A Travellerspoint blog

Smells, Swells, Whales and Gales

Rotorua, Taupo, Napier, Wellington and Kaikoura

November 7th – 16th

Alighting from the coach in Rotorua you are immediately hit with the whiff of bad eggs. The region is one of New Zealand's most active thermal areas – the place is full of hot geysers and you can fart to your heart’s content and blame it on the sulphur - what’s not to like?!

I took a stroll through the very colonial Government Gardens, complete with bandstand, bowling greens, swimming baths and croquet courts – bizarrely offset with fenced-off bubbling mud pools. Everywhere you go here you run into hot water – be it steaming springs or exploding mud puddles. Even the lake has a section where the water reaches 42 degrees (Sulphur Bay) and you are in serious risk of getting scalded just taking a stroll. The lake is too hot to support much food for the thousands of birds (including the stunning black swans) which make it their home, but they must enjoy the temperature as it’s teaming with birdlife.

I decided to succumb to the tourist hype and booked a Maori Show that evening at the Mitae Maori Village. It was as cringe-making as I expected but enjoyable enough. To see the "Hakka" performed by a cast of dozens was impressive, and some of the “Maori warriors” were quite fit, but I really didn’t need to be constantly asked to imitate everything in Maori along with the facial expressions. Audience participation really isn’t my thing! Nor was being stuck on a dinner table full of miserable Norwegians, Swedes and Croatians, who didn’t even seem to want to speak to each other, let alone to me (I tried, I really did). It was a long evening!

The next morning I’d booked a trip to the`Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland’, one of the most famous thermal reserves. Our first stop was at the Lady Knox Geyser which erupted each day at 10.15am (with a little prompting with a bit of soap powder chucked down it!). It was pretty impressive when it got going though, and shot up around 15 – 10 metres. The park was very well arranged and the weird and wonderful landscape of bright green lakes, bubbling mud pools, multi-coloured mineral terraces and steaming hot springs was a sight to behold. I finished off the day with a walk along the lakeside, visiting the Maori village of Ohinemutu with it’s carved meeting and eating houses (a third of the population were still of Maori origin and the culture was strong here) and the steamy Kuirau Park (and very hot duck pond!).

Headed off to another lakeside town, Taupo, the next day- supposedly the adrenaline capital of New Zealand. Having met up with Urvy and Pete (the couple I had met in the Bay of Islands), we set off for a sedate walk to the Huka Falls. We had to pass by the Bungy Jumping Centre and watched a few crazy people plunging on huge ropes into the Waikato river. I wasn’t tempted (much)! The falls were pretty formidable and I decided the jetboat was probably not a good idea either – I must be getting old. The sun was setting as we walked back past the hot springs which did look quite appealing, as people lounged in the warm water amongst the rocks. But a cold glass of wine (or two) back at the hostel won, and I enjoyed a companionable evening with my new friends.

Off again the next day (never a dull moment!) to Napier, the seaside town which had been devastated by a huge earthquake in 1931 and was entirely re-built in the in-vogue Art Deco style of the time. It had echoes of Eastbourne and Hastings, with it’s wonderful Soundshell Auditorium and Marine Parade Gardens and fountains. The town’s buildings were carefully preserved in the styles of the 1930’s, and the verandas, lamps, frescos and lead-light windows were marvellous. If only I’d packed my fringed dress and cigarette holder.

I took a long walk “Up the Bluff” which offers stunning views over the working port, and had fish and chips overlooking the bay. Walked back down through the earthquake ravaged cemetery and quaint botanical gardens (the budgerigar aviary evoked fond memories of my childhood days in Valentines Park).

Greatly enjoyed the Art Deco walking tour the next morning which highlighted the architectural styles and gave some background to the town’s unstable history around the time of the earthquake (it acquired an incredible 40 sq kilometres of land overnight, altering the whole landscape!). Just had time for a bit of hokey pokey (ice cream) before setting off once again to the National Capital of Wellington.

I had been invited by friend of a friend to spend a few days staying at their lovely house on the outskirts of the town, which proved a welcome break from hostelling. Karen, Tony and family made me feel right at home, and took me into town the next morning to explore Mount Victoria on the cable car. Again, the weather had been glorious (if more than a little breezy) and we enjoyed a coffee in the Botanical Gardens overlooking the bay, before I headed off to discover the sights of “Windy Welly” (by a not very informative hop on hop off bus). The very modern and regenerated waterfront incorporated the snazzy new “Te Papa” museum which I decided to visit the following day.

Sadly the clouds had rolled in over the bay the next morning, but I made the most of my last day by visiting the fascinating and comprehensive museum, which contained examples of Maori artefacts and houses along with offering an interesting glimpse into the history and geology of this relatively new land and it’s immigrants (along with a really cool giant squid!). Just time for a quick farewell drink with my adoptive family before jumping on the ferry over to the South Island.

