ended up walking for near 5 hours. Well, at least it was a nice sunny day and I'd packed a lunch.

On my return to the lovely hostel I felt very fit and could practically feel my stomach and thighs becoming toned and muscular. As such I felt I deserved 2 servings of chocolate pudding that night. The next morning I caught the bus to Nelson, the 'big smoke' around these parts aka it has more than one supermarket and met a tall chap who not only was going to Nelson, but was staying in the same hostel and doing the same Abel Tasman day walk as I was. After the relative solitude of Wellington and the polite chat of Picton, I couldn't seemed to stop talking to this poor fellow. Verbal diarrhoea flowed from me and I was unable to control or stop it. This continued the entire bus journey, supermarket visit and sausage cooking (yum) that we did together. Fortunately for him (and me, it is very tiring to talk non-stop) by the beginning of the walk the next day, I had finally calmed down some what.

Abel Tasman, for those of you who care, is the smallest national park in New Zealand and is a very popular hiking and camping destination. But as all of you know, I do not camp. So a day walk was in order. My new best friend, Tall boy, and I caught the bus very early to be taken to the ferry site and were surprised by a constant narration by the bus driver. What was surprising about it was that not only did he not stop AT ALL, also he kept making very politcial statements about the loss of green space and telling us all his wife's bad habits. I'm sure she was delighted. After 2 hours of that, escape into the wild unknown was most appreciated.

On the ferry, we met Jail boy, a young English chap who whilst in Thailand had his camera stolen, reported it to the police and then was arrested himself for 'insulting the king'. He languished in jail for 5 days until rescued by the British Embassy and sent home. I'm amazed he ever travelled again! The day was glorious. The sun beat down on us, we sweated like horses and were impressed by views and shared such stories (though non beat his jail time tale).

That evening I was exhausted after the long walk and the return bus journey in which we had the same narrating driver and had planned to go to bed. However, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that and I ended up at the pub. I was very retrained and only had 3 pints, but the people I had come with (all "Magic Bus' tour group) were all drinking like sailors despite their 7am bus trip and when I left at midnight they were still going strong. I would not like to have been their driver the next day. I'm getting very old in my old age and the I wouldn't even contemplate drinking heavily before a journey espcially not an early one. To be honest drinking heavily itself has lost much of its appeal too. I must be growing up.

The next day, the weather turned. It rained, then it rained then it poured and then it rained some more. So I read a book and organised my life (a bit, well I booked a hotel for Vegas). Fortunately I met a nice software analyst and we went out for tea then went to see a film I'm to embarrassed to admit to seeing. However, it was the first time in months I'd gone to the cinema wth anyone so it was a nice change.

Because of the rain, my plans have had to change. They have had 40 days rain in one night (or some such silly statistic) and its still raining so cave water rafting is off (it would be underwater rafting now, not so much fun). As such I have decided to splash out and do a helicopter then hike over a glacier. When it rains, spend. So keep your fingers crossed for tomorrow morning for me as I need a bit of luck to ensure the trip actually goes ahead and a bit of luck if it does as I'll be in a freakin' helicopter!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

I Walk the Line

So I left you in suspense of my imminent imprisonment. As most cliff hangers, this will be a disappointment, I'll level with you now.

I travelled from on from the lovely Taupo to Napier and for me the main attraction to going to Napier was you could stay in a disused prison. Not converted, disused. After a brisk walk, well stagger, up the hill to the gates, I was greeted by a rather forboding wooden door complete with authentic buzzer system like you hear in the movies. I was welcomed by a very enthusiastic girl who showed me round- the cells, the shower block (unchanged!), the hanging gallery (now poetically used for hanging the washing up) and I settled into my room. Alas, I wasn't staying in one of the cells, but a rather rickety out house type affair. There I met a poor lost looking fellow who immediately launched into his travel life story about he'd come for a holiday to see a friend he'd not seen in years. They realised on about day 2 of 30 that they didn't actually get on and now she was desparately trying to ditch him at every opportunity. As such she had gone out with another friend for the night and was left alone in the prison.

I felt uncharacteristically sorry for him and decided to be nice. I had planned on going to the museum that evening to the converted theatre to watch an arty film about people smuggling (cheerful stuff as always) and invited him along. He was very enthusiastic and came along only to fall asleep for most of the film. However, he said afterwards he liked what he had seen, so at least he tried. The next day he and his unfriendly friend left very early (8am!) and I never did see him again. Poor fellow.

