Jess and Dunk's adventure

Monday 18 January 2010

Albatross, horses and dolphins. Oh my!

So we left Queenstown and the rainy west coast for the not so rainy east coast. The first stop was Dunedin, known here as little Edinburgh. Dunedin was a cute student town and was nice for just wandering around. Dunk headed off to see the local wildlife. There are colonies of albatross, yellow eyed penguins, seals and sealions on the peninsula.

After a short one night stay, the magic bus brought us to Lake Tekapo, an amazingly turquoise glacial lake (when the sun shines) close to Mount Cook. The bus brought us via a strange "tourist attraction", some spherical boulders on a beach which Duncan had some fun playing on! We chilled out on the lake for a couple of nights and I headed on a horse trek around the lake. The sun was shining which made a nice change but there was some extreme wind.

Next stop was a short pitstop in Christchurch. After spending some time in Auckland and Wellington, we had decided the cities aren't where New Zealand is at so only stopped for a night. However, the sun was shining and the garden city was really nice just to take a stroll around. We also took in the Cantebury Museum which was worth a look.

The final magic bus stop for us was Kaikoura, about 200 km north of Christchurch, which is known for its seafood and sea wildlife. Myself and Dunk signed up to go swimming with the dusky dolphins which live just off the coast due to a rich food supply. It was a cold overcast morning as we set off and I was feeling dubious about jumping off the boat into the cold pacific despite the wetsuit but once I sucked it up, it was really cool. The boat dropped you into the pod and you swam along with a snorkel trying to "sing" to entertain the dolphins and encourage them to hang out with you! Afterwards, there was hot chocolate, ginger nuts and a chance to enjoy the acrobatics. There had been a 50% sea sickness rate so it meant plenty of hot chocolate and biscuits for myself and Dunk :) Apparently, the dusky dolphin is known as one of the most acrobatic and we saw some amazing somersaults and jumps although they proved difficult to capture on camera.

So anyway, today is Tuesday morning and we are sitting back in the hostel in Christchurch chilling out before heading to the airport and hopefully a sunny Thailand. We've enjoyed NZ, its amazing scenery and wildlife, but the weather has been a little too like home the last couple of weeks. With only 2 pairs of long trousers, I'm looking forward to a chance to wear shorts!

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Nelson to Queenstown.

We sailed from Windy Wellington on Christmas Eve and hopped on the magic bus to Nelson. We checked into a lovely hostel called Accents on the Park (definitely recommended) for 4 nights over the Christmas period and met a few of the guys we'd gotten to know on the north island as well as lots of new and lovely friends. The hostel put on a Christmas dinner and despite a complete lack of Christmas feelings due to the sunshine and al fresco dining, it was a really lovely day. Unfortunately with skype being overloaded, I resorted to using my mobile to phone home and now have a disgustingly large phonebill. I just have to tell myself that its my Christmas present to myself! We hung around Nelson which is a really chilled out, sunny spot with lots of nice cafes for a few more days and walked to the centre of New Zealand, the beach, visited the cathedral etc.

On 28/Dec, we said goodbye to all the lovely people, jumped in a hire car and headed for Golden Bay which is in the northwest of the south island. We stayed in Annie's Nirvana Lodge in Takaka (also recommended!) for another 4 nights. Takaka is a small hippyish town. We got a couple of days climbing in at Payne's Ford which was just down the road. It was a nice enough spot although I think we've been spoiled these last months in Europe because it didn't compete with the European crags. We spent New Year's Eve kayaking in the Abel Tasman national park which we thoroughly enjoyed before coming back to lots of drunken Kiwis and visited the Nelson Lakes National Park on New Years day (nice enough but probably wouldn't go out of my way again).

After the holiday period, we left sunny Nelson and Golden Bay behind and headed for Greymouth which lived up to its name. It started raining in Greymouth and kept going for 10 days! Its just like an Irish summer. From Greymouth we headed up to the hostel in Arthur's Pass which had some lovely 3 bedroomed cottages. Each evening we had great chats with the other occupants who were all really sound. We also did some hiking up Avalanche Peak in the rain and seriously gusty winds. After Dunk got blown off his feet and the hail started we decided not to bother with the last ridge to the summit. There were some amazing views of glaciers, waterfalls and the valleys that made it worthwhile. We also got to meet the cheeky kea (a big kiwi parrot) who tried to make off with our bag.

