A Travellerspoint blog

NZ - The North Island

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We arrived in a cold and wet Auckland at 4am. Thankfully the weather improved as the day progressed. We spent a couple of days relaxing, seeing some of the city and planning our trip around parts of the North Island. Auckland is known as the city of sails and the harbour and marinas are really nice-looking areas. The rest of the city is also pretty good too and most people seem to have fairly large houses. We were surprised by the Asian influence in the city, as there were lots of Chinese, Korean and Japanese here which meant some great food.

We picked up our campervan from Wicked Campervans, who paint their vans in unusual, sometimes controversial and unique designs. Our van was called the Flying Rat and was a converted 1997 Toyota Townace. Although it was a bit small, basic and awful going uphill it was fun and was all we needed. We set off north to head up the coast to the Bay of Islands. Our first stop was Paihia where we stayed a couple of nights. It is a really pretty place with good beaches and lots of islands within the bay. The weather was great as it was 32 degrees, which was a lot higher than we were expecting for their Autumn. We had another great day when leaving so we took a slight detour to a place called Whangarei where we visited some waterfalls.

Our next destination was Waipu which is a town founded by Scottish immigrants around the 1850’s. It has a Scottish Museum that actually lists all of the Scots (mostly Highlanders) who made this journey from Ullapool via Nova Scotia in Canada. This also had a stunning beach and we were lucky to get more fantastic weather. We also did a trip to the caves to see Glow-worms. Linda wasn’t a fan of the mud, water and lack of light that we had to get through to see them so she stayed outside. I scrambled through to the cave at the back to see them though and it was impressive. Unfortunately none of the photos came out though.

On our way back to Auckland, from the Northland, we stopped at Glenfield to visit my Mum’s second cousins, Jimmy and Willie. They are from Gairloch and Dingwall and they left Scotland 50 years ago, although they haven’t lost their Ross-shire accents after all that time. They made us feel really welcome and we had a good laugh with them. They also had a photo of my Mum as a baby, which was a bit bizarre seeing on the other side of the world.

After returning to Auckland we decided to head south-east to Rotorua to break up our journey to the Tongariro National Park. There was a lot to do here but unfortunately time wasn’t on our side so we only managed to visit the town’s thermal springs. These were impressive, especially since they were in the middle of town, although the smell of sulphur was a bit overpowering. Most of the town smelled of rotten eggs so thankfully we decided to stay in a nice wee campsite out of town and away from it.

We stopped at a city called Taupo when headed South from here, which seemed pretty nice although very touristy. There are many adrenaline activities to do here but again we didn’t have time so will maybe try to do something when we get to the South Island. It was here that we heard the awful news about the devastating earthquake in Christchurch. We listened to the news progressing as we continued our journey to Tongariro and it was then we realised the severity of it. As the following days progressed the news became a lot worse as the death toll increased. It has been a complete eye-opener to be in the same country as a disaster like this happening.

The following morning we started the day trek over the Tongariro crossing. This is a 19km trek which takes you up and over a ridge between 2 volcanoes, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe (otherwise known as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings films). The scenery was pretty unique with active volcanoes, active volcanic craters, emerald lakes and jagged lava flows. One of the lakes was particularly impressive called the red crater. It was a good day but a long one since we had to dirve back to Rotorua that evening.

Following Rotorua we drove North to the Bay of Plenty to check out some of the beaches on the way up to the Coromandel Peninsula. The weather was once again fantastic and the beaches were superb, reminding us of the Brazilian beaches. The drive up the coast was stunning as we worked our way up to Hot Water Beach near Hahei. We got lucky with the tide as you need to be on the beach within 2 hours of low tide to experience digging your own hot water pool in the sand. We had a couple of failed attempts at digging for hot water before being advised on how to find a good spot. We then got successful by helping others who had already found a good spot. The water that came up through the sand was so hot in some places it actually burned you!

That was our last night in the North Island as we returned to Auckland the next morning after clocking 1750kms in the fuel guzzling Flying Rat!! We enjoyed the North Island especially the fantastic weather and great beaches but we are looking forward to the more scenic South Island.

Posted by Del-Linda 15:06 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Adios South America!!

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Tonight we leave South America for a new chapter in our journey in New Zeland. We have had four amazing months here and feel extremely lucky to see and experience the highlights of these great countries. The variety of places we have visited has been unbelievable from beaches to glaciers, deserts to jungles and mountains to salt flats.

The highlights for us were Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires, Torres Del Paine National Park, Perito Moreno Glacier, Volcano Villarica, Machu Picchu, the Amazon Basin and the Bolivian Salt Flats.

We have ben quite taken a back by how friendly and welcoming the locals have been in every country we have visited and although most do not have much or the same opportunities that we have, they certainly make the most out of life and know how to enjoy themselves. We have made many new friends, both locals and fellow travellers, who have really made our trip and we will miss everyone greatly.

Adios South America we will miss you!!!!

