I’ve made it although I am £300 down which I need to claim back but either way I made it to Delhi. Terrified from what I had head about Delhi I got a pre paid taxi from the booth inside the airport. I knew I was in for a treat when I was directed to the wrong place but despite the lack of sleep I had my wits about me. I left the airport to people trying to get me to go in their taxi and take my slip with the registration of my taxi on it. I walked as confidently as I could to where I believed I should be. Taxi is a bit of a grand word to use when it is basically a large tuk tuk but it has wheels (I think) and it is the correct registration so I hop in. Jolene had warned me that the taxi drivers often don’t know where to go following her experience of having to GPS her driver to the house of the couple we were staying with. I had my map so all is fine. We got lost! Eventually I managed to get the driver to stop and ask and eventually we made it to our hosts house in the Muslim quarter of Delhi. It was wonderful after so many months of travelling to see the face of my ex house mate Jolene who was to join me for the India adventure. We sat up until the early hours of the morning catching up and drinking wine. Our host family were delightful and I loved spending the time with them and their baby Constantine. The heat was a bit of a shock after Beijing but the pollution less so. The next day we decided to make our plans for the rest of the trip and head to the tourist information office. This is where things started to go wrong. In our excitement to get going we fell straight into the oldest trick in the Delhi book of being taken to a fake tourist information centre. After working through our plans for several hours with them and thinking on the price over lunch we decided we would book a private car for our trip around Rajasthan. It was an elaborate scam where even the friendly guy who came into the restaurant was in on it, who convinced us it was the best option and price. I feel stupid now having spent 7 weeks in India but you just don’t expect it! At the point of paying (£2000) for two of us I just got a gut feeling that something was right and asked for a business card which they were slow to produce. To cut along and frustrating story short it was not the correct place and I kicked up a fuss insisting to go to the correct TI to check if they were legitimate. Guess what ? Yep…they have had several complaints files against them for not booking trains, flights etc and following through with their itineraries. We left the TI centre and I’m sure we were followed into the McDonald where we sat to gather our thoughts. We escaped to the tube and got back safe and sound but knowing we had to return the following day to talk to the police and check our money had not been taken. The following day we went back to the TI centre and were asked if we wanted to continue with the trip as the scammers had said we had confirmed we wanted to continue post confirming at the official site. All lies so we called them in and got a full refund and a letter that may or not have made it to the police. It was all very odd and conversation had in back offices and guess what no police involved. To be honest it was probably part of an elaborate money-making scheme but we were sorted and on the off for our next adventure the train station and tourist information centre there to book trains. There are tourist quota tickets available everyday for most trains so cuts out the issues of having to queue for tickets etc. We decided that we didn’t want to go to the Taj yet as we didn’t feel ready for Agra so choose to get our tickets to Jaipur and Jailsamere. The rest of the time we spent in Delhi was walking around looking at the sites which included the Red Fort which was the residence of the Mughal emperor of India for nearly 200 years, until 1857 and looking at Old Delhi which has an awe-inspiring spice market which assaults the senses both in terms of noise and smell as well as some fantastic street food which we sampled. Was it a bit soon to be trying this? Tune in to find out :). On our last evening in Delhi we visited a local Mosque where there was music, singing, praying and girls throwing themselves around and screaming as if possessed whilst having a spiritual experience. To be honest I felt a little uncomfortable especially after being greeted by our scammer (what are the chances!) but it was still an interesting experience. We had a delicious meal with our host family and headed to bed as we had a Uber booked for 5 am the following morning to take us to the train station. Thank goodness Sigi et al got up with us as the taxi didn’t show and we had to get the guard (I know) to book one for us so we didn’t miss our train. Alls well that ends well and we made the train with no problems and we were on our way out of a place we had no intention of going back to unless we had to. Ladies and Gents I give you Delhi! Our first experience of India. But how did that street food go down?
