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Victoria & Robert

36 Blog Entries
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Across Canada
the Canadian Arctic
The rest of the world
Victoria & Robert's Travel Blog

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This is the blog of a Brit and Korean looking Swedish-Canadian who met in Vancouver and decided to travel the world together.

We plan on traveling through Northern Canada to the Arctic Circle, then across the country to then continue over the Atlantic sea and resume our adventure in Europe and from there wherever our hearts and minds take us.

The Art of Doing Nothing- Kiwi style

Akaroa, New Zealand

We have actually already posted an entry with the same title: "The art of doing nothing". That was about two months ago in Thailand. This time we are in New Zealand and for the first time since Phuket we are staying in the same place for more than a couple of days with the intention of 'doing nothing'. So because we haven't done much in the last few days, there isn't a whole lot to write about except for 'sleeping, eating, resting, eating, sleeping....'

After completing the loop around the South Island we were back in Christchurch and spent some time driving around in the area of Christchurch; Geraldine, Ashburton, Oxford, Sheffield, Rangiora etc. Robert sampled through the home made pies such as the ones we found in the Sheffield Pie Shop. From the local town names, it is evident, Robert isn't the first Englishman to have set his foot on this island :)

We spent a few nights in Christchurch itself and took the opportunity to enjoy the modernities of a large city by going to the cinema, shopping mall and catching a rugby match. Victoria's first rugby match ever! She got a crash course in rules, regulations and the point of the whole game about 30 minutes before it started. Not ever being a big fan of American football it first looked to her as this would be a very similar experience to those dreadful hours endured during university in the U.S when she was 'forced' to attend football games (with no clue of what was going on). Well, perhaps she has 'matured' or perhaps it was because the game is actually different, but she has to say that it was quite enjoyable and exciting! Good experience in all!

After Christchurch we decided to go back to Akaroa on the Banks Penninsula about an hour an a half's drive from Christchurch. Our plan was to rent a holiday home for at least a week and get a feel for the small holiday town.

We found a beautiful house that is located on the hillside of town with magnificant views of the bay, mountains and the sea. It's a large house with a total of six beds, so we could have a party here, but it also has a nice fire place, a barbecue and a large sun deck that overlooks the surroundings. From the master bedroom, the French doors open up to the sun deck and it feels like luxury to wake up and having such a wonderful view!

We have also been very lucky with the weather and it is around 20+C in town and on the sun deck it must reach at least 25+C during the day. So Robert decided to pull out the sun chairs. It took him about 10 minutes to figure out how to assemble them and after Victoria was laughing herself silly observing it all, they finally came together. Well, of course Victoria was left on her own to put her chair together after having laughed so hard, so Robert got a bit of the fun as well, watching her go through the same ordeal.... FINALLY, both the chairs were up though!

Akaroa is a beautiful spot and it's been very nice to be able to cook our own meals instead of eating out. Victoria got elaborate and have tried all sorts of things in the kitchen. A few nights ago it was time for lasagna. We had all the ingredients except for canned tomatoes and the lasagna noodles (two very essential ingredients for lasagna...). So we popped down to the store to get that and discovered that it closed at 6:30pm.... Home made cooking from scratch got even more down to the fundamentals when Victoria had to make her own tomato sauce from fresh ones (they had that at the only cornerstore that was open) mixed with ketchup and make the lasagna with regularly shaped pasta instead of the large noodles. It all turned out to be some kind of.... lasagna casserole....

Robert's hobby here in the house is to feed the little hedgehog who lives under the deck. We saw him the first night shuffling across the yard, so Robert promptly went inside to see if we had any food we could give him. We had some left over egg salad sandwiches from lunch and decided to see if Mr. Hedgehog would like that. Well, the next morning we discovered that hedgehogs really like bread, but not egg salad as he had pushed it off the sandwich and then proceeded to eat the bread. The next evening Robert gave him milk with bread in it and later that night the hedgehog came out and stuffed himself silly on which apparently was more of his cup of tea. We observed him quietly from the kitchen window.

As you can see, not much is going on in our lives if the most exciting event of the day is to make tomato sauce out of fresh tomatoes and feeding hedgehogs..... well, it is probably not harmful for us to take it easy. Victoria has taken up a new hobby of knitting and has gotten quite into it. So far the results include a hat and one sock. Hopefully the enthusiasm won't wear off before she has completed the second sock....

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on April 21, 2010 from Akaroa, New Zealand
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Sand flies, sea lions, penguins, motorbikes and more!

Christchurch, New Zealand

Yes, we are back in Christchurch after having completed a whole loop around the south island! The last week and a half is a blur of motels, hotels, small towns and lots of time in the car. We've seen many beautiful places, quite a lot of wildlife and met nice people.

After leaving Queenstown, we've driven through and/or stayed in the following towns: Te Anau, Manapouri, Riverton, Invercargill, the Catlins, Balclutha, Dunedin, Palmerston, Oamaru, Waitmate, Fairlie, Geraldine, Ashburton (twice... will explain later), Methven, Akaroa and back to Christchurch.

Rather then listing what we did everyday in chronological order which probably would be quite boring and repetitive, we'll let the pictures speak for themselves with some commentaries.....

From Queenstown we drove to Te Anau and from there to Manapouri where we did a day trip tour out to the Manapouri Power station. We had originally wanted to take an overnight cruise to Doubtful sound but since it was Easter weekend and we wanted to leave the next day, all cruises were booked and therefore we opted for the trip out on Manapouri lake to see the powerstation instead.

