Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Travel Blog: New Zealand

Kaikoura, New Zealand

This is yet another place that photographs and words can do no justice to. Imagine a seaside town - small and picturesque, quaint and sunny.  But, lining the backdrop in the distance are stunning, snow-capped mountains. Here I had another 'wow' moment.

As soon as we'd arrived and dropped our backpacks, we set off on a 4 and a half hour trek through the hills, which included stopping at a wild seal colony.  This town boasts more marine life than probably most places in the world, including dolphins and whales.  That was the main reason we stopped off here, to swim with dolphins.  

However, when we turned up at the date and time I'd booked months ago, the weather conditions were really bad. The tour could be cancelled at any point, as strong winds were causing a very heavy sea, meaning that if we found the dolphins we may not be allowed into the water to swim with them.
We were leaving the next day.  Our only option was to rearrange and book onto the first tour of the next day - at 5.30am.

So the following day was VERY busy.  Getting up at 4am, we only just made it in time but it was SO worth it.  It was such a beautiful morning, without one tiny cloud in the sky.  Once I'd wetsuited up for the first time in my life, (with hood+snorkel+flippers, the lot) I looked awesome and was ready to find some dusky dolphins.  We found a pod of around 100, and most people on the boat got right in the water.

The experience is hard to recount, because it was the best but worst feeling.  Obviously, if you know anyone who has swam with dolphins they will tell you it was amazing, the best day of their life etc.  But that was almost definitely all the time in tropical waters, with trained dolphins in captivity.  So how many of those people you know who have done it conventionally, have swum with wild dolphins in the open ocean??  Because this is quite a different experience.  As they are wild, we cannot touch them and the boat does not entice them with bait or in any other way - they just look for the pods.  Have I mentioned previously how COLD it is in NZ?  Well this is apparently the start of their Summer, and I don't know if it's because I arrived from a total opposite climate but it feels like Winter.  When I submerged into that early morning Pacific Ocean, it was so cold I nearly had a panic attack.  I couldn't breathe! And then I had a slight snorkel incident, where I swallowed my own body weight in seawater, and this was all before I'd seen any dolphins! My body was desperate to get back on the boat, but my mind knew I couldn't ruin this once in a lifetime opportunity.  I stayed in the water for about half an hour, and when the dolphins came close I could forget about the water temperature.  Some of the them kept eye contact and circled me, which was really cute.  They are one of the most acrobatic of the species, and they happily jumped out of the water, even doing flips like they were showing off.  But when I got back on the boat I was quite happy to take off my wetsuit and just watch them from there!

Once we were safely back on land, we proceeded on a 2 and a half hour bus journey up to Picton, where you can travel to the North Island.  We had planned to get the ferry, which takes 3.5 hours, but was told by a local that flying only takes 25 minutes.  It was also a scenic flight, in a small charter plane over the Marlborough Sounds.  So we opted for the second, faster option, which I thought would be quite exciting. Wrong!! It was terrifying.  The plane was absolutely miniscule, had maximum 10 seats and only one pilot, who kept repeating "Make sure your seatbelt is nice and tight!"
It was a rocky flight, you could feel every gust of wind and it is well known that Wellington, our destination, is referred to as Windy Wellington.  The views of course were spectacular, but I never want to get on a plane like that again!

So, a rather eventful day...swimming with wild dolphins, crossing the Cook Straight in a charter plane, sleeping in our first dorm room with some very weird people...the fun continues!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Travel Blog: New Zealand

26/11/12 - Christchurch

So, the coolest thing about this city is the hostel we're staying in.  It's a historic jail, built in the 1800's, and only closed in 1999.  Our room is a tiny cell, with a bunk bed and a tiny window.  There is no heating, so it's absolutely freezing at night. (NZ = COLD. Way colder than Sydney on a cloudy day).  But they give you an extra quilt and offer you a free hot water bottle, which is cute!  A few cells have remained the same to create a sort of mini-museum, along with artefacts and paper clippings from over the years. There's a really unsettling one about a breakout that occurred, where all the officers were beaten unconscious.  My favourite part is a cell containing a prisoner's artwork on the walls.  It gives a chilling insight into the mind of a prisoner - one of which was one of the last inmates of 1999.

