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Feb 262011
 

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We’ve had a great couple of days in queenstown, and a few drinks with an American couple (including some boozy bar bucking bronco machine!).
We did some climbing today (followed by a swim in the lake!) and biking yesterday and really like the vibe of Queenstown although it is a tad touristy…but that leaves and endless supply of things to do.
Were heading towards Glenorchy slowly and a lakeside BBQ with the same couple tonight at a DOC camground just outside Queenstown.
We’ll be out if reception for a few days before heading back to Wanaka mid week.

 Posted by at 11:20 pm
Feb 242011
 

I’ve just been watching a bit of one of NZ’s documentaries showing latest pics of the quake aftermath. The damage to the city is far worse than I could have imagined. Cars, buildings and lives crushed…many of the streets we’ve walked along almost unrecognisable.
If you’re buying yourself a wee treat or a couple of pints this weekend, please consider dropping some money to help the people of Christchurch instead by visiting http://www.redcross.org.nz/
If you read this regularly consider the donation a ‘payment’ for reading the blog 🙂

 Posted by at 6:53 am
Feb 222011
 

We are ok after the big tragic earthquake in Christchurch today.  We were on Stewart Island at the time and out fishing, about 6 hours drive away so felt nothing.
Thoughts going out to everyone across Canterbury.

 Posted by at 6:10 am
Feb 192011
 

Just typing this in a small campsite just outside of Invercargill on the very South of the South Island.  Yes, I’m way behind on any form of blogging but time just seems to fly by.  We left the fantastic house of Ciara’s relatives on Monday and have been travelling down through Dunedin, and the Catlins on the South East of the South Island. We’re just outside Invercargill (about 30km towards Queenstown), and we are heading to Stewart Island for two or three nights which we’re really looking forward to. 

We probably won’t do too much there but as bizarre it may seem to everyone doing they’re 9-5, we’re quite looking forward to a break from moving on constantly.  We’re getting a bit “fed up” of seeing the next ‘great waterfall’ you should see, or yet another place to see seals (these were on our regular walk in Wellington) etc.  When we get back onto the Mainland (which the South Island is referred to), we’re going to head back up to the Queenstown / Wanaka area to do some activities, then if all goes well, we’ve sorted out at least a couple of weeks volunteering in exchange for accommodation in Wanaka.  Although the work may be quite mundane we’re really looking forward to being based in one spot, and our favourite spot for a wee while.  The owner may want some help in photography or marketing as well.  We’ll wait to see if it comes off, then we’ll post a link to the place – it’s pretty stunning.

As always, we think it’s worth spending a bit of money when in places to have the odd drink so you can see what it’s really like.  Tonight we went to the pub that runs the small campsite to find that it has ‘toss the boss’ as a form of happy hour on a Friday – you order your drinks, then a coin is tossed to see if you pay.  The wine wasn’t, but my large beer was free.  We thought that was great, then some guy walked into the bar with a fresh crayfish on his arm, up for raffle.  Although the locals said it wasn’t the biggest one, this was no normal crayfish.  It was grabbing onto his arm (with some force going by his comments), and the bloody thing would have been almost as long as my arm if it’s tail was stretched out……we never entered the raffle  – we figured we wouldn’t have had a pot big enough to cook the bloody thing in anyway!  Aaaah…welcome to Southland.

 Posted by at 1:06 am
Feb 132011
 

It’s been a bit of a whistle stop tour of the South Island so far since my folks have arrived.  In saying that, we’ve picked wisely so they’ve visited the top spots, yet still managed to relax, and have rarely driven more than a few hours every few days.  This is a much better way to ‘do’ the South Island than do what most people do – visit for three weeks, try to cram in the North and South Island, underestimate distances, and spend have their time on the road whilst flying through places.

Our budgets have been blown out the water a bit too, but it’s been good, and we’ve now done most of the expensive ‘big ticket’ things we wanted to do on the trip, so we’d have done them at some point anyway….but we’ve left many places without scratching the surface, in the hope we return.

In the last three weeks’ we’ve been from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, Wanaka, Queenstown, Doubtful Sound and wrapped up their time here with Kaikoura and Akaroa so they could see some of the coastal areas too.