The landscape and the lake was beautiful and everything would have been perfect if it wasn't for the little d*@#n sandflies that seemed to be everywhere. The sandflies are really more like a small mosquito ('knott' in Swedish) and both of us got our fair share of bites that are REALLY itchy! Victoria managed to get one sandfly under her shirt and the sandfly went on to have a real feast by biting her seven times on her belly!!!!

It's easy to understand why the flies like it here though as it is very moist and rainy and the vegetation is green, lush with lots of ferns, moss and bushes.

Our trip then went south towards Invercargill and we drove through some beautiful parts of the country before we hit the coastline again.

We stopped at a rest stop along the coast and watched the afternoon sun over the ocean.

Once we hit Riverton we stopped for dinner and then drove into Invercargill where we spent two nights. The coastline was spectacular.

Unfortuntately, we had two very cold and rainy days in Invercargill but that was ok because we went to the store and bought Easter chocolates and spent some time eating them in bed in the hotel room!

We also went to E Hayes & Sons Hardware store in Invercargill which is the home to the motorbikes of Burt Munro whose life is portrayed in the movie 'The world's fastest Indian'. We had watched the movie (featuring Anthony Hopkins) in a hotel room just a couple of days before coming to Invercargill so it was very interesting to see the actual bikes. A movie strongly recommended and if you go to Invercargill you should go and see the motorbikes too!

After leaving Invercargill we drove along the coast which is called the Catlins. It's a scenic and very beautiful drive and we hoped to have an opportunity to see some wildlife as the south coast is home to penguins of different kinds, sealions, seals and other creatures.

We stopped at a small beach in hopes to see something and even if we hadn't seen anything, the beach was just beautiful.

But wait! What was that over there???! It first looked like smooth rocks on the beach but we discovered it was two groups of sealions sunbathing. We approached them but kept our distance as there was at least on large male with two females and when he sat up he was of a substantial size that instilled respect!

As continued driving we approached Dunedin where we spent a night before pushing on towards Oamaru. Oamaru was an interesting little town where part of town is kept the way it looked like many years ago. There are beautiful old buildings and little shops.

Right outside Oamaru, there is a small colony of Blue Penguins which is the world's smallest penguin and we had high hopes to see some and went to the 'Penguin centre'. It turned out they wanted quite a lot of money for us to go and see the little buggers, so we opted to go for a stroll along the beach ourselves.

The coast was gorgeous and would have been well worth the walk without seeing any penguins, but we were lucky and saw a little one huddling in his cave (which they spend evenings and nights in). The penguins are usually out at sea during the day and come back right before dusk, but this little guy had apparently decided to stay in for the day.

Just in case we wouldn't have seen any penguins, Victoria took a picture of the ones in the souvenir shop....

She also took some 'artsy' photos along the beach:

Our trip now continued into the Cantebury region and we saw some animals; mostly sheep but also some chickens, a hedgehog and deer.

We spent one night in Geraldine, and one night in Methven before heading towards the Christchurch area. We had breakfast in Asburton outside Methven and Victoria left her purse with EVERYTHING (passports, wallet, credit card, cell phone, address book etc.etc.) at the coffee shop and we didn't realize it was missing until we had driven all the way to Akaroa about 5 hours later....

After a short moment of panic, we called the cafe and thank goodness, they still had the purse! So we only spent one night in Akaroa before heading back to Ashburton again....

Akaroa is worth a mention though as it is one of the places we've visited that we like the most. It's only an hour and a half from Christchurch but still very remote. It is a bit touristy but it is easy to understand why as it is located in the bay of an old volcano and the area is just beautiful!!!!

So back in Christchurch, we are spending the weekend to relax before deciding what to do next. Victoria found a nice big swimming pool and a shopping mall so she is happy. Robert found a hunting store and is happy too, so we'll see what we come up with by the end of this weekend!!

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on April 10, 2010 from Christchurch, New Zealand
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Touring the South Island

Queenstown, New Zealand

Time flies! It's amazing how the days go by when you are travelling and not on a set schedule. It's actually almost a little embarrassing, but quite often we find ourselves having to check which date it is and / or the day of the week.

Since we returned to the South Island, we've had over a week driving south and we are right now in Queenstown.

To take a step back, we started driving slighly west from Picton (The ferry terminal) with the aim to reach Nelson which we have heard many good things about. After missing the turn off to the most direct way there, we spent an extra hour touring the countryside around Picton and Nelson which actually was ok as we drove through the beautiful wine country.

We eventually found our way to Nelson and stayed two nights at a nice place called the Warwick house just outside the very centre of town.

Nelson is a very nice town that is big enough to 'have everything' but that still has a small town feel to it. It's known to be a hotspot for artists, galleries, sculptors, and other people interested in handicrafts and artsy stuff. We decided to take a good look at Nelson but also the overall region.

Right outside Nelson there is a place called Stoke which of course made Robert laugh as it was a small pleasant village with a nice community feel with a fire station, rugby, netball and cricket clubs! So, you wonder if the person who came from Stoke in England named it for a joke or decided (new Stoke) would be a totally different place than the one we know and avoid visiting in the UK!

We explored Nelson a bit and went to the Founders Heritage Park which is an area where a lot of old houses and workshops have been saved and moved to create the look and feel of an old town. Some of the buildings are displays of what it used to look like, but some are occupied by operating businesses such as the brewery (making handcrafted organic beers), a bakery and some others which host local artists.

We also took a look at Nelson's farmers market which takes place every Saturday. Lots of local merchants show up to sell everything from locally grown veggies, fruit, home made breads, jams, honey etc. etc., as well as things such as ceramics, pottery and arts. We bought some organic fruits, veggies and meat as we stayed in a self contained cabin for the last two nights and had access to a kitchen.

