A Travellerspoint blog

Island Suntanner.... Part 1

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The suggestion that I would write up a blog entry at the end of this 2 - week East Coast Tour was met with a certain degree of alarm. I will let you guess who was most perturbed by this arrangement.... So thought I should probably break it up with a little update half way through. Having heard of a 7.5 Richter earthquake in Christchurch and a horrible sky-diving plane crash, it seems NZ is having a tough time of it. So far, Australia has proven its worth and we're having a fantastic time Down Under. Controversially, I have decided to go for a location - orientated approach rather than day by day. The upside for my readership (and my co-writers) is that it should be readable in one session rather than installments.

Mooloolaba
We flew out of Christchurch at some ungodly hour on Wednesday morning which necessitated us getting up at 1 a.m. Australia time. This only served to make the goodbyes all the worse as we waved off Pip at the airport. SAD TIMES. Arrived in Brisbane airport without any big dramas though. Managed to retain all vital documentation prior to boarding the plane. It seems these carers are more on the ball than the last batch. We were staying with Kirsty's family friends, Sharon and Wayne, who moved out to Mooloolaba 4 years ago, having only visited the place for an afternoon! Sharon picked us up and took us to the Eumundi markets. Dangerous plan.

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Collectively, we all fall victim to the 'market panic' which results in unnecessary purchases and over-indulgence of multi racial food. Having bought some of the said unnecessaries and eaten far too many gyoza, crepes, tapas and paella, we hit the road back into Mooloolaba. This place is pretty amazing. It is completely built on man made canals so many of the (very posh) houses have river access and little jetties. It was lovely to be in a 'home' again and we were spoilt rotten. Did a bit of chilling and then went out to visit Wayne's rescue helicopter base where he works as a pilot. The girls listened intently to the rescue paramedics whilst I stood a safe distance away, taking great interest in anything non-medical. No one needed me keeling over in the middle of it all....

The next day was spent walking, mostly. You all know how I love to walk. We investigated Mooloolaba and I invested in a pair of flip flops. Flip flop training commences..... Having never worn flip flops in my life, the girls have had a hard time teaching me how to walk in these things. I'm gettin there but it's a slow and painful road. Flip flop injuries are difficult things which attract little sympathy it seems. We took a walk round the Noosa headland - which Sharon and Wayne liken to their 'Portballintrae Headland Walk' although unfortunately no pub in the middle.

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When we got home, we set off on our Sunset Booze Cruise on their boat. This, it transpires, is a bloody dangerous thing when undertaken before 6 pm. We drank a couple of bottles of champers and nosied round a lot of very posh houses before returning for dinner. Think we had spag bol. Whatever it was, it absorbed some of the alcohol and brought the evening back from the brink of devastation.

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Had a little night on the tiles that night - all good clean fun. Started with a up close and personal encounter between Andrea and a possum. These things are horrendous. They look like rats that have been taking hard steroids for years. She escaped unscathed but it was a close run thing. The club was a bit of an eye-opener. Not sure this is an appropriate forum to discuss some of what went on - although I can assure you, we were only spectators to the scandal.

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Taxi driver, Daniel, is our new BFF. He took us to McDs at 3 am and in return, I offered him visa bride services should he ever wish to reside in bonny NI. Apparently.

The next morning we sunned ourselves on the deck and packed up. On our way, we stopped in McDonalds. Again. This trip is doing wonders for our figures. Back to Brisbane airport and on our flight to Cairns. Documentation intact. Score.

CAIRNS

We arrived in Cairns and went out for dinner with a couple of QUB medics. But only after one hotel rejected us and we had to traipse round Cairns to find the hostel that we were actually booked into. Our poor tour guide had an early introduction to our incompetence! Cairns is a cool place - feels a bit like Playa de las Americas. Which is a bit bizarre. We met our tour group first thing the next morning and jumped onto our bus for the next 2 weeks - 'Matilda'. The appointed day song 'California Gurls' was immediately a more popular choice to Contiki's 'Bonkers' in the South Island. I never want to hear that song again. Let alone be made to dance down a bus to it at 6am in the morning.

Headed to Karanda village where we hit the Australian experience hard! We all got a chance to hold some Koalas and feed some Wallabies.

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Koalas are amazing - they have now passed the seal in the race to be my fave animal. Had a dander around the markets - cue more of the market panic. But we are apparently growing stronger as we emerged purchase free. Did a gondola ride through the rainforest at Karanda and then headed back to change before we went to an Aboriginal show and buffet back to Cairns. Buffet panic ranks even higher than market panic and we proceeded to eat ourselves to a standstill. In full view of all our new tour bezzas. Niiice.

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The next day the whole tour headed out on a boat to the Great Barrier Reef. I drugged myself to the eyeballs in order to avoid a repeat performance of the Dolphins in New Zealand and they worked a treat. Others were not so lucky and some of our fellow Topdeckers spent the day in their own personal chundering hell. Not nice. I did the intro diving whilst the other 2 experts headed off in their 'Certified' group. Show offs. Loved the diving and did the second dive when we got another chance in the afternoon.

