Thursday, March 25, 2010

Welcome back to the blog, apologies for all those who have been good enough to follow it that it hasn’t been kept very well in the recent weeks / months!! Since the madness of Christmas in Oz, Adam’s extended visit due to airport closures at home and then the hunt for work in NZ I’m afraid it got put on the back burner! Also the backwardness of NZ and its limited internet services didn’t help!! We have recently discovered that NZ won’t be getting broadband unlimited until 2013, so even though we have internet where we live we can only use a certain quota of internet time before it goes into extra charge. That’s my excuse for not having loaded photos, kept the blog up or skyped everyone I meant to!!

Life in Guest Lodge Jabu (also known as the ‘House of Pain’!!!) has been great fun, almost too much fun to go to work some days! We have been getting the star treatment form our lovely landlord and other tenants and will be highly recommending this establishment to the discerning backpacker in the Lyall Bay area (free plug for you there Jabu!!)The hostel (or guest lodge as we like to call it!) has several outstanding qualities:

-very friendly management (available 24 hours a day and very helpful if you want to organise any local tours / entertainment!)

-A haven for dog lovers. Mufasa will take at least 2 weeks to warm to you and then if you’re lucky he may even sit beside you or sleep near you!

-If you miss your younger siblings or are away form your children there are 2 fabulous young kids around 3 days a week to entertain you and plait your hair.

-Excellent choice of local coffee shops and restaurants.

-Salsa clubs with freely available slippery eels merely a short taxi ride away.

-beautiful coastal walks and runs

-Weekly sunset picnics as organised by hostel management. (If you are lucky enough you may even spot orca whales on these trips)

-Possible penguin sightings.

-Surf on tap at beach 50 m from hostel.

-fabulous neighbours who will come around with wine, oysters, paua or any other type of fish fresh caught by themselves that day!!And sometimes venison!

-Poker / Jackpot nights are a regular feature.

-Excellent homemade pizzas and curries.

Jabu – I’ll expect free rent for a night for this plug!!!

So as you’ve probably gathered by that we aren’t really slumming it in NZ! Work picked up and I have been working n 3 different schools , one in Lyall Bay a 5 minute walk form our house, one in Haitaitai (a mental school where everything and anything goes!) and a secondary school for well to do girls in Lower Hutt. Most of my work has been in the secondary school which is almost like glorified babysitting apart from the times when they’re stuck and I have to help out which is great for PE and things I remember form secondary school but not so great for economics and final year trigonometry!! It’s amazing how quickly you forget what cosine, tan, adjacent and terms like that mean!! The first few days I was thinking wow this secondary teaching thing is quite cool, they all sit in their seats and know how to hold their pencils and get on with their work. After a couple of days I was soon very thankful I taught primary, I wouldn’t swap bribery, running mental around the classroom, snotty noses and non-stop trips to the toilet any day soon for the cheek teenage girls can give!! I’ve given the ‘don’t you have any respect / I don’t get paid enough to deal with your attitudes ‘talk a couple of times!

Recently we finally got ourselves organised enough to go camping for the weekend. Eight of us headed off on a convoy (that’s a 10 4 Dad!!) with enough vehicles to definitely make a carbon imprint – we’ll try better next time! A couple of hours up the east coast we reached Tora and found ourselves a great spot to pitch tent and park up vans for the more luxurious camping! The sun shone, the water was blue and the fish arrived in their 100’s (no joke!). Jason’s Dad (Jason is one of our neighbours form Lyall Bay) happened to be camping there that weekend aswel and he came back form his fishing trip where his net seemed to have run into a whole school of fish so the boat came back looking like something out of the Good News Bible overflowing with fish all caught in the net. It was soon all hands on deck to untangle the nets detach and bleed the fish. (There is some fishing reason for the bleeding of this particular fish but I can’t remember right now!)Needless to say we didn’t go hungry that night and the ever going log fire was big enough to heat half the island aswel as cook the numerous marshmallows that were subsequently made into smores – wouldn’t be a camping trip without them!

