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New Zealand & Australia 2010

a travel blog by LizIsHere

Off to the other side of world! (trying not to get lost, or locked in restaurant bathrooms...)
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London, United Kingdom

permalink written by  LizIsHere on January 16, 2010 from London, United Kingdom
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Hong Kong - thronging, colourful, buzzing and altogether not too good for a person with jetlag....

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

I arrived in Hong Kong closely resembling a person who had been trapped in a box, breathing re-circulated air, being fed microwaved food and having bad TV pumped into their eye sockets for twelve hours. Perhaps this was unsurprising, as that was exactly what had happened to me. The less said about the flight the better – I suppose ‘not fun’ would fairly sum it up, but since we landed safely and my bag turned on the luggage carousel, I will just say that I fully appreciate the miracle of flight, despite the short-comings on spending a day on aeroplane. (Side-note: to the English lady next to me - please book 3 seats for yourself next time so no one else has to hear you complain about minutiae for twelve hours! Or follow my dubious lead and wait until you’ve got a blog through which to broadcast your woes to much wider audience).
Not having slept in 26 hours, the task of escaping from the airport, finding a bus ticket, and then locating the correct bus for the sixty minute ride into Kowloon (the bit of Hong Kong attached to mainland China) was surprisingly easy. Even better, the buses here are just like English ones - even down to the red 'stop' bells. One of the better, if minor, hangovers from colonialism, I guess
My hotel (I was starting off my trip a little extravagantly, with my own room) was just off Nathan Road - a manic, Chinese-style Oxford Street, heaving with people, cars and shops, and cluttered from first-floor level upwards with neon signage. It was a quite a sight at nighttime, the signs competing for attention in a mash of garish colour, neatly concealing the cramped, grimy apartment blocks, each with their own window-mounted air-conditioning unit.
However, in daytime, severely lacking in sleep and lugging my ridiculously heavy backpack in the muggy heat, it was just slightly overwhelming!
The Evergreen Hotel is on a side street mostly taken up with street cafes and cheap restaurants, a stone’s throw from the buzzing Temple Street Night market. It was a small place, with rooms like shoeboxes, but at least my little box had a window - a luxury which is apparently frequently absent in the cheaper HK hotels.
The night market, which runs from 4pm-12am over three blocks, was just one street over from the hotel. Going out to explore I found it sold everything from padlocks and mobile phones, to cheap jewellery, t-shirts, chopsticks and the ubiquitous red & gold Chinese New Year decorations. When the streets got crowded – and they mostly always were - it was a faily manic place to be, with every stall-holder fighting to entice you in, typing prices into calculators to bypass the language barrier, and pushing goods into your hands while describing exactly how they would improve YOUR life. Haggling is encouraged. The streets around the market were similarily crammed, with busy, slightly ramshackle street cafes and small shops full of chattering locals and slightly more wary tourists poking suspiciously at their bowls of noodles. The main roads, Jordan and Nathan road, were more similar to cosmopolitan thoroughfares the world over, with larger shops, massage places, department stores and 7-11s. The streets stay busy and noisy late into the night.
Searching around for dinner that didn't come on a little plastic tray and taste like airplane, I encountered a problem which would dog me for my four days in HK - finding something vegetarian. (It was only on my last day that I noticed at least 2 veggie restaurants in the immediate area of my hotel - I blame the jetlag.)

I ordered something that look veggie at a street cafe on the first night, but after eating a few mouthfuls, an exploratory poke around in the bottom of the giant soup bowl turned up something that look like squid (well, I hope it was squid). It’s considered a little odd to eat on your own in China - all restaurant food seems to come in large, shareable portions, and everyone serve themselves from different dishes and eats from their own small bowl with chopsticks. It's considered rude to order a dish just for yourself if you're in a group. I got some odd (or perhaps just sympathetic) looks from staff and other diners when I sat down on my own, and soon learnt to ask for smaller portions when ordering. One of my favourite things about dining out in Hong Kong – apart from the staggeringly cheap prices – was the Chinese tea which is served with all meals, from the delicately painted blue and white teapots in the restaurants, to the chunky, yellow-lidded jugs at the pavement cafes.

permalink written by  LizIsHere on January 25, 2010 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
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markets and temples

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

After losing half a day to jet-lag (got up, had breakfast, went back to room and decided to have a little lie-down, woke up four hours late), I decide to check out some of markets and temples in Kowloon. I check the map and then wander about slightly aimlessly - it suits my groggy state and also, with pretty much every shop and street holding something interesting, makes the walk less of a mission.

