A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: lcassey

New Zealand

overcast -15 °C

New Zealand

Kia ora!

Nope not a rubbish orangey drink that’s too good for crows and is just for me and my dog. It’s Maori for hello.

After an awful flight from Cairns to Christchurch in South Island (Air New Zealand really suck when compared to other airlines I’ve traveled on recently) I arrived in rainy cold, wet, miserable Christchurch. Typical English weather!!

But in the morning when I woke up and had a wander around I realized why Christchurch is known as the most English city outside England and also the Garden City.

Apart from having typical English weather, the architecture and layout of the city is pretty much what you would expect from a small English city and reminded me very much of my childhood city of Salisbury especially with the beautiful cathedral right in the middle of the town square. People were so friendly, things were very laid back and I did feel right at home.

I was also lucky enough on my first night there to catch the Super 14 Rugby Union Final Between The Crusaders from Christchurch and the Hurricanes from Wellington.
Was a great night out at the local Sports Bar the Holy Grail and obviously a very partisan crowd. It’s a shame there was a heavy fog so we couldn’t see much on the screen but everyone was in such a good mood especially when the Crusaders won that it didn’t matter too much.

Anyway next day I got a car and headed out down South to see what the fuss was all about with the mountains, valleys and fjords. After a 30 min drive outside Christchurch the change in scenery was breathtaking, no other cars on the road and the most amazing landscapes I have seen anywhere apart from maybe Norway (the only other country to have fjords). Snow covered mountains loomed above lush green fields full of sheep grazing. The sun actually came out this day so I could see the vistas in all their glory.
Every few miles I had to keep stopping to get out and breathe in that clean air and look at yet another stunning mountain, valley or lake.

You can see why they make loads of movies here now (saw a few of the places where they filmed Lord of The Rings), as there is so much variety and beauty in such a small place.

Anyway after a few days taking in the friendliness of Christchurch and the wonderful scenery around South Island I headed to the capital Auckland.

The arrival at the airport was nice; everyone gets a free coffee and cookie! Trouble was Auckland was Ok but couldn’t live up to the high standards South Island had set. The city itself was a bit non-descript, pleasant enough but nothing to really make it stand out. The harbor cruise was nice, some lovely parks (even if they are all up huge steep hills!) and the obligatory big viewing tower.

Outside of Auckland was a different matter, the islands of Rongito and Waiheike (I know I’ve spelt them both wrong) were lovely, bloody long walk to the top of the volcano though. The beaches looked nice but far to cold to attempt them!

Further afield I ventured out to Rotorua to see the geysers (big steam jets not cockney blokes!) and the bubbling mud that smells of rotten eggy farts!

After a few days of this it was time to hot the beaches again so back on a rubbish Air New Zealand plane and off to the Cook Islands (nope I’d never heard of them either!)

Posted by lcassey 15:51 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Australia

sunny 33 °C

Well finally made it back to Australia for a fairly whistle stop tour of the place, only really hitting the East Coast and only staying in each place for a few days but certainly was fun!

Arriving in Sydney it wasn't at all like I expected it to be, the biggest shock is not seeing any of what I was expecting of the traditional Oz stereotype. It's a very multi cultural city, far more than I was expecting. After arriving at the hotel I went for a wander around the major sites (Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Domain etc) and I think I was looking for the fat sideburned beer swilling Neighbours cast offs when all I saw was a huge Asian influence, pretty much 2/3 rds of the people were of Asian Descent and the worst bit is they were all in jogging gear running around the harbour, opera house etc making me feel very fat old, white and unhealthy! (I didn't feel so bad later on when I found out ot was the Sydney Half marathon later that weekend and everyone was in training)

Nothing like I expected it to be but then again I didnt really have that many expectations of Australia in general, preferring my travelling to expose me to different cultures, customs etc rather than a bunch of ex-Brits that just live in another place and have nothing culturally to offer than I couldn't find in Wimbledon or Fulham (sorry Skip!)

Went out to the famous Bondi Beach and took the ferry to Manly and the beaches were lovely at both but as I arrived at the start of Winter over here, not a chance I was going anywhere near that freezing water. Still nice to look at and have some fish and chips on Manly beach (so named as when the Brit who found the place saw a bunch of semi clothed Aborigines on the beach waving, he said 'ooh they look very manly, lets call this place Manly', probably done in a Kenneth Williams voice no doubt!)

Anyway 4 days in Sydney is plenty enough for a first taste and to see all the major sites (I enjoyed the Rocks, wandering around the restored waterfront best of all and the food in Chinatown awesome).

So I then headed on up to Brisbane, home of the Crocodile Hunter (and very handily my cousin Kerry who offered to put me up for a bit!!)

Now Brisbane is pretty much as I expected Sydney to be, gleaming skyscrapers and metal and glass buildings, great restaurants and bars in the town and a more laid back attitude in the suburbs.

The town centre itself is pretty nice, couple of impressive bridges, museums (ncluding one with stuffed versions of the many millions of types of animal that all want to eat or poison you in Australia). The bars/restaurants in Fortitude Valley were nice (well except the gay one I wandered into by mistake (honest!!)

