Waitomo Caves and Lake Taupo

The game was quite an experience, the All Blacks won of course, 41 – 7, but the Pumas got an early decent early try for a level score for a time which was fairly exciting until the All Blacks scored their next 3 tries within about the next 10 minutes. I had a nice position behind one set of posts and manage to survive all the jibes I was getting about how so much better Argentina is at rugby than England is. Hard to argue against, really!

Made it to Waitomo Caves the next day, and went for the 330 foot abseil into the cave option…. It’s most interesting when you stand at the top on this little platform looking right down into the floor of the chasm, which you could barely see that day as there was some fog in the cave! Luckily the ropes were long enough and I made it safely to the bottom, then you hike up into the cave proper where you can see thousands of glow-worms on the ceiling when you turn your lights out. Then there was the small matter of climbing a vertical 160 foot ladder and a steep climb out.

As soon as we’d disrobed from that and was comfortably settled into the bar for a post-pantwetting celebration drink with the other bloke that was there, the heavens opened, and decided not to close until next morning. So instead of doing the fairly long haul back to Wellington in the mower (which alledgely has ABS incidentally, which leads me to think they either: a) stuck a label saying “ABS” in the back windscreen, or b) the brakes are so shagged they can’t go on hard enough to lock the wheels anyway) I decided to divert to Taupo, a nice little town on the banks of the massive Lake Taupo. Next day we had the luxury of sunshine and so I cruised all the way back to Wellington, where I spent the next day wandering the streets and reminiscing about the time that I was there for a few weeks back in ’01. Stayed with Karen from work and met up with Dale who I used to work with in Sydney.

This morning I’ve flown over to Christchurch on the south island, an interesting journey in itself as we got as far as the runway before having to turn back as Christchurch was totally fogged in. Then it cleared a bit, we took off and circled for about an hour before landing as it was fogged in again. I’ve picked up a new car, this time a brand new Mazda, as I’m a bit unsure about going over the mountain passes in a mower. Last time I hired a new car I wrote it off after just 1 Km, in this one I’ve already done 8 Km without incident, so things are looking more hopeful. I’m going to nose about Christchurch for a little while, then head west over the famous Arthur’s pass to the west coast, along the line of the Tranzalpine railway. the plan to head down the west coast, there’s some big glaciers extending almost all the way to the sea there, then come back across through Queenstown and perhaps Dunedin before heading back up the east coast.

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Cruised across to the west coast in my trusty lawn mower, down a very beautiful stretch of coast and then into the Waipoua Kauri forest, a sort of rainforest place with loads of weird big trees. Then I drove down to Hamilton, one of the larger north island cities and decided to hole up there for the night. It seems to be a very happening place actually, more so than Auckland or Wellington as far as I can see. I’d forgotten, but the All Blacks vs. Argentina match is being played here tonight, as the prop had told me on the plane a few days back. So at vast expense as all the motels are booked, I’m staying one more night and have got a ticket for the game! At least I’m staying around the corner from the game so can crawl back with any luck.

Tomorrow then, I’m hoping to get to the caves as planned, then try and get to Wellington, if the car can make it that far. I’ve changed my flights again, now I only go to Sydney next Wednesday morning, but this is a good thing really as it means I can get to the south island here without having to rush too much now.

PS. Nice job, Greece!!!

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The Bay of Islands

Popped into “The Shakespeare” for a quick one before hitting the backpacker bar. Met some guys who were arguing about how thunder gets caused (after the big hits on the Sky Tower that morning), and had a $10 bet on it. They asked me for my pathetic opinion on the matter to try and settle it, and I ended up playing pool with them and their mates until 3am, so missed out on the backpacker night, never mind.

Picked up my quality car next morning, it’s older than me and has more dents than a golf ball, but it seems to go OK. The main problem is that it only has as AM radio, so all I can hear is Christian radio and talk radio. After just one afternoon of driving, I can recite much of the bible from my head, and I know considerably more about sheep than I did before.. Drove up to Paihia in the north, in an area known as The Bay of Islands, as it is a bay with 144 islands (so it’s not just a stupid name). It is absolutely beautiful, and I’ve splashed out on a lovely motel with a room with balcony overlooking the ocean, king size bed, kitchen, Sky TV, etc, to make up for 2 nights in the dorm!

