New friends

You do meet some fabulous people in odd places, and Chile had its fair share. We flew into Santiago, then headed west to Valparaiso on the coast for a few days. Then south by overnight bus (love the semi cama fold right back seat option) to Pucon, a lovely lakeside town with a spectacular view of the mighty Villarica volcano (more on that shortly). Last two stops were Puerto Varas in the Lake District, and then south to Castro on the island of Chiloe before heading across the Andes to Bariloche in Argentina. A bit of a whistle stop tour, and summary, but time is running out with only two and a half more weeks to go, so finding time to update the blog has been a little short!

Anyway. My/our favourite people deserve the credits below 🙂


Top place goes to Boris, my Chilean cooking instructor for the day, who taught me how to cook pebre (a kind of salsa), razor clams with parmesan, Chilean corn pie and then poured pisco sours and wine down our throats. Tough day that one…

Bottom of the pile in the loveliest, craziest city Chile has to offer goes to the dog who followed us for a whole 45 minutes whilst we were doing a sight seeing walk in the hills around the city, and who we had to dodge into a shop and hide for 15 minutes to get rid of. Never say hello to a stray dog in Valparaiso unless you want a shadow for the day – those of you who know me and my love for animals can quite rightly point the finger at me for that episode.


Lots of lovely people to mention here, including the fabulous Tamara, the Austrian/Egyptian girl working at Ruka Rayen, a fantastic farm twenty minutes outside of the town where we stayed for four days or so. She not only helped me make a birthday cake for Alex, but taught us how to belly dance and Viennese waltz at the subsequent celebrations round a campfire, ably assisted by Pablo, horse rider extraordinaire and also the son of the local Mapuche chief. Pablo, it turns out, does a mean salsa. Couldn’t make that night up…

Special mention has to go to ‘mi amiga’ Connie, the adorable five year old niece of the owners, who lives next door, clearly didn’t care about the language barrier and gave great cuddles. She nearly got kidnapped.

Final Pucon credit has to go to Mauricio, the president of the Pucon Mountain Climbing Association who got me (Alex was storming it) through five hours of climbing in the snow and ice up the Villarica volcano, crampons, balaclava, ice pick and all. If I’m honest, the climb was horrible, and the chlorine and sulphur being pumped out at the crater lung crippling, but the views were unbelievable, and the slide back down in the snow on a plastic tray (!!) was the best way ever invented to get back down a volcano. Awesome fun.

Puerto Varas

Got to hand it to Jess, our white water rafting guide, who got us down the biggest white water I’ve ever seen and who was in training to raft full time. Only problem came when she was doing some impromptu ‘how to get back into the raft unaided’ drills to test herself on a quiet part of the river, and couldn’t get back in. In fact, all of us were in the river happily floating past the landing point at that moment, admiring the three local snow capped volcanoes and waving merrily to the people on the bank. Last time I rafted that river was ten years ago at the end of summer and it was a LOT quieter…


Our host at our hostel in Castro was fantastic, but did look quite a lot like Smeagol from Lord of the Rings. Slightly unnerving. I had a couple of days really good horse riding with Wilkie, who, despite his limited English and my limited Spanish, was the perfect guide. My horse, Llavan (I think that’s how you spell it), was just brilliant – a really forward going chestnut quarter horse, who took the instruction to canter gently along the beach as a full on invitation to switch up the gears and gallop for Chile. Compare it to getting in a car and finding out it’s a Ferrari for all you non riders out there 🙂 happy days…

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NZ – North Island.

The adventure continued…

Hubble bubble toil and trouble... geothermal action in Rotorua.

The gases may turn the branches a pretty colour near the bubbling bits but it still all smells.

Cas´s patented stopping the smell technique. Either do this or take a gas mask. You don´t get used to it no matter what the people who work there say.

Right by horrible smelling sulphur-y smoke. It was quite impressive in a molten bubbling kind of way.

Green lakes? It´s just not right. No food colouring used promise.

One of the many Martinborough vineyards in the Wairarapa valley just outside Wellington.

