Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Northland - The Northern tip of New Zealand

So...we've been traveling round for about a week in the van and have managed to visit Northland, the very Northern tip of New Zealand.  We have mostly been visiting beautiful beaches where it's still just a little too cold to get in the water and sunbathe (although you wouldn't have thought it from seeing some of the Kiwi's on the beach - everyone here seems to be completely immune to the cold winds!).  In fact, we have the link of the route we took right here:
View Larger Map

Driving through the countryside in the North was really amazing.  In the sunshine, everything looks almost photoshopped!  The greens and blues are more vivid, there doesn't seem to be a tree, or cow, or house that looks out of place.  It really is picture perfect.  

On the second night we managed to stay for free at a roadside rest area, and met this other couple who were also heading north, so we decided to go to Taupo Bay together.  This was a really small fishing/surfing village (and when I say really small, I mean about 10 houses) with this amazing beach.  Tony saw the opportunity to do a spot of fishing finally, so he got to it straight away.  It was actually pretty windy and a bit chilly that day, even though the sun was quite warm.  So we were sat in our little chairs on the beach all wrapped up!  Typical... Afterwards we were recommended this 'world famous' fish and chip shop in Mangonui, so we stopped off there for a bite.  It was pretty good, although Tony said that the one on the Isle of Wight was just as good if not better...and it wasn't as big as the portions you get in England either.  Still, it was right on the waterside and the fish itself was really tasty.  

Taupo Bay
Taupo Bay (with Tony fishing in the distance)
After our fish and chips indulgence, we headed to Rarawa beach for a night before going on to Cape Reinga and the northernmost campsite in New Zealand - Tapotupotu Beach.  It was chucking it down when we got there, and because we had a purposely built tarpaulin to keep the rain away I suggested we learn how to put it up....Well, an hour and a half later we had finally done it, after a lot of swearing and arguing, and by the time we'd done it the rain had stopped and it didn't rain again for the rest of the time we were there.  Not just that, but it was also quite windy, and the tarpaulin was almost blowing away half the time and almost kept me up all night with the bashing on the roof of the van...

The next day we wanted to get on and see Cape Reinga before the possibility of more rain, so we packed up and went on our way.

Tapotupotu Beach
Tapotupotu Bay - The Northernmost campsite in New Zealand
When we got to Cape Reinga the weather was perfect - apparently the day before it had been really cloudy and rainy and you couldn't see anything!  The Cape is a sacred place for Maori people, and you can see why.  It's really beautiful and you can see the sea from all around.  The meeting point between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean is like this huge swirling whirlpool, and they say that it's the coming together of man and woman.

"The Meeting Point"
The Meeting Point between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean
The lighthouse was pretty cool as well, although it's obviously not manned anymore...

London's only 18000km away!
Lighthouse at Cape Reinga
We had to start heading back down the northern tip after that, so we went straight to a seaside town called Ahipara.  The town itself is just at the end of Ninety Mile Beach (which is actually only 55 miles long) which you can drive down all the way from the top.  We didn't unfortunately as we weren't sure whether it was high or low tide, and also because the van is 2 wheel drive and we didn't want to get caught out on the sand. 

Next we went to Mangawhai Heads, another small beach town on the East coast of Northland, not far from Auckland.  Tony was determined to try and actually catch some fish that we could eat (having only caught a bonito which they use for bait over here), so we stopped off at a local fisherman's shop where he was persuaded by a lovely shopkeeper to buy a new rod.  He did get it for a really good price, and the shopkeeper (Darryl!) told us where we could park up and camp for free as well, and right on the beach.  

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, including catching one bonito, battling with seagulls who were trying to eat his bait, and then actually catching a seagull (he had to put his jacket over it to stop it flapping and remove the hook from its beak!! - I was pissing myself it was too funny), he finally managed to catch a Kahawai.  This is a local New Zealand/Oz fish and it was much bigger than the little bonitos he'd caught before. 

