Saturday, September 30, 2006

Fox Glacier mints

When I first heard of Fox Glacier in New Zealand I immediately thought of those mints you used to get (can you still I wonder) where in the advert a Polar bear balanced on top of the mint. This Fox Glacier was much bigger and there are no polar bears. I couldn't tell you whether it tastes minty, although I am guessing not.

So now I can say that I have walked on a Glacier. It was another brilliant day. We donned our boots and woolly socks at the guide centre and headed off to the Glacier in an old bus (from the same year I was born, 1978) which would be brilliant as a converted campervan. On the bus the guide told us and the group that the walk to the Glacier would be pretty physical, walking up hill through temperate rainforest to allow us to get on to the glacier. There were a few apprehensive faces especially when he said that if he yelled “run” it was very important that we did so, as it would mean there is a rock fall. The walk was up hill and could have been a lot more strenuous but the guide kept the pace quite slow. Luckily he didn't shout run at all, but we did have to pass through an active rock fall bit on his command, in threes and be ready to run very fast if he shouted. The walk was quite a quiet one with an absence of bird song, although I did see a couple flutter by. The quiet was punctuated by water flowing down the Mountain and we saw a few waterfalls one of which I tasted the water from. It tasted much nicer than the NZ water we have tasted so far (it's awful).

We climbed a steep, narrow section, rounded a corner and was greeted by magnificent sight of the glacier below us. We had seen it from the bottom, but from this perspective, it was much more spectacular. From where we stood we could see 7km of ice stretching away. There was another 6km behind a ridge which we couldn't see. We could see people on the ice and they looked tiny. Swamped by the enormity of what looked like an ice mountain, but which essentially is an ice river. We descended down on to the ice. I felt excited and was grinning a way. As we stepped on to the ice we felt an instant drop in temperature. We attached crampons to our boots and plodded away up a path that had been cut and which has to be up kept everyday due to the shifting nature of the ice. The guide lead the way chipping away with his pick axe. The ice is quite dirty in many places due to rocks which the ice brings up, but as we moved further in we could see really white and blue ice. The blue ice in particular was beautiful. Perfect.

It was interesting to see up close the formations that the ice makes. Water was running down the walls of ice all around us and this reminded us that we weren't standing on something solid but in fact an ever changing, moving river. It was interesting to learn of the life of a glacier, how they recede and advance, all due to the patterns of the weather; there are many factors which all interact to determine the Glacier's path. The experience was elating and the Glacier beautiful yet all I could say to Tim was , “Wow it's so...big”. Poignant words I know, but words escaped me. It was great. Much better than the mint version.


Today we ended up at Puzzling world. I don't quite know how that happened, but I have to say I really enjoyed it!

A Beautiful Day

We have seen what I believe is the most beautiful place today. Today was (even more than usual) a day of Wow's. I could use so many cliches about the scenery we have seen today. I shall try to refrain though.

Yesterday we had a stunning drive to Te Anau with views of snow capped Mountains meeting the sea. Te anau was itself a pretty town centred around the lake with the same name backed by Mountains. Lots of people use Te Anau as a base to get to Milford Sound and we did the same. We didn't really know a lot about Milford sound but had read and seen pictures of it's beauty. We decided we would quite like to go there, but found out that snow chains might be needed for the drive there as parts of the road have dangers of avalanches. This was quite a daunting prospect for someone who has only been driving for a year and who knew nothing of snow chains until that day. The next day we checked at the information centre and they informed us that although there were going to be strong winds, snow chains would not be needed and there was a low chance of avalanches. We decided to go.

Not far out of Te Anau the wind began buffeting the van about and we considered turning back. However, I felt o.k with it and it wasn't constant so we decided to press on. We were glad we did. The lonely planet says it's 119km from Te Anau to Milford on one of the most scenic roads you could hope for. It wasn't lying. It was beautiful. Mountains, farmland, beech forests, then as we passed into the Fiordland National Park it seemed to get even more dramatic with the Mountains towering further above. We stopped at a few places to admire the views; Waterfalls falling down Mountains far above us (and some not so far above us) an icy blue river rushing away from a backdrop of snow covered Mountains and at 'The Chasm' where a short walk through a damp forest of moss covered trees brought us to a place where we suddenly heard a low roar. We looked at each other wondering if we were going to witness an avalanche, but we found the cause of the noise when we rounded a corner, over a bridge and were greeted with a powerful torrent of water (the Cleddau river) cascading through eroded boulders in a narrow chasm. Tim remarked that it and what we had seen so far was awesome. He meant it in the true sense of the word, not the slang way it can be used and I agreed with him then and even more thoughout the day. It was a fitting way of describing some of the sights.

In the Chasm car park we saw a Kea, a Parrot which only lives in Alpine areas. I thought they looked quite a drab and sad parrot but characterful all the same. I felt sad when I saw people feeding them bread to try to get a photo. There were blatant signs up asking people not to. It's not good for the Kea. People make me angry. They seem to think that signs like that don't apply to them .How would they like it if the wildlife started throwing dead prey and nuts and seed at them?

Throughout the drive we drove throughout Avalanche risk areas. Even though there was a low risk of an avalanche it was still quite exciting to drive through. There was evidence of past avalanches, with piled up snow and rocks at the base of Mountains near to the road. The risk areas appeared to me to be even more wild and beautiful than the non risk areas. I have often thought that is true for a lot of Nature. The wilder and the more dangerous = an intense beauty.

The most spectacular of the risk areas began from an exhilarating plunge into darkness into the Homer Tunnel. It seemed to go into the depths of the earth and even though I had my lights on and there were dim over head lights it was difficult to see anything. However I did see water dripping down the sides of the tunnel. This didn't instill confidence and as I drove through I thought of the amount of snow I had seen over the tunnel's entrance. I was concentrating so much on driving in the dark that I didn't even register a car passing me on the other side. Tim mentioned it and I think he was a bit concerned when I sounded surprised..

Emerging from the tunnel we descended down a winding road overlooked by what looked like a massive wall but which were ice carved Mountains, down which ran more waterfalls. A very dramatic sight.

Arriving at Milford sound the rain had set in. This was no surprise as Milford gets 7m of rain a year. We decided, since we were there to go on one of the cruises. There were a few to chose from and they all looked pretty similar. We were a bit concerned that it would be a waste of money what with the rain and mist hovering over the sound, but the guy selling us a ticket assured us it would still be spectacular. Well, he would say that wouldn't he?

However, he was telling the truth. Initially I thought sailing along in the catamaran did not give much of a different perspective from what we had seen driving down, but as we rounded a corner all those thoughts dropped away and all I could think and say was, “Wow!” It is difficult to convey how beautiful it was. For the next two hours we sailed through the most beautiful place I have ever been. We sailed in the Tasman sea in a fiord surrounded by sheer Mountains covered in foliage and trees interspersed with many waterfalls cascading down. We sailed very close to two of these waterfalls and it was at this time when I looked around and felt overwhelmed and moved by what I saw. Everywhere was perfect. Again, it is hard to describe, but at that moment I appreciated the sheer power of nature and how tiny and inconsequential we are. For once the bad weather was a blessing; it only added to the dramatic and magical scene. Most of the waterfalls are only there when it rains and the wind was causing some of them to blow upwards as if they were upside down! The wind was very strong and standing out on the deck was quite dramatic. At one point there was a really strong gust of wind and I couldn't walk. I had to cling on to the side. It sucked my beanie off my head and unzipped my mac! Luckily, I managed to grab my hat. One of the crew said that this is Milford sound at it's best and apparently the Skipper was very excited by it! He certainly sounded it over the tannoy.

Other people were obviously very excited by it too. In particular a Japanese man who was going crazy trying to get photos of his family. He was running all over the boat shouting “here here, photo here” with his family obeying his orders on where to stand in front of various beautiful spots. As the whole cruise was one big beauty spot I think he spent the whole time running round. At one point I saw his wife running, with him barking orders behind her whilst she panickly cried, “where, where” (do you want me) This really amused me and Tim as did a woman wearing a shower cap over her hat.

During the cruise we looked out for dolphins and penguins which sometimes can be seen. We didn't see any, but Tim and I both saw a seal pop out of the water and wave his fin before he went under again. The drive back was equally lovely as on the way there even though the rain had set in. All in all it was a perfect day.

Sheep and Seals

Tim has just said for the 5th time, “shall we go to Puzzling world?”. The first time I thought he saw the advert and thought it looked funny, the second I thought he'd maybe forgotten he'd told me. The third and fourth I kind of ignored him, but now the 5th time he has said it whilst showing me the picture of it I am sure he really wants to go. I don't. I don't need puzzling any more.

Puzzle world or not we are still having a great time. I thought our New Zealand trip was going to be limited up to and including Dunedin when we drove round and round for an hour trying to get out of the place. Tim got very annoyed and said he was going home. I reminded him that even if he wanted to he couldn't as it appeared we could not leave Dunedin-ever. Not that Dunedin was a bad place, in fact as towns go it was quite nice, but I wanted to be in the middle of nowhere. It all got better when Tim bought a road map and we managed to find the way out. (We had done o.k without a map up 'til then (well, apart from trying to get out of Christchurch where the same happened, but anyway...) no thanks to the road signs that lead to nowhere.

It's true what they say, New Zealand is very beautiful. It's also true that there are lots of sheep. It's lambing season at the moment and every other minute me and Tim can be heard cooing and awwwwing other some cute little lamb bounding along after it's mum. Often witty remarks containing the words mint sauce, shame and dinner follow the cooing and in Tim's case bad dad jokes (no offence Roger) like “oh there's the black sheep of the family” is said when an odd black one skips past.