So after two nights in Nelson itself, we drove around in the countryside about 20km along the coast which is where we found this awesome place that rented out cabins. It was located on a hill overlooking mountains and the local fruit growing valley and there were horses, sheep and chickens right outside our cabin. We even saw some New Zealand kiwi fruits! It was nice to be able to cook our own food especially since we had picked up such goodies from the farmers market.

We also took a look at Rabbit Island which is an island located just off the coast and a popular recreational destination which a beautiful beach a lots of opportunities for picnics and just hanging out. We strolled down the beach and collected some beautiful shells that were washed up on shore. Not a rabbit in sight though!

The Abel Tasman National Park is just north of the Nelson region and we had first planned on doing a boat tour along the coast. Unfortunately the rain was pouring the day we wanted to go so we decided to just drive through it on the outskirts.

After four days, we decided to head off and drove down the West coast to Greymouth where we only stayed one night. On the way we made short stops to look at some 'wildlife' such as cows, sheep, goats and chickens! (ok, not so much 'wild' life, but very entertaining. Robert decided to feed the chickens with pretzels which they loved!).

We drove through Franz Josef and took a look at the big Franz Josef glacier which very much reminded us about the glaciers in Canada. So much for Global warming, Franz Josef is actually advancing! Then we continued on south to Fox Glacier where we stayed the night. It was rainy and damp but very beautiful. As we are now approaching areas where the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed, it is easy to recognize the landscape.

Once we reached Queenstown, we decided to stay a couple of nights since driving can be quite tiring (which is why Victoria has a short nap on every journey). The roads in New Zealand are at times VERY windy so an observation is to not recommend a longer road trip for anybody who has any tendency to get car sick....

Queenstown is a small town where the number of tourists outnumbers the local residents. As the town is catering to the tourists, there are plenty of good shopping and eating options and we a really nice dinner in a French (!) resturant. It has a bit of 'Whistler' feel to it with lots of activities such as skiing, paragliding, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting and anything else that the adrenaline seeking person could ever wish for. Robert was contemplating a bungee jump but after seeing the prices decided against it. Victoria found a swimming pool which to her seemed to be a much more relaxed and inexpensive option to get those endorphines going...

We are off south today but as this is being written we haven't decided exactly where to go. As usual, that decision will be made once we hit the road and perhaps not until we reach an intersection which will force us to turn left or right!

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 31, 2010 from Queenstown, New Zealand
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Hawke's Bay

Napier, New Zealand

As the readers of our blog probably have picked up on, both of us are very much ‘last minute planners’ so decisions about where to go, where to stay and where to eat are usually made about 30 minutes before it will happen.

We have some free maps in the car that we had picked up at tourist information offices and various hotels, but no real extensive road map over the north island. The best map we had did indeed show the entire north island but in very rough terms with only the biggest roads mapped. So when we set off to Hawke’s bay we saw that there was a ‘scenic shortcut’ through the Te Urewera National park.

From the looks of our map, there was only one main road through the park so we thought it would be a fairly straight forward ‘drive in the park’. We also have a compass in the car, so we felt well equipped!

It turned out that the signposting isn’t the best once you are in the park and that there in fact are many little roads crisscrossing the park. It also didn’t help that the compass seemed as confused as we were and we are now pretty sure that it was turned around and showed ‘south’ when we in fact were heading ‘north’ and vice versa. While we were never really lost, the 20km drive took us four hours!!! When we eventually reached ‘civilization’ and the main road, the car was covered in dust from traveling on the gravel roads.

The park is really beautiful though with a large lake; Lake Waikaremoana and lots of opportunities for hiking, camping and enjoying the lake. It would be a nice spot to spend a few days and exploring more!

On our journey we have seen many sheep and Victoria wanted to cuddle one. However, she didn't get her chance until we reached a souvenir shop...

Once we reached Hawke’s Bay we headed to Napier, a little seaside town that is known for suffering a large earthquake in 1931 and afterwards rebuilding the town completely in art deco style. Almost all the buildings are preserved the way they were built in art deco which gives the town a distinct feeling like you are stepping back in time. The town is a nice beach resort town and we found an outdoor pool which made Victoria very happy. In fact, both of us when for a morning swim both mornings we were there!

Napier is also a good starting point for exploring the wine region and we went to visit two of the bigger vineyards just outside town; Church Road and Mission Estate. Mission Estate is located in a beautiful building and spot overlooking the valley but the wine was actually pretty mediocre. However, we had lunch in their outdoor garden restaurant and it was excellent! So we would definitely recommend it for the view and food, but not perhaps for the wine…!! Church Road on the other hand had some good wine and Robert bought a bottle of their syrah.

On the way out of Napier heading south back to Wellington, we drove through Hastings and North Havelock which also were lovely little towns with that ‘local’ small town feeling to them. In North Havelock we stopped at the Strawberry Patch where you can pick your own strawberries! We picked and then over-indulged in freshly picked berries! In fact, Victoria ate so many she feels she could probably survive a few days without seeing another strawberry….

They also sold local produce and fruits and it is a feast for the eye to see all the fresh vegetables piled high! The only thing we had a ‘problem’ with, is that while we have met many very nice New Zealander or ‘Kiwis’, and seen a real Kiwi bird, it seems as if all kiwi fruits are imported from Italy!!!! Why on earth would somebody transport Italian kiwi fruits to New Zealand?? Well, it turns out the reason is the same as why you can find apples and other fruits from New Zealand in Europe during spring….. the kiwi fruits aren’t in season yet!

Our tour of the north island came to an end when we reached Wellington again and this blog post has been written from the ferry crossing the Cook Straight back to Picton. While the waves aren’t as bad as the crossing last week, there are still some swells that make your stomach go on a rollercoaster ride and there is an unmistakable scent in the air of toilet disinfectants…. However, overall, our week long tour of the north island has been really fantastic with many great experiences and an increased appetite to one day come back for more!!!