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The lady who took our money off us at the end of the day told me I had the most expensive day out of the whole boat. Standard. I'm gonna be bankrupt before I ever do a days work.... We all went our for dinner but we were wrecked and hit the sack pretty soon after. The girls tell me its due to the nitrogen in the dive tanks.... (Sounds like a likely story but whatevs).

Final day in Cairns was spent doing a full days white water rafting on the Tully River. It seems that the difference between Level 4 and Level 5 rapids is sufficient to make me safe on the river.... No repeat performance of The Incident With Lithuanian Man and we had a ball. Even though our guide had only done it 4 times before and told us several times of fatal incidents that had happened on the river.

Whitsundays

The next two days spent on a ex-racing maxi yacht round the Whitsundays were probably the highlight of my holiday thus far. It was the closest thing to paradise I have ever experienced. We piled onto the British Defender after a long days driving and met our crew - who were all really lovely, young and very friendly. The trip had a fairly turbulent beginning as we ran aground on the reef in the pitch black and the skipper shouted various profanities whilst we sat in silence, cowering on the deck. Apparently it was the first time he had done it in 25 years of sailing and I was fairly convinced that I would be seeing the rest of the Whitsundays from a life raft. All was not lost, however, and he assured us that water was not getting in anywhere. So after some goon and some sunset watching, I wedged myself into my open-sided top bunk for the night.

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We woke up to bright blue skies and some hump back whales blowing beside our boat. As you do. We sailed to one of the islands and all got off to take a walk round to Whitehaven Beach. I've never seen anything like this spot. As much as I love the North Coast beaches, they have nothing on this place. Words don't really do it justice - it was pretty awesome. We splashed about in the sea and then fried on the beach for a couple of hours before getting the tender back to our yacht.

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We stopped in the afternoon to do some snorkelling off the side of the boat. Saw some more Nemos, turtles, parrot fish - all in a day. After a less eventful anchoring, we had some really good dinner and sat up on deck together playing ridiculous games and drinking more Aussie cask wine or 'goon'. Which, it transpires, gives me the heartburn. Thought the end had come but I seem to have recovered amazingly.... The medics were pretty useless it has to be said. The sunset was, again, pretty impressive. More for the 'sunset folder' on Apple TV - I'm sure you will all be delighted to hear.

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Final morning on the boat - we were again met by clear blue skies. We did some more snorkelling. Main event was that a fish bit me on the thumb. Cheeky bugger. We had to (very sadly) get off the boat at lunchtime and check into our hotel for the night at Airlie Beach. We spent the afternoon by the pool although JW was put into quarantine after being sick for the last day on the boat. Night out in Airlie was a lot of fun and our boat crew came out to meet us and do a bit of partying with our Topdeck group.

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Rockhampton

A fairly groggy group boarded Matilda the next morning. On the way to Rockhampton, or 'Rocky', we drove through lots of sugar cane. Lots of very very rich old men in this part of the world! Sugar cane and bananas seem to be the way to go. Rocky is the beef capital of Australia. We have been in a lot of Australian capitals - Beef, Sugar Cane, Mango, Mud Crab, Rainforest. Everywhere has a claim to fame. We went to the rodeo that night where JW nearly got into a fight with a cowboy's large girlfriend. Rodeo is a brutal thing. They had kids as young as 2 and a half on bulls! Completely nuts. Cowboys were impressive though. And they fed us steak so all in all, the NI girls were happy.

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So all in all, its pretty dam good. By the time I got round to getting wireless etc to upload this, we are actually finished the tour tomorrow in Sydney so part 2 will be here sooner rather than later! Missing everyone at home and all the Landan bant. Til next time......

Posted by laurajhous 00:36 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Scenic Southern

Go Hard Or Go Home.....

Hello from Christchurch!! Last night in NZ so after a day of admin'ing, thought I should GET ON the blog. Particularly because Lizzy text me at 4.30 your time to say that she was so excited by the prospect of blogging and pics that she can't sleep.... I hope all my other readers anticipates updates with equal enthusiasm!

So after our little reunion and wine-fuelled dinner on Sunday night, we started our 'Scenic Southern' Contiki trip on the Monday morning....

MONDAY

After a typically ridiculous starting time and briefing from the lovely 'Brendan', we hit the Contiki bus to meet our group for the week. From previous experience, I knew that starting a Contiki half way through a pre-exisiting tour can prove quite tough. When I did a tour last summer in the US, we were a bit crap at making pals with the newbies. These lot, however, proved to be nicer people than me and Sarah and therefore, we were fine! So here is a little snap of our wheels for the week...