Vines to make wines.

Tongariro National Park, North Island. First volcanoes of the trip.

Tongariro NP

Maori war canoe at Waitangi. This is still put to sea, and takes (if I remember rightly) over 100 people to paddle it. Fabulous, and not a little intimidating.

The head of the Maori war canoe, Waitangi.

The flags of Britain, the first flag of NZ, and at the top, today´s NZ flag. Waitangi.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Where NZ as we know it was born.

Detail from the Maori Treaty House, Waitangi.

Paua shell eye decoration on the Treaty House.

A little blue penguin doing its own thing in the Bay of Islands.

Bottlenose or common dolphins. We saw both in the Bay of Islands and my zoology degree was a long time ago.

Our boat went through the hole in the rock. Madness.

Happy to be out the other side. Top driving lady boat captain.

Orca, Bay of Islands

Alex takes some great photos...

Orca and the scientists studying them. A good day at the office.

Orca. Done.

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NZ – South Island.

Some of our favourite places in South Island. North Island to follow…

At our friends´farm. Lush.

My first motorbike. Out with Ken on the farm - I held so tight to the handlebars that the grips left an imprint in my hands. Didn´t get out of first gear either! Will do better next time...

One of my favourite places. Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown beach.

Head of Lake Wakatipu - think Lord of the Rings

Two very happy campers at Lake Wakatipu on the way up to Glenorchy. One of the best places I´ve ever been.

Spot the tourists. The bum bags were to hold our crampons, so at least that´s a bit mountaineering-y. On the glacier at Franz Josef.

The awesome Tasman Sea at Karamea at the northern end of the West Coast, South Island.

Mirror Tarn, Oparara Basin, north of Karamea.

Alex and our kayaks, Abel Tasman National Park, post orca visit.

Dinner time for them or me? At the Acquapackers, Abel Tasman National Park

The Japanese garden in Nelson, north end of South Island. Spot the Cas.

Cas, garden, Nelson.

The centre of New Zealand. Only it´s not really, it´s about 50k away. It´s a nice plaque though.

Big pointy thing pointing to the not centre of NZ (Alex explored all this - I was lying in a hammock in the sunshine at the backpackers).

The gorgeous Kennepuru Sound, part of Marlborough Sounds.

Alex at Kaikoura, swimming with dusky dolphins. It was just a *little* bit cold.

Dusky dolphins, Kaikoura

Wandering albatross, Kaikoura. Wandering.

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A little bit of Sydney.

Sydney. Opera. House.

OK so it was sunny for one day.

I swam here. It was cold. Icebergs at Bondi.

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Last days in NZ…

One thing I´m loving about our travels (apart from weird keyboards where the buttons don´t do what you want them to – especially tricky in Japan) is the amount of stars we can see. Though mainly they´re different to ours, Orion has made an appearance (upside down), and if it´s cloudy, you can get yourself to Waitomo and sail in a little boat through a cave with millions of glowworms hanging from the ceiling to get the same effect – absolutely magical.

From Waitomo and the glowworms we headed north, through Auckland and out the other side as far as we could be bothered to drive in one day, ending up in an unpronounceably named town called Whangerei. We had planned on staying in a gorgeous little hostel out of town that offered horse riding, but when we eventually found it, it was like a creaky hotel from an episode of Scooby Doo, complete with odd caretaker and crazy lady who was living in the hut in the garden, so we left smartly and found ourselves a much nicer place in town run by a lovely couple (though we didn´t see the wife who probably wisely left her husband to deal with all the backpackers) and a multilingual golden retriever called Sage who was in charge of cuddles. It also had a bath (equals heaven) but some selfish bugger locked themselves in it pretty much all evening so I am still dreaming of a steamy bath with lots of nice smellies.

The next day we carried on north to the Bay of Islands, and to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where NZ as we know it was born out of a treaty between the Brits and lots of Maori chiefs. Fantastic place with a real sense of history, both Maori and European, side by side.

