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Travel

january - march 2006
april - january 2007

Downunder & over the ditch - Part I

23rd Jan 2006 Singapore

Singapore is aboslutely amazing. Form the moment of our landing to the momnent of our depature we did not stop (We were Knackered).

First stop was for a bit of dinner in Clarks Quay. It was a very nice area full of bars and nice restaurants overlooking the main river (once we mastered the MRT - Underground). Our first full day consisted of visiting Little India and one of the Hindi Temples. We then travelled to the other side of the city to China Town. Kath particulary enjoyed this as there was a massive open market (good job her feet hurt as we didn't look round for too long). After the market we slurped down some noodles and headed for one of the Buddist Temples set in one of the city parks. One of the strangest things about Singapore is the fact one minute your in one a vibrant city and the next you walk into these temples and it's another world.

That evening Kath dragged me to Raffles Hotel where all the stinking rich people stay and where the 'Singapore Sling' cocktail was invented (to be far, it's very nice if a little pricey).

The second day was spent on Singapore's Sentosa Island (the most southern point of Asia). We took the cable car over the island whci was cool. The island is really nice but has a very man made feel about it, like a theme park. They have a buses that take you to all the different attractions. Kath wanted to see the dolphin show but at a steep 13 pound for the both of us I wasn't so sure (obviously Kath got her way). This was followed by a short stroll along the beach and Underwater World (they've got some cool fish in there).

We finished off our stay in singapore by visiting the Night Safari. I think it's easy to say we where both impressed with the whole evening. You take a tram ride through the rainforest slowing down for each enclosure of animals. Lions, tigers, bats and alot of deer.

Hopefully the photos will follow shortly. Please have patience.



27 Jan 2006 Indonesia - Bali

After a pleasent delay at singapore airport we finally arrived at Bali an hour late.

As soon as we got there they were on us and the haggling began (We don't feel our days are complete without at least 6 or 7 decent haggles). Other than that Bali is beautifuland cheap as chips. We stayed in Kuta for a few days which was ok but it's a tourist trap and the hawkers (people selling stuff) can become very annoying (they understand perfect English except the word NO). We've left that all behind now and we're off to all the beautiful Islands and beachs Bali & Lombok have to offer.



31 Jan 2006 Indonesia - Nusa Lembogan

After a short stay in Sanur (harbour town) Kath & I boarded a small sea going vessel to Nusa Lembogan. Unfortunately it was raining and the seas were a little rough but the journey was only an hour and a half (still enough time for Kath to feel a bit sick).

Lembogan's a lovely island just off of Bali, mainly used for seaweed cultivation (I won't bore you with the details).

We managed to get a really nice bungalow on the beach nice and cheap. There are very few tourists at the moment as it's rainy season which means we get nice accomodation half price.

We've started to notice in the wet season it rains for 2 days then 2 days really hot. Our fisrt day on the island gave us a glimpse of what I can onlt descirbe as a smal hurricane!

Luckily it cleared up for the next day and I had my first surf above the coral reef (while Kath sunbathed).

Now I generally don't think that I'm one to moan but...

... I swear the island didn't like me.

I discovered while I was there that a few days previous I had ripped up the airport locker ticket for our laptop, the lock on my rucksac had jammed and when we tried to leave the island the little boats engines decided to give out! Lovely Island though. (everything is fine now apert fron the lock!)



02 Feb 2006 Indonesia - Lombok

After a rough ride back from Lembogan and my little ticket issue we deceided to head for the airport. A flight to Lombok was only 20 pound eachwhich is not much more than taxi's and ferry's. Plus the ferry takes 5 hours and the flight only 25 minutes! (Plus the view of the islands from the plane is beautiful)

Once in Lombok you can tell the difference from Bali straight away. It's a much more relaxed island and alot less hawkers. We found some realy nice bungalows situated in grassy grounds right next to the beach (as well as a nice point break 5 minutes down the beach. For surfing). The weather was a bit crappy whe we arrived but the following morning it cleared up and remained roasting for the rest of our stay.