My hostel was thankfully only a short drag of my case along the harbour in the dark, and I awoke the next morning to the sound of seagulls in the pretty, if small, coastal town of Picton. After a futile attempt to find an internet cafe. This place is soooo behind in global technology – the first country on my travels that I have had to pay to use the internet. I swear that most people here think that being “on-line” is something to do with fishing. I gave up and settled on a stroll along the waterfront watching the ferries come in. Met up with Urvy and Pete again to catch the bus to Kaikoura, where we had planned to go whale watching.

There seems to be two types of bus drivers in New Zealand, those who feel that they have to impart every last piece of information regarding the proportion of citizens who use the public transit system and how many years a particular winery has been producing a certain type of grape, and those that say bugger all (even when the bus is supposed to be a sightseeing bus –see above). Our bus driver to Kaikoura was unfortunately one of the former and soon had us driven to our iPods in submission. What felt like many hours (and irrelevant facts) later, we were relieved to pull into the seaside town and I was happy to discover that my hostel was literally a step away from the bus stop (my criteria in choosing hostels included “location from bus stop” as one of the most important points). “The Fish Tank” was appropriately decorated in sub aquatic styles even down to the Perspex fish encrusted loo seats, and was one of the nicest I had stayed (or should that be “swam” in). The next morning I set off for the advertised “two hour” (yes, if you were Linford Christie!) walk around the headland and took in the seal colony (one elderly seal lounging on a rock, who I think might have actually been deceased), along with some pretty impressive rock formations and amazing views along the coastline.

That afternoon, we made our way to the Whale Watching boat, trying not to get too excited – but optimistic that we would get to see at least a brief glimpse of these large mammals. The weather had turned quite squally and we were warned that the a sea sickness alert was in place. Just thinking about it made me feel slightly moby (excuse the pun), and the fact that they kept mentioning it didn’t help. Several choppy minutes later, we stopped just in the nick of time, with a rumoured sighting of a “spout” (just before I was actually about to “spout” myself). Several dolphins had been shadowing the boat on the way out, and the anticipation mounted as we pulled alongside the first of our huge sperm whales. The massive creature was an impressive sight and we were told to expect it to submerge at any time. Eventually the colossal tail flipped up and then slapped down on the surface, sending a cascade of water into the air as the whale dived down to the ocean depths. We were treated to a couple more similar sightings before we had to turn back to shore, against the backdrop of the snow covered mountains – a truly memorable experience.

The weather had improved by the following morning and I enjoyed a brief but picturesque walk along the beach taking in the wonderful mountain views, before catching the bus south to Christchurch.

The Hakka

The Hakka


Thermal Wonderland

Thermal Wonderland


Napier Art Deco

Napier Art Deco


Wellington Harbour

Wellington Harbour


Kaikoura Beach Front

Kaikoura Beach Front


Whale of a Tail

Whale of a Tail


One Hot Geyser

One Hot Geyser


Sulphur Bay

Sulphur Bay


Two Headed Swan - Lake Rotorua

Two Headed Swan - Lake Rotorua


Huka Falls Taupo

Huka Falls Taupo


Mitae Maori Village

Mitae Maori Village


Whoar!

Whoar!


Wai-O-Tapu Steaming Lake

Wai-O-Tapu Steaming Lake


Sulphur Crystals

Sulphur Crystals


Green Mineral Lake Wai-O-Tapu

Green Mineral Lake Wai-O-Tapu


Float Plane Lake Rotorua

Float Plane Lake Rotorua


Tama-te-Kapua Meeting House, Ohinemutu

Tama-te-Kapua Meeting House, Ohinemutu


Ready cooked duck!

Ready cooked duck!


Ferns

Ferns


Big Mac and Flies!  McDonalds,Taupo

Big Mac and Flies! McDonalds,Taupo


Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo


Aaaah!

Aaaah!


Art Deco Building, Napier

Art Deco Building, Napier


Big Ball - Wellington!

Big Ball - Wellington!


Giant toffee wrappers - Te Papa Wellington

Giant toffee wrappers - Te Papa Wellington


Picton Poppies, Sea Front

Picton Poppies, Sea Front


Rock Formations, Kaikoura

Rock Formations, Kaikoura


Building Art, Kaikoura

Building Art, Kaikoura


Mountains from Kaikoura High St

Mountains from Kaikoura High St


Lazy Seal, Kaikoura

Lazy Seal, Kaikoura


There She Blows! Sperm Whale, Kaikoura

There She Blows! Sperm Whale, Kaikoura


Dusky Dolphins, Kaikoura

Dusky Dolphins, Kaikoura


Mountain Views, Kaikoura

Mountain Views, Kaikoura


Beach Front, Kaikoura

Beach Front, Kaikoura

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The Land of the Long White Cloud

New Zealand – North Island

Auckland, The Bay of Islands and Waitomo October 30th – November 5th

Managed a few hours of restless sleep on the long flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, despite the screaming brat in the row next to me, and the fact that I'd gotten used to a bit more leg room on those South American buses. At least the thought of a 13 hour flight doesn’t faze me at all any more, now I’ve done a few 24 hour bus journeys. It was weird taking off on Thursday evening and landing on Saturday morning having crossed the International Date Line. I had lost a whole day and this time without any alcohol being involved!