Today I took a fast boat out into the harbour, this thing has 1400 horsepower and can do over 50 knots. They took us through the “Hole in the Rock” (also not a stupid name) and fairly deep into a cave and generally around the islands.

I’ve decided to cook in tonight, last night’s search for a restaurant ended up in true Matt-style disaster. There was a place which I liked the look of but was obviously closed, as there was some kind of sign in the door. Now, the street is not well lit so I couldn’t read it, so walked across the front yard to the door. After about 3 steps, massive floodlights came on and a ridiculously loud alarm system goes off which flashing blue lights and the whole works. I decided to do the decent thing and ran off. 5 minutes later I found a bar and went in there, I could still here the alarms from there when I went in! The floodlights did let me read the sign though, which said “Closed for annual holiday, do not enter yard or the alarms will be triggered”. Handy information. I wonder if they were on a beach in Bali or somewhere, when they got paged to say someone was trying to burgle their restaurant?

Will watch Portugal whip England in bed tomorrow morning, then head south back past Auckland towards the Waitomo caves.

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Well I’ve suddenly remembered why I’ve not been doing dorms so far. At least they’re nice people and hardly snored, but still difficult to get a moment’s peace. The good side of that is without sleep I was able to get up in time for the 6:45am kick off of the England/Croatia match, which was a good thing given that it was such an entertaining game.

Breakfast was quite a shocker, literally. I was in the caff when two enormous lightning bolts hit down overhead, I assume hitting the Sky Tower which was about 300 yards from where I was. That’s the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. This was followed by marble-sized hailstones so was quite a spectacle.

I hit a couple of bars last night and finished up in the backpacker’s brothel bar in the basement of the hostel. Here is where you get 2 pints of snakebite for the price of one, etc. etc. You feel a bit like a ship trying to avoid mines in World War II when you leave the hostel in the morning, expect in this case the mines are pools of puke. Tonight’s special down there is “girls get your tits out” night, so me and these 2 German geezers from the dorm have decided to give it a second chance.

Oh I also forgot a new small claim to fame. The Argentinian rugby team were on my plane from Santiago, I got chatting to one of the props a bit who told me they are playing the All Blacks on Saturday. You have to laugh, these guys were crammed into the economy section, but of course they have no chance of fitting into the seats so they congregated in the galley instead and tried to pull the Lan Chile air stewardesses. Can’t blame them I suppose, they just got crushed by Wales I think so need to do something to cheer up.

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New Zealand

Here I am in Auckland, a miserable long flight of more than 14 hours, but we were into headwinds of more than 150 mph. Luckily I was caning the wine and champagne in the airport lounge before take off so managed to get a good few hours sleep. I was right in a daze when I arrived here, and sat for at least an hour in the airport with no idea of what I was meant to be doing… Quite a relief to get to an airport where you don’t get assaulted by 500 taxi drivers as soon as you get out of the door though, although the way my brain was not working I could actually have done with some one whisking me away to their crap hotel. I’d lied convincingly to the customs and agriculture people, by answering “no” to all the questions about whether I’ve been on a farm recently, in rural areas, or in contact with any non-domestic animals. I think I’d destroyed all proof, the only thing that may have rumbled me is if they’d checked the pictures on my digital camera, for example the one of me riding a horse on a farm in a marshland, or the one of me handling a live alligator in the middle of a jungle might just have given the game away.

Now I’m in the town centre, and things all seem a bit more familiar as I did once spend an afternoon in Auckland for a business meeting. I’m going all out and doing the hostel thing here for a change, so we’ll see how that works out. I’m bound to end up with some bastard(s) who snore(s), but I should be tired enough to sleep through anything I expect.

