A Travellerspoint blog

The South Island, Part 1

Christchurch, Lake Tekapi, Dunedin, Milford Sound and Queenstown

We start our New Zealand leg of the trip in Christchurch. Here we hire a car, a zippy little pink one, to explore the South Island with. Our first stop is Lake Tekapo, in the centre of the island. It's a beautiful, turquoise blue lake. Powder deposits from glaciers float in the lake, creating the inbelievable blue colour. We climb Mount John to get an impressive view of the lake, along with some lovely carrot cake.

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Driving on to Dunedin we pass more of these lakes, one with a spectacular view of Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain.

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Dunedin's a city that we'd been told not to bother with, but we like it a lot. There's an impressive art gallery there, and some nice bars. Here we meet Sandra, a German who's going to travel with us in our car to help save some money on the rent and petrol. We all drive to the Otago Peninsular, a wild bit of land right by the city. It looks remarkably like Scotland and is a great place to spot wildlife. We see seals and sealions lazing about on the beaches.

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After a bit of waiting we spot yellow eyed penguins popping out of the sea and heading inland to their nests. Some of them have nests high up on cliffs, it looks like quite an effort to get to them, they're not the most agile walkers afterall. You're not allowed to get close to the penguins, or they won't want to come on to the beach, so I don't have very decent pictures of them. Three of them waddled up the beach together, these are their tracks.

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After Dunedin we drive all the way round the south of the island to Te Anau over on the west side. From here we take the incredibly scenic drive to Milford Sound. We're in Fiordland, where there are a number of fiords (mistakenly originally named as sounds), Milford being the most well known. The landscape is just stunning on the 100km or so drive.

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Once at Milford Sound, we go on a boat all the way through it and out to sea, taking in waterfalls and more seals along the way.

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We continue our journey to Queenstown, the adrenaline capital of New Zealand. They say you'll never get bored here. That's if you have money and lots of it. There's certainly plenty to do, bungee jumping, skydiving, white water rafting, kite surfing, paragliding, yadda yadda yadda, but it all involves parting with a lot of cash. The town is nice though and it's apparent that the local economy is booming, with plush looking buildings all around. While we're there we do mange to play some frisbee golf. This is free, so long as you can get your hands on a frisbee. There's a course in the park and it's essentially like golf but throwing frisbees. We prove to be pretty rubbish, but it's still fun.

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The area around Queenstown, much like the rest of the South Island, is beautiful though, so we make the most of our car and get out there.

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On leaving Queenstown we find one of the bridges where bungee jumping happens. I feel nauseous just watching. They seem to have someone jumping every minute. And at $185 a jump, they must be making an absolute fortune.

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Posted by EllenM 19:24 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sydney

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View Going Global on EllenM's travel map.

We spend over a week in Sydney, which is a long time for us to stay in one place, but it's a big place and we move about. Starting in a hostel in the city centre, I see much of the city by foot. Sydney is where Europeans first settled, so has a fair amount of history and there's plenty to see aside from the obvious sights. The botanic gardens are fantastic, while at Kew you have exotic plants in glasshouses, here they can all grow out in the open! They're also home to hundreds of bats who hang in the trees and some exotic birds. It's a bit of a cloudy day though and Sydney Opera house looks more cream in the dull light! I love it as a building though, it still looks striking and modern, yet retains its 70s charm when you're up close.

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We're in Australia for Australia Day, which is a public holiday to celebrate (or perhaps not for the aborigine population) the day that settlers first arrived in Australia. They're a very patriotic country and really get into the party spirit for this day. Alex has a friend called Charley now living in Sydney and we manage to find ourselves at her work BBQ on Australia Day Eve. Steak! Charley kindly puts us up for two nights in Newport, which is a beach suburb north of Sydney. We spend Australia Day on a very packed Newport Beach surrounded by Aussie families. It feels like we're doing it the Australian way, not just with the tourists. In the evening we have drinks in a place called Manly, so named apparently because the settlers thought the aborigines to be very manly!

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After Newport we spend a couple of nights by Bondi Beach and then finish up back in the city centre. We take a ferry out to Tarongi Zoo, giving me my blue sky view of the Opera House!