We spent a few days loitering around, and went on a great day long boat trip where we managed to see lots more orca close up – this time a mother teaching her juvenile to hunt sting rays, very successfully as it turned out, though not for the sting ray.

We did meet a few rays with better luck at lunchtime when we stopped on one of the many islands and went paddling – when there are orca about the rays seek shelter in the shallow sandy bays where the orca can´t go. They seemed pretty happy to come to within about a metre of us, and I´m going to leave it there before the inappropriate Steve Irwin jokes start bubbling to the surface.

So, add in lots of common and bottlenose dolphins as well, oh and a friend from the UK (hello Tan) and his girlfriend who were, by complete coincidence, on the same boat trip as us and you´ve got a great day out.

Tan´s girlfriend Rachel must get a special mention for lending me her ghds before we all went out that night to drink ourselves silly. I´ve had to cope without them for the last three months and was pretty giddy with the excitement of having lovely straight hair again. She´s a keeper that one.

So, barring a very drunken night in Auckland with some Irish guys, that´s been our NZ trip. It´s only really now that I´m so glad we´ve got this blog and the brief diary I´m keeping, otherwise we´d just not be able to remember it all.

I have loved our time in NZ more that I ever thought I could. It´s a place with real heart, the most laid back, friendly and welcoming people I´ve ever met, and some of the most glorious scenery. Awesome. We´ll be back.

P.S. It´s Fang-er-eye. Clearly.

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ValparaĂ­so by night

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Update Part the Second – best things and random things and things to go and do

Note to self, must be better at uploading things as we go along. In the meantime…

1. Sea kayaking with killer whales is the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Fact. One swam right under the water taxi we took out to the start point with a shark in its mouth. Which despite its wriggles, was pretty much screwed I’d say. We spent two days kayaking and hiking in Abel Tasman National Park and it was just amazing – also loved the Aquapackers, the backpackers on a boat 🙂 and the mad German who threw himself off the roof into the sea on several occasions (we weren’t drunk by this point and I only jumped in from the deck. Alex took some persuading but he did throw himself in too).

2. The best things happen when you don’t plan them. We decided on the spur of the moment (and with no idea of what we were getting ourselves into) to head (as it turned out) to the most upmarket, luxury lodge-esque backpackers I’ve ever seen, on Kennepuru Sound in Marlborough Sounds at the top of south island. If you ever do a trip to NZ, you have to get yourself to Mike and Linley’s pad at Hopewell, by 4wd, water taxi, float plane or just walk dammit. Go mussel picking at one of the farms in the Sound with Mike, who’ll then cook you up the biggest bowl of the most enormous green lipped mussels you’ll ever see, or just head out at low tide and pick up as many oysters as you fancy from the shore. Sit in a hammock, go kayaking or just lounge around in the hot tub before picking up one of Linley’s fantastic pizzas. They sell v good wine too and are more than happy to drink with you.

Happy days. Go there. Now. And tell them we sent you 🙂

3. Kaikoura on the east coast is justifiably known for the opportunity to swim with the very beautiful, nosy and sociable dusky dolphin (enough to make even the best swimmer feel very ungainly and OMG it was FREEZING), but is probably less known for the terrifying WWII style siren that went off about 2am the night we were there. They should let people know that it’s the best way to summon the volunteer fire crews, and not a warning for an impending tsunami that will hit the hostel 20 yards back from the beach that you might well be staying at. Those unfortunates who know what I’m like when woken up suddenly can only imagine the reaction.

4. As a favour to me, if you’re ever in Christchurch, please go and say hello to the rescued little blue penguins at the Antarctic Centre – there’s one called Alex who has a broken beak and only half a left wing – aaaaaaahhhhh 🙂

5. Don’t fly from Dunedin to Christchurch to Auckland then drive to Rotorua on the day after a booze fest at the races. It’s not clever, and Rotorua is very smelly (all the sulphur from the hot springs etc) when you get there. And no, you don’t get used to it.

6. Best surprise – Wellington does the most AMAZING Bonfire Night fireworks at the harbour, got very giddy about that whilst Alex fell asleep!