On Reclamation Street (there's a mesh of english and chinese street names here, understandably), a food market stretches for three blocks, with stalls selling all types of fruit and veg, dried fish, tubs of pick'n'mix, incense, electronic goods and metal bits and bobs. I see men cleaving up whole ducks and chickens at make-shift open-fronted butchers shops, the wood frames hung with different cuts of meat, whole birds and dried-out pig-head skins (yum). At a fishmonger-type place, live fish are kept in tubs which spread out onto the pavement, a filter-system rigged up to them from a hosepipe, spilling water over the pavement and into the gutter. Down a small alleyway a man beats metalwork on a wood block, and at the market stalls the women stall-holders knit, yell across the road to each other and even, at a couple of stalls, doze off in chairs until a customer wakes them up to be served. It's busy and colourful, noisy and at times pretty smelly - the stink of fish, meat, cooking and rice filling the air and mixing with traffic fumes near the main roads.

I stumble across the Jade Market first, and immeadialy upon stepping inside am verbally mugged by stallholders eager to sell me bracelets, necklaces, rings and other trinkets made with jade varying in authenticity. Apparently jade has been used for thousands of yars to ward off evil spirits and calm emotions. Feeling a little too calm (sleepy) already, I leave and head on towards the Tin Hau temple.

The temple is set in a courtyard park, off a busy road, but although there are only low metal railings between the road and the park, it feels quite tranquil once you step inside. Huge Chinese banyan trees trail over the ground, tourists and locals take a few minutes rest on the two-seater, polished-marble-style benches, and groups of old men crowd round tables watching others play what looks like checkers - a sight which becomes familiar as I visit other parks in Kowloon and on Hong Kong Island.

The temple itself is traditional Chinese style; a green roof, gold-painted characters above the door, and red embrodiered panels hanging on either side of the entrance. The building actually houses four temples, but the largest is for Tin Hau, goddess of sailors and fisherman (the temple used to be by the sea, but was moved), but who was also named Queen of Heaven by the mongol emperor Kublai Khan after she survived a great tempest. Inside the temple it is smoky and the air is perfumed from the incense stick bundles burned and wafted by worshippers, and from the large incense coils which hang from the ceiling in the centre of temple, with small trays beneath to catch the falling ash. A translated Cantonese sign says that these coils can be bought to bring good fortune to friends and family; they will burn for ten days once lit.
The atmosphere of the temple is so unlike that of cold&staid Christian churches; there is a sort of reception desk with a telephone, worshippers talk and guide each other through ritual and prayers, in one temple later on one woman even answers her mobile phone in the middle of a prayer! It's a bit chaotic inside, the backwall is cluttered with statues of other gods and goddesses apart from Tin Hau, though her statue has pride of place. The walls are hung with red material embroidered in gold, and ancient oblong finebrush paintings hang in glass frames. Bundles of incense are lit and wafted towards the statue of Tin Hau as part of a prayer ritual; these are then placed in a bucket of sand on the steps outside the door. Some worshippers also beat the large gold gong which stands to the right hand side of the door a couple of times before they leave. It's hard to know what these actions stand for without being able to speak Cantonese, but they were fascinating to watch.
The Tin Hau temple is flanked on it's raised platform by the temples for the city deity, Shing Wong, who ensure justice on earth and in the undeworld (a god of judges and soldiers), the Fok Tak Temple which hosts a number of deities, and the Shea Tan Temple, which is for the local gods of Kowloon.

