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.

Sydney

WordPress for iPhone sets the date by default to the date the post was started not when it was published so this post has languished a little further down the page than it should.

So on my first day in Sydney I first headed to the main shopping street in town and the Sydney Apple Store which is massive. Unfortunately they wouldn’t update my iPod Touch to the latest software version as I wanted. Maybe at this stage I’ll have to put up with it crashing sometimes until I get back to the UK.

Then I left the technological world behind, had some lunch and headed to the free and excellent museum of contemporary art. It included a large exhibition by Yinka Shonibare on British culture especially the aristocracy. He dressed them up in traditional African dress too which was cool. He also refers to himself with his title as an MBE to subvert the British culture from within. Personally I think that is part f British culture to allow critism like this – and that is undoubtably why he got his MBE. Anyhow then I went across the harbour bridge before heading back to the hostel through the botanical gardens for an early night as I was pretty tired.

Then on Friday in the morning I went shopping. It is nice to be somewhere which has an American style mall now. Then in the afternoon I headed to national martime museum which included an Australian gunship and the replica of Cook’s Endeavor. This was actually pretty interesting and I went on a guided tour of the warship and it took about 3 hours overall for all the boats not leaving much time for the museum before it shut. Cook’s endevour was also good, inside it was very small and even I had to duck. In the evening I went out for a few drinks with people from my hostel and I returned quite late in the small hours of the morning.

On Saturday I finally headed to the Sydney Opera house and went on a tour of the building. On the outside the building is very attractive but unfortunately inside the building is mostly ugly concrete which is a little disappointing. To it’s credit it is the bat looking We did learn how the building was built and how it took $100 million dollars and 16 years to build. Of course thanks to inflation it will now cost $700 million to refurbish part of the inside. In the evening I met up with a friend who I’d met in Chile and we got to watch England lose to New Zealand at Rugby League something I’m sure everyone in the UK is absolutely gutted to hear that.

Then on Sunday I got up early in the morning to head inland to the Blue Mountains. I went with Oz Trails and they were very good. I also was joined by a majority of Americans for the trip which wasn’t something I’ve experienced before. Maybe the new president is already making a difference even though he’s not in office yet! On the trip we went to Kutumbre to see the three sisters and the train down into the valley which was really cool. It used to be used for coal but since the 1920’s it has been used by passengers at first riding only in the coal cars which must have been safe! Fortunately these days you ride in a car which is protected by a cage to keep you safe. It is very funny though as the sign for the ride telling you not to drop camera bags and infants in case they get damaged which is a good example of Aussie humour.

After that we had lunch and I had an Australian pie and we bought some sweets from an expensive sweet shop. After that we headed into the national park down below the mountains to see kangeroos and I got a video of one bounding across the grass. Finally we went to Sydneys Olympic Park and then caught a boat back to the Opera house which gave an overview of the rich part of the city.

Moorea

To be honest in Moorea for the first couple of days I had a bit of a rest and just spent the time sitting on the beach which was very beautiful and relaxing. Though I do have to admit that even at my age I’d rather build sandcastles than just lie on the beach and sunbathe. Sitting on the beach was unfortunately my only cheap option as my previous snorkelling venture ended in massive sunburn on my back so as to appease the sun god I thought I should stay covered up.

On the first day I read the only English book in the hostel which was some quite good English Chick-Lit and on the second I sat and contemplated life which was interspaced with rain.

Naturally as this is the honeymoon capital of the world and is completely full of couples I’m going to discuss something I always discuss when it applies to me – relationships. Now given that this is rich man territory you do see a few trophy wives as well as the vast majority of genuine couples. I do have to admit I feel sorry for both of the trophy couples as it means that I’ve probably experienced more feeling in my, frankly, failure of a love life than they have – as to be honest my love live hasn’t been love free though due to complicated circumstances and failure from both parties which destroyed the trust and communication between us (and frankly they are the essense of any successful relationship) it never actually turned into anything.

Anyhow aside from the lack of love there also seems to be a lack of trust (which obviously leads to lack of communication). A woman in question was trying to take a picture of herself on the beach and as from my travels I know it is impossible to take a decent picture of yourself without a tripod and timer mode so I tried to help. Of course before she spoke to me about this she looked round to check her partner wasn’t there as it’s well known that taking someones picture with their camera is practically like having sex with them.

Anyhow it was nice to have a quiet few days without much to do and I also ended up only spending about 75% as much as Easter Island. This did mean on the last day I got to the airport 10 hours before my flight as I had to find a bank to change the money back into Euros. This was the most fun I’ve ever had and by the end I was being quite irritable. I did read this weeks Economist from cover to cover which used up about 3 hours of time. The most amusing bits in it was that Argentinas inflation rate is only 9%. As even the subway has increased a lot more than that as well as everything else it’s clearly a made up figure. The nail in the coffin is that bank accounts have 20% annual interest. If the inflation was really that low I should move there!

Sydney: First Impressions

So I’ve got off the plane and landed in Sydney. It seems like a friendly and nice city so far. I’ve just uploaded a post on Tahiti itself and Moorea will follow shortly. I need to do a bit more to it first.

Overall I wasn’t too impressed with French Polynesia. It was really too expensive for what it was.

Tahiti

So we have finally fully and completely left south America behind. Though you shouldn’t have missed my awards on the American continent itself. The flight to Tahiti was actually surprisingly empty and I even had two seats to myself before settling down to a Prison Break marathon. LAN have the whole first series and I haven’t seen it before but the first two episodes seem good so far. So like seemingly all international flights to Tahiti this one arrived late. Of course due to that there are no public buses after the first one arrives forcing you to either shell out for a transfer or one of the worlds most expensive taxis (offically Oxford isn’t the winner anymore). They were literally going to charge about £30 to take me the 18km (11 miles) to my accommodation.

Once there I settled in for a good nights sleep. In the morning I headed to Papeete on the public bus which wasn’t too expensive. Once there I went on the Internet for 30 minutes. Including the matthew-wincing-at-the-price-and-the-girl-running-the-cafe-wanting-to-sleep-with-me discount it only cost £2.50. I found out later that here they pay £120 for a months 512k ADSL which is literally an order of magnitude more than the UK.

So anyway back to Papeete. Firstly the positive: It isn’t the most boring place I’ve been on the trip as that prize goes to Puno. In Papeete I did the walking tour of what ended up being an extensive series of shopping opportunites. This culminated with the pearl museum which was basically just an excuse to get me to spend £65000 on a pearl necklace – definitely well within my budget for Tahiti.

Then the next day I went on a afternoon tour into the jungle centre of the island which was really beautiful and we got to see the mountains towering above us in the interior. This was great fun and the guide spoke excellent English. I went on this with an American couple staying in my hostel and we had an interesting discussion on stuff.

The next morning I borrowed the snorkelling stuff from my accommodation and set off snorkeling the reef near my accommodation. There were a lot of fish to see even close to the shore and that took up the whole morning. Unfortunately following tradition I still got quite badly sunburnt on my back. After that I rested before getting the boat to Mo’orea in the morning.