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We spent a fair bit of Monday on the road, driving across Porter's Pass and Arthur's Pass. Stopping for photos at any available opportunity. Photo fanatics would have been in their element.... I won't bore you all with hundreds of scenic shots (most of which are pretty crap) but here's a little picture of the Wolf Pack at Castle Hill. Apparently the battle scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were filmed here and it was also used for the second LOTR. All a bit lost of me but I still got off for the group shot!

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We stopped for lunch and did a bit of Kea-bird watching.. Apparently these birds have the intelligence of 3 year olds and will happily steal the eyes from out of your head. We escaped unscathed, biggest threat proving to be the deep fried lunch. Last stop on the road trip was at Hokitiki which is famous for jade. We were told to walk around and the appropriate piece of jade would 'find us'. Thankfully, the piece that 'found me' was a reject piece in the bargain bucket. Score.

Spent the night at Franz Josef, all a bit messy. Contiki group were fairly hardcore - as we soon followed. Took a little dip in the Hot Springs across the road where we did some introductions with some of our new BFFs.

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Big fans of this sentiment...

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Freddy - bit of a legend

Also took a little trip to the woods to try and spot some glow worms. Most amusement came from the 2 old men who followed us - first fear was for our own lives as these 2 surreptitiously entered our wolfpack. Turned out that they were more of a threat to themselves - louldy annoucing every time they saw a stone on the path and preceeding to shout into the darkness 'is there anybody out there' any time they got left behind. HARD WORK!

Tuesday

Particularly ridiculous start at 5.30 to head to the Franz Josef glacier. We had grand plans to do the Helihike - having been told it was amazing (and we are as lazy as shuck water). Plan, however, was foiled by the weather and we had to don our hiking boots, waterproofs and crampons and do the hike. We were warned it was the equivalent of a 53 storey building. My heart literally sank at the prospect.... Had a little mountain goat of a guide, however, who took it pretty easy and we all made it up and down in one piece. It pissed on us for the duration but it was pretty awesome. It's a bit scary the rate this thing is melting at. They kept asking us geography related questions - my geography homies would have loved this place. Alas, I knew no answers. To anything.

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Wolfpack on the glacier....

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Group shot on the glacier....

Pip had a particularly good day - having lost her phone and telling the Contiki crew we needed to go back to the hotel, later finding it ringing in a bag. On a bag. And then attempting to pay with a 20 dollar note that looked like it had been through a shredder numerous times. Think her carers are going to need a salary increase in order to make this service feasible....!

Heading on to Queenstown - NZ's party central where we would spend the next three nights. I LOVE THIS PLACE. And am so sad at the prospect of not getting back any time soon - not exactly a place you can come to for a week in the winter when its a 23 hour flight away. Had a fantastic three days. It is like the world's playground. We had more fun in this place in 3 days than I have had in some entire years!

Tues night was spent checking out QT's night life scene. We all went up for dinner in the Skyline restaurant which involved a gondola ride, 10 plates of food, severe buffet panic, jam donut shots, a very short irish bar man and a partridge in a pear tree! We then moved onto the Buffalo Club where we got talking to a couple of guys who terrified JW with stories of sky diving 'death spins' and fed us shots. And then went our first trip to the World Bar which serves its cocktails in teapots. The novelty of this is a bloody dangerous thing. Just because it looks like a child's tea party set does not been it will not TAKE YOU DOWN!

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WEDNESDAY

JW, Pip and I headed off bright and early to Ski Le Gap. For one day only. QT acts a base camp for three different ski fields and we went up to Cardrona, which seems to be the biggest and bestest! The girls would tell you that getting me ready was a military operation by the time they zipped me up, gloved me up, got out my glasses, put them back, got out my goggles and then attached my ski pass. Think note to self - never go skiing alone - it requires the troops! The visibility was SHOCKING but we were all fairly equal ability-wise so set off anyway. With this, the Northern Irish Uphill Ski Team was born. A title that most people seem to swallow hook, line and sinker. It has been used with serious success rates in many different venues! The snow was good and we sent Pip as the advance party to check for unmarked cliff edges. The day involved a serious amount of LOLs. Perhaps one of the greatest was a spectacular stationery fall from Laverty. Well photo documented....

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Note how useful JW and I were - one laughing, whilst the other took the snaps! She loved it....

Mark Turner has been out in NZ for a bit and after missing him in Auckland, we managed to have a little mountain meet up in Cardrona (where he has been working) which was cool.... After using all resources available to him....

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Our mountain shout out!

Grabbed some lunch with Mark and had a bit of a catch up - lots of laughs had - and then got his MK mate to take a pic for properity....

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Hope you're still reading the blogs as bed time reading Mark - there will be a test at the end of the trip....!

Team Beavous will be proud to see my wearing my t shirt at all opportunities. And Highgate gals - the bracelet is yet to leave my wrist!

