Journey to Tokyo

I took the train up from Wellington to Auckland on Saturday which was pretty good and the train left early on Saturday morning for it’s journey first along the coast and then through the mountains. Unfortunately the windows are far too shiny to really get a good photo and there is too much pollen on the viewing platform for me. We did stop at lunchtime which gave me a chance for a quick walk as I’d already had some sandwiches on the train.

We arrived into Auckland in the evening (though 1.5 hours late which I wasn’t at all happy about – the reason was that the track was too hot.) and once there I went to sleep before my early 7.30am flight to Brisbane. For this flight I got up at 4.25am which is ungodly and then as the airport bus was early (4:40 not 4:44 as it was supposed to be.) I had to run up a 1:4 hill to catch it before collapsing on the floor of the bus (you try it with a 18kg rucksack – I’m not in the army.). I did manage to get a shower at the airport in Auckland. The flight was uneventful except that I had to run for my plane at Brisbane and JALWAYS gave us lots of food and drink though the films were all absolutely terrible. The best one was about a playboy bunny and solority houses and I’m not even kidding. It was also followed by the worlds longest taxi into the airport.

After that I made my way through the friendly and efficient security checks (the other airport staff and people around the airport were friendly too – male and female :p) to get my Japan Rail Pass and train ticket to Shinjuku station. I should also mention how insanely reliable the Japanese trains are. The 18:10 rapid train that I didn’t catch shut it’s doors at 18:09:5x but was still standing in the station when my iPod touch went over to 18:10:00. The track is also insanely smooth as it’s dark outside it doesn’t feel like the train is actually moving at all, ok it had stopped but I hadn’t noticed.

Further on on the journey we passed houses with garish Christmas lights though in general Tokyo is a lot darker with far fewer lights visible than in a Western city. The centre is still very bright though.

The other thing I’m immediately interested in discovering aside from the general culture is the technology. Japan has a reputation of being the most technologically advanced country on the planet, yet most of the most successful companies for 100 years have been American; from IBM to Microsoft to Apple and Google today.

Back to Christchurch

So I got up at 8am on Thursday for the 9am bus which was later than everyone else in my dorm who had mostly only arrived the day before – I think people are trying to do the whole country in 2 weeks. I’ve spent 5 weeks here and could have spent more time in several places fairly easily (doing some more walks, rafting and some mountain biking would have been great.) so coming back would still be great. I am still glad to be moving on as I’m getting a little bored of the UK in the southern hemisphere.

So I left Franz Josef on Thursday morning for day 1 of 4 of travel until Japan. First I headed up the coast to Greymouth. First we stopped at about 11am to have morning coffee and I also had a local delicacy of possum pie which was delicious. Basically in New Zealand they have 80 million possums and they are a pest so eating it is definitely a good thing. After that we followed the road up the coast including going over 2 bridges that the road shares with the railway line (trains obviously have priority). After that we headed up for lunch before getting into Greymouth for the train.

The train headed into the mountains across to Christchurch and first headed through a pretty valley before going through a massive tunnel to take us up to the small village of Arthurs Pass in a pass in the mountains called Arthurs Pass. The New Zealanders generally take the same attitude to naming that Warwick University does. In New Zealand the northern island is called “North Island” and the southern island is named similarly. At Warwick the cafe under the library is unsurprisingly called “Library cafe”. As we passed along Arthurs Pass we headed through lots of small tunnels and viaducts surrounded by beautiful scenery as we made our way to Christchurch. About 30 minutes before arrival we left the mountains and went across the heavily farmed but fairly featureless canterbury plains on our way to Christchurch.

The trip to Christchurch

As I didn’t want to go on the internet for an hour I haven’t been on Wifi for a while so I haven’t made any posts. So the post on Wellington is also new.

First thing on Saturday I headed across from Wellington to the port on the South Island known as Picton. The boat ride across was fairly windy but the boat was so big (and undoubtably has stabilizers) that it didn’t get tossed around by the sea. After arriving in Picton which was a bit chaotic but I safely made it onto the train south and as it left at 1pm I had plenty of time for lunch too. Then after a relaxing train ride down the coast I arrived in Kaikoura. My accommodation, like most accommodation in town was a long 500m walk from my hostel which wasn’t much fun. In the evening I went to a fairly pricey restaurant to try some crayfish which was very well cooked but unfortunately the crayfish itself didn’t really taste of anything (so basically the sauce was nice).

