Lazy I know, but it's a start
08.07.2007 - 10.07.2007
I will write more later, but for now, enjoy the photos...
Travels in Fiji, Austrailia and New Zealand
Lazy I know, but it's a start
08.07.2007 - 10.07.2007
I will write more later, but for now, enjoy the photos...
A perfect beginning on the perfect day...
07.07.2007 - 07.07.2007 -17 °C
07-07-07... perhaps the luckiest day for the next century, and the day our European adventure began. Two days ago Nicole and I gathered our bags and headed out to the SLC airport to embark on a three week long European excursion. Our puddle hopper flight into Houston went off without as much as a hitch; however poor weather and delays in connecting flights caused concern for our flight from Houston to London. Apparently, a plane from New Orleans, carrying 84 connecting passengers for our flight, was late because of weather, and since weather was less than desirable in Houston as it was, we were forced to wait... fully boarded on the plane, like prisoners, for the connecting flight to get in before we could head out for London. While I was initially quite pessimistic about the whole situation, dreading an uncomfortable night spent in the Houston airport (or a cramped 777 rather, as we could not get off the plane), all was not lost as we were able to take off from Houston and arrive only two hours behind schedule in London.
Upon arrival in London, as happens with international travel, we were immediately herded through customs. I was fortunate enough to get the only grumpy English customs agent, and after she chewed me out for a good while, I was able to sneak into England (not before however, I was fighting Australian flashbacks and quite frustrated with the entire country).
After we gathered our bags and passed through the most non-obtrusive claims/declarations system to date (slowly England was winning its way back into my graces) Nicole and I were faced with a brutal reality; namely, the weakness of the dollar. The pound is really strong, commanding $2.25 US, so needless to say our exchange rate was a less than pleasurable experience. On top of the dollar being worth so little, it turns out London is ridiculously expensive. Just to get a train from the airport into the city center was £15!
Nicole and I upon arrival to Victoria Station in London
Even with the grumpy customs worker bent on keeping me out of London and the ridiculously steep prices, London is fabulous! The city is filled with amazing architecture, art and history. Shortly after arriving, Nicole and I met an old college friend and his fiancé Elodie in the city. We had a fabulous time exploring London during the afternoon, and Matthias made it his duty to insure I didn't fall asleep on the Tube (the jet lag, or lack of sleep rather, was killing me, it was seriously hard for me to keep me eyes open at times).
All of us in front of Buckingham Palace
Along with experiencing some of the traditional London sights, it so happened that the Tour de France race was actually being held in London and while this also translated into loads of people and underground delays, it was overall a cool experience. An interesting point about this bike race, apparently it is a big deal here, who knew? All along the roads where the bikers were racing were loads of people, watching and cheering as each of the bikers passed by. While I am yet to know if people were cheering for particular racers or everyone in general, it was quite a phenomenon to see so many people out to watch the England portion of the famous race.
Seriously, these guys are moving, check out their entourage, complete with police escort and all
Now, not that the racers were not amazing, they were, and they were biking surprisingly fast (it's crazy how less impressive it appears on TV, but they were really hauling). But even so, I was content to watch a few racers go by, and then move on. Apparently biking is high class entertainment here though, as people stood out clapping, making noise with noise makers for the entire race portion (for hours and hours...blocking my view mostly). I don't understand it; maybe I don't have high cultured tastes when it comes to athletics. Either way, my favorite part of the race was this sign reading "Le de Tour France", which I thought was brilliant considering how far out of our way we had to trek because of the race. We hoped the company wrote the logo in such a way to avoid copyright laws...
Le deTour France... at least I think I am funny
Along with the race we also were able to see the more traditional sights.
Apparently, Big Ben is the name of the bell within the Clock Tower. Regardless of name however, it was impressive.
Westminster Abbey is huge! The building takes us more than a city block and is very ornate.
The Cathedral of Westminster is also very impressive with ornate carvings galore.