After the temples I walk down Nathan Road and then along Prince Edward Road West to the flower market and Yuen Po Street Bird Garden. The lush perfumes of the flower market are a welcome relief after the backstreet smells around Temple Street, and the flowers themselves are a splash of colour in a area crammed - like much of Kowloon - with cramped, grimy apartment blocks dotted with dusty air-conditioner units and hung with washing, jammed up incongruously against modern, shiny glass office blocks and hotels.

You hear the Yuen Po Street bird garden and market before you see it. Or, more accurately, you hear the clamour of the hundreds of birds there. As I walk up the slope to the raised area where the garden and market are, a slightly mangy parrot peers down at me from a parapet, squawking at me - it takes a while of me trying to work out what it's saying before I realise it is talking in Cantonese!
The noise of the birds is unbelievable; there are hundreds here, most caged, some chained or wandering about with clipped wings, from tiny sparrow-types to cockatoos. Songbirds have always been popular pets with the Chinese, and some men have brought their birds along today to hang their cages from the trees which run along the walkway next to the market to show them off and let them sing. Their cages are intricate - even their food and water bowls are decorated, painted in blue on white china like a restaurant teapot, but their cages are small, and it's kind of sad to see birds contained in that way and unable to fly even a small distance.

On the way back to the hotel I go through a fun but quite complex process of trying to buy a few oranges from an old man's stall. There's lots of sign-language, great use of the ubiquitous calculator, a bit of confusion, and then finally smiles and relief as I get my oranges and he gets the correct money. Being white and blonde, it's impossible not stick out here, particularly on the backstreets; trying to pretend not to be a tourist as you might in Italy or America would be both hilarious and useless. Hong Kong seems intensely and excitingly foreign in parts, particularly on the backstreets, and yet amazingly familiar (the buses, Macdonalds - noooo!, H&M etc.). It makes for both a confusing and pretty fascinating experience.

permalink written by  LizIsHere on January 26, 2010 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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nice suit for you? ...um, no

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

I headed down Nathan Road to the Star Ferry terminal today, dodging the tailor touts and fake designer watch/bag sellers ( i perfected my thousand-mile stare in a number of trips up and down the road; do I really look like the kind person who wants a suit or covets fake Gucci arm-furniture?). The bulk of the touts hang about near the notorious Chung King Mansions (a cramped, towering grimy block of apartments, cheap hostels, money-changers, drug-dealers bolt-holes, and food / cheap goods stalls.) It's where the majority of the cheap backpackers accomodation on Kowloon is, and the ground floor is dark, cramped with stalls and touts, and had an extremely 'masculine' air. I didn't feel exactly threatened when I wandered in for a look, but despite feeling a little spoilt starting a backpacking trip with my hotel in a nicer part of Kowloon, I was glad I hadn't opted to stay in CK; it definitely verged on the extreme side of seedy.

At the ferry terminal, still a bit messed up from jetlag (it's a good excuse!), I made my first entertaining mistake of my trip, managing to pay out $85 HK for a harbour tour (complete with humourless audio), instead of the $2 cross-harbour trip to HK Island I'd been aiming for. Not only that, but I didn't realise you had to tell the boat steward where you wanted to stop, so I missed the Central pier and ended up trapped on the boat for the full hour round-trip, learning a few facts about HK and catching some pretty good views despite the mist, but mostly getting pumped full of info on where was best to spend my dollars whilst in HK (I'd spent enough on the tour, cheers). When I caught the commuter ferry back across later in the day, it was so much better; open sides to the boat, a buzz of people, and, of course, no freakin' commentary!

Once I finally escaped onto dry land I caught the bus up to the Peak Tram terminus to take a ride up Victoria Peak, the highest point on HK Island (1,817 foot, if you're interested). It's where the super-rich of HK live and it's really, really steep - to think in the 1800s European settlers expected to be carried up the in sedan chairs! It was steep enough for the tram ride to even be a little scary at first, especially when the ground falls away to the right and you could see right down onto the top of the skyscrapers of the city. But the views were awesome; across the forest of skyscrapers. At the top (the actually summit is out of bounds) you step out of the wood-panelled tram and into the Peak Tower - which is basically a shopping mall (yes, with a Starbucks even, gotta have that caffeine fix...) with a viewing deck slapped on top! Nice.

