Sunday, April 30, 2006

Day 2 - surf's up in Raglan!

Day 2 - Check out Ihaka and Jay hanging out by the Stray bus, as we stop for a gorgeous photo pic.. its sunny, its sunny! In true Stray style, Ihaka took us off the beaten path to meet some of his family near the town of Hamilton! In fact, his brother-in-law, Tiki (I think!) came on the bus and chatted away to us; asking if we were enjoying our stay and thanking us for visiting his beautiful country - what a lovely man! And he gave us a traditional Maori greeting for happiness for the rest of our trip!

Today we moved on from Hahei to Raglan, and the scenery was incredible! Raglan is a lovely wee community that lies in a beautiful, sheltered harbour, famous for its waves. So famous that much of the classic 1964 film The Endless Summer,was shot here -apparantly its all about surfies roaming the globe looking for the perfect wave, man!!!

The beach itself was incredible - it just went on and on. Unfortunately, the waves were a wee bitty wee when we arrived, and the surfer boys werent too optimistic but thank goodness for bad weather. As soon as it started raining (again!) the surf came up and life was good! For those of us not surfing, who strangely enough just wanted to hang out in the beautiful sunshine (which only lasted about half an hour!), we ended up getting a bit soggy, to say the least but hey, the suroundings were so gorgeous it didn't really matter!

We were staying at the Karioi Lodge, surrounded by native bush and quite near the beach. There is a gourmet chef here so of course we all took advantage of this and had an incredilble meal here - yup, as I've said before, its a tough life for backpackers! Afterwards, we walked up to the back of the lodge where there was a Flying Fox (aka a zipline..). Anyway, we all took turns hurtling through the air in the middle of the night, in complete darkness.. hilarious.

And lovely too, 'cos we got to see lots of glow worms, our first introduction to these wee critters, who are a big tourist attraction in NZ, and I think are only found here and maybe in Australia? Of course, no evening is complete without a few wee drinkies and a game of Charades! We sat in the lodge barn, and hammered out some classics; from Gandi (me of course!) to Whale Rider, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and many others! Another great night finished up with singing, guitar playing and lotsa chatting!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

And I'm off.... Day 1. It's the start of my North and South Island extravaganza....

It's the first day of my Short Moe (aka Kev) Stray Pass! There are tons of different trips you can do with Stray. Mine means I get to visit both the North and South Island for a minimum of 13 days, but I can hop on and off whenever the whim takes me! Got picked up around 8:30am, and you could tell right away it was going to be a good bus! Ihaka was our driver/guide- he is half Maori, half Scottish, and his name means "love and laughter". Isn't that gorgeous?

So the Stray team was quite diverse - we had Lindsey, Hayley, Hannah, Suzanne, Eorenn and Shane - all English, Jason and Josh - American, Nicholas - German, Fiona -Scottish, Julia - Finnish, Yvonne and Rutger - Dutch, Adrian - Canadian and Ricardo from Brazil.

First stop was Mount Eden (that extinct volcano again!) for one last look at the sights of the city that I'd seen yesterday in sunshine. Today, yup, it was raining again! Quick look there then we were off! Well, we actually stopped a few times - the Pink Pig for breakfast, supermarket stop for supplies for dinner, a cute town called Thames for a coffee, (get the idea, its all about food and drinking on this trip!). Then it was on to the Coromandel Peninsula and Hahei Beach. Hahei is a beautiful, white sand beach with a ton of islands scattered out in front of it over the bay. The islands are all part of a newly protected Marine Reserve called Te Whanganuia Hei....of course, we couldn't resist so Lindsey, Josh, Shane, Rutger, Hayley and I decided to go sea kayaking - even tho' we needed some thermal gear 'cos it was a tad chilly! And yes, Lindsey and I look particularly fetching after the first part of the trip, as we got some water leaking into our kayaks - I promise!!!The fabulous Ross was our guide and he was great and so informative, not just about the marine reserve where we were kayaking, but about the history of the country... it was a beautiful trip. Really good fun especially when we went white water rafting through this cave where the waves were pretty high - fantastic!

Then it was out of the kayaks and on to Cathedral Cove for a look around the beach itself, and its incredible limestone archway and rocks....really pretty area!

