I have decided to spend a year in New Zealand, why?...because I can! So it's goodbye London hello...err...Whakapappa. So stay tuned for some ripping yarns of daring deeds and boys own adventure as I head to the colonies!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

North, South, East, West and South Again

I know it's been a while but honestly my feet haven't touched the ground for the past 2 weeks!

Anyho...here is a 'brief' (I promise to keep it short!) summary of what I've been upto since leaving Queenstown all those weeks ago - it may help to get a map of NZ otherwise this is going to make no sense.

- From Queenstown headed North past Lake Wanaka and Hawea and threw the Haast Pass into Mt Aspring National Park....very very scenic - rainforest, crystal clear rivers, snow capped mountains and the most voracious mosquitos I've ever come across. Parked the campervan on Neils Beach near Jackson Bay.

- Headed 50km into 'the wilderness' on a gravel road / 4x4 track (weren't insured for that!) to see the Red Hills. Survived and then North to the Fox Glacier...walked to the glacier - v.impressive then headed up the road to Franz Josef.

- Went to Lake Matheson to get the standard mirror lake with mountains photo then went to the beach at Gillespies point then headed to the Franz Josef glacier. Put on ice-spikes and waterproofs and climbed to the top...like standing on a giant ice cube - v.cool (no pun indeeded!). Big drive North through the evening to Punakaki...hit 2 ducks with the van - terrible mess!

- Went to the Pancake Rocks (rocks that look like...err...pancakes) then on to the lovely sounding Cape Foulwind to see some fur seals. Then it was a mad dash (with fuel light flashing) to catch the ferry back to the North Island...made it and chilled out in Wellington at Lindseys for the night.

- Massive drive from Wellington to Auckland (10 hours straight) but not before I hit Lindsey neighbours fence with the van and buggered up one side of it (the van that is)...D'oh! Touched down in Auckland and meet up with Clare then caught up with Steve again...got v.drunk surprise surprise!

- Next day I got the van repaired (though I nearly hit a truck getting to the panel beaters) and headed back to Clares to met up with Scott (my mate from home) and Lauren (Lins mate from home) who had both arrived (but not together). It was Clares birthday so loads of us went out around Mission Bay (Auckland) - got incredibly drunk but managed to stay partying till 6am...as did a jet lagged Scott.

- Dropped off the campervan and picked up a even larger 6 berth monster for Part 2 of the road trip. Headed North to the Coromandel Peninsula and parked the van on beach at Oamuru Bay near Corormandel Town.

- Headed to Port Jackson at the very top of the peninsula just to say we'd been there before turning South and going to the very gorgeous Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach (which had no water...someone must've used it all!). Continuing South down the East coast to Waihi Beach.

- From Waihi we headed in-land to the very smelly Rotorua - loads of volanic thermal vent even in the town centre. Went to the Thermal Wonderland to see green/yellow lakes and lots bubbling steaming stuff then went to the thermal pools to sit in warm smelly water...nice! Then it was off to Lake Taupo.

- Whilst in Taupo Lins and her sister went sky diving (and survived), the rest of us went mountain biking - a hot day and I was out of practice but good healthy fun and got to see the awesome Hukka Falls...to celebrate we got v.drunk at a quiz night and shook our thang at a nightclub.

- Another big push to catch the ferry from Wellington back to the South Island - caught the 2am crossing. Arrived at 6am completely shattered (this travelling lark is hard work!) and headed up to the Abel Tasmen National Park at the Northern tip of the South Island. Spent the day recovering on the golden beaches at Kaiteriteri then headed futher North to Collingwood near the very tip of the South Island.

- Another all-day drive South-East to Hamner Springs through the Lewis Pass...very scenic again but in the big campervan you really felt the bumps and turns - and there were lots of turns through the mountain passes.

- An activity based day in Hamner Springs - yeay! The girls and Jase went horse riding, Scott went mountain biking and I went mountaining biking with a fishing rod. Cycled 15km to get to a good trout fishing spot on the Waiau River, I caught sweet F.A. and cycled back against a gale force head wind...nearly killed me! Good day out though...went to some less smelly thermal baths to soak and recover. Then it was off to Kaikoura and a mad night out at a local bar till 2am - had a 7:45am start though!