However, his suffering aside, my day turned out ot be marvellous! It was gloriously sunny and Napier turned out to be even prettier than Taupo. There was a gloroius pebble beach I just sat on for ages, like a herione in a romantic film then I climbed a big hill and took in the view. I went to the local museum which had a fascinating exhibit on the local cemetary and an interesting documentary on the 1931 earthquake. I then returned to the hostel, thinking with the departure of the friendless boy and his friend, I would be alone. But no as I sat myself down in front of the truely massive TV, a quiet slender chap came into the room. With mush persistence, I discovered he had been living in the prsion since Decemeber and was working locally. He was from Chile. We then watched a terrible comedy together that he had rented. And then as suddenly as he came, he left without a goodbye.

The next day I did a wine tour that included a lovely lunch and general sight seeing around the area. It was another gloriously lovely day, the sun shining, birds singing kind of atomsphere. The other people on the tour were pleasent enough, but don't really warrant mentioning. As expected after the fourth and final winery I was well and truely tipsy and on my return to Napier I felt obliged to buy some candy floss and phoned my mother with great gusto and talked more nonsense than ususal. I promise to phone without the influence of alcohol soon mother.

I then went into the TV room, expecting to find my quiet Chilean but instead discovered 2 Dutchies, a kiwi and 3 Brits. I was bit overwhelmed after 3 days of relative solitiute, but being mildly drunk I started talking at an alarming rate and volume. In retrospect, they must of thought I was quite, quite mad. The good thing about travelling is, unless you make a great effort, you generally will never see people again so embarrassment can be avoided long term.

I had to rise early the next day to get the bus to Wellington and to my surprise as I trudged down the hill, I came across the quiet Chilean who was in a car and offered to take me to the bus stop which was a good half hour walk away. I accepted, he apologised about the state of the car and then we drove for 5 minutes in silence before he dropped me off and disappeared before I got to say thank-you. An odd, but I feel ultimately, pleasant fellow, that if I'd had more time, I would have worn him down and eventually, I would have made him my friend.

Anyway, so began the last few days in Wellington. I have done so little, that one day I feared I may actually cease to exist due to my inactivity. I just been walking around, eating bargain cakes from the supermarket (6 lamingtons for 3 dollars!), finding little cinemas- I actually found the best cinema in the world. They have armchairs with little tables, give you home made scones and tea with your ticket (5 dollars cheaper than normal cinemas) and there are no adverts before the feature, just trailers. Fantastic.

But, yes, essentially I been in a wee cocoon of my own making, floating around and being not very productive. Well, I have been organising some America stuff (I'm very anxious about into getting into the country so I want to have all my travel sorted out so I can prove I'm not trying to illegally emigrate), but other than that I have been a very bad tourist. I did go the museum, once. It was nice.

However, I now waffle. Today I'm getting the ferry to Picton and now a frenzy of travelling is to begin. I'm only going to stay in places for 2 nights and then move on so I can see the country and hopefully not fall into the deluge of lethargy again.

Just before I go, I must just say, thank-you Maggie for becoming a follower! I now have 7! Although, Gin and Tonic- you still remain a mystery? Who are you?!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

They call me Morag Christie!

Okay, so the Maori concert in Rotorua is where I left you dangling in suspense.

It almost left me that way when I arrived and they didn't seem to have my booking. However, they were very kind and fitted me in anyway. But then when I got on the bus they told to get on, I was told it was the wrong bus and my name wasn't on that bus's list. but they were very kind and took me to the concert anyway. I saw lots of Maori dancing around, ate lots of Maori food and generally had a jolly time. As is the small world of the backpacker I ended up sitting next to two girls I'd shared a hostel room with in Auckland. On my return to the buses, I found the correct bus and was promptly asked "are you Marie from Ireland?"

Then all the earlier confusion became clear. Clearly when the receptionist from my hostel phoned to book me she made a slight mistake and of course when I arrived they didn't have a booking for Morag from Scotland.... And so continues the seemly never ending confusion around my name. I am sure I have mentioned the Christie Morag's I've been getting, oh say. constantly. The constant 'oh Christie's your SURNAME' and the occasional 'oh I thought that was a man's name'. Who would have thought when my parents were looking down at my tiny frame just after my birth deciding to name me a slightly old fashioned, but not unusual name, that 25 years later it would dog my entire traveling career.

Anyway, that was the end of Rotorua and I got the bus the next day to Taupo. I don't think I mentioned that when I first arrived in Rotorua I didn't like it for no real reason, well the opposite was true about Taupo a mere hour away by road. A delightful little town in which I instantly found a second hand bookshop which I always take as a good sign. It also helped that my hostel compared the slightly odourous one before was marvellous and clean! I arranged then to do the Tongariro Alpine crossing, a 20km hike between two mountains, one of them being Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. You can guess now why I was so keen to do it.