So what have we been doing?   Within the first two days on the road we went up Mt John Observatory in Tekapo and saw the starry skies at midnight, with some good photos taken on my own camera (with the staff’s help!).  We also went on a 50 minute scenic flight from Lake Tekapo on a cracking day, which took  us over the lake, surrounding hill stations (huge farms), then around Mt Cook (NZ’s largest mountain), the Franz and Fox Glaciers and surrounding mountains.  This was one thing that blew me away – I love seeing things from the sky, and mountains like this were an exception, so it was worth every dollar spent…and it could have brought me to tears if I wasn’t so manly Winking smile

Needless to say when I tried fishing in the ‘top spot’ where some motorhomers told us to go…I never caught jack shit. 

From here we went to Mt Cook where we left ‘the olds’ to do a day walk and relax, whilst Ciara and I overnighted in the Mueller Hut in an alpine setting.  We lucked out on this with a perfect day and evening for it.  A beast of a short (in distance) but very sharp trek directly up the mountainside to a hit in an amazing setting, just beside a ridge which overlooked the campsite, but it was also directly across the valley from a glacier.  Clearish skies were above for some stargazing at night, and we got up at 5.30am to catch the sunrise opposite the glacier.  Mueller Hut is reached via a bloody steep walk, but it’s right in the mountains on a ridge overlooking some glaciers.

From here we drove down to Wanaka which is one of my favourite places in New Zealand – like a local’s Queenstown, albeit on a much smaller scale.  We managed a walk up one of the small local hills, and a days climbing, and some fishing.  I had crammed in a job interview on the first morning of their visit in Chirstchurch, and I had a second Skype interview from the van whilst we were in Wanaka.  (Un?)fortunately I never got the job as it wasn’t a perfect skills match.

Moving on a bit too quickly, we drive straight through Queenstown and went to Te Anau to spend an overnight trip to Doubtful Sound, one of the biggest fjiords in New Zealand.  Most folk would head to Milford as you can drive directly to it, but for Doubtful it’s a boat, bus, ferry combo to get there.  It was chucking it down which meant there were hundreds of amazing waterfalls around that were just as a result of the rain.

From here we headed back and spent a couple of nights in Queenstown where we did the Skippers Canyon jetboat (which I think offers a far better package than the better known Shotover Jet), where my mum was panicked on the road to get there, never mind the jetboat ride!  Somehow when we got back and went up the gondola overlooking Queenstown, Allan commented that he may like to do the bunjee swing….before he had the chance to rethink we had him paid and checked in.

We did a big drive up the east coast, and went to Kaikoura where we swam with dolphins, and mum and Allan went to see the whales.  I’ve been going on about hundreds of dolphins there to Ciara for year, so luckily it was a similar experience to what I had a few years ago with hundreds of dolphins around us.  We also saw several Orca’s as well which was amazing.

Also, I finally CAUGHT MY FIRST DECENT FISH!!!  I was surfcasting from the beach in Kaikoura when I hauled in what I thought was my third bunch of seaweed until I realised it kept moving and had some silver fleshy thing on the end of it… unfortunately for Allan he had to do the nasty bit at the end as I still need to be able to deal with all the jumping around.  Although we put it on the bbq that night I think the ‘aftermath’ of the actual fishing may have put Ciara off a bit.

That last few days were spent in Akaroa where Ciara and I had been just before they arrived.  There was mixed weather but some absolutely roasting hot days by the beach…well timed as I read yesterday that swimming there was banned for a bit this week due to bad water quality!

This post has been half written for quite some time but I’ve hardly been online while they have been here as we’ve been too busy doing things, and catching up – the first time since the end of April last year (which was manic as we were packing to head off).  Although I haven’t went into too much detail about everything it was a really quality few weeks, and we loved showing off New Zealand and the completely different things you can do here in such a short space of time, and relatively short distance (they covered 2300km in 3 weeks).  We had some van rental issues at the start which we rapidly got over, but apart from that everything went super smoothly, making up our plans as we went along, and readjusting them to ensure we weren’t rushing around everywhere, and not spending too much time driving.

It made us feel good that we had visitors that had never been over here, and really appreciated why we wanted to stay for longer, and what we loved about the place.  We managed to experience some really diverse activities throughout the time, and many great free ones as well – never mind just the quality time we managed to spend.  It was fortunate we had them visit whilst we were on the road as well as it will prove really hard or impossible to spend such an amount of time when we are working, with limited holidays.