After a quick nap, I dragged myself out to see the sights of downtown Auckland and found myself in the middle of the Diwali celebrations. I was in heaven – a whole street full of Indian food stalls, and some great Bollywood dancing and music on the stage. Continuing to get my bearings I wandered down to the historic old harbour, stocked up at the supermarket (decided I could give "Sheep World" a miss -I wonder if they have a “Big Dipper”??) and as the jetlag kicked in, settled down to an early night.

After a good rest, I awoke the next morning to glorious sunshine and took the ferry over to Waiheke Island in the Bay, which is known as the “Wine Island” (I felt strangely drawn), after the number of vineyards that take advantage of it’s perfect climate. Rather than go on an organized tour I visited a couple of wineries and explored this pretty island by bus and by foot. Had lunch on the most incredible white sand beach– it really is beautiful here – clean, safe, the people are really friendly – a bit like the UK used to be. The wine was pretty good too – any place that has a wine called “Shag Rock” is alright by me!

Sobered up with a stroll along Blackpool Beach (not a Big One or “Kiss Me Quick” hat in sight), I caught the ferry back into town and had a leisurely wander along the harbor where a large memorial reminded me that this was where the Rainbow Warrior was sabotaged back in the 80s. Arrived back just in time to catch the fireworks signaling the end of the Indian Festivities and sadly almost the end of my stay in New Zealand’s largest city.

For my final day I decided to go on my own little Auckland Marathon (inspired by the real thing which had taken place the day before) and set off on a 16km “Coast to Coast” walk, which passed by Mount Eden and One Tree Hill. The place names told me that this wasn’t going to be a stroll in the park and I had a feeling that my poor old feet would never forgive me. I was however rewarded with great views over the city from these two extinct volcanoes, and caught an interesting insight into the different neighbourhoods and distinctive old houses and gardens which make up the suburbs.

As I boarded my bus the next morning to Paihai, the gateway to the Bay of Islands, I felt excited to be making the journey to the far north of the island.

The small seaside town was a real contrast from the vast metropolis I had just left, and as I took in the views from the promenade, I started planning my next few days. The nearby site of Waitangi was where the treaty was signed between the Maoris and the British establishing British Sovereignty in New Zealand, and there were traces of colonial history all around the area – from Captain Cook’s landing site just off Roberton Island, to the historic town of Russell across the bay, once known as “the Hellhole of the Pacific” when used as a stop off point by the whaling ships.

I woke early the next morning for my first trip which took me the very northernmost point of the island, Cape Reinga. We stopped off at the Kauri Forest – one of New Zealand`s oldest and largest trees. Bizarrely these trees are actually “mined” – the value of their wood is so high that they are excavated from underground (where they have lain for thousands of years) for the furniture industry.

The Cape is where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet and is truly spectacular. It is believed that this is the place where Maori spirits depart the earth when they die and I have to admit, it really did feel quite “spiritual” – I had another “moment”! We had great fun sand boarding down the huge dunes that form the beginning of “90 Mile Beach” and then proceeded to drive the length of this desert coast. A stop off for “fush and chups” overlooking Mangonui Harbour rounded off the day perfectly.

The following morning I took to the water with a dolphin watching cruise around the bay followed by a trip to Cape Brett and Motukokako (Hole in the Rock to you and me). Apparently the chances of seeing dolphins was more than 90%, but the chances of the boat being able to get through the hole were significantly less than Susan Boyle being able to get into the Playboy Mansion. Either one would have been a bonus, but luckily we managed to do both. We had only just set off before Flipper and his missus started following the boat, but we’d been told there was a whole pod just ahead of us (I assumed they didn’t mean peas). Passing by Roberton Island (Captain Cook, Endeavor, blah blah), we sighted them and they gracefully darted back and forth under us, as we all rushed from one side of the boat to the other trying to spot them, like a bunch of demented lemmings.

Once we reached the rock shaped like a giant polo mint, we were treated to the sight of hundreds of sea birds – when we got up closer, we saw there was a huge shoal of fish just under the water. If that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, the skipper decided he was going to try and make it through the hole, even though the clearance was minimal. We raced through the small tunnel and out the other side like a rat through a drainpipe – very exhilarating. Stops at picturesque Otehei Bay and then Russell for lunch, calmed us down and I arrived back in Paihia just in time to catch my bus back to Auckland.

Up early again the next morning for my early bus to Waitomo – home of the famous glowworm caves. We were dropped off outside the caves and went on a short, but fascinating tour through the underground caverns that provide the perfect conditions for the millions of glowworms that make them their home.