After a couple of days relaxing in Lombok (sun bathing, surfing and eating. The food in lombok is really nice) we decided to go up to the Gilli islands on our own private boat.The Gillia islands are best described as tranquill I think. We spent most of the time snorkling, chatting to with the locals and getting stung by jely fish. There is some amazing fish of all colours on the coral reef (saw nemo's mate) and I managed to a massive turtle for a brief second before I got distracted by Kath being stung by harmless jelly fish (they do leave a mark though).

We were both a little sad to leave Lombok but time was ticking away and Ubud was calling!!!



06 Feb 2006 Indonesia - Ubud

We both liked Lombok for it's chilled out attitude but Ubud is even more so (shame there's no surf).

Ubud is situated near the middle Bali surrounded by rainforests and rice paddies. It's also one of the main towns ofr artists. We kicked off our stay in Ubud with a visit to the Monkey Sanctuary. These little cheeky buggers are great from the moment you step into their liitle rainforest area there's thousands of them. We bought some little banans for them and no matter we're you put them the monkeys know!!! (As Kath found out when they climbed all over her and stole the whole bag as well as sitting on her head - Priceless). We liked the monkeys so much that we spent most of the day there.

Our next day in Ubud was just as fun packed! In the morning we headed for the local market and had a successful hard haggling session. Later in the afternoon our two friends from the guest house gave us a lift on the back of their scooters to the rice paddies. They are situated in a deep valley and the rice paddies are staggered down both sides (very impressive). Then it was back on the scooters to travel through rural villages and more rice paddies in the countryside of Bali. We ened up up at this little village around 5 to witness thousands of white herring birds arrive in the trees along the road. Nobody knows why they gahter there. (they didn't half make a mess of everything and it's really not wise to stand under a tree).

We topped of our last day in Ubud with the Kecak Fire & Trance Dance. All the accompanying music for this performance is provided by a hundred or so men sitting in concntric circles. The dance tells part of a Hindu story with lovers running away and stuff like that. It was really amazing to watch with elaborate costumes and the 100 strong choir chanting "chet chet chet".



09 Feb 2006 Indonesia - Back to Kuta

We decided to head back to Kuta for our last couple of days in Bali for some shopping theropy. Kath also decided it wouldbe a good idea to have a full boday massage. Kath was massaged by a female and, yep you guessed it, I had a male. (I think that emough said about that subject. Needless to say I won't be doing that again)



12 Feb 2006 Australia - Sydney

Our sydney trip started off in Kings Cross (The Cross for short) which is pretty central with a range of places to help backpackers. It's also where the red light district is located and home to sydneys scag head population (drunks, druggies, homeless, etc...) After one night in the cross and a campervan hired for the 15th we made a sharp exit for Bondi. This was after a pleasent evening with my good friend Will and his girlfriend Vans in Darligton, a 10 minute walk down the road.

Kathy had already been to Bondi 10 years previous but this was my forst visit. The best way to describe Bondi is a cross between St Ives and Newquay. Take the best bits of both and roll them into one. Nice beach lined with nice bars and restaurants.



15 Feb 2006 Australia - NSW East Coast Adventure

The only campervan available to us was a 4x4 Toyota Hilux (absolute beast) which was bigger than the normal campervans.

The first stop on the map just north of Newcastle near Forster. We arrived around 5pm after a few scenic detours and a supermarket shop for the weeks supplies. The campsite was really nice, set in the bushlands next to a creek with all mod cons like electric hook up and personal bar-b.

The following day was spent at Tuncurry beach above Forster with some dolphins and 3-4ft surf. Our beast of a camper was great as we could pull over anywhere, pop the roof and put the kettle on! Australians wondering past "lovely little set-up" "beats towing a caravan eh!"

The weather was a little overcast the first few days but as the Aussies say "No Drama's". We awoke on the 3rd day at Port Macquirie (lighthouse beach) to blazing sunshine and cranking surf!!!