While we did that, Ross made everyone a hot drink - and no, not just tea or coffee, it was moccachino's, cappachino's, you name it - he could make it! Not quite sure how he managed this from a wee bag he kept in his kayak but very impressive. Had to take a pic of Shane's excitement getting his half caf, decaf with a sprinkling of chocolate on top, cappachino (ok i exaggerate slightly!), but I was so impressed. After that, it was back in the water, and we kayaked some more,then headed back to the beach! Gorgeous watching the sun set on the water!

In true Stray style, we all made dinner together (with Josh as our head chef!! Cordon Bleu trained this boy is!) and then sat around, chatting, drinking and singing Oasis is a big team fave it seems! to Nicolas's fantastic guitar playing.... a great evening i have to say. It constantly amazes me how quickly people gel and get on with each other when traveling - a wonderful thing!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Whistle stop tour of the Bay of Islands...

Up early today for another fab Stray trip to the Bay of Islands. This area, in the heart of the Northland region, is famous for its incredible coastal scenery, and its one of NZ's major attractions. I would love to have stayed here for a few days, but of course, with only 3 weeks in the country, you have to pick and choose what you can get to, so a day tour (kind of long; from 8am to 8pm!) to see the sights was all i could manage! Oh well, just means i have to come back for another trip! And as today was yet another bucketing day of chilly rain, it would be nice to see this part of the country with a little sunshine - another reason to return!

First stop, with our fabulous Stray driver, Shane (off to travel the world in a few weeks himself....) was at a park just outside of Auckland, to hug a "Kauri" tree. Actually, we gave it a "hongi" (Maori greeting with the pressing of foreheads and noses, giving life breath!) as you can see! Kauri trees are now 100% protected in New Zealand as there are very few of them left. These trees can grow up to 2,000 years old and the most famous is called Te-matua-ngahere (Father of the Forest) with a trunk over 5m in diameter, the biggest of any kauri in NZ; found in Waipoua Kauri Forest!

After briefly visiting the town of Warkworth, it was off to Goat Island for some snorkeling in the Marine reserve there! Can't believe i actually did it as the weather, although sunny, is pretty brisk to say the least right now!
Then off to Whangarei, to see a real live Kiwi bird! Ok, so its almost impossible to see these in the wild (who knew? think its like the Haggis in Scotland teehee!) so we visited a Kiwi reserve and chatted with our animated host about the habitat and wildlife patterns of the kiwi bird. Did you know they are nocturnal, mate for life, very territorial of their habitat, and the couples separate each night to defend their area... see, I am a fund of information!!

We arrived in Pahia around lunch time! Pai means good and Hia is for here so you can imagine that this is a good place to be! The weather had completely changed (another norm for NZ; it changes all the time!) and we had stunning blue skies and blinding sunshine that twinkled on the water in the harbour! ... Pahia is the base for the Bay of Islands area, as well as being right next to Waitangi, (were you paying attention in my last posting about the founding document tut tut!)....where on Feb 6th, 1840 the famous signing of the treaty between the Maori people and Queen Victoria's govt. took place... Anyway, there are tons of water sports to do here.... lovely wee place!

Headed back to Auckland with Shane, Julia (my new found friend from Finland)and a guy called Steve from England. Had a great chat; talked about pretty much everything under the sun, from politics, history of New Zealand and the Maori culture, the fact dairy farming has now overtaken sheep farming as the number 1 export (NZ milk is the cheapest in the world apparantly and every one believes the NZ ethos - "clean and green"!), religion and a bunch of other daft things....

On the way back, we had a wee pit stop in Kawakawa, an ordinary little town, just south of Pahia, with a very extraordinary public toilet. Designed by Austrian born artist and eco-architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who lived near the town in an isolated house without electricity from 1973 until his death in 2000, the toilets boast wavy lines, funky tiles and lots of brightly coloured bottles .. weird but pretty cool!

Decided to hit the hot spots of Auckland so Shane took me to meet some of the other Stray drivers at the Globe bar, Lenin's and a wierd country and western bar where everyone wore cowboy hats....but the music was Wham and other fab 80's hits -- so, yup, I was in my element! Another great day in NZ...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Kia aro". I've arrived in sunny aka rainy Auckland!!!