Sadly they’re back already, but we’ve managed to spend this weekend looking after a 12 acres ‘lifestyle block’ owned by one of Ciara’s relatives, and we are heading away again on Monday.  We’ve made enquiries to a volunteeering place in Wanaka which we need to contact again, in the hope we can do some work in exchange for accommodation for a couple of weeks or so.  We’ll head back there at some time anyway, and hope to squeeze in a visit to Stewart Island.  We’re going to really struggle to decide when to start putting an end to this road trip, despite it costing a bit more than we hoped, and even harder to decide where to end up.  Both of us would love to stay in somewhere like Wanaka for a while, but ‘real’ jobs may take us elsewhere.  We are considering Christchurch but we just don’t think it’s nearly as nice a city as Wellington, but it does offer a whole host of other places to visit around it.

Anyway, better dash…….  more sometime!  (and I’ll do pictures).

 Posted by at 1:48 am
Jan 232011
 

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Alive and well and in Mt Cook. Had amazing couple of days with a night visit to an observatory, then a grand scenic flight for 50 mins today around the tallest mountains, glaciers and Lake Tekapo.
Today’s flight was the best I’ve ever done, and I’ve done some mean heli drops snowboarding before. Amazing and for once, worth every expensive dollar.

 Posted by at 5:41 am
Jan 172011
 

Top of Avalanche Peak walk

We have arrived in Christchurch awaiting my mum’s arrival on Thursday (erm, which I thought was on Wednesday until recently!).  Ooops.

The last 10 days have been great heading down the West Coast and stopping for the night in lakeside campsites.  We spent about a week in and around the Arthur’s Pass mountainous area which was great – very limited spending (although the money still disappeared), surrounded by mountains, and doing some active things.

We stopped for a couple of days of relaxation on the way into the pass at a pretty fancy campsite with very little around it, reading our books in the sun.  From here we went up to Arthur’s Pass village and did an amazing walk called Avalanche Peak which is one of the best one days walks in New Zealand.  It was a bit of a grunt up to the top, but with a reward of amazing alpine views and surrounding glaciers.  Around us the alpine parrots (or Keas as they’re called) were hanging around just waiting for us to leave something loose so they could fly away with it.

Swimming in Lake PearsonWe then moved just along the valley about 10km to a great free camping spot by a lake that we could swim in which was superb.  We used this as a base for a couple of days to go to a bouldering area called Castle Hill to do some climbing type stuff.  On the way we stumbled across an underground cave system that was free to enter in Cave Stream Scenic Reserve that was absolutely amazing.  When you enter the cave, you check the water level and make sure it’s below your waist, then you walk up the underground stream, fully inside the cave for up to an hour, the passage only lit by your headtorch.

 

 

Castle HillReady for Caving

We somewhat reluctantly left Arthur’s Pass, but may be back later in the trip.  We headed to Akaroa on the peninsula south of Christchurch for a couple of day’s more sun, and we are now in Christchurch.  We saw an amazing exhibition by Ron Mueck in the art gallery yesterday – hand crafted human forms which were so lifelike it was stunning.

A storm is due with some rains and winds over the next couple of days.  Wev’e not felt any aftershocks in Chritchurch so far.  It’s quite sad to see quite a few buildings that have been flattened due them being unsafe.  We have the van in for a service today and Ciara is off to meet some relatives tonight, then we’re getting prep’d for a busy three weeks after mum arrives on Thursday.  Cities are dangerous for our budgets as we’ve plumped ourselves in a fairly central campsite at $39 a night, but it’s good to have a base, and we have both been sucked into the sales in the outdoors shops already, but have grabbed ourselves a couple of absolute bargains.

Kea - NZ Alpine ParrotThe blogging will be quiet again over the next few week’s but I’ll try to keep it up.  We’re off to the tourist highlights including Tekapo, Mount Cook, Wanaka, Queenstown and the Sounds.  Hopefully we’ll stop off in an observatory where you can attach your own camera’s for some night shots through their powerful telescopes.  We’re leaving Christchurch on Saturday.

 Posted by at 11:14 pm
Jan 112011
 

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We got our first hardcore walk in today.  It was a bit more than a walk but took us to the 1800m or so summit of Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass..it was a cracking day. We were surrounded by Keas at the top, an alpine parrot which apparently is super intelligent.  I remember them from the last time…you cant leave anything out or they’ll fly off with it. Wont write much more as I’m writing this on my phone.