Tony with his first proper catch!
So he was pretty happy with that, as you can see....then I said, so...what are you going to do, how are you going to kill it?  And he just looked at me with a bit of a blank expression and an "err.....shit!  I dunno!!"  So we got his survival book out (thanks Linda!) and it explained how to gut and kill the fish.  It took bloody ages to die.  We didn't know we were meant to "bleed" the fish (i.e. slit its throat) to kill it humanely.  Never mind, next time...

Me cooking up the fish (I am not drunk, although I do look it...)
The next morning we woke to more rain, but to the sound of the sea which was amazing.  We went for a bit of a walk on the beach and took some photos of rocks.

Token arty photo of rocks and the sea in Black and White
We are now in Auckland (again) waiting to pick up Charlie as a surprise from the airport.  It's about half past midnight here and she gets in at 2am.  On Friday we head to the surfing mecca, Raglan, and then on to Taupo (possibly to do a sky dive - I am as yet undecided) and then I can't remember where. 


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Chapter 2 - On the road in New Zealand!

Hello guys,

We're in New Zealand and beginning a new adventure after an expensive and stressful first week.

Our route to the other side of the world!

This will be a super quick post becuase we're on the road and have 15 minutes until the internet cafe closes. Until yesterday we were cooped up in the hostel in Auckland spending all of every day looking at vans. Long story short, we found one that looked perfect and well within our price range but when we took it for the mechanical check before handing over the money it went all wrong, which at the time was a real pain as looking for a campervan to buy is a stressful business and we wanted to start the holiday again. Anyway, it was a pretty conclusive mechanical check even if it was the wrong result - within 3 minutes the mechanic turned around to us pointing out oil pouring from every crevace under the van and said he would't even continue the check, then he jumped in the van and parked it outside before we could even think about it. Better to walk away from it than try and find a solution to the problem!

Luckily we found another one that evening - an Isuzu ELF 150 with up to date WOF (the Kiwi version of the MOT), nice inside, all the camping gear we needed, AND.... dah dah daaaaaaaaaaaah... a flip down screen and DVD player! Sweeeeeeet.

Chilling in the van, our house on wheels for the next couple of months. Check out those speakers!

Fia and the van getting ready for breakfast :o)

So we're driving around the northern tip of the North Island and then back to Auckland to pick up our mate Charlie and head a bit further south. Yesterday it was raining hard so we drank a bottle of wine that the previous owner of the van gave us to christen him, and watched Zoolander on DVD! Ha ha, amazing. Today we woke up to a really sunny day, I went for a swim in the sea (which was actually freezing!) and then did some fishing while Fia read her book in the sun and chilled out. Nice.

We'll update this next time we get chance and have some better photos to share.

Love to everyone xxx

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

San Pedro de Atacama and Santiago, Chile - the end of chapter one

Bloody hell! It's been four months since we set off and this is the end of our stay in South America. We fly to New Zealand tomorrow evening, but arrive two days after due to a strange time warp, which can of course be explained by simple physics and the way early humans decided to divide up time... or fairies, or orks, or dragons, or spirits, or spirrims, or whatever. Anyway it's very exciting but also has also proved that time travels really quickly when you're having fun.

The last two months especially have been a whirlwind and we've seen tonnes of amazing things, which has meant spending very little time in Chile really. Still it's been a nice transition to what we expect from New Zealand in terms of the luxuries we take for granted at home, for example; being able to flush loo roll down the toilet, only being asked once whether you want to buy the same old tourist crap that every man and his street dog buddy has to sell, the taxi's having windscreens with no cracks in it and the driver not needing your directions to get to where you're going (and probably holds a real driving license), getting on buses that have toilets and look like they've been cleaned in the last week, no howler monkeys (or any other animals) on the buses, getting breakfast that's more than just stale bread and strawberry jam (we have blackberry jam at the moment, and we get corn flakes with real milk, no UHT, get in!), a proper cup of tea (Earl Grey in fact), and a kitchen to cook in... blah blah blah, anyone who's been to S.America will appreciate what we're talking about here.

Anyway, a quick summary of the last two weeks...

