The North

Well….the wifi is good when it works or if you don’t mind sitting in a bus stop, library or paying lots for it. Putting it bluntly the posts are going to be sporadic and possibly sectioned into north and south and the odd bits inbetween.

I was up for 41 hours in total by the time I went to bed. This just about sorted out my jet lag but I’m not sure how much I recall from the free tour. Auckland is a biggish city ( by NZ standards) with just about 1 million out of the 4.5M inhabitants living here. My view……it’s ok but head out of the centre. Mount Eden  is a beautiful walk up one of the 14 volcanoes scattering Auckland. Beautiful views and an insight into how the land was formed and continues to re model itself. The museum of Auckland was also great with many Maori artefacts. If you go sneak in the back way by the toilets to avoid the $25 charge! I stayed in Parnell where the queen of Tonga lived which proved to be interesting. I met up with a guy fromCornwell who teaches foraging and lives in a tipi. We had lots of food chat and interesting conversations. Also a fascinating cathedral which was totally made of wood and moved in one piece to across the road. A few days in the city and hostel hopping and it was onto the Kiwi experience bus to head up to the Bay of Islands

AUCKLAND TO PAIHIA (BAY OF ISLANDS)
Journey to the winterless north – home to 144 islands

I arrive in the Bay of Islands around midday and checked out the sights surrounding Paihia, including the historical location of Waitangi. This is where the treaty was signed and also the source of much debate over land ownership even today. This was all because of a Mis translation and I ne’er standing of the word Govern. We took it to mean own and the Maori thought it was to look after. Much of the land has now been given back. Northland is rich in history and Maori culture and it is amazing that it is still such a big part of the country and culture when you think about other countries such as America and Australia who have pretty much lost this.

I took a boat trip out to the caves and walked for 5 hrs on one of the stunning beach laden islands. I also stopped off in Russel which used to be the capital of NZ and got quite a bad reputation for drunks and prostitution. A site of the oldest church in NZ. A beer after went down a treat after convincing the 21 year old bar man I was 34. They are hot hot hot on ID

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PAIHIA TO CAPE REINGA TO PAIHIA

An early start for an action packed day up to Cape Reinga. This area is sacred to the Maori people we here the Tasman and Pacific oceans meet. A tree rests on the rock that has never flowered and I his is believed to be the spirits staircase. All the dead pass at this point and down spirits bay. Quite a special feeling. We walk d as far as we could along this spiritual site then stopped off a beach for lunch before heading along  90 Mile Beach ( actually 50 ish) and dug up clams from the ocean. We then made our way to body board down the gigantic sand dunes. Yep that’s right no protection just a board, a  body and a sand dune. Awsome fun. The day was topped off with a visit to Zealand’s best fish ‘n’ chip shops! It was ok but nothing to write her me about except for the harbour view. I still think we do it better 🙂


PAIHIA TO AUCKLAND
A pub crawl you say with 4 free beers for $10. We’re in. A good night with newly made friends.
AUCKLAND TO HOT WATER BEACH
​ we made our way to the coramandel peninsula to explore Cathedral Cove and swim in the sea. Stunning views and crystal clear water. We then fox trotted it to the beach before the tide came in to experience a geothermal beach..Hot Water Beach! We dug in the sand with our toes for a hot spot then dug ourselv s a hole. The reality was that it was scorching and I burnt my feet. So we stole someone else’s hot tub. We finish d ththe night with a communal curry and wine. We ate the curry for 3 days. I think we may have gone a bit crazy with the mad dash shop.

HOT WATER BEACH TO WAITOMO

After an early start we stopped at  Karangahake Scenic Reserve to explore a native bush-clad gorge, swing bridges and a bit of New Zealand’s gold mining history. Next it’s onto Waitomo (‘wai’ meaning water, ‘tomo’ meaning hole) where I saw the world famous Waitomo Glowwormsand and local Ruakuri caves. Whilst glow worms look nice in. The dark, up close they are horrible caterpillars that let out sticky string to catch flies. It then sucks their sticky string up to eat the fly. Hummm. In the evening I took a stroll into town and around some of the farm land where they filmed the Hobbit.