I was very fortunate as from the morning of the hike it was clear it was going to be a nice day. A cloudless sky and a warm sun. The two mountains standing proud almost side to side, parting slightly to let us pass to gaze up at the wonderous volanic rock that they were created from.

Yes, it was quite a romantic setting and I got quite carried away. I took about 80 pictures of Mount Doom. I also met a nice Australian lady police detective and we had a great chat about the recent bikie (not biker) war occuring in Sydney presently involving an airport murder.
After 7 hours of hiking I finally arrived at the other end feelign very self satisfied and seemed some how poetic that on my arrival back at the hostel that a couple of people were in the TV room watching The Fellowship of the Ring. I had a wee smile to myself. That evening I had a shower and felt incredibly healthy and fit.

I had already decided not to spent too long in any small town so I would time to see everything on my bus ticket (I'm not sure how long that enthusiasm will last) and that day I was due to go to Napier. However, I had a few hours to kill before my bus left so I wandered around Taupo. I walked along the lake and throught the parks. I sat on a bench and ate lunch. I watched a bird sitting on a tree trunk looking very happy with itself some men planting trees. It was all very picturesque, I didn't want to leave. Now imagine my delught when I arrived in Napier to find it was a small town just as fantastic, except I was later to discover it had 2 second hand bookshops!

Napier is famous for being struck in 1931 by a very nasty earthquake that leveled the town and as such it was rebuilt, but as the fashion of the time was art deco, all the buildings are art deco and any new builds have been been made in that style too. It's a very beautiful cute wee town and as all the buildings are in the same style it feels like it has been lost in time somehow, untouched by modern archiecture. However, there is one place that remained standing after the quake. The decomissioned prison that has been turned into a museum/backpackers. So of course, that is where I decided to stay.

Unfortunately, my time on this computer is almost up and I've ran out of dollar coins. This means I must leave you now hanging in suspense, just make sure you tune in next week for the completion of this fantastic installment of 'Marie and the Napier Prison Blues'!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Smooth Criminal

I am now in New Zealand.
But first, let's return to last night in Oz...

Zac the chef made me a fabulous final meal involving hand made gnocci and then oxtail spagetti. This was accompanied by a fine red wine and good banter. It was such good fun, it left me feeling very melancholy and reluctant to leave Australia altogether. The next morning Maggie and Duncan had travel plans of their own and left before me. So I made my way to the airport on my todd ( I must point out I not once ever in the history of this trip been waved off, most distressing) and on the flight over to Auckland I was quite sullen and withdrawn. I sitting inbetween two people and usually I make polite chat, but I was feeling so blue they never even got a smile. I was thinking to myself that I just couldn't be bothered with NZ, I wished if I could skip it all together and go straight to America.

So not the best of moods. I arrived very late and went straight to bed. However the next morning I awoke with a new vigour and zest for life! The world was joyess! Auckland was, well to be honest, not very pretty, but it was new and exciting and fabulous! I think most of this enthusiaism was due to the fact that right round the corner form my hostel was the Civic theatre and it was showing 'A Winter's Tale' by Sam Mendes starring Ethan Hawke. I wandered in and said 'cheap ticket?' They said 'yes' and my good mood was born. Shakespheare is my cure all. Then I discovered a fantastic bus ticket that would take me all around NZ (well the main places) for a very reasonable price and included some day trips (or so I thought, more on that later).

So this bascially meant NZ was planned. In the bag. Done. And despite not being very organised of late, I do like to be organised. The next couple of days in Auckland were the usual ones that come with entering a new city for me. Walking around parks, getting lost, feeling cold and needing to buy new trousers (hmm maybe not that one), climbing a big hill (Mount Eden- in factadormant volcano), discovering the art gallery was under refurbishment (boo) and going to see a Shakepheare play (very good, odd blend of tragedy and comedy). But all in all I enjoyed my first few days there.

Then I decided to go on the first leg of my bus trip. What I thought was included in my journey was a trip to the Waitomo Caves with Glow-worm boat trip then onward to Rotoroua. I got on the bus early (8am!!!) and got chatting to a mother-daughter combo from the borders. The mother was very over bearing and was one of those women who could have been anything from 50 to 90, but acted like she was 120 and a cripple. Everything was such a tremendous effort (apart from eating clearly as her gut was certainly 'healthy') and she told me all her woes.