I got my flight to Hong Kong with no issues although it was bumpy 3 hour flight. Trying to work out where I had to get my transfer was difficult as I had no ticket printed for India yet but my baggage had been checked in to Delhi. It works out that my flight had been reserved but never confirmed. As the flight was full I was not able to board the plane and faced with a few options. 1) spend 1K on a new flight at 8pm, spend 300 GBP for a flight with a different carrier the following day at 12pm or try and get the same flight with the same carrier the following day and get a transfer ticket. After facetiming mum on mothers day to contact the travel agents we realised it was Sunday and they were closed and would not be open until 5pm HK time the following day. With this in mind I managed to get my bag diverted off the plane and pick it up before heading to the Hong Kong ticket office to try and get a new ticket. When I got there they told me that my original flight had been cancelled by the travel agents and a new flight booked. I was aware of this as I wanted an earlier flight into India. Some how the second flight was also cancelled leaving me with an unconfirmed flight and on standby. Only the travel agent would be able to confirm the flight but this would mean waiting another day due to the time difference. I therefore opted to buy a new ticket with the same airline with the hope I will get my money back. Unable to buy it from the ticket office as all flights to India had closed, I booked online and made my way back to Hong Kong Island where I booked into a hostel for the night. Tired, hungry and stinking headache. Lets hope it is all ok tomorrow and I get to meet Jolene in India who is hopefully with a host family of a girl a met in South america. She has all the details and has been in contact so fingers crossed it all went smoothly but what a logistical nightmare!
Time to get on that flight to Beijing where legend has it it is a bit parky! No problems getting the bus although I did have to get into mime mode at a hotel who kindly walked me to behind the hotel where the airport bus left from. No hold ups and I whizzed my way to the big smoke….or smog more like. The cloud below the cloud on landing was the first introduction to just how polluted the air is in Beijing. Apparently the EU has levels of 25 thingymabobs but Beijing can have up to 900, just to give it some sense of scale and seriousness. It’s no wonder we see people walking around London with masks if they think all cities are like this!
To be for the first day wasn’t too bad and a bit of blue sky with ever increasing temperature up to 19 C. Looks like a missed the cold spell and Spring is well on its way. I checked into the hostel, which took a bit of finding as it was down a Hutong or alley to you and me. I spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering around the local alleys, eating fried carrot balls and getting trapped in the crowds viewing the lowering of the flag in Tiananamen square. It really is a big deal where police presence is scarily prevalent with roads and subways closed for a good hour or so as they parade from the forbidden city into the square.
I headed back to the hostel for an early night as tomorrow was the secret ancient Great Wall trip. I’d met up with loads of great people in the hostel and I can’t highlight enough how pleasantly surprised I’ve been at the quality of the hostels I’ve stayed in and the people. For me it’s really made the trio so far and such a diverse range of people. Sara was from NZ and was over in Beijing to train with Chinese performers, which made fascinating conversation. She did get some stares though when she started stretching in the park but to be honest it was pretty bloody amazing! We left at 7.30 am the following day for a 2 hr ride to a part of the wall that had not been restored and pleasantly not visited by masses of tourists. In fact we had the place to ourselves which was wonderful. It was a gorgeous day, no pollution, great company and a Great Wall to climb. We walked for 3 hrs and I personally loved every minute of it although the knees were sore the following day. It is incredible to think that it is over 10,000 km long and to be honest was pretty useless in terms of defence. Still, many died building it and we were faced with the choice of if we were to go back in time would we be a wall builder or a fighter. I have to say I think I’d rather be a all builder but I’m sure the reality is very different from my idea of having a chat and a few beers with mates whilst building a wall! We walked 6 towers but were unable to get up to the last one due to ice and snow although we did try. On the return we had many beers and a great night of banter and laughter with our new made friends as well as some old ones who had joined later from Xian.