WAITOMO TO ROTORUA

What a night!  I opted to do the Maori overnight stay. We were treated in tradional ways and took part in Maori war training games and songs. It was a fascinating evening which included the tradional Hangi, buffet and cultural performance. We stayed in tradional buildings and told about the Maori believe and creation of the gods etc. Hot tub, beers and bed…..well almost. A crazy Norweigen girl got quite drunk with some amusing consequences which made fir a fun but somewhat restless night. The next day I explored the local geothermal park, took in the awful sulphur smells coming from the pools and took an amazing ncredible walk through the red wood forest. At the look out I saw the the gyser  erupt and spurt water 30 meters into the air.

I took a intercity bus to go to the Mount on the East coast to visit a friend I had made whilst in South America. He was working as a life guard so had the opportunity to stay in the club. Day 1 was bowls crown green bowls and bay watch. I spent the next day exploring the area and walking up the amount with more gorgeous views of the miles of beaches. I then borrowed the bike after the guys had completed their early morning life saving challenge. Epic. I went to Tauranga and learnt of the battles in the area. I returned to Rotorur after having an argument with my hostel I was supposed to staying at. Despite emailing them to say I’d be late checking in, they decided to only reply on the day before to say this was not possible. Luckily I was able book somewhere else last minute. Idiots!

ROTORUA TO TAUPO
New Zealand’s biggest lake and plenty to keep you occupied!

We stopped off at  Huka Falls as the clouds started to roll in. Things don’t look good for our Alpine crossing tomorrow but we will have to wait and see. I opted not to go on a boat cruise on the lake and it was a good job I didn’t. The heavens opened and we were directly under a storm with lightening spanning the lake ( you can fit San Fransisco in it..that big ). Spectacular but the guys on the boat were soaked and a bit shocked. Beer time me thinks.

TAUPO
Ohh my. 5 am start and we are on. The sky had cleared and the most amazing sunrise I’ve ever seen. The mountains and volcanoes were shining pink from the reflection of the sunrise on the recently snow clad peaks. The 8 he walk across the alpine crosding was spectacular with views of Mount Doom from lord of the rings and emerald blue crater lakes. A highlight for me and a very near tear jerking moment…..if it hadn’t been soo dam cold. I actually got frost bite on my fingers.

TAUPO TO RIVER VALLEY
Today we visited  Tongariro National Park to enjoy some more stunning free walks before arriving at River Valley Adventure Lodge later in the day. We headed south around the “great lake” towards the Tongariro National Park for a picnic lunch and a two hour walk through native bush and Taranaki waterfal ( I think I spelt that wrong)

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The lodge offers grade five rafting on the Rangitikei River and is set in a beautiful gorge. First time for everything so white water rafting it is. I loved it and to be honest I rock a wet suit. We had 6 people in each raft and we went through the drills to ensure we could make it through the rapids and more importantly what to do if we didn’t. We had boat rolling and dives to the left and right although a personal favourite was the funky duck. Exhausted and with a blister we made our way to Wellington where I was to do my first couch surfing!

RIVER VALLEY TO WELLINGTON
New Zealand’s capital of cool is full of culture, cafes and cinema! It’s home to the largest cultural attraction in New Zealand, Te Papa Museum, which is well worth a look (and it’s free). An incredible exhibition by Peter Jacksons team on the Battle of Gallipoli with giant models.

Having waited for over an hour and half for the girl to arrive for couch surfing it worked out he was in but pissed out of her head. If it hadn’t been for another girl staying and siting outside 12 story office block  with no sleeping proviso é except a mattress and a microwave. No key to get back in and no buzzer to let people know I’m outsid. I stayed one night and then checked into a YHA that proved to be great. It’s visa time so I had my visa application printed and photos of the correct size at the ready to present to the Indin embassy. When they said I could only have 3 months rather than 6 I had to haggle and now hav my fingers crossed that they warrant it.