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We go to the zoo as we're fascinated by the animals of Australia. As an island that has been separated from other land mass for so long they have had their own line of evolution, thus creating crazy things like marsupials (animals with pouches). I really want to see a platypus, but alas they're shy and none of them come out of hiding. A disappointment, but there's plenty of kangaroos (including ones that live in trees), koalas, odd birds and a sleeping wombat. I also get to see more elephants, with the first baby to be born in Australia in the zoo!

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It's funny to see one of the zoo's star attractions is a rare penguin called Mr Munro! I suppose I should have bought one, but no, I didn't.

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Before leaving Sydney I visit my dad's cousin (someone help me out on what relation that makes him to me...), who now lives south of Sydney. It's great to catch up with a family member I never knew, makes the world feel that much smaller. We're now in New Zealand and will be here for 4 weeks altogether.

Posted by EllenM 22:40 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Byron Bay and Port Macquarie

turtle!

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View Going Global on EllenM's travel map.

After Fraser Island we head down the coast to Surfers Paradise. It's full of huge rise hotels that cast a shadow over the beach every afternoon. Not really our kind of place, we stay there just one night, then skip on down to Byron Bay.

Byron Bay's a lovely laid back sea side town. We stay at the Arts Factory, a hostel with a real hippy vibe to it. There are turkeys and lizards wandering about. They have plenty of normal dorm rooms, but somehow I find myself in a tent! Well it's more than a tent, it's a pentagonal canvas structure that sleeps eight girls. The bed frames are all made of bamboo. It tops the list so far for my quirkiest room! With just a zip to close the room though I do get a little worried about animals coming in, so opt for a top bunk, higher up seems safer!

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Byron Bay has great beaches and nice little shops. Up high there is a lighthouse that has the brightest light in Australia. Although redundant now, it once served an important purpose. Heading up to visit it gives a great view of the coast.

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While in Byron, we go on a snorkeling trip to Julian Rocks, 5 minutes out to sea. We're kitted out in wetsuits which have the added bonus of being quite buoyant, good news for me with my tendency to sink. The trip starts off well, spotting some dolphins on the boat heading out. Once in the sea, although it doesn't compare to the crystal clear waters of Thailand, there are plenty of fish about. I see a stingray too. We're about ready to get back in the boat when Alex spots a turtle! It's absolutely beautiful. It looks ancient but moves through the water so gracefully. We follow it along underwater for a bit, watching it come up for air remarkably often. Sadly, with no waterproof camera, I've nothing to show for the sighting, but I'll always remember it. Back in the boat, everyone else on the trip seems to have been stung by jellyfish, so we count ourselves pretty lucky to have seen a turtle and not got stung! Later that day I head to the beach. It's littered with blue bottle jellyfish washed up all along the shore. Australia has stunning coastline, but it can be a little risky dipping your toes.

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After Byron we head down the coast bound for Sydney. It's a long drive, so we break it up with a night in Port Macquarie. Here, buoyed by our turtle sighting, we go for a walk in a little forest in the hope of spotting the koalas that supposedly live there. No such luck. We drop by the koala hospital the town has though. Here they care for injured koalas and keep them until they're recovered. They're funny animals, spending most of the time asleep. There was a kookaburra hanging about there too. They really do laugh, it's quite a sound!

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Continuing with our Australian animals, we spot some kangaroos shading themselves under trees on the drive down to Sydney where we now are.

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Posted by EllenM 23:05 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Brisbane and Fraser Island

G'Day mate

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We fly into Brisbane where we spend our first two nights down under. The first culture shock we're faced with is just how much things costs in Australia. Coming from Asia where everything is dirt cheap clearly doesn't help, but this country really is incredibly expensive. $5 for a loaf of bread, that's 3 pounds! And the 10p little Cadbury's Freddo chocolate bars are 80 cents here, more like 50p. This is somewhat remedied on our first night when we manage to win the hostel's pub quiz and get a $100 bar tab! The other odd thing is how respectful people are of rules here. At pedestrian crossings there can be absolutely no traffic on the road, but until the green man comes in nobody crosses. It felt quite odd to us as Londoners who tend to rush about. There seems to be a fine for pretty much everything here, so perhaps that's what keeps people well behaved.

Brisbane is a nice little city, with some older buildings surrounded by high rises. Its highlight is no doubt the South Bank. Looking much like the South Bank in London, there are theatres and a ferris wheel along the river. It has landscaped gardens with static barbecues available for anyone to use. There is a fake beach along it, going into lagoon like pools for people swim in. This is free to use by anyone and is such a nice inclusion to a city, especially when it's in such a hot climate, but not actually on the coast. There are Ibis birds wandering about. These large long beaked birds look pretty exotic to us, but it would seem are pretty commonplace here judging by the 'Do not feed the ibis' signs all about!