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After a pretty heavy day on the slopes, the evening was quieter than the night before. We went to the Minus 5 ice bar with the rest of Contiki. The place kits you out like an eskimo and you get a 30 min session and as many vodka cocktails as you can neck in that time - we were pretty restrained though.

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Apparently 1 cocktail at minus 7 = 2 cocktails outside! Went on a little club/bar crawl until about 2ish but then home to bed.

THURSDAY

This was the most exciting day of my 22 year life! Got up and peered out the window to see bright blue skies. Which attracted mixed reactions from the wolf pack as it meant the sky dive was 'all systems go'. Think the pictures do this thing justice so I will put a few up. This is one of the two most exhilirating things I have ever done in my life..... Jumping out of plane at 12,000 feet is pretty dam incredible. It's one of those things that you just have to do in stages and try to ignore what you are about to do. So glad I did it tho - the thrill was incredible....

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TERRIFIED WOLF PACK!

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Less terrified post briefing!

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Small down side when I dislocated my shoulder when the parachute went up. Me and my geriatric joints. Which meant that by the time we landed, I was less than happy and barely conscious. As the video shows!
BUT.... got to ignore these details! The free fall was UNREAL and I would absolutely do it again!

The other 'most exhilirating thing' I have ever done followed an hour later. Shoulder went back in quite easily and because I am A MASSIVE HARDCORE LAD, off we went to the canyon swing. This thing involves a longer freefall than most bungees and was definitely more terrifying than the sky dive. Pip will fill you in on the potential emotion of the situation....! As she found the whole ordeal particularly horrific! The feeling of the fall was pretty amazing - I actually really loved it and Kirsty and I did a second tandem fall afterwards. JW, however, was LAD OF THE MOMENT, and did one hanging from her ankles. HARDCORE.

01 - My First Canyon Swing - Multi-shot

01 - My First Canyon Swing - Multi-shot


02 - My Second Canyon Swing - Multi-shot

02 - My Second Canyon Swing - Multi-shot

Congratulted ourselves on our hardcore morning with some late lunch at the Famous Fergburger. As author of this blog, I get a certain sway over what photos are included.... This is perhaps detectable from the next two shots. Although I can assure all readers, that mine is infinitely worse! Greg and Carl, you lucky boys!

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A very messy final night in Queenstown followed resulting in us just making it back for the bus's 7.30 departure. Got to go out with a bang we obviously decided, subconsciously.

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Pip's fave pose....!

FRIDAY

After a rather hungover drive through the Second Most Scenic Route in the world, we arrived at Milford Sound. Only jumping out for a couple of group scenic shots on the way!

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Much quieter evening followed on the boat through Milford Sound. It was an overnight cruise as most will known would not usually suit my disposition particularly well! After a few dodgy nautical moments in Tenerife in the past.... It was actually a perfect respite for QT, however. We drank lots of tea, watched the sunset, spotted penguins, dolphins and seals and played some Pictionary and Uno with our resident Expert Uno'ist, Aimee!

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Shot before we got onto boat!

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Sunset from the boat!

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A very different type of teacup night!

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Late night UNO!

SATURDAY

Another large driving day. We stopped at Arrowtown where Pip and Kirsty nearly wet themselves at the prospect of more free fudge tasting! Headed to our final resting stop of the tour - Lake Ohau. This place is completely out in the sticks but pretty cool and made for a perfect setting for our last night! It seems to be a massive skiers resting place - all of whom seem more than happy to ski on a hangover! We had a big toga party which got quite 'lively'. JW got yelled at for sitting on a table despite the fact hundreds of people had just been dancing ON it. Heffer.

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The night ended in the hot tubs. Togas intact if a bit wet. Lots of fun had by all - that night, if not the next morning!

SUNDAY

Tour ended after a long drive back to Christchurch and we all went out of a big dinner together before tearful goodbyes... Well, let's be serious, not tears. But it was still a bit sad! Headed for a couple of drinks before bed but general exhaustion was catching up!

MONDAY

Pip and I took the girls on a mini road trip back to Hanmer Springs for massages and hot spas and to the Brew Moon for brunch and Mudhouse for wine tasting! Not a bad day all in all.... Our car was a little bit old school but did our job! Yet again, we made Pip drive. She has it pretty much sussed. Except for one slight incident where we slipped into another lane to turn right and realised we were on the wrong side of the road - hemmed in by buses. Slight panic but we emerged in one piece!

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Had a cheeky Indian when we got home but no big nights out.... What good girls we are!

TUESDAY

Final day in NZ has been spent admin'ing. Paid nearly 70 quid to send a box of crap back to NI, sent a small flock of postcards, washed bags of dirty clothes and spent many many hours writing this BLOODY BLOG! If anyone, has made it this far - I salute you. General thanks for research assistance goes to JW. You'll get your reward in heaven....

Anyway, over and out for another few days! Heading to Brisbane to stay with friends of Kirsty for a few days - can't wait - brave lady taking on the four of us! And then up to Cairns to start our 2 week tour to Sydney.... May not be too much to report until then. I promise to try and keep it shorter the next time.

