Friday, 9 July 2010

This post is probably going to be one of the shorter ones, since there really isnt much to say. I have already been home for a few days, but I thought a final blog was necessary to round things off. Our plane left at 4pm NZ time, so until then the day was spent trying to use up our remaing NZ dollars - they were used quite successfully, not so much on a Mcdonalds as we hoped, but on a lamb and mint pie which was the only thing being sold in the departures lounge. We just thought of it as 'beefing up' for the horrendous amount of flights we had to endure.

Flight number 1 - Christchurch to Sydney. This flight was only about 4 hours if I remember rightly. In true Emirates style, they fed us disgusting amounts of food - not that im complaining.
Flight number 2 - Sydney to Bangkok. G-d only knows how long this flight was, somewhere in the region of 11 hours perhaps? The only thing I did know, was that it was consistently dark for much of the journey, and would be dark for the next 25 hours until we were over Europe - bloody rotating earth.
Flight number 3 - Bangkok to Dubai. Again, sod knows how long this way. Theres only so much glee, simpsons, date night, worlds strictest parents, 2 and a half men you can watch on a ten inch screen before time completely loses meaning. Although once again, food was considerable, and quite good if I say so myself (but then I never really had a problem with plane food :P). In Dubai we finally found a Mcdonalds (you can tell im scraping the bottom of the barrel to find stuff to write here). Using British money of which I had, for some reason, copious amounts, they gave us change back in a mixture of US dollars and Arab money (not sure the exact currency). Anyhoo, much of this got changed back to GBpounds - a grand total of £4.20, well worth queuing up for :P
Flight 4 - Dubai to Gatwick. This flight seemed soooo much longer on the return journey than when we originally took it leaving Gatwick. 7 and a half hours, being fed constantly. Even an hour before we landed in Gatwick, out came the trolleys and we were handed chicken rolls and a muffin. Who was I to complain. Well im sure you all know how this goes. We landed, did the whole 'going through customs' shnizz, waited fecking ages for our bags (at this time my deodorant was starting to fail me so i needed a bit fo toilet time to 'cleanse'), and FINALLY we left baggage reclaim. Walking out the doors into the arrivals hall like the celebrities we were, abigail and charlotte met me there. Yes, they drove to Gatwick for me - either because im just SUCH a good person, or simply because they are also. After deciding that we are all just amazing, i said my goodbyes to Alec and Emily after 5 months, and....went out for lunch. Start as I mean to go on...

So ye, travelling done. Not sure when ill be going globetrotting again. Not any time soon but it WILL happen dammit. So until next time, this is me signing off xx

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The day of the fox glacier walk. It was titled the 'nimble fox'. I am neither of those things, so for obvious reasons I was slightly nervous about it. Though saying that. I had 'done' everest so 6 hours walking on ice should be a wakl in the park eh? Well anyway, after sliding over on the forst outside the tour place (not a good start), i met the other 4 people in our group, got some waterproof coats, mittens, boots and i deadly looking pair of contraptions called cramp ons that tie to the soles of your boots. With that, we left on the bus to the glacier.

The carpark was deep down inside the valley, between 2 towering cliffs about 200 metres high. In the distance was the terminal face of the glacier. It moves at 2 metres a day, so it is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world. We approached the temrinal face then began scaling up the cliff face into the temperate rainforest. Similar to the himilayan landscapes, this one had no imagainable scale. The widths and heights of the ice and rocks looked insignificant.... until you saw a little speck of a person walking within them and you realised small looking rocks were 10 metres high, and the valleys were a good couple of miles wide. After a few photo opporutinites, drinking from a glacial stream and crossing a few rope bridges, we secured the cramp ons to our boots and took our first steps onto the glacier. A strange experience walking on solid ice - not just knowing that the ice was 150m deep in some places, but also knowing that if the cramp ons failed we would be sliding quite nicely into a crevass.