The best was yet to come though as we headed further up the coast to place called Cresent Head. This place had one of the longest waves I've ever surfed. A beautiful right hand break right in front of our camp spot.

After a dawn surf here we packed up camper and headed back down the coast to place called Seal Rocks (recommended by Will). This concluded our little 1000km camping trip of scenic views and bar-b's. Plus to top it off in true Grant style, I'm pretty sure I blew the head gasket on our camper!!!



20 Feb 2006 Australia - Return to Sydney

We spent our last couple of days in sydney doing the tourist thing with Will as our guide. The monday was overcast so we went round the Opera house and the national art gallery with the odd beer thrown in along the way. That eveing was spent at Wills girlfriends where Will cooked us a nice chilli (Thanks Will & Vans).

Kath & I were up like a shot the next day as the sunlight crashed through the curtains. Before I knew it Kath had her towel down on Bondi beach and was sun bathing. We spent the rest of the day over on Mainly with Will & Vans(sun bathing). We took the ferry over which gives you a really good view of the Opera House and Harbour.


22 Feb 2006 New Zealand - Bay of Islands

Upon arrival in the country that is to be our home for the next year we decided to sort out the more important things and headed for the nearest pub!!! This was where we where staying in Mt Eden which is a suburb of Auckland.

After that we started looking at where we could purchase a car. We soon discovered that we had missed all the cheap car auctions by a day, so off to the daily backpacker car market we went.

The best thing about the backpacker market is that everybody there is despereate to sell. The worst thing is that most of the cars are ready to die!!! Thankfully there was one car worth looking at so we put on our Indo haggling heads and approached. Now I don’t know about you but getting a car for NZ$750 (£300) when the original asking price was NZ$1500 isn’t bad! (Plus it came with a tent, kitchen stuff, fold away chair, cool box, etc…) It’s not the Toyota 4x4 I wanted but I guess the little Honda Civic shuttle will do for now and Kath quite likes it.

With our car all packed and ready to go we headed North. Our first stop was Waipoua Kauri Forest which has a tree with the biggest girth I have ever seen! And as the sign said it has to be seen to be believed. The tree is found half way along an 18km drive through some stunning forest scenery.

The forest was just a detour along the way to our first stop, The Bay of Islands. The backpackers we’d chosen is called The Pickled Parrot which is very nice. Set in to vegetated hill it has very good selection of facilities including outside bar-b’s (I created some fantastic homemade burgers here).

The Bay of Islands is beautiful and full of different activities and tours. For our first excursion we decided to take advantage of the free bike hire from The Pickled Parrot. We took a short ride to the next island called Waitangi where a treaty was signed by the Maori and British. The treaty was signed in a very typically British garden grounds which are also home to a 30ft Maori canoe. The canoe is a replica of the one used to descover New Zealand by a Polynesian navigator Kupe.

After the gardens we had a boat trip booked upon the Dolphin Seeker. The boat takes you on a tour of The Bay of Islands out to the furthest island known as the hole in the rock (with an amusing running commentary from the Kiwi Skipper). We both agreed that the highlight of this trip was the dolphin detours. Apparently there’s a Pod (group of dolphins) of about 300 in the bay. They happily swim along side and under the boat jumping out of the water.



01 Mar 2006 New Zealand - Mt Manganui

Only an hour down the coast was our next stop, Mount Maunganui (A popular surf spot). I feel like I’m repeating myself, but yet again another beautiful beach. This one’s got a mini mountain at the end of it though (which I made Kath climb).

The following morning we were up early to head for a town called Matamata otherwise known as Hobbington (One of the Lord of the Rings film sets). Due to some bad weather and some lucky circumstances Hobbington was not completely demolished at the end of filming, as stated in the contract. So the land owners managed to get permission to keep the set and open it for public tours. There are about 5 tours a day each consisting of about 5 – 20 people. Not on the day we turn up though!!! At 10.45am we had our own private tour of the film set.