Well, it's time to start the ole' blogging for Phase 2 of my World Adventure, so here goes with my first stop! A big Kia ora (Maori for hello) to you all from New Zealand!

Lets just say that with a combination of 4 hours sleep over the 2 days prior to me leaving Boston, and what seemed like the world's longest flight path to Auckland (Boston - Atlanta - LA - Auckland, left April 25th, into Auckland on April 27th!), I was feeling just a tad tired on arrival! But I couldn't let that hold me back! Got into town around 6:30am, and checked into Base Backpackers hostel (I booked into the "Sanctuary", a girls only floor with complimentary Aveda products, TV's in the bathrooms, and a spa and sauna - how nice eh!) and by 10am I'd showered, unpacked and was on my way out to start my city tour!

Did this with Stray, the same bus tour group I'm doing my North and South Island trip with in 2 days time. Their motto is "Stray - we take you off the beaten path!". Lets see if they live up to that! Met some lovely girls; Kathy from Strangford in Ireland, Allie from London and Jenna from Edinburgh on the bus. Yup, there are tons of people from Britain and Ireland in NZ....quite different after South America where I only met one Scottish person in 4 1/2 months!

Our guide, Worm (aka Craig), was great! He majored in Theatre Studies at university, has Kiwi parents although was brought up in Canada, and certainly enjoyed slagging off any and all things Australian... this seems to be a common theme around New Zealand, although apparantly it's all in jest!!! On our tour, we saw a ton of interesting places around Auckland (see the view here from the ground up, of the famous Skytower; at 328m the tallest structure in the Southern hemisphere!). This is another very common thing in New Zealand; everything is the biggest, the tallest, the widest thing.. in the Southern Hemisphere...not the world of course!!! But hey, whatever floats your NZ boat, right!

We also visited Mount Eden (Maungawhau in Maori); which is just outside the city centre. Home to the first piece of sacred land handed back to the Maori's by the British, after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 (NZ's founding document, similar to the US Constitution), it houses the most prominent whare runanga (Maori for meeting place) in the country (I think!). From here, you can check out the entire Auckland district below (Mount Eden is built on the highest volcanic cone in the area) and there's also a steep, volcanic terraced crater, thought to be another very sacred place for Maori ceremonies, which has tons of signs everywhere saying do not enter, this is a sacred place but of course, there were the usual idiots running down into the crater, throwing their flip flops around, shouting "take a pic"!!! Really, tourists today!!! So, with over 48 extinct and dormant volcanos surrounding this area, apparantly its only a matter of time before another one erupts and scientists think it could very easily be in or around the centre of Auckland itself... we'll just have to wait and see!

Worm also told us many other weird and wonderful tales including one about a father and his three daughters who were swimming just off the coast in the North Island, when they became encircled by a pod of bottle nose dolphins who were acting really strangely! The dolphins became more and more erratic and the father, fearing for his daughters safety, swam away from the pod, and made lots of commotion to get the dolphins to follow him... only 2 did and they very strongly nudged him back into the circle - again very strange behaviour as dolphins are usually very gentle mammals when interacting with people. The father became really worried; how would they all get out of this? People on the beach could see what was happening and a boat was called out, but would it arrive in time? As the father treaded water, he looked down below, and suddenly realised what was going on. A giant Great White shark was underneath him and his family, and as it circled and seemed to come towards him, one of the dolphins hit in on the nose, and dazed it (so much so it washed up on the beach a few days later, dead!). Apparantly,the dolphins were a pod of mothers who had recently given birth (researchers followed them after this episode to see why this had all happened). Their nurturing instinct was still so strong after having given birth that they felt the need to protect the humans.... pretty interesting story, eh!

Anyway, back to Auckland. In my usual blog style, a wee bit of info first....New Zealand is made up of two very different islands, the North and the South. Wellington, the capital is at the tip of the North Island. Auckland, with just over 1.2 million people, is situated on a narrow strip of land between two scenic harbours. It has more sandy beaches and islands than any other city in the world and is called "the City of Sails" due to the fact that 1 in 4 people own their own boats here!
The endearing nickname for anyone who lives in Auckland is a JAFA (just another fxxxn Aucklander). Sorry, a tad rude you might say....but the rest of New Zealand feels that Aucklanders are a bit stuck up compared to the rest of the country, hence the not so kind nickname! And as you can see, its that common, you even see it in advertising.....