The following days were spent seeing the other sites of Beijing such as the Temple of Heaven, Summer palace and the forbidden city. They were all impressive but the smog had got really bad which gave the whole city an odd vibe. At times it was so bad I was just glad to be inside. That said the city has so much to see with as many UNESCO world heritage sites as the whole of Eygypt! A large city but really easy to get around via the excellent subway system. For me the highlight were the alleyways (Hutongs) that wind their way around the city and show what real Beijing would have been like. They also had some of the best food!. Time to jump on a plane back to Hong Kong then meet Jolene in India. China has been really interesting but I cant help but feel a bit sad for the brain washing, lack of respect for each other and the general attitude that somebody else will clear up the mess (not just rubbish).Outside of that there are some fantastic people, great food and wonderful sites and traditions to be seen and explored. I just hope they manage to hold on to some of them.
We got a flight to Chengdu which all went well although it was quite turbulent at times. We took a taxi to the airport which seemed to go the long way around, avoiding all the toll roads going down dirt tracks in some cases. No issue and the price was quoted and expected….we were just busting fit the loo! We arrived quite late to Chengdu and got the bus to where were told to get a taxi. Fortunately we were told how much it should cost as a guy tried to charge us 5x the price. We just refused and got into a metered taxi to the hostel. We arrived around 1am and checked in and went to bed. The following morning we got a taxi to the panda breeding research base. It is great having two people as it makes taxi cheaper and well worth the lack of hassle of buses, especially when you have to change and wait for a connection. We headed to the panda base quite early 9.30am and had the place pretty much to ourselves for the most part of the early morning giving us great views of the pandas. We saw adults, juvenile and babies. It was incredible to see them eating, sleeping and playing and learning about panda in China and the research base. I had always thought that panda were a bit rediculous what with eating only bamboo ( and selected species at that) and mating once a year whilst living solitary lives. It had never occurred to me that whilst other species were made extinct during the ice age the panda survived making it a living fossil. The base was huge and made for a nice walk around in the bit of sun we had in Chengdu, although it was still cold and called for gloves end a scarf. The centre started off with 6 panda and now have over 150 and have had great success in reintroducing panda to the wild and rescuing injured panda. We actually saw the WWF panda which is still used on the logo today.
The Chinese tourists arrived later with their rediculously loud voices and selfie sticks. We made an exit and got a taxi back to a local temple. Wuhou temple (rebuilt in 1672) honours several figures from the Three Kingdoms period, namely legendary military strategist Zhuge Liang and Emperor Liu Bei (his tomb is here). Both were immortalised in the Chinese literature classic, Romance of the Three King- doms. In the evening we booked to see the famous Shǔfēng Yǎyùn Teahouse oPera. This famous century-old theatre and teahouse put on music, puppetry and Sìchuān opera’s famed fire breathing and face changing. We managed to get cheaper tickets from a guest house where we also ate more spicy fish, famous Mapo tofu ( I pick out the minced beef), pumpkin salad which was actually sweet battered pumpkin), nuts, rice etc. We didn’t manage it all but enjoyed it greatly. We arrived at the opera at around 7.30pm and were showed to our seats where we were invited to have a massage or ear cleaning. We hadn’t gone VIP as ear cleaning is included and I didn’t like the sound of it but proved incredibly popular. We did however have complementary tea and snacks and got to see the performers get ready.
It was fascinating and a fantastic evening of entertainment. The hand puppetry was particularly spectacular as was the fast made changing. After a bit of travel admin we had booked to go to Leshan via train and then onto Emei Shan, one of China’s 4 sacred mountains. We headed out in the morning and tackled the metro to the east train station to pick up the tickets I’d booked through Ctrip(a must if you go to China). All went well and we passed through subway security and train security ready to board. The train was confirm able and fast arriving to leshan on time. We jumped on our 10p bus to the large Buddha stop. We paid and set off on our search for the giant Buddha. We climbed up steps and pushed past your guides etc and followed the signs. Eventually we saw its head. My goodness it is huge.