7km from Matamata we discovered a very impressive 150ft waterfall. It’s a 45minute walk up hill along side the river so after 1 and a half hours of walking it seemed only right to visit the local hot springs. This particular hot spring is set in a Garden of Eden style area and it’s only available for private sessions.



27 Feb 2006 New Zealand - Coromandel Penisula

From the bay we headed back down through Auckland and over to The Coromandel Peninsula and a place called whangamata (pronounced fa-nga-mata). This place has a lovely long beach (where I had my first NZ surf) with a couple of islands just of the coast. We soon learned though that in the evening it’s a ghost town with most shops and restaurants closed by 5pm.
Apparently it’s a retirement town but none the less it’s very nice.

The main reason for stopping here was to visit Hot Water Beach which is just up the coast. It’s named Hot Water Beach because at low tide you can dig your own spa in the sand. This is due to the fact that there are thermal hot springs running under certain areas of the beach. (it also has some reasonable surf)



03 Mar 2006 New Zealand - Rotorua - Stinky City

After a very pleasant stay at Mt Maunganui we headed for Rotorua. My first impressions were “nice busy town” my second were “this place stinks”.

Rotorua is known as Sulphur City because it has a lot of thermal activity. This means there’s lots of bubbling, steaming holes every where letting off a nice eggy smell which comes from the sulphur.

There is also a large Maori population and history around the town. So we spent our first day wondering the free thermal park and the Maori village down by Lake Rotorua. The following smelly day we visited a place called Wai-O-Tapu (The Thermal Wonderland). This is home to the Lady Knox Geyser which erupts every day at 10.15am with a little help. Basically they chuck a bar of soap down a thermal hole and it spits water 20 meters high for about 45 minutes. The rest of The Thermal Wonderland is pretty amazing, full of craters and boiling multi-coloured lakes.

The height of the day for Kath had to be ZORB (or ZORBIT as she likes to call it?). This is a giant inflatable ball with a little bit of warm water and up to 3 people inside which is then pushed down a hill. It was a good laugh as we decided to share a ZORB. My only issue was that they provide you with some clothes to wear as you get pretty wet. I think they must have run out of the larger sizes as I ended up with a tight yellow t-shirt with shorts to match. Kath said she absolutely loved it which surprised me as she screamed in my ear and nearly tore my little yellow shorts off the whole way down the hill.



05 Mar 2006 New Zealand - The Tongariro Crossing

Now some of you may not believe this next bit but I swear it’s all true!
From Rotorua we had a very pleasant drive south past Lake Taupo (which is massive, it’s more like the sea) on our way to The Tongariro National Park.

Tongariro National Park was the first national park in New Zealand and is home to three large volcanoes (a lot of this area was also used for Mordor in Lord of The Rings).

Once we had settled in at our backpackers in a small village called National Park we headed to whakapapa village (pronounced fuka-papa) which has the main tourist information centre. From here there is a nice 2 hour walk to a waterfall that finished of our day nicely.

I’m not sure what we really expected when we came here but I definitely think we under estimated it. I thought maybe we could do a nice 3 – 4 hour walk and see some of the volcanoes. The reality was a 6 hour return journey to the red crater of Tongariro which included a very steep 1 hour climb up Devils Staircase. By the look on Kath’s face I could tell this was her least favourite part, going up and coming back down. We both agreed that the blisters and thigh burn were well worth it as the views from the top are spectacular. (Although Kath did complain about her legs aching for the next 4 days)



07 Mar 2006 New Zealand - The West Coast

After another very scenic drive out of Tongariro and up to The King Country we arrived at a small place called Waitomo. Kath was quite excited about going here as we were meeting up with her good friend Phil and his girlfriend Lou.

The man reason for going to Waitomo is for their world famous caves and the glow worms that live inside. There’s loads of activities you can do in the caves from 100ft abseiling to rubber ring rafting through the caves. We opted for the cheaper 2 cave combo which gives you a nice little boat ride in one of the caves with the glow worms. This is followed by another cave that has so very impressive stalactites.

