Tag Archives: travel

The Last Leg…

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THIS IS IT..the FINAL COUNTRY; last border crossing, last set of ‘useful’ phrases to learn, last feeling of utter confusion as we try to calculate how many (insert currency) to the dollar / pound / (insert whatever currency we’ve just left).

SO…

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Where we have been…

The first map (red line) shows where we have been. It looks a little unorthodox but remember we are still a merry company of seven so need to start and end at the same place. From Cambodia, we gathered up our gleaming halos and took an epic 36-hour bus ride to Nha Trang, a small city on the South China Sea.

After a few days in Nha Trang, we (or some of us anyway) got the bus five hours down the road to Mui Ne, an idyllic beach town just a little further down the coast.

Another night bus will take us back to Ho Chi Minh city and this is where we will say our goodbyes. Many thanks to Rhys, McEvoy, Chris, Daw and Jamie for being nutters.

 

 

Where we're going...

Where we’re going…

Cel and Imogen will continue down to the Mekong Delta before going back to Ho Chi Minh city and flying (we just couldn’t face another three-day bus journey, and price-wise there’s not much in it!) up to Danang.  From there it’s the historic town of Hoi An, the picturesque Halong Bay and finally ending up Hanoi.

 

See you somewhere along the way..!

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Bus is Best

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We’ve spent a lot of time on buses recently. Laos has proven to be a lot larger and longer than expected. And as our penchant for getting night buses has been gradually extinguished – bus company thieves rifling through bags in the hold, sharp corners and hard seats, and Celyn proving too tall (!) for even the V.I.P Sleeper Coach – we have been treated to some epic yet eye-opening daytime bus trips.

Laos map mark 2. Follow the blue line

Laos map mark 2.
Follow the blue line

Vientiane, Laos’ capital, came and went without either of us really noticing it. We wandered around the hot streets, completed some dull admin tasks and briefly looked round the rather uninspiring night market. In all honesty, it was just another capital city – functional yet strangely nondescript.

Having checked the capital city off the list, we got an early morning bus in to the mountains towards Phonsavan.  As the bus climbed along the stomach-clenchingly tight corners, the air grew cooler (we spent the best part of the journey with the coach door open and the conductor hanging out) and the population more sparse. Every couple of kilometres along the road we passed mountain-top villages consisting of a scattering of precariously balanced wood and thatch houses, most of which backed on to terrifyingly steep drops. This is the rural Laos, the mountain villagers who are named according to the altitude at which they live: Lao Thai (living in valleys up to an altitude of 400m); Lao Thoeng (midlevel mountain slopes); and Lao Soung living 1000m or more above sea level). I’m not 100% sure which groups we encountered, but seeing as we passed a 2819m peak en route, and that all our fellow Lao bus passengers reckon that it was freezing (it was about 30 degrees), I’m assuming the latter.

 

The three mountain tribes, as depicted on the 1,000 Kip note (worth about 8 pence)

 

There were kids everywhere –small children trotting alongside the road with a younger brother or sister strapped to their back, groups of girls in dirty dresses crouching beside a litter of miniscule kittens, a game of boules with family members from all generations, elderly ladies being terrorised by their grandkids or great-grandkids as they tried to wash them or comb their hair. Mothers would stand in the doorways to their houses, many of them unbelievably young and beautiful, a youthfulness equally matched by the fresh faces and taut bodies of their husbands. There was a communal tap in each village, evidently the sole source of water as each one was crowded with people washing themselves or their offspring – leading to a whole lot of naked soapy children cheekily escaping the firm hand of their mothers. So I guess some things exist all over the world!

 

Ponsavan, our destination, was welcomingly cool after a stuffy and (for some) vomit-inducing journey. It is renowned as the site of the mysterious Plain of Jars – a huge area scattered with thousands of limestone jars of undetermined age and purpose. Scholars believe that they were funerary urns, the locals prefer a tale about needing wine fermenters to celebrate a victory of the 6th century Lao-Thai hero, Khun Jeuam. No one knows, and the random scattering and varying sizes do give the plains a rather enigmatic feel. However, I think our theory that the jars were used as upside-down loudspeakers will achieve little recognition in the history books.