We have kind of got in to a routine everyday now. Well, I guess it's some kind of routine. We get up, try to leave before 9am (often failing) drive for about 4-5 hours to next destination, on the way stopping at various beautiful spots. I sound blasé about the beautiful spots, but obviously they are what makes this part of the trip and it is made every 5 minutes with many beautiful spots. Since Mount Cook there hasn't been so many Mountains, but lots of telly tubby hills which although is farmland is still beautiful. Interspersing the hills are wild woodlands of the Catlins, where the wind has left it's mark on a lot of trees which permanently look like a strong wind is blowing them, even on a very still day.

Yesterday we saw some stunning coast line, in particular, Nugget point which had a number of picturesque outcroppings dotted in the wild, giant seaweed strewn turquoise sea at the bottom of a sheer cliff. New Zealand fur seals, hooker sea lions and elephant seals all live here together, the only place this occurs on mainland New Zealand. Yellow eyed penguins also live here but are only really seen at sunrise or dusk. We saw what we think were NZ fur seals and hooker sea lions. We think we may have seen an elephant seal too, but as he was in the water could not tell.

The beaches we have seen so far are beautiful wild stretches of sand and turquoise sea. Yesterday we saw seals at Cannibal Bay so called because human bones were found here. Maybe the seals here are particularly ferocious and it was those that caused the fate of the humans. Maybe this is why we didn't get too close or maybe it was their size which put us off; even so we gave them their space.

Our camp site last night was at a no facilities (just toilets) conservation area. These places are dotted around and for a small fee you can camp. It was good to be back, camping (albeit it in a plush van!) in the middle of nowhere. (I found I loved this when we were in Tasmania and other parts of Australia a few years ago). We plan to do more of this whilst in NZ but up until now we have stayed in serviced camp sites. This camp at Parakaunui Bay was right next to one of those wild looking beaches I mentioned earlier. I parked our van pointing towards the beach separated from us by a creek. Later we found ourselves watching sea lions which were pointed out to us by an older couple who were also camping. They were massive.(Not the couple, the sea lions) There were about 5 of them and we tried to get over the creek to get closer, but didn't fancy getting wet and cold so decided to watch them from the comfort of our van. The couple had also seen a leopard seal chasing white bait up the creek which was just in front of us. That would have been cool to have seen. They are scary seals. Apparently they are not common here. Never mind, I was happy enough with what we saw. It was great this morning when I opened our front curtain and the first thing I saw apart from the beautiful sea and sand was one of the seals waddling towards the sea. This is what it's all about.

N.B I think Tim has got over his desire to go to “Puzzling world”. He is now talking about the Sausage capital.....


Shortly after booking into the park for the evening we took a walk into the town of Fox Glacier and booked ourselves on the next mornings half day glacier walk with Alpine Guides. We got up there nice and early and packed a bag with some drinks and snacks (One Square Meal cereal bar being our new favourite). Troy, our guide for the day, called us into the boot room where we got woolly socks, big clod hopper leather boots, a rain coat and some crampons. Along with another group we boarded a lovely old 1970's Bedford bus for the short ride up to the glacier car park.

Our group strode off up the path first, getting a good look at the terminal face of the Fox Glacier as we went. Although the public is allowed up to the terminal, only guided trips are allowed to walk on the glacier for safety reasons. The path led up through the forest to a set of 500 steeply carved steps. The couple of stops we made along the way were quite welcome, everyone but Troy huffing and puffing their way along. Fox Glacier and it's neighbour Franz Josef Glacier are two of only three glaciers within temperate rainforest zones. The other is in South America. As we walked on up the path I began to realise how massive the ice flow is. From the terminal to the horizon was 7km, with the twisting ice flows visible all the way. Troy informed us that beyond is another 6km.

We had to pause and cross an active rock spill area. Troy walked to the centre of the area watching a light on a small box attached to a sensor somewhere up the hill. We had to cross in groups of three when he said it was clear to do so, with strict instructions that we should run if he shouted because a rockfall would be occurring. The path continued and narrowed, being bordered by a sheer drop. At this point we had to keep hold of a chain running along the path.

At the terminal end of the glacier were many crevasses, these are giant rips in the surface of the ice going down to a depth of about 50 metres. We crossed from the hillside onto the glacier and put on our crampons. Because the glacier is an ever shifting and changing system the guiding company have to come out at 07:00 each morning to refresh the path or cut new steps. The going at this point was surprisingly easy. Being on the ice was fantastic. Because of the debris stirred up by the movement of the glacier the terminal is quite dirty. We walked further on to where the ice is cleaner, white at the surface where melting is occurring, but an eerie blue in the crevasses and further up the glacier. In places are streaks of dust along the ice faces. Some is clearly mud from the surrounding mountainside, but in other places it is a red colour. This, our guide explained, was Australian dust, blown over the Tasman during dust storms and fallen as snow on the glacier.

All too soon it was time to turn around and head back down, this time getting fantastic views of the valley, carved out by previous advances of the glacier. The terminal moraines of the previous limits were clearly visible. Troy also mentioned that we had passed the fault line which runs from Milford Sound to Nelson, where the Pacific plate pushes up against the Indo-Tasman plate. By the end of the walk I was a bit knackered and pleased that we hadn't done the full day trip. Also available is a heli-hike, though out of our budget range, still pretty good value. With that option you get choppered high up the glacier, walk for a couple of hours and then get choppered back.

As we walked down we noticed clouds rapidly creeping over the mountains and spilling into the valley. We'd managed to pick a beautiful sunny morning with just a few wisps of fluffy white cloud and a blue sky. That was turning though, scuppering our chances of the perfect Lake Matheson photograph. We gave it up as a bad job and drove up to Franz Josef. As we arrived it was raining so we made and ate lunch in the van. It eased off slightly so we braved the short walk to the lookout point. The Franz Josef Glacier is much steeper than the Fox Glacier, the main difference I could work out in the short time we were there. The drizzle began to pick back up again so we headed back to the van.

North of Franz Josef town and 13km from the highway is the small coastal village of Okarito. The village borders a lagoon full of bird-life. We drove through the little village and parked up in the basic camp site, a nice grassy area with an honesty system. It was refreshing being somewhere a bit cheaper after the past three camp sites. Even though it didn't have many facilities, or power, it did have coin operated showers. The breakers roaring away on the beach lulled us to sleep.

Into the West Coast

After a brief stop in Wanaka, which actually looks like a reasonably nice little town, we drove out towards the West Coast. The road is bordered on either side by Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea and veers between the two so that for the first part of the journey we had lovely lake views as well as the obligatory mountains that go with them. After Makarora is the Mount Aspiring National Park, densely forested mountain slopes. We made stops at the Blue Pools, which are well named, being blue pools. The snow and glacial melt-water that supplies the river here is very cold and the refraction of light from it makes it look a deep blue colour. Following the trail from the road through the Beech forest we came to a rickety little bridge. Over this lay the Blue Pools. The information board next to it said that big Trout should have been visible. We couldn't see any. We did see lots of Sandflies, New Zealand's favourite biting insect.

We drove over the Haast Pass and officially into the West Coast region. We took another quick rest stop at Thunder Creek Falls, a reasonably large and pretty waterfall. Some way on from the Falls we reached the coast itself and the little village of Haast. We stopped there for lunch. About 30km North of Haast is Knight Point, a lookout on the clifftop. The view out over the Tasman sea took n some small rocky outcroppings and a beach where we could just make out the shapes of Seals (or Sea Lions) lying on the sand.

At Lake Moeraki we stopped again and took the fairly long walk through the forest to Monro Beach. On the West side of the mountains the character and composition of the forest changes. There seemed to be many more species of tree, festooned with mosses, as well as a profusion of tree ferns. The light filtered haphazardly through the trees and the whole place seemed somewhat primeval. Although Monro Beach is a nesting site for Fiordland Crested Penguins, we didn't manage to see any. The beach itself was worth the walk though. Across on some rocks out from the beach we could see the movement of a seal. I would have stayed longer, but the Sandflies decided they wanted to eat me alive. I think Gemma was feeling smug that finally I was getting bitten and not just her.

Back in the van we made a sprint for the town of Fox Glacier. So named because it sits next to the Fox Glacier. We wanted to catch the change in light at the end of the day on Lake Matheson, which reflects the peaks of some of the largest mountains, including Mount Cook. Unfortunately for us the weather had different ideas. The mountains were covered all over by a low hanging cloud. We resolved to try again the next day and checked in at the slightly shabby, and expensive with it, Fox Glacier Holiday Park.


I've been unable to read the name of the town of Wanaka without my brain dropping the second 'a'. How rude. We took the slightly longer route to Wanaka via the town of Cromwell. A route planned to take us past lots of wineries on the way, however the hangover from the night before ruined the prospect for me, so we didn't bother going in to any. We did stop at the AJ Hacket bungy centre to have a look at other people jumping. The main reason we stopped was so Gemma could have a look at the river, which was used as a location in Lord of the Rings. I believe it was the Pillars of the Kings bit. My atlas has many little ring icons dotted around in the Queenstown/Wanaka region. It is no wonder, as the place is so pretty. We stopped for a photograph at Lake Dunstan. There was barely a ripple on the surface of the lake and it reflected the surrounding scenery like a mirror.

The next stop we made was at Puzzling World, a name that I've been taunting Gemma with for the whole of the trip. She was sceptical about going to it at first but I persuaded her. She was glad that I did in the end because it was ace. $10 gets you entry to the maze and the illusion rooms. A small price to pay. It's a two level wooden construction with stairs and walkways. The object is to navigate to four corner towers and then find the exit. We did quite well to start with, finding and climbing the first three towers pretty quickly. The last tower infuriated us though. We spent probably double the time on that than we had on the first three. Once we had located the exit we breathed a sigh of relief. I had horrid visions of being stuck in there forever, not able to get out. The illusion rooms were also good. They have several holographic photographs, some of which are excellent. There is the hall of faces, where the faces of famous people appear to follow you round the room. A perspective room makes people look large at one end and small at the other. The last room is tilted, which messes with your sense of balance. In the room are things like a ball rolling the 'wrong' way up a pool table or water running 'up' a pipe. It really messed with my head and I felt ever so slightly sick by the end of it. I'm sure the previous nights beer had nothing to do with it.