On arrival at the caves, I followed the rest of my tour group to the entrance where a woman was checking everyone's tickets. Tickets? I had no ticket. It was done over the phone. Hmmm. It then dawned on my that my bus journy did not include the cave visit. Oops, my bad. I was about to turn around and go back thinking 'Darn it', but prehaps not that polite when the ticket lady screeched "Great Sights Bus trip!" and let my entire bus through and I was swept up in it too. So basically I stole a cave trip. 4 days in NZ and already a thief. I've obviously spent too much time in Australia, clearly their ill gotten ways have infected my good, pure soul.

So I thoroughly enjoyed my glow worm spotting (very pretty tiny lights made up of insect behinds, ahh) and then was taken on to Rotoura. I had trouble booking a hostel and ended up in the 'Blarney Stone'. An Irish themed hostel in New Zealand. Hmm. Mild odour in the dorm room, but a very nice staff so one shouldn't complain (but one does).

Today I went to a polynesian spa and spent about 2 hours enveloped in thermal sulphur water, a bit smelly, but very relaxing. Tonight I'm off to a Maori feast or some such thing. I didn't read the brochure, just asked the hostel girl to book me a Maori evening as that's what you do here in this wee town. So hopefully that will nice and relaxing too, although some how I doubt it- I mean have you seen the All Blacks do the Haka?

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Goodbye to Oz

Ah, yes the title is true.  Tomorrow I leave Oz to continue my journey to New Zealand.  So just how have I spent my last week?  Well, settle in and I'll begin.

I think I left off about to go to Fraser Island.  Fraser is famous for being entirely made from sand and in fact it's original name was indeed the Big Sandy Island.  Imaginative.  To get to this mecca of sand, I first had to travel to Rainbow Beach which sounds delightful, but is in fact a small street with an over priced supermarket.  Unfortunately, I had made an error with my bus booking and the 12 hour journey overnight on a uncomfortable bus turned into 18 hours.  As you can imagine I was not pleased with myself for this error and chastised myself appropriately.  On arrival in Rainbow, I was quite exhausted as during my long bus journey not much rest was had, hindered by the bus driver that kept waking the bus up to tell us it was time for a meal break.  At 4 am?!  Really, seriously, come on.

Fortunately, my afternoon nap followed by an early night did not mean I missed anything due to the small and rather unexciting nature of Rainbow and I arose the next day with a new enthusiasm for exploring and adventure.  Now, most people when adventuring on Fraser, do a self drive trip wherein you get out together with ten other tourists and drive around and camp.  Yes, camp.  On an island entirely made of sand, recently a victim of a cyclone.  Not my cup of tea.  I like a toilet and a bed and a shower and protection fron evil beasties.  So I did a guided tour with about 15 other people and a guide called Petre (NOT Peter).   My group was a pleasant crowd and to great delight the average age was about 24 unlike the usual 14 that I had encountered on the rest of my trip down the North East coast.  We spent 2 days and 2 nights exploring lakes, sand dunes, Scottish ship wrecks (really its called the Maheno, you can google it) and generally having a jolly time.  Unfortunately, on the last night one of the girls in my dorm developed a gastroenteritis.  Filled with fear, I refused to use the same facilities and became over whelmed with concern that I would be stricken with this on the bus journey to Brisbane the next day.  This was not helped by on the parting of the group, the same girl methodically hugged and kissed (yes kissed!!  Health and safety people!) everyone, one by one.  I made a swift exit across the road, waving goodbye, safe from the transmission of vomit inducing mircorobes.

That evening was spent back in the very small Rainbow Beach so not much excitment was had although I did educate a German on the the language and culture of Gaelic.  The next day I travelled back to Brisbane to the hotel of Maggie and Duncan and found myself joined by another guest, Zac the chef, who is trying very hard to get a new visa, but not managing very well.  The last few days have as been the usual joyful, fun filled, civilised dinner party days that seem to be customary in the hotel of Maggie and Duncan.  I have eaten much fine food, drank some fine wines and even made a salad and baked cakes!!!  Morag the chef should now be my name.  I also managed to catch up with Amanda, the lovely Tasmania trip travel agent and Luke, the delightful Berlin trip town planner and by lovely coincidence actually ended up in the in a night club dancing ridiculously with both of them.  

So now my last day in Oz is upon me.  I'm sitting typing this whilst Zac and Duncan are doing the crossword and newspaper quiz from yesterday's paper in a very civilised manner.  Later I will post a large package home to my mother of excess belongings that have somehow appeared and will no longer fit in my rucksack.  Then tomorrow, I will put my bag on my back and again travel to the airport to start a new journey. 

And of course as seems to be the way with me these days, I haven't organised a damn thing!