Anyhoo, ignoring that fact, we walked up a series of stairs that the guides had cut into the ice. Slightly dirty and brown and they are used constantly, they led up to a small ice peak on the lower section of the glacier. It was here we went off the beaten track. The glacier looked like a rough and stormy sea that had suddely been frozen solid. Huge swathes of clean blue and white ice curved up and around us. We navigated through valleys, tunnels and found a series of underice streams to drink from. The guide cut stairs for us as we went. Every day the landscape changes so paths there one day were gone the next. Although freezing, I could have happily spent a good few hours mroe exploring the hidden coves and alleys between the blue ice. Even the flatter sections had gentle ripples on, like a frozen ocean. Being one of the few glaciers that ends in a temperate climate, there was soemthing especially surreal about standing on a block of ice, surruonded by trees and shrubs. Looking up the glacier to the more unstable sections of ice, we could see the peaks of the mountains, and helicopters circling trying to land on them. We were told the ice we were standing on was anything from 50, to 500 years old, whilst furhter down below our feet it was well over 1000. We spent 5 hours walking the mounds and ditches of the glacier, before making our way down back to solid ground. It posed another question for me.... maybe i could take up a job as a glacier guide!! Only time would tell :D.

From fox, we went on to queenstown - the so called party capital of NZ. Well for one thing, it was definately the most beautiful. Sitting on the shores of a lake (which i cant for the life of me remember the name of), the town was surrounded by the Remarkables mountain ranges. Not especially high, but ti gave the whole town a swiss alps feel. Every where were shops advertising snow boarding and skiing lessons, and buses left regualrly from various points in the city, to the mountains. The waters in the lake were shockingly clear, even in the little winding streams the bottom could be seen. After a brief walk round the town to get my bearings, we went ice skating (obviously). The rink was small but it was very cheap. And there was a Brit who worked there who seemed very glad to see us. The week we were in Queenstown was the winter fest. We went to the Mardi Gras, got a few bits of food, so a few street performers, had a few drinks then went home for a quiet night. All very tame.... and cheap!!

Having very little money left, we had to make our own cheap entertainment - well excluding the gondola ride we went on. Taking us over 500m high onto a mountain that overlooked queenstown and the lake. Once again, the views were quite remarkable. For an extra 12 dollars we got the self proclaiming 'best buffet in new zealand'. And it had to be said, it was one of the better meals we have eaten during the 5 months, especially as the restraunt provided panoramic views of the lakes and the moutains. Feeling bloated and just plain unhealthy, i took a walk up a mountain to ease myself (as you do). Starting off as just a little wander, i ended up 950m above sea level on a mountain plateau, fiddling with my camera trying to achieve the ULTIMATE shot of both the Remarkables, the gondolas, the lakes and the town. The way up the mountain was especially hard as much of the tracks were frozen over with ice. Taking a good while to climb, as for every step up a slide back down 2. Luckily i had a stick with me to guide, though i dropped it at the top of the mountain.

Coming back down I actually walked very little. I slid much of the way and was relieved to finally get down to the road.

Our hostel was one of teh better ones we stayed in - not so much for the luxury or facilities, just because it was very well laid out. Instead of having just one large building, dorms and a single kitchen, it was divided into 20 small units across a garden. Each unit had 4 dorms (with 4 beds in), 2 toilets and a small kitchen sitting area. Called pinewood lodge, it was one fo the more sociable hostels we stayed in. We were un unit A, on the very very edge of the complex (almost not even in queenstown anymore). Convinced we had the worst unit, me and some others were almost convinced to ransack unit H, that had more couches, seats and a far better kitchen than us. In the end we simply couldnt be assed to go ALLLL the way down the hill to get to it.

Final night in Queenstown was a friday night. After watchign a snowboarding competition in the central square, we got burgers from Ferg Burger. The mere mention of queenstown has people recommending this place the world over, so we though 'final night, might as well TRY a ferg burge'. I ended up getting the mr big stuff. And i certainly didnt regret it. After running with it back home, we opened up the kilogram of meta, veg and bread and devoured them with very little chewing. Then feeling bloated, fat and covered in various sauces, we started drinking... adn drinking.... adn we ended up drinking some more around 'ring of fire'. Then we went to the shops, bought more alcohol and ended up crashing a party hosted by Unit F. Unit F....was... well a bit shit. It was less than half the size and had only 1 toilet. Satisfied that our unit was now looking very nice, we all had a quick bounce on the trampoline before heading into town. Arriving in town around 2am, most places were closed except some dodgy club in an alley way with strobe lights and shite music. We left soon another ferg burger (was NOT a proud night for me). Anyhoo, we once again ran home so we could keep them warm. Only losing a few chips on the way, we got home and gorged ourselves on more food that we didnt really need (but yes, they were GOOOOODDD). So feeling guilty that my diet was ruined, we placed all the alcohol by the counter, had a little tidy up and went to bed.