We carried on into Wanaka and straight out the other end. After Queenstown I had no desire to be in a town. Outside of town is a small and very plush camper van park. I nearly fainted when she told us the price. Included in the price was use of the spa and sauna. We had planned to avail ourselves of it but didn't because it looked a bit crowded, with a load of families going in.


Very near the park we were staying in was a DOC wildlife centre. Several cages and fenced off areas hold examples of some of New Zealands bird life. Some rare others less so. The centre was fairly interesting as I got to put names to some of the birds I'd seen on the road, and to see others for the first time.

After the bird park we drove on to Queenstown. Queenstown is New Zealand's 'adrenaline' sports capital and the place to be if you want to do things like bungy jumping. We didn't want to. Given the choice between seeing a lovely gorge on the end of a bit of elastic or seeing the same gorge on foot or by kayak I know which I'd choose, any day. I know it's a scary proposition launching yourself off a ledge and trusting in the equipment, but no more than the first time you lean back to abseil, I would imagine. And the safety record of the bungy operators is so good that there is almost certainly more risk in crossing the road. What you are buying is the illusion of danger rather than danger itself. Skiing, which is very popular in this area, is much more risky, judging from the number of people we saw on crutches. The truly amazing part of bungy jumping is the rapidity with which it makes your $140 disappear.

On the way into town I was struck by how many people there were. We quickly located and checked into the massive Lakeview Holiday Park. The park was big and well appointed but seemed to have a little bit of a pack-em-in attitude. Showers were coin operated, the first such that we'd seen, which sent Gemma into a bit of a rant. Queenstown was the place that we encountered our first grumpy Kiwis. Up until that point people had been super friendly and service had always been cheery. Not always in Queenstown. Perhaps it is because they know they don't have to try or perhaps it is the sheer volume of tourists bringing people down.

The town was nice enough, sitting on the lakeside with a view of mountains all around it. All around were the sounds of different accents and languages. Everything seems new and clean. It was clear that the whole town is one big well oiled and finely tuned machine with the purpose of separating tourists from their cash. Nowhere was this more apparent than the gondola. We took a ride on the gondola, which is a cable car up the mountain. At the top are a paved luge track, a restaurant and a Maori show centre. We didn't really fancy any of that, and wanted to do a short walk at the top. Unfortunately the track was closed so we had to settle with taking in the view from the viewing deck.

In the evening we treated ourselves to a meal out at the Queenstown branch of the excellent Dux De Lux restaurant/brew-pub. After the meal we had a swift pint in the bar. The swift one turned into several. There was a quiz on and despite not taking part, except to give a few answers to the nearest team to us, we ended up staying until the end. Oddly, many of the questions were about or related to Birmingham.

Milford Sound

Our first port of call was the DOC office in Te Anau to check the status of the Milford Road. During winter the road is a designated avalanche zone, this means that the road can be closed or have certain restrictions such as a requirement to carry snow-chains. As the weather was forecast for rain there was a possibility that the avalanche probability level would be upgraded. Luckily the notice pinned to the door of the visitors centre said, 'Avalanche risk: Low', with no restrictions. We would have had to try and hire snow-chains otherwise.

The drive up the Milford road is well worth making in it's own right. It carries you deep into the heart of Fiordland through a landscape that changes from farmland to forest to mountain. Along the way are several scenic stops and lookouts. We stopped at Mirror Lakes, which because of the inclement weather were not very mirror like. On a clear day they must be lovely. Also by the road are beautiful creeks and rivers running with a deep turquoise water. The Homer Tunnel digs straight through the rock. It's a scary dark rough hewn worm hole of a tunnel. Gemma felt quite exhilarated driving through it. On either side of the tunnel is the avalanche zone. No stopping signs are posted everywhere.

Some way after the tunnel we stopped at the Chasm. A short walk from a car park leads through the forest. The trees are covered in thick, almost luminous, green moss. As we walked we heard a terrible thunderous noise. For a moment I almost imagined an avalanche somewhere nearby. Rounding a corner brought us to the source of the thunder. The Cleddau River runs here and a vast volume of water is forced through the narrow chasm. Soft areas of stone have been eroded from the large boulders leaving odd scooped out shapes.

In a couple of the car parks we saw our first Keas. The Kea is the worlds only alpine parrot. They are a fairly drab parrot, being an olive green colour, but inquisitive and with a reputation for being 'cheeky'. Although signs abounded imploring one against feeding the birds, people were still laying out bread for them. There are good reasons not to feed them, and luring them into photograph range is not a good reason to counteract them.

After 120km of driving through such lovely scenery we arrived at Milford and were disappointed to see a thick low lying cloud hanging over the sound. After a coffee we decided that as we'd come this far we may as well do a boat trip on the sound anyway. When we booked our ticket the bloke assured us that the boat would be so close to the walls of the sound that the mist wouldn't matter. Rain is an almost ever present feature of Fiordland. Milford Sound gets in the region of seven metres of rain annually. There are several companies operating out of the 'visitors centre', which may as well be renamed 'booking hall', although there are a few informational displays on the walls. We chose to go with Red Boat Cruises ( for no good reason. We were glad that we did because the wind made the journey slightly choppy in places the fact that we were on a stable catamaran style boat helped.

The cruise on the misnamed sound (it's a fiord not a sound) blew us away. We were glad we had rain as it made the cruise that much more spectacular. Milford Sound is bordered by the sheer faces of mountains and when it rains water cascades down these in massive waterfalls. Because of the wind some of these were stopped midway and blown back up and away from the rock. The boat manoeuvred close to the edges and almost under some of the falls. One waterfall ran down a vast rent in the rock. The captain informed us that this was actually a fault-line in the earth's crust. At one point Gemma and I standing on the lower outside deck saw a seal flip lazily out and back into the water. Apparently penguins and dolphins are fairly common sights although not for us unfortunately. The scenery of the fiord more than made up for it though. It was majestic and wild and a more superstitious person than I am might proclaim they saw the hand of God in its making. Gemma was moved almost to tears by how awesome it all was. She later described it as the most beautiful place she has ever been. It's a shame the photographs we took can't come close to accurately representing the reality of the place.

The cruise also presented some opportunities for laughing in amongst all the jaw dropping scenery. There was an older Australian woman with a shower cap over her woolly hat which tickled us somewhat. And the Asian family scurrying round for photographs. Where most people were taking photos of the fiord and mountains, the father was scurrying around trying to get his kids in front of every feature. He was up and down the stairs between decks looking harassed and even panicky, as if he couldn't decide where to position his two boys next. Constant shouts rang out. His running about lasted literally the whole trip and gave us no end of amusement.

We had booked to be dropped off at the underwater observatory, but the wind meant that they had closed so we had to get a refund. The fiords in the region have certain peculiar characteristics which allow the growth, near to the surface, of several deep water species such as black coral. The almost constant rain running off the mountains creates a layer of freshwater on top of the seawater. Because freshwater is less dense than seawater it forms a thick layer rather than mixing. The sides of the mountains are heavily forested and leech tannins into this freshwater layer meaning that sunlight cannot permeate. Deep water species can therefore live much closer to the surface.

Because the rain was getting worse and time was getting on we decided to drive back to Te Anau and the same caravan park that we had stayed in the previous night. The woman at reception asked the guy in front of us whether he wanted a site with a view, to which he pointed at the sheets of rain falling down outside and chuckled. She didn't ask us.

Southern Scenic Route: to Te Anau

Out of Invercargill the Southern Scenic Route lost some of it's winding character, but not any of it's scenic value. The mountains reappeared on the horizon. The sheep grazed in flat fields stretching away to the mountains like a scene from Heidi. As the road bent back toward the coast we noticed many windswept trees growing in the direction opposite the shoreline. We crested a hill and were greeted with a stunning vista of the waves crashing against the beach in front of a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Both of us exclaimed, 'Wow!' at the same time.

We pulled up in the small town of Tautapere, New Zealand's sausage capital. Unfortunately it being a Sunday, the butcher shop that makes and sells said sausages was closed. A fact I found to be quite annoying. At Clifden there is a pretty little suspension bridge. We stopped for some photographs and a leg-stretcher. There is a campsite there which might have tempted us had vehicles been allowed.

In the town of Te Anau, the end of the Southern Scenic Route, we found the caravan park that we'd picked out. Happily it was the first one we came to on the road. It sits over the road from the lake from which the town gets it's name and thus has very pretty views. In town I sated my hunger on a very good venison pie. We spent some time walking by the lake and admiring the view. A small sea-plane buzzed back and forth landing and taking off on the lake, no doubt giving scenic flights around the lake and mountains.

Southern Scenic Route: to Invercargill

Being seasoned in the ways of the camper van now, we wrapped up warm against the cold of the evening. Although we didn't have our heater because we were at a non-powered DOC camp site. In the morning Gemma rolled up the curtain to reveal a large male Sea Lion rearing up on the beach. We did take a walk down to the beach, but no bridge had miraculously appeared across the creek in the night.

There were no problems with the directions, as I kept the atlas open on my lap, and besides which there was really only one road to choose. We stopped at a double waterfall, Matai and Horseshoe Falls. The track up to them led through some lovely native trees which were packed with birds. In Papatowai we stopped for Diesel. Gemma complained about having to fill up, something that she has done every time we've had to. I think she thought that the hire cost should include a magic never emptying tank. Papatowai being out in the sticks, the price was higher than other places which caused much muttering.