The mysterious jars

The mysterious jars

Another draw of the area, and perhaps one that is slightly more exciting if not a lot more recent, is that the whole area (Xieng Khuang province) was the site of the ‘secret bombings’ during the Vietnam war. The Ho Chi Minh trail passed through the Northern part of Laos, sparking the decision by the U.S. to carpet-bomb the area, in spite of the reticence of the Lao people to become involved.

 

Some empty shells gathered outside a house

Some empty shells gathered outside a house

For anyone unsure about the term ‘carpet-bomb’ (we had to look it up) here’s a definition and some stats:

Carpet-bombing: Large aerial bombing done in a progressive manner to inflict damage in every part of a selective area of land. Achieved by dropping many unguided bombs. The phrase evokes the image of explosions completely covering an area in the same way a carpet covers a floor. Also known as saturation or obliteration bombing.

The USA conducted 580,344 missions over Laos in a 9-year period (1964 -1973). Bombs fell by the planeload every 8 minutes during this time, creating a grand total of 2 million tonnes of bombs. That’s more bombs than were dropped in the whole of WWII.

So would we be wrong in saying carpet-bomb and annihilate aren’t too dissimilar?

Casual stack of artillery outside the Tourist Office

Casual stack of artillery outside the Tourist Office

Tragically, of all these bombs dropped, about 30% failed to explode, which left the North and East of the country littered with UXO – Unexploded Ordnance. The Plain of Jars site, which is now a dedicated UNESCO heritage, has been meticulously cleared and the ‘safe route’ through them is delineated with reassuring white markers. However, a lot of the surrounding land still contains UXO, which has rendered much of it out of bounds and essentially futile – it cannot be farmed, it cannot be built on, you cannot even walk there for fear of unearthing something explosive.

Discarded Russian Tank near a small village

Discarded Russian Tank near a small village

Fear not, however, as the Lao people are remarkably resourceful. When you walk about the town you realise that the empty shells are all being put to use – small shells used as decorative pieces in restaurants,  cluster bombs being resold as boules sets,  large ones artillery propping up the foundations of houses. Even the scrap metal from the bombs has been smelted and refashioned into cutlery. Their stoicism and refusal to get stuck in the past is both impressive and astonishingly humbling.

The keyring for our room key was even an empty shell

Our little sojourn also included a brief stop to a whiskey making village where we were invited to try the local specialty – rice wine.

Cel sniffs apprehensively next to our wine connoisseur...

Cel sniffs apprehensively next to our wine connoisseur…

Joe's not so sure..

Joe’s not so sure..

.. and Imogen's pissed already.

.. and Imogen’s pissed already.

Another gut-wrenchingly wiggly journey (sickbags, I love you) took us down to the border town of Tha Khaek – situated on the banks of the Mekong and facing Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. On arrival we were heralded with some aggressive thunderstorms, a theme which was to continue throughout our stay. In fact, the apocalyptic weather combined with a severe lack of accommodation and the unwelcome appearance of Imogen’s mysterious skin disease – misdiagnosed by my suffering self as leprosy, but rediagnosed (by Google) as heat rash – made us all feel rather ill at ease in this unusual town.

The ominous sky...

The ominous sky…

 

However, Tha Khaek more than redeemed itself the following day as we got on our manual motorbikes (MANUAL, I TELL YOU! WE MANAGED A MANUAL) and began exploring the province’s myriad network of caves.

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The landscape around Tha Khaek

Frankly, the caves were alright. I mean, a cave’s a cave. They were all sufficiently dank and dingy, many of them contained some sort of algae ridden water in the bottom, and nearly all were drowning in litter. What was far more exciting was steaming along the wide-roads, the paddy fields either side giving way to dark purple mountains, so steep they seemed more like vertical towers of rock; or trying to cross a swollen river with the bikes accompanied by a giggling audience of local children; or partaking in some miniature motor-cross racing as we found ourselves completely lost, along with some bewildered cattle, on trench-like dirt tracks. That was fun.