We spent a very restless night in the tent due to the unwelcome flapping that went on all night, this combined with Mufasa scratching and whining at the tent door, yet refusing to come in when invited made for a not so peaceful night’s sleep! During one of the five minute non-flapping respite moments as I thought I might just get some shut eye there was a wake up call at the tent door. It was about 5.30 am and it went a bit like this:

‘Em, guys get up, there’s a Tsunami on the way, we have to be on high ground by 8am’.

Obviously we thought this was some kind of a joke so rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but soon enough the tent door was zipped open, we were told this wasn’t a joke and we really had to start packing up and getting somewhere other than our current location – right on the beach!! Although awful to hear that Chile had been hit so hard, I thanked God again and my guardian angel that Brendan and Amanda gave me (thank you guys!) that I had yet again escaped a natural disaster. For those of you who know my past travel record you will know this has happened on several occasions! We were soon all piled in the vans, tents packed up, campground cleared up and heading to higher ground. The news said we should expect to be hit by a wave around 8.32 if it was going to come. Although a little scary, it was also very exciting and made funnier by Saff (our 4 year old friend) asking when the’ salami ‘was coming!!

Like lots of other people in NZ and Oz that day we listened to the warning to get to high ground and then headed straight for another beach to watch the wave coming in. With the surfboards still on the roof we sat and analysed the risk factor of whether we should surf when there was a Tsunami warning. Then for the sake of the girls we decided not to be stupid and eventually moved to slightly higher ground, where we cooked breakfast and lined up our deck chairs still with an awesome viewing spot if the wave was to come. 8.32 came and went and I’ve seen more of a wave created by kids farting in a pool. A little bit disappointed that there wasn’t a bit more action, but very thankful that we were safe we packed up again and headed for home.

On Monday 9th March we packed up Ken for his last journey and said a sad but temporary farewell to Lyall Bay which has become our home form home and off we headed to the Interislander for our ferry to South Island. Not to miss out on another economical washing opportunity Jo and myself proceeded to hang up our still wet clothes from the previous night’s wash on our make shift clothesline in the back of Ken. You might not think this is that unusual – it’s not , but what was entertaining was that we were doing it while in the queue to board the ferry so everyone else either side of us had a great view of our knickers and bras and other items as we hung them up!

We had a beautiful sunny and very scenic 3 hour ferry ride to Picton where we then headed to Kaikoura. We spent the afternoon picnicking and napping on a grassy spot by the beach and then went in search of a spot to park for the night. Kaikoura wouldn’t be known for its nightlife, although there are a couple of cool bars. Wanting to have a night off bars and beverages we decided to go to the cinema – quite an exciting thing to do in this town! For those of you from Greystones and old enough to remember the Ormonde cinema the cinema in Kaikoura made Greystones one seem like Dundrum Omniplex!! The cinema opens here about 3 nights a week – we were in luck we had come on one of those nights and there is no need to make a decision on what you want to watch – there is only one movie showing!

Tonight’s showing was ‘The Lovely Bones’ with our very own Saoirse Ronan so I was quite excited to actually get to see it as hadn’t reached on that yet on the trip. In we went and paid our 10 dollars (5 euro!) and bought some sweets or ‘lollies’ as they say here. Undecided whether we should get a drink or not the lady told us that it was okay we could come back out during the intermission to get more stuff – hilarious!! Think they needed this time to change the reel!! On entering the actual theatre we felt we’d been transported back in time to Newcastle Parish Panto hall, the stage was similar, the individual parish hall like seats were similar and the half coming down red curtain over the ‘screen’ were reminiscent of good old Christmas Panto days! We were already giggling at this stage, but then when Jo spotted the reserved signs on the back row we really lost it – think cornflake packets and the back of ice-cream boxes with ‘Reserved’ scrawled on them in half wasted permanent marker!! – Classic! After the intermission and the movie we found some posters on display in the entrance area. They were the type that you pay a lot of money for at home or at least have to reserve them in X-tra vision for months before you can get your hands on them. However, being NZ and this particular cinema we got out hands on some very cool giant movie advertisement posters for a mere dollar donation!! ‘Some guys just can’t handle Vegas’!!!