Our first day in London was a success, we saw much and I was mostly able to fight off the urge to sleep (Matthias hitting the glass helped however). Tomorrow holds more excitement and London adventures, until then...
My first adventure comes to a close
As tends to happen, time passes and the time has come for our trip to come to an end. This trip has brought fabulous adventures and new insights to the rest of the world out there.
One thing I learned was that, contrary to my previous belief, a lot of the stereotypes are true;
1. People in Australia really do talk like they do in the movies, 'Goodday Mate', they really say 'Barbie' (I never heard 'Throw another shrimp on the Barbie', but I imagine if you hung around long enough, someone would).
2. While not all people hate Americans, a large percentage do. Best bet, claim Canada and profess to hate Bush.
3. The towns in Australia and New Zealand, minus bars and a few restaurants, completely shut down starting at 5 pm. Also, 5 pm is more of a floating time frame, and depending on how the workers are feeling, they can shut down at any point from 4 - 5. Translation, you had better go to the grocery during the day, or be hungry, because nothing is open once the sun goes down.
4. I do not agree with the Kiwis belief that cars should tow boats, but hey that's just me.
5. Who knew America had such great phone, cell and internet plans. Who wants to pa 30 cents per half minute to land lines and even more to mobile phone and pay per Mb you download on the internet ... not me.
6. When traveling, often the best times can be found in getting there. Stop to smell the roses. How else would we have found this amazing boot statue?
7. As a general rule, people are good. They want to help you if they can, and locals are the best contacts for what to see and do.
Take our Australian grandpa friend who rescued us with our empty car?
8. Finally, I am still happy about the 11:1 sheep to people ratio in New Zealand.
What a beautiful world
All in all this trip was brilliant, filled with beautiful sights and great fun (albeit expensive). The most important thing I learned however was how cool America is. There are so many places in America I haven't seen that are equally breath taking. While I am excited to return home, I am even more excited to continue exploring. Next month Europe, then who knows where my life will take me, one thing I have learned however is that you get from life what you put in. I have been fortunate enough to have a pretty sweet life, and luckily for me, it's just getting started.
For the remainder of my New Zealand photos, and all of the other not yet shown in my blogs (400 pics in total, a lot I know), CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS. Hope you enjoyed the ride 10% as much as I did.
As one of our missions on this trip is to keep the tourist industry well and thriving we kept with tradition and did even more exciting and expensive trips. The first of these was a white water rafting trip down the Kaituna River. While originally from Idaho, a land of raging white water rapids, we were drawn to this trip with the promise of a 7 m (~23 ft) waterfall drop.
A sample rapid in the Kaituna River
Arriving at the river, we were again outfitted in wet suits, and this time also boots and warm top layers. After carrying our raft down to the river (down a very slippery hill, which resulted in me slipping and sliding on my butt nearly into the river) and a quick explanation of how and when to paddle we were off to our first water fall.
The first drop was not very high, just enough to get us a little more used to things. While we were able to deftly maneuver our raft correctly down the first drop, we accidentally got turned around for the second and took it backwards in style. Since we were now experienced veterans we were now ready for the 7 m (~23 ft) waterfall.
Waterfall on the Kaituna River
This waterfall was much bigger than the first two (obviously) and we were completely vertical in the raft as we went over the edge.
I would like to point out my superb form, head ducked and all.
Not too shabby.
Following our waterfall experience we did a little 'river surfing'. River surfing is where you paddle as hard as you can into the base of the waterfall, as if you are trying to go back up the falls. This results in the front of the raft being sucked up and down and a very bumpy and enjoyable ride.
Here is our best scared faces we could muster, apparently mine was a split second late.
The front of the raft gets absolutely soaked, yeah for Brooke and Bree.
It was on a river surfing experience that our guide told us to 'wave to the camera', obediently, we all waved, smiled, coo-d - and acted like wonderful tourists. During the waving, Brooke had momentarily chickened out and was grabbing for the raft when the guide yelled out 'keep waving', reluctantly, Brooke began waving hysterically, only to at that exact moment hit a large upsurge and was knocked from the raft into the waterfall.