Kylie and Joe on the bike

Kylie and Joe on the bike

Can you imagine how this ended? (Notice how Kylie and I have somewhat wisely jumped off...!)

Can you imagine how this ended? (Notice how Kylie and I have somewhat wisely jumped off…!)

Still there was no time to waste and we were on the bus again the next morning for the last leg of our Laos journey – 11 hours on the road to Si Phan Don, otherwise known as 4,000 Islands. This is where the widest section of the Mekong is punctuated by sandbars and islands adorned with betel trees and sugar palms. Most travellers stay on Don Det, which is where we ended up; the facilities may have been basic but it more than provided a welcome respite from hours of travelling in cramped buses, tuk tuks and sorngtaaou. When you emerge from the ‘do nothing’ stupor of Don Det, it’s worth hiring a bicycle and pedalling over to neighbouring Don Khon, Not only does it offer stunning views across to Cambodia, but if you’re lucky you will catch a glimpse of the rare Irrawaddy dolphins that frequent the waters. We didn’t manage to spot any but were content to waste some time cooling off (cycling in 35 degree heat is SO SWEATY) in the hope that we might see them. Don Khon also has some magnificent waterfalls; great roaring cataracts and wild waters which make slightly nervous when you realise that only barrier between you and certain death is a flimsy bamboo pole. Erk!

Crossing the Mekong

Crossing the Mekong – muddy as the rains are just beginning

The Khong Phapheng Falls

The Khong Phapheng Falls

.. and again.

.. and again.

Wise sign

Wise sign

Did someone say Tour de France 2014?

Did someone say Tour de France 2014? (Imogen is SO UPSET about this)

 

Our two days R & R here were absolutely ideal, although the leprosy still hasn’t cleared up. I think with 4,000 Islands you need to know what you’re in for before you arrive. If you’re looking for luxury, go elsewhere. If you don’t mind an intermittent electricity supply, sharing your bed with a cockroach or two, yet some undeniably incomparable views, then this is bliss.

And so ends our time in Laos. Two very enthusiastic (mums) thumbs up from us both, it has had everything. Onwards and downwards to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where we will be joined by the three Musketeers. Watch this space.

Why Happiness Reads White… (Part I)

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As is becoming a common theme with bigclimblittleclimb, we begin with an apology.

We are both extremely sorry for going AWOL in the past few weeks and hope that it will not happen again in the not too distant future. (sad and slightly sheepish face)

All better?

While we are (quite) sorry, there are valid reasons for this. It is partly due to our recent lifestyle change; that is, from hard-working city-dwelling internet-users to wannabe free-spirited campers with no roof, no shoes, no showers and no electricity. To be perfectly honest, living under canvas for a month has been nothing but fantastic and although the first few days saw us pining for a memory foam mattress, we now feel wonderfully adept at using just the bare necessities and average a BOLT-ESQUE 5 mins 04 seconds tent erection (ahem) time.

The second, and slightly more difficult to explain, reason, is that we are a little lost for words. There is something about the South Island that is. Just. Awesome. I know it sounds as though we’re just regurgitating the worst of Kiwiana, but it really is. The places and experiences themselves are  hard to describe without releasing a volley of superlatives and meaningless descriptions about ‘majestic / towering / forbidding / enormous mountains’ and ‘sparkling / golden / pure / soft sands’ (delete adjective where appropriate). And as you all know, happiness reads white.

Hence, we’ve said nothing.