Also went down to the port district, very hip now due in part to the growth in popularity surrounding the Americas Cup. Saw the space-age "Earth Race" boat that is aiming to go around the world in 68 days, fueled entirely by bio-chemical fuel i.e. vegetable oil! Other highlights included a visit to Speights brewery where we tried a chocolate beer (yuk!).

Back to Base in the afternoon, and decided to go for a spa with Jenna for an hour (yes, its a tough life being a backpacker!) then met up with Allie and Kathy! We headed out to visit the impressive Skytower - and checked out the view at night! Quite impressive... especially when you stand on the glass panels and can see right down to the street - bit freaky tho'.

Then off to the "Minus 5" ice bar.< Completely made out of ice.. the walls, the sculptures, seats, even the glasses. The ice is specially created in Canada with some secret ingredients, so it is always clear and you don't stick to it!!! And we didn't! It couldn't be more freezing in there.. you can only stay in it for 30 mins max...'cos its so cold! Poor Tina the bar tender.. she has to stay in for up to 2 hours at a time (but she had to train to get to that time limit.. something to do with the CO2 levels she said....?)

Anyway, a great first day in Auckland - oh, did i mention it rained buckets. Apparantly, this is quite normal, so I'd better get used to it! Hmmnnn...

PS - Did i also mention my pack is SO much lighter than the last trip (NOT!) ...a mere 44lbs according to Air New Zealands scales.. Oopps how did that happen! I'm def intending to dump as much as possible post Australia - no more chilly weather clothes needed for Asia - just the waterproofs of course as I'll be there during monsoon season! Yes, I know, I planned this trip very well.. winter in the Pacific, rainy season in Asia BUT perfect weather for India.....ahhh, happy days!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Here in sunny Boston, getting ready for Trip number 2!!!!!!

Hi there! Yup, it's me again! Just a quick note on my next trip which as I mentioned, I leave for on April 25th! Can't believe where the time has gone since I arrived back in Boston March 2nd!! It's been crazy busy - what with temping (first time I've ever done meet some very interesting people let me tell you!), running around catching up with all my brilliant pals, and of course researching stuff to do, places to go etc. for this latest adventure I'm about to embark on!!! Ahhhh, I realise what a brilliant job Dominique did with South America now that I have to try and plan out - or at least have an idea - of what I want to do in the 7 countries I'm going to visit on this next trip!

(and just as an aside, for those of you taking a look here...thought you might like some nice pics of my home town...which sadly I have to admit I didn't take - but they are really nice right!)

So - the plans are set in motion, I have the tickets, the mochilla is slowly getting full although I'm vowing to pack light this time (hmmm but will it happen?),... so here's the itinerary for what I'm very uninspiringly (is that a word?) calling Phase 2!

1) Leave Boston April 25th and fly to LA (via Philadelphia and Georgia -I know, I know its kind of long but it was the cheapest route!)
2) Arrive New Zealand April 27th - I'm there for 18 days (fly into Auckland in the North Island and out of Christchurch, South Island).
3) Arrive Sydney - May 16th for 4 weeks (meeting up with good friends Beth and Nige and family near Byron Bay, and also Chris and Dutch and family too, in Brisbane!)
4) Arrive Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - June 16th for 4 weeks. Fly out of Hanoi
5) Arrive Bankgkok - July 15th, leave Thailand for 6 weeks going to Cambodia and Laos
6) Back to Thailand where I'll meet up with my brother, Patrick for 2 weeks in September (in Thailand for 1 month total)
7) Then leave to fly to Mumbai in India on Oct 1st - here till Dec 16th when i fly out of Delhi to London then up to Scottieland for Christmas...yah!
8) Fly back to Boston on Jan 25th, 2007 - wow, that seems a loooongggg time away!

So there it is! Please feel free to plan your summer hols around this and come meet me at any stage in the trip - teehee just kidding of course but if any of you feel like it, that would be brilliant!

Take care and I'll start boring you all with lotsa blog blah from New Zealand in a few weeks!

Your long winded friend, Stefanie