- Hungover and v.tired swimming with wild dusky dolphins at Kaikoura...excellent fun but like an aquatic lap dancing club it was a no touching policy. Then it was off to the Banks Peninsula (East of Christchurch) to the French town of Akaroa. Spent the night on top of a hill near there when we basically ran out of road at night...nice view in the morning though.

- Spent the morning chilling in Akaroa before heading South to Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula. Stayed in a village called Portobello...no antique/book shops to be seen!

- Went to see the (famous in NZ) yellow eyed penguin in the morning...saw about 5 from a distance and that was it! Then headed way out West to Te Anau in NZ Fiordland.

- Very early start for a dawn kayak around the famous Milford Sounds...truly stunning especially as it had snowed on the mountains the night before. Set off in the afternoon to head as far North as we could get as we had a deadline to meet - Kerry and Lauren were due to fly home in a few days. Managed to get about North of Queenstown before spending the night in a very scenic lay-by.

- Another day of travelling as we had to return the campervan to Christchurch, stopping at the Lake Pukaki and Tekapo for some photos - made it with an hour to spare and the campervan was unscathed - bonus! Went to the airport and caught a flight to Wellington.

- Spent Friday getting films processed, clothes washed, CD's made of digital snaps and then hiring a car. As this was the last night we would have together we went out for a meal and 'a few' drinks around Wellington...got bladdered!

- Spent most of Saturday vegging. Lauren flew home in the afternoon, then Kerry left at 3am.

- As we still had the car, me, Lins, Scott and Jase headed South East of Wellington to Cape Palliser to the Putangirua Pinnacles and views of the South Island. Stopped at Martinborough which was hosting the (famous in NZ) Toast Martinborough Wine, Food and Music Festival...it was pure drunken chaos in the town as 10,000 people from Wellington desend on the place and drink 20,000 litres of wine! Very funny to watch from a sober point of view.

And now?...now it's all over and reality strikes! Have spent the last few days doing boring stuff - sorting out a tax number, buying work clothes, going to job agencies and flat hunting....things will be a little more mundane from now on. But at least if I went home now I would still have some brilliant memories....and I've only been here a month!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

300 Shades of Green

I've been up to quite abit since the last blog, so I'd make a cuppa tea for this one....

After a sleep filled flight from KL (the alcohol worked!) I landed in Auckland 11 hours later and was kindly met by an English friend of friend (basically a complete stranger) called Claire who worked near the airport and had half a days holiday. She'd been warned of my arrival and I was welcome to crash at her shared house for as long as I wanted (within reason)...nice!

Claire was the perfect host, showing me the sights, given me loads of info on working / living in NZ (most of her flatmates are English and on working holiday visas) and all of them love it out here and seem to be staying like, forever. I never felt so settled so quickly before I even had a big double bed to sleep in...sweeet!

In Auckland I had to sort out basic stuff like bank accounts, tax number and mobile phone as well as having a mooch around and get a feel for the place. I also had to catch up with my friend Steve, who happened to be 2 minutes walk away from the phone box I rang him from...how conveniant!

I met up with Steve at his hostel in Central Auckland and was introduced to a drink called Jugermeister (some black Germany liquor) and proceeded to get very drunk, I ended up in a quiz night team and surprisingly won so was 'forced' to use the NZ$100 bar tab prize. Then some how we all ended up in a gay club - I was asked if I was gay, straight or bi quite alot which was kinda flattering I suppose - I had to tell them I was a lesiban! Crawled back to the house at 4:30am...it's so dangerous not having last orders.

After spending 3 days in Auckland - most of which we're spent either drunk or hungover - I headed down on the overnight bus to Wellington going through some of the most beautifull countryside in the world and couldn't see any of it because it was pitch black outside! Woke up at 6am with a stiff neck and cramp in my legs (I hate long bus journeys!) to see a lovely daybreak over Wellington.

I met up with my friend Lindsey at her house and was given a guided tour of Wellington and caught up with all the goss. We were going to climb to the top of Mt Victoria but got delayed in a bar or three on the way. I have been quite taken by Wellington, it seems to have alot of character to it and is not just another big city...so I'll probably base myself for work (whatever that is!).