At Niagara we missed the falls, but did stop at the café for coffee and a cake. I put Gemma in some stocks outside and contemplated driving off, but realised that I couldn't drive and so let her out again. A short way down the road was Curio Bay, the site of a 180 million year old petrified forest. I love stuff like this. With the tide out you can see very clearly the fossilised remains of the trees. Several long tree trunks lying across the rocks are visible, along with many stumps. On many of them the growth rings are clearly seen. It's interesting to think whilst clambering around watching waves pound against the rocks, that in those days the waves would have been coming from the direction of what is now the land. Where the sea is in modern times would have been land. New Zealand was mostly underwater and joined to the super-continent Gondwanaland at that time. There were lots of signs up to the effect of, 'Please don't nick bits of our petrified forest.' This saddened me.

At the crossing of a certain river was a small impermanent settlement of caravans, huts, motorhomes and cars. Our map bore the legend 'whitebaiting', which explained it. The whitebait season is limited to September and by all accounts the Kiwis love their whitebait. They eat it as whitebait patties, a kind of battered fritter. Not something I have yet managed to eat.

At some point we noticed a funny smell so we stopped the van. We worked out after scratching our heads a bit that Gemma had been driving with the handbrake not fully disengaged. After we worked that out we continued on into Invercargill, noticing along the way that the handbrake now did not work. We pulled in to the first caravan park that we found in Invercargill and prepared to call the AA. The owner of the park scratched his chin a little then suggested that we leave it to cool down and see if it fixed itself. This was sage advice. Half an hour later when we tested it the handbrake was holding us firm.

We drove into Invercargill town centre to grab some lunch and have a look around. Normally at 15:00 on a Saturday a town should have some kind of life about it with at least shoppers and afternoon drinkers on the streets. Not so Invercargill, the only life apparent were the surly teens hanging around outside the library. The only thing of note about the town was the profusion of really old cars. They must have a club or something.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Mount Cook

(Reference to my last sentence on my last post (Living the dream)) We certainly have been freezing! The last two nights have seen me wearing my coat and beanie to bed! However, these did little to keep out the cold. We tried to move around as little as possible so as not to let the cold air in and I attempted to keep my face warm by sticking it under the covers. Unfortunately, this presented the options of freeze or get gassed. I chose the former! Tim said he was just trying to keep us warm.

I had rung our rental place to tell them our heater doesn't work and they had told us to buy another and they'd refund us. Our first task today was to find that heater. I am now sitting in the van with our new purchase plugged in and it is heaven.

Despite the cold start I am loving it. I have got used to driving the van and also moving around it. Although we can stand up to full height in it, I have still managed to crack my head on the cupboard, but these bumps are getting less as I get used to living in a small space! It is great being able to cook for ourselves (Well Tim being able to cook for me...I do the driving and washing up after all) and make a drink when I want. I really missed these simple things whilst in SE Asia.

Yesterday seemed to go really fast and we didn't actually get that far. From Akaroa we drove to Timaru. We wanted to go there because they had a Supermarket! We needed some supplies and decided just to stay there. It was a bit of a grey day and Timuru didn't look over appealing, but we just spent the afternoon in our new toy (the van). The redeeming feature of the caravan park was that it had a “jumping pillow”, a big bouncy thing which we jumped around on before getting worn out (quite quickly; I need to get fit!) It was great. If anyone wants to get me a birthday present one of these would be great! I'm sure my mum and Dad wouldn't mind if you delivered it to their house! Only joking mum and Roger!

Today was a beautiful day with blue sky. We headed to Mount Cook which was only 200kms away, but somehow took 5 hours to get there! We kept getting distracted by beautiful scenery, mainly beautiful snow capped mountains with very blue lakes in front of them. We had our lunch admiring one of these views at Lake Tekapo. We eventually got to Mount Cook and it's neighbouring mountains, both of which we had been able to see for most of the day. Mount Cook is Australasia's highest peak and is surrounded by 22 other mountains that reach up to 3050m high (and more besides). They had been a spectacular sight all day, but suddenly they seemed to envelope us and we were almost surrounded by them; massive, imposing and daunting beasts. We drove further towards Mount Cook where we were intending to stay at a nearby cheap camper site (no facilities). However, as we climbed out of the van at the Visitor centre we quickly decided against that idea as it was absolutely freezing. I know we were at a mountain which was covered in snow, but as the snow was mainly at the top I hadn't thought it was going to be that cold! There was an icy wind whipping us and neither of us fancied freezing even more than we had been, especially when we had just bought a heater. (which we wouldn't have been able to use at the camp ground as there was no power). We decided to spend a bit more on a camp ground down the road with powered sites so we would be able to use our heater. Sitting in our camper van we can see Mount Cook, snow covered mountains and a lake so I don't regret that decision. We had planned to do some walking round here, but we may just wimp out of that tomorrow if it is still as cold as it was earlier. I don't fancy getting frost bite!

Living the dream

I'm sitting here writing this in our camper van. O.k I am sitting here writing this in our camper van wearing a beanie I had to buy for the occasion because, yes, it is cold! However, I don't care as I am finally living my dream of travelling around in a camper van. Ok the van is a tad more luxurious than in my dreams (a heated towel rail?) and it has Ezy (the company's logo) with a lady showing a bit of leg on the side of it, but it is still a mini home on wheels. I can wake up in the morning and see a different, beautiful view each day. I can drive off within a moment if I want to, and go wherever I want; Well, at the moment, as long as it is in New Zealand and on the South Island anyway. And lets not forget the compactness of everything. There is something strangely satisfying about the smallness and well, compactness of a campervan/ caravan. Maybe I should be quiet now

We have been in New Zealand for about 3 days now. I wasn't sure we would make it when we boarded our plane and it creaked, followed by the pilot announcing the delay due to engineering difficulties. With this and the fact that there was no back seat entertainment screen the plane was clearly not up to date and I was dubious we were going to get there. The passengers on board didn't seem bothered. They were more bothered when the head steward informed us that the promised free bar to placate us for the delay would be no longer as the plane was fixed. His information was met with a particularly loud “baaaaah” from one passenger. Clearly, he was from New Zealand. Tim also joined in loudly with the boos.

We made it after all and flying in to Christchurch on our internal flight from Auckland we were greeted with miles of beautiful snow capped mountains. Christchurch itself is a nice town and when we got off the bus from the airport on to Cathedral square there were people playing giant chess, a tram ambling by and people doing the same all against the back drop of the small Cathedral. First impressions were that it was quiet, relaxed and had a nice atmosphere. This view did not change throughout the couple of days we were there. (Apart from when the man outside our window shouted “F***! for what seemed like hours.) I was happy when we found a really nice pub/ restaurant that did an extensive vegetarian menu. We spent the next couple of days wandering round and trying to sort a camper van out.

We finally decided on Ezy campers and picked it up today. I was dubious about the fact that it was an automatic, but got quite used to it fast although I still feel like I am forgetting to do something as I drive and sometimes stamp my foot down looking for the clutch. We drove about 100 kms today along lots of windy roads through lots of green hills adorned with lots of shorn sheep. As I write, it is getting colder and we have discovered that the little heater that came with the van does not work. D'oh! We will have to freeze like proper campers now!

Update on Lily

Lily has had her full heart operation. She had it about a week ago. I didn't want to write anything as there was a critical period of 3 days. Fingers crossed she is out of that now. The doctors were happy with her and she has been moved from Great Ormond Street Hospital to our local hospital, James Paget. She is still not feeding, but hopefully that will get sorted soon. Lily wasn't supposed to have her Op until 3 months from now when she had put on enough weight. However, because she was not feeding, her heart was racing and she needed help to breathe they decided to do part of the op last week (I think partly as an exploratory as they were unsure what was causing her heart to race etc; (they thought it was something other than the holes in her heart causing these) However, they did not find anything unexpected and decided to do the whole op. They now feel her symptoms which they were confused about, were her reaction to the holes in the heart. It was awful not knowing what was the matter and knowing that nobody else, including the staff knew what was the matter.

The last few weeks have been so hard. It is hard being away whilst this has been happening. Even though she has had the Op me and Tim are still cutting Australia out so we will be home earlier than expected. (Although we don't know exactly when that will be). The reason we were coming to Oz was to do the Bibbulmun track and we would have been out of contact whilst doing that. I don't want to be uncontactable at this time so we will come back another year and do it.

Weekend in Oz

Not many Brits spend a long weekend in Australia, but that's what we have just done! As you know we decided to cut our trip by cutting out Oz, in order to get home for Lily's operation in 3 months time. As we had flights to Perth we thought we may as well spend a few days in Fremantle, suburb of Perth which we really liked when we were here 4 years ago (4 years ago- that's scary)!.

Unfortunately, immigration were a bit dubious about our flying visit. After an overnight flight it was a bit worrying when immigration officers asked us in a “casual” tone, “Oh that's a long way to fly just for 5 days” . At that point I got all nervous and immediately started to feel guilty and bumbled an answer which although was the truth, somehow managed to sound really fake and to make matters worse he misunderstood me and thought I'd said we stayed longer in SE Asia and just thought we'd come to Oz for a little while! At that point he looked “interested”, in a policeman kind of way, and asked some more “casual” questions. He was obviously convinced I was a drug smuggler and when another member of staff noted that we were travelling light I was convinced our number was up. As we walked on to Australian soil I realised that there was no number to be up as I wasn't actually a drug smuggler. Airport staff make me feel nervous. We went through baggage check in Singapore before the flight to Perth and my bag flagged up something on the x-ray machine. They all looked really stern and checked my bag and camera bag, then put it through again. The girl checked again and found out they were my batteries but the x-ray man didn't look happy and she had to persuade him not to put it through again as they were definitely batteries. After that Tim got called over the tannoy which didn't help either. (It was just to tell him his TV didn't work in his chair so we'd been moved)!