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In Brisbane we are joined by Alex's boyfriend who is out for a couple of weeks and we all head off on a trip to Fraser Island. Fraser Island is the world's largest sand island and to get about you need a 4x4. After a scary briefing where they put the fear into you about absolutely everything... dingoes, sharks, car crashes, insects, 9 of us head off in our bright pink 4x4 to the island. It really is all sand and it really is big.

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Crossing the island the sand tracks are pretty challenging, going through thick jungles and evergreen forests that both quite amazingly can grow there. The beach becomes a bit of a highway for 4x4s. You're not allowed in the sea because of tiger sharks, but we take dips in crystal clear freshwater lakes. Camping on the beach makes for a beautiful setting to wake up to. Although, you have to watch out for the dingoes, who prowl around at night on the hunt for scraps of food.

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It's a great few days in a stunning natural environment, but you can't fail to have sand absolutely everywhere by the end of it!

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Posted by EllenM 01:20 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Malaysia

Pulau Penang & Kuala Lumpar

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So from the border of Laos we catch an overnight train to Bangkok, spend a night there and then catch another overnight train to Hat Yai, close to the Malaysian border. Overnight trains are certainly preferable to overnight buses, with proper beds you can get a decent nights sleep on them! Once in Hat Yai we get a bus to Pulau Penang.

Penang is an island off the West Coast of Malaysia. We get a boat from Butterworth to Georgetown on the island and find ourselves a guesthouse on Love Lane. Anyone would think we were ambling about Devon with names like that! It's an ex British colony country though, so yet another left hand drive place (fourth of the trip... and people say it's only the UK and OZ they drive on the left) and they even use British plugs. Our guesthouse is the oddest yet, with terrapins under the stairs and a cage of hamsters by the basin!

Malaysia is a Muslim country, but has a multicultural feel, with large Indian and Chinese communities. Again, because of the British colonising, who brought them over. They all seem happy to live amongst each other with Buddhist and Hindu temples a common sight alongside the mosques. And the multiculturalism has left them with a fantastic cuisine. The language is interesting, a lot of the words seem to be like phonetic English. Taxi is Teksi, Pharmacy is Farmasi, Police is Polis. Perhaps the influence of the British, or maybe the Dutch, who colonised earlier.

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While in Penang we meet a German ex-pat who lives there with her 45 rescued dogs. She very kindly drives us about for an afternoon, showing us a huge Buddhist statue on a hill and leaving us at the vernacular railway which we take up to the peak of island, where a Hindu Temple sits right next to a Muslim mosque. Here, I watch two monks taking photos of each other with them as a backdrop. What a lovely show of faiths interacting. Let's not mention the attacks on churches in KL that hit the news while we were here mind...

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After Penang we head south to the capital, Kuala Lumpur. The city is full of sky scrapers and has a very modern feel to it. We whizz about on monorails to plush shopping centres and landscaped parks. They have carefully kept the colonial architecture though, including a mock tudor cricket clubhouse.

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The Petronas Towers are indeed tall and impressive, in a bling sort of way. At night they light up every inch of them, adding to the glamourous look. We got a great view of them while stuck waiting under a covered walkway while it poured with rain in only the way it can in the tropics.

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On our last day in KL we get a bus to the Batu Caves which are a series of caves important to Hindus. Every year around January, February time there is a pilgrimage to them and a huge celebration. Unfortunately we're a few weeks early for that, but they are impressive nonetheless. Another giant statue greets us outside them. We find the animals that make it their home most interesting. There are plenty of monkeys ready to grab an ice cream out of your hands and the pigeons are in abundance. But there's also a handful of cockerels clucking about. We've seen (and heard) them pretty much everywhere on our trip, but in a cave seems odd. What's odder is the 3 men who are trying to catch them. We watch them chase the cockerels for around 20 minutes with almost no luck. They finally mange to get one in a box, no idea why. We didn't hang around to see if they got the other five.

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From KL, we get a bus down to Singapore for our flight to Brisbane, Australia, arriving this morning.

Posted by EllenM 21:37 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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