The ears are 7 m long alone with a shoulder width of 28m. Built over 1200 years ago it was pretty impressive. We had some spicy noodles with a young Tibetan lady and her mum and shared in some snacks before heading back to the bus station for our 45 min journey to Emei Shan where we were to meet Patrick at Baoguo temple, our bed for the night. Constructed in the 16th century, this temple (550m) features beautiful gardens of rare plants, as well as a 3.5m-high porcelain Buddha dating back to 1415. We met Patrick who showed us our basic room in the monastery and recommended some walks for the afternoon and following day. We took his advise and saw Fuhu monastery which was set in an idillic forest and was a female only. We got back for 5.30 pm after a cup of bamboo shoot and chrysanthemum tea so that we could eat with the monks after closing hours. I just followed what they did. I filled my bowl with various sauces and oils and powders and lined up for my vegetables, noodles and egg with tomato. I mixed it all together and sat down to eat. It was spicy to say the least and the pepper made my lips quiver and go numb. We sat with a lovely Tibetan couple who offered to get me some more egg which soaked up some of the sauce and reduced the heat a bit. We ate much slower than the monks, possibly due to chop stick technique but also intolerance to spice at that level. The Tibetan lady kindly cleared the dishes and had actually washed them up. We headed to a hostel after much searching for a beer and warmth. The rooms in the monastery had no curtains, no glass in the windows and no heating so we delayed going to bed for as long as possible. The blankets were actually quite warm but I was glad for taking extra layers. I watched the end of a horror movie, not a clever thing to do in a dark creaky monastery, but managed to get to sleep thinking of baby pandas. We woke up early (6am) to the chanting of the monks and beating if the drums. We got up and listened to them until 7am when we took our bags and headed to the bus to get to the middle section of the mountain to start our 2 hour climb to the golden summit, a Chinese Buddhist pilgrimage to a 48 m tall statue where Buddhism in China is meant to have began. It was a challenging walk through ice, snow, Chinese tourists and monkeys. We met several people on the way up wanting our picture and again on the way down where we were bought lunch in token of their appreciation. It was a tea egg which was pretty horrible but it’s the thought that counts right and was an addition to our steamed corn and bread. Reaching the summit was tough due to the steepness and altitude (3077m) but worth it to say we had been to the pilgrimage site on one of the 4 sacred mountains. We got the cable car some of the way back down and jumped on a bus back to Chengdu. A few hours later we arrived and we’re glad to get a shower as the monks only shower around 5.30 and 9.30pm with no shower fasciitis in the morning. We freshened up and headed out for food. We just wanted something nearby but trying to find somewhere that spoke English or understood proved difficult. We actually left one restaurant but headed back with my iPad menu translator in hand. They were pleasantly surprised we returned and amazed by the translator which gathered a bit of a crowd. We had braised cauliflower dry green beans, mixed vegetables and cumin potatoes. Spicy is not the word! It blew our head off but it was tasty so we ate most of it but definitely felt the consequences of it in the morning! It’s departure day as Daniel leaves for Shanghai and I head to Xian. I’d booked the only train available ( 10 hrs 44 min) but hadn’t realised the station it goes into is 30 miles from my hostel. Unable to rebook the ticket or find a hostel closer I had to bite the bullet in the knowledge I’m going to have a hefty taxi fare at 1am in the morning. I have the address written down and an idea of cost do I hope it’s ok. The hostel are also aware that I’m arriving late so fingers crossed It works out. I’d already collected my ticket when going to Leshan so Daniel and I had breakfast and parted company to go our merry way. I booked a hard sleeper on the train which proved an interesting experience with 3 tier bunk beds with families huddled in with their luggage, kids, food etc. It’s actually quite comfortable and is certainly better than standing. 11 hrs is a long time though on a train and it takes it out of you even though you aren’t doing anything. Scared to fall asleep and missing the stop but also one eye open to potential theft and trying to block out kids playing video games, video on loud speaker, nibbling of chickens feet and slurping at instant noodle pots. Will I make it? Lets hope so!
I made it to the Xian south train station and speedily made my way to a taxi with address and rough price in hand. I went with the first driver who offered me the price I’d been quoted by hostels and jumped in the car. Little did I know I’d be waiting 20 minutes until he had tried to fill it with other punters. After I threatened to get out and another passenger had got fed up of waiting and had left the driver decided to go. After over 45 minutes and a few phone calls we made it to the hostel where I refused to pay his new price, handed over the cash and checked in. By this time I was exhausted and a cracking head ache. I had made it and the hostel was nice. The next day I made the most of seeing the city Including the bell tower, the drum tower, a 14 km bike around the city walls.