Their life cycle consists of the female laying around 120 eggs, but only around 20 survive (the rest are eaten by their siblings - nice). The larvae build a nest and then lay down sticky lines a bit like spider’s webs to catch insects to eat. Over the next 9 months the larvae grow (and glow!) until they finally pupate and eventually hatch into an adult. This is where it all goes horribly wrong – the good news is that their only function is to reproduce (usually the male is waiting for the female to emerge from the pupa – sounds familiar!) but the bad news is they have no mouth, so only survive a few days. Still, no parental responsibility, or “glowing” old gracefully, I guess!

With very little else to do in Waitomo apart from activities involving the caves (and lots of money – black water rafting, climbing etc.) , I was beginning to envy the glowworms, but after a quick look in the local guide book, I witnessed one of the funniest and strangest sights I’d seen on all my travels so far.

Just down the road from my hostel, I noticed a sign advertising “The Shearing Shed”. Thinking it was something to do with sheep, I’d not really taken much notice, but on closer inspection it appeared to be where big white fluffy Angora rabbits were bred and sheared for an audience. They claim to be approved by the SPCA, and without being sheared the rabbits would overheat and die, so I felt morally obliged to go and check it out. I began to have my doubts when poor “Flopsy” was tied to what looked like a torture chamber rack (to stop him wriggling) while being shaved by a lady who looked to be enjoying it a bit too much. Fortunately our big eared friend lived to see another carrot, and by all accounts was much relieved to be rid of his heavy coat (unlike the tourists who were much relieved of their money in the “knitted goods” shop on the way out).

After a token hike up a nearby hill, I spent the rest of the afternoon on the internet planning the next few days of my stay in the North Island. Next stop….Rotarua.

Auckland from the Harbour

Auckland from the Harbour


OK...Just one more glass then....

OK...Just one more glass then....


Paihia Bay of Islands

Paihia Bay of Islands


Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga


The Rock with the hole in it

The Rock with the hole in it


OK It WAS me that stole Mr McGregor's Carrots

OK It WAS me that stole Mr McGregor's Carrots


Sky Tower Auckland

Sky Tower Auckland


Onetangi Beach, Waiheke Island

Onetangi Beach, Waiheke Island


Blackpool Beach, Waiheke

Blackpool Beach, Waiheke


Diwali Celebrations Auckland

Diwali Celebrations Auckland


Is there nothing they won't shear???

Is there nothing they won't shear???


Winery Waiheke Island

Winery Waiheke Island


Sign designed by a budding mathematician!

Sign designed by a budding mathematician!


Returning to Auckland

Returning to Auckland


Diwali Fireworks

Diwali Fireworks


View from Mount Eden

View from Mount Eden


View from One Tree Hill

View from One Tree Hill


Lovely Old Auckland House

Lovely Old Auckland House


Silver Fern

Silver Fern


Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga


The meeting of the oceans

The meeting of the oceans


A Long Way From Home

A Long Way From Home


Dune Surfing

Dune Surfing


Kauri Tree

Kauri Tree


Otehai Bay, Bay of Islands

Otehai Bay, Bay of Islands


Dolphins - Bay of Islands

Dolphins - Bay of Islands


Flower - Russell

Flower - Russell


Worrying...But Strangely Exciting

Worrying...But Strangely Exciting

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

A Tale of Three Cities Pts 2 & 3: New York and SFO

A Tale of Three Cities... Pt 2: New York

New York 17th – 25th October

Flew into JFK and felt a sense of excitement and relief at being back in a country where I felt at home. This feeling rapidly turned to frustration when I was stuck waiting for an hour and a half in the mile-long immigration queue – "Welcome to America". Why is it that the check in procedure here in the States has become so easy and seamless, but it still takes hours to process you through security and immigration?? At least they let me back in, and my bag (which had made it through much sooner than I had), was waiting for me in baggage reclaim. I took the shuttle to a nearby hotel in a very dodgy area of Queens, but it felt like luxury! I had a big king-size bed to myself, a coffee maker, hot shower and cable TV!

I woke slightly confused the next morning, and greeted the maid with a friendly “Ola!”. Luckily, she appeared to be Spanish anyway and replied with a bemused “Hi!”. I had thought all my language barrier problems were over for a while, but I hadn't bargained for the New York snarl....

Made the most of the breakfast of oatmeal, waffles, orange juice, yoghurt and coffee, before heading off to pick up my car. The drive up to New Paltz, where Joe was at uni, was beautiful once I got out of the city. The colours of the leaves against the brilliant blue sky still took me by surprise, even though I was looking forward to the famous fall views.

The drive took around 2 hours and I arrived on campus around lunchtime, to see Joe walking back to his halls (from where, I never asked!) behind me in the rear-view mirror. It was lovely to see him again, and I realised how much I’d missed him. He showed me his room, which he shared with a Japanese boy, and which looked very much like his room at Kingston – you still couldn’t see the floor. We had lunch at the college canteen which was like a giant food court – although as Joe warned, the food sadly looked better than it tasted.