The morning was NOT a pleasant one. Up at 9 to leave for Christchurch, i packed up clothes, bags and food, said goodbye to everyone who were still in unit A (a lot of them were looking for jobs and the like), and Emily drove us to Christchurch. Goodbye mountain ranges, hello to (from what we have hearD) quite a boring British like town. We checked into a hostel just north of the town centre and started trying to figure out what to eat with the remaing food i have left - not wanting to go to the supermarket and spend.

So its the FINAL DAY of the travels. I have been thinking so much about coming home, that i suppose i am now in the back to reality mindset - thinking about cars, jobs, money and uni again... and of course FRIENDS (and to a lesser extent family :D ). After a brief talk about what me alec and emily are doing for our final night, i left the hostel for a little wander, map ipod etc. I saw the cathedral, the punting river, the red telephone boxes, the dry stone walls and gothic architecture, and immediately started to miss the slightly sub par cities of south east asia - which now seems an absolute age ago. O to have a bowel of chicken and noodle soup. After popping into various museums, sitting by various rivers and looking at statues and memorials, i left to go back to the hostel... which brings me right back to this moment. We still havent decided what our final night will consist of. There is a good steak restraunt nearby so we might go there. With 40 dollars left to spend, it will certainly be a cheap night, but might as well make it a good 'un.

Tomorow, we leave for the airport at 4pm, and 35 hours later (most of that spent on various planes) we arrive back home. Filled with feelings of dread and also euphoria at having to 'go back to life' so to speak. I have a friend meeting me at the airport who will ease me back into the north west london ghetto slowly..... with a good Samis shwarma...

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

We arrived in Hokitiki early in the morning to carve some jade. With our designs all sorted (I was going to carve a 'Chai'), we rummaged around for a good bit of jade to carve. We sketched our design on paper, cut it out and transferred it onto the chunk of jade where the basica shape was then cut out by a nice, if nto incredilbey smelly Czech guy who seemed less than enthusistaic when we said we were stuck on anything. After he showed us how to use the basic machine, we were left to our own devices. Sanding, cutting, filing, using a series of random tools and instruments, my Chai finally started to take shape. Alec was carving a sawllow for emily and emily was making a good luck symbol for herself. After a short lunch break, we went back for more carving, filing and general sanding. We smoothed the hell out of these bits of jade, and greased them until they shined. After putting the string on them, we were presented with little velvet bags to place them in. I will wear my Cha once im home, to ensure it doesnt get lost in some random windy New Zealand town. From Hokitiki we made our way to the township of the Fox Glacier. It is here where I will walk on the glacier, seeing the caves and valleys created in the 100 metre deep, moving blocks of ice.
We stayed in Picton for 3 days in a small hostel called 'the villa'. It wasnt the cheapest place, but they had free bikes, a small gym, a tv room and FREE APPLE CRUMBLE!!! We were won over instantly. Picton was incredilbey small so there wasnt much to do, but we still found things to waste away the time. I went for a little wander, ipod and map in hand, to the tops of some nearby hills to get to a number of viewpoints around the town. Picton had only 3 main roads so to be honest i didnt really even need a map - but then what would a wander be without one :D. Me and alec also rented bikes and rode down to one of the headlands. Picton is situated in the Marlborough Sounds. They were created when the earths crust collapsed in on itself forming valleys and mountains, and after the ice age these were flooded creating spectacular landforms - bays, mountains and hidden lagoons. Clear and fresh air (fecking cold though) meant you could see straight through the valleys. The water was crystal clear and in many places you could see the bottom. A stunning place during the winter, but during the summer it would rival areas like the Perhentian Islands.