A stroll through the Muslim quarter trying new found sweet snacks and breads including gelatinous steamed rice pressed into a mound, flavoured with sugar and rose water as well as deep fried pastry with parsimmon inside. Delicious! A trip around the great mosque which is one of the largest in China and has an interesting blend of Chinese and Islamic architecture followed by a trip up the small goose pagoda! A Buddhist pagoda built in 707Ad and held scriptures from India. To finish it off I visited the Xi an museum and learnt how the city was the largest in the world back in 580AD and had been through three dynasty’s. Quite impressive for what is now quite a modern city trying to keep hold of some of its history.
An increasingly saddening case for China as it continues to rip down old China and build housing, business and tower blocks with ever increasing traffic and congestion. An exhausting cultural day all in preparation for the terracotta worriers. In the evening I booked in with the sister hostel down the road as it was slightly cheaper and on the way back had a steamed bread with tofu and vegetables and chilli for 40p. Really nice especially as I sat and helped the owners two daughters with their English homework. The following day I made my own way to be warriors which included two bus transfers and about an hours trip outside of the city. I don’t think I need to say much about them but it was quite spectacular to see such an old archeological find on such a scale and to think a local was just digging a well! What astounded me the most was the the incredible effort to produce them and create the army in the first place, the fact that the workers were killed after making them and the sheer distance from the actual tomb which had still not been fully excavated for numerous reasons including unknown risks and huge Mercury levels contained in the tomb. It’s one of those things you’ve seen pictures of but have to pinch yourself and marvel at the creation of such an incredible site all for the first Emperor of China. For me it was a bit more than ” a bunch of old garden nomes” which had been quoted by one of the guys in our hostel.
To be honest the 4th Emperor Jingdi also had it pretty good with over 50,000 terracotta dolls with moveable wooden arms created in 188BC in a similar way to those of the terracotta warriors. As impressive was the animal collection with thousands of goats, pigs, chickens etc all beautifully created out of pottery and in perfect conditions. It’s incredible what can survive and makes me think what will they find of our civilisation in 2000 years time…..a selfie stick? It was nice to have met up with an American family who were doing a very similar trip to me including Uganda and also meeting a guy who I met in HK with whom I went to Jingdis tomb. Later we went to try and buy some gifts at the market for Rory’s friends and family. It was fun and yet more pictures were taken of us eating the local street food. This time I ventured out and had the griddled hot and spicy whole squid. It was very good but my goodness it was spicy (again) and played havoc with my over grown beard. I was getting bits of spice for hours after. As my dad would say I’m saving it for Ron…..mr later-on!