After another few days in Wellington spent 'socialising' and even managing to do a tour of the parliment building (surprsing interesting) it was time to hit the road again. Linds sister was flying in from the UK for 1 month and she wanted to see as much of the country as she could. So me, Linds, Kerry (the sister) and Jason (Linds American 'buddy') set off on a tour of the South Island.

From the visually stunning ferry ride over from Wellington to Picton (South Island) I knew the South Island was going to be something special. We caught a bus from Picton to Nelson where we spent the night then headed to down the lush Buller River Valley to Greymouth to catch the Tranzapline Express Train across the Southern Alps to Christchurch (regarded as one of the worlds most scenic train rides). The train journey definately wasn't the District Line from Putney to Earls Court - it passes through snow capped mountains ranges, over massive gorges and follows river valleys - I'd quite happily get delayed on that everyday!

After arriving in Christchurch (never been to such a clean and flowery city) booked into a hostel and hit the town. Next day we had organise a campervan for the rest of the trip, so using an old trick I'd learnt in Oz we asked if they need any 4-berth campervans relocated back to Auckland - apparently they we're crying out for vehicles in the North Island as everyone dumps them in Christchurch then flys back to Auckland. So we got a large motorhome for 9 days for GBP50 each including the ferry crossing back to the North Island...result!! From Christchurch we stocked up with food and liquor and hit the road heading West with the Southern Alps to the right hand-side to Queenstown.

It's only when you start driving around NZ that you start to realise how few people actually live here (especially in the South) and how fertile the land is...they seem to farm and grow anything and everything. But to get to see the views as you're travelling along is something special - it's one of the main reason why I came to NZ - think Switzerland meets Mars...I don't think I've taken so many photo's in my life, every corner we turned there was another jaw dropping panoramic view - I wish I had another 2 sets of eyes to take it all in!

As the country is deceptively larger than it looks we had to stop the night at Lake Tekapo - ice blue water surrounded by dark snow capped mountains (unreal!) - thought we'd have a quiet night at the local bar but ended up getting mixed up in a local Kiwi stag night, big hairy men in womens clothing (seems to be a running theme throughout this trip so far!) - very funny though!

From there we pushed on to Queenstown (where I write this from) - adrenilin capital of NZ - so many EXTREME!! things do here put can't be bothered to do any of them, would rather save my cash and just take in the views of the mountains and lake instead (am I getting old?!). We're shooting off in abit towards the West Coast glaciers at Franz Joseph...more views!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Beware the Kindness of Strangers

Well I have finally arrived in my new temporary home country of New Zealand...I would like to say how warm and sunny it is but it's been drizzling / pissing down since I arrived (you can feel smug now!). Before I waffle on about NZ I have learnt a lesson about travelling in Malaysia....

I caught the early boat from the Prehension Islands back to the mainland on Monday morning and booked an overnight train back to KL (GBP8 for a 12 hour journey and a sleeper cabin) and basically had a day to kill in Kota Baru (near the Thai border). There wasn't much to do their - a smelly fruit market, a grotty park and some very dodgy food to eat, so spent most of the day in an internet cafe and ambling around the streets dodging mopeds. It was a very Islamic city but the people were very friendly towards me - had a good political discussion with a Muslim genlteman (who had the sweetest little daughter I'd seen on my travels) about the causes of terrorism and world affairs...be both agreed that G.W. Bush was the biggest menace to world peace.

I'd always wanted to take an overnight train somewhere/anywhere (sad I know) and was impressed with the quality of the carriage and the generousity and friendliness of my fellow passengers (a old Muslim guy shared his food with me at the end of his Ramadan fasting), however I defiantly wasn't impressed to find that my sun-tan lotion had exploded all over from MP3 player...it sent the thing crazy for 48 hours - no tunes arrggh!!

I arrived in KL central station at 7:30am and had another day to kill (my flight was at 8:30pm), so after checking in my backpack I headed for the Petronas Twin-Towers...because I couldn't think of anything more imaginative to do.

I queued for ages to get a ticket up to the sky-deck (the bridge that links the towers) which only 44 storeys up theses monster structures and was quite disappointed to find out that they are no longer the highest buildings in the world...Tower 101 in Taipei is now officially the tallest. Still a pretty impressive sight though. After watching what felt like hours of video about the building of the towers and getting all the useless facts on the dam things I got to spend a whole 10 mins on the sky deck (yeay!).