From Picton, we moved down to Greymouth on the west coast. Situated on the mouth of the river Grey (obviously) Greymouth was another smallish town the lonely planet and various other travellers raved about. We stayed in what was perhaps the nicest hostel to date. Called global village, it was themed with african masks, reds yellow and blues, had central heating in every room and mahoosive great fire place in the lounge - not to mention a tv room with a vast selection of movies. I started my Greymouth experience with the Queen Charlotte Walk (i think it was called that anyhoo). I strated walking along the beach, quite happy that i had found a whole load of jade stones (which later turned out to simply be green quartz, but anyway), the 3 hour walk takes you along the hillside to a viewpoint which over looks the headlands, the bays and you could also see seals. There was also prmise of a pub nearby so thats was the incentive. I walked down a path not much wider than a metre, with trees and bushes curving upwards and over me. As I navigated through the temperate rainforest, up hills and cliff faces, I was pleased by the fact that there could potentially be a pub at the other end - I would get a burger and a cider I decided :D. After 2 hour of walking, there end was near. I climbed a few steps hoping the pub would be round the corner. I turned, aforementioned corner, and saw a small bench on a platform over looking the sea.... Yeh...... so.... no pub. Just a bench on an incredibley windswpet platform. I was far from amused. It was 4pm, getting dark and I had another 2 hours left till I got back to the hostel. I comforted myself with the thought of KFC. That made it all better. (With my immense self control I never got a KFC in the end - just a small sugar cake from the supermarket. Was a well deserved snack before my kilogram of pasta and pesto on the evening).

The next day I undertook a walk up ANOTHER mountain to ANOTHER viewpoint which overlooking greymouth and the river valley. Being a spoilt traveller who has obviously seen far more spectacular scenery than a normal guy should be allowed to see in his life, I was almost only slightly impressed by the views of the rolling hills, snow capped mountains in the distance, and the sea peaking up between 2 peaks. After a few photos, down I went back through the forest to ground level, where I walked to the flood wall. Greymouth seemed to have it all - earthquakes, fires floods etc. In the 80's a large floodwall was built to prevent flooding. The flood wall swept into the sea for a good 100 metres so I walked along that just as the sun was setting. True to form, it was another photo moment. I have always heard about scenery that could take your breath away, and even after a trek in the himalayas where the scenery was almost monotonously perfect, it wasnt QUITE enough to render me breathless. However, with the wind beating the livign shite out of the town and the jetty, waves smashed into the surrounding rocks sending spray a good 5 metres in the air up onto the jetty. As the sun began to set, the waves would eb lines of pink and black ominously approaching the shores, before breaking up in sparkling white on the pebble beaches. The southern alps and Mt Cook in the distance, all caught the sun as the snow caps glowed a little pink and red in the darkening sky. Although my core temperature was dropping far below recomended values, I couldnt pull myself away as the sun lowered, the sky turned orangges and yellows, silhouetting the light grey clouds, the mountains appeared to glow red hot in the sun, and the whitish spray covered the rocks - peeeeeerrrrfffecct. Anyhoo, after feeling quite content that maybe the earth is quite a nice place to live afterall, I began the long and cold walk back to the hostel..... for another kilogram of quick cook pasta with cheese.

From Greymouth we went to Barrytown, where we undertook the bizarre activity of 'knife making'. Strrongly recommended in the lonely planet, and on a number of leaflets we thought, why not - when in NZ.... make knives. We were greeted by Steve and Robin, in their front garden. After some general banter he showed us some old and dirty looking materials - a length of old steel, a rotty bit of wood and a shard of brass. From this he said we would make our knives. We had seen the photos of already made knives, and were unconvinced that ours would not look that good.

After forign the steel in a furnace and beating it sneselss with a hammer to get its shape, we sawed it down with a hacksaw and attached the brass handle guard with glue and brass rivets. With a jigsaw - never used a jigsaw in my life, we cut the wood to shape, glued it and attached it with mroe brass dowels before sanding the whole thing down to a handle shape. Applying a whole load of toxic materials to seal te knife, we had lunch, stroked some mini ponies, went on a 'huge' (not soe much huge, as just quite big) swing, and did some axe throwing. Lunch was sandwiches we made ourselves with a load of toppings Robyn took out her fridge. After eating lunch at her dining room table as she knitted in front of the tv, we went back out where steve was just finished doing the final shaping of the handles. My G-d did they look good. Almost perfect. John Lewis could not sell better knives. After a series of sanding and further polishing and varnishing, we had a glass of champagne and left. All in all, it was one of the most random days of the trip and VERY much recommended. A fantastic day with a knife I have used at every opportunity. The only thing left now, is to ensure it, in no way manages to make it into my hand luggage for the flight home, which is approaching imminently in 11 days. From Greymouth we will move in to Hokitiki for some Jade carving, off to the fox glacier for some glacier wandering, then to Queenstown....