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 23, 2010 from Napier, New Zealand
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Exploring the North Island

Wellington, New Zealand

We’ve spent the last week exploring the northern island of New Zealand and arrived in Wellington late in the evening after a very rough ferry ride between Picton on the south island and Wellington on the north island. Luckily, we had pre-booked a hotel (not that common for us) and went straight to bed as the ferry ride was very exhausting.

Victoria used to sometimes complain a bit about BC Ferries in Canada, but after this experience, BC Ferries feels like a luxury cruiser. In fact, a suggestion to the operators of the Kiwi ferries would be to go a course in how to load and unload a ferry…. ;) When we went to bed it felt like the bed was still moving and we could still smell the odor of toilet disinfectant that had seemed to linger around the entire ship.

We didn’t spend much time in Wellington and only went for breakfast and a quick drive up to the Victoria lookout before heading off north. Again without much of a plan, but we decided to drive up the West coast.

The scenery was beautiful and we passed several smaller towns and villages that have managed to keep their small town charm without McDonalds or Walmart planted in the middle. It seems as if most of the commerce is still run by ‘mom and pop’ shops with a local butcher, bakery and small stores.

As for fast food, fish & chips and homemade pies is clearly the main staple and it is evident that people take great pride in baking pies as many of the little shops claimed that their pies were ‘the best pies available’. So we decided to stop and try some and picked a small ‘shack’ beside the road in Wanganui. As we weren’t starving we opted for only one piece of fish and a serving of chips each. When our food was ready it was turned out it could have fed a smaller army! Two huge packages wrapped in newspaper filled with fish and chips! All to a cost of $6 each!!! We could easily have shared and gotten full on one of the servings and felt a little bad that we would have to leave quite a lot behind.

Robert ate his food in the parking lot of a park and suddenly he was surrounded by curious and hungry ducks waiting for any accidental spillage. It turns out ducks LOVE chips!!! Who knew? Perhaps not the best diet for the birds, but at least we didn’t feel so bad that we couldn’t finish all our food when we got some help to finish it.

We drove a little further up the coast and made a stop for the night in Hawera. We found a wonderful Bed & Breakfast that was hosted in an old renovated house. The standard of B&Bs is very high and often more luxurious (and expensive) than a hotel. The next morning we enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast served by the very nice hostess who told us a bit about the history of the house and how she and her husband had spent four years to renovate it.

Our next destination was to go and have a look at the old extinct volcano Mount Taranaki in Egmont National Park. Once we got there a windy road (which by the way, there are plenty of in New Zealand), took us about half the way up the volcano to a viewing area. The weather was nice and the view was absolutely magnificent! We took lots of pictures!

That afternoon we continued driving east inland towards Rotorua which is the main town in an area famous for its volcanic activity leading to hot springs, geysers and mud pools. We certainly knew we had arrived when a really pungent smell of sulphur hit us! After visiting some hot springs in Canada we were familiar with the sulphurous smell that usually comes with the springs, but this smell was about five times as strong! We took a look at some of the motels and hotels in the outskirts of town but the smell actually really put us off and one hotel employee told us the smell was particularly bad in this part of town so we decided to drive a little further. We eventually found a very nice little hotel to a reasonable price and where the smell wasn’t too bad.

The next day we set out to explore the volcanic activities and the mud pools that can be seen around town. In the middle of town there is a big park and parts of it is fenced off because of the mud pools which literally are bubbling pools of hot (and smelly) mud! There is also a large aquatic centre which has hot pools (without the mud) and an Olympic sized swimming pool, all heated by the thermal activity. Of course Victoria had to try it out for a swim!

We also went out to Rainbowsprings Wildlife Park in search of some kiwi birds. It’s a small zoo displaying plants and animals of New Zealand and that breeds the rare kiwi bird. Most mammals are introduced to New Zealand and not native and the same is true for a lot of plants and trees. There are, for example, large redwood trees like in Canada, but they have been planted here. Apparently the redwood trees thrive in this climate and make them grow extra fast, but to a cost of poorer quality wood if it were to be harvested. We also saw fish, plants, small mammals and yes, at last, a real kiwi bird! (Not just on a poster...)

The next day we were up early as we had bought tickets to the Lady Knox geyser which erupts at 10:15am every day. It is located about 30 minutes outside of Rotorua, so we were off to a relatively (for us!!!) early morning. During our drive there we were talking about how amazing it is that they geyser goes off at exactly the same time every day! Strange!

We were very excited to see a geyser as we had hoped to see one in Iceland but didn’t have a chance to. It’s funny that when we were travelling in Canada we had hoped to see the Northern lights but eventually saw them in Iceland, and the geyser we wanted to see in Iceland, we finally would get to see in New Zealand!!

When we got to the viewing area for the geyser, the geyser itself was puffing steam but with no action yet. People were gathering all waiting for it to go off with cameras ready not to miss the big show. At 10:15 everybody was ready but nothing happened…. Then a man that worked in the park came out and starting talking about the history of the geyser and the area we were in. It turned out that there used to be a prison camp not far from there and the prisoners used to come to the hot spring and do their laundry. One day when they had soaked their clothes in water and soap, the geyser erupted and took everybody with a big surprise. It turned out that the soap made the geyser spurt, and from that discovery, they were able to control when the geyser would go off by putting a little soap down the opening of the geyser. Hahaha! So much for the geyser erupting exactly at the same time every day!!!! Of course the park employee had a piece of soap with him, so when his presentation was over, he dropped it into the hole of the geyser, and voila! – the geyser started to bubble, steam and suddenly squirted a high beam of water!!! It was very spectacular and interesting and we took pictures. We only felt a little silly for thinking that nature would have had an internal 24 hour clock so precise that it would go off at exactly the same time every day….not sure if everybody else knew, so we kept it to ourselves in case we were the only fools….