Got my first taste of a T-Bone steak in about 10 years (banned in UK since Mad Cow Disease) with Kerry and her friend Colleen in the Clubhouse ($10 AUS or about 4 quid!) as well as a night at the pub quiz (came second out of about 15 teams)

Also managed to time it right that I arrived a few days before Kerry's daughter Leah's first birthday so we had a great barbie/party in the back garden in the gorgeous sunshine (Brisbane is Queensland and a lot warmer that Sydney) complete with Sausages and burgers and beer to celebrate with a load of Kerry's friends.

We also headed down to the Gold Coast and spent the day at the beach where I got fried (and this is bloody winter over there, they were whinging about how chilly it was at about 27 degrees centigrade!) Kerry's friend Eric (stereotype surfer looking dude, well his son is the world champion knee board surfer so what do you expect) then tried to kill me on his kayak, driving us head first into the breakers and telling me every 5 mins to watch out for the Tiger Sharks and Jellyfish!! I do hope he was joking, although he did look a bit nervous when he had to junmp off the kayak to free his fishing line! It was great fun, Eric also took me fishing off the Giant's Causeway (yup it's exactly the same as the one in Ireland with big stone hexagons sticking out of the sea!) where we caught a big fish (well Eric speared him with a hook and I reeled the bugger in).

All in all a wonderful day out! Kerry the lucky sod does this pretty much every weekend!! The beaches and coastline there is absolutely stunning.

Well time was running out so was time to move onto Cairns right at the North East Corner of Aus so I started off only ofr Kerry to get a call that her daughter had to come home from nursery as she had Foot and Mouth Disease (yup I thought only sheep and cows got it but apparently there's a kids version of it in Aus that's pretty common) which probably explained why she'd spent the last few days with itchy eyes, runny nose and some impressive Exorcist style puking at us with every opportunity!

Luckily it turned out just to be a virus so Leah could go back to nursery and Kerry back to work.

Anyway Cairns was a strange place, bugger all there (beaches were crap mud rather than sand) apart from half the population of 18-21 yr old England it seemed. But it seems to be a big travellers hang out, sure there is the rainforest a way inbland and access to the Great Barrier Reef but that goes all the way down to Whitsundays. Still I spent most of the time out on trips, including the snorkelling on the Reef, trying to avoid getting eaten/stung by beasties in the jungle and some white water rafting.

The snorkelling was the highlight, saw turtles, strange fish, corals etc etc, no big sharks luckily though!

Best night there was the State of Origin. I was lucky enough to be there for the first game and it's the biggest thing in Aussie sport (sort of like the FA Cup but Rugby League) was a great game 17-16 to NSW over Queensland and a great atmosphere in the bar.

So hard to do justice to Australia in the short time I was there but was a nice taster, enjoyed it more than I thought I would and would definately go again but would like to try the major bits I missed out on this time around (Perth, Melbourne, Alice Springs etc).

Anyway off to New Zealand for a bit now!

Posted by lcassey 23:58 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Tunisia

I know it's a little off our route but what the hey!

sunny 30 °C

Whilst back in England for a few weeks got itchy feet and thought I'd do a little side trip with my mate Skippy before heading back out East.

Knowing nothing about Tunisia and never having considered Africa before Skip suggested it I was a little unsure of what to expect in an African Muslim country but absolutely loved it.

Perfect mixture of sights, ruins, scenery, beer and partying.

I didn't realize just how many old Roman ruins are in Tunisia (the Colloseum in Gladiator is actually in Tunisia, El Djem and it's in better nick than the one in Rome)

We stayed at Port El Khantoui which is just North of Monastir on the Mediterranean Sea. The beach was beatiful, clear blue waters (although a bit damn nippy for my liking!) the hotel was ok, decent enough for the price we paid with a good pool, decent grub and a good bunch of people, ranging from a bizarre grinning old Malaysian couple we made friends with to a group of 14 or so mad Pompey college girls (complete with ASBO's as they proudly boasted) on a week long bender.

First few days we spent wandering down the beach, eating and drinking at the port watching the ships come in (very Otis Redding!) which bizarrely are all mock pirate galleons (apparently Roman polanski filmed his classic movie Pirates here, nope I'd never heard of it either!)

Then we went on an organised trip which pretty much covered the whole damn country. We started out at El Djem (big colloseum thingie) before heading out towards the desert and seeing loads of old Berber villages and houses cut into the rock walls or made out of mud. That's where we first saw Clint! One of the guys on the tour was a dead spitting image of Clint Eastwood and even dressed like him (ie in Jeans and blue shirt Bridges of Madison County style, not Good bad and Ugly!) SO perfect was he that we did actually think it was him until he spoke to us and had a Mancunian accent!

Anyway after driving all the way into the Sahara Desert we passed lots of film sets including where they shot all the Tatooine scenes in all the Star Wars movies (the village there is even called Tatouine (Thieving Gypsey Plaguraist George Lucas!) and where they filmed Life of Brian. Loads of old Roman ruins etc. We got to go on a camel ride into the sand dunes. The heat was unbearable and camels are bloody uncomfortable even though we were only on them for an hour or so. I'd hate to do a proper 4 day trek on the buggers!