Anyway, we made it through immigration and into Fremantle after having to put up and pretend to be amused by the bus drivers Little Britain impressions and witty remarks about what my home town name Lowestoft sounds like. A combination of no sleep and the fact that it was 15 degrees cooler than we were used to contributed to me feeling quite miserable on the journey to Fremantle from Perth. Unfortunately this feeling only grew until we were able to check in. Until that moment we wandered round Fremantle and I thought we were actually in Gorleston. Which is fine, but it didn't feel like the place I remembered and I was worried I 'd been wearing Rose tinted specs for the last 4 years. It didn't help that it was a drizzly thursday morning and everyone was at work except people who like to drink all day. However, it all changed as soon as we checked in. The B&B was lovely and I had a shower and went to sleep. I think every time I feel negative I should just sleep as the world seems so much nicer after!

After the dubious start, we had a lovely few days. We spent them eating (although I still haven't had that jacket potato) and drinking at cafés and bars, walking on the beach ( we went to Dog beach where dogs and their owners hang down the beach together. Last time we were here it was summer and it was packed with dogs and their owners swimming and sunbathing together!) We had a night out, watching a band who played “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes. When we were here last every live band played this song and we were glad to see things hadn't changed. Tim surprised a few people around by dancing hard to it!We walked round the streets, the Market and basically just hung out! It was really nice and a bit of a nostalgia trip as well as we really loved it when we were here last. It doesn't feel 4 years ago though. It just feels like it could be last week now were here.

Our last day was spent in Perth and it was a lovely sunny day with blue sky. After checking in we caught the free bus (I like free things) to the Waterfront area next to Swan river. It was good to see Parrots and Galahs again (hadn't seen any in Fremantle) and I was really happy when I spotted a couple of dolphins in Swan River. We spent the next 15 minutes running down the river bank to follow them as they rounded up fish. The river is right next to the city centre, so I hadn't exactly expected to see dolphins that day! Afterwards we tried to find our way to King's park having to go up loads of steep steps to get there. Loads of people were running up and down them for exercise. It made me feel sick watching them. I felt even sicker when I got to the top!

Kings Park was as lovely as I remembered and it was really nice just wandering round taking photos. That is until the mossies realised I was there. I am NOT going to get paranoid over it....

On the way back to the hotel we dropped into our old haunt, the Hare Krishna restaurant and got a cheap meal for $2.50. All in all we've had a nice few days in Oz.

Southern Scenic Route: the Catlins

A 09:00 start was a bit of a first for us, the early to bed early to rise maxim only being half true in our case. We were full of the spirit of the road and ready to see some lovely things on the Southern Scenic Route, so named because it's in the South, is scenic and is a route. Routes are brilliant things, taking you places along a defined path. At least that is the case if you can find them. I had been relying on a combination of the Lonely Planet maps, leaflets from information offices and good signage to navigate. This had worked reasonably well up until this point. We followed the sign for the Southern Scenic Route and somehow ended up headed back towards the centre of Dunedin. We lost an hour driving around in circles until I spat my dummy from my pram, screwed the tourist leaflets up and chucked them over my shoulder. I got Gemma to stop at the nearest petrol station and bought a road atlas. Ten minutes later we were on the Southern Scenic Route and merrily on our way. I swear we followed the signs properly. I think one must have been missing at a crucial point. I was taunted later by signs for the route in the middle of big straight stretches with no turn off. From inadequate signage to over-signage.

Things started to pick up on the route. The scenery was beautiful, hills and the sea drawing near at times and then further away. We left the route for a detour to Nugget Point. A track led to a lighthouse looking out over several rocky 'nuggets' in the sea. From this vantage point we could see New Zealand Fur Seals and Hookers Sea Lions lying on the nuggets. We thought we may have even seen an Elephant seal, but we can't be sure as it was in the water before we got a good look. Nugget Point is apparently the only place on the mainland that all three species live together.

Further down the road we left the route again for another unsealed detour to Cannibal Bay. We had a little bit of a scare when parking up as the wheels just spun round and dug the sand up. Gemma managed to get us out of it though. Cannibal Bay was a lovely spot. A long beach with lovely trees around it and halfway down the beach a group of Sea Lions. We walked down the beach towards them but kept a fair distance so as not to disturb them.

The town of Owaka is the biggest settlement in the Catlins area but it looked to be closed when we went through. We did find the small supermarket open and bought some Speights Old Dark (not bad). Another detour took us to the lovely Purakaunui Falls. After which we doubled back to Purakaunui Bay and it's DOC camp ground. The camp ground is just above the beach and looks out over it. A Kiwi bloke also camped there told us that there were Sea Lions down the beach and over the creek. We sat in the van watching with the binoculars and drinking our Speights. We did walk down to the beach a couple of times to get a different vantage point, but didn't dare brave the cold water of the creek to get up close.

Otago Peninsular

Our vague plan for the day was to go see the Otago Peninsular. This juts out into the ocean, as peninsulars tend to, next to Dunedin. On the way out of town we had to stop at a Warehouse store for some gas bottles for the hobs. They also had a CD sale on so I bought some more CDs. A surf music compilation, a Grates CD (great) and a New Zealand Hip Hop thing, Tourettes (not so great). The surf thing and random local Hip Hop thing were only a couple of bucks each so it didn't really matter.

The peninsular was nice. We drove to the end of the road to the Albatross centre. Although, because of breeding season, we couldn't get to the colony. We also had a fruitless search down gravel tracks for penguins and seals. We would be hard pushed to find pengiuns as they only arrive just before sunset and no seals or sea lions had decided to hang out on the beach that day. We did find a lovely little beach, almost deserted, except for a couple of surfers. The sky was blue, the grass green, the baby lambs cute so not seeing any wildlife didn't really bother us.

Although our original vague plan had called for us to move on down the coast from Dunedin, we ended up staying in Dunedin's St. Kilda area at Dunedin Holiday Park. We had pulled over seeing a shop in front of the park and trying to get some chips for lunch. Gemma and I looked at each other and both said at the same moment, 'Maybe we should just stay here.' So we did.

The beach was nearby so we walked down to it and had an ice cream (the rock and roll lifestyle, eh?) When we got back several identical four wheel drives had parked in front of our van and were being cleaned by young army types in camouflage gear. Every time I strayed from the van I would find a huddle of these teenage soldiers milling about.


We followed the scenic route out of Oamaru in the morning toward Dunedin. This road stayed by the sea for a fair way, eventually joining up with the main highway. Along the way we passed farms with fields that stretched right to the beach. At Moeraki we stopped to see the boulders. These are a bunch of smallish boulders that have eroded from the cliffs and now stand on the beach. Being cheapskates, we parked in the Department of Conservation car park a way up the beach rather than the visitors centre, thus avoiding the $2 charge and getting a short walk thrown in. As we walked along the beach Gemma was mocking the fact that we, as well as others, had turned up to see a bunch of small stones on a beach. To be honest I was wondering if New Zealand would turn out to be like Australia, where any tiny thing is seized upon and marketed as a 'must-see' tourist attraction. In the end though the boulders were quite interesting, having eroded with some strange vein like patterns, which made the half-buried stones look a bit like tortoiseshells. The Maori have legends saying that the stones are the round food baskets of an ancestral canoe which came to grief on a greenstone collecting expedition.

On the beach was a dog yapping to have a stick thrown for him. We thought he must be with a couple who threw the stick a couple of times, but when they left we realised that he must just be hanging out on the beach wanting people to play with. I had picked up a stick to write in the sand, something which made the dog very interested. My stick was bigger and he looked at me greedily until I threw it for him.

We arrived in Dunedin, parked up at Leith Holiday Park then walked into town. Dunedin was first settled by the Scottish and is supposed to retain a strong Scottish influence. Other than a few street names, the statue of Robert Burns in the square and one old woman's accent in a shop I couldn't really see it. There wasn't a single kilt wearer or bagpipe player in the town at all. What there was though was a town of groovy looking café bars and university students milling round. We had a walk around the centre and a coffee in a rather cool café that reminded me of Mr. Pickwicks in Cape Town. It had banging drum & bass playing and original artwork on the walls. I think we would have stayed longer in the town but we were feeling quite fatigued and the sky was looking like it might open up and dump water on us so we wandered back to the campsite.


The heater and our new fleece blanket things were brilliant. Although the van isn't the best insulated thing and so it isn't exactly balmy, the heater keeps the worst of the cold at bay. As it's an oil heater we could leave it on overnight with no annoying fan noise keeping us awake. That honour went to the wind and rain, which started up during the night and rocked the van quite viciously. And I hadn't even written a 'If the van's rockin', don't come knockin'' sign yet.

It was still raining when we got up in the morning so we endeavoured to go outside as little as possible. This led to us both quite comically trying to get from the back of the van into the front over the seats. It wasn't the most graceful manoeuvre from either of us. And pointless too, as I had to get out to unplug the 240v cable and then Gemma had to get out to wipe the windows.

The rain made for some lovely rainbows set against the mountains as we drove away from them back toward the coast. Eventually the mountains became hills and the hills became farmland. We passed some lakes and hydroelectric dams and motored past many nice looking views because there was nowhere to stop. We stopped at a Maori rock art site in the Waitaki valley. The art here is not so well preserved, despite being quite young. The least preserved being the bits that have been hacked off the rock and put in museums.

We arrived into Oamaru and parked up at the 'Top 10' van park. After lunch we had a walk into the town and the harbour area via the public park which backs onto the van park. The park was quite nice although not everything is in bloom yet. They did have a display house that was full of pretty flowers and a pond with some exceptionally fat ducks. Because the harbour is so prominently marked on tourist signs about the place I thought it might be a lovely yacht harbour with nice cafés around it. It wasn't. Being cheapskates we decided to pass on paying to get into the Blue Penguin colony. We went for a coffee instead. Gemma said she felt like Oamaru was a bit odd and scary. It seemed OK to me. The town is full of Victorian era buildings with grand façades, many being old bank buildings a sure sign of former prosperity. The town was apparently a major centre for refrigerated meat shipping, New Zealand lamb having fed the United Kingdom for many years. Today the buildings have been turned over to artists and craftspeople.

