Tuesday, October 30, 2007

having a whale of a time ...

It was back to the coast for a quick visit to New Zealand's whale watching capital, Kaikoura.

We decided on a 30-minute flight around the bay in a light aircraft, although not being too keen on heights I'm not entirely sure why. We only managed to sight a solitary whale, but thanks to the gusty conditions the flight itself was quite exciting enough for me.

I have now decided that bungee jumping and sky-diving are most definitely off my agenda for the trip.

In Maori "kai koura" means "eats crayfish", the seafood speciality of the area. We found huge freshly cooked crayfish far easier to find than whales - sitting right in a cool box at a roadside fish sellers, just waiting to be liberated for our evening meal ...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Heaven and Hell in Hanmer ...

When Mel suggested we try some tramping I was simply elated.

Not only did the thought of sitting on a park bench shouting abuse at random strangers sound really exciting, but cheap sherry is one of my favourite drinks of all time.

It seems that I was getting confused. In New Zealand tramping is what most other people refer to as hiking, walking or trekking. Call it what you will, now the painful memories of Mt. Fuji are behind us, we picked the 1324m Mt. Isobel for our first mission in the Southern Hemisphere.

It was also our first chance to test out Super-Casual in both a driving and a sleeping capacity. Aside from a general slowing down whenever a slight gradient is encountered in 5th gear, I think the little van will get us around quite nicely. As for the sleeping, the night before our trek it belted it down with rain and we nearly froze to death, by 3am we were both wearing woolly hats.

As we reached the trailhead we could see that during the previous night the weather had added little white hats to the mountain range - we hoped it wouldn't be another of those days. The GPS cheerfully informed me our elevation was 532m, and a quick spot of maths revealed we'd be climbing 800m up and then down again over the next 5 hours. I'm so glad we didn't pick a difficult trek.

The uphill was relentless and I abandoned a very tired Melanie just below 1000m for a solo attempt on the summit. The two hikers we met coming down earlier had warned us it was a but windy up on the ridge - as understatements go, this was like saying Robert Mugabe is a bit bonkers. The windspeed was well in excess of 60mph and increasing as I approached the summit, but at least I'd made it this time.

Thankfully after enduring hell, there was time for a little bit of heaven. Hanmer is famous for it's hot thermal springs and we took full advantage, soaking our aching limbs as we gazed up at the snow-capped mountains.

It just remained for us to remember to fill our new hot water bottle before we left for another night in the van ...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Getting Super-Casual in Christchurch ...

As we walked out of the aiport to our shuttle bus it was a cold, wet and windy night - and as we drove into the city we were immediately struck by how the shops and houses had an ever so slightly English air to them.

We'd arrived on New Zealand's South Island with very little plan for the coming weeks - in fact after spending so long living in a campervan we weren't looking beyond the immediate luxury of sleeping in a proper bed.

After weighing up the transport options for touring the country we decided to buy our own vehicle. There's a thriving backpacker market for vehicles that can double up as a bed for the night - from station wagons (estate cars) through to van's with makeshift beds in the back. We set to work trawling the small ads for something that would suit our needs, as well as providing a good resale opportunity - and who knows, we might even be able to turn a small profit ...

Introducing our new wheels - a 1989 Toyota Lite-Ace purchased for the princely sum of $2,700NZ (about 1000 English). Four good tyres, a sweet running engine, converted for a variety of seating and sleeping configurations plus a long WOF (MOT) mean this should be a sound choice for resale up in Auckland in 6 weeks time - but in the end it was the Super-Casual badging that reminded us so much of Malaysian bus names that really sold it.

We didn't see too much of the tourist sights in Christchurch, but dealing with the practicalities of vehicle ownership and kitting ourselves out for the road gave us a different insight into everyday life in New Zealand.

One of the continuing features of the roads in Australia and New Zealand is the presence of customised campervans (see example below), and we've seen some real classics over the last few weeks.

If anyone has any suggestions for customising Super-Casual then just add your comment below ...

We hoping a few factors will help us in our quest for succesful van trading - firstly prices are higher on the North Island, secondly we'll be selling in a rising market as we approach high season. In much the same way as the prices of convertibles rise come early summer in the UK so do clapped-out vans over here ...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Melbourne or bust ...

The final 2 nights of our journey took us through the forests and lakes of New South Wales and Victoria, staying at firstly one of the nicest and then one of the wierdest caravan parks of the roadtrip.

Durras was jam-packed with Kangaroo's who made themsleves right at home lazing around our campsite. We had one final wood fired BBQ here (no chopping reuired this time) before moving on the next morning to what was described on the roadside signage as an adventure caravan park. The campsite was almost deserted and looked like the place time forgot, but after a 4km drive up an unsealed road and being rather low on fuel we decided to go for it.

The woman who checked us in drew our attention to the small print on the back of the form, informing us that all the water on the site was drawn from an underground spring. That being the case she said "most people drink bottled - although I don't know why, I ain't never been sick off it". Something in her manner suggested some illnesses exist only in the mind.

As I returned to the van from a late evening visit to the toliet block I heard the thunder of paws rapidly closing in on me through the pitch black darkness. I ran as fast as I could back to the van, just closing the door before the guard dog arrived barking and foaming at the mouth. I must admit, it wasn't exactly the kind of adventure I'd had in mind ...

4,983 kilometers and 20 nights since leaving Cairns we arrived in Melbourne where we had just enough time left to register suprise at the relocation of my hometown of Doncaster nearby.

Still, I suppose everbody needs good Neighbours.

All the photos from our roadtrip are now live on flickr (click through on the right) - and the beer league now looks like the swimming entry list for next years Olympics.
If you're still reading after the very bad joke at the end of this post, our next news should be from New Zealand.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

G'day Possums ...