Since I hadn't bought a pass to the desk, I went to the outside viewing areas. It smelt so green - the slopes of Peak are mainly covered in forest, and nature trails weave off around the area. I spotted a couple of eagles circling below the stone viewing area as I looked down over the buildings below. It was too misty to see further than the island city itself, but still pretty stunning, and to be out in nature after the city was great - real fresh air!

After riding back down, my next uber-touristy goal was the Man Mo temple on Hollywood Road (odd street name). The temple was built in 1842 and is dedicated to (can you guess?) the gods Man, God of Liteature, and Mo, God of War. It's highly traditional in style again, and nestles incongruously on the shopping street, opposite a childrens playground, with towerblocks and sky-scraping buildings towering over it.
Inside the incense smoke and smell is even more overpowering than in Tin Hau; after a few minutes your throat tickles and your eyes water. Here there are piles of oranges on the platforms in front of the statues of the gods, and the chairs which carry the statues through the town during the temple festival are on display in glass cabinets. Outside in a large open-sided fire are piles of burning paper offerings.

Returning to the ferry terminal I cut down steep side streets with market stalls (where an old man drags a heavily laden cart upwards, fighting the gradient), and then come into the business-district centre of HK - here you could be in any city, except for the bright red & gold Chinese new year decorations everywhere.

Tonight I returned to the Avenue of Stars on the harbour to watch the Symphony of Lights, where buildings on both sides of the harbour are lit up and some shoot lasers into the sky. It was pretty good, for the view of the harbour at night, if nothing else; a very urban type of beauty.

permalink written by  LizIsHere on January 27, 2010 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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stop doing that - whatever it is!

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

My last day in Hong Kong today.

Get up, check-out, get my backpack stowed away by the incredibly efficient hotel staff, and then return to the Jade Market. It's really muggy today, a change from the past few days where it has veered from warm to chilly enough for a hoodie.

Despite having been to the market once already, I still wasn't quite prepared for the tenacity of the middle-aged ladies who run most of the stalls - within minutes I find myself in possesion of three bracelets. I did manage to haggle a bit in the whirlwind, via calculator, as always, so i leave with a little bit of dignity.

I've got three hours to kill before I have to catch the bus to the airport, so I head to Kowloon park for an explore. It's a pretty place, a quite peaceful oasis just a step away from the madness of Nathan Road, with lots of pools and fountains. Today there's a woman instructing another in Tai Chi, an older lady using the arm-exercise equipment near the low-hedged maze, and as always groups of men clustered round checkers games. There's also small lake with flamingos and an aviary with cockatoos, parakeets and Chinese pigeons - the poshest-looking pigeons I've ever seen, with long luscious ruffs of feathers round their necks and a haughty look to go with it (if bird can look haughty, these ones did).

....One thing I have notied in the Hong Kong is the huge number of notices prohibiting things, and warning of prosecution for even the most minor infringements - you can be wandering along a peaceful avenue in a park when you are suddenly confronted with a large sign saying stop that - don't do that - you will be pun-ish-ed! It's kind of unnerving, though there seem to be hardly any police about here.

I jump the bus to airport in late afternoon for my flight to Auckland via Sydney. Only nine hours + three hours left. Easy-peasy.

permalink written by  LizIsHere on January 28, 2010 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
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Auckland - being a beach bum for a few days...

Auckland, New Zealand

So I'm finally on 'the other side of world'! My aunt picked me up at the airport after what turned out to be very long-seeming journey from HK - complete with a late connection at Sydney and a lot of turbulence! Still, I'm feeling pretty blase about flying now - at one point on the HK-Sydney leg I was convinced I was on the flight from London-HK; time has a weird way of expanding and contracting when you're on long-haul, it seems.

Auckland is HOT! We drove to my other aunt's house where I met my cousins, who I haven't seen in over ten years! It was pretty surreal, we all look and are a lot different! It was great to see family though, and to have a chance to chill out a bit and plan my backpacking adventures. I'm staying in their garage conversion, which is really comfy, and also means I won't get under their feet too much!