Very pleased with ourselves and our very entertaining cheap night out we headed back to Ken and lodged ourselves in between 2 other campers parked up by the beach. This was very scenic and peaceful until about 3a.m when the fire station siren went off (this was directly behind us!).There was a lot of noise, but not much action. This procedure went on a few times during the night and eventually at about 8am we decided it was a sign to get up and move on! We had a quick run along the coast by the whale area – no whales in sight and then some breakfast before facing the quite emotional task of unpacking Ken for the last time! Soon we were on the road and Christchurch bound in order to drop Ken off and pick up Mum and Dad.

Monday March 22: Currently we are sitting in the coffee shop in Christchurch airport where we have just been asked to move our trolley as the man says it’s going to get very busy. That was 15 minutes ago and nothing exciting has happened yet (unless you count them rearranging the sandwiches in the display unit ).We have just said goodbye to Mum and Dad after almost 2 weeks of being spoilt rotten with tours, food , chai lattes and very comfortable living quarters! Thank you both so very much, it was really great to see you .We will miss you both, but maybe not Dolly and Kenny!!! (The beautiful mountain scenery of NZ is amazing, but not so amazing for the radio reception. So with no plug in option for our iPods Jo and myself have been subjected to Country and Western Volume 2 for 12 days – not so bad once in a while and quite a few good sing - a-longs but when it got to the stage where we knew almost all the words to a lot of the songs we knew it was overplayed. By the end of the trip even the CD player had had enough and started to squeal!!)

South Island has been great and the people have been very friendly, much more touristy here and way too many Irish!! On all out tours and trips we did I think we could count on one hand all the actual Kiwis we met in South Island! The weather has been better than expected and we have been fortunate enough to escape the bad stuff in each place by a day or two. We spent our first night in Christchurch and then headed off the next day to Franz Joseph Glacier. Checked into our apartment with an amazing view of the snow capped mountains and headed into town for a feed that was definitely catering for someone who’d been hiking up mountains all day, needless to say we got through it anyway!

Next day Jo and I booked ourselves in for an all day adventure hike up Franz Joseph glacier. We joined a pile of other people off the Kiwi bus and thought that would probably be us if we weren’t doing the South Island with parents and thanked God we were!There’s only so much backpacker chat you can do over a year! Soon enough we were kitted out in our oh so fetching ‘so hot right now’ climbing gear and loaded onto the bus for our short drive to the base of the glacier. After a 2 and half k walk we were split into our groups and given an impromptu putting on of crampons lesson (luckily we knew what we were doing here!) and then it was off up the glacier.

The weather was mainly great, a couple of showers but warm enough to wear shorts so we looked very hiker like in our crampons and shorts! We had a great guide – Tom from Manchester who dug us lots of steps along the way with his ice pick and made sure we were safe at all times. One of the guides decided to try out a new route with his group and managed to get himself stuck in a crevasse. Our guide had to go help him out so we were all stuck in the cold for about an hour while this rescue mission went on. Fortunately everyone was alright and we were soon off again upward bound through some very narrow gaps. These narrow gaps were fine until they became the only place out of sight of the rest of the groups where it was possible to go to the toilet! So after a brief climb / clamber in crampons up an ice wall I negotiated myself sideways in the gap and attempted to pee. The result was a vary cold bum as the gap wasn’t wide enough to squat without brushing ones ass up against the back wall. Luckily I was hydrated so there was no yellow patches when the rest of the group had to come through this gap at a later stage!!

The next morning we were on standby to go up in a small aircraft to take a 50 min flight over the glaciers. Luckily we got the all go and soon enough we were boarded in our 8 seater plane with just the 4 of us and the pilot. Dad got to ride up front and we all got a window seat! We had spectacular views over Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier as well as Mt Tasman, only the very top of Mt.Cook was still under cloud but we got close enough to get the general idea! There was quite a lot of bumping around and more than a few moments where I thought if this goes down we have no chance of surviving as I took a closer look at the paper thin sides of our plane!! Luckily the pilot was very competent and flew us up, in, through and around the glaciers like a pro. Not sure my 3 flying lessons would have enabled me to keep us in the air in these conditions!!