Take a peek at the photos on our facebook page, which collectively should give you many thousand words and, in order to make some sense of them, here is a brief whirlwind tour of the past few weeks…

We started off here…

 

The Abel Tasman National Park

This was a four-day freedom kayak trip around the renowned Abel Tasman coastal National Park. Contrary to popular belief, freedom kayaking is NOT the same as a Newport ‘freedom taxi ride’ (where no cash is followed by a quick dash). It just means that you start at point A and arrange to meet back there however many days you want later. In the interim, you choose a couple of campsites up and down the coastline and as long as you make it to the correct campsite on the correct night with the correct number of people / kayaks / other necessary and unnecessary equipment, then all is well. The park itself deserves its pristine reputation and despite the floods of trampers, campers and kayakers in the area, it was one of the most unspoilt areas that we have seen thus far. If you want paradise, you’ve got it here…

Note for your bucket lists: if you can, stay at Mosquito Bay. Access by water only, dramatic tidal variation, and one of the best early morning views that you can ever ask for. There’s a reason why we found a picture of this on page 4 of the LP (fame).

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The eagle… (as she is known)

 

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Morning view (Incubus?)

Mosquito Bay

Mosquito Bay

Beamers

Beamers

We saw Tom Hanks...

Pretty sure that was Tom Hanks…

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Siggy and Marina training for the next Olympics

From there, we somehow got stuck here…

Motueka and the Nelson Lakes

By stuck we mean we just couldn’t leave. Perhaps it was the hippy vibe (ex-Luminators, dontcha know) in the area; perhaps it was the free campsites that we stumbled across; perhaps it was that we wanted to spend a few more days with our soon-to-depart Norwegian and Argentinian travel buddies. Whatever it was, the whole of the Golden Bay area was without a doubt one of our favourites, and our reluctance to leave is testament to that.

Dragging ourselves kicking and screaming (note: WRITER’S HYPERBOLE) from Golden Bay, we took the Wild West route down the coast, straight into Glacial Valley. Which is as exciting as it sounds. Home to the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, as well as a ton (not literally) of other, smaller glaciers, this is the Southern Alps at its finest.

View of the Southern Alps (plus cloud) from the Tasman

View of the Southern Alps (plus cloud) from the Tasman

Same again but at dawn (YES WE GOT UP FOR THIS SHIZ)

Same again but at dawn (YES WE GOT UP FOR THIS SHIZ)

Does anyone else distinctly remember studying glaciers at GCSE / Standard Grade / O-Level (we’re not judging here) and learning a whole load of concepts and formations yet never EVER seeing one? We certainly do. Everyone always seems to be able to explain the formation of an arret or a hanging valley or an ox-bow lake but, let’s be honest, how many times have you actually seen one? Do they even exist?

Well, here’s the thing…

THEY DEFINITELY DO! We’ve SEEN them and we can CONFIRM their existence. Panic over. And to put another dusting of snow on an already very cold, couple of kilometre long tongue of ice, these glaciers are one of a kind due to their position close to the sea; during the ice age (around 15,000 to 20,000 years ago) the glaciers actually reached the sea… probably the greatest slide ever.

The Franz Josef is the bigger of the two, but is so over-hyped and over-stated that you’re practically vomiting information on the glacier before you’ve even seen it.

FJ Glacier.. from the pauper's viewpoint

FJ Glacier.. from the pauper’s viewpoint

A few ks down the road you come across the miniscule town of Fox which starts at a solid good and only gets better. Over the (many) years, the glacier has retreated and left a Lord of the Rings type valley; sheer rock faces on each side and an ice-grey flat bottom. Tourists can walk for around 20-minutes to reach the glacier tip, which is both hugely impressive and quite terrifying at the same time. The great tongue of ice, light blue in the centre and dirty grey on the top, is enormous. You can see the guided tour groups walking on the ice looking like miniature action men, with a guide in front hacking out a path for them to follow. At random, chunks of the ice fall off and rock debris and shards of ice tumble into the slate grey river rushing out from underneath the glacier. Funny as it sounds, it was all pretty humbling. Partly because of the size, partly because of the insane raw beauty, but mostly because of the actual danger of it all – only a couple of months ago some snap happy tourists crossed DOC barriers and ended up under the ice. Rescuers couldn’t even retrieve the bodies because it was too dangerous for them.