Love to all - missing home and Landan shenanigans. But having the time of my life!!!

xxxxxxxxxxx

Posted by laurajhous 23:53 Archived in New Zealand Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Roadtrip!!!

What idiot rented a car to Pip and I?!

Look how quick I am getting at this! Its like buses - none for weeks and now two in a matter of days! Thank Lizzy...

So, in response to popular demand, thought I better upload some pictures of The Rafting Incident! Needs pictures to do it justice I feel....

Rafting - on the way down!

Rafting - on the way down!

Rafting - Beginning to mount!

Rafting - Beginning to mount!

Rafting - Lithuanian man should now be scared

Rafting - Lithuanian man should now be scared

Rafing - Total eclipse of Lithuanian man

Rafing - Total eclipse of Lithuanian man

You will all be glad to hear that the nose seems to have healed. No great drama at all - didn't even get a decent bruise. Gutted. Still convinced it sits slightly to one side but maybe I overestimate how good it was in the first place....

Wednesday

After a bit of nifty fitwork, we wangled another night with the group, free breakfast, city tour and a lift to the airport. After a rather large final night, we were surprisingly chirpy as we waved goodbye to the group! Things were all a bit less sad because it looks like we might overlap with the group in Queenstown in a couple of days.... We flew Air NZ to Christchurch - free food and everything. Ryanair could learn a thing or two from these guys! Impressed.com.

Arrived in Christchurch and Pip's sister and brother in law were waiting for us when we got off the plane which was rather nice :-). Kim and Brian have been travelling around for over a year now so they were able to show us the ropes. So off we set to the car hire and paid up for maximum insurance. Lizzy says you can never be too careful.... Ye of little faith. Pip drove, as she continued to do for the rest of the trip. I nominated myself as Chief Navigator, handy considering the whole 4 days involved one road.

Pip and Bruce!

Pip and Bruce!

Stopped for some lunch and then off to Kaikoura where we checked into a nice little unit for the night where the four of stayed. Went into the town for some dinner but things were pretty low key considering the sleep levels for the night before!

Thursday

Us, NUTTERS, had signed up for an 8.30am swim with dolphins off the Kaikoura coast. Bloody hard core I tell ya. We got horribly lost (in this tiny town with about 100 people) but got there eventually and dressed up in our wet suits, jackets, boats, gloves, flippers, hoods and snorkels. At the time, it all seemed a little superflouous to requirement. Little did we know.... So we took our ginger tablets and headed out to find the dolpins. Cue the start of the vomming. Before long there were people throwing up, left right and centre. It was chronic. At that stage, I was pretty sure this dolhin shizzle couldnt be worth it. But I was quickly proven wrong. When the dolphins were spotted, out we all piled and it was AMAZING. Swimming around in a pod of 500 wild dolphins. It was almost so good that we forgot the 10 degrees water. Almost. The way back was pretty similar - vom central - but it was bit of an 'experience of a lifetime'. Definitely finding myself on this gap yah!

Laura and Pip on dolphin boat

Laura and Pip on dolphin boat

That afternoon we headed up the coast to Nelson and stopped in to take some pics of some baby seals at their nursery pool. They were gorgeous and so brave! There were hundreds of them - I had my moments where I thought they would get aggressive but it seemed they were just nosy. Anyway, these little things now compete for Most Favourite Animal Breed of All Time. Cuteness epitomized.
Laura and seal

Laura and seal

Finished up the day at the top of the South Island in Nelson where we went for dinner and checked into a very friendly hostel.

Friday

Up bright and early to head to Blenheim and the Marlborough wine region. We had organized a 'Bubbly Grape Wine tour' at midday so pedal to the metal. Although obviously always keeping well within any speed limits.... The wine tour was really good. Although we were warned in advance that we could drink up to a bottle on a half days tour (was this supposed to concern us?!) and that she would be unable to take us into the winery if we were intoxicated.... Apparently, at that stage, you are unable to truly appreciate the palate of the wine. And that would never do....

Went round Wither Hills, Cloudy Bay, Boldervines, Grove Mill - some labels I recognised, some I just drank anyway. Felt like it was a little wasted on me at times - couldn't always pick up the taste of Turkish Delight and snow peas that we were supposed to....

Wither Hills

Wither Hills

Us at Cloudy Bay

Us at Cloudy Bay

Had a chilled evening in Blenheim - went for dinner and then 'Killers' at the cinema.

Saturday

Final full day of our road trip involved our longest trip to Hanmer Springs. This was definitely a 'flash packing' day as we stayed in a 5 star motel (thanks Lizzy) and went for a massge before hitting the Hot Springs that Hanmer Springs is so famous for.... All in all, not a bad day!

Settlers Motel...

Settlers Motel...

