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.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Dear John.....

Its been 33 days since the last blog post as John Cotter pointed out to me so this one's for you John!

Since leaving Arco we've returned to France. First stop was Orpierre for more bolt clipping. Orpierre is a small medieval town in Provence. The little town is surrounded by limestone walls with lots of sports routes less than 10 minutes from the campsite. We spent about a week climbing there until my elbow couldn't hack the punishment anymore. Luckily we were headed for Nice at that stage to pick up my parents who were visiting for a few days.

After touring many closed campsites in the Nice area we eventually settled down in Menton, a small town about 30 mins from Nice city. Unfortunately for my exercise-phobic mother, the campsite was at the top of 300 steps. On seeing this she decided the guest annex (tent) was not for her and promptly checked into a hotel in town. We did see her again once in the campsite when Duncan's crepes tempted her. She arrived on a chauffeur driven (Dad) moped so managed to avoid the steps. We spent a few days sight seeing in various towns in the area - Nice, Monaco, Ventamiglia etc and spent the nights eating and drinking some nice French wines. Duncan got to see his favourite fish at the Monaco aquarium - a cuttlefish! It was all very civilized until the night we hooked up with Roger the alcoholic recovering heroin addict and Saeed the non-english speaking Berber. It was a late one. The next day was spent in recovery (for me at least).

We dropped my parents back to the airport and headed north again to the Verdon. The Verdon gorge is the biggest canyon in Europe and is absolutely stunning. The walls are limestone and the climbs are up to 250 m long, a mixture of sport and trad, single and multipitch. We spent about a week again doing a mixture of climbs. The climbs were good but unfortunately we had left the Verdon a little late. The weather was cooling down and the ground was covered in frost every morning. After so many months in the sun, we found this traumatic and so are currently in the process of migrating south to Espana! I'm reliably informed that the weather is always "scorchio" in Spain.

We're currently pitstopped in Carcassone in the south of Franc close to the Spanish border. It really is a fairytale town. Its a medieval fortified town from the 12th century surrounded by walls and towers topped with witches hat like roofs. There's not particulary much to do but really cool to wander round for a couple of hours. Tomorrow we'll hit Spain home of tapas and cava. Stay tuned John!

Thursday 24 September 2009

Arco (not Arklow).

From Munchen we set off for Arco in the north of Italy. There was some more climbing to do there.
Arco is on the north shore of Lake Garda amongst spectacular limestone outcrops. There are probably more Germans than Italians here at this time of year.

There is a mixture of short sport pitches and long all day multipitch routes in the Arco area but we decided to concentrate on the short sports routes to try and get nice and strong.

We are staying in Camping Zoo which appears to be a fairly normal campsite but has the added peculiarity of being next door to some noisy geese, chickens, parrots and a few fat pigs. Of particular interest are the 5 cockrels that have a little campsite waking competition nice and early every morning.

After a few days climbing we were worn out and the weather forecast was bad so we decided to take a brief trip to Venice. On the drive there we were escorted our own personal thunder storm which dumped rain pretty much constantly.

We spent a few hours blindly following Tomasina, our satnav, to non-existent campsites. At one point she had us take a round trip on the Lido ferry for no apparent reason at a cost of 66 euros! Silly satnav. Thankfully the following morning was bright and clear.
Venice is beautiful and not the museum city i thought it would be but rather a living place (admittedly with a lot of tourists in it).

A few days later on our next rest day we went to Verona. While nothing in comparison to Venice it was a fun place to poke around, visit a colluseum (no lions eating christians) and have some nice lunch.

The general plan is to spent another few days here in Arco revisiting the climbs that tormented us before hitting the road and heading for France and the Verdon Gorge.