Then in the morning I got up early for the Dolphin Encounter, the weather wasn’t as nice as the previous day so the boat rocked and heaved a lot in the water. It was also really cold especially on my hands and feet, though even on Tahiti I don’t think the sea is exactly warm. Anyhow getting to see the dolphins so close beneath you was amazing and a hugely rewarding experience and there were loads and even some with babies and even though they didn’t pay much attention to us, maybe because the sea was so rough or they were bored with people in their water. On the last trip when returning to the boat one of my flippers fell off so I had to swim faster than I’ve ever swam before to get back to the boat; I think the sea was pushing me away and then I did feel seasick.

After that I had a simple but good chicken and Brie panini and hot chocolate which definitely warmed me up inside. After that I headed back to the hostel to get my stuff for the train. The train ride passed through a lot of tunnels and spectacular scenery visible through shiny glass on it’s way to Christchurch. Once I got there I got a taxi for the first time since Iquique in Chile to my hostel as I wasn’t going to carry it from the train station to my hostel. In the evening I avoided McDonalds for a cheap meal by having some Greek food for dinner. You may notice I haven’t had much traditional New Zealand food (like guinea pig in Peru) as you aren’t allowed to eat Kiwi and even the Maori meal was chicken and lamb. I then went off to the cinema to see the new Bond film which was excellent and it had a good plot as well as lots of action, the only criticism was that it was a bit too Hollywood (I.e. Bond would get shot at lots and all the bullets would miss and he’d shoot back once and hit.) The cinema was pretty comfortable too; much more comfortable than the cinemas in Oxford.

Wellington

After a long and boring bus ride down from Turangi, aside from viewing north islands largest volcanoes on the way I arrived in Wellington on Wednesday evening. First I drove up with my cousin to a viewpoint (whose name I have forgotten) overlooking the city of Wellington. After that beautiful food we went back to her house for some dinner before bed.

The next day I caught the train down into town and bought some new shoes to replace the old wet and ruined pair from the walk in Turangi before going to the Te Papa national museum. There I saw some interesting modern New Zealand art and some other fairly interesting exhibtions including one on Scottish immegration to New Zealand and some frankly mediocre rides on adventures and underwater volcanoes in New Zealand. It also included an outdoor exhibition which wasn’t amazing but to be honest I’m a bit sick of museums at this point. Even so I spend several hours there and afterwards I walked along the warves back to the train station.

Then on Friday I headed back into the city centre and first took a free tour around the parliament building. It was great that they still gave the public access to it (including foreigners) in my view and we even got access into the chamber itself. The tour was free and good too. After having a brief look in the national museum I had an excellent lunch in the lively backbenchers pub opposite the parliament which included cartoons and caracatures of several MP’s.

After lunch I went to St Pauls cathedral in Wellington which was a very modern stunning building which I was very impressed by. Then I went to the New Zealand national archives to see the treaty of Waitangi, which was the treaty with the Maori to give New Zealand to the British. After that I saw the old St Pauls which was a small wooden church and was also very pretty and a complete contrast to the modern version. Then I headed up to the cable car and the cable car museum which was interesting but the cable car had far too many stops for my liking having 3 stops from top to bottom where noone got on or off. Later we headed into the bush for a bit to see tree ferns before returning home.

Turangi and the Tongariro crossing

So I left Rotaruha early on Monday morning and headed further south on the bus. Finally on the bus we got to watch a movie unfortunately I got out before it actually started but I’m definitely requesting it on the rest of the bus trips.

After arriving in Turangi I went on a walk down the river. It took about 3 hours to go the 4 kilometres or so each way. On the journey I got really wet (probably wetter than that boxing day walk ;)) and so I really got to test out how waterproof my coat was. As my t-shirt was still mostly dry (I hadn’t had the coat fully done up all the time). When I got back from my walk I got a burger from burger king. It was pretty good and after eating that I set into watching some films at the hostel. Firstly I saw “Dan in real life” which was a romantic comedy about a columnist called Dan who lost his wife and then fell in love again with his brothers girlfriend. It also contains the most detailed description of love I have ever seen in a movie – good to see that taboo broken. It also breaks with the trend of romantic comedies in another way – it is actually funny and I laughed out loud on several occassions. It looks like that will be the Pat Levy award winner for this trip third. Then later I saw panic room which was great.

The next day I was planning to do the tongariro crossing. However it was apparently very windy and raining So after that I made the plan to go rafting but apparently the river was too high due to the rain the day before for it to be safe so I went off with a group from the hostel to attempt the first third of the crossing. Unfortunately although it was beautiful and sunny in Turangi it wasn’t on the mountain itself and was actually raining foggy and very windy. Still we nearly made it to the top in the fog which gave the landscape an eiree lord of the rings feel. After I got back I had some food and relaxed.