Fox Glacier valley walls

Fox Glacier valley walls

Valley view from the glacier end

Valley view from the glacier end

The ACTUAL glacier (Fox. Naturally)

The ACTUAL glacier (Fox. Naturally)

Fancy a swim under there anyone?

Fancy a swim under there anyone?

Outdoorsy gimps (matching trousers?)

Outdoorsy gimps / geography teacher wannabes (matching trousers?)

One thing to rival seeing the glaciers? Seeing them reflected in a lake. Formed when the glacier retreated and left an ice block in its wake, neighbouring Lake Matheson should without a doubt be in the list of ‘Top Ten Photo Ops’. Have a look for yourself…

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The view of Mounts Cook and Tasman from Lake Matheson

Reflection?

Reflection?

All glaciered out, we got back on the road and drove inland through the Haast Pass to Wanaka, Queenstown and Glenorchy*; New Zealand’s very own Jane Bennett, Lizzie Bennett and Mary Bennett, respectively. Wanaka is another place that we found near impossible to leave; a small town hemmed in by a vast lake on one side and impassable mountains on the other three. It has something of an alpine village feel to it – probably because that is what it is in winter. Tourism is big there, but it hasn’t completely taken over and there is a real familial and cutesy without being kitch atmosphere. Perhaps the highlight was watching the Super 15 rugby match in a local pub – Otago Highlanders (the home-ish team) vs. Waikato Chiefs. The rugby set Celyn into raptures; the happy hour prices and free hotdog with every drink (we need that more in the UK) worked for Imogen.

Wanaka is often compared to its neighbour, Queenstown. Both famous for their second to none scenery, busy ski season, and ‘adrenaline junkie’ appeal, Queenstown is supposed to be the lashy crazy older brother while Wanaka lingers a bit behind in a sort of almost-but-not-quite second position. To be honest, I can’t stand the way that guidebooks compare the two towns. Yes, Queenstown can be lashtastic and you can down ten shots of Bacardi whilst doing a 1,0000 m bungee jump and then frogging (it’s not as dirty as it sounds) down a river. But, that’s not all, and it means that visitors nearly always arrive with preconceptions neatly etched on their minds. We felt as though we arrived with an idea of what we were in for and I think our opinions on the place were formed before we’d even crossed the Crown Range. Which isn’t fair for any town, no matter how good or bad it might be. Cursing guidebooks aside (our Lonely Planet is now lounging in a charity shop somewhere in Christchurch… but that’s another story), Queenstown is a great place to quietly fritter away a few days (if you’re poor) or alternatively, spend a fair bit of cash and knock a couple of years off your life (if you’re rich). Either way, it has a huge range of bucket list activities (although they come at a price), a café culture that rivals gay Pareee, a lot of Brits, and some really really good drinks deals.

 

Actually, who are we kidding? We know that one massive draw in QT was our happy camping in the backyard of Miss Natalie Farmer’s former house. And Ferg Burger.

 

We’re going to have to stop here, it’s getting late and the only other person left in McDonald’s appears to have died over one of the tables.

 

Hold that thought – we’ll be back for the second instalment shortly…

 

 

 

 

 

 

*For some reason we hardly took any photos there. Weird.

Kicking up a Stink

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Rotorua smells bad.

 

And I mean bad.

As in really bad.

 

This is a far cry from your run of the mill city smell, this is broken-egg-left-in-direct-sunlight-in-a-room-with-minimal-to-no-ventilation-and-a-five-day-old-fart bad. No sooner had we passed the Haere Mai sign into Rotorua than the dry stench of sulphur seeped through the car windows, which we thought exciting at first (ohmigoshohmigoshlookeventhedrainsaresteaming) but soon realised that the novelty of breathing with a scarf on your face wears off pretty sharpish.

 

The reason for the smell? Geothermal is big here. Rotorua is known as NZ’s most dynamic thermal area and is famed for it’s bubbling mud pools, hyperactive geysers and, of course, it’s distinctive whiff. To a nose-less person, it would be perfect. To a dog, it’s probably the equivalent of hell.