We made it to Lijiang with no issues except the girl behind me being sick into a bag then throwing it into the bin untied and rinsing her mouth with water, spitting as she goes. We got a taxi to the hostel using the flyer from the hostel. We walked around for a bit and realised we were not going to find it in the maze that is Lijiang old city. We stopped and asked a local tea seller who kindly pointed us in the correct direction. For some reason I decided to cross check the flyer with the guide book. Turns out the hostel had moved so after some confused phone calls and negotiation the shop owner poured is a lovely cup of jasmine tea in a traditional ritual and we waited to be collected by the hostel owner. We weren’t far away but not sure I would have found it without him showing me. We checked in then attempted to meet up with the girls from the previous hostel who were in a bar. We got lost again amongst the hundreds of Chinese tourists traveling with their selfie sticks in packs along long cobbled alleyways. Eventually we found them and had a well deserved beer and discussed what day to do the trek to Tiger leaping gorge, the mumma of all Chinese hikes. As the weather was to be good for a few days we decided to go the day after and spent the next morning exploring the black dragon pool and surrounding mountain. Lijiang is a UNESCO heritage site since 1997 when it was effectively rebuilt and restored after an earthquake. Whilst incredibly touristic the architecture was interesting as was the fact the old city is dissected by canals that brought water into the city from the black dragon pool. The views of the jade dragon snow mountain were quite beautiful and the park offered some peace and quiet from the crowds. We tried to get in for free following a sneaky route but I think the locals had cottoned on and we had to pay. Aghh well! Lijiang is also home to the Naxi people for the past 1400 years and are descended from Tibetan tribe. The museum proved interesting in explaining the local culture (matriachal) and traditions including a local song which to be honest was pretty depressing and referenced people hanging themselves for love! The food has been incredible with spices, coriander and cumin being used all over the place, really not what you would expect from Chinese food and a definite gap in the uk market. I have never had aubergines done so many different ways and all delicious. I will be looking those recipes up when I get back for sure. We had to move hostel but got our snacks and bags sorted for our early start to embark on our two day trek along the worlds deepest gorge bordering Lijiang and shangrila. And what a trek it was too! The weather was beautiful, although arguably too hot, and the views stunning but I think it is fair to say that the hike tested all of us both mentally and physically. I keep saying in my blog “that was the toughest walk yet” but my god this was tough and incredibly dangerous if I’m being honest. The gorge measures 16km long and 3900m from the waters of the Jīnshā River (Jīn- shā Jiāng) to the snowcapped mountains of Hābā Shān to the west and Yùlóng Xuěshān to the east.The path constricts and crumbles and is ridiculously narrow in places. At one point there was a sheer drop and I could only get one and half of my feet on the path. Shit! I have to admit my legs turned to jelly which didn’t help when 3 out of the 4 of us had issues with heights. We walked up 28 switchback paths for 3 hrs climbing with every step and walked through waterfalls and slippery rocks. Dangerous? Absolutely! Our timings were out and we ended up staying at the half way guest house which looked like parts had been finished. The view from the dorm was stunning, looking straight into the mountains.
I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to hike with and we met some lovely people along the way. It is alarming though how slow Koreans are up the mountain yet get a real pace on coming down. We all shared a delicious dinner and retired for the night. An earlyish start for pancakes and banana to fuel our last 5 hrs and we are on our way to what I think was the most dangerous part of the hike, climbing over water pipes and electric wires. We made it to Tinas guest house had a quick break to get our return bus ticket and refuel before our 1 hr descent to the waters edge. Steep doesn’t even come close to describe the adventure down and at points ladders were provided to get down rock faces. We all made it and boy was it worth it but the trek back up nearly killed us, especially the debate about wether to take the 20 meter vertical ladder or go back the way we came. Sometimes it’s not good to mull things over.
We treated ourselves back at the top to a well deserved lunch with some spectacular goats cheese dumplings with honey. We caught the bus back and later wearily decided to get some food which was a tough call as everybody was tired and struggling with the crowds. Dinner was delicious and we all went to bed happy but knowing we were going to ache, and ache we did. The girls left the following morning after a nice breakfast including yunnan coffee and Daniel and I ventured to some local villages of Shuhe (a mini Lijiang) and Baisha. On the plain north of Lìjiāng, Báishā was the capital of the Naxi kingdom until Kublai Khan made it part of his Yuan empire (1271–1368). We were guided around a Naxi embroidery school which was incredible and later the son of legendary Dr Ho showed us around the traditional Chinese medicine garden and pressed flower and herb collection. A very enthusiastic and loud fellow but interesting non the less. Dr Ho is 94 and still treating people today with a long record of success and claims to fame including visits from Michael Palin in his visit to the Himalayas. All in all a very interesting and relaxed day. We tried to get into a local restaurant (Naxi snacks) but the queue was huge and we were tired so ate elsewhere and planned to go in the morning at around 11 am. It was worth it! Spicy fish, bread with fried egg in it and chilli on the side, along with mixed mushrooms one which was Jews ears ( not actually their ears). Our final day set us out to the south of the city to see the white dragon pool where women washed their clothes and vegetables in the fresh water supply. Local men sat in the park with their birds on display listening to them sing and around the corner was a stunning market. They sold copper, produces as well as livestock. The meat market was a bit much for me and as a result do not feature in my photo diary of my visit. A peaceful and relaxed day before we headed back into town for a beer and later to the hostel to get a taxi to the airport to catch our flight to Chengdu. Pandas here we come!