 Posted by at 3:54 am
Jan 072011
 

Hi All, and a belated Happy New Year to everyone. Although it may sound like we’ve been living ‘off grid’ with no updates, we haven’t been, it’s just that time on the road flies, and days are busy, and laptops aren’t picked up.  Photos for this post will come later!

We took in Christmas in Collingwood then headed towards Takaka just down the road in Golden Bay.  It was time to try and climb, and experience at least one night out in the laid back (hippy!) town on Takaka.  It’s a great vibe around here but you can tell there are quite a few who have moved for the vibe of the place.  There’s loads of outlets for local artists and clothesmakers, organic cafes and outlets and all the normal stuff associated with a small town.  We had a nice evening in one of the bars speaking to the owner about the place.

From spending a night in the town, there was more rain predicted so we headed to a full blown campsite on the coast to sit back and read our books.  Luckily it only lasted a few days, so we managed to get a couple of morning’s climbing in, another short attempt at fishing with no joy (but another tangled line!), and a couple of nights free camping in the harbour carpark!   We managed to climb over a ridge on the coast over a pretty awesome gravel road to one of the beaches in the Abel Tasman National Park.

The climbing we did was in a great setting right behind the road (short walk!) and right on the coast (great views).  One day was almost perfect – a good couple of hours climbing one easyish routes, some decent people to chat to next to us, a kite flying session on the beach, and a short swim in the sea – what a great way to spend the last day of the year.

Our New Year was spent in a local inn just outside of Takaka  – we left it too late to get into the campsite, and didn’t want to just park up on the road randomly.  It was full of locals, bar the odd unexpecting tourist.  I say locals – I should say local ‘characters’ – quite a bizarre but interesting night.  We were pretty much parked in a field next to the Inn, had to go to the toilets inside, and the biggest nightmare of the night was that this was our second New Year’s night with no countdown….nope, no-one said “10, 9, 8…..” – we were gutted.  THey just went straight into a crap rendition of Auld Lang Syne (they were a pretty naff band – a Swedish tourist managed to get on stage to play and stayed on for 20 minutes getting more praise than the band!).

Reluctantly we decided we should leave Golden Bay and head towards Nelson Lakes and the West Coast.  We had so many things we still wanted to do in and around Golden Bay from biking to climbing and walking, and the weather had held us up a bit (our excuse anyway!).  We decided that we could still be there in a few weeks and still think the same, so we left as it is one of the closest areas to Wellington (albeit across the sea) where we think we’ll end up heading back to.

We headed down to Nelson Lakes and managed a day of walking and another with some biking.  We also managed to cross paths with our previous ‘flattie’ (housemate) and friend from Wellington on her return from New Years holidays so managed to get some post, grab a coffee and have a natter.  Our friend had just been in a place called Karamea on the West Coast so we decided to head up there as it’s a bit off the beaten track, and there’s a high chance we wouldn’t be there again unless we did the Heaphy Walk.  It wasn’t on our plans, but that’s the joy of being on the road!

One the way over we stopped off in a cheap DOC camp site and squeezed in our first activity of doing a tandem zip line swing across the river.  It looked like good fun, but it ended up confirming our fears of spending money on the big activities.  It was lame, and we felt cheated of our $60.

Karamea was lovely and we managed to hit it up pretty well in two days – we walked through caves, limestone karsts, had some great views and beach walks, and camped at the end of a road for a night, and really experienced the wild, rugged, west coast.

We were lucky in Karamea as the weather held out, so we decided to head down the West Coast just as it turned.  Unfortunately that stopped us doing some cycling in one area, and climbing in another but hey ho.

There’s less than a two week until my mum comes down the road.  The road trip’s great but despite having all the time in the world (relatively), we could have three, four, five times as long and we’d still struggle to do everything we wanted.  Sometimes we’re struggle as we want to do so much we end up doing only small bits of each of them, but who’s complaining!

Between now and the 19th when my mum arrives, we’re going to head a bit further down the west coast, over Arthur’s Pass to hopefully stop for several days for biking, walking and climbing, then over to Christchurch for some shake, rattle and roll (although I joke, the poor buggers are still suffering from many aftershocks from the big quake so we may not spent so long there). We’re currenty in and around Hokitika, and heading to Arthur’s Pass today  or tomorrow, so we’ may well be out of reception a wee bit for a few days – not sure.