After that I had abit of a mooch around the park area near the towers and then got talking to this very friendly old guy and his foxy daughter. Apparently his 'other' daughter was heading to London on some nursing college scheme thing and would I like to have lunch at his place and tell her all about the Big Smoke etc. I still had hours to kill and couldn't think of an excuse quick enough so I agreed to go with them...they didn't look like the sort of characters who'd pull a gun on me and besides all the other Malayans I'd met were decent people.

So after arriving at his nice house I met the rest of the family (nieces, nephews and the brother-in-law), had a lovely home-cooked dinner and chatted about this and that...strangely though the 'other' daughter wasn't there - she'd taken his sick mother to hospital (a regular occurance I was told)...a very small alarm bell started ringing in my head. But they weren't asking for anything so didn't think much of it. I then started chatting to his brother-in-law apparently he was a croupie (?) in a cruise-liner casino and started showing me card tricks and how to play and cheat at pontoon/21/black jack (whatever you call it). Next thing I know he's on about some bi-sexual high-roller from Singapore who plays big money games at the house who was coming over shortly and would I help him rip the guy off in a rigged card, there would be lots of $$$ in it for me? (alarm bells ringing) By this point the 'daughter' was getting very chummy with me - lots of knee touching and smiling...the honey trap technique (alarm bells ringing louder). I said I wasn't interested and was planning my escape route when this camp Singapore high-roller suddenly turns up...he looked so fake it was unreal, all big jewellery and loud shirt (alarm bells screaming) flashing phat stacks of US$ bills around. I could see what was going to happen if I played, I would help 'rip' this guy off then suddenly 'oh dear' I would lose a major hand owing shit loads of cash.

I made my excuses and headed for the door, they offered to give me a lift to the train station - they seemed very keen to get me into the car (alarm bells deafening) but I just walked off, grabbed a taxi and headed for the train station then on to the airport. I spent the next 5 hours in a bar trying to use up my Malaysian currency by getting drunk whilst waiting for my flight to NZ. It was a shame because that experience left a bitter taste in my mouth after an otherwise wicked 2 weeks in Malaysia.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Drinking and Diving

It feels like I've been on this island for a month, the pace of life is so laid back (I do laid back very well) that time seems to move sloooowly - you could live to a hundred and fifty on this place...and just in case you were wondering it not to do with smoking copious amounts of 'special tobacco', there isn't any.

It was another day of travelling from Taman Negara to get to the Perhension Islands, this time it was:

- mini bus back to Jerantut
- bus to Gua Musang
- bus to Kuala Besek
- ferry to the islands

Less stressfull than last time but another day virtually gone by the time I was dumped on the beach up to my knees in water. It was worth it though, this place is paradise...white sand, crystal clear water and a hot sun. Settle in to a beach front chalet and took in the view of the whole beach from my veranda....nice!

After having a quick look around (there not that much here) I was happy to discover a cocktail bar (the first place in Malaysia I'd seen that serves more than just Tiger beer) and was soon preached by the bar ordering Cuba Libres and other funny named cocktails.

The owner of the bar had earlier picked 2 other travellers for a cheesy romantic couple photo shoot for his website - a tall tanned Dutch guy and a rather stunning Norweigian girl. As things turned out I ended up talking to the Norweigan girl's friend who was equally top league material and after the photo's her friend came over and as a reward for her 'modelling' the owner brought her some champagne which helped to comsume as well. I knew that I had more chance of pissing in the Queens handbag than getting anything more than a friendly chat from them but it was nice sitting on this tropical island, sipping champagne next to some Scandinaivian minks, whilst the islands top male predators - the Diving Instructors - looked on from a distance.

In the end I spent so long at bar chatting to people and swinging my legs that my feet swelled up!

The island is generally winding down because the monsoon season is starting in about 2 weeks so there aren't too many people here and a lot of the shops have already closed for the season but luckily there were 2 dive shops still operating. I booked myself in for a refresher course and 3 fun dives all for the princely sum on GBP50...bargin!