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Our start was much later than I would have liked because we had a cold and mostly sleepless night again. Plus we had to go sort a heater out. Gemma had rung the hire people the night before to ask about it, they basically said, 'Ooops, sorry. Go buy a new one, keep the receipt and we'll re-imburse you'. We found a Warehouse store, which sells heaters as well as pretty much everything else. As well as a little oil heater, we walked away with some t-shirts, some furry throws for under the sheet, a DVD and a CD. We'd bought the CD because we'd been unable to tune the radio properly, a fact I later found was attributable to the antenna not being extended. The CD we got was only $1.97, by Wondabraa. It's kind of inoffensive House music, not the greatest thing to listen to.

Once we were on the road, listening to Wondabraa and the radio now it was tuned in we hooked inland on SH8. This diary could become even more boring than it already was with repeated outpourings about how beautiful the scenery was whilst driving. This time we were driving right at the snowcapped mountains so they became progressively larger as we went on. Postcard view after postcard view. We drove through several small towns -a main street of new world buildings, small square things with scrolled ironwork. They looked like wild west frontier towns, only with blackboards advertising cappuccinos and panninis. And no cowboys.

We took many stops for photos, such that the 200km or so journey took us about five hours. At times we were shadowing the same set of camper vans, we'd pull in just as they were about to leave, or vice versa. There were a lot of camper vans on the road. Probably more than we saw cars. I wondered idly what it must be like in peak season. Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki were very nice. The lakes are both in valleys carved out by glaciers in times past and are a brilliant turquoise-blue colour, something to do with sediment in the water. Each is framed by a ring of mountains with the requisite trees and rocks that you would expect from this kind of scenery. Many times we pulled up when a bus was disgorging it's load of Asian tourists. This caused queues waiting for photographs in front of particular landmarks, with each person wanting each possible combination of their friends in a photo. One bus stopped and I watched two older ladies running for the right to take their photograph first. It was like the rage you see at jumble sales sometimes. In the Lake Pukaki visitors centre there was a poster advertising a $70 Lord of the Rings tour. Nearby are the locations for Gondor, Entwash and the White Mountains. The poster stated that these were on private land and so not normally viewable. It seemed to me like what you would get for your money was a car ride out to a field and then the right to stand in that field for a bit. I saved my $70.

We arrived at the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park by late afternoon. Mount Cook is the highest mountain in its chain, and in Australasia for that matter. It was named after, the ever-present in these parts, Captain James Cook. The Maori name of Aoraki, which means 'Cloud Piercer', is well deserved, although it was it's neighbour next door that had most of the cloud when we were there.

We had planned to spend the night at the cheap, no facilities campsite in the National Park. When we got out of the van into the cold biting wind we began to reconsider. It was freezing and given the fact that I'd just bought a new heater and wouldn't be able to us it without electric I decided that we should go to a proper campsite. Two nights shivering and sleepless were enough. After a couple of quickly snapped, and probably blurry because of the shivering, photographs we turned around. A short distance back the way we'd come was the Glentanner Park Centre ( This was a campsite and chalet operation on the Northern shore of Lake Pukaki, attached to a helicopter ride company. We found a site, plugged in, turned on the heater and watched the sun go down over the mountains.


We discovered, in the evening, that the small fan heater in the van was broken. This led to a very cold night and very broken sleep. I almost felt like getting up and hugging the heated towel rail at one point. We sluggishly arose and got on the road by 10:00.

If anything the road going back the other way through Banks Peninsular was even more scenic. The same lakes, harbours, inlets and sheep covered hills were all around but hovering on the horizon were the snow covered peaks of the South Island's mountains. I did a double take at first. The midday sun had caused the mountains to be very washed out and the snowcapped peaks looked almost like a line of cloud at first glance. Realising that clouds aren't that angular my brain was able to adjust itself and see them as mountains. Gemma remarked that they looked painted onto a sheet, a la Roadrunner.

We had a stop in Dunsandel which looked to be a tiny roadside town. The Dunsandel roadside store was quite nice, with some nice food options. We were cheap though and only bought a coffee, making some cheese sandwiches in the van instead. 13:30 we arrived in the town of Timaru, our rest stop for the night. Chosen solely because it seemed like a good place to stop and the Lonely Planet said it had a Pak & Save supermarket. Because the place we were staying, another 'Top 10' park, was only 500 metres away we parked the van up before going shopping.

I bought a couple of tall bottles of a local brew, Tui, which styles itself as an India Pale Ale. It's drinkable but not the best I've ever tasted. After having a glass we availed ourselves of this parks best feature, the Jumping Pillow. This is sort of like a big trampoline thing but concave in shape. We knackered ourselves out with about 5 minutes of jumping around on it. It was fun.

Camper van-tastic

We had hoped for a good sleep right through until the morning but we were scuppered by a man outside our window who was either drunk or had Tourette's syndrome. The only word I could make out in his constant diatribe was 'Fuck'. There was a lull though and we thought he'd gone. No such luck, just as we were getting to sleep, he started up again. At some point we did drift of, either because he left or just drifted into the background noise. It was stupid o'clock in the morning when we did get to sleep though. Reluctant to waste the whole day dozing and squinting at the light coming through the, frankly useless, curtains we got up around 11:00.

Christchurch seems like a nice town. The sky was blue with fluffy clouds floating around and the chill of the previous day had mostly gone. Gemma was happy because we had a jacket potato for lunch from a stall on the market. We had a pleasant day just meandering around until we realised that we really ought to try and book a camper van, since we wanted to get one for the following morning. In Fremantle we spent a good few hours using the free WiFi of our accommodation to try and work out the best camper van deal. We had strained our eyes looking at site after site and reading fine print after fine print. I tabulated some of the cheaper options until we had narrowed the field to two possibilities. Unfortunately getting to Christchurch threw a slight spanner in the works in the shape of massive amounts of leaflets from many different hire car companies that we hadn't seen on-line. After checking out some of these we started to eliminate them for one reason or another, finally settling on the two that we'd originally short-listed plus a backup third option.

Our hostel booked for one of the short-listed candidates so we asked them to get a quote for us. We booked with them and arranged to be picked up from the hostel at noon the next day. The hire cost was to be fairly expensive as we'd taken out a zero excess insurance policy. Our reasoning being that Gemma wasn't used to such a big vehicle, plus it also covered us for tyre and windscreen damage -the most likely things to occur, and not covered in the other options. Gemma was a bit nervous because the van was a) an automatic and she'd never driven one before and, b) a van and she'd never driven one before.

At the hire place after the t's were crossed and the i's dotted we got the van, and realised that it was close to brand new. We were quite overawed with how posh the van was. A Toyota Hi-ace diesel van with the usual conversion: sink and cooking area, cupboards, removable table and fit together bed. Added to this was the DVD player (we have no DVD's though), the microwave and that most essential camping item, the heated towel rail. The van has a house battery system for lights as well as 240v power at campgrounds, for the microwave and the towel rail.

We set off out of the hire place, with Gemma's foot stomping an imaginary clutch and her hand going for a non-existent gear stick. She seemed to get the hang of it pretty quickly though and we were soon motoring along. In the wrong direction. I missed the sign for a turning we needed until it was too late, realised that I didn't have the correct map on my lap and so we drove kind of randomly until I was able to get us back on the right road. Because we didn't leave the hire centre until late afternoon, I thought we best try and go somewhere reasonably close to Christchurch for the night. The place I chose was Akaroa on the Banks Peninsular. The drive down to the town was stunning, the road winding through and up hills and past harbours, inlets and lakes. The weather was a little bad in places, but that only made the shafts of light illuminating hills across the valley more stuning. I had to remind Gemma that she couldn't just admire the view, especially given the windiness of the road. If she had been apprehensive about driving a large vehicle that wore away very quickly and she was totally in control.

The day was drawing on by the time we parked in the town of Akaroa. We made it a flying visit, just running into the supermarket for supplies. Up the road from the town is a camping park, one of the 'Top 10' chain, and where we'd decided to spend the night. The cost for a camping spot was on the high end at $28 a night, but we figured being somewhere easy with powered sites would be best for the first night while we got to know our way around the van. As the sun went down over the mountains and the harbour I got busy making a simple vegetable soup, the first thing I have cooked myself in a couple of months at least. Although it was simple it was tasty. We spent the rest of the night trying to figure out how everything in the van worked and drinking hot chocolate. In the world of camping early nights are the norm, something, by this point, we were looking forward to.

Onward to New Zealand

Because we'd had our onward flights brought forward we needed to get the tickets revalidated at the airport. For that reason we asked our Perth hotel to book a reasonably early bus to the airport. We wasted the early part of the day just mooching about in the centre of Perth watching the people go by. We were relieved when the bus turned up and it was a different driver than we'd had on the way into Perth. Neither of us were in the mood for his over jolly bantering and Little Britain impressions.

At the airport we located the Air New Zealand office only to be told that they would sort it out downstairs when check-in opened, so we needn't have come over so early. Oh well, we weren't the only ones. After having a coffee we wandered down to the check-in desk to see a fairly large queue already waiting. The flight wasn't for another three hours. The revalidation was painless, the nice woman just writing on a sticker and sticking it over our tickets. The plane was late arriving because of engineering difficulties at Auckland. It was cleaned and we were allowed to board. As we found our seats Gemma's face dropped. 'There's no seat-back screen,' she said looking rather glum. 'My god, no Nintendo, is this the 80's or something,' was my response. On Air New Zealand economy class its a big screen up at the front and you watch what they play. I looked in the magazine and found that the film would be Nacho Libre. Fine, except that we saw it at the cinema in Kota Kinabalu a couple of weeks beforehand.