Yeah so not much to say about Christchurch at all.  The city is still in the process of picking up the pieces from the 2011 earthquake - there's still a cordon in the centre.  But unless you have a car, to drive to the outskirts and the lovely scenery, (which we don't) there's not a lot to see or do at all.  So we've just recharged our batteries, and booked our coach up to Kaikoura.

I feel the same about NZ as I did at first about Australia - not overly impressed, but there's no way I can judge the whole country from this one city.

Travel Blog: Sydney

25/11/12 - Sydney

 On arriving in Sydney, with serious jet lag after a delayed 9 hour flight, I was not in the best of moods.  In addition, it was grey, cloudy and absolutely freezing compared to the sunny, humid weather I was dressed for, which we'd left behind in Thailand.  I hadn't really packed for cold weather as we were arriving in time for Australia's Summer, so I was not expecting this cold blast! The weather here is all over the place...they still have the air con on full blast though! It's unbelievable, I've spent the last 3 weeks running into the nearest 7/11, as it's the only place in a 10 mile radius with aircon in 35 degrees+ heat - and now I'm cold there's aircon everywhere I go.

So, back to the point, I was even more disappointed by the realisation that Sydney looked just like the UK.  Did I really travel all this way for cold, cloudy weather and sky scrapers that look like a carbon copy of London?!  The city's comparison to our capital is uncanny - they have a Hyde Park, King's Cross, Paddington, Oxford Street...
I'd spent almsot a month in the East, just started to adapt to the culture and enjoy it, and then at the click of a finger ( or a 10 hour night flight) I was back in the West.  I didn't like it!! I guess Australia has been so hyped up recently, and the fact all we could see was the inner city buildings, that it was purely under-whelming.

That night, after a power-nap, we took a walk to the harbour to see the iconic sights of Sydney.  The Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge was only a 20 minute walk from our hostel, so we were in a great location.  Lit up at night, it was a spectacular view and I soon decided Sydney was way better than London!
The following day, we did the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, which was expensive but worth it. [I take this back, we could really do with that $300 now.] The whole experience made me giggle - they take longer dressing you up and giving you all the prep than they take walking you up and down the bridge. You need a jumpsuit, fleece, belt and attachment, hat, gloves, handkerchief...you have to walk through a metal detector, do a breathaliser test...it makes you believe the climb is going to be hardcore and dangerous.  But in essence, it was literally a few stairs, about 6 ladders, and there you were on the top arch.  The views from the top were incredible, and we got to see the sunset on the harbour.  What struck me is how huge Sydney Harbour acually is; the bridge is more or less central, and each side the water looks like it goes on for miles.  Before the bridge was built, if you did not want to get across the water via boat it would take 5 hours to reach the other side!

We also managed to cram in Bondi Beach, which was lovely but looked a lot smaller than it does on the TV show 'Bondi Rescue!'  The sea was, as predicted, laced with surfers.  While the weather was a lot warmer and sunnier today, I still thought it was too cold to strip down to my bikini!  It looked like what I imagine America's beach cities to look like, such as Miami or L.A.  I've never been, but it looks similar to TV programmes and films from the USA. There's a bunch of seafood cafes and restaurants along the beachfront, just like the one Ryan from The O.C. worked in.

We also found 5 hours of our time to spend at Taronga Zoo. Which was amazing, as I got to get up close to a koala!! They were soooooo cute, very sleepy though, it's hard to get a photo of one with their eyes open.  But they do sleep 20 hours a day, and I wouldn't want to disturb them, they are the cutest things EVER. 
I feel like our time here has been a complete whirlwind, and there's so many things left to see - plenty more beaches, parts of the harbour and obviously the Blue Mountains.  So hopefully we will find time in our year ahead to come back at some point.



So I have to apologise!!
It has been soooo long since this was last updated, but we've had internet problems, (you'd think it would get better as we get into more developed countries, but no they just rip you off) and New Zealand was so hectic we didn't even have time to get on a computer. BUT it's all written down in my journal, and now I have a fun few hours of typing it up....