We got a taxi to the south bus station a 40 yuan 45 minute drive. The bus was meant to leave at 10.30 so we got to the station for 9am. At the station we had no idea which line to stand in and there were 21 of them and many people queuing. We eventually found the correct line but something was going on and people were trying to escort us to buses. In the fear of being conned we stayed in line. That was until there was an announcement and everybody made a bee line for the security check. That’s right! In China you go through an X-ray machine before you get on a bus, not that they check anything. In fact I don’t think they work. We were told we could get on a bus and buy a ticket as the computer system was still down so we joined the pushing masses. On the other side it looked like you could buy a ticket from the one working computer. Daniel took charge of my day bag and I went armed with cash in hand and pushing my way towards the hatch Chinese people yelling in my ear. After nearly having my head trapped in the window from the pushing crowds the police were called to manage the queue and I managed to purchase the golden tickets. The bus was to leave in 30 minutes so the next mission was to find it. After stating the name etc we were told to go to the other side of the station to where a bus was waiting. The man looked at our ticket and told us to take our shoes off and put them in a bag as we boarded what as a sleeper bus. I bus with only beds and to be honest despite the shoe removal it wasn’t that pleasant. Many others joined the bus some with tickets others without who bought them there and then. Guys selling tat piles on the bus and left and we are off. The bus isn’t even full. I just hope we make it to the right place and with enough time to get to our hostel. Let the journey begin. To be honest I will be glad of the rest on the bus as I feel like I’ve done a days work already. Let the journey begin. I feel like I may have to review my trip itinerary though if travelling is going to be like this as it may take a while at this rate! We left on time and told to fasten our seat belts which we would have done if we’d got any. We cruised along tooting and hooting in true Chinese fashion. I’m still not sure why they beep sometimes but all the same they bloody love a good toot on the horn. We made a pit stop for the loo allowing me to eat a banana, have a bit of water and pop to the loo. Squat toilets into a gully with no doors makes for a more public affair than one may intend. After passing many plastic green houses we hit more rural agricultural areas followed my roads lined with banana trees and street venders in traditional dress. Several hours later we are winding our way through rice terraces with the odd buffalo. We make it to our destination where we were to get a bus to the hostel a mere 1 he up the hill. We jump in a minivan after negotiating the price and duck when told to get past the tickets. I think it may be a tourist van trying to get some more money. Anyway he seems nice enough and then we get stuck. We moved vans and just sat with police going back and forth and people getting in and out of cars! Vans tuck tuck type vehicles. Still no idea what is going on. 2 hrs later having tried different routes and still no idea of what’s going on but still stuck. Daniel by this point is being sick out of the window. We turned the engine off and decided to sit it out. Squashed the back we tried to sleep but I struggled due to cramp and a dead leg. The locals got some pot noodles and when finished disposed of the carton out of the window. China is a personal rubbish dump and people don’t think twice of just littering as they go. After 5 hrs of being stuck we eventually get going and whizz our way around and around bumpy roads. By this time it is dark and we get kicked out in the village we were supposed to get to. We found the hostel after a bit of searching and asking around. Fortunately we had the hostel card with the address in Chinese. The hostel owner had stayed up for us and explained the traffic was due to new year and sheer volume of traffic. We hadn’t eaten for 12 hours and whilst Daniel wasn’t hungry I knew I needed something as had stomach cramps. The local restaurant was just about still open and we had some rice a soup and braised eggplant. It was great but we had to head o bed if we were to be up for sunrise to see he rice terraces. We had a good nights sleep and Daniel felt better in the morning so we made our way out to the terrace. They really were quite spectacular although we needed to be quick if we were to get breakfast and head back towards the bus station. Famous last words! All of the minivans were full so we decided to walk a bit further out of the village. After a few minutes a minivan driver shouted the name of where we were going so we jumped in with the locals and a