Pip at the Spa

Pip at the Spa

Went for thai in the evening which was very authentic. We sat at a garden table which was pushed into the corner of this tiny restaurant. All very eclectic. And not in a 'Made In Belfast' sort of way - more like, we don't have any matching furniture sort of way. Dinner was excellento tho. Bloody cold tho...

Cold Hanmer Springs!

Cold Hanmer Springs!

Sunday

Bit of a lie in this morning (9.30) and back to Christchurch for us. Stopped at a rather nice winery on the way back up the road which we had spotted on the way down.... Stopped for a 'pie' lunch at 11 am and then did a bit of cheeky tasting as a goodbye to Marlborough. We felt a bit guilty for not buying anything so bought 2 bottles to bring as a 'welcome' gift for Jennifer, Andrea and Kirsty who arrived today. One of them had only been bottled this week and we were the first people to buy a bottle of it - needless to say, it's already drunk!

Met the girls at the airport after leaving our little car back. Feels very surreal seeing them this far from home - but now our wolf pack has increased to 5 which is nice...! The girls seem really well. Great tans all round and lots of exciting Tonga stories.

Successful use of timer!

Successful use of timer!

Went for a little dander round Christchurch and then came back to laid into our wine! Mudhouse gets the thumbs up from us...

Laura and Mudhouse

Laura and Mudhouse

Went for dinner in the restaurant at the hotel and the Contiki crowd were eating in the room beside - they seem like a big group so it will be interesting to see what tomorrow brings.

Anyway, I will try and update again after our next tour before we head to Australia.

Missing you all - lots of love! xxxxxxx

Posted by laurajhous 02:57 Archived in New Zealand Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Northern Explorer....

Tales from our first trip round the Norf Island... Not too shabby!

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This blogging is HARD WORK! Internet is pretty hit and miss and wireless is almost non-existant. Lizzy is chirping away like a banshee though so I have hauled my ass out of bed at 7 am to use the wireless in this place before we head to the next stop for our wine tour.... We have decided we are 'flashpackers' rather than backpackers. Full of good intentions but we're not exactly slumming it!

Anyway.... we are just finished our first organized tour which was rather excellent. It ran from Auckland to Wellington for us, although some people are staying on right through to do all of the South Island. We were a bit sad to leave them :-( but dates didn't work for us to stay because we are meeting the terrible threesome in Christchurch on Sunday - only 2 sleeps!! Little bit past myself.....

Friday

So Friday we made our way to meet the group on the coach. Not gonna lie - our evening with Gok Wan (sighting of Gok Wan) sort of took it out of us.... Must have been the jetlag. Definitely not the vodka. But I dragged the badly behaved child and Pip to the bus and we were there on time. Woop. In fact, we haven't been late for much so far which is pretty unbelievable in light of the track record of both of us with time keeping! And only one incident where I thought I had lost all cards belonging to me. False alarm it seems.

Jumped on the bus and everyone seemed lovely. Thought I better include a picture of said bus - she is a bit of a hero in her own right and our guide, Scotty, affectionately named her 'Maxine'

Topdeck Coach!

Topdeck Coach!

So after some introductions we headed up the road to the Bay of Islands. Introductions revealed a fairly British group - 3 Queens dental students on their elective, 2 Welsh guys and a few English peeps. Also had a pretty strong German contingent and a Lithuanian couple. All seemed lovely although Pip and I were pretty useless at interacting on the first trip. First impressions cannot have been great.... Blame Gok!

Anyway, we arrived at the Bay of Islands, quite northerly, which has 144 islands. Pretty cool although weather was average. Or shite actually, if we're honest. Here is Pip at our lovely house. It's basically a shed. But it did the job....

Pip at motel

Pip at motel

It was a DIY dinner night so we trotted off to the supermarket and cooked up a gourmet feast. Beans on toast. Dad has taught me well.... Then met up with the others and headed into town (which was tiny) to the local bar. Surprisinlgy, the bar ended up completely packed with a local band playing etc. Quite a strong maori population in the town and they seem to know how to drink!

Laura and Irish gals in Bay of Islands - first night

Laura and Irish gals in Bay of Islands - first night


Little shot of me and the Irish girls...

So home round 2 and up again for our next day's adventures....

Sat

Early starts seem to be the name of the game on these trips so we headed off on our day trip early the next morning. Pip and I had opted to take the trip up the Cape Reigna, which is the most northern point of New Zealand. WEATHER WAS SHOCKING! It literally poured down on us all day but was actually a lot of fun. We drove up the 90 mile beach on our 4 by 4 coach - very odd. They just treat is like a motorway! Apparently loads of wild ponies run around over the beach although they must have been hiding from the rain that day... As perhaps we should have been....

Cold, wet and miserable....NAT!

Cold, wet and miserable....NAT!

We stopped at these massive sand dunes to do some sand boarding which was a bit of a highlight. You just picked up your body board, walked up this sand dune (easier said than done, I nearly needed defib). This was before the cardiac trauma.