The van is doing well, it doesn’t seem to be so leaky of late but the roof, and insect mesh on the side windows are starting to resemble a cemetary of sandflies…..they’re like mosquitos and are a bit of a pain, but we’ve got off relatively lightly so far, despite all our bites!

I’ll try to get some photos up when next online…..

 Posted by at 8:53 pm
Dec 242010
 

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year to whoever reads this..…if you read it leave a comment below to let us know!  I’ll warn you this is going to be a VERY long post, as it’s a brief update, and a summary of our year and trip so far – so grab some xmas cheer, kick back, and start reading.  There’s a load of pictures from each country linked to at the end of the post as well.

This is our first Xmas overseas without any family or friends around so to all of you, we’ll raise a wee toast, hopefully in the sun, and hopefully with a BBQ on (I’m writing this a few days beforehand).  Even for those we used to live very close by but for whatever reason we never saw each other much, and for all our friends around the world…a big xmas-y toast to you all!

We are based in Golden Bay in the North of the South Island in NZ for Xmas in a wee camp site.  It’s not quite the busy Xmas we had hoped for but many places appeared to be booked out, but we have a great view of the sea from the beach 2 metres behind the van.  Unfortunately it not really one to swim in as the tide goes out so far and it’s so shallow you’d have to walk 3km to get out of your depth.

For the last few days we’ve be in Kaiteriteri just before Abel Tasman National Park getting a slow intro to the Kiwi holidays as each spot around us got more arrivals of families carrying half their homes with them for the three week break… 4x4s with families, boats and BBQs pull in and set up camp.  Just as you think they have a lot of gear, the boat cover comes off, and the rest of the kit comes out.  Fridge Freezers are linked up the power outlets around the campsite, and BBQs are set up.

We are starting to feel like the poor camping cousins….as we don’t have any canopies to share, or bottles of Bacardi to sit around.  Our neighbours have been more than welcoming, offering their BBQ to us for a shot if we want, and keeping us in touch with the campsite going ons.  The arrivals of their three week long neighbours are talked about, and greetings made as they return to the same annual spot, despite all seeming to come from different areas of Christchurch, this is the only time they see each other.  Unfortunately le left that camp to head further north.

So it’s been a big year for us!  This time last year we were still contemplating our travels and handing in our notice, unless some magical idea came about that we could move up to the West Coast of Scotland and make some money.  Now we’re sitting on the other side of the world with a residency application in for the 2nd stage fo the process!

Last year we drove up to take in New Year in Gairloch, stopping on route to flash out headlights at our friend’s cottage across Loch Maree as they set off a Chinese Lantern to say hi to us from the distant shore in their lovely pad.   The next few months flew by with some winter activity and me spending the coldest minus 20c weekend winter climbing with my mate, and staying in the van, with the gas and all water bottles freezing solid. 

By last New Year we had made up our mind to hit the road and use the NZ working visa’s that had been burning our passports for the previous 6 months (applied for at the last minute ‘just in case”), and spent many hours trying to decide a route to get there, and work out what was feasible.

DCRAIG_05182010_0063_webA route across Central Asia was worked out as it suited a visit to my sister’s in Oman to start out, then over to the ‘Stans (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan), Mongolia, China and Hong Kong before heading to NZ for a year.  Just as we thought we had worked out the timing of the railways from Uzbekistan round the long way to Mongolia, we stumbled across a weekly flight from Kazakhstan to Western Mongolia which was our savour and saved us buying Russian visas and ‘wasting’ a week just to transit to where we wanted to go…. 

Before we knew it, the stress levels were raising along with the excitement as we realised how much stuff we (or more likely I !?!) had, where we were going to stash it at my mums (thanks mum!).  A succession of visa applications had been made, and our Uzbekistan one arrived just in the nick of time, after hounding the useless bastards in the London Embassy for weeks (sorry, but it’s more than justified!  Jeez you’d think they’d want visitors, not make it a nightmare for them).