Whilst in Wellington I took the opportunity to have a free guided tour around the Beehive ( parliament), walk around the botanical gardens and cemetery and take in the coffee culture and Wellington museum. At the top of the cable car taking you to the top of the botanical gardens is a Victorian perfumery created my a Dutch guy who completed his studies in forestry and natural extracts from trees. Fascinating man who was impressed with my ability to identify natural oils and presented me with a free sample. I also met up with my friend Greg with whom I’d been in plays with in London. It was great to catch up on his travels and future plans.

later I met up with my friend sister, her husband and kids. It was lovely to have a tour around Miranmar and go past Peter Jacksons house. Their house was in the cliff face with stunning views around the harbour. We played games of hide and seek, defrosted a naughty elf, had an art exhibition where I was presented with a precious Xmas stone and had gorgeous wine and vegetable wraps. A perf ct end to my time in Wellington before getting the ferry

Ferry time to the south

We took  the Interislander ferry across to the South Island through the magnificent Marlborough Sounds. it was here I met an old work colleague who was on his honeymoon. Small world hey! What will the south have in store what with Xmas just around the corner.

 

 

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It’s been a long long road…Santiago

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Mendoza to Santiago was stunning with crazy switch back roads leading through the Andes to the boarder control point and down into Santiago. Having learnt my lesson on not booking a night bus it was a day bus all the way but wait….somebody mentioned a holiday. Every man and his Argentinian dog were trying to cross the boarder. We arrived to be told it could take up to 12 hrs. Ughhh ohh. Luck was with us and the boarder control just took 4 hrs. A long long windy trip and boom I’m in Santiago the capital city known to the locals as exactly that The a Capital City.

I stayed in Don Santiago hostel in bohemian Brazil district. I do have a knack for picking the PPPs (post and present prostitute places). Nothing seedy just hotels that you can rent rooms by the hour as you may need a nap. Despite this the hostel was lovely being surrounded by bars and eateries including more empanadas places with 100 selections of fillings. The breakfast in the hostel was awesome with omelette, beans, mushroom and avocado etc. I’m winning right now.

One thing I have learnt whilst traveling is that free tours are a great way to learn about a city, get top tips and orientate yourself. Tours for tips it is then. We walked for 3 hrs around the city taking in the information on constant rebuilding due to earthquakes, fish markets built from iron form Glasgow and learning about the Chamber ( spelt wrong I’m sure) which clearly defines the rich and the poor from when Santiago grew and they built a bridge across opening up the land for development.  Some interesting stories here about how that was done and unfortunately a great deal of death along the way. There is a huge amount of Peruvian influence in Santiago which is very noticeable in its food stalls and restaurants. It also has a very large Palestinian population. Who knew!

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Chile has a very stable economy but only due to relatively recent political action. The cemetery whichSome was larger than 117 football fields really summed this up where we were informed of the military coupe back in 1973. It was quite upsetting to see so many graves of children all from 1972 when food trucks were stopped and people starved to death. Hard to believe when you look at what is a capitalist and very European feeling city today. Santiago has an incredible story to tell of human suffering, torture, political regime and now a new generation standing up for the common good, allowing people to be free once more. The human rights museum really hammered home the environment in which Chileans had to live. It was shocking and made me feel very privileged. It was interesting to learn that the people decide who are made saints and there are many stories attached to them but many of them nobody would have heard of others than the locals. One Saint was a man who sold sweets at a train station. Bottles are often left by shrines at the side of the road as many believe the saints died due to dehydration.

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New busy economy driven Santiago can be quite smoggy but I was lucky to get a relatively clear day to head up San christobel hill on the funicular although the BMX track back down was not ideal. I strolled around for my last few days taking in Bellavista district with its coffee shops and bars as well as views from Cerro Santa Lucia and dropping down to visit the Bella Arts museum. The Pre columbian museum with its Peruvian archeological textile finds was also fascinating. I couldn’t leave without comparing the wine so I took myself off on a bike tour of a vineyard which once took over 1/3rd of Santiago. The wine was great

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Once again I met up with some lovely people with whom I shared meals, stories, adventures and good times with. I’m glad I had time to take in the capital city and learn about their history but as always it’s time to wave goodbye and move on. With over 7,500 miles completed around South America let’s fly through time zones to Auckland New Zealand. 12.05am leave 5.15am arrive with a 16 hr time difference and a 13 hr flight. Let’s see how this turns out. At least I have my accommodation and my Kiwi Experience bus booked. Did I mention I’m staying in the Queen of Tonga house? See you on the other side.