 

The smell (which I don’t think I’m exaggerating – there was definitely a middle of the night rage where the window was slammed shut and ear plugs were rapidly removed and jammed up nostrils) doesn’t deter tourists, however, and Rotorua is one of the most visited spots on the North Island. You can see why. There is loads to see and do, and the thermal activity, although pungent, is strangely mystifying.

Lonely Planet’s walking tour (although we know we’re being slightly spoonfed) was an absolute shout (most likely due to the watering hole, the Pig and Whistle, at the finish line). Not only did it take us round all the colonial buildings of the town, including the pastiche Tudor building that went from bath-house to nightclub to museum in the space of about 150 years, but also it wound through the historical Maori village of Ohinemutu and through the bubbling springs of Kairau Park, one of the few places where you can see the hot springs in action without being rinsed (financially).

The museum (beforeyougotosleepIpromiseIwon’tsayverymuch) is actually well worth the $18 entry fee. Chirpy museum staff (including the tour guide who claimed she couldn’t smell the sulphur any more. Harumph.) and informative exhibits about the town, both geographically (geothermally?) and historically actually made for a very interesting couple of hours. Namely the museum more than compensated for the lack of information about Maori culture that we had been whinging about in Kohukohu and Hamilton. It was all there, and we gratefully lapped it up (including the bit about cannibalism. Nyom.) Not so much the ‘historical Maori village’, which seemed pretty anti-historical i.e. totally fake. The gardens were pretty, but stank. End of.

Rotorua may smell, but the thermal springs are fascinating. That’s the reason why people settled here. Imagine freezing in winter and just popping outside for a ready-made hot bath. Or needing to cook something when it’s too windy for a fire so all you do is pop your boil-in-a-bag bag into the lake and in five minutes it’s done. I think this is probably worth burning your nasal cavity for.

 

Yet Rotorua isn’t the only one spurting steam from it’s sewage system (I’m talking about the thermal waters, not the other steamy sewer filler…) as we had discovered a few days before at Hot Water Beach, a few hours drive north from Rotorua. Here, armed with a spade and your bathers, you could happily while away a few hours in a home-made bath of warm water on an otherwise extremely chilly beach. Likewise, the famously cold lake at Taupo has it’s own thermal springs just below the surface, causing random warm patches (that can be explained). It just goes to show that NZ is geographically tumultuous. The volcanic pathway that runs through the centre of the the North Island is well and truly alive – forget our puny land of the mountain and the flood, this is more like land of eruptions and earthquakes and boiling mud.

 

Granted, it’s terrifying, but still fantastic at the same time.

Mr Map #2

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The weather’s getting warmer (mway), so we’re going further south (colder).

Brief descrip…

*large intake of breath* From Auckland we boogied over to the mountainous Coromandel Region, known as the holiday playground for city folk. After dodging raindrops there, we moved a long way down to Rotorua (good God it was smelly – we’ll explain later) and are now chasing the sun in Taupo.

 

Check it out on the map … where we are we? 

 

How Not To Drive

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The Highway Code for use in New Zealand – Revised and abridged version.

 

 

This Highway Code is used and adhered to by all North Island road users. Please take all points into serious consideration. The writer does not assume any responsibility for actions or indeed non-actions taken by people who have read this version of the NZHC ™ and claims will be refuted for detrimental reliance on any information provided or expressed and so on and so on and so forth.

[If in doubt, see Miss N. Farmer. ]

 

 


1. Spatial awareness is not required when driving.

 
This relates to urban, suburban and miles-away-from-any-sort-of-urban driving area. Bumping, scraping, and full on crashing is perfectly acceptable when parking or indeed just driving. Likewise, overtaking on cliff edges with a slice of plastic cheese worth of space between you and the overtakee is also absolutely fine. Think of it as gaining ‘lad’ points. The more dangerous the terrain, the better.

 
2. When in doubt, pull out.

 
If you are waiting at a left- or right-hand turn for more than 5 seconds (that’s ‘one-elephant-two-elephant…’) just go. Traffic or no traffic. Don’t worry about the other cars on the road, they are there to work around you.