The trip was on, we landed in Oman fully exhausted and did very little for a week in the searing heat apart from re-acquaint with my niece.  Confident of the price of the taxi between Dubai terminals en-route to Uzbekistan, we still got ripped off by a cocky taxi driver within minutes of being left on our own.  We landed in Uzbekistan and was met by my sister’s friend (who had been my Estonian tour guide many years ago) who quickly showed us how to get a lift off a local rather then taxis.  There was always a car appeared next to you whenever you the thought of heading home entered your mind – far more efficient than any UK cabbie. 

Ciara said “How do you stop for long enough to realise where you are?”. 

We had been in our first country for 10 minutes, with 6 more to go.  It was just the start!

Uzbekistan whizzed by with our first realisation we were away wen sitting in the heat, surrounded by market sellers in Bukhara.  Our next stop in a very troubled Kyrgyzstan was all up in the air even when we left Oman due to recent border closures and violence against the government.  We had heard the border was opened so we headed for it in a 2 day trip in a hired taxi to save catching a succession of local buses.  This was to be the start of almost 6 weeks in lands of difficult communication! 

The Kyrgyzstan border crossing went smoothly and we had to call the guard over and interrupt his chess game due to the crossing only being open to foreigners.  The next few weeks were spent with highs and lows experiencing Kyrgyzstan, knowing all too well that we’d probably look back on the experience as one of the most interesting in our trip, and it was.  We asked 5 different locals about a route and got 3 different answers, we got dropped off in villages which left us very little bargaining power to get to the next village 30km off the main road.  We paid tens of times more than the locals price on the way to places, and got locals prices on the way back.  We ended up in villages with taxi drivers (that should be car owners) that spoke little English, and ended up in houses where we weren’t sure if we were getting dinner or not, with no shops in sight.  We finally got to main touritst attractions, then couldn’t work out what to do there as there were no signs, and no people.  Then we tried again, and again, to explain that there couldn’t be any wheat in one of our meals, despite every Kyryz family cooking up the finest bread and practically living off the stuff. 

This story was to be repeated several times over the next few weeks.

Despite this, In every place we were met with amazing hospitality and interest…including from my dad’s friend in the capital Bishkek who showed us some places to get a decent fill of food and beer for a couple of days.

From here we headed up to Khazakstan for a couple of days to get our tiny plane to the far west of Mongolia – we landed in a true hick town with a dirt air strip called Olgii….to start what was probably the height of our trip…..a week hiking with a cook, guide, horseman, 2 horses and a big stinking camel close to the Chinese Border.    We never got confirmation of our ticket until the day before the flight despite trying to book it for weeks….but luckily we managed to avoid last minute visas and train journeys. Until that point, it was a slight worry that it wouldn’t all come together in the few days we needed it to, and we tried to avoid the thought of paying top dollar to try and get rapid Russian visas and train tickets.   

The week was definitely one of our favourite parts – trekking every day, pitching up in tents with world class mountain views, washing in icy cold streams, and ending up trying to haul a camel through a snow drift over the last pass – stories that will live on forever.  The horseman never spoke any English but by the time we left him he had given me one of his traditional hats.

Once again, the hospitality of the few Mongolian families we stayed with was amazing, and yet again it proves that the people with the least are usually the most generous. We grew to miss the milk and yoghurt we got accustomed to, even the fizzy putrid mares milk that would explode if you shook it – a bit like a milky Coke! (in terms of fizz).  Despite planning on braving the 3-5 day bus journey across the explanse of Mongolia, we discovered there was no definite day of departure (‘when the minibus fills up’), and 2 seats were left on the 3-4hr flight, but at crazily inflated foreigner prices – plus the crazy excess baggage.  After our week’s tour  in the Altai mountains we landed in a totally chilled state to have a frantic hour of changing money, going to the ticket office, going back to the bank, back to the ticket office, arranging accommodation in Ulanbataar, and instantly the peace of the mountains had vanished!…even though it was good to shower out the smell of camel dung fires from our senses.

When we landed in Ulanbataar, we were overwhelmed by all the travellers and conversations in English around us – it was the first hostel we stayed in, and we had been on the road for 7 weeks.  It was surreal.  After a 3am yelling match between residents during a football world cup game, we decided that backpackers were a bunch of fekin’ idiots and we were sick of them already. 