The water clarity on the boat dives is not as good as I'd hoped considering it's as clear as tap water near the beach but there's alot of coral and hence alot of colourfull fish - even clown fish which are quite cute....aarrr! But the diving yesterday through up a big surprise, we were diving round a coral self when somebody pointed up and there was the unmistakable silouette of large shark swimming straight for us. I noticed it had a flat nose and a spotted top so I started thinking 'Fuck it's a Tiger shark...don't panic! Don't panic!'. But as it drew nearer I realised it was an adolecant whale-shark, all 3.5m of it, it circled swam off then came back to play in our bubbles...amazing stuff! The diving instructor was made-up by seeing it along with all of us - the chances are 1000/1 and he hasn't spotted one in years - so he brought a bottle of tequila last night to celebrate. We are now famous on the island as beening the dive team that saw the whale-shark...and we keep telling the story again and again and again - the shark keeps on growing in size everytime we tell it!

Another funny thing that happened yesterday as I ambled along the beach checking out the bikinis, I saw someone who I recognised - it turned out to be a Dutch girl who Scott and I travelled with for a while 3 years ago in Honduras (the last time I went diving)...bloody small world I tell you! So caught up with all the goss from her over a banana shake.

Anyho, I have to leave my island paradise tomorrow (boo!) and start heading back to KL to catch my flight to NZ...sad to leave Malaysia but sooo looking forward to getting to NZ...party on!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Welcome to the Jungle

Blimey, I thought I'd never get round to emailing from here (Kuala Tahan), I came to this internet cafe last night with an half an hour to kill, as I walked in I noticed a 'black cat' under a table wagging it's tail (there are cats everywhere in Malaysia) as I looked closer the cats tail turned into 4ft black cobra - general pandemonuim then broke out (this place is some family's front room as well) as everyone high-tailed it out the door and the snake, statled by the comotion, bolted under a bench. I found it quite funny and took some pics while the family refused to enter there house...it took some local boys with a stick to get the thing to move but the last I saw the had only managed to chase it downstairs into the kitchen....as I write this I have my feet firmly off the floor!

Then tonight I had plenty of time to spare but the whole village as been without electric all afternoon and evening...I'm praying it doesn't go off again halfway this. Don't really fancy walking back in the pitch black, you never know what you might step on.

Anyho, where was I...

I was due to leave Pangkor Island in my last blog but got rather side tracked after I hooked up with a young English couple (Chris and Laura) and ended up watching the England game in a local bar...the locals were more excited about it than we were! Man it's hard work trying to get drunk out here, there are no spirits for sale, so the only option is Tiger Beer - sounds easy, but in the heat and humidity all it does is give you a headache and a very dry throat.

After another restless night this time due to being attacked by mosquitos (I hate them with a passion) I was in no fit state to go anywhere, so spent the day on the beach with Chris and Laura. Managed to swim to another island with Chris (just like in the beach...not!) and just lounged in the shade afterward whilst unbenounced to me sand flies took a shine to my legs and ravaged them - they're even more irrating than mozzie bites. By the end the day I think I would have been in less discomfort if I had sawed off both my legs!

After being treated to the loudest longest electric storm I've ever witnessed (the bed was shaking from the thunder overhead) next day I packed up and headed off - destination Jerantut, Central Malaysia. I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to carry a full loaded backpack with badly sun burnt shoulders...at least it took my mind off my bites! There was no straight forward way to get there so I had to get:

1- A taxi to the ferry port
2 - A ferry to Lumut
2 - A bus back to KL
3 - A KL metro train to another bus station
4 - A bus to Temerol, Central Malaysia
5 - A knackered old taxi to Jerantut...seriouly we were getting over taken by mopeds!

After nearly 11 hours of traveling I finally reached the hostel and collasped.

Jernatut is the jump off point for trips into Teman Negara National Park, one of the main reason for coming here was to see the pristine rainforest and do some jungle river fishing...No problem I was told.

It was a rather pleasant 3 hour boat ride up river to Kuala Tahan (here), where theres a small village with various hostels and restaurants. After I got settled I headed on into the rainforest for a canopy walk and a trek up a hill. I do love jungles - the wildlife, the noise and the smells - so even though I was knackered and sweaty by the time I got back it was worth it. Then I kicked off my shoes and noticed blood pouring from top of my foot...bloody leeches (excuse the pun)! One had drilled into a juicy vein and it took an hour and several plasters to stop the bleeding...I thought I was going to need a blood transfusion if it carried on! Yet another scar to add to the collection.