We were welcomed into the following day with mild hangovers and decided to head south to The Taranaki Region. This place is very unique as it’s a nice bit of coast with its own looming snow capped volcano.

The main city in the area is New Plymouth so we settled here for a couple of days and just chilled out. As much as I would have liked to go up Mount Taranaki it was nice just to do nothing but enjoy the nice areas & parks around the city.

There could be a lot of potential in a place like New Plymouth as the coast is scattered with beautiful surf beaches which are only an hour away from the ski fields of Mount Taranaki.



10 Mar 2006 New Zealand - Our First look at Wellington

We bid Phil and Lou farewell and set off for our next destination, Wellington. It was a bit strange arriving in Wellington, after travelling for so long we had arrived at a place that was soon to be home (for a while anyway).

Thankfully my friend Graham and his girlfriend Rachel were letting us stay at theirs as well as giving up their weekend to give us the city tour.



12 Mar 2006 New Zealand - South Island - Franz Josef

It was cool getting the ferry from Wellington to Picton. It reminded me of when I was young getting ferries to Holland, from driving on and walking up the narrow stairs, to wondering around the outside decks, the wind in my hair (ok I’ll shut up now). As for Kath, she decided to sleep most of the way as she didn’t feel too good!

It’s a 3 and a half hour journey to the south island and we arrived at 4.30pm. We settled at a backpackers near by and stocked up for the adventures ahead. Most of the next day was spent driving down the very scenic west coast on our way to Franz Joseph Glacier. This was about a 7 hour drive.

We were very impressed with our backpacker as we had our own ski lodge which we only had to share with another room. This is luxury after having to share a kitchen and toilet with 20+ people for the last month.

10.30 the next morning Kath and I eagerly awaited getting kitted out for our 3 quarter day glacier walk. They provided us with coats, hats and gloves, walking boots and talons (ice spikes for the boots). Once we were kitted out it’s on the bus to the glacier. It starts off with a walk up the river bed with the guide explaining the glaciers history.

When you’re on the ice you feel like a proper explorer, digging your feet into the ice to climb up. We managed to get nearly half way up and explored bright blue crevices and tunnels. It was quite challenging but I’d already toughened Kath up with The Tongariro Crossing so it wasn’t too bad. After that it was back to the backpackers for free soup!



15 Mar 2006 New Zealand - Queenstown

Another long scenic drive further south we arrived at the extreme sports capital of New Zealand - Queenstown.

On arrival first things first, get the bungy jump and white water rafting booked. Then it was off to see the town. First impression of Queenstown, a beautiful town set in the mountains with its own massive lake. There’s a real buzz about the place with loads of nice restaurants, bars and shops. We could see ourselves setting here for a while if it only had a beach with surf!

The next morning Kath woke up a bit nervous “Grant I’m nervous about the bungy”. Anyone would have thought it was her doing it and not me!
I absolutely loved it! 142ft drop with a plunge in the river. Fantastic!

That evening we went to a bar called minus5 which is inside a big freezer. Everything inside is made from ice including the walls, bar, chairs, even the glasses. The only drinks available are a selection of lovely vodka cocktails. To enter the bar you need to book a time slot. Each session lasts 30 minutes and they provide you with a large winter coat and gloves.

Next was the white water rafting at 8.15am the following day. Due to a lack of rain we couldn’t do the more extreme Shotover River which has more rapids but the Kawarau River is still a really good laugh.

First of all everybody gets passed through the rafting centre like cattle, receiving the wetsuit, life jacket and helmet. It’s then on to the buses for a short drive to the Kawarau River. There were 6 in rafts in total and each one has a guide. Our guide was a funny Maori guy called chief who barked orders and jokes from the back of the raft.