 

 

Mendoza: Malbec Meca

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That was a lesson learnt. Don’t get a night bus when you have a passport control check halfway through your journey. After 8 hrs of being on a bus with a screaming child and a shivering cold wait to get through passport control I made it to Mendoza just 3 hrs later than planned. I checked into the hostel and paid for a breakfast. No sneaky banana this time and waited for Rob and Jim to wake up ( English life guards I had met in el chalten and also on the boat). Breakfast consumed so let’s go wine tasting. We headed out on the local bus to a vineyard in Maipu with vines that dated back to 1906. We had a nice tour followed by a tasting in beautiful surroundings. I think I’m already drunk and gave been up for more than 24 hours already. Let’s have another glass followed by some bread and a banana 🙂

We then hopped in a taxi to take a tour of an olive oil pressing site where I learnt unfiltered olive oil was actually better and demanded a premium due to its shorter shelf life. Then off to a wine museum and some more wine tasting at Rutini. We managed to get two large glasses of premium wine  for the same price as 3 cheap ones. We win and we sat in the gardens of the vineyards until we git kicked out by security. We cooked up a storm and I went straight to bed. I’ve lost let count of the hours I’ve been up.

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sunday I waved goodbye to Jim and Rob who were making there way to Santiago and planned my day feeling a bit tired and down. I walked around the largest park in Mendoza Fuente San Martín and up to the mirador cerro de la Gloria. I met a guy who was staying in my hostel on my way up and we decided to hire a car on Monday to visit the Canyon Atuell and Aconcagua mountain (highest in South America at over 6000 meters). We finished the day with an ice cream in the park. My new favourite is passion fruit cheesecake.

We woke up at 6.30 am on my birthday….yay….and headed out to rent a car. It opened at 8.30am. Boooo. I’m tired and need coffee so that is what we jolly well did and I got a cancel. First time I’ve had a birthday coffee cancel. Thanks Olivia :). We negotiated the car and off we went to the Canyon. It was a long drive there 3.5 hrs and went through some stunning scenery of what looked like a mini Grand  canyon. Unfortunately I was feeling a bit rough and not sure if this was due to winding roads and altitude or just sheer tiredness. Either way I had a great day and enjoyed the views and a sleep on the way back. We arrived back at 11.30pm and had a beer and a pizza. Bring on the mountain..

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Acconagua is the highest mountain outside of Asia, at 6,960.8 metres (22,837 ft), and by extension the highest point in both the Western Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. It is located in the Andes mountain range, in the Mendoza Province, Argentina, and lies 112 kilometres (70 mi) northwest of its capital, the city of Mendoza. The summit is also located about 5 kilometres from San Juan Province and 15 kilometres from the international border with Chile; its nearest higher neighbor is Tirich Mir in the Hindu Kush, 16,520 kilometres (10,270 mi) away. It is one of the Seven summits.

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The ride was great and we also stopped at Puente de Inca which is a natural arch that forms a bridge over the Vacas River, a tributary of the Mendoza .Scientists speculate that interaction of extreme elements like ice and hot springs was involved in the origin of the formation. They suppose that in ancient times ice covered the river and acted as support for avalanches of snow, dust and rocks. So the dust over the ice over the river would have served as a path for the sulfurous water and petrified the surface, so when the snow melted, the bridge remained by itself. In March 1835, Charles Darwin visited the site, and made some drawings of the bridge with large stalactites. In the early 20th century there was a large thermal resort and spa that used the hot springs to cure certain illnesses (a spa still survives further down the river at Cacheuta). There was a railway station, which is still standing, and tourists arrived by train to the resort. This was one of the last Argentine stations of the Transandine Railway before the train continued into Chile, traveling through a long tunnel under the Andes.