The captain announced that Perth's engineers weren't happy, we could be waiting an hour on the tarmac. He told the flight attendants to open the bar while we waited. Unfortunately Perth airports engineering team obviously know the hitting it with a spanner technique, because ten minutes later we were told we would be on our way. The bar was cancelled, much to the dismay of the majority of passengers, myself included. If the truth be told I was almost hoping for a cancellation leading to being put up in a nice hotel and fed for a night or two.

I have complained enough about flights in general and overnight flights in particular so I won't go too much into it other than to say I spent the 6 ½ hours trying unsuccessfully to find a comfortable position for my head. Needless to say not much sleeping occurred.

Although our bags had been tagged through to Christchurch, because Auckland was our first port of entry, we had to collect them and clear immigration and customs. New Zealand clearances are, if anything, more in depth and harrowing than the Australian ones. The first guy didn't seem to like us much. He asked a lot of questions about what we were doing and didn't seem too happy at our lack of pre-planning. 'What are you planning in New Zealand?' he asked.
'Hiring a campervan and touring.'
'You have it hired already?'
'No.' At which point he tutted. That was typical of the exchange. Maybe we looked shifty.

The biological threat bloke, didn't like the look of Gemma's shoes in combination with the fact we'd been in South East Asia in the last 30 days. He made her take them off and disappeared into a little room. When he came back the soles of the shoes were gleaming and clean. Eventually they seemed satisfied that we weren't coming to work, smuggle or destroy the forests of New Zealand and let us in.

We walked over to the domestic terminal impressed by the sunshine but aware that it was a little chilly with it. A short wait later and we were flying off toward Christchurch. The flight was a short one with the only thing of real interest being the sighting of the snow capped peaks of the Southern Alps (I think), the stand in for the Misty Mountains in the Lord of the Rings films. It really was quite a beautiful sight, stretching out for miles of craggy white covered rocks.


Because of flight schedules from Perth to New Zealand we had to wait another day in Australia. Our Fremantle accommodation was booked up for the extra night so we decided to go into Perth itself. We booked a hotel in Northbridge, the Acacia, and got the train over from Fremantle. After checking in we caught the free CAT bus down to the riverside. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. As we walked down the beside the River Swan, Gemma spotted a break on the surface of the water. A pair of Dolphins were hunting fish together, one looking like it was keeping the fish in a perimeter whilst the other quickly darted after them.

After we lost track of the Dolphins we continued down the riverside, passing small lakes filled with birds. The normal pedestrian overpass into Kings Park was closed because of a rock slide so we were forced to climb Jacobs Ladder. We huffed and puffed our way up the steep staircase feeling a bit feeble as fit people in shorts ran down and then back up past us. One even reached the top then dropped to the floor and into press-ups. He hardly looked to be breaking a sweat, whereas we were gasping for air at the top.

Kings Park and the Botanic Gardens is a lovely place. Lovely trees, flowers and water garden. When we came to Australia a few years ago we spent our last day in the park. My memory cut away the intervening couple of years, so that it really was almost like yesterday that we were there. Kings Park is probably one of the best places in Perth to take photographs, with it's flowers and it's view of the city. So that is what we did for a while until a swarm of Mosquitoes decided to attack Gemma. We left the park then and walked back into the city and over into Northbridge. In Northbridge there is a Hare Krishna restaurant that serves take away curry and rice for $2.50. Last time we were in Perth we ate there a number of times. We couldn't resist this time either, it was tasty.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Gemma's South East Asia Summary

Things I won't miss about SE Asia: The humidity, the smelly drains (oh how I won't miss them) the bites and having to smother myself in “Off!”, the frustration of crossing the roads (Too much traffic) soggy leaves and boiled rice (Jacket Potatoes here I come).

Things I will miss: The Randomness,(You can't really predict a day in SE Asia) the laid back, friendly attitude (in most places) The wildlife, the cheapness (I can't help but feel good when two meals and drinks come to 1.50)

A lot of people rave about South East Asia so I was curious to see for myself what all the hype was about. For me, South East Asia got under my skin. (sometimes it literally felt like that especially when we'd been walking around all day in the heat and breathing in the drain smells.) I believe there is a certain way of life and charm to SE Asia which can't necessarily be seen on the surface. It took me a little while to get beyond "the things I won't miss" (see above) but when I got past those things I fell for the people who, generally have been very friendly, laid back and warm and the pace of life.

I feel like this part of the trip has been an introduction to Asia and I would like to do another trip, taking in other countries. Singapore was a gentle intro to SE Asia, being quite westernised, although looking back I thought that Singapore was exotic when we first arrived. However, when we returned to Singapore I couldn't believe that I felt like that! It seems very normal although I did have a new found appreciation for the cleanliness, especially of the toilets!

Like Tim, I had never really considered Malaysia as a destination other than to transit through to get to the rest of SE Asia. However, it turned out that it is a lovely place and we spent longer here instead of venturing to other countries like Laos (maybe next time). The people are lovely the scenery is lovely. Generally, a nice place. I have heard people comment that Malaysia as a SE Asia destination is tame and too nice. I suspect this comes down to the fact that the Malaysian people generally, are very trustworthy and warm. Myself, I value being able to trust people and not being ripped off and as far as I can tell this seems to be the thing that seems to separate it from the other countries. ( Heard a lot of dodgy reports about Vietnam) O.k most Malaysians speak English so therefore it makes it easier to travel and I guess people want the challenge. I have to admit that the language thing was a bit frustrating when I tried to ask for my dinner in Malaysian and they only understood me when I asked in English!

The beaches I had expected to find in Thailand we found in Malaysia; the East Coast providing text book tropical islands which haven't yet (and I hope this remains) been scarred by distasteful developments. The development that has happened seemed to be in keeping with the environment, unlike Thailand where we found unrestrained development and it could have been 18-30 resorts! To be fair though, we didn't go everywhere so those paradise places may exist. We ended up going to resort places (combination of weather in other parts, meeting people and laziness).

As soon as we entered Thailand I decided I really liked it. I think it was because it felt so new and exciting. I couldn't understand any of the language, signs etc. However, as time went on I began to change my mind. I felt jaded after only being there for a week or two, I think again, because of the places we went. Don't get me wrong I enjoyed myself it's just "The land of smiles" which Thailand was hyped to be was not evident and I wondered what everyone had been raving about. However, after going to Patrick and Noi's wedding and meeting genuine Thai people, I fell for Thailand. I think we got to see the real Thailand and I would love to go back. I also felt chuffed that I learned a few words of Thai!

Borneo (Sabah) was strange and I had mixed feelings. I knew about the Palm oil plantations, but seeing it in reality was a bit of a shock. We did a lot of bus journeys and so got to see miles and miles of seemingly endless, monotonous palm trees (whenever there was a river, I would excitedly nudge Tim, much to his amusement, as it was a welcome relief from the plantations!) The wildlife and jungle is obviously what tourists go for and I was no exception. The protected parts were the places we wanted to visit, but the visitor numbers to these are limited, which is good, but because we generally just turn up we did not get to see certain things. What we did see though was beautiful. The elephant encounter was amazing; a goose bump moment and Proboscis monkeys and Orangutans are ace!

Whilst in Borneo we were approached a few times to have our photo taken. Once was in the capital city of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu by a family who had been staring and nudging each other before approaching us to ask for our pictures! We found it really funny and strange as we assumed that western people were quite common place. Obviously not as much as other places. We had our photo taken by several members of the Malaysian army who were based on a small island we went snorkelling off. It is a strange feeling and made me feel famous!

So, all in all I enjoyed SE Asia. It was a strange experience at times and I would love to go back to visit other countries and the parts we missed.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Our perceptions of Fremantle changed for the better the following day. The weather was turning from cold to pleasantly warm, with most of the cloud clearing up and the sun poking its way through. In combination with the weekends arrival the weather began to bring out the cool people of Freo and the cappucino strip began to buzz. This was the Fremantle we remembered. My memory was sparked off by so many things, it seemed like just last week that we visited last. We ate fish and chips at the waterside restaurants and pizza at our favourite Aussie pizza chain, La Porchetta. We had a drink (proper beer!) in the Little Creatures brewery, a favourite place from our last visit. We lost most of one day to raging hangovers, the result of watching a band, Felix, at the Newport. They were pretty good but did too many covers for my liking. We did manage to take a walk on doggie beach before having to crawl home for a lie down. Gemma was continuously, 'ooohing,' and, 'ahhhing,' over the dogs. After being in South East Asia it was weird to see dogs on leads and not just running around randomly on the beach. I bought a new camera after much deliberation about which one to get. Harvey Norman, a department store here, was closing down the Fremantle branch so I managed to get a pretty good price. Sitting in the park eating self-made sandwiches and watching teenagers roll down a hill was quite nice too. It really was like we were just here last week.

We had decided to make our shortened trip to Australia into a nice long weekend away and managed it fairly well. Coming from South East Asia the price of food and beer was quite a shock but we soon got used to it. The Australian segment of our trip is being counted as a bit of a treat and so we aren't keeping to any kind of budget for it, not that we really did in Asia anyway!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

F F F Freezing

The flight from Singapore was only around four and a half hours long but because it left at 01:30 was a little bit of a nightmare. I think when we booked the flights we were being cheap and so expressed a preference for overnight flights to avoid accomodation costs. I'm now thinking that may not have been too wise because we tend to suffer from the not sleeping and end up losing a day to fatigue. A think many other people must dislike night flights as the plane was empty and the staff almost outnumbered the passengers. I didn't feel too sleepy to start with so I played a little Nintendo and then watched some TV shows on the entertainment system. I realised I've forgotten how to do the special moves on Street Fighter II. When I finally did get my head down, stretched out with Gemma's legs sharing the middle chair with mine, I had been asleep for maybe ten minutes when the stewardess woke me up to give me a hot towel. I tried again. This time I managed five minutes before breakfast was served. As we'd only eaten supper about two hours previously I could only manage a few mouthfuls. In any case, with all the waking up going on I ended up not sleeping and then it was time to land.