Today I’ll make a plan or two, I’m erring towards the side of hiring a car, they seem reasonably cheap here and make my way gradually down to Wellington. But first, coffee and a shower…

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I got to Valparaiso today, but it was rather cold today so not a great day for sitting about on the coast. It’s a very hilly place, and they have these unusual “ascencores” which are like steep funicular railway lifts everywhere. They’re dodgy looking to say the least, and ironically on one of them there is a set of stairs alongside it which are free to climb, or you can pay for the ascensore – I would pay extra for the privilege and security of using the stairs if they’d ask!

In the airport now and about to board for Auckland. It’s late on Saturday night and I’ll land on Monday morning, so Sunday will never exist for me, obviously a consequence of crossing the dateline which I’ve never done before. So if your birthday happens to be tomorrow, sorry, I’m going to miss it 🙂

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Moved hotels last night, and am now in Las Condes area of Provedincia (thanks for the advice, Morten!) There’s a lot of nightlife up there as I discovered when cruising around a few bars until about 3am. Today was gorgeous T-shirt weather, and I went up the funicular railway that leads to yet another Christ statue thing on top of a big hill. Not anywhere as well presented as the Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, as it’s surrounded by aerial masts and stuff, but you get a really good bird’s-eye view of things from there. There’s a disgusting thick layer of pollution hovering all over the city which is somewhat alarming, to know that I am now breathing that in. From the top, a gondola cable car thing leads down the other side across quite an impressive park. It leads through a lot of trees, but they don’t bother to trim them much it seems, so the car ploughs into branches as you go along which makes it very safe, obviously…

Tomorrow I think I will try to get to Valparaiso on the coast, my flight only leaves at 23:30 or something so I think I can do this and still get back in time to catch the flight. As long as I don’t have another 3am session tonight which is always possible…! If I get to the airport in time I might have time to watch TV, as I did in Manaus airport, another classic that slipped my mind. Whilst waiting at the gate they were showing the Discovery channel about an air crash investigation, then as we filed through the door, right under the TV, they showed the reconstruction of the two planes crashing head on, I kid you not…

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I just about made it to the airport on time, and even managed to clear immigration without problems despite my dodgy entry/exit card. Nice flight to Santiago and I got in last night, and it’s not even as cold as I’d imagined. Everyone else seems to think it is, as they’re all wearing massive jackets and scarves and stuff, it looks a bit like you’re in Siberia, but I’m quite happy just walking about in a light sweater.

As everyone said it doesn’t seem to be an overly inspired city, today I’ve been walking around looking for hotel options, but there are some areas worth checking out for sure. I might take a day trip out to the coast tomorrow or the next day, and maybe even venture into the mountains, they are ever so close and are all covered in snow now, which feels weird considering I was on a beach yesterday!

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Bye Bye Brazil

Well, it is my last morning in Rio and I head for the airport and Santiago shortly. It’s been a fairly relaxing few days here for me really, just spending some time on the beach and watching the football in the afternoons. Watched the game yesterday with a German bloke I met in the pub, it was great fun watching him squirm as the Holland goal went in…

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Rio Revisited

After a couple of beers on the beach I wandered back to the hotel to find they had a room, great! That first shower felt good, really good…

I’ve given into temptation and have changed my flight out of here to Wednesday afternoon, just to have a couple more days of hot weather before hitting the Chile winter. Today’s activities obviously revolve around the England/France game, for which I’ve procured a stool in an Irish pub to watch in a little while.

Oh, one little anecdote I forgot from the Amazon. I met this South African guy, and got chatting about me having been there a couple of times last year for work. When he found out I was working on the billing system for Cell C there, he says “Oh, yes, that’s Arbor from Kenan, isn’t it?” It turns out he works for Accenture and has had something to do with it. What a small world it is, you go to the middle of a jungle and meet some guy that’s heard of that crap, you just can’t seem to escape from it anywhere. (For those readers that don’t know, this is the stuff I used to work on with my old job)

Right, off to settle into that stool…

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