The town of New Paltz is on the tourist trail between New York and New England, and being such a short drive away from Manhattan was full of day trippers on this sunny Sunday. It was charming though, with lots of little craft shops and cafes, overlooked by wonderfully scenic countryside. It was coming up to Halloween, and all the stores and houses were decorated to the hilt – some even had full scale graveyards in the front gardens! Once I’d checked into my hostel, we took a drive up to the nearby National Park, to see the waterfall, and watch the sunset (one of many pretty spectacular sunsets I’d seen on this trip) over the hillside.

Joe had lectures most of the following day, so I borrowed a bike from campus, and cycled along the Walkill Valley Rail trail, which followed a disused railway track to the nearby village of Gardiner. I don’t think my bottom had quite recovered from the long ride I did in Patagonia, and the return journey became quite painful. I stuck to my healthy new exercise/diet regime, with a pizza that evening (it is SO hard not to eat here, there’s so much food) and a good catch up with Joe.

Joe had a couple of days free, and was desperate to get off campus, so we hit the road to Mystic on the Connecticut coast the next morning, passing by the towns of Brentwood and nearby county of Essex....It all felt strangely familiar, but much more attractive than the British counterparts. If only they played some decent British (or American come to that) music on the radio (and no ads), it would have been perfect. The weather held out and we had a huge plate of fish and chips in the pretty harbour side town and took the obligatory photo outside of the “Mystic Pizza” shop (we couldn’t face another pizza). Watched another stunning sunset over the bay in the nearby typically “New English” town of Stonington.

We decided to head back to New Paltz the scenic way the following day, and passed through tiny villages and homesteads, all dressed up for the Halloween weekend. It is strange how this part of the country has a reputation for being a bit “Christian Right”, yet seems to embrace this festival of the occult so avidly! Again the scenery was awesome (help, I’ve been here too long).

Once back, we tried out the local Thai before turning in to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for our weekend in the Big Apple.

My sat nav let me down the next day when he got us on the route into central Manhattan, instead of back to the airport. One huge traffic jam out of the city later, we dropped the car back at JFK and headed into town to meet up with Alfonso and Bruce (jump back several blogs to Costa Rica when I met Trish, a lovely lady from Washington who had very kindly offered us the use of her brother’s apartment in Chelsea). The studio flat was very bijou but comfortable and in a great neighbourhood and immediately felt like home. Our hosts were driving upstate to their farm for the weekend, so very trustingly handed over the keys and we arranged to have a drink and a proper chat when they returned on Sunday.

Joe and I had no firm plans, and having visited New York before we’d done the main tourist attractions. We went on an interesting free walking tour of Greenwich Village the next day, which took us around this bohemian, historic neighbourhood, explaining the sights. Also in our neighbourhood was the English Food Shop “Tea and Sympathy” where Joe stocked up on Marmite, and I treated myself to a bottle of Daddies Sauce (I had embarrassed Joe on Facebook by exclaiming how much I had missed my “Daddies Sauce” and he had to quickly explain to all his American friends that it was in fact A CONDIMENT!).

That evening I’d arranged to meet up with some of my colleagues from the San Fran office who had set up in New York. It was lovely to see them again and catch up on all their news. They took us to this great bar in the Flatiron district called Spin, which consisted of dozens of table tennis tables. Needless to say things got quite chaotic after a few drinks (but I was still terrible!). We ended up having a fairly decent Indian in “Curry Hill”, and promised to keep in touch.

The next morning we tried (but failed miserably) to get up early to go to the half price ticket booth to see if we could get some tickets for a Broadway show. We ended up on the wrong side of the Brooklyn Bridge, but enjoyed the views of the city as we walked back across. Sadly, all the shows were way over our budget, so we cheered ourselves up with another mammoth meal in China Town. My clothes were definitely beginning to feel a bit tight! The afternoon was spent exploring the streets of the East Village, which completely wore Joe out, and he refused to hit the town with me that evening – wuss! His old mum wasn’t going to let a Saturday night in Manhattan go to waste and took the subway up to 42nd Street where I managed to get standing tickets for “Memphis” , one of Broadways hot new shows. It was great and I walked back down 5th Avenue soaking in the sights and sounds of this exhilarating city.

Sunday was our last day together, but the sun was out and after a hefty but delicious brunch, we went for a walk along the “High Line” an unusual new park that had been created on the disused lines of the elevated freight line that used to run the length of the Lower West Side. It was brilliantly landscaped and included art installations and some great views of the Hudson. We sat and watched the musicians and strange cabaret acts performing in Washington Square, before I had to wave Joe off at the bus station. I tried not to think about the 7 long months before I’d see my baby again – still at least we have Skype.

That evening, I enjoyed getting to know Bruce and Alfonso a little better over a bottle of wine and a pizza. What a charming and very generous couple – I hoped they would take me up on my offer to come visit me in London when I get back (at this rate I’m going to need a bigger house!). I really do feel that one of the most rewarding things about travelling is the wonderful and interesting people I have met along the way.

Snuck out very early the next day to catch the train to the airport for the next part of my Stateside re-visit – back “home” to San Francisco.