The next morning we headed out early to a holiday home by the sea (or 'bach', pronounced 'batch', as they call them here) for the long weekend (like a British bank holiday; this one was for the last official weekend of summer); me, my aunt and uncle, my two cousins and one of their friends. The bach was at Matheson Beach, about an hour-thirty's drive North from the Auckland suburbs where they live. We passed through some pretty countryside, and lots of vineyards, on the way.

The bach was really nice, on two floors with a big wooden deck and only five minutes walk down a very steep winding hill to the sea (it was about ten minutes walk back up!). We arrived, unloaded the two cars and then went straight down to the beach, with our jandles (flip-flops, though wearing shoes round here, in summer at least, is definitely highly optional, which I love...shoes are annoying once you get used to not wearing them - well, unless you're walking on hot tarmac, as I found out!!) and togs (swimming costumes). It was a quite small but really pretty beach, the sea was deep blue, and there were high hills behind and to the right, and a tall rocky island out to the front, with smaller rocks with rockpools at low tide closer to the beach. Us 'kids' lay on the beach for while in boiling sun (it's real harsh sun here - you can get burnt in 10mins) and then went for a swim in the sea, which was pretty warm. Later on we drove to another beach with proper breakers, and body-surfed a bit, which was ace.

On the Sunday we drove out to Goat Island, further North of Matheson. Goat Island is a marine reserve area; the whole area is known as Goat Island even though it's actually only the island in the bay which has that official name. European settlers used to call any grazable island 'goat island' as a shorthand, because you would be able to graze goats there (simple!). As a marine reserve, the area around the island is great for seeing fish and other marine life. There lots of kids and adults snorkelling, and even a few proper divers, and I was really excited to snorkel. Although it took a while getting used to breathing through the tube, and there weren't as many fish as usual about because of earlier rough seas (sometimes you swim there and literally hit fish as you swim because there are so many!), it was still amazing to glide through the water with the fins and see different fish like maomaos (which used to come right up to the beach to be fed on dried peas by visitors, until the practice was banned when the fish started mobbing snorkelers!).

After Goat Island we went back to the bach and met up with some friends of my cousin who had come to stay overnight. We took the bodyboards down the beach and messed around on them, attempting to board on the small waves and jumping off the pontoon in the bay, before having a bbq in the evening and playing cards (they have a game here called 'Scum' which is basically the New Zealand version of 'S***head', and a really complex game called 500 which I can't even begin to explain... I'm no better at cards here than I am in the UK!). The Kiwis found the glossary of NZ slang in the back my guidebook which caused a lot of hilarity; they agreed that most of it was actually used in NZ, so I better get learning it! (I'm already starting to pick up their habit of saying 'ay' or 'eh' after every utterance!). Turns out a lot of English music is popular over here as well, one of the guys is a big fan of UK dubstep and d'n'b, including Caspa and Rusko, and one of his ambitions for a European trip is to go Glasto.

Talking only to my cousin, who's the same age as me, it had seemed like a lot of Kiwi kids were unambitious about travelling, but it seems that's mainly because NZ has so much to offer (these guys have a pretty cool lifestyle, lots of outdoor sports, beach-life, exploring the bush and hiking); but these guys had travelled and were keen to travel more (they called my trip me 'OE' - overseas experience) in particular. In fact one of them asked me, half-joking, half-serious, 'why did you leave Hong Kong to come here???'. I guess I'd probably ask them the same thing if they turned up in Nottingham or Liverpool!

Overnight it chucked it down, monsoon-style, so this morning we packed up the house and drove back to Auckland via a quick trip to Omaha beach, which looked like it would have been an ace beach if it hadn't been blowing a gale! The weather changes fast here in NZ!

permalink written by  LizIsHere on February 1, 2010 from Auckland, New Zealand
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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chilling out in Auckland

Auckland, New Zealand

I've been in Auckland a week now, and it's been pretty nice to chill out, get my bearings, hang out with my family (and my aunt's two cats), and sift through the hundreds of leaflets I've collected from the Auckland I-Site centre (basically tourist-info centres that are all over NZ). Oh, and get a little bit sunburnt through disregard of the constant warnings about sun exposure times and sunblock, oops.