Laura   Board

Laura + Board

Pip   Board!

Pip + Board!

The theory was that you shot down the dunes. As displayed by Pip...

Pip on sandboard

Pip on sandboard

And stopped before you hit the stream. Apparently, I gathered a little more momentum than your average person. And landed slag bang in the middle of said river. There is no photographic evidence of this moment. If a camera had been raised by Pip to document the moment - I would now be a lone traveller. Not impressed. To add to the matter, no one had told us to bring spare clothes. So we sat in this bus in our wet, sandy clothes for another 4 hours. This travelling is really a lot of fun! Lol, we actually dried off pretty quickly so all was not lost.

We headed on up to the Cape, where the weather had reached an all time low. The most northern point of NZ is marked by a little lighthouse. Whole thing is actually pretty cool because the island has 2 different seas on each side and you can see where the waves from each sea bump into each other on either side. Pretty nifty. Not a touch on the North Coast - ovo.

Laura at lighthouse at Cape Reigna - top of N. Island

Laura at lighthouse at Cape Reigna - top of N. Island

On the way home, we stopped for some pretty amazing fish and chips on the way home. Still in the pouring rain.... Cue dinner number one. Returned back to the tin shed where our host had made a pretty good dinner for us all. Quiet evening tho - we had a little shin dig in our room and 'some' wine but nothing too outrageous - early starts and all that.

Sunday

Sunday was a big driving day. Got up bright and early and were pleasantly surprised by the turn that the weather had taken....

Maori arch at sunrise

Maori arch at sunrise

Headed onto the coach with the rest and started to make our journey back to Auckland and then further south to Rotorua. We stopped at some waterfalls and took some pictures. Some of us took less than others. One person took pictures of every meal they ate, every step they took - I would be surprised if there weren't some toilet shots in that camera.... Anyway, can't say much - we took some too.

Pip at falls

Pip at falls

This may be the wrong way round.... Haven't quite got it all sorted yet!

Headed onto Auckland and picked up some newbies, leaving off our Queens dentists :-(. That night we spent in a traditional maori marae meeting house. We had to go through a ceremony to allow us onto the property, which involved us singing 'Don't worry, be happy' and touching noses with a Maori chief. Apparently, now that we've done that, we can return to this particular meeting house any time. We are 'family' - lucky them! The hosts were some of the warmest people I've ever met - really nice. They were willing to sit up and chat to us for hours about Maori culture which was really interesting. Here is a snap from the next morning, don't look too closely - Pip and I look horrific. Can't even blame the Vodka for this one....

Group at the marae

Group at the marae

Monday

After breakfast, we headed into Rotorua town centre. This town is a massive geothermal hotspot. It's like nothing I've ever seen before - really strange. And the smell of sulphur would have knocked the socks of you. We got a tour from the Maori people of the working Wairakei Geo thermal village. They seem to completely live on the naturally thermal waters - and their culture teaches them to share everything so they cook in holes in the ground in the middle of the village and don't pipe any of the water into the homes. They take their baths in these commual pools. All a bit bizarre - but hey, whatever floats your boat!

In the afternoon, quite a few of us had opted to go on the white water rafting so off we headed. As we got closer, we were given a bit of info. Phrases such as 'highest commercially rafted waterfall' and 'top level rafting' began to float by. Hmmm. But on we went. They dressed us up like seals and stuck us in these glorified rubber rings and off we set. All good. We did some intro falls - thought I was becoming quite the pro. I was in the middle seat so when going over bigger falls, we were told to tuck in our heads to protect our faces from the helmets in front and everyone was told to get down into the raft rather than sitting on the edge. ALL WELL AND GOOD IN THEORY! So we came towards the biggie - 7 meter waterfall. Throughout this, the photos show that I was ejected from my seat (because I hadn't 'got down' for fear of never 'getting back up') and proceeded to mount the large Lithuanian man sitting in the seat in front. Result - blood everywhere. But - NO FAINTING! Has to be a highlight.... Not really sure if the bloody thing is broken or not. It seems to sit slightly to one side - hopefully it just adds character. Carried on rafting tho (because, you know, HARD AS NAILS) and it really was pretty amazing. Maybe the most exhilirating thing I've ever done.

Rounded off the day with some mud bags and hot springs and then went out for dinner. Where I told everyone who stood still long enough, all about my nose. Hero.

Tuesday

Got up bright and early and headed to Wellington via some more waterfalls and Lake Taupo.

Here are Pip and I doing our girl band impression on the edge of Lake Taupo - Lake Taupo - pre splash

Lake Taupo - pre splash

And here we are after Scotty decided it was a good idea to soak us. Smooooth.

Taupo post splash

Taupo post splash

Despite the fact that our tour had ended, we decided to stay with the troops in Wellington on Tuesday night and fly to Christchurch on Wed morning - we even got a lift to the airport. Not too shabby! We went for a little night on the tiles before we left which was a lot of fun. Wellington seems like a pretty cool place.