With the ticket to the geyser we also got access to a large thermal park with hots prings, mud pools and caves formed by volcanic activity. It was an hour walk and quite interesting but in the end it felt like every smelly hot spring looked the same and that the next one was stinkier than the previous…

Soon, we were in the car again and continuing our journey east. Our next destination was Hawke’s Bay which is well known wine region famous especially for their red wines.

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 19, 2010 from Wellington, New Zealand
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First few days in 'Kiwi land'

Christchurch, New Zealand

After a relatively short flight to New Zealand from Sydney, we arrived in a cold rainy Christchurch. It felt very much like England, or perhaps a typical Swedish summer day… The rain poured down as we took a shuttle into the city centre and our hotel.

As we now had reached our ‘end destination’ on our trip, we decided to treat our visit in Christchurch as an administrative stop rather than a sightseeing destination to get our bearings right, sort out or plans for the next seven weeks and attempt at getting a little ‘ORGANIZED’.

In the southern hemisphere it’s now the end of summer, so somewhere equivalent to late August (Sweden or England) or early September in Canada (Vancouver). Around Christchurch the grass on the hills was a little yellowish from a long summer but after the initial rainy welcome, the next day it was very warm and around 25C.

We had talked about renting a small camper van, a bigger camper van with a toilet and shower, or a car, but after careful consideration, we decided to buy a car and drive around for a few weeks stopping at B&Bs and motels before renting a small place and stay in one destination for the remaining time. Robert researched the options and we headed to the local car auction to see what they had to offer.

We walked to the southern part of Christchurch which is a more industrial part where all the car dealerships and the auction are located. There would be an auction for ‘commercial and 4x4s’ the following day so today was the day to check out what would be auctioned out. A lot of backpackers and travelers do what we plan on doing; buy a car or a van for the time they are in New Zealand and then sell it before they leave. As it is approaching the end of summer, we hoped that we would be able to find something at a reasonable price.

After some looking and kicking of the tires, we (Robert), had a pretty good idea of what was on offer and we headed back to the hotel. Unfortunately, we still hadn’t seen too much of Christchurch yet due to the nature of our stay (sorting stuff out rather than sightseeing), but Victoria was happy to see that there were many sushi restaurants as she has been craving sushi since she left Vancouver. This time around she had to be satisfied with California rolls and veggie sushi but was happy as a clam! Robert, not being a fan of sushi and raw fish was very accommodating in satisfying Victoria’s sushi craving and stoically ate a large number of teriyaki beef dishes during our days in Christchurch. In fact, the city centre of Christchurch seems to be the home to an abundance of Japanese and Korean restaurants and shops and a lot of young Japanese and Koreans that look like language students.

(interesting statue in the park in Christchurch. Victoria is not sure what's going on here...)

The next day Robert headed to the car auction while Victoria pottered around on her own. About two hours later, Robert came back with a car!!!! He had bought a 4x4 Mitsubishi Pajero to a decent price which meant that we now had wheels!!!! The car had to go through an inspection and the only thing that was ‘wrong’ with it was that one of the seatbelts in the back seat needed replacement. Other than that, we were pretty much ready to go!

We set off the next day and our only definitive plan was to ‘go north’. We bought some map books and started driving. The landscape was beautiful and as soon as we left Christchurch we started seeing some of the millions of sheep that inhabit New Zealand. They are everywhere but are mixed with other animals like farmed deer, cows, horses and the occasional goat and lama. It is clear that farming and raising sheep and cattle is big business in New Zealand!

We more or less drove along the coast and the landscape is quite varied. Some parts look drier and hotter and not much unlike the Okanagan in Canada. Not surprisingly though as we were heading to the Marlborough district where the Kiwis grow their famous wine. Other parts along the coast are very rugged with large waves and rocky beaches.

The first night we stopped in Kaikoura, a little beach resort town on the north eastern side of the South Island. We arrived late and accepted the first hotel that had a room available. We had dinner at a nice restaurant and the seafood chowder was almost to die for! So good! The size of the mussels in the chowder were about twice the size of any other mussel either of us had ever seen. But as the waitress said ‘everything is bigger in New Zealand’… hahaha!!!

The next day we drove from Kaikoura to Picton which is the home of the ferry terminal for crossing over from the south to the north island. We drove through the Marlborough district with vineyards and more sheep and decided to stop on the way back south again as we wanted to have more time to visit and sampling some Kiwi wine.

At some point when we were driving along the sea there was suddenly a sign warning for seals on the road. Hmmm…. After traveling through Canada we have seen warnings for moose, deer, bears and the occasional horse, but never a ‘seal on the road’ warning…
Well, it turned out that there is a large seal colony on the rocks just off the highway and during really rough weather, there is a possibility that the waves sweep the seals off the shore and all the way up to the road!!! Luckily today was a less windy day so we just enjoyed the seals on the beach instead. They were an entertainment to watch! The parent seals were lazy and sleeping on the beach but the baby seals where playing. They were chasing each other up and down the rocks and playing in a natural rock pool that had formed; swimming, diving, splashing and being… youngsters.

We reached the ferry terminal in Picton well on time to find that our ferry was about an hour and a half delayed due to very rough weather…….

The loading of the ferry took forever and was something of a very inefficient procedure. Later on we realized it was slow because they had to carefully secure all the bigger trucks in preparation for a bumpy ride. Still, the organization of the loading was somewhat of a comedy!