 

 
3. Highway can mean anything.

 
The Kiwi Highway is a self-confessed misnomer. Or, as it is known bureaucratically, an umbrella term. It is known to include: motorways, dual carriageways, single carriageways, 0.5 carriageways, passing lanes, gravel tracks, dirt tracks, mountain tracks, single-lane bridges, rickety Monty Python bridges, hobbit passing lanes, vomit-inducing bends and the Bridge of Death.

 
4. Do not give way on bridges.

 

 

When approaching a one lane bridge i.e. 94.6% of all road bridges, give way signs are purely decorative. Giving way is neither expected nor carried out, so don’t even bother. If crossing a one-lane bridge is akin to playing a Spartan game of chicken blindfolded on the M25, you’re doing well.

 
5.1 Lines on the side of the road are redundant.

 
If there is a hard shoulder, or indeed any sort of tarmac-ed surface on the roadside, use it. And by use it, we mean drive on it. The white lines are only there to help possums in the dark.

 
5.2 Lines in the middle of the road are redundant.

 
Driving on the correct side of the road is only for pansies, learners and German camper-vans.  Use up as much road space as you possibly can. This rule must be adhered to when negotiating the 179 degree turns and hairpin corners of the mountain roads.

 
6.1 Cars must conform to make and model regulations.

 

Cars must be at least 10 years old. The more battered the better.

 
6.2 Cars must conform to colour regulations

 
The following colours are acceptable: black, white, browny black, browny white, brown, blacky white, whitey brown, whitey black, any combination of the above.

 
7. Manners are not to be used on roads.

 
They only confuse. Which could lead to road accidents. So manners are a no-no. Don’t let anyone out, or say thank you, or even acknowledge other road users, and there is a compulsory minimum middle finger use of 3 times per journey.

 
8. Speed limit signs on corners are for guideline purposes only.

 

 
When you see a sign telling you to take a corner at 25 kph rather than your current speed of 100 kph, don’t feel that it is necessary to adhere to it. Think of it like a game of Mario Kart – the faster you go, the more likely you are to get one of those multi-coloured floating prize box things. Go on, you know you want to.

 

9. Indicating a sign of weakness.

 

It’s far more interesting trying to guess which way a car is going. Especially on double roundabouts. For true man points, smash all indicators.

 

10. Expect the unexpected.. of the bovine variety.

 

 

This is far more entertaining than the odd suicidal squirrel. Just make sure you brake in time.

 

 

 

Copyright 2012. From a sofa and some very cold feet in Whitianga.

Auckland – The Windy City?

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In the words of the  Love Actually nativity child-octopus, ‘we’re here’.

We’ve made it. All in one piece. No missing luggage; no missing body parts; and no errant prohibited biodegradable items in our bags (although going through customs was one of the more ridiculous experiences I’ve ever had). Despite some severe lapses in communication, we managed to find Scott and Carl’s house in Mount Eden, hidden in the depths of leafy suburbia, pretty unscathed.

First impressions?

1. It’s cold. Like serious cold. It’s the tail end of winter, which means we frequently flip from Narnia to the Saraha in a matter of minutes. When we arrived to grey skies and a spattering of rain, we did have a mild panic attack as we thought that perhaps we had flown to Kuala Lumpur and then mistakenly flown right back to Heathrow.

Dear God.

No, it’s not that bad. According to the New Zealanders, this week has been particularly blustery, and it’s colder than it usually is for October. Funny. Is this faintly reminiscent of the great British epithet ‘No, I promise you. It’s NEVER normally as cold / wet / unpleasant as this!’?

Whatever.

We are, however, thanking our lucky stars (YES, James Taylor) that we are wholly familiar with the concept, ‘changeable’.  Auckland may be on a slightly different equivalent latitude, but the weather is JUST AS ANNOYING. 20-minute torrential showers, freak gusts of wind, and bursts of sunlight hot enough to make a dermatologist hyperventilate.