After spending the weekend at the bach, I took a couple of trips into Auckland city and around the area with my aunt and cousins to do some touristy stuff. We checked out One Tree Hill (the name is misleading, there used to be one tree which was significant to the Maroi, then a few trees planted in it's place by European settlers, then one - then zero when a Maori chainsawed it down in a belated act of revenge), Mount Eden, which has a massive (possibly mined?) crater in the middle, and some Maori stonefields where they used to live and build oven, caves and storage areas from the volcanic rock there. We collected some avocados off the trees in the public orchard on that excursion. While it probably shouldn't, given the temperatures, it amazes me the stuff that grows here: peppers and abundant lettuce in my Auckland aunt's garden, lemons and peaches at my other aunt's place in the countryside, NZ melons, blueberries and countless other fruit that I'd avoid buying due to air miles in the UK laid out in the fruit&veg shops).

We took a couple of short hikes around the area too, up through a golf course to the coast opposite Brown Island, with fantastic views across the water to the islands which dot the bay near Auckland; along the estuary; and up Pigeon Mountain (which is less mountainous than the name insists) on a gorgeous, cool evening. The views, the blueness of the sea and the beaches here are impressive enough, and these are nothing, according to my cousins, so I'm looking forward to seeing what else New Zealand has in store!

Me and my cousins also went up the Skycity Tower, the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere, one day. It had a lift-ride which would do nothing for any vertigo-sufferers who had braved the trip - the floor of the cabin had a glass panel in the floor, allowing those riding upwards to see the floor of the lift shaft receding further and further away! The viewing decks which circled the tower also had some 38mm glass panels embedded in the floor, allowing those who had confidence in engineering and physics to stand and gaze ever down to the ground far below [I took the leap/step, naturally - see picture]. Auckland's a nothing-special city (does anyone really come to NZ for the cities?), but it's close to the beach and some pretty awesome scenery, and AC/DC played here last night, so it can't be all bad!

permalink written by  LizIsHere on February 5, 2010 from Auckland, New Zealand
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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Out in the sticks!

Manukau City, New Zealand

Today I catch my flight to Christchurch to begin my backpacking adventures! (though, as my aunt has pointed out, most people 'backpacking' only carry their backpack's between bus/train/airport and their hostel/hotel/campsite --- we're not talking climbing mountains here). I'm really excited to get going exploring South Island - I have some accomodation pre-booked up till Picton, then I'm not sure where I'll be or for how long.

I've spent the last few days at the my other aunt's property, near Clevedon, Manukau City; in the countryside about an hour's drive from Auckland. I'm writing this from their front deck, looking out over their property, which is edged by native bush. It's a really nice spot, up in the hills above a valley, and possibly good pre-intro for any WWOOF-ing I might do here or in Oz (though the bugs will be bigger in Oz). Well, I've at least had a go at picking peaches,held a just-laid egg (the chicken was still doing it's "I've laid an egg - look at me" dance - either that or it was an "Oi! Who stole my egg?!" dance) and doing some extremely minor sheep herding (standing on a track flapping my arms slightly).

They keep eleven cows, twenty-something sheep, chickens, Muscovy ducks (which don't quack and have claws on their feet, making them quite a sinister proposition in duck terms) and guinea-fowl on their ~11 hectares. The cockerel here and the ones at the neighbouring property haven't quite got the hang of crowing at dawn; they like to keep some variety by choosing any time between 9pm-7am to make a racket! It's a pretty great way to wake up though; my first morning I was woken early first by the cockerel, then by some other birds joining in, and of course by the ever-present cicadas, which are even louder here than in the suburbs of Auckland - the sound varies from maracas-like rattle to a crazy loud fizz like sausages frying in hot oil. So, while it's peaceful here, with the lack of road or air traffic, it's definitely not silent.