Then today I’m just waiting for the bus to Wellington. As it’s nice I might do another short walk.

Rotaruha

After a joyous coach ride from the north of the island I arrived in Rotaruha. On the first evening I had a delicious Thai meal in a modestly named but excellent Thai restaurant named “amazing Thai”. The restaurant was fairly authentic but they did try and encourage their customers to downgrade to milder versions of their dishes. Fortunately I wasn’t tempted and actually the chicken and cashew nut (classed medium) wasn’t any stronger than a medium Tesco curry. I think the British are probably generally good with their curries as the curries I had in South America were also pretty weak.

After a good nights sleep I spent the day in the town itself. First I headed to the Rotaruha museum which used to be a thermal bath and a night-club. So I saw exhibits on that as well as the Maori battalian in World War 2 and the volcanic eruption of 1886 which radically changed the area and destroyed the famous pink and white terraces near to Rotaruha. The world war two exhibition was especially interesting as the Maori were very brave and fought very well. The German general Rommel is said to have replied that he could win north Africa if he had a battalion of Maori like the allies did.

The other interesting thing was that there were some Maoris in the exhibition at the same time and they didn’t understand why they got involved. Given that world war two was probably the least futile war of the 20th century that is fairly surprising.

In the evening I headed to the local Maori christian church which was also quite interesting.

Then on Saturday I headed out into the countryside. Rather than going on a tour I took the local shuttle bus which was cheaper and better.

First I went to Wai-o-tapu to see the Lady Knox geyser there that goes off at exactly 10.20am each day (amazingly including changes for summer time!). The actual reason for this isn’t nature but that man uses soap to artificially set the geyser off. After that we went to explore the nearby thermal park which was very interesting and I got lots of good photos of that. I even managed to catch one of the rarer geysers in the park erupting which was lucky. After that at 12 noon I got the bus on to the next stop and I went off to have my sandwiches and explore the Waimangu volcanic valley. This was the scene of the 1886 eruption itself and the scenery was stunningly beautiful and actually very green. There were also more thermal pools and things to see there. Finally I returned to town by about 4pm.

In the evening I headed out to a Maori entertainment show and dinner called Mitai. I wasn’t as impressed as I expected by this. Firstly one of our number had to take part in the welcoming ceremony. As he was volunteered (as noone wanted to do it) for the role I felt it was a bit unfair and that the tour should have arranged for a member of staff to symbolically represent us. Then we got to see native dancing and exercise which was very enjoyable before dinner. This was very good and consisted of chicken and lamb cooked in tin foil over hot rocks. However they did rush us to finish the meal more than I would like as I hadn’t finished before the after dinner activities which consisted of a forest tour that would have been better in daylight and seeing gloworms (which would have been better without children who were scared of the dark and insisted on shining their torches around.). So I wasn’t totally happy with it.

The next day I had a lazy morning (hey I’m on holiday) before attempting to rent a bike for the day. Unfortunately this wasn’t possible in town so I took the public bus out of town to see Kiwis and to go on a luge down the mountainside. First I headed to see the Kiwi breeding program which involves stealing the eggs from the wild and birthing them in captivity to improve their survival rate against unnatural predators like stoats. Once they are big enough they are released back into the wild. This has proved very successful and now they have a 60% survival rate rather than the 5% rate they had before. They had also just got some new eggs in which we got to see as well as some adult Kiwis.

After that I headed up to the top to take some luge rides down the mountain with some locals I met in the lift on the way up which was great fun. The luge car actually got really bumpy as it went on the ride down the mountain.

Bay of Islands

I had a fairly lazy stay in the bay of islands actually and I didn’t do that much except wince at the food prices as every meal seemed to cost £9 which makes it more expensive than New York – of course now the exchange rate is approximately $1=£1 that is no longer the case but it was certainly true when I was there before the exchange rates went insane.

On the middle day I headed out into the bay on a sail catamaran which was great fun – the boat got really wet so it had to be dodged as we sailed pretty damn fast as the wind was strong. I also did some sea kayaking which was great fun around an island where we stopped for lunch and I also did some shoeless walking as the boat captain refused to bring my shoes over in his dingy and I didn’t want to get them wet in my kayak.

Then on the Thursday I caught the bus down towards Rotaruha – as usual the bus didn’t show a Hollywood movie – not even the Zohan and it also regularly stopped for rest stops rather than providing food and toilets on board. This is a total downgrade from South American buses.