As our guide had instructed us previously, in the chance that you fall out of the boat, immediately roll onto your stomach and swim to shore as fast as possible to avoid going over the next waterfall. Brooke remembering these instructions, immediately began paddling to shore. The guide however, quickly shouted out instructions for us to grab her, and luckily for Brooke (and Bree and my muscle ego's) James was able to grab her out of the river and scoop her back into the raft.
While it was fortunate that Brooke fell out on the same side as James, it would have been absolutely brilliant if she had been on my or Bree's side, as any attempts made by us to rescue her would most likely have resulted in another one of us also falling into the river.
Following our eventful rafting experience we headed to the Rotorua Luge's. While Brooke and Bree had done the luge in Queenstown, we had been repeatedly informed that the luges at Rotorua were much better (aka faster, more dangerous, exactly what we were looking for). As it was fast approaching sunset, we opted to take the gondola and purchase a 5 run all inclusive gondola/chair lift package.
Of course we took photos on the gondola, we are tourists remember?
Hot helmets eh?
The luge at Rotorua held up to our expectations and the next hour was filled with ridiculously fast rides down the concrete tracks. Luckily for us, there was no major accidents, though I did have a small run in with Bree's kart, resulting in only minor damage to my kart...
On your marks, get set... GO!
Looking fabulous in this summer's latest fashion
Following our night time luges, we decided to have one final soak in the thermal water, as we were completely frozen from the rides. The best part of this was our dress, or lack thereof in getting to the hot pools.
Check the kicks
Needless to say we caused a bit of a stir in the hallway and elevator.
A quick stopover in Wellington involving nothing more than sleep and we were back on the road heading to National Park in hopes to complete the Tongariro Crossing to see Mt Doom up close and personal. Seeing as the weather in New Zealand does hate us, when we arrived in Turanaki, the workers at the information center informed us that the crossing would not be able to be hiked for at least a week. Seeing as we were leaving the country before then, we were disappointed, but decided to drive down to the park and at least do shorter walks.
The first walk we completed was Turanaki Falls. Apparently these falls were filmed in the Lord of the Rings, where I don’t know.
Look familiar anyone?
Following the falls hike, we turned in for the evening until the morning, but not until after we posed like a Kiwi in front of our favorite New Zealand traffic sign.
Supposedly the Kiwi is endangered, but there are a lot of these signs everywhere. I wonder how many times a Kiwi bird has to cross the road to warrant a sign being posted? Just wondering.
As a side note, we have begun eating some quite delicate cuisine. We have found that just about every meal goes well with baked beans. For just 49 cents, you can get a can of baked beans in tomato sauce, which, when added to cream of chicken soup paired with brown rice is warm, filling and most importantly cheap. Seriously, the things we are now consuming are not normal by any means.
Back to the ranch, the next morning Brooke and I woke early to do a sunrise hike around Mt. Tongariro.
We were hiking even before the sun!
The track was supposed to be 1 hour or so, but of course, we took a wrong turn resulting in a 2 hour long slated trek dropping us about an hour up the road from the car park. This brings me to another point: whoever is clocking the times these treks take must be in amazing physical shape. With the hikes we completed today, and the treks completed at Mt. Cook, all of which were slated to be completed in 3 hours return (or roundtrip). Seriously, to complete these tracks in this time you would have to really be booking it. Brooke and I barely beat the specified times and we jogged much of the trek. But that’s just me complaining…
A bonus of getting up early: no one around and crystal clear skies.
Since our trek resulted in us being dropped at the road Brooke and I tried our hand (unsuccessfully) at hitch hiking.
In the end, we resigned ourselves to another run down the mountain to our car in the car park. On a side note, unlike what everyone, including the weather reporters had predicted, the Tongariro Park was beautiful and clear, nearly perfect for the crossing; we however, had already booked a blackwater rafting trip in Waitomo and were not able to do the crossing. We did however get some rad pictures of Mt Tongariro.