From Franz Joseph we headed to Queenstown, stopping for a coffee in Fox – a very tiny town where we debated whether this is where Fox Glacier mints originated. Still haven’t found out and if the logo is a polar bear rather than a fox on the wrapper Mum owes us a round of coffees!! Arrived in Queenstown later that evening and checked into the lovely Best Western Cranbury Court – highly recommended! It was a Saturday night so myself and Jo warranted this as an excuse to put on eye liner and mascara and maybe even a squirt of the very coveted and precious resource of perfume!

After dinner we headed to Sky Bar where a round of cocktails cost nearly as much as dinner for 4 and then onto Guilty. At the bar ‘Guilty’ we were all greeted at the door by 2 hugs, one from a Scot and one from a Donegal man. Turns out they were having a competition to see who gave the best hug! Dad later showed them how hugs were properly given with the lift action, much to the amusement of the small Scot. However when I enquired why I don’t get lifted up anymore with his hug I got ‘because you’re too heavy!’ Too heavy then got changed to ‘solid’ which seemingly is a compliment. I’ve added that to my collection of supposed compliments as started by Dave Pringle who says I’m ‘deceptively heavy’. I think that might be a bit more complimentary than ‘solid’ Dad!!!

After a couple of cocktails in Guilty myself and Jo hit the dance floor of Winnies where we showed the young kids how it was done and went home at 3.30 pleased with out workout on the dance floor!! The next day was Mother’s Day (in Europe anyway) so we celebrated by watching Ireland beat Wales and then brought Mum out on a high speed jet boat ride through a narrow canyon – what other way would any mother like to celebrate her special day!!!??In all fairness she absolutely loved it and we all laughed solidly the whole way through the ride. Definitely a job for you Christopher! This was the job I wanted to apply for but they needed the person to stay for a minimum of 2 years in order to train them. I can now see why, these are seriously skilled boat drivers.

After Sunday’s adrenalin buzz we took Monday to relax on a boat as we sailed down Doubtful Sound. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t quite as kind so the views were a little limited, however it was a great trip and worth the numerous hours on John’s bus to get there!! John - our bus driver who had a voice very like the boring priest in Father Ted ironically turned out to be quite an amusing bus driver with some currently shocking jokes as we approached the part of our tour that brought us through the power station!E.g. When they turn the electricity off the water goes dark . That’s our current joke, it’s rather shocking!! We further amused ourselves on the boat spotting for couples in matching gear – our favourites being the Louis Vuitton couple; she was sporting a hideous pair of very shiny patent and leather LV shoes teamed with an equally hideous LV backpack. All this was set off by his LV belt and their matching shiny black sleeveless puffa jackets!! Our observation skills came in handy later on when on the return leg of the journey the camera girl was trying to locate the couples to try sell them the crappy photo they took of everyone when boarding. She was having a bit of difficulty matching the photo with the couples so we helped her out. This game not only entertained the ride home but also won us our family pic for free – yuuuuuueeeeeeessssssssss!!!!!!!

The next day we hired some mountain bikes and took in some more of NZ’s amazing scenery by biking to Frankton and on around the lake. NZ has fantastic mountain bike trails but their expectations of beginner level are much higher than European standards. So having decided to go on on my own for a bit I finally faced reality after half an hour of spending more time off the bike than on the bike as I clambered over and around rocks carrying my bike at times and decided for safety reasons (i.e. riding into a tree /rock etc. and not having anyone there to rescue me) that I should return back to meet the others.I look forward to coming back to NZ with some more mountain bike skills under my belt to experience all the amazing trails they have.

St.Patrick’s Day arrived and myself and Jo decided we needed another adrenalin fix so we donned some rubber and flippers in the freezing cold and threw ourselves down some grade 4 rapids with just a body board and a helmet for protection. This is commonly known as ‘River Surfing’. Highly recommended and there are only a couple of places in the world that you can do it in. After a quick lesson in manoeuvring and ducky diving and hand signals from our multi-cultural tour guides Guido, Garth, Ben, Adam and the French dude we were off. 9km of river and several rapids later we skilfully directed ourselves into an eddy just stopping short of the chance of being dragged down a grade 6 rapid!

We took the afternoon at a slightly slower pace hiking up the mountain to the scenic gondola summit; quick Kodak and coffee stop and then jogged down again in time for another night burning up the dance floor in Winnies! Although this time sporting shamrock ties around our foreheads – it was St.Patrick’s Day after all! The next day we were back on the road and headed for Dunedin via Arrowtown for brekkie.