A Tale of Three Cities... Pt 3: Back in San Francisco

San Francisco 25th – 28th October

It did feel strange taking the train back into the city I had called home for 3 months. I felt like a real local, helping out some new arrivals buy their BART tickets at the station.

My friend Tash met me at the station, and after lunch we settled down for a lazy afternoon in her apartment in the Mission. The next few days comprised of eating, drinking and meeting up with friends and colleagues, catching up on e-mails and trying to plan the next part of my trip in New Zealand.

I was blessed again with good weather, and enjoyed a pleasant morning with my old mate Steve, who had just started building a house in Pacifica (around 20 minutes outside of the city) when I left in June. I was dying to see how it was progressing, and was impressed! He hopes to have it finished early in the New Year, but you could tell that it was going to be spectacular with amazing views of the coast. He seemed in good spirits as his baseball team, The Giants had just qualified for the World Series (in fact the whole of San Francisco seemed to be caught up in the hysteria) AND West Ham had come back from the dead in the Carling Cup to beat Stoke 3-1. And his windows had just arrived! Can’t wait to come back one day and see it finished.

Refreshed and happy after spending a few days in familiar territory with some old friends, I headed off to the airport once again for a shuttle down to LA, and my long flight across the Pacific to New Zealand.

Sunny New Paltz

Sunny New Paltz


In the Woods

In the Woods


Mystic Seaport

Mystic Seaport


New York Apartments

New York Apartments


"Friends"

"Friends"


The High Line

The High Line


Steve's New Gaff

Steve's New Gaff


Old New Paltz

Old New Paltz


My and My Boy

My and My Boy


The Views

The Views


Minnewaska State Park

Minnewaska State Park


Sunset Minnewaska State Park

Sunset Minnewaska State Park


Another Sunset..Mystic, Connecticut

Another Sunset..Mystic, Connecticut


Adams Family Home

Adams Family Home


Connecticut River

Connecticut River


My new bath tub!

My new bath tub!


View from Brooklyn Bridge

View from Brooklyn Bridge


Times Square...Where Else?

Times Square...Where Else?


One Day????

One Day????


The High Line

The High Line


Gay, Wavering, or Swings Both Ways???

Gay, Wavering, or Swings Both Ways???


Our New York Pad

Our New York Pad


San Fran Re-union

San Fran Re-union


Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

A Tale of Three Cities... Pt 1: Santiago, Chile

Managed to get a few hours sleep on the overnight bus to the Chilean capital of Santiago. Also managed to completely miss the miners being rescued – quite a mean feat in a country obsessed with the story. I heard that the main plaza in Santiago had mass celebrations, with the footage being shown live on giant screens. Well, at least I can say I was here when it happened!

We arrived over an hour late, but Rudy and Leticia came to meet me from the bus, as they had promised, and we set off through the rush hour traffic to the coastal port of Valparaiso. They had asked if I wanted to come with them for a day trip and although I knew I'd be tired, I felt the opportunity to see Chile’s famous seaport and to visit the Pacific once again was too good to turn down.

The gloomy weather soon cleared up as we first stopped off at the nearby town of Vina Del Mar (and the interesting Fonck Museum which has the only Easter Island Muai statue on South America's mainland). It was good to see the sea again and watch the ever mad Rudy go for a dip in the freezing cold ocean. We then drove up the coast to the city of Valparaiso (nicknamed "Jewel of the Pacific" and another UNESCO World Heritage site), which although lacking it’s former glory, was still interesting and characterful. Rudy and Letiticia wanted to visit one of the homes of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda – who I must admit I’d never heard of, but who sounded quite intriguing.

The quirky and unique “La Sebastiana” was a fascinating insight into the life and personality of this slightly eccentric writer, and featured examples of his eclectic collections of furniture, artwork and souvenirs. It also offered wonderful views over the harbor and town. After lunch, we wandered around the bohemian neighbourhood admiring the views, the graffiti and the historic funicular lifts which have been used for decades to transport people around the precipitous streets.

All too soon, we had to head back to Santiago and I said a sad farewell to my new friends, who were returning back home the following day to Brazil. I felt sure we’d meet up again one day. Struggling with my luggage through the rush hour traffic on the subway brought back nasty memories of commuting on the central line! I was relieved to find my hostel and had an early night.

Refreshed the next morning I decided to get to know the city with a walking tour. Full of historic buildings and monuments, we skimmed over the interesting and again, tragic political events of the past few decades. The statue of Pinochet was conspicuous in it's absence! I spent the afternoon with a really nice English girl (why do us Brits tend to gravitate together!?) and enjoyed visiting the house that Neruda build for his mistress, “La Chascona” (which was even more interesting than his house in Valparaiso) and then took in a movie at the boutique cinema Teatro Bellavista.

We arranged to meet up again the following day to explore the museums and different districts that make up this huge earthquake prone metropolis. We ended up feeling slightly awkward, watching the sun set amongst the canoodling couples at the top of the Santa Lucia hill overlooking the city (overshadowed itself by the surrounding skyscrapers and smog covered mountains). I celebrated my short but sweet visit to Santiago, and the culmination of my thrilling and memorable stay in South America, by treating myself to (finally) a very hot curry at an upmarket Indian restaurant.