The trip over to Wellington that should have taken about 3 hours took close to 4 hours and yes, the sea was rough! More than one person grabbed a designated seasickness paper bag ‘just in case’, and more than one passenger used them! The rolling of the ferry was particularly bad in the front and the back so most people congregated in the middle of the ship.

We were quite happy and relieved when we finally reached Wellington, and on a little bit of shaky legs we drove off the ferry and in to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand!

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 15, 2010 from Christchurch, New Zealand
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Sunny Sydney

Sydney, Australia

A nine hour flight from Hong-Kong to Australia landed us in the early morning in Sydney. The flight was quite long but the time difference from Hong-Kong ‘only’ three hours. However, since we left Hong-Kong late in the evening and flew over night without much sleep, it really felt like we were severely jetlagged when we finally had cleared customs and immigration and staggered out in the sunshine.

Sydney greeted us with nice weather and the contrast was very pleasant as the air was less humid. The hotel let us check in early so at 10am we went to bed for a few hours sleep.

In fact, the first day was spent pretty much recovering and it wasn’t until later in the afternoon/early evening that we found the energy to venture out to and get something to eat. We walked through the Botanical Gardens and stared at the thousands of fruit bats that were hanging in the trees. They are quite large and they looked scary even though they are harmless…. We also saw the biggest spider web with a VERY LARGE spider on guard in the middle…..

We also walked past the famous Opera house and down to Circular Quay from which we took a taxi back to the hotel.

The next morning was also off to a slow start, but eventually we dragged ourselves out of bed and went for a swim in the pool in the Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, today was much greyer and quite cold with a slight drizzle. The swim was nice though and we also had some breakfast at the pool café overlooking the pool area and part of the harbor.

The last full day in Sydney, we met up with Victoria’s friend Malin who has lived in Sydney for four years. She took us on a nice tour with started with a ferry ride to Watson’s Bay and a delicious serving of fish and chips before going for a walk along the coastline. The views were spectacular but when we passed the Lady Bay beach where ‘clothing is optional’ we involuntarily saw some less spectacular naked men strolling down the beach….

The trip continued with a bus ride to Bondi Beach; another walk and a stop for a coffee at a little side café before we decided to head back to the hotel for an hour rest. The plan was to meet up with Malin and her boyfriend Marc for dinner later on, so we took the opportunity to rest our feet and eyes before heading out again for really yummy Indian meal in Rose Bay.

In all we had a very nice day and thanks Malin for being our guide. The only thing was that both of us forgot sunscreen so even just a walk left both of us red like two tomatoes in our faces!!! Ouch!!!!

The following morning we were once again packing our bags and heading to the airport to catch our flight to Kiwi country, aka New Zealand. Since we will be spending about seven weeks there with only vague plans so far, we had only bought the ticket there, not a return. Well, that proved to cause some issues as we weren’t allowed to check to our flight unless we could show a return ticket out of New Zealand. Apparently, they were afraid we were going to stay forever….. So with an hour to spare before check-in closed, we bought return tickets so that we could show that we intended to leave the country. A little stressful at first, but we made it with more than half an hour to spare before the desk would close!
Finally we boarded our flight that would take us to New Zealand and Christchurch!

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 11, 2010 from Sydney, Australia
from the travel blog: The rest of the world
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Hanoi, Vietnam

We are on the move again and have left Hoi An. Our next stop was Hanoi in the northern part of Vietnam.

A short flight landed us in the smoggy, hot capital and after a nighmarish taxi ride from the airport, we got to the hotel. The traffic is kind of crazy also here, but at the same time different from Ho Chi Minh city. There are more cars, but still a zillion of mopeds. The traffic moved quite slowly and not even the air conditioned car could block out the exhaust fumes from all the vechicles.

As we only had one full day in Hanoi we had to make a decision on how to best spend the time. We picked between staying in the city and explore the Hanoi landmarks, or to take a day trip to Halong Bay. Since the traffic was so bad, and the pollution levels obviously quite high, we opted for the trip out of the city.

We could have taken an organized trip to Halong Bay but decided to do it 'our way' again. We hired a car and a driver and set out towards the coast on the east. The drive was three hours and not for the weak of heart. If traffic in the cities is crazy, at least it's slow moving. On the highways and country side roads some kind of rules that are foreign to Western travellers must apply which can make even the calmest person a neurotic back seat driver.... It took a while to figure out what it was the felt so unnerving and after a while we figured it out: the fact that there is a white dotted line in the middle road, separating traffic going in different directions simply doesn't mean a darn in Vietnam!!!

'Right hand side driving' only applies in the most rudimentary terms and most of the driving is done straddling the middle line and might involve slighly keeping to the right if there is oncoming traffic. Cars are trying to pass other cars or mopeds but the vechicles being passed just obliviously stay in the middle of the road, forcing the passing car to drive long stretches on the left hand side of the road.

Luckily we made it 'safely' to Halong Bay and jumped on the first tourist boat that was still going out that day. We had done some homework on the types of trips, but since we arrived quite late in the day, we didn't have much choice and ended up on a 'one star' boat (the two star boats are of better standard) with a group of Vietnamese tourists.

The tour would last three hours and take us to the UNESCO protected caves and a tour through the islands in the bay. At first we were a little worried we had been ripped off but the tour turned out to be pretty good. The first stop was to visit the caves, and the scenery was really amazing. The islands looked like 'jurassic park' island with tall rugged cliffs and lush vegetation. You almost expected a dinosaur to peek out through the trees!

Inside the caves, lighting made them look really spectacular and it was very nicely done.