We left Arequipa a week and a half ago to get get to San Pedro de Atacama, a town built in an oasis in the middle of the world's driest desert (not the world's driest dessert Tom O'Hara, as you kindly pointed out earlier, that is in fact the flapjack). It was another 24 hour journey, with a few hours in Arica to break it up.

Arica was a cultural experience... we had a beer and a McDonalds and went on Facebook. There isn't a lot to do there really. We got to the desert at about 7am and found a nice chilled hostel that played reggae all day and had hammocks in the sun - Hostel Rural in case anyone's wondering, and it was cheap - 6,000 Pesos per night for a dorm.

Fia at the border of San Pedro de Atacama
Welcome to San Pedro de Atacama!
San Pedro de Atacama
Volcanoes behind the oasis
We needed some chill out time and were a bit tired of hiking (ungrateful I know), so we just mostly hung around in the sunshine and made good use of the kitchen. We didn´t only laze around though, we met some nice locals who took us to a party where everyone was some kind of circus master, and we walked out of town to watch the sun go down.

San Pedro de Atacmama at sunset
San Pedro at sunset
We'd also heard good things about a star gazing tour that you could do in the desert - makes sense seeing as it's about as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get. We were looking forward to it and it was a very pleasant surprise. We were driven for about half an hour out of the Oasis where there's no light pollution and a couple of really freindly astronomers took us on a guided tour of the night sky explaining about all the constellations, the rotation of the Earth and how the stars rise and fall, and how the night sky we saw in the southern hemisphere is completely different to the sky we see in the northern hemisphere... without wanting to sound like a nob I already knew all of this but it was still nice to be reminded of it and actually see it all in real life. We saw Mars, Venus and Jupiter, and lots of nebulae and other cool stuff through the telescopes they had at the site AND the Milky Way as we never saw it before. Check out this amazing photo the guy helped us take. Maybe I'm quite sad, but I think this something really quite awesome!

The milky way taken from the middle of the Atacama Desert - awesome!
To counter-balance the geekiness we got up the next day to go sandboarding on some nearby dunes (after missing our alarm and running to the tour company, because of the party with the locals the night before). We used snowboards, but it wasn't that similar to snowboarding at all really. It was much harder, the sand was really heavy so it made turning hard and wiping out much easier. We both ate a lot of sand, and no joke, Fia's still finding sand in her ears a week later! It was really fun once we got the hang of it, if a little tiring walking all the way back up the dune each time.

The walk to the top of the dune
Walking up the dunes
Me on the dunes
We both had some wipeouts but none was as spectacular as the one where Fia did a no handed flying superman into head-in-the-sand-like-an-ostrich front somersault triple flip. It looked REALLY bad in real life, the photo gives an idea but it looked like hospital bad. Thankfully, apart from a pair of burried sunglasses and a slight graze to the nose Fia was fine. Phew.

Looking good...
The big wipeout 2
Oh! Shit! NOOO!!!!
After another day of 'chillaxing' we got on our last long haul bus in S.America, it took 24 hours to get from San Pedro de Atacama to Santiagio but we were welcomed with a better than expected hostel and friendly people. Santiago's quite nice, it's well developed with good shops and restaurants, and of course Plaza de Armas - which every city in South America has thanks to the unimaginative spanish who took over the place 500 years ago and couldn't be bothered to give things different names (it's just a square in the middle of the city). The area we're staying in reminds us of Bristol a little bit, which is nice, but at the end of the day it's just another city where you can just spend a heap of money eating and drinking and we're saving our money for New Zealand so we haven't done an awful lot here.

High rise with snow-capped mountains behind
High rise with mountains in the background
Belles Artes
Arty street corner
Reflection of the cathedral
Cathedral reflected in office block windows
That's it for South America then, we've met lots of amazing people and we've experienced some of the most amazing things of our lives so far. We feel like we've only scratched the surface but New Zealand is next on the list and we need to get there while we have enough money to buy a van and begin the road trip around north and south island. Life's a bitch eh! ;o)