After the Greymouth/Arthur's Pass trip, we headed on to the Franz Josef glacier. We booked onto an ice climbing trip but the fates were against us. The evening before the trip, the heavens opened and it poured rain for 24 hours. All glacier trips were cancelled due to flooding and adverse weather and with them unlikely to go ahead the next day we had to concede defeat and head to Queenstown. We did catch up with Ingrid, our Dutch friend from Nelson, though and once the rain had eased in the afternoon took a walk up to get some views of the glacier. A few days later we bumped into a couple we had met in Franz and who had waited 3 days to get up on the glacier so I think we made the right decision. I'm sure it wasn't as nice as the Alps anyway!

We arrived into Queenstown on 8/Jan, still plagued by the rain. We had 4 nights booked and the original plan was to spend a couple of days climbing and potter around for the other day. We were thwarted by the pesky rain yet again although we did manage to go mountain biking in Skipper's canyon which was really good fun but extremely muddy. The clothes had to go in the shower before they could go in the washing machine when we got back! We spent another day hiking up Ben Lomond with Ingrid which allegedly has "amazing panoramic 360 degree" views. We could see 360 degrees of clouds! but it was nice to get out. On the way back down we made a pitstop to play on the luge which was good craic. The other must do in Queenstown was the "Fergburger", basically its a restuarant doing gourmet style burgers. Dunk went with the traditional fergburger while I opted for the cockadoodle oink and Ingrid ate little bambi (she'd eat anything, that one!). I have to say I was disappointed. Give me a Macaris from Inchicore any day. Queenstown itself though is beautifully situated even in the rain. Its on a lake with snow capped peaks in the distance. The lake has a bizarre rhythm. The level of the lake rises and falls by about 20 cm every 6 to 7 minutes. We never managed to find out why but its quite odd.

We said goodbye to Queenstown and Ingrid this morning and jumped on the magic bus for Dunedin and the east coast. Keep your fingers crossed for us the weather improves :)

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Dear Diary

So we arrived in Auckland, New Zealand on the 9th of December. While it has everything you need in a city (including a whole bunch of volcanoes) there was not much for us to do there so we jumped on out Magic Bus (tour bus) bound for Rotaroua.
The Magic Bus is actually quite good fun. Certainly more sociable than the camper van. Our driver Thumper on the first day (and again a week and a bit later) was good at getting everyone up and going.

Rotaroua is built on more volcanoes. More active ones this time so everything smells of sulphur and hot streams bubble up everywhere.
It kind of smells like a giant egg sandwich.
Or farts. You could describe it as smelling of farts too.

We did a little organised white water rafting while we were there which was a lot of fun.

Fortunately the overdue massive Rotaroua volcanic eruption did not occur while we were there so on to Taupo further south where Jess decided to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane tied to some long suffering skydiving instructor.
She decided against the skydiving school's offer of sending someone else out of the plane with them to video document her terror so no pictures i'm afraid.

In Taupo we hired a car for a few days and drove up to some very good climbing near Te Awamatu an hour north.
I broke out the trad rack for the first time since the Alps for some very good Australian grade 18s and 19s.
There was also lots of very good bolted rock, notably at Waipapa and Froggat Edge. (Not the Froggat in the Peaks, England...)
If anyone's climbing on North Island NZ i'd definitely recommend a day or two's cragging round this area.

After our 3 days climbing we dropped the car back and headed south.
Wellington was nice. Good town for easing and drinking but funds are getting too low for that sort of thing...
The Te Pappa Museum in Wellington is very good and worth a visit. It also contains largest preserved giant squid at 11meters long and eyes the size of basket balls. Can anyone say "giant calamari"?

From Wellington we went north to Napier to admire the architecture.
The whole town was flattened by an earthquake in 1931 so it was all rebuilt in the Art Deco style and hasn't changed much since. It's a bit of a time capsule and very interesting if you like that sort of thing.

Then back down to Wellington today to catch the ferry to the South Island for Christmas in Nelson. More on that later...

Sunday 13 December 2009

Onwards to South Rock.