We also went in a horse drawn carriage ride around an Oasis, went for an off road session in 4WD's out into the mountains where they filmed The English Patient and loads of walks. Pretty knackering 2 days during which we got about 2 hours sleep (well we had to get drunk after the camel rides as we were thirsty!)

Anyway after than it was a day chilling out by the pool followed by more beers thena trip to Sousse, the big market town just down the coast. A day of haggling there with Skip's few words of Arabic and my basic french and we had bags full of tat that's we've since stuffed in cupboards never to be seen again (stuffed camels, shish pipes, sand in jars, etc etc)

Then we headed off on the train to Tunis the capital hoping to get to see the old Carthaginian ruins. Didnt manage more than a whistle stop tour though due to ridiculous train times (less than 3 hours in Tunis) so we ran around it like madmen stopping only for some strong Arabic coffee and some more obligiatory haggling of course!

Apparently we missed a solar eclipse too whilst we were there, must have been rubbish though as we didnt notice it!

Well after a major drinking session on the last day (involving us getting kicked out of the pool at about 3am and drinking more whiskey and beer than we thought was humanly possible thanks to Hassan our pet barman) it was time to head home.

All in all an amazing trip, perfect mixture of fun and history and although somewhere I probably wouldn't go back (pretty much seen it all now there) would def recommend it to anyone. As it's a secular society women have equal rights and they have no issue with alcohol for tourists) everyone should enjoy it.

Posted by lcassey 03:26 Archived in Tunisia Comments (0)

Hong Kong

overcast 23 °C

We got the ferry from Macau to Hong Kong, an amazing view as you pull into Hong Kong harbour, the photos just dont do the site of all those skyscrapers justice!

Anyway we headed straight to Kowloon where we were staying and it was just as I expected, chaos, people, traffic, noise, smells, flashing neon lights everywhere. Great fun!!

Food was amazing even though we had no idea what we ordered at times, bars were cool, decent cheap beers, loads of people partying, certainly not the dull dreary communist city I feared it would become after my last visit here in 1996. Frankly it is now far better than when under British rule, the infrastructure is better (the trains and ferries are great), the roads and traffic far better than I remember and streets far cleaner.

The hightlight was the view from Felix Bar toilet!! The toilet urinals are against a huge plate glass window on something ridiculous like the 64th floor. The floors are glass too, nothing like taking a wee whilst being stood suspended several hundred feet up in the air!

The Peak Tram was cool but they've been refurbing it so the Peak station is under scaffolding but I'd never tire of that view from the top Of Hong Kong island.

It's pretty knackering walking around as it's such a hilly place. TheStar Ferries are awesome, the views you get as you go from Hong Kong to Kowloon islands are jaw dropping and all for 3 1/2p too!

Hong Kong Disney had just opened whilst we were there so popped out and tried that out, much smaller than Paris or USA but still pretty cool, hearing Mickey speak in Mandarin was quite amusing!

Well after a week or so (can't remember now) we were initially heading off to Manila but due to a coup happening there that was kyboshed so at this stage Chris headed back to Thailand whilst I headed back to England for a few weeks to sort out some family/personal issues and catch up for a few beers with my friends!

Trip to be resumed in May, next stop Australia!

Posted by lcassey 22:22 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Macau

overcast 20 °C

Macau was a total mystery to me, not knowing what to expect from it as an ex Portuguese colony, handed back to the Chinese in 1998.

Arriving the immigration was tougher than anywhere we'd been before (well they actually asked us a few questions and wanted to see our tickets) so I thought it's be very Chinese Style police state. Yet it was nothing like that at all. I never realised that gambling is illegal all over China yet legal in Macau, so the place is very rapidly being taken over by the Las Vegas Casino groups. There was a huge Sands palace and several others I'd seen in Vegas. They have really gone to town, giant ferris wheel on top of casinos, huge theme casinos (one shaped like a giant volcano that explodes every few hours, a full sized replica of the Imperial Palace and a huge Caesar's palace with a full scale replica of the Colloseum!)

We didnt see a single police or army officer on the streets the whole time we were there, everyone seemed happy and free, the Chinese like they have in Hong Kong have basically left the place alone to run itself and just cream off the profits! Human Rights are allowed when you make that much money from the people lol!

Aside from the casinos there wasnt much else to see there, the harbour views were nice but nothing special, a few nice old churches and an old fort on a big hill in the middle. It is tiny and you can walk pretty much all around it in a day. We spent 3 days there and that was all you needed.

There was no Portuguese history there at all as apparently it was a right hole when owned by the Portuguese and China initially refused to take it back as it was so overrun with crime and poverty, only eventually taking it back when they agreed they could gut the place and turn it into a giant casino.

So my first taste of Communist China turned out to be more Vegas than Beijing! Not quite what I was expecting.

Posted by lcassey 22:07 Archived in Macau Comments (0)

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