I thought I'd cheer myself up by sorting out the fishing, a charter boat up the river in would cost a fair bit but what the hell I'm on holiday and I had visions of myself on a river bank trying to land some tropical monster of a fish. There was one snag they didn't hire fishing gear, as I had been told, and after enquiring round the village I found out that no one own a bloody fish rod, only nets...D'oh! I consoled myself with a 4wd night safari and a trip to some casades (kind like a natural jacuzzi) instead.

Heading off early tomorrow morning to the Perhentian Islands on the East coast - white sand beaches and quality diving...I hope!

PS Have found out why it's so quiet - it's Ramadan and the rainy season is due to kick in in a few weeks, the toursist industry basically grinds to a halt here...cheap rooms though!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

It's oh so quiet

One things I've noticed about Malaysia is that even though there many different cultures and religons that make up the population (Malayan, Indian, Chinese, unpronoucable tribes that live in the jungles) everyone seems to get along swimming and add there own favour to the place...which is nice to see in this day and age. Also they are not all out to rip you as in Thailand and Vietnam...a waiter even called after me when he realised he'd short changed me - you don't even get that in England!

Anyho, enough socio/geo/polictal rabbling and on with the blog!

My last day (only full day) in KL was spent going from one giant shopping mall to another in the hope of find some killer bargin clothes but was sadly disappointed as most branded was only about 20% than England. Brought a few things, had my hair cut, booked a bus to the coast then got caught in a monsoon downpour on the way back to the hostel. Spent the evening chilling with various assorted travellers around hostel before herading to bed.

I don't know if it's the jetlag, humidity, lack of beer or the non-stop racket (or all of the above) coming through my window in KL but I could sleep a wink - I had to be up at 7am to catch my bus to Lumut - finally semi-knodded off at 6am...was it worth it!

After waiting after an hour in a hot thick smog off diesel fumes and carbon monoxide (honestly thought I was gonna pass out!) at the main bus station I was finally on my way to the seaside...yeay! I got dropped off at Lumut then caught a boat to Pulau Pangkor then got a taxi to the otherside of the island - according to my Lonely Plant this is where all the backpacker hangout but as I've been noticing in my few days here there are hardly any backpackers or even tourists anywhere. This was the case when I arrived my chosen hostel...it's so quiet and I don't know why - the island is gorgeous!

Lucky I did meet some fellow travellers 2 Yorkshire lasses and a French Canadian girl (luckily more Canadian than French) so had a meal and a few Tiger beers with them...but they were all buggering off next day (a sudden change of plan after they met me?). So I 've been entertaining myself today with quality snorkelling on one of the other islands (sun burnt back...d'oh!) after that I've just been chilling listening to all the jungle noises (not brum n'bass). One creatures sounds like a full-on car alarm, apparently its a beetle of some sort...I'll look forward to meeting that in the shower!

I heading to east coast tomorrow via the jungle (probably the Amazon with my sense of direction) so if you don't hear from me for a week or 2 assume I've been eaten by a tiger or a python...just kidding Mum!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Winging it!

I have finally touched down safely in Kuala Lumpar after a lovely 12 hour flight...I've been the go for nearly 24 hours and look and smell like I have aswell.

It always a lottery on long haul flight of who you will have sat next to you - I usually end up with some smelly freak, I was hoping that fate deal me a good card and place me in the middle of the 2 young chesty beauties I saw in the departure lounge. But in the end I got of lightly with a young oriental girl...didn't say a word all flight, which is fine with me!

The plane food was designed to cause maxuim toilet queues - tandoori chicken at midnight and tandoori fish for 'breakfast'...I fear no food in Malaysia after eating that.

Got to see a full on electric storm over the city on the train journey from the airport to central KL and arrived at the hostel hassle free...that's the hard part over and done with. Haven't really left the hostel so can't give you much of a glimpse of KL...all I know is it's majorly 'Betty Swollocks' as soon as you step outside.

Gonna shop till I drop (probably from heat exhaustion) tomorrow and check out the place abit more...only staying another night then heading to the West coast to make some sand castles.

After the sadness of saying goodbye to everyone I had forgotten how much fun travelling can be...watch this space!