So after a brief spell at home in Ireland we decided it was uninhabitable.
Luckily Jess had already bought us flights for Sydney and Auckland so we migrated south for the worst of the winter.
On arrival in Sydney early on Friday 4th December we proceeded to do a few of the touristy things to pass away the jetlag. After the Opera houses and the Harbour Bridge we went to see a collection of Australias largely deadly flora and fauna at Sydney Wildlife World down on Darling Harbour.

On Saturday we proceeded to catch up with a guy I used to work with back In the early days at Google. Jason appears to be living the quiet life these days with his lovely wife Marie. Glad you've taken to Sydney life Canberra man!
Can't believe i didn't take any photos of Jason and Marie to immortalise them on the Internet...

Sunday was spent on more touristy activities: a walk down the coast from Bondi Beach. Didn't see any sharks but lots of beer and barbies. Ahh, the cliches.

Monday and Tuesday took us out of the city into the Blue Mountains. Awesome scenery and nature stuff. Managed to persuade Jess to come caving, albeit on a nice organised tour.

Wednesday was an early flight to Auckland for more gentle touristy activities: walking, eating and hoping volcanoes remain extinct...
But more on New Zealand in the next exciting installment...

Saturday 12 December 2009

Long overdue!

So we have been very bad bloggers over the last couple of months. This is going to be a brief summary post on what we've been up to and we promise to try to be a little better on the updates.

We left Carcassone and headed south to Spain. First stop was Sella, a friendly limestone sports crag about 1.5 h from Alicante. We had been here before about 6 years ago and had really enjoyed it. It lived up to the memory. Lots of high quality climbs from 5 up with some really excellent 6bs. We parked the van up in the forest around the crag and just had to stumble over to the climbs each morning.

Unfortunately while we were here our poor van got a little sick. It developed a leak in the hydraulics that run the clutch and we couldn't reliably change gear so it was off to the mechanics with it. The closest garage that could do the job was in Benidorm (gasps of shocked horror!). The van went in for the operation on Monday and it was Friday before we could pick it up. We had to decamp to a hotel in Benidorm which we have to admit was not as terrible as expected. It was nice to spend a few days in a larger space and to be able to leave our stuff lying around. That said we were happy campers when it was time to reoccupy the van and get back on the rock.

Dunk's Mum and Dad were due to visit us on 4/Nov for a while and we had decided to base ourselves in Barcelona for that time so a couple of days beforehand we headed North to suss out a campsite and take in a little climbing on the way. We hit La Mussara (close to Suirana) which was littered with high class 6s. After a day's climbing we continued on to Barcelona and found a campsite in the town of El Masnou which was 15 km north of the city and right on the train line in.

We met Dunk's parents and moved them into the guest annex (tent). The first day with them we caught up with Ali B, a family friend who lives in Barcelona, and wandered all over El Masnou wondering where it was hiding all its restaurants.

The next day our paths diverged. I headed home for a few days to check out how pregnant my sister Kate had gotten, to catch up with friends and to see at least one episode of this year's Strictly Come Dancing!! Dunk and his parents pottered around Carcassone, Girona, Barcelona etc but I'll leave it to Dunk to write a few words on that cos I wasn't there!

While I was back in Ireland I had one very important mission - to book flights to the southern hemisphere. We had great fun in the campervan over the summer but after the hour went back at the end of November, the days had gotten really short and the weather was turning colder. We had decided to migrate south and do our best to avoid the winter. I managed to find us flights giving us a week in Sydney, 6 weeks in New Zealand and 2 weeks in Thailand/Laos on the way home so we would miss December and January and the worst of the Irish winter.

When I got back to Spain, Dunk had missed me so much that he lost the run of himself and asked me to marry him. Of course I said yes cos he's too cute to let him get away! So the flights were booked for the 2/Dec and all that was left to do was to drop the van home, do about 20 loads of washing and pack again. We hopped on the ferry from Santander in the north of Spain to Plymouth in the south of England. It was a 24 h crossing and the notorious Bay of Biscay was its usual self. Poor Dunk was a little green around the gills but survived the trip.

On our way to pick up the ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare, we stopped in to visit Dunk's sister, Al and her kids, Islay and Ewan, for a few days and also to pick out a lovely sparkly ring! I kicked Ewan's ass at Wii so I'm guessing he's practicing hard now for the inevitable rematch.

Back in Ireland, we stopped into visit my parents and tell them the good news and then headed on for Dublin to unpack the campervan, catch up with family and friends and get ourselves ready for the the next leg.