Sad as I was to reach the end of this part of my tour, I was looking forward to a return to familiar territory, with no language barrier (well, not too much of one) and seeing my Joe again, after six long months.

Why so glum?

Why so glum?


Santiago Skyline

Santiago Skyline


Vina Del Mar - Pacific Ocean

Vina Del Mar - Pacific Ocean


Rudy and Leticia Star in South Pacific

Rudy and Leticia Star in South Pacific


Dr Seuss Plant

Dr Seuss Plant


Valparaiso Street

Valparaiso Street


Santiago Art

Santiago Art


Santiago

Santiago


Allende Statue

Allende Statue


Santiago

Santiago


Santiago

Santiago


The Mobile Phone Building

The Mobile Phone Building


Santiago Grafitti

Santiago Grafitti


Statue of Mary San Crisobal

Statue of Mary San Crisobal


Mapuche's Boy Band Get into Heavy Rock

Mapuche's Boy Band Get into Heavy Rock


Cerro Santa Lucia

Cerro Santa Lucia


La Chascona

La Chascona

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Have I Got Views For You....

Patagonia – Bariloche, San Martin De Los Andes (Argentina) and Pucon (Chile)

2nd – 12th October I enjoyed my luxury overnight bus trip apart from the rude awakening by an Argentinean sniffer dog poking it's nose in my face at 6am. I don’t think I’ve been on a bus journey yet in South America, where we haven’t had some kind of police check. You don’t get checked for drugs on the 159 to Brixton -although they’d probably have better results.

Anyhow, it was weird going to sleep as the sun set on Buenos Aires and waking up to a glorious dawn over the Andes in the heart of the Patagonian lake district.

Words can’t really describe how utterly beautiful and scenic this area is, especially as there was still some snow lingering on the mountains, and I was blessed with fine weather, so I’ve kept my descriptions short and will let the photos speak for themselves.

Bariloche is a quaint little lakeside town geared mainly towards the ski season, which had just come to an end. Set on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi it could have been Austria or Switzerland (along with the chocolate shops), although some parts could have been Essex! My guesthouse felt like home, and I had a comfortable warm bedroom, with use of the kitchen and lounge. There was even a full-blown vegetarian restaurant, which was a delight after weeks of omelettes, pasta and pizza.

After acclimatising myself, my first outing was by chair-lift to the top of Cerro Campanario , a local mountain where I was treated to my first birds-eye views of the surrounding scenery. The following day I set off on a 25k cycle around the Circuito Chico which took me around the peninsular, through the woods, past spectacular lakes and uphill to a mirador overlooking Puerto Blest and the upmarket Hotel Llao LLao, which was worth all the effort. It was strange to see tulips and daffodils in bloom at the beginning of October! I made it back in one piece with a sense of achievement, and certainly slept well that night.

The next day I had booked a trip to Mount Tronodor which was in the middle of Nahuel Huapi National Park. After a few hours along a bumpy track with a stop at a waterfall along the way, we walked the final few hundred yards to the snowline, where we ploughed through 6 inches of snow up to the foot of the glacier. Tronodor means "thundering" and it was easy to hear why as the glacier constantly emitted loud cracks and bangs as small avalanches were set off down the mountainside. Quite scary and also pretty humbling to see the forces of nature at first hand.

Up the next morning for my journey to San Martin de Los Andes along the picturesque Seven Lakes Road. Sadly the weather had turned drizzly and cold, so my views out of the bus windows were obscured by rain and condensation. Obviously the driver had the same problem as he managed to take out a stray sheep as it was crossing the road – not a pretty sight. By the time we coasted down into town, along the shores of another mountain lake (Lacar), the sun had decided to come out and we were treated to more breathtaking views. San Martin was smaller but again, quite touristy – although being off season was very quiet. I had a 6 berth room at the hostel all to myself this time so no bunk beds for me!

After an early night, I arose to a glorious day and decided to hike up to the Mirador Bandurrias which overlooks the town. Another half an hour or so, through verdant forests and pretty glades the track lead to the most amazing beach on the edge of the lake with crystal clear water reflecting the mountains (sorry, enough with the wordy descriptions! – see photos). Had another one of those moments, where I felt very privileged to be in such a wonderful place and I could have sat there staring at the view forever.

My choices for the next day were a boat ride across the lake to Quila Quina, an indigenous Mapuche settlement where there were more hiking opportunities, or an energetic packed afternoon snow-shoeing and canyoning. Being the action girl that I am, I chose the latter and oh what fun I had. We were driven up to the snowline and walked with what felt like small skis on our feet, through the forest to a frozen lake. Near the top of the mountain we sailed down on a series of long zip wires back to the cabin. A tremendous experience and great photo ops! Felt like I was on top of the world.

Back down to earth for a very early start to my next port of call on the other side of the Andes in Chile.