Heading North

From Auckland I headed north of Auckland on the bus. Unlike the buses in south America they didn’t have Hollywood’s greatest on offer for entertainment and they also stopped the bus at a service station on route.

So instead of the low-brow film I get to talk about the book I read instead. I’m currently reading a book on Mathematical Finance (generally my absolute favourite topic) and randomness which is very interesting and it is called Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholad Taleb. It has a lot of relevence to the current financial crisis which is more interesting as the edition I am reading was published in 2004.

He made his money betting on random events occurring as even though he then took small losses in the steady markets he makes big in volitile markets. He also has an interesting view on Hedge Funds which are usually dispised that they are actually a good thing and show that the stock market isn’t rational. Basically he is saying that many investors (who I believe are primarily banks and pension funds so aren’t just investing the money of the rich) act stupidly and people are promoted because of knowledge of the current market that don’t take into account of bad events that aren’t occurring at that moment. Of course those things do happen and in the process banks lose hundreds of millions of dollars in a very short space of time. Maybe we need to put our money with banks who will invest it sensibly (and often conservatively, though he also says that risks are fine if you understand them.). To an extent I’d guess there is positive correlation with good customer service, though I’m sure it isn’t 100%.

Once I got off the bus my cousin picked me up and we went and did a few chores before having a nice dinner at home and heading out to a band launch and some other bars/clubs in Whangerai. The next day we headed out down the winding roads of the region to the excellent Kauri forest museum (the Kauri trees are massive New Zealand trees that last for thousands of years and are a bit like a redwood.) which talked about both logging and the Kauri gum trade which were at there peak at the start of the 20th century. The museum also had lots of information on logging and how the wood was exported, mostly to Australia, but also to Europe, Hong Kong and the Americas. The museum also showed some wood buried in coal for 20 million years that still had a wood-like appearance. If Kauri furniture could last even a fraction of that time it’d be seriously special. So after seeing that we had a late lunch before heading back to my cousins house. In the evening we watched Matrix Revolutions which was as shit and overblown as the last time I’d seen it. It also dragged on for hours meaning we didn’t get to bed until 1am.

Then on Sunday we headed out down more winding (and in cases non-tarmaced but decent roads) to take a look at both the biggest and second biggest Kauri trees which were massive. Something else I liked was that unlike the redwood they aren’t the only trees in the forest meaning you can get to see a good look at the scale of them. After that we headed to a forest lookout so you could see the unbroken canopy of forest of the region which although lots of logging has taken place the remaining forest isn’t broken into tiny pieces as it is in Argentina.

You may have also noticed that I haven’t talked about the culture in New Zealand compared to the other places I’ve visited. This is because the culture here is pretty similar to the UK. It is a bit more relaxed and trusting though.

Auckland

I have been in Auckland for a few days now. I arrived on Monday evening and then had dinner with my family who live in Auckland. On Tuesday I went into the centre of town on my own to do some shopping and other chores. After that I headed to the excellent Auckland Museum, it was interrupted by a fire alarm – my view on these things is once you get outside if there isn’t smoke pouring out of the building it is fine, but of course they had to call the fire brigade to check it out properly. The museum had a lot of stuff on Auckland and the Maoris and the polynesians in general as well as a Volcano exhibit.

The following day we went to a nearby beach and walked around before returning to the joys of planning my trip around New Zealand, first I’m heading north towards the bay of islands before going to Rotorua and then onto Wellington in the North Island, then on the south island I’ll head towards Christchurch to catch the train through the mountains and then head to Queenstown and Milford Sounds in the south.

Then on Thursday I had an epic day as first I headed to the nearby Rangitoto where I climbed to the top and looked out over a nice (but not as good as Easter Island) crater. After that I explored some really good lava tunnels, which are apparently formed when the lava solidifies at the surface first and then the still liquid lava in the tunnel retreats back down into the earth again. After that I just had enough time to catch the boat so they time that very well!

After a quick sandwich (and cake and fruit as I was hungry) in town I headed to the Maritime Museum which had more stuff on polynesian shipping which was very interesting before heading up one tree hill and another hill for views of the city. We also saw a container ship just leaving, what impressed me was the sheer size of the thing which completely dwarved everything around it.

Tonight I’m packing and heading north from Auckland for a few days.

Arrived in New Zealand

I’ve just flown into New Zealand, the flight was fairly uneventful and I saw Mamma Mia the film on the flight. The food was also OK. I’m now staying with some family in Auckland.