The landing was a little shaky due to the wind as we approaced Perth. I think this wind partly accounted for the freezing temperature. We'd been expecting a drop in temperature coming from South East Asia but not quite to this degree. At one point later in the day Gemma's hands turned purple. We've been following the, much better written, blog of a British couple, who seem to be places a few days before us. Their Perth entry was illustrated with photos of lovely blue skies so we had high hopes. These hopes were dashed against the rocks of our despair though. We also noted that the shuttle bus driver had irritated them somewhat by keeping up a constant Little Britain impression through the journey. We caught the same bus. With the same driver. He was friendly enough, it's just that at the 23rd repitition of, 'Yeah ah know', it begins to grate a little.

The bus was into the city, which wasn't even where we wanted to be, but we just figured we'd get away from the airport. We had the driver drop us at the train station and caught the train to Fremantle. This was after letting the first, sardine packed rush hour train, and the second school special pass us by. After a coffee we located our accomodation, far too early to check in, dropped in our bags and went into Freo (as the locals call it). I don't think walking round on a dreary weekday morning is the best way to do Fremantle justice. The place is usually quite vibrant and hip, with a pavement coffee house thing going on. On a cold and miserable Thursday morning though all of the hipsters are at work, no-one is sitting outside the cafes and the only people around are OAP shoppers and the odd drunken Aboriginal family. We felt afraid that we had built up an image of a groovy Freo that didn't really exist. As we trudged around in the cold past the $2 shops we wondered what was going on.

Time stagnated and moved with the pace of treacle until check in time. We walked back to the B&B wanting nothing more than a shower and bed. By that point Gemma was greedily eyeing the cardigans in shop windows. I think the cold was getting to her. We were happy that the room was made up already and the proprieter Barry showed us in to our very lovely room. It cost a fair bit more than we would usually pay, or remember paying on our last trip to Australia, but it is very nice and is still at the lower end compared to some other options. As Gemma slept I checked out the local listings papers and found out that there is loads of really cool stuff happening in Freo and Perth. Only it was all listed as happening around 3 weeks from now.

Singapore Airport

Instead of leaving our luggage at the hotel after checking out, we went straight towards the airport, pausing only to eat a quick breakfast. In the past week or two I've had a lot of breakfast Rotis. This is essentially a bread dough pancake with a side of curry sauce to dip it in. Some people might think curry is a bit weird for breakfast but I prefer it to cornflakes.

Our flight time wasn't until 01:00 the next day, so what were we doing getting to the airport at 12:30. Well, Changi airport is a great place to waste some time, and I had a few things I wanted to do. Firstly we needed to reclaim the sales tax from our laptop. Secondly we wanted to re-arrange the date of our flight to New Zealand. Air New Zealand's support office was closed, so we just checked in and went into the departure lounge. The refund of the tax was straightforward enough.

Because of the annoying dust speck inside my camera I wanted to have a look at the electronics shops to see if they had any reasonable deals on cameras. They didn't have what I wanted at the price I wanted to pay unfortunately. I kept looking in the hope that some new stock might materialize, but strangely it didn't happen.

The airport has many free Internet terminals, various for pay and free wireless networks and areas to plug in laptops for power and Ethernet. We used the latter facility a lot and finally got up to date with our photos on Flickr as well as booking some accommodation for Australia. The time flew away quite quickly and seemingly very suddenly, night had fallen. And it was time for our flight. We panicked a little when, after the scanning and boarding pass checks, waiting for the plane to actually board my name was called out. I was dreading something having gone wrong with our tickets or our baggage or something. It was OK in the end though, they just said that the TV on my seat was broken and could they move us to different seats. Phew.

Amazon link for book

The book which uses my photo of cottages at Karoo National Park as the cover image is about to be printed and is now available through (or .com). I'm am really chuffed about it. If for some reason you wanted to buy the book, you can from the link provided.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Changes to the plan

Although things are still up in the air, and no-one really knows what is happening with Lily's illness, the doctors have said they plan to operate in 3-6 months. Because of this we have decided to change our plans so that we are more flexible and able to get home earlier than planned. The change is basically cutting the Australia part down from 3 months to 1 week. We have been to Australia before and have decided to go straight to New Zealand which we haven't been to yet. This means we don't get to walk the Bibbulmun track which we are disappointed about but we can always do it in a couple of years time.

South East Asia Summary

It is the end of our time in South East Asia and therefore summary time. Really we barely scratched the surface of the region, as we only managed to get to Singapore, Malaysia (including Sabah in Borneo) and Thailand. I tried to have as little as possible preconceptions about the places we visited but, I'm afraid, I don't think I quite managed that. Overall I have enjoyed being here and would definately visit again, maybe to visit other countries, maybe to visit things we missed in the countries we did visit and maybe just to go back to favourite places. I know there are some who might think that we hardly saw anything and wasted a lot of time, but sod them! We like a quite relaxed form of travel, rather than rushing around from place to place, trying to spend at least a couple of nights and breaking up long journeys with rest stops.

As we'd very briefly stopped in Singapore on our way back from Australia a few years ago we had a kind of idea of what to expect. Many people find Singapore a bit dull, and maybe it is, but I quite like it. Probably because I'm a bit dull. It's clean, safe and an easy place to be. The food choices are staggering. The downside are that it is more expensive than neighbouring countries. It's a good starting point and ending point I think as it has a mix of the Western and Oriental that is leaning toward the Western. A gentle easing in if you will.

I think I probably had least preconceptions of what Peninsular Malaysia would be like. I just hadn't really thought of it as a destination before going to the region. Even when we entered Malaysia I was still only thinking of it as a country to travel to on the way to Thailand. I was pleasantly surprised most of the way through. The Malaysian tourist motto is, 'Malaysia: Truly Asia', which I suppose it is. It's got the oddness of Asia, whilst not having the nasty side that can be seen in other places. The people are nice and don't seem to be trying to rip you off all the time. It is pretty easy to travel in especially as, being a former British colony, English is very widely spoken. Coming from Singapore was a step up in wierdness and, I suppose, a step out of our comfort zone, although not as big a step as going to other countries might have been. The islands that we visited in Peninsular Malaysia were absolutely what I thought South East Asian islands would be. Crystal clear waters, palm fringed beaches, jungle clad hills and tasteful little chalet businesses.

Sabah was a strange time for us. We really wanted to visit there and I think had some unrealistic ideas about the place. We weren't able to do some of the things we wanted because of restrictions on the numbers of people allowed to do them. This is a good thing for the sustainability of Sabah's tourist industry, but a bad thing for people like us who do not do a lot of prebooking. The numbers of tourists visiting must be increasing given that they are overhauling the airport to cope with increased numbers and certain prices have gone through the roof. It's a really nice place to visit but if I was to go again I'd do so on a 2 week holiday, where the money pressure is maybe not so acute, and ensure I prebooked everything I wanted to do. Sabah is quite big and the attractions are quite spread out, so we spent a lot of time on buses. It is possible to skip a lot of this as local air travel is fairly comprehensive. I think we'd expected vast jungle all over the state, but most of it has been cleared by logging or for Oil Palm plantations. The wildlife is the draw for Sabah, and is certainly not only our highlight from here, but also of our trip so far. If I went back I think I'd like to do a deep jungle wildlife spotting trek. The food in Sabah was not great. Noodles and scrawny chicken knuckle or rice and scrawny chicken knuckle was just about all I ate.

The food in Thailand was brilliant. Although the choice was quite wide, at one point I think I had Pad Thai for six meals in a row! Thailand was probably the place I let preconceptions get the better of me. I'd heard of lovely island paradises, and saw overdeveloped and grotty resorts full of Aussie and hostess bars. I'd heard of lovely people and experienced everyone out to try and separate me from my money. I'd heard of everything being dirt cheap, including accomodation, but actually found that we paid more than in Malaysia. Perhaps we spent too much time chasing Carly and Charlotte, that we could have used visiting other places. We missed some places fearing monsoon weather so we still have places we'd like to visit. All of the negativity that we'd had about the country vanished in a stroke when we spent time near Surin with Noi's family. Our welcome from them was so unexpectedly brilliant that we changed our mind about the Thai people. Thailand is known as the land of smiles and we had initially thought it referred to false smiles, but we changed our mind. We left feeling quite sad about going.

All in all though I have really enjoyed being in the little bit of South East Asia that we have been to. I'm not disappointed about not going to Cambodia or Laos, I can always visit them another time. Similarly, Vietnam was a possibility to visit but we did not and given the comments of people we spoke to we aren't bothered. Everyone said it was rip-offs constantly and without the false niceness that accompanies it in Thailand. We'd like to go to Indonesia, which might warrant a future trip in it's own right. If I regret anything it is not learning to dive, but for various reasons it didn't work out for me to learn. This is not a problem as I can do it elsewhere or even at home. I enjoyed visiting South East Asia but I don't think I would ever settle there. In South Africa we didn't see too many fellow 'backpackers', in South East Asia though they are everywhere. Watching people struggling in the heat and humidity with backpacks bigger than they are vindicated my decision to carry only hand luggage. In fact I felt like the Mayor of Smugville (which is a small town in Smugland). It has been fun to watch peoples jaws drop when they realise that we are away for so long with such small luggage. Jumping on boats, coaches and planes has all been made much easier.

Things I probably won't miss about South East Asia are the smell of the drains especially after rain, the traffic and nightmare of crossing the road. With the exception of Singapore you take your life into your hands every time you want to get across the road. In Singapore it's okay because of plenty of crossings, you just have to budget for several hours waiting at them. In most places you hear a constant stream of horn beeps. It appears that the horn is used as a greeting, a tout for business, a warning, for the fun of it and in some cases in leui of the brakes!