Just when I thought that the views couldn’t get much better, I arrive in Pucon, another town with an Alpine feel, but this time overlooked by a huge volcano, completely covered in snow and smoking!

I’m not quite sure why the snow doesn’t melt (answers on a postcard please), but it sure looks pretty – as long as it isn’t erupting. The last major explosion was in 1984, but Villaricca is one of the most active volcanoes in Chile, and the traffic lights denoting the risk factor outside the tourist office, weren’t too reassuring. They also test the warning siren out at noon everyday – I guess they have to hope that it doesn’t erupt at exactly that time. The local travel agent urged me to join a tour to climb it the next day – and believe it or not he made it sound so exciting, I actually considered it. If I hadn’t felt so exhausted from the amount of hiking I’d been doing, I might have gone on the 6 hour climb up (and one and a half hour “slide” down). After talking to several people who had ventured up, I felt relieved I had “declined the incline”.

After a pleasant stroll around the town, I settled down on a sunny bench overlooking one of the 2 beaches with an ice cream and admired the views. Feeling happy I’d found there yet another great vegetarian restaurant with a lovely garden, I contentedly began to plan my next few days. The Huerquehue (I never did manage to pronounce it properly) National Park was a short bus ride away and the weather forecast looked good, so the following morning I set off for another long hike.

Choosing a trail which encircled three mountain top lakes I found myself walking with a couple from Brazil and a French girl. We all got along famously – Rudy and Leticia were actually on honeymoon and Juliette was here on an internship making a botanical study of the area. Rudy was a huge 80`s rock fan and spoke very good English, so we spent the whole day discussing Pink Floyd, Whitesnake, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Queen etc. and then we got on to films and Monty Python! Rudy had climbed the volcano and told me it was actually quite scary (and he was a Brazilian Federal cop!). I felt even more thankful I didn’t attempt it! He did show me his pictures though and it looked amazing. The park was beautiful and we climbed as high as the snow allowed. Not really equipped to climb back down in the melting, but still quite deep drifts, we decided to turn back – the intrepid Juliette carried on an actually reached the lakes.

The three of us returned back to the lower lake and spent an enjoyable couple of hours on the shore watching people kayaking and enjoying the fine weather. Arriving back in town we had a fun evening, drinking, eating and singing Queen songs! I got back to my hostel to find Eric, my host waiting on the doorstep for me. We hadn’t expected our hostel hosts to be frantic with worry about us as we hadn’t returned back with the last bus. They thought we’d got lost in the park, and Rudy and Leticia’s host had even called the police who were about to start a helicopter search for them!

Juliette joined me the next day for a wonderful horse ride through the valley (thought I’d give my feet a rest) followed by a dip in one of the many hot springs that had “sprung up” around the town. Luxuriating in a hot bath, looking up at the volcano, I again felt very lucky to be there. Said our goodbyes that night, Juliette went back to her studies and Rudy and Leticia were taking the overnight bus to Santiago. I had a quiet day ahead catching up on e-mails and errands in town, before I followed them to the capital.

Bariloche - View from Cerro Campanario

Bariloche - View from Cerro Campanario


Mount Tronodor Glacier

Mount Tronodor Glacier


St Martin - La Islita

St Martin - La Islita


Snow Shoeing

Snow Shoeing


Villaricca Volcano at Sunset

Villaricca Volcano at Sunset


Huerquehue National Park

Huerquehue National Park


Bariloche

Bariloche


Nahuel Huapi National Park

Nahuel Huapi National Park


Daffodils in October!

Daffodils in October!


Bariloche

Bariloche


Nahuel Huapi National Park

Nahuel Huapi National Park


Snow! Mount Tronodor

Snow! Mount Tronodor


Waterfall - Nahuel Huapi National Park

Waterfall - Nahuel Huapi National Park


Bariloche

Bariloche


Seven Lakes Road

Seven Lakes Road


Mount Tronodor Glacier

Mount Tronodor Glacier


St Martin De Los Andes

St Martin De Los Andes


Where's My Mum???

Where's My Mum???


Climb Every Mountain...

Climb Every Mountain...


Poser!

Poser!


St Martin

St Martin


La Islita

La Islita


View of St Martin from the Mirador

View of St Martin from the Mirador


On The Beach

On The Beach


The Lara Croft of Patagonia

The Lara Croft of Patagonia


View from the Mirador

View from the Mirador


St Martin Harbour

St Martin Harbour


Huerquehue National Park

Huerquehue National Park


Pucon Town

Pucon Town


Wild turkey which chased us

Wild turkey which chased us


Waterfall Huerquehue National Park

Waterfall Huerquehue National Park


Lakeside....Patagonian Style

Lakeside....Patagonian Style


Horseride through the Valley

Horseride through the Valley


This is the Life...

This is the Life...


The Chilean Queen Cover Band

The Chilean Queen Cover Band


Frozen Lake Huerquehue National Park

Frozen Lake Huerquehue National Park

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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