Seriously, I think I must have really offended the weather fairy.
How cool are we?
Apparently not that much...
So with the beautiful crossing weather, we were unable to do the crossing and instead had to head up the west coast to Waitomo caves. The drive up the west side of the North Island was absolutely beautiful. It was seriously like driving through the shire, everything was so green and we were surrounded on every side by an obscene number of sheep. Interesting fact: there is a 11:1 New Zealander to sheep ratio in this country. I am sure this does not amuse anyone as much as it does me; however, I have and continue to get a royal kick out of that fact.
You can't see them, but there are boat loads of sheep down there.
Haha! Look at the sheep... how cute.
Another amusing thing I have noticed about New Zealand and Australia is there unrealistic opinions of there vehicles. Nearly every car has a hitch, regardless of how small or insubstantial the engine. Take this Taurus for instance, trying to tow a full size camper up a hill. Obviously, not very successfully.
On a side note, you wouldn't need to buy a truck to haul your boat, heck, use the sedan, slow and steady wins the race right?
On our drive, in attempts to give back to society, picked up our 4th hitch hiker of the trip. Jacob was a real treat, a 'recovering' drug addict, he had recently been arrested for, wait for it, robbing a bank at gun point. Not the most ideal thing to learn about a random kid you pick up, but he assured us all was well, as he had to stay clean and be 'good' to avoid being locked up indefinitely. Upon dropping off our hitcher we arrived in Waitomo Caves, a city of probably 10 that survives on the caving industry. Here we had booked a underwater rafting and caving adventure. Before our trip, we stopped at the Glow-worm Museum where we were informed about glow-worms and their history. Apparently, glow-worms are actually the larvae of a winged insect that create spider-like strands with luminescent droplets that glow like blue stars in the caves of this area. Along with the information session, I decided to attempt the cave crawl.
Yeah, pretty sure this is meant only for small children, but in the spirit of adventure I wiggled through anyway.
After my practice run, we went to our blackwater rafting experience. They fitted us with stellar wet suits, jackets, super hot white gumboots, yellow hard hats with lights and my personal favorite, bright purple pirate pants (the pants went over the wet suits to protect them from ripping against the rocks while we were caving). Our trip began with a 27 m abseil down the canyon into the cave (abseiling = repelling).
Brooke was definitely the most graceful while Bree and I went for the more traditional approach.
Yeah, and the harness, not comfortable.
Once we reached the water we went for a small hike upstream the river to a point in the cave that was completely dark. It was at this point that our guide, Simon had us turn off our lights and look up at the cave ceiling to see the thousands of glow worms above us.
This was a really cool experience. The glow worms produce a blue light that looks just like the fake stars at Space Mountain. If I hadn't been there and saw the actual bug/larvae moving along the strands I would not have believed that the lights were actually the bugs. Truly amazing.
More glow worms
After our glow worm experience, we took to the blackwater tubing portion. This was also neat as we tubed down the river in the pitch black, watching the glow worms on the ceiling of the cave. I had the misfortune of listening to Simon when he told me to 'quick, get out of your tube and walk here' and I, unfortunately being obedient, jumped out in the only deep part of the river, completely soaking myself, and almost loosing my gumboot as I flailed around trying to get back on my tube.
Soaked, but back in my tube
Post tubing, we proceeded to do some caving, through nooks and caverns in the cave walls. Brooke had a bit of drama getting out of the first hole, resulting in all but de-pantsing of the pirate pants.
The smallest cave I did was alongside another larger hole, the only problem I had was my helmet and light battery getting caught on the rocks. All was well though and we all managed in to get a photo.
After a quick snack (3 pieces of chocolate and wassail) we began our hike back up stream to the beginning of our trek where we would rock climb out of the cave.
Scaling down the rock walls
The climb out of the cave