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 wait...no 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

Friday, 4 June 2010

The journey from KL to Penang was vastly more comfortable than most previous coach journeys. The bus was indeed VIP - big cushy seats that had foot rests. Even if the coach interior was green enough to make you think you were drowning in a sea of.... well something VERY green. A short bus ride and an even shorter boat ride later we were on the much complimented island of Penang. Apparently famous for its culture and food - with this we went in search of a hostel (me nearly getting run over in the process). We found a place that was slightly expensive but had air conditioning that could freeze water in the bottle, so we took it naturally. Only downside was the toilet and bathroom was down 2 flights of stairs. Anyhoo, we settled in and started to plan our route around the stifling town. It was then that something from KL came back to haunt me - wether it was the chicken noodle soup or the watermelon shake I had, I soon got into the rhythm of dashing down the 2 flights of stairs every half hour in a mad rush for the toilet. Through the evening and well into the night, the toilet rushes continued, preventing me from being anywhere outside a 100m radius of the nearest toilet. This followed nicely into the next day, when we went to see the Fort Cornwallice.

The fort was built on the land first colonised by the British. Originally built out of palm trunks, it was soon constructed in brick in a rough star shape to serve as the islands main wall of defence against attackes. For whatever reason (maybe they couldnt be assed to shlap from the mainland or maybe just because it was simply to hot), there never were any invaders, no battle ever occured in the fort and all the canons decorating the edges of the fort were rarely, if ever fired. Good times. After we wanders round the fort a bit, stroked a kitten, read some plaques, alec got shat on by a bird and we left back to the hotel where i had a date with the toilet.

Penang was a bit of a disaster. I would maybe feel different about it if I managed to do what i wanted but given the tummy situation, I did not want to risk being out of toilet sight. O well, Perhentian Island bound. A minibus journey that should have taken 6 hours took only 3, as the driver floored it over roads bumpy enough to throw us a good metre out our seats. Despite getting up at 6am to catch this bus, scraping and knocking various exposed screws and beams in the bus, ensured no sleep was to be had by any of us. We eventually arrived in Kuala Besut. From here we caught a speedboat to the island. The sky leaving the mainland was grey and depressingly overcast, but as we left mainland behind, and the perhentians came into view, the sky turned blue once again. With this, the waters turned clear and well before we reached the island, the tinges of white beaches decorating the islands base could be seen.

The boat dropped us off at long beach (the main beach). Failing to book ahead, we hadnt taken into account that it was one of malaysias MANY bank holidays. With this, after an hour of wandering up and down the beach in the midday sun, the only place with space available was a quaint little place in the dingey corner of the beach surrounded by a swamp. It consisted of 15 rotten garden sheds - with the insects to match. Mattresses were holey and again, full of insects and the mosquito nets were ripped to shreds. Holes in the floor were big enough to lose a foot down, and many of the huts had stairs missing leading up to the front door. And the less said about the showers (a tap high up on the wall) and the toilet (with no toilet seats) the better. We planned to stay on the island for a week, much to our frustrationg - and also much to the frustration of everyone else who too only staye dhere because no where else had room. 7am the next morning we got in a taxi (boat) and sped to coarl beach on the other side of the island where we managed to secure a vastly superior room for a fraction of the price. The articulate and ever optimistic british lady running the check in said we were 'FUCKING lucky to get it, very FUCKING lucky... we dont normally do 3 people rooms.... FUCKING lucky'. So we were very fucking lucky to get the room. A stones throw from the perfect water, perfect sand, palm trees and restraunts - a scene could not get much better.

Life on the island moved pretty slowly. I went for a walk on the path that led round the island and saw even more remote beaches, with nothing but short patches of isolated white sand and water clearer than a swimming pool. One beach had a tent on it but that was about it. Other activities included snorkelling, whcih the perhentians are apparently famous for. We boarded the boat early, me with my life jacket on looking like a little Belisha Beacon, and we were off. First stop was to shark point where we got to see......SHARKS!! Small and baby sharks but sharks none the less. The next stop was the turtle stop. We were shouted to jump out the boat into the water, where we proceeeded to stalk a turtle about more than 1 metre in length, as it swam indifferently at the bottom of the sea. Around 10metres deep, the bottom could still be clrealy seen. The best stop of the day though was the coral garden. We jumped out of the bottom oblivious to what was around us. It was only when we dipped our head under water we saw the thousands of coloured fish, swimming and weaving around us. Blues, yellows, silver pink and green clusters swimming unafraid as we flopped around in the water. The snorkelling guids then threw us some bread to feed the fish. They swarmed to the food, and in seconds whole pieces of bread were gone. Was like nothing I have ever seen before. Looking beneath the water to see nothing but the glittery fish and the light reflected off them - a perfect scene. Just a shame my camera had decided to finally give up the life. After 2 weeks of struggling with water damage, it died on me R.I.P.

We left the pure paradise of the perhentian islands at midday to catch the boat back to mainland. After a 7 hour wait in a nothing town called Jerteh (at the same time trying to rid ourselves of any remaining ringets), we boarded the bus - singapore bound.