We took a much needed break from the tarmac and took a leisurely three days in Sydney catching up with old friends from back home.

The beer league never had it so good. In just one afternoon I managed to sample an additional eight beers - they all had odd names such as Leather Jacket (below) which is apparently named after a fish(?)

Sleeping in a van not being terribly compatible with downtown Sydney - we found ourselves staying in Lane Cove National Park in the northern suburbs. As we returned to camp on our first evening we found ourselves face to face with one of these on the approach road. I'm not sure who was more surprised, Mel or the Possum.

Over the next few days we got to know the local population quite well - being rather tame from feeding on the scraps of campers over the years they make predictable appearances every dinner time.

We saw a few more Possums too ...

The book I'm reading at the moment is absolutely hilarious - but it's causing me a few embarassing moments in public places when I suddenly snort with laughter. I'd still recommend it. Starting my own cult could be an interesting career change when I finally return home ... anyone interested?

Monday, October 15, 2007

spit or swallow?

Our final drive to Sydney took us through the Hunter Valley wine region and the chance to stop at a local winery to sample their wares.

Having been designated (by Mel) as the driver on this leg of the journey - I was faced with the dilemma of whether to spit or swallow?

In the end, to avoid any potentially serious misunderstandings I decided that the best strategy for keeping under the limit would be to simply sip & tip ...

Friday, October 12, 2007

surf school and spunk rats ...

After Nimbin we headed back to the coast for something slightly more normal - the surfing mecca of Byron Bay.

While Mel went off to a Yoga class for a good stretch, I took my first surfing lesson. Let's just say I won't be entering competitions anytime soon (or probably ever), but it was great fun and suprisingly intense exercise. I ached all over the following morning.

From all the messages I received after my Cairns post, I know how much you'll all be dying to see photos of me in a wetsuit. Unfortunately Mel wasn't on hand for photos on this occassion ...

The following evening we overnighted at a little place called Seal Rocks - not only did they have Pelicans on the beach, but probably one of the most unusual signposts we've seen so far.

Signposts in Australia tend to be pretty direct. One of the best (sadly un-photographed) was a roadsign on the subject of drink driving, the text read quite simply;

Only just over the limit?

You bloody idiot.

Given the number of bookstores in Australia you'd think they'd make rather more of the English language. Or perhaps it's just a reflection of all the time they spend on the dunny given the portion sizes here?

Now if anyone can tell me exactly what a spunk rat is - just add a comment ...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Nuts of Nimbin ...

As we reached the edge of Nimbin we encountered our first local resident.

He had a great big bushy beard and appeared to be shouting at himself while standing on a bridge. This is a completely normal event in Nimbin, and it's probably no coincidence that it's only town in Australia where marajuana use is openly tolerated.

A walk along Nimbin's high street shows just what a peculiar place it is. Just 200 yards from the police station the local cafes seem to exist in a permanent haze of curiously sweet smelling smoke.

The town seems to exist largely on the revenue generated by day-trippers from Byron Bay. As we sat in a cafe drinking coffee before recommencing our journey we witnessed the first of the day trippers arrive, and the highly organised drug peddling operation swung into action. I lost count of the number of deals I saw in progress down alleys - subtle it was not.

The notices in local shops revealed much about the local culture, from secondhand refrigerators for sale because they are too powerful for solar panels, peotry recitals and presentations on the dangers of flouride. Nimbin has it all.

It was this notice in the window of the general store that brought the greatest chuckle though - there are lots of nuts in Nimbin - after spending the night here we didn't need to see any more ...

Friday, October 05, 2007

Pigeon's revenge ...

"Who the hell is that !?!" was our immediate response when we saw this unfamiliar face staring back at us from our mobile phone as we checked out some photo's last week.

It took a few minutes of head-scratching before we were able to place him - it was Pigeon from the hostel at Xian, China. We hadn't taken a photo of him, so we worked out he must have got one of his pals to take it on the day we left our phone behind. The little tinker.

It just goes to show what can happen when you make fun of people on the internet. As the sign in the bathroom at HQ Hostel said; "Project positive vibes and they will come back to you".

I wonder what he'll do this time?

After a shoddy performance in Malaysia on the Beer League, you'll be pleased to hear I've been working extra hard for you in Australia. I've added 5 new beers today - the pick of the crop (or should that be hop) being Toohey's New.
The "all day beers" as we like to call them (e.g. VB Gold) are nestling toward the bottom of the table - at a mere 3.5% ABV. You lose serious points for that in a league like this.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

a chip off the old block ...

Heading inland from the Bruce we decided to make an overnight stop at the former gold mining settlement of Mount Morgan, just South of Rockport.

Climbing switchback roads to reach the pine-clad plateau at the summit, we found a town of traditional wooden buildings and eerily deserted streets. After driving around for some time, we finally found an equally empty looking caravan site so we parked up in for the night and I went to check in at reception.

"Oh yeaah!" said the busy-bearded woodsman type on reception as I enquired whether they had a BBQ. After I'd payed our camp fees, he looked at me doubtfully and asked "Have you got an axe?", confused I replied "Um, no ..." but he told me not to worry, I could borrow his.

I stared blankly for few seconds before the penny finally dropped; I would be on wood chopping detail if we wanted to eat that night.

Chopping firewood is most definitely about technique rather than brute strength, as I found when my first few swings of the axe missed the wood entirely and buried the axe-head deep in the chopping block. You get the hang of it after a while though.

We had a great (if ever so slightly sinister) evening in Mount Morgan, but I'll never forget what he said when he brough the axe over "Make sure you bring it back to the office when you're done - we don't want anyone getting hold of it and going crazy" with a wild gleam in his eye.

My thoughts entirely.