Night out Wellington

Night out Wellington


Some of our bezzas from the trip....

Anyway- this is epic. I promise the rest won't be so long. We had an absolute ball on this tour - saw and did so much and the great group of people really made it for us. Sad we're not with them now :-(. Ah well, Contiki here we come. We're now on our little mini road trip but more on that in a couple of days.....

Missing you all! LOVE XXXXX

Posted by laurajhous 22:59 Archived in New Zealand Tagged women Comments (1)

The Arrival, Auckland and Our New BFF

sunny 15 °C

Helloooo......

So Lizzy is on my case to get writing. Better start as I mean to continue I suppose.... So here goes the first 'proper' entry for TBT.

We're here. Yay! The flights were pretty standard really although Emirates is pretty swanky. And there were some fittie 'stewards' on some of the planes - helped break up the journey a bit. Although I suspect Pip and I weren't really what they were after. Plus, any attempt to pull of the cool 'gap yah' look fell apart when I pulled out the ever attractive sleeping face (you all know the one) and Pip had an emotional breakdown over The Last Song.... We had four breakfasts, 3 dinners, the sun rose and set like a yoyo and we basically had no idea which end of us was up. Gaily - the shortbread was a HIT. Eaten in one go - standard.

Shortbread going down a treat!

Shortbread going down a treat!

We arrived in pissing wet Auckland in the afternoon and jumped on the shuttle bus into town. I had managed to pull a muscle in my neck so looked like a complete twat. Not sure whether it was the way I slept on the plane or whether this rucksack is to blame. It is like carrying around a not-so-small child the whole time. I've already had to start abandoning things. Hairdryer was first to go!

We had a couple of hours in bed once we arrived at the hotel. Double beds, tv - think this may be the last proper luxury we have for a while! Then we headed down to the harbour and had dinner and some drinks which was rather nice. Thought we better sample the local shizzle so the vino was a must. Auckland seems like a really compact little city - everything is easy walking distance. And they LOVE their food - we've eaten really well. Unsurprising perhaps!

Got up on Thurs morning and jumped on the hop on bus. Armed with my new bible - The Rough Guide and Wilma and Lizzy's advice - the bus proved to be a good hit. We hopped off at the Aquarium, Museum, Sky Tower and the market - no purchases tho. The thought of carrying around anything more for the next 5 months acts as a great disincentive to shopping!

Auckland Bay on the Hop On Bus

Auckland Bay on the Hop On Bus


The Bible and I at the harbour!

Feeding Time!

Feeding Time!


Feeding time at the Aquarium - these guys were so cute. Although the little buggy they pushed us round the pen in was 'naf', as the Rough Guide warned us. And I clouted myself getting into it. Generally a pretty smooth operation.

Museum!

Museum!


Auckland Museum was bargainous. And lunch was pretty good too - all about the food on this trip it seems. The sun had come out by this stage so we dandered about in the sunshine a little bit before hopping back on.

Sky Tower

Sky Tower

Pip at the Glass Floor!

Pip at the Glass Floor!

Sky Tower 2

Sky Tower 2


Sky Tower was a massive hit. Watched a lot of idiots bungying off the top of it. That ticked bungying off the holiday itinerary anyway - it looked horrendous. Paying to be pushed off the top of the highest building in the Southern Hemisphere and being dangled in front of 100s of tourists on the observation deck is NOT an acceptable way to spend an afternoon!

After our culture vulture day, we headed back to the hotel to watch a cheeky bit of Greys. Then headed out on the bus to Posnoby St which seems to be the local's evening hangout. We were very casually dressed but dandered into a bar/restaurant which was in all the guide books. And who was standing at the bar?! GOK WAN! Haha - definite highlight so far. Immediately regretted the choice of ladybird printed top with Uggs. He seemed lovely and chatted away to anyone who spoke to him. Although our waiter didn't know who he was so maybe he's not such a big deal over here.... Anyway, long and the short of it - he is our new BFF. (Despite not breaking breath to him). Massive love for The Gok.

New BFF

New BFF

After a pretty good dinner, we dandered up the street and went into 2/3 really nice bars. People seem really nice - very friendly and chatty. Although prices rival London prices for drinks - think we had managed to find the most expensive area though. Haven't really mastered this 'backpacker' thing yet! We finished the night at some trashier club. After an even trashier club turned me away for wearing UGGS. WTF?! We're in NZ - is that not their national uniform?!

So we are packed up again and heading off on our first tour this afternoon until Tuesday. It takes us up to the top of the North Island and then down to Wellington at the bottom. After that, we're making our way down to the South Island and doing a little road trip of our own. Someone pass Lizzy the valium....

Missing you all but having a ball,

Love xxx

Posted by laurajhous 15:49 Archived in New Zealand Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

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