There was about 4 rapids in total, all of which Kath handled really well (with little screams here and there). The river was really fast moving and all the rafts bounced off each other with various people falling (or being pushed) in the water, myself and Kath included. We also stopped half way down our journey at a cliff jump, the first level was 10ft and the top level was 20ft. This isn’t normally the type of thing that Kath would do but I was very proud of her as she launched of the first level of rocks, after I plummeted from the top.

Both of us had a really good time at Queenstown and are thoroughly looking forward to going back in August for some snowboarding. Our last evening in Queenstown just happened to be St Patrick’s Day, the whole town was packed full of people wearing green and drinking Guinness, so went out and had a few drinks after a lovely Thai meal.



18 Mar 2006 New Zealand - Dunedin

Dunedin, founded by the Scots is quite a big city but we found it to be in need of some modernising. It has some lovely beaches (some with good surf) and old buildings (as well as the Cadburys factory). We spent the best part of the morning wandering around the beautiful gardens of Larnach Castle. We then tried to find some yellow-eyed penguins on some of the astounding coastline, instead we stumbled across some seals lazing on the sand. This was followed by a visit to Dunedin’s public art gallery which has a really cool Japenese exhibition about the samurais with a selection of ancient samurai swords.



18 Mar 2006 New Zealand - Christchurch

A few days before we were meant to arrive in Christchurch we booked the most reasonable backpackers (From the BBH book which we’ve used all through NZ). Little did we know that it was in Seaton, a good 25 minute drive out of the City. After arriving around lunch we decided that it’s one of the nicest places that we’ve found. It’s actually not that dissimilar to where our friends Wookie & Rachel live (also where we live but at this point we don’t know that yet).

We took a drive in to the city which is very nice but nothing we haven’t seen before, not that different from Nottingham I think. So our time was mostly spent walking the beach at Seaton (which you can surf, apparently).

Our time on the east coast of the South Island was very brief as it was more of a means to get back to the Ferry and the North Island. That and the fact that we’d had our fun and thoughts now leaned towards reality & jobs.



22 Mar 2006 New Zealand - Wellington

I must apologise for the slackness of Kath & I because as I write this we have actually been in Wellington for a month. It’s been absolutely manic and it’s only now I’ve found the time to sit down and put you all at ease. I know that some of you have been on the edge of your seats wondering what happened next in our travels.

I’d firstly like to thank Wookie & Rachel for their kindness and putting up with us for so long. As much as they will say it was nothing but we lived in their flat for 2 weeks and there’s only two rooms, their bedroom and the lounge (good job we all got along eh!)

I won’t bore you with the details but it was surprisingly hard to find the right place to live. Espeacially when we’re both looking for jobs at the same time. We’d both actually started our jobs before we found our little house by the beach.

Kath’s found her calling at Woolworths supermarket which suits her fine as it’s only a short walk down the road. As for me I have to get a bus everyday into the City which takes 20 minutes but who cares when you live next to the beach!!!

Wellington and all it’s little suburbs are really nice and there’s so much to do, coastal walks, botanic gardens, a massive gallery (currently has Lord of Rinds exhibition amongst others), loads of shops, cafes, cinemas and surfing of course.

Little India - Singapore

China Town Oasis

Singapore Sling - Raffles Hotel

Sunset - Nusa Lembogan

Fishermen - Nusa Lembogan

Our little private jet

Our private boat

Cheeky Monkey!

Rice Paddies

Kecak Fire Dance

Chet Chet Men - Kecak Fire Dance

Our beast of a camper

Light House Beach

Creasent Head Sunset

Sydney

Maori Canoe

Sunset at Whangamata

Dolphin

Hole in the rock boat trip

Mt Manganui

Hobbington

Oooo Stinky!!! Thermal Wonderland

ZORB

Tongariro Crossing - Mount Doom

Waitomo Caves

Mt Taranaki - with plip plip

Wellington

Me & Wook - Wellington

Franz Josef

Bunjy

Ice Bar - Queenstown

Rafting the Kawarau River

Our little home

Lyall Bay Beach

The Bedroom

The Kitchen (big isn't it)

The lovely lounge


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