So we’re now in Waitomo, having driven here from Welly today, in gorgeous sunshine past massive snow capped volcanoes (!!). We’ve got a cave trip tomorrow planned (lots of glow worms but hopefully no Gollum), and then we’re heading up through Auckland and out the other side to Bay of Islands, where we’re looking to do nowt for three days or so before heading back to Auckland to fly to Chile on Sunday. I love this country – it’s just amazing, and I know Chile and Argentina will be fantastic too, but I’m already a little sad about leaving NZ.

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Update Part the First.

Free internet access at a backpackers is a wonderful thing, and full marks to the Green Monkey in Nelson where we’re currently staying. Lovely private double room, great host, and free cake every day – it’s like staying in a ski chalet (except that there’s no extremely dodgy free wine that only tastes bearable after six glasses). 

We’re having a very lazy afternoon after a hectic couple of days – perfect opportunity to hog the computer and update the blog before heading over the road to the local pub for more local beer and cider and some fud. They don’t serve any there, but they have an admirable arrangement with the quite classy take-away next door where you go in, order and pay for your fud, and they deliver it to you in the pub. Rocking goose.

More pics to come too – we’re lagging a bit behind on those, but just put it down to the time difference :).

Have to say my brain is getting slightly mushy these days so hopefully this is all in the right order, but this is the first instalment about the size of our trip so far (since the mad river canyoning day…).

We ended up staying in Arrowtown near Queenstown for about five days, weather just glorious and we had a lovely place to stay, so it was quite hard to tear ourselves away. We did make it to Milford Sound, which was as majestic, grand, dramatic etc as you would expect it to be, but I wasn’t expecting the drive up there to be so good too – temperate rainforests, giant parrots, endless waterfalls (as there had been a fair bit of rain at night), and switchback roads and a nasty steeply sloped tunnel that added a slight adrenaline rush too. We did a cruise for a couple of hours, and saw Fiordland crested penguins and a pod of juvenile bottlenose dolphins as well. Mezzin.

After leaving Arrowtown we headed through breathtaking scenery (it does that a lot here – makes falling asleep on car journeys impossible) to the west coast, and up to Franz Josef, where it proceeded to boot it down quite impressively for the first day we were there. Not to worry, the glacier wasn’t going anywhere (though it can move up to 5m a day in summer if it feels like it apparently), so we raided the local bookshop and holed up in a cafe for a few hours (Alex’s flat white addiction and my admiration of the NZ version of cheesy chilli nachos grows daily).

We did tackle the glacier on a half day walk the next day in the glorious sunshine , thoroughly pissing off the poor unfortunate gap yah backpackers staying in the same place as us who’d done the full day trek in the pouring rain the day before. I only laughed quietly and to myself I promise.

to be continued…

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Port Douglas Photographs

Pics from Port Douglas. There are very few as much of our time was spent loafing.

The beach seemed to go on for (four) miles!

Cas on the beach - this was a crocodile free day.

The view from our front door (much of our time was spent in the pool - no crocodiles or stingers)

Makes you want to dive right in!

Me + beach

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Tokyo photographs

We got there in the end! Here you go, a carefully chosen selection of our favourite pics from Japan – nearly a month after we left…

Early morning at Tsujiki fish market - the largest in the world...

Tokyo or Blade Runner.... building the Sky Tower

Our room at the Ryokan Sawanoya - a traditional Japanes Inn (was fab)

Kamakura temples - about an hour south of Tokyo

Alex and one of his many vending machine drink experiments

Kamakura - calligraphy on 'tori' - the gates into a shinto shrine

Imperial Palace parkland - central Tokyo

How to transport your charges to nursery school

The only corner you can see of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo

The awesome massive hanging animated globe at the Museum of Design & Innovation

The plastic food shop - where restaurants buy the plastic food that advertises what they sell

Kamakura again

The childrens' buddha - Kamakura

Shinto wedding at Meji shrine, central Tokyo - a ridiculously hot day, she was dressed sitting next to a mobile air conditioning unit


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