Meeting the animals here was interesting, although apparently the sheep, which my aunt is very knowledgable about, have accepted me in the some way, because their leader Black Nose (who has his own facebook page!) actually took a few steps towards me when I went to their field. So at least I have one friend in NZ to start me off! There was also the Muscovy duck that was sitting on a nest of guineafowl eggs; the result of the eggs being abandoned by the original guineafowl. Unfortunatly the duck, being a lot bigger than a guineafowl, had crushed some of the chicks to death, but two had survived. An attempt was made to swap the duck for an extremely angry hen (aptly nicknamed Angry Hen), who had been nesting up near the house. But the experiment didn't work out when the hen started pecking at the chicks. Cue swapping by the now extremely annoyed duck back onto the nest, while Angry Hen was returned to her own eggs up by the house. Messing with nature gets complicated!

While here I also got to go on the bushwalk, which was great - clambering through undergrowth and pushing through massive dead fern fronds. I even got to see a possum which Rusty the Jack Russel sniffed out in a fern-top. Normally the possum would have been shot, but this time, since Bruce didn't have his gun, it was left - with Rusty still barking madly at the foot of the fern, ripping off chunks of foliage in a valiant but ultimately fruitless effort to demolish it and bring the possum down to his level so he could sort it out. Rusty remained in the bush for two hours after we left, haranging the possum - that's dedication for you.

permalink written by  LizIsHere on February 7, 2010 from Manukau City, New Zealand
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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a 'pretty', 'quaint', 'quite English' city

Christchurch, New Zealand

Another flight, this one a measly 1 hr 20mins and thus the most guilt-inducing of all the ones I've taken so far.

I took the airport flyer bus to the centre of Christchurch, Cathedral Square which, unsurprisingly, has a cathedral in it. It's a pretty area ('pretty' may be overused in descriptions of Christchurch, along with quaint and 'quite English'), and functions as a lunch-spot, meeting place, skateboard park and general gathering place for entertainers (including a couple who can only be described as 'crusties'; the guy playing bongoes while his girlfriend juggled inexpertly) which gets busier towards lunchtime, and in the early evening. There's also a giant chess board, where small crowds gathered, fascinated, throughout the day to watch people play with the large plastic pieces. The tram stop is to one side of the square, and around the edge are the I-Site information centre, cafes and shops, and it's near the tramstop where I get off the bus.

It took about two minutes from reaching the corner of the square for me to get lost (I'm getting almost comfortable with getting lost... it's seems unnatural to arrive anywhere without having had to backtrack, peer at the map a few times, and possibly ask directions), but eventually I made it to the Around the World Backpackers, which is only about fifteen minutes (a looong fifteen minutes with a heavy bag!) from the Square itself. I went straight from dumping my bag there to Pak'N'Save, a twenty minute walk away. Pak'n'Save is the super-budget supermarket of NZ - the shelves filled with all kinds of discount goods, kind of like Macro or somewhere like that, but bigger - you feel tiny wandering round the towering aisles with an equally giant trolley. But it is very, very cheap.

The hostel was busy, mostly with long-termers (some had been living there 3 months!), who were working either at the hostel or at various jobs in town. This gave it a chilled out, homely atmosphere (they even had a cute, fluffy, very affectionate cat called Oreo), but also a slightly cliquey one. The kitchen was packed at dinner, but it was kind of hard to talk to people when they all knew each other. Still, my roommates were pretty nice, luckily, because the room was 'cosy' to say the least - made the more so by all 3 other girls being long-termers who had, understandably, unpacked and moved in properly.

One thing I did notice though, was that all the people I met at Around the World who had been travelling long-term (6months-2years!) were absolutely useless at listening; during every conversation you could just sense them waiting for their turn to speak. I don't know if it's something to do with them travelling on their own, or maybe they're just so excited about their adventures that they need to spill them all out without interruption, but it got a bit tiring, so in the end I just let them talk. Maybe I'll be the same when I've been travelling for a while (hopefully not).