Och well, nae boths. It’s layering and anoraks all round. Besides, word on the street is that you can still ski in the south. Worth a shot.

2. The culture, demographic and general facon de vie is… peculiar?

I know we are but 2 days into our ‘extravaganza’, and furthermore we have been told that Auckland is not a representation of ‘the real New Zealand’, but having caught possibly the least direct airport bus to the city centre, I can’t hep but notice how much the this country seems like a fully-functioning yet unfamiliar amalgamation of British, American and Pan-Asian culture.

They drive on the left. British. They have pictures of the queen on their coins (yet, for some reason, they don’t accept pounds. We tried). British. The nicest and most reasonably priced food is either sushi or Subway. Asian? American? You are just as likely to hear Malaysian or Cantonese in the city centre as you are English.

It’s quite fun actually. The infrastructure is most definitely influenced by the US. Not only are the roads wide and well-signposted, Auckland is also made up of mile after mile of suburban bliss – detached, coloured bungalow homes with steps up to the porch, letter boxes on the road and numbers going up to the zillions. Mix this with a whirlwind taste of Europe in the French souvenir shops and ‘Father Ted’ and ‘Danny Dolan’ pubs that are on every street corner. In fact, it is probably easier to find a European pint here than any sort of native fare. For example, ironically, our first NZ pint was in a Belgian bar, complete with Leffe on tap, pictures of Brigitte Bardot (pretty sure she’s French), and Hommes / Femmes on the toilet doors. Food wise, the best munch is most definitely Asian. Well, I guess we are in spitting distance (.. OK, things are a bit more ‘spread out’ in the southern hemisphere). Regardless, we have thoroughly thrown ourselves into the sushi market. (You can even get proper sushi packed lunches!) Nyom.

So how do we describe Auckland in a nutshell? With McDonalds, KFC and Subway restaurants, an enormous Deloitte building, and The National Bank with a rearing stallion as a logo (remind you of anything…?) it seems as though New Zealand (gross generalisation, what I mean is Auckland), rather than being merely tickled with the fingers of globalisation, it seems to be thoroughly characterised by it. This almost sedimentary identity has created something familiar yet exotic, a kind of welcoming mix that the New Zealanders have well and truly made their own.

3. Everyone here is so damn nice.

From the woman in the bar who looked after our bags and gave us our first pint to the boy on the street who saw me gawking at a sweet-dispensing-bus-stop-sign (I know, WTF??!) and gave me his card so that I could see it in action, we have yet to meet a bad tempered New Zealander. Long may it continue (although I don’t think we’ll have much of a problem!)

4. There are loads of volcanoes.

Two volcanoes in 2 days; Mount Eden and Mount Victoria. Good for the thighs. Pretty worried about imminent death by lava. Nuff said.

5. Jet-lag does exist.

We reckon we’re immune to it. However, we are finding it hard to explain why Celyn-who-never-goes-to-bed-earlier-than-1am fell asleep again at 9pm, and I’ve got up at 6am for the past 2 days. Must be something in the water.

Great times. So these are our impressions (probably misguided) so far. They may change, for better or for worse. We’ll let you know. Also, one last thing. Very exciting indeed…we did our first grown-up activity this morning.

NO. It’s NOT rude.

WE BOUGHT A CAR!

Possibly one of the most nerve-wracking experiences we’ve ever had, but the main thing is, it’s red and called Rosie.

Mazin’.

What time is it?

Standard

Safely touched down in Kuala Lumpur (or KL if you’ve been here before and are a travel snob). Pretty standard flight… Had too many meals, a fair few G&Ts, and not enough sleep. Thankfully there was a hefty film choice – (out of My Sister’s Sister and Spider-Man, guess who watched what?)

So, Celyn’s watch reads 12.05; our flight leaves in an hour, which is 21.45 (naturally); the sun is setting; and we can’t work out which meal we just ate. Seriously, which day is it? And WHAT TIME IS IT?

Hopefully we’ll find out in Auckland…