This next section is being typed from the air as we travel back from Christchurch to Wellington. I apologise now for any dodgy typos as we have been warned several times already that this flight is going to be very bumpy and we are not to leave our seats as there is 100 kph winds outside! Currently the airhostesses are stumbling up the aisle trying to give out the onboard snack but have warned us they may have to cut off this service to avoid injuring themselves!! It’s all a bit exciting! I am wedged in between Jo and another man and I feel like I’m on a boat that’s going over severe waves, quite impressed by my typing skills. Think they’re actually better that normal!!

So back to Arrowtown. It’s a beautiful little town full of cafes and cute shops, originally settled by the Chinese miners. From there we drove to Dunedin and stayed in St.Clair at the Esplanade. Myself and Jo tried out the hot tub, bit sandy but good for de-ridding stiff legs from the day before and even better for watching the HUGE rat, and no it wasn’t a possum run out of the bins by the adjoining restaurant and across the terrace of our motel- Nice!!

The next day we became Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt and the gang and headed to Cadbury world for a tour with Ryan , our purple dungaree wearing tour guide who we like cus he gave me extra chocolate for wearing purple to the Cadbury’s factory!! Learnt quite a lot about how chocolate is made and its origins and then had the grand tour wearing our beautiful hairnets. There were mini chocolate Dream bars to be won if you could answer questions along the way. I was straight in there with my nerdy teacherness and gained 4 bars in the first 10 minutes!

A by the way: we are now back on the plane after taking off from Christchurch for the second time!! We made two attempts at landing in Wellington; the approach in the first time was a bit exciting and very rocky. Jo heard a rustle and asked me who was reading a newspaper at a time like this? Aware of her fear of puke and it’s beautiful smell I tried to divert her attention as I informed her that this was actually the rustle of sickbags as 5 people in the rows directly infront of us regurgitated their breakfast! As we got about 5 m to the ground we soared back up again and then it became not so exciting and actually a little scary as we circled around for a second attempt. Our captain came on the intercom and told us that we might of noticed we didn’t quite make it the first time due to 110kph winds a 50knott cross winds!

Take 2 wasn’t much better; in fact there was a lot more puking and a lot more of the stomach dropping action as the plane rocked in towards the short runway. We tried to laugh about it to keep our nerves together and hoped that Jarrod was videoing it all from the ground where we knew he was watching our plane coming in! Within a few minutes we knew it was a negatory again on the landing and we were quickly whisked back up to a more suitable altitude. However some people on board weren’t coping to well and soon the oxygen tank was out for the woman 2 rows in front of us who I think had gone into shock as she couldn’t remember what had happened. Anyway we were told we didn’t have enough fuel to make another attempt so we were enroute back to Christchurch.

Two hours later we are back on the same plane, have just had round 2 of the free snacks and everybody is being very chatty and friendly to each other. We have lost at least half the passengers due to refusal to get back on plane and other connecting flights so everyone left onboard has made some sort of bond with each other. The pukey ladies in the row in front of us have stocked up on extra sick bags and so far so good!! Fingers crossed for third time lucky on the landing!

And yes third time lucky we made it and are now safely home in Wellington drinking champers to celebrate our safe return, thanks Jarrod!! Turns out our flight made the National news – all very exciting! More blog to come soon!

Back to the chocolate factory! So we were soon brought by the button making area which was VERY exciting , turns out they make about 13 million chocolate buttons in an 8 hour shift! We also got to see the pipes that run along the ceiling, all different colours to represent the different chocolate running through them! Then it was on to the Easter egg section where they make 10 Easter eggs for every person in NZ – that’s a lot of eggs! We had each been given a plastic bag at the beginning of our trip and this was slowly but surely filling up as we were given bars at each stop as we went along. Another exciting section was how they make ‘Jaffa’s’ – not sure if they have them in Ireland? They’re dark chocolate balls covered with orangey choc and have a shiny red shell. Anyway we got shown how they made them and were given a lovely shot of warm liquid chocolate to sip on during this explanatory DVD!!