Posted by Del-Linda 07:22 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Central Argentina

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Now we were back in Argentina we had almost three weeks left before leaving South America from Santiago. Our first stop was Salta in the Andean region in the North of Argentina. It is a really pretty city with lots of impressive Spanish colonial buildings and it felt good to be back in Argentina for some good food (especially the meat) and wine. In our first few days here we explored the city and enjoyed the great ice cream. We also wend to an asado with friends we met in the hostel which turned into a night out. It was a good night and another city with crazy Argentinian night life!

As we were in Gaucho (South American cowboy) country we decided to go and stay on a ranch and try some horse riding. The ranch was in a beautiful setting in the country surrounded by mountains and the owners were fantastic fun and kept us entertained whilst filling us full of great food and wine during our stay. The mornings horse riding was good but we had a huge asado for lunch and lots of wine which didn´t go too well for the afternoons riding. That evening, after another huge meal and lots more wine, the owner (Enrique) showed us his malt whisky collection. It was very impressive but not nearly as good as his gun/arms collection from wars all over the world. He decided to dress Del up in war gear and give him some guns for props so I could take photos of him.

We left Salta and got another overnight bus to Cordoba from Salta, which is Argentina´s second largest city. It is another beautiful cilty with a young feel to it as it has seven universities. We stayed in a geat family run hostel with a ten month old wee girl and a two month old puppy which kept us busy but entertained. There was another good crowd staying in the hostel and we had a big asado on our first night, then the following night the owner had a big birthday party in the garden with a live band. It was good but a very late night, as the band didn´t even start until 2am!!

We didn´t do too much in Cordoba as we just enjoyed the city and its parks. One day we travelled to a town South of Cordoba called Alta Gracia where Ernesto "Che" Guevara spent his childhood. The house he lived in has been turned into a museum where we found out a lot more abuot him and his famous journeys around South America. We were surprised to find out that many parts of his trips were a similar journey to our own. For those who are not aware, there is a book which is now also a film called The Motorcycle Diaries which tells of his adventures as a young doctor tavelling round South America before he became a Communist Revolutionary. The museum also has photos of Fidel Castro visiting the museum a few years ago which were good.

Our final stop in Argentina was Mendoza, the best wine producing area in Argentina. As well as the wine it is a lovely city with a huge park that all the locals love to go to and a good zoo too which we had to visit. Although there wasn´t much between the animals and the visitors apart from mesh fencing which was a bit worrying! One monkey was handing us food so we could feed it back to him and Del was even stroking a Puma´s back at one point.

We decided it would be rude not to do a wine tour in when in Mendoza, so we did a wine tour with three Canadians through Mr Hugo´s bike wine tour. When we first arrived at Mr Hugo´s we were given a glass of wine before we chose our method of transport to get to each vineyard - a tandem! Our first stop was the wine museum where we tasted the wine only made and sold there before we cycled to a beer garden for lunch. In the afternoon we visisted two vineyards where we got a tour in each before getting to sample their various wines. We decided not to go crazy with the wine consumption since cycling a tandem isn´t easy, even without a drink, so we decided it was best to miss out on the absynth factory! After returning the bikes Mr Hugo supplied us all with endless supplies of red wine for the next three hours, which was a great laugh, before we had to run and jump on the last bus back into town.

We are now back in Santiago, Chile, where we are due to fly to New Zealand tonight. Thankfully we made it across the Andes as a few days ago there was a landslide that blocked the road to Chile for a few days. This was cleared although we got stuck at the boarder for over four hours in a queue of buses waiting to get across the border, although, we are now getting used to these delays!

Posted by Del-Linda 07:19 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

The Salt Flats & San Pedro

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After finally leaving La Paz we took a train south to Uyuni where we started our three-day tour of the Bolivian salt flats. We arranged to meet Damien and Kim again here to all book on the same tour together. Thankfully we managed to book onto a tour for the following morning as there was absolutely nothing to do there apart from a cracking pizza resturant.

Before departing on our tour we met the others who would be sharing our jeep with us for the next few days. They are a really nice Welsh couple, called Richard and Leah, and we all got on really well straight away. Our first stop was the train graveyard where we all got to explore and climb around the old rusty British and American steam trains. We also had a quick stop at the original salt hotel before stopping a few times throughout the Salar De Uyuni (the salt flats).

The salt flats were spectacular as they are completely flat plains of salt, with large mountains and volcanos in the background. In the middle of the flats we stopped at an island known as cactus island due to the number of huge and ancient cacti covering this rocky island. It looked really unusual being located in the middle of the flats. This stop was also an opportunity to take some silly perspective pictures before heading to another salt hotel where we spent the night. It was quite strange as just about everything was made from salt.

Day two of the trip involved driving through more spectacular landscape and visiting five lagunas where we saw thousands of flamingos feeding. We also saw many llamas and vicunas between and around the lagunas. We had a good night playing cards and Kim introduced us to a game called pass the pig. A few bottles of wine were drank which probably wasn´t the best idea since we were at an altitude of 4500m.