The journey then continued in through the islands where little fishing markets were floating between the islands. We stopped at one of them and got to look at the different ponds in which different kinds of fish, shellfish and strange creatures were kept. The Vietnamese tour group on our boat picked up a giant snail and a big fish that they bought for dinner.

A little lady in a boat docked at the fish farm sold the spices and supplies needed to cook the fish.

We were lucky to see the sunset which was amazing! The sky turned orange and the sun became a big glowing globe. The temperature was comfortable and probably around 22-25C which was a nice break from the last weeks in 30-35C.

After three hours the boat turned towards the mainland again. The boat crew prepared the fish and the snail that the Vietnamese tour group had bought and we were even invited to have dinner with them. Unfortunately we had to decline since we were heading back to Hanoi but, we were very happy that we got a chance to see a little bit of Halong Bay even though with more time it would have been great to go on a longer overnight trip as there are cruiseships where you can spend one or more nights.

Our driver was waiting for us and another three hour heart stopping trip waited before we finally were back at the hotel in Hanoi. If the trip to Halong Bay had been scary in daylight, that was nothing compared to doing it when it was pitch dark....

So in summary, our short stay in Hanoi provided us with a very nice experience even though it would have been nice to have another day to actually see Hanoi. We were now off to Hong-Kong again, but Vietnam is definitely a place that both of us really enjoyed and would like to explore more!

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 5, 2010 from Hanoi, Vietnam
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Hoi An

Hoi An, Vietnam

A short flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Danang and a 45 minutes taxi ride brought us to Hoi An which is an old trading port of Vietnam. The city is since 1999 protected by UNESCO so the buildings in the old part of town are preserved and apparently look very much like they did hundred of years ago. Today, most people on the streets are Western tourists who browse the hundred of tailor shops that line the streets. It is easy to understand that without the tourists the town would perhaps not be as prosperous as it is. However, there could be a fine balance between preserving the atmosphere of the town and the danger of making into a tacky tourist attraction.

We both really liked Hoi An as it did still have a really good atmosphere and spirit. The majority of buisnesses are tailor shops and shoe makers who can tailor a dress, suit or any other kind of clothing very inexpensively and affordably. You can also get shoes made in any colour and size pretty much overnight once you have decided on a model.

People are very friendly and you don't feel pushed and forced to buy or look at things in the shops like you sometimes do at markets in Thailand and other countries. Yes, the store staff want to sell you things, but we never really feel hassled.

The hotel we stayed at was located about 10 minutes outside Hoi An next to the river. We got a really nice room overlooking the river with palm trees swaying in the wind. One morning when we came out on the balcony the palm tree was swaying not only from the wind but also because a little man working for the hotel had climbed up the tree and was cutting down the coconuts. It wasn't clear if it was done to prevent the coconuts from falling on the heads of the hotel guests or if it was just 'pruning time', but it was entertaining to watch!

We made our way into the old part of Hoi An in the evenings and found an excellent restaurant that served delicious food to a very good price. Three appertizers, two main courses, a couple of glasses of wine (for Robert), rice, mineral water and dessert was only about $25 in total. The best part was probably the 'money bags' which were deep fried 'bags' of rice paper filled with veggies, spices and prawns. So yummy!

The inexpensive meal was balanced out by a very expensive taxi ride back to the hotel. No, we didn't get scammed by the taxi driver (which happened once in Ho Chi Minh city); the fault was only ours.... The vietnamese dong is basically worth nothing, so the notes come in very high denominations like 10,000, 100,000, 5,000, 50,000 etc. One USD is around 18,000 dong so good skills in quick math is useful when figuring out how much things cost. A good eye for the right colour and number of zeros on the notes help to... Our taxi ride back to the hotel cost 52,000 VND and in the dark, Robert accidentally gave the taxi driver a 500,000 note instead of 50,000!!! We didn't notice the mistake until the next day but would explain why the taxi driver looked so confused. He must have thought Robert was either a very rich or very stupid Englishman....

The second day, we slept in a bit but wanted to go for some kind of tour or sightseeing in the countryside around Hoi An. Since we had already missed the organized day trips, we decided to go on our own. We rented bicycles to the price of 20,000 dong per day (a little more than a dollar) and set off. Thankfully traffic is less crazy than in Ho Chi Minh and it is actually possible to cycle without fearing for your life!

We cycled out on the rural roads that led us through rice paddies and vegetable fields. We made a stop for lunch at a restaurant built on the river before continuing our tour. We also made a few stops to see what the farmers were up to and Robert even offered to help with the work! The farmer however, probably thought we were completely crazy. He kept talking to Victoria in Vietnamese probably thinking that she would understand so that she could tell her crazy boyfriend to stay out of his fields, but in the end he was smiling!

An old woman was walking in the ditch of the rice fields looking for something which she put in a plastic bag. It turned out that the bag contained big, fat, yummy snails!

We also saw some buffalos grazing between the tombstones in a grave yard and several chickens, a few cows and lots of dogs. The funniest thing was when we met a guy with several cages on the trailer to his moped. Suddenly one cage fell off the trailer and out of the cage came a pig!!!! The guy had to stop and run after the pig which was not very keen on getting back into the cage. After some wrestling the pig lost and was put back in his prison.

Our last stop on our bicycle tour was at a little house that offered cold drinks. We stopped for a Coke and we were served by a woman and her 78 year old grandma. They spoke very little English but tried to teach Robert some Vietnamese. When we biked away from their house Robert practiced his new skills on every person we met on the road. Some of them seemed to think he was nuts, which could have something to do with his pronounciation which probably butchered the Vietnamese language!

In the evening, we headed back to old Hoi An and went to the same restaurant as the previous night. Since we enjoyed the food so much we didn't see why we shouldn't go back where we knew it was going to be good. It didn't disappoint! The food was again excellent and stuffed on money bags and other delicacies, we headed back to the hotel for one more night's sleep before we are off to Hanoi for two days.