On from the Jaffas to one of the most exciting parts of the tour – the big purple vat!!! Ryan had told us this would be the big surprise of the trip and it didn’t disappoint! We were led through a big door and tunnel and then ushered around a large stairwell that smelt like no other staircase I’ve ever smelt as it was covered in dried chunks of chocolate! Below us where 3 large tanks that funnelled into each other and above was another large contraption. On the count of 3 a loud roar of ‘CHOCOLATE’ went up and suddenly 1 tonne of warm liquid chocolate was flying out of the contraption above our head and plummeting down through the containers below us spraying the stairwell as it went down. Definitely up there with impressive things I’ve seen in NZ! They pump this 1 tonne of hot chocolate up and down this vat a few times a day and then it’s changed every year and some very lucky abseilers get to come in and hose down the whole vat before the new chocolate waterfall begins!

On from the chocolate factory to a drive of the very beautiful Otaga Peninsula. Our first stop was the Pirate coffee caravan where Dad made our arrival known by hand break turning into the car park and skidding to a halt beside the trailer – the most exciting bit of driving we’d seen yet by Dad in NZ, seconded only by the curbing action enroute to the airport on the final day! After a chat with the pirate and a very good Chai Latte for myself and Jo it was back on the road and off to the Albatross colony. Having seen quite a few of these in the Galapagos we took a rein check on the paid guided tour and decided to go bird watch solo. Within a couple of minutes we had a couple of large albatrosses soar impressively above us and decided to use this beautiful spot to have a picnic. The point that the world is becoming a very small place was proven here as dad was approached and asked if he drunk in the Willow Grove Bar! Can’t go anywhere these days without bumping into someone you know! (For the non Wicklow people that’s one of our local bars at home!)

On the way back to St.Clair we took a stop off at Baldwin Street – apparently according to the sign and tourist map this is verified in the Guinness Book of records as the ‘Steepest Street in the World’. Being tourists we of course had to drive up and down it – several times in order to each have a go! I wouldn’t like to live on this street as all you’d hear all day would be revving as people boot it up the hill or the sound of people breathing very heavily after attempting to run up it – like me! After attempt one defeated me on the 10 metre extremely steep part where I felt like my calves and hamstrings were going to explode I took another go at it and this time made it up. However the shaking from lactic acid build up afterwards took quite a while to go! Celebrated our last night in Dunedin with a haircut by Mum and dinner in the very yummy pizza place on the corner – however never order the Baked Alaska here – who gives you baked Alaska and forgets to put the ice-cream inside it ?????? !!!!!Shocking!

Next morning we drove onto Akaroa via the Lone Goat winery where according to Mum we had 10 bottles of wine!! Really we tasted about 7 or 8 wines, which with the cumulative effect may have felt like 10 bottles!! An impromptu picnic stop was required on the roadside immediately after for absorption reasons! Fortunately for us Dad was sensible enough to remember one of had to drive and refrained from tasting and hung out with the resident winery dog in the car. Thanks Dad! A couple hours later we arrived in Akaroa via one more stop at Barry’s Bay cheese factory because obviously we had to buy cheese to go with the wine we’d just bought at the winery!

The best I can compare Akaroa to is Kinsale. Not quite as big but the same kind of style, lots of nice restaurants along the water and a haven for boat lovers. This weekend here happened to be a very busy one including a vintage car meeting, a cycle race and a motorcycle race so as you can imagine there was lots of nice machines to look at , both 2 wheels and four! Being this busy we unfortunately could only get the last room in town which happened to be a beautiful apartment right on the waterfront where we could sit on our balcony and watch the world go by – such a shame all the other not so cool apartments were booked up!!! Spent the night here and did a tour of the local graveyards the next morning (more interesting than it sounds!!) before loading up the car once more and heading to Christchurch for our final night in South Island.

A fairly uneventful night in Christchurch, a lovely dinner in Cafe Valentinos on Columbo and then off to bed in our lovely ‘family room’ with adjoining magic door!! The next morning we packed up the car for the final time and said goodbye to Mum and Dad at the airport as they boarded for Singapore. A few hours later we were boarding ourselves and the rest of this story you’ve already read!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010