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We got back a bit earlier today so went on search for some wine and stumbled across a few free wine tastings including a guy trying to sell an American Pinot noir not yet released at $45 USD a bottle. We tried it and it was great. We settled on a bottle from the supermarket from a local vineyard I’d heard about and retired to bed.

Wednesday was planning day and bus tickets along with some walking to find a fresh pasta shop and bakery along with some Chilean junk food from Mr. Dog. Dirty!

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Mendoza was nice with green plaza across the city and small channels to collect water but the thing that stood out for me was sustainability or lack there of. Mendoza sits in a dessert and water is limited to snow caps and glaciers. With global warming they predict the 15-20% of waster from the glaciers will be dried up. There are already water restrictions where farmers are given a set amount according to land they have and permitted times. Their effluent management though needs a re think if they are to stay in the game of sustainable reasonably priced wine. Mark my words in 50 years Argentina may not be the Malbec me a it is today!

Argentinian Peso used now off to The Capital City of Chile for my last few days. See you in a bit Santiago….pending passport control.

 

Viva Valparaiso

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Another early morning arrival but I got here in one piece and by now I smell used to the jet lag couch feel you have until you can get a shower and coffee. A sneaky banana and coffee from hostel Po and off I go on a 3 hr hike around the labyrinth of streets that is Valporaiso.

To be honest when I got in the taxi at 7.30am it was the kind of place you would avoid at all costs in the UK. Crumbling houses, dog mess and graffiti everywhere. Safe…..I think so. Whilst there were reports of robbery and bag snatching I felt relatively safe in this mad miss match of old and new, crumbling and being rebuilt city all bought together through art and culture.

Valparaiso really is a city of firsts:

latin Americas first stock exchange

first community fire department founded by 6 colonies of immigrants. There are now 18 all run by volunteers

oldest spanish news papers in continuous publication in the world

first beer in Chile

first commercial bank

first soccer team

first universities

The list goes on…

Not bad for a 16th century fishermans wharf all changed by the gold rush in 1840 where Valporaiso blossomed and the bay land filled to support the expanding port and warehouses. That is of course until yep those pesky earthquakes. In 1906 one of the worst earthquakes the world has seen hit. Not to worry they just rebuilt it within 3 years. That’s financial power… Or was it. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 was the death of Valporaiso along with the discovery of artificial gunpowder crippling the saltpetre industry. Santiago therefore later became the economic home of Chile otherwise known as The Capital City. Valpo fell into disrepair and on the verge of oblivion. The bohemian life style ensued and young entrepreneurs began to set up shops and cafe and in 2000 private investment. Today Valporaiso is a melting pot of European influence scattered amongst 43 steep hills with their unique network of funicular elevators now one of the worlds 100 most endangered historical treasures. UNESCO calling!

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The street art in Valporaiso is truly stunning and the graffiti tour with a local artists was a real I shot into the styles and language of the artists. They can found all over Chile and Argentina and some famous worldwide. I could just wander the streets ( dodging dog poo) all day just taking in the arts and crafts with the stop for ice cream or a cold drink.

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I especially needed this after the climb to Pablo Nerudas house who was arguably one of the most influential poets and writers. I guess that is why he is a Nobel laureate! His house was fascinating with stunning views. I can only imagine the parties he had there. “… The child that does not play is not a child; but the man that does not play has lost forever the child that lived inside him and that he needs ….”. For me it was interesting to learn of his connections with Lorca since I was in the play Blood Wedding.

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I spent many days exploring the city and eating at the local central Mercado. I also met Micheal and Marni with whom I got quite drunk on the local drink…..Terremoto.

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– Pipeño (a type of sweet fermented wine) with pineapple ice-cream served in a one-litre glass. Terremoto literally translates as ‘Earthquake’ since you are left with the ground (and legs) feeling very shaky. The next round usually contains the same drink though only in a glass that holds half a litre. This is called a Replica or ‘aftershock’. We just went for another jug followed by a Pisco. The next day we travelled by local bus to con con to walk off the hangover on the sand dunes.

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I have to say I fell in love a bit with Valporaiso but Mendoza is calling. Wine you say ohh and birthday celebrations what can go wrong…