We had an early rise the next morning so we could drive up to the geysers for sunrise. These are some of the highest in the world at 4950m above sea level, and although they were impressive they absolutely stank so we didn´t hang about for too long. Our guide then drove us to hot springs where a few of us went for a dip after breakfast. We also quickly visited the red and green lagoons, which actually have red and green water due to the colour of the algae. The green lagoon, Laguna Verde, is at an altitude of 5000m which we think is the highest point we have been to so far. Our final stop was at the Chilian border where the six of us all got our transfer to San Pedro de Atacama.

San Pedro de Atacama is a really touristy town in the Atacama desert, which is meant to be the driest place on earth. We organised a few tours once we arrived before having a good meal and night out with the others. We were all very keen to go to the observatory for star and planet gazing so we booked for the following night. Unfortunetly, due to the clouds it was cancelled and also again on our last night so we missed out on what is meant to be a fantastic experience.

On our last full day we hired bikes and left early to cycle the 52km round trip to Laguna Cejar. It was a tough cycle especially the 2.5 hour trip back through the desert in the soaring heat. It was worth it though as the laguna was really cool and is seven times saltier than the sea so you float almost on top of the water. This makes it really hard to try to stand up or swim as your legs don´t stay within the water.

Once we got back we had a couple of hours rest before going sandboardng in the death valley. This was a new experience for all of us but everyone loved it and seemed to pick it up pretty well, albeit, there were a few spectacular falls and mouthfalls of sand! To end the night we went to Valley de Lunar (the moon valley) to explore and watch the sunset over a few pisco sours. It was similar to the moon valley in La Paz but on a much grander and spectacular scale. It was a very tiring day but thankfully we managed to squeeze it all in before heading to Argentina.

We are now back travelling by ourselves after the last month travelling through Peru & Bolivia with new friends. It has been a great laugh and we hope to meet everyone again soon.

Posted by Del-Linda 13:27 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

The Amazon Pampas

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After spending several days in La Paz we decided it was time to get out of the city so we booked a trip to the Amazon Basin with Amy, Ewan and Luke. We flew from La Paz airport (one of the highest airport in the world) to Rurrenabaque whish was a forty-five minute flight on a tiny twenty seater plane. The flight was a bit nerve racking as it flew between the mountains on the way down to the Amazon Basin. We spent the night in Rurrenabaque where we went out for a nice meal and randomly bumped into Damien and Kim, who were planning a similar trip to the jungle.

Our three day tour started with a long three-hour jeep ride on a very bumpy dirt track followed by a three-hour boat ride to our ecolodge where we were to be based. Although we saw lots of wildlife, the highlight of the day was the squirrel monkeys which came onto the boat and climbed all over us. Linda thought they were cute until she had four jumping on her head at once!

The lodge was very basic and had a lot of animals in the surrounding jungle, including a three-metre long caimen called Pepe, which appeared to be the camp´s pet being fed scraps from the kitchen. That night our guide Louis took us out aligator and caimen searching in the dark with our headlamps. From the boat it was unbelievable how many eyes you could see reflecting back at us from the water and bushes.

The next morning we went searching for anaconda around the outside of an aligator and caimen riddled lagoon. To get there we first had to walk through waist / chest high muddy smelly water. The girls did not enjoy this at all. In the lagoon you could see hundreds of aligators and caimens and our guide even took us (safely??) past a very big and angry black caimen protecting her nest. We didn´t hang about long though as she looked pretty annoyed. When searching through the reeds we saw many baby aligators and we were lucky enough to find an anaconda. It was only three-metres long but it was great to see one in the wild.

Throughout the trip we saw many other amazing animals such as orange and black howler monkeys, cappuccino monkeys, some kind of red lemurs, capibaras (the largest rodents in the world), a sloth, tucans, parrots, many terrapins, herrons, storks, other various birds, frogs and insects, and pink dolphins. Apparently the caimen and aligators stay away when the pink dolphins are near by, but even though it was questionable if they were still there or not Del, Ewan and Luke went for a very quick dip jumping off the side of the boat. I thought it was the most rediculous thing to do as I wouldn´t have even put my big toe in the water!

The scariest thing of the trip happened on the last day when we were piranha fishing. As we were watching our fishing lines from the side of our wee boat a large aligators head appeared right next to my fishing line with it´s mouth wide open. That was enough for me and I quickly went onto the shore. We thought it was gone and Del, Ewan and Luke continued fishing. After about fifteen minutes Del finally caught something. He initially thought it was a big piranha and was struggling to pull it to the surface. Del and Louis (our guide) both pulled the line to the surface to find that he had hooked the leg of a 2.5 metre long aligator! Luckily the small hook came out and the aligator swam away unhurt due to it´s thick skin, and thankfully not annoyed with Del!

Although we got covered head to toe in mosquito bites the trip was great and it was fantastic to get up close to the animals in the wild, albeit we had a few scary encounters.

Posted by Del-Linda 06:10 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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