Saturday, 19 June 2010

So it was crunch time. The 2 people in front of me had already fallen out, so out hung my legs 15,000 feet. Scrawled on the top slats of my bunk bed was 'when you cant find the words... indescribability will do'. I think that sums it up nicely. I was proverbial shitting it whilst trying to admire the view of the lakes and snowcapped mountains at the same time. Then no count down, no warning, out we went. Ignoring all instructions to keep my legs tucked in (as shown by the facebook photos) we ended up flailing a bit, did a little flip in the air before we got ourselves stable. Again I had a mixture of complete exhileration mixed with feeling of 'OMG im falling!!! What is wrong with me why did I do this?' Whilst I was struggling to breathe against the rushing 200kph air, whilst also trying to get some smiles in for the photographer falling metres from me (again you can the photographer failed to get my 'good side' which seemed to flapping in the wind'. We free fell for 60 seconds but it seems like well under 10. The free fall was a strange sensation, in the sense that once the plane was out of sight, it didnt really feel like falling at all, it just felt very VERY window - like when you stick your head out the window of a car, just with better views.

Then the parachute deployed and we slowed right down to perhaps about 20kph. My tandem master then 'made me more comfortable' but unhooking and unclipping a few things. I could feel myself sitting looser in the harness. Still at 5,000 feet this is NOT what i wanted, but it meant i could move around a bit more. He talked me through thee mountain ranges, the peaks, the valleys and the lakes. He pointed out to me to 2 coasts of NZ as we started to spiral slowly down to the landing post. It was when we were around 1,000 feet that the ground started coming towards us quickly. He spun in circles which flung my legs up in a feeling of weightlessness, then we braced ourselves to land. Legs up until tandem man made ground contact, then feet down and run to a stop. The parachute flopped down behind us, and that was that. Skydiving - DONE!! :D. I was and still am scared of heights, but the sheer scale of the dive, means you dont really come to terms with the true height until you have left the plane - by which time you have nothing to do but enjoy the ride down. It was the sensation of free falling, coupled with the views that made me think of going back up in the plane and doing the whole thing again. However, at 100 quid a go, it was not to be.

On an adrenaline high, we drove off to the canyon for alec and emily to do their bungee jumps. I did NOT do a bungee jump as I said, im scared of heights :P. Besides, with no tandem master there to push me off, I would probably end up standing on the platform until night fall, which would not be good for anyone. Alec and Emily also did the bridge swing, where they were suspended 70m above the river, then dropped. They swung down and back up on the trapeze, before being lifted back. I did something similar in thailand so i passed on this. However, we did do the flying fox.

The flying fox was basically an industrial size zipwire. Its a 1km length which stretches right across the canyon at some g-d awful gradient. We climbed up to the station where they strapped the 3 of us into giant sleeping bag like harnesses so we were suspended lying down - like air at alton towers. We were suspended about a minute, with the view of the steel cable descending into the 70m deep canyon in front of us. With time to think about what was happening, my heart was beating faster than it ever did on the skydiving plane. A few clicks of metal and pushed buttons, and we were off. A speed somewhere around 100km, the 3 of us flew straight into the canyon, under the bridge and back up. Arms outstretched to complete the 'flying' sensation. When the harnesses came to a stop at the bottom of the zipwire, and we hung abou1 5 metres from the canyon floor, we relaxed slightly, whilst also coming closer to flying than we ever would again. With that, we were slowly hitched back up to the mountain top station - this was more scary than going down due to the strange angle, whilst also seeing the ground getting ever more slowly further away. All part of the fun I suppose :D.

We arrived in Wellington later that day and stayed in a small hostel near the city centre. More a house than a hostel, with floral carpets and slightly discoloured wall paper - as travelling should be. A good, if not slightly strange bunch of people filled the hostel. many people actually lived in the hostel whilst they worked to earn for their next set of travels. Most of the 'live-ins' were british, all doing bar and cleaning jobs around the town before they moved onto other exotic locations. Whilst in Wellington, we had a road trip to see some sealions near the town of Martinsborough (a fecking stunning beach that would have been slightly more habited in the summer months). I also had a wander round Wellington, seeing the Te Papa museum which is basically a modern version of the science and natural history museum. Overall, cities dont really interest us, so we were only in Wellington 2 nights.