From here we booked a 10 day trip that came highlighy recommended from a freak of a Manhattan brain surgeon (apparently!) who said “sitting on a bus for that long, it’s shit, f*(Cking sh!t, if you want to learn how to want to commit suicide you should go but be warned – its f&(*&ckin shit”.  When we met her she emptied her sack of collected animal bones onto the hostel floor and told us she planned to make a dress from to fly back home to the States with.  We decided our personalities were suitably far removed from hers, so we booked the trip.  

Luckily we got in with a great crowd of 3 others that were chilled….just as well as we did spend bloody hours and hours in a hot russian van for hours criss crossing the bumpy desert of Mongolia!

From here we had booked our train to Beijing.  Crossing the border was like crossing into the 21st century after being stuck away from it for 7 weeks.  There was music playing in the station, there were neon lights flashing in casinos (well it was a Chinese border town!), a very well stocked shop and it took longer for us to adjust than it took for them to adjust the width of the train wheels as we were raised on a platform to watch the spectacle.

China was great – a country that intrigues me and one that I had wanted to visit for many years.  This time there was just long enough to scratch the surface – Beijing to Xi’an, to Yanghsou, then Hong Kong and into Macau.  It was great, it was SUPER easy to travel through and a piece of piss to organise our travel.  Maybe it was just that we were used to the opposite but this felt like a holiday from our holiday.  The hostels were superb, the backstreets were fascinating, the people amazed me, and the shopping was superb.  We stayed a week in Yanghsou doing climbing, cycling, walking, river rafting (or more like a luge!), and relaxing.  Some of you may remember we considered trying to get some work here through my friend from Borneo around 6 months earlier, however she had left around 6 weeks before we got there… but in true Darren style we met one of her friends there.

From there it was a sleeper bus to Hong Kong which we LOVED!  Again its a place I’ve wanted to go to for years.  We both enjoyed it – we had a day on the beach, saw the light show, did some shopping, and could have done WAY more shopping.  Unfortunately here we also missed someone I used to work with but hey there was plenty to keep us busy.  We couldn’t get over the commercialism but we loved it all the same.

Our last stop was a treat in a hotel in Macau for two nights.  We had planned to hit the casinos and enjoy the luxury, but having seen the minimal gambling stakes, and being right at the end of our hard travels, and before the start of a bit more of reality in NZ, we totally chilled out here catching up on sleep and swimming in the pool, enjoying the luxury.

At the end of July we arrived in New Zealand just before being able to spend my birthday weekend skiing with a good friend I met in Canada over 10 years ago.  I had only met him since on my last trip to NZ.  We hit this country with a big bad thud and a bit of a downer as we realised we had to get back to a bit of normality, and had to deal with the relative monotony of living in a westernised country : no haggling, not great markets, no language barriers, no dodgy buses, trains or flights.

We were to get over this downer within a few weeks, and you can read recent blog posts about our time in NZ.  I’ll try to post up something over the next week or so about why we like it here and what made us want to stay.

Although our visas tell us we should leave here in July, in our hearts that would be way too soon for us.  We seem to have this sense of ‘purpose’ here (although god knows what it is!? ;-> ) and there are lots of things to explore, and it’s just a bit different.  Sure there are many downsides, with distances and costs being the main and the biggest ones.

Our second and hopefully final stages of our residency application went in just before Xmas, with realms of paperwork, certificates and references, and a big cheque (but not that big considering).  It’s now up to the Immigration department how long we’ll be able to stay.  We are hoping it should be relatively easy, we’ll get a ‘returning residents’ visa, and we’ll have a couple of years to live through spending at least 6 months a year in NZ (but likely most of that time) before we get our full residents permit, assuming it goes that far.

It’s been a blast of a year, and we’re starting off 2011 on the road.  We’ve got our 4×4 Hitop Toyota Hiace campervan, boogie boards, mountain bikes, BBQ, climbing gear, road atlas and it feels like it’s right where we want to be.

If only the lot of you could get over here easily to catch up regularly, life would be near perfect!*   Roll on travel at the speed of light.

(* – although it’s all too easy for me to write that – I’ve not worked since May!)

Merry Xmas everyone, and have a bloody great New Year!!

Photos – click on the country to launch the slideshow :

Uzbekistan Gallery
Kyrgyzstan Gallery
Mongolia Gallery
China
Hong Kong Gallery

PS : If you read this far, leave a comment below!

 Posted by at 10:57 pm