In summary, Hoi An is very well worth a visit and one of our favourite destinations so far. And if you do go, don't miss dinner at the White Marble Restaurant & Wine Bar!!!

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 3, 2010 from Hoi An, Vietnam
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Exploring Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Yes! We are in Vietnam! After 24 hours of serious frustration and tests of patience we eventually made it here.

The day after we had first tried to go to Ho Chi Minh city and didn't go because Robert needed a visa for Vietnam, we woke up early to try sorting out what we would do instead. We checked flights to China, Australia and Malaysia, but nothing really worked out and made sense in terms of timing and cost. Quite frustrated we started looking into how long it would take to get the tourist visa for Vietnam. Several websites claimed that you could apply for a visa through them, but we were a bit hesitant since we felt that there was little guarantee that the promises were real. Who could issue a visa on a Sunday just because you paid them? What if it was just a big scam?

We found once site that 'looked' reliable, but still; perhaps having a fancy website is the way to make money from innocent tourists? But we emailed the company and they did get back to us right away and claimed they could issue the visa within an hour once we paid $125. It sounded suspicious and very expensive since the visa normally shouldn't cost more than $20, but after some discussions we decided to take the chance. After some problems making the payment go through and lo and behold; five minutes later we got the emailed letter that pre-approved the visa!

We now tried to re-book the same flight to Vietnam leaving in about three hours but since it was too close to departure we couldn't do it online and decided to head to the airport again. Back at the airport the same girl at the Air France desk who had cancelled our tickets yesterday was able to rebook us on the flight for today without a penalty!!! Robert got so happy he went to buy a box of chocolates for the girl who looked like it was the first time a customer actually did something nice for her.

Happily we boarded the flight towards Ho Chi Minh city! It is a short flight that only takes about an hour, so it provided a little bit of rest after a stressful morning. Upon landing in Ho Chi Minh City, we headed for the passport control and the desk where Robert was to pick up his visa with the pre-approved letter. We got a good taste of Vietnamese government organisation.... About 30 people were gathered around the desk and the confusion and frustration was very obvious. It turned out that the 'pre-approved letter' that Air France demanded from us wasn't actually necessary.... Robert could just have applied for the visa right then and there. Nevertheless, the processing of the visa took about two hours and was highly inefficient and unorganized so it became a very long impatient wait. Finally, we got it and could proceed to passport control!!!

We took a taxi in to our hotel and stared in amazement at the traffic. There is no good way of describing it besides 'complete, and utter chaos'. Buses, cars and a million mopeds are sharing the roads and at the first glance it looks like mayhem. However, there is still flow in traffic; it never comes to complete gridlock, and despite thinking every minute will be the last of your life, you very rarely see an accident. It is something that must be experienced though as no description can really make justice to it!

There are apparently four million mopeds in the city and the major means of transportation. You see whole families of four on one little moped and usually with a day's shopping, or perhaps a desk or a fridge as well! We saw one guy driving with at least six dozens of eggs skillfully balanced on the back of his moped, and another one transporting a car windshield!!!!

Our hotel was located in District 5, which is part of Chinatown. It was very large, quite modern and comfortable. The first night, we went to the hotel restaurant for some food and Victoria had traditional 'pho'; noodle soup. We both shared some traditional fried spring rolls as well as the ones in fresh rice paper stuffed with herbs, noodles and meat. Food in Vietnam is generally less spicy than Thai food, but is still similar to both Thai and Chinese.

Since we only had one full day in HCMC, we decided to go on a sightseeing tour the next day and booked a half day city tour. We ended up getting a guide for just the two of us and were driven around in a nice air conditioned car. The tour went to a Chinese temple, the War Remnants museum, the Reunification Palace, the Notre Dame cathedral, the Post Office and a factory that made traditional arts and crafts.

In the Chinese temple, the haze from the incense was thick as you could buy incense that was lit up and burned for up to a week. In the ceiling, large bee hive looking coils of incense were slowly burning with notes attached to them which had the wish of the person buying and lighting the incense written down.

The War Remnants museum is the most popular museum for Western tourists and a horrific reminder of the atrocities committed during the Vietnam war. As Victoria had already visited the museum last time she was in HCMC (and at that time unable to finish the museum tour), she opted for waiting outside. The museum is very 'one sided' but does not in any way take away from the reality of the terrible things that happened during the war; sadly often to innocent civilians and children.

The Reunification Palace is large and took most of our tour. We saw the banquet halls, reception halls, bunkers, helicopter pads and other 'necessities' of former presidents and authorities of a country with a long and troubled past.

Lastly, our tour included a stop in a factory for disabled Vietnamese that produces handicrafts decorated with crushed egg shells and mother of pearl. We were shown each step in the production process and of course ended up in the shop at the end.

In all, the tour was very good and probably the best way to see some of the key landmarks in a short period of time. Our guide was a young man who was very nice and knowledgeable.

That evening we took a taxi to District one which is where most large hotels and restaurants are located. We took a quick look at the market and bought some guidebooks off a street vendor. Very good copies of popular books can be bought to a fraction of the price the original would cost back in Europe or North Americas. The quality is quite good too! We bought Lonley Planets guide books for Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand in an attempt to be a little bit more prepared for our destinations to come!

After dinner which we ate in the roof top garden of Hotel Rex, we headed back to our hotel for one more night's sleep before we are off in the morning to go to Danang. Danang is located on the coast in about the middle of the long narrow country and is the closest airport to Hoi An, which is a UNESCO protected heritage site that we have been recommended to visit.

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 2, 2010 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
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