I crashed out early and got up even earlier when one of the other girl's left for her job at the ANZ bank call-centre. First stop was the Cathedral, which was... cathedral-like. Pretty, though. Then I walked down Worcester St to the Botanic Garden, passing by some very cute and quaint houses on the way. Most of the main 'sites' are in the older part of town, characterised by the old colonial-style houses and grey-and-white stone buildings, which are quite 'English', but with a twist. The Botanic Gardens were a really nice spot to chill out for a couple of hours; a massive area of greenery with the river Avon flowing through it, carrying along ducks, tourists on punts and kayakers (i got slightly mugged by ducks when I decided to donate some bread to two who were nearby; cue ten others waddling up to me, quacking expectantly).
I also checked out the Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Puna O Waiwetu where there were some pretty good modern exhibits, including one on The Naked and The Nude (a helpful sign outside the door warned, "This exhibit contains, well, nakedness and nudity").
Near to the gallery was the Arts Centre, a collection of art galleries, craft shops, cafes and artists workshops in a pretty (...) maze of white-and-grey stone buildings with trees and squares dotted about.
After resisting the call of craft shopping, I headed back to the Cathedral Square to chill out for a bit, before going back to the hostel for dinner, repacking my already totally disorganised bag, and then crashing out, before creeping out at 7am to catch my Magic bus to Kaikoura.

And that was Christchurch, a very pretty city, but still a city. Everyone at the hostel told me that it's a great place to live but not so fantastic to pass through, which I can believe, since so many of them had stayed there so long.

permalink written by  LizIsHere on February 9, 2010 from Christchurch, New Zealand
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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All things marine-related!

Kaikoura, New Zealand

Caught my first Magic bus to Kaikoura today. It was a pretty painless trip, our driver Lisa was good fun, giving us some commentary on the places we went past (including Cheviot, which we had a rest stop at) and playing some good-to-bad-to-awful music on her ipod over the coach speakers! We passed through some gorgeous scenery on the way, high hills of bush with the tops wreathed in mist, and some interesting towns, including one which had a sign reading "What if God was one of us?" with a picture of a sheep underneath it... not sure what they were trying to say there, but anyway.

When we'd almost reached Kaikoura, Lisa pulled over to rescue a group of Chinese tourists who's bus had overheated - the driver said they'd been stuck on the side of the road for two hours and no one had pulled over to help! Luckily they were headed to a whale-watching trip in Kaikoura, so we could take them straight there. After parting ways with them, we had a brief stop at the seal colony on the Kaikoura penisula, where the fur seals were basking out on the rocks right by walkways, apparently unaffected by the small crowd of tourists taking photos and pointing at them. We were soon driven back to the bus by the chilly weather and light rain, but still it's a taste of what I'll get tomorrow when I go on the Seal Swim!

Lisa was nice enough to drop me off near the Dolphin Lodge (Magic have contracts with certain hostels in each town they stop in, and won't generally drop travellers off at other places), but unfortunately that still left me at the bottom of a short but extremely steep hill! I made it though, out-of-breath and a little worried by my apparent lack of fitness.

The Dolphin Lodge is a cosy, homely place; a little run down and perhaps in need of more toilets and showers (and maybe slightly better security; my 4-share dorm was near the frontdoor which was open all day, and out of view of reception desk), but a great place to chill out and meet other people, with friendly (British) staff who were happy to bend the rules and help out in whatever way they could. The main room is an amalgamation of kitchen, lounge and dining area, with the reception area leading off it, with a staircase leading up to the quarters of the british couple of managed it behind the frontdesk. In the evenings people tend to congregate in this room (the dorms are a little sparse) and cook, eat, or lie on the sofas or chairs reading, talking, playing chess or planning their next days or week's adventures. I took a wander round the town, which is clearly and absolutely based upon marine-related activities - whale-watching, seal-swimming, dolphin watching-and-swimming, seabird watching etc - if you don't like marine-life it's not the best place to be, although there are some hikes up into hills and along the peninsula, and the stony beach itself.

After exploring a bit, I spent most of my first afternoon in Kaikoura at the kitchen table at Dolphin Lodge planning some things out, since a massive raincloud had settled over the town for the afternoon - it even blocked out the stunning mountain and sea view from the back deck, only revealing itself the next morning when the sky cleared.

permalink written by  LizIsHere on February 10, 2010 from Kaikoura, New Zealand
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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