Early 8am start, as we returned the rental car and boarded a ferry for the south island. 3 hours of sailing through fjords and flooded glacial valleys. The sky was disgusting grey and overcast and wind battered the boat (and me standing on deck trying [and i mean TRYING] to get some good photos). It was still a smoothish journey and we arrived promptly in the incredibly small town of Picton. Assuming the weather has cleared by tomorrow, we are going to rent bikes and cycle round the area. The rumours about how much more scenic the south island is than the north, are living true. Picton is surrounded by rolling green hills. Little of the ground is actually flat. It has been promised it will only get better especially as we go further down south towards Queenstown...

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

New zealand, from what we have seen so far, is exactly like the UK, except the people are nicer, the cities and towns are cleaner and newer (albeit a hell of a lot smaller), the scenery is indescribable, and you can pretty much do any sort of extreme activity you want - from zorbing to skiing to parasailing rock climbing to sitting on your ass roasting in geothermal springs. All in all it seems to be a much more new and improved UK, with the added bonus of the fascinating maori culture thrown in for free. :D

With this in mind, it was white water rafting day. Our last day in Rotorua we were picked up from our hostel by the water rafting people. Full of the typical good humour and jest that all 'extreme activites' reps seemed to be, the driver greeted us with words of how we would all die and drown in the river. With this we arrived and got into.... 'ridiculous costume 1':
- swimming trunks first
- an oversized blue and red fleecey top
- a full body wet suit pulled uncomfortabley over the top of the already too big fleece
- a waterproof plastic mac that hung loosely over the wetsuit
- finished nicely off with a mahoosive life jacket

Once we had zipped, clipped, buttoned and velcro'ed on this flattering little costume, we were taken down to the river and shown the boat. There were 5 people in each boat. We were taught how to oar, how to sit, and what to do when we approached rapids and waterfalls. With this, we got in the boat, shouted a maori good luck chant and off we went :D The first few rapids were relatively tame, enough to row through. The water was freezing, as was the rain that fell. We tackled rapids and small waterfalls ducking, weaving and nearly falling out a good few many times - luckily no one on our boat did. As we pulled up to the 7 metre waterfall (biggest waterfall in the world to water raft off), our instructor took us aside and gave us a quick talk on how to deal with it. With this, he let go of the rock and we rowed towards the drop. About a metre from it, instructor man shouted 'down' and we tucked our oars in, and fell off our seats into the small ditches in the boat, holding ourselves in. The boat tipped off the edge, went vertical and landed bow first in the white water. After flooding and half plunging underwater, it soon righted itself.

We rowed away from the waterfall in time to see the other group tackle it. It was only watching them, that we realised how high it was, how delicate the boat was and how easy it would be the tip over. After praising ourselves for a few more minutes, we attempted the last few rapids, got some more photos taken and that was that. It was 45 mins in all and even though i couldnt feel my hands, it was absouletly fantastic. Obviously would have been a little better in summer when the river would be around 20c, but who is too complain :D With a mini adrenaline high, we were taken back to base were we commenced stripping off layer after layer after layer of waterproof fleecey life jacketness, bought the photos and that was that. - white water rafting crossed off the 'things to do before i die list'.

An hour and a half of driving (and sleeping) we arrived in Taupo. Sat around one of the biggest lakes in Australasia, Taupo is a fantastic place to spend those long hot summer holidays. Unfortauntely june is winter in NZ so it is cold, but with blue clear skies you can still see the snow topped mountains surrounding the lake. Taupo is also another home of extreme sports. It is the place where i would be falling out of a plane.... We got picked up to go to the Taupo Tandem skydiving school. We signed our life away on various forms and waited for the weather to clear. We waited and waited and eventually left to do another activity. We would return to it 2moz and luckily we did as the weather when we DID do it, was perfectly clear. Fecking cold, but we were assured this only helps to improve visibility - o well. So instead of skydiving we went jet boating instead. This is a boat powered by, well a jet, that shoots water at high speed out of its back. Im not sure how fast the boat went down the river, but fast enough to be one of the best jet boat rides in the world.

We arrived at the boating station and put on 'costume number 2':
- a big fleece to cover any clothes we were wearing
- a long black waterproof plastic jacket that went down to the knee and looked like something they wear in an abattoir
- another oversized life jacket tightened far beyond the tightness actually necessary

The boat would speed up and down the river, bouncing along the rapids, weaving in between rocks, trees and narrow canyons, doing 180 and 360 degree spins, throwing up water all around us. Wasnt as adrenaline filled as we thought it would be, but it was still a good way to pass the time. Definately something to try and something to remember. It only lasted 45 mins though which was a bit of a disappointment - as was us only being able to cover a short length across the river before it became to rough to go any further :(

Today it was time for the biggy - skydiving. Part of me was hoping the weather would be too bad to do it, but the other part was just wanting to get up there and fall out that dam plane. Luckily (or unluckily) it was the latter. Conditions were perfect for jumping. e were booked for a 10am and visibility was perfect from coast to coast - especially at 15,000 feet. We got into 'costume number 3':
- a large red and blue jumpsuit
- a series of chains, metal rings, and straps
- a plastic and leather hat designed to stop you banging your head and the cold of the wind
- plastic glasses that resembled those cooling specs you put over your head when you have a headache

After a worryingly short briefing where we were told how to fall out, where to put our hands and feet, and how we SHOULDNT panic, we were introduced to our tandem masters. I would happily do this over bungee jumping for the simple reason you dont have to open the plane doors and think 'shit im going to have to do jump this now...1....2....wait start again.....1......2....'. Because you are tied to someone who thinks nothing of throwing themselves out of a plane, whether you like it or not, once you are in the sky you are going OUT of that plane - sooner rather than later. Thus there is no reason to panic...!?! After havign some general abnter with our tandem people, we were led off to the plane - an almost ramshackle looking piece of yellow machiney that we all managed to cram into. FUll to the gills of yellow and red jumpsuits, cables, wires, clips and tubes, the plane left the runway and took off into the perfectly clear blue skies. Next time i touched ground would be after i would jump from a plane - i was NOT happy!!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

this blog might be a bit of a biggun as i havent updated it for a while - got the whole of singapore and the first few days of NZ to update y'all on. So here goes.... Singapore government are, to put it bluntly, dictators who steal vast quantities of money from its citizens. However, they are definately doing something right as it was by far the cleanest, most organised city we have been to. Prices of food and accomodation were rivalling those of the western world. The streets (as a friend from nottingham [manisha]) pointed out to me, were ABSOLUTELY spotless. Im sure manisha mentioned caning for littering or chewing gum in public or whatever. To secure funds to do this, not only was singapore the first place we have seen with speed cameras (not ot mentione actual road markings), in every car on singapores roads is a small card which is topped up with dollars. As cars pass under certain checkpoints money is automatically deducted from the cards - driving underneath it you can see your money disappear. As I say, it rivalled England in terms of cleanliness. Even the disgustingly practical ring roads and dual carriageways, were garnished with rose bushes, palm trees and hanging plants that covered the ugly metal central reservations. The skyline, like London, is clouded by cranes and scaffolding as countless new buildings are popping up -including a hotel/business centre/amusement park, which includes the worlds biggest public cantilever. Unfortunately i couldnt go up it as it opened a couple weeks later.

We got a free map and found our way to a niceish hostel a short walk from little india. With map in hand, I then went in search of..... well.... singapore. Little india, was obviously like walking through india. Incense hung heavily in the air, saris and wooden trinkets were displayed in every other shop, and those shops in between served rotis and curries to customers, on the typical plastic lawn chairs and tables lining the pavements. Add to this the gentle undercurrent of BO, traffic that refuses to stop for anyone or anything and men who tell you to go into their shop to buy a carpet/saris/dope/massage, and you have little India - the only thing missing was the piles of burning rubbish and the cows mating in the middle of the roads, but then im sure the dear singapore government would have something to say about THAT one!

Manisha pretty much got it spot on when she said the only reason anyone comes to singapore is because of the man made structures - the island has little natural beauty in its own. The central business district has the typical investmnet banking towers, filled with overpaid westerners who are taking advnatage of being away from home to cop off with some local woman/prostitutes. In front of the CBD, runs the river that is lined with the smaller shops and former chinese boutique houses, that marked the city's oringal function as a fishing town. Along with the shops are the countless bars selling pints for 9 british pounds a go. When i went out with manisha we found an irish pub that sold SNAKEBITE!!!! At 9 quid a go we only had one, but one was indeed, more than enough for me :D.

Stretching away from the CBD, there is little else to do except shop shop shop etc. With well over 500 shopping centres (think 500 4 storey brent x's), selling EVERYTHING one could ever want, even the best laid plans for the day went up in smoke as i would normally be lured into one of the shopping centres for an impromptu spending session. With the vast number of shopping centres opening onto the street - each vast shopping centre begin horrifically over air conditioned, as one walked down the road you found yourself constantly walking through gusts of air at 15 degrees, shifting up to 40 degrees, then rapidly back down to 15. It was as if not only singapore's buildings, but much of the streets were mechanically cooled also.

A couple of nights manisha also showed me the bar she hangs out in. Cheap drinks (by singapore standards) crowds of dirty old british expats grinding against local woman, and all the peanuts you could eat. So yeh, shopping, eating some of the nicest chicken noodle soup ever, riding the metro and meeting manisha sums up my singapore experience. That and i got a taste of durian. For a dollar i got to try the infamous fruit - the fruit which carried a $500 dollar warning should you be found eating it on the metro. Yes it didnt smell ideal - not exactly rotten meat, just slightly rotten fruit. The texture was like custard, with a slight greasy residue. Never had a fruit like it before, and although im sure if i ate it slightly more I would grow to appreciate it, I dont think I will try it again. Dipping into the bowel of manisha facts, she advises me that durian is either a love or hate, with some of her friends actually throwing durian parties. Apparently eating it in a confined space the smell takes days to get rid of. Whatever floats the singaporean boats :D

Anyhoo, singapore done, and with it the last glimpse of the daylight our shorts and flip flops will get. They have been shoved into the deepst corners of our bags. From here on out its NZ which is in mid winter at the moment. So goodbye tans and constant reliance on air conditioning - its back to sitting near radiators :P.

After a 7 hour flight to brisbane (me and emily nearly missing it due to a spontaneous stop to buy a slice of cheesecake and carrot cake), an 8 hour night stop off in brisbane (from midnight to 8am so no chance of any food as everything was shut) thena 3 hour flight to Auckland. We landed in auckland early afternoon - local temperature 16 degrees. Hmph, the 35 degrees of singapore was well behind us now. We are renting a car to work our way down NZ, so after picking it up, we begab our excursion to central auckland to find a hostel. We found a cheapish place called internatioanl YHA. Dorms obviously, but some of the cleanest toilets ever. We went to the shops to stock up on pasta, milk, bread and cheese and began the final month of our travelling :(. We were in auckland for a couple of days. We went to kelly tarltons underwater adventure place, which although aimed at kids, we got to see a 2 metre wide sting ray, sharks and penguins - aswell as seeing the auckland skyline. Following auckland we went down to Rotorua. Famous for its hot springs, mud baths and shooting geyers. We arrived and tracked down some steaming crators and some geothermal pools to swim in. 13 degrees outside, immersed in 42 degree water. It was bliss, and a sheer contrast to anything felt previously on this trip, mainly cos it has never been this cold outside.

We even managed to get in a night out in rotorua. Lavabar a short walk from the hostel is free admission for backpackers. The music, although not quintessentially cheesey, did us good, though the drinks were slightly pricey. This was only because the pound is fecking awful atm - the same with singapore. Formally 3 singapore dollars to the pound, it is now only 2 :(.

Next morning i was pleasantly sober, and i went for a customery walk round the town. It rained furiously but with all my valuables safely waterproofed the only thing i had to worry about was the sulphur smell that seems to constantly enuglf the town. Today however is the biggun... WHITE WATER RAFTING!!! A 45 minute ride down grade 5 rivers, with drops of upto 7 metres. Apprently capsizes rarely happen so nothing to worry about really. We have been advised that if we do capsize going over the falls, to get in the foatel position so the waterfall wont pull us under. Good thing to know i spose.... So thats todays acticity, along with driving to taupo where we will be skydiving... hopefully, if i have the nerve. Next time i write i should have done the white water rafting and also possibly thrown myself out of a plane at 20,000 feet. Here's hoping i'll be alive to write the next entry :D:D