live chicken in a plastic bag and wound up the windows. Stunning views out of the window of the mirror like water laden rice fields along with the odd buffalo butchery session or old guys smoking out of large bamboo pipes. We were aiming for the 12.30 bus but as I am writing in the back of the minivan, we’ve already been stuck for about 2 hrs. Let’s hope we get the one at 4 as it is a 7 hr journey back. Was it worth it? I think this is one I will look back on as an experience, but it’s not over yet. I will get on to tell you about the rice fields shortly I promise but for now this is keeping me sane! So we made it to the bus station at 1pm and fortunately there was an extra bus on at 3pm despite touts saying it wasn’t going to arrive so as to fill up their own bus that probably went on some convoluted route. The bus was on time and this time not a weird sleeper deal but normal bus. Hopefully we will back for 10pm and we can get a taxi to the hostel, have stood nights sleep and start on our 5 hr bus to Dali. This time we will have a good breakfast and head out as soon as we can to the bus station. There are meant to be buses every 20 minutes rather than 4 a day in the previous case. So the area that we stayed in is steeped in history of the indigenous people(Hani)!who have settled there for the last 600 years or so. They created over 12000 hectares of rice fields on the edge of hills which really are something and I’m lead to believe are the oldest in the world making them a heritage site but still used, which was lovely to see. The sunrise in the morning is gorgeous and the sun sparks off the water like magical mirrors.
Next stop Dali after a good nights sleep back at the YHA. We had met a couple of girls who had already headed to Dali so we booked in the same hostel and they provided clear instructions on how to get there. We got a taxi to the bus station after breakfast and there were no issues in getting tickets and we jumped on a bus and motored our way to Dali arriving around 3pm. We wondered the streets of the ancient walled city with 4 main gate entrances into the city. New Dali was a shit hole with new buildings sprawled everywhere but the old city, whilst tourist, was beautiful. Set amongst snow topped mountains and a blue lake it made for a nice few days. Chinese New Year was towards an end and things seemed to have quietened down a bit. Trying to book transport though from A to B still proves to be an issue with flights being expensive and trains fully booked. We visited the 3 pagodas one of them being the oldest in south west China ( 9th century) and then did some travel admin before heading into town to check out the famous back monkey pub. A pub that is run by people for the UK and brew their own beer. We had nice beer and a suprisingly good pizza. It was odd to be somewhere soo English yet very Chinese. An odd mix that seemed to work although there was definitely something fishy. Every western person we saw said they were from Canada yet no hint of French or Canadian accent and all spoke to each other in some other European language that neither Daniel or myself were familiar with. We had an awkward conversation with a holiday making Chinese girl who was brave enough to come over and sit with us. It was getting late so we headed back. I swear we were being followed by a group of Chinese guys so we walked quickly to catch up with others walking on the street and turned down the road to our hostel. Definitely being followed. When we got into the hostel we stuck our heads out and they had turned around and continued to walk down the road. They didn’t appear scary or intimidating but there was something not quite right so as always I took the safe route. Walk quick, get to where there are people and get to a safe place preferably with a locked door. We had a lie in and had breakfast before heading on a bus to a peninsular near the lake. We walked around a bit and had to ask for directions but eventually headed through a lovely local village. The Bai have been around for over 3000 years and was fascinating to see their Emily faces and warmer response to us. We stumbled across a funeral procession where the coffin was being carried through the street the locals in traditional dress carrying a picture of the dead and playing old reed instruments.
Really interesting as was the temple we walked into. Simply beautiful and lovely not to see anybody but locals who were singing and ringing chimes in the incredibly ornate but old temple with a central pagoda. We headed back via bus to the hostel and went in search if a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant that unfortunately was shut. Good news is that we found a lovely restaurant that served the best braised aubergine in traditional Bai style. Delicious spicy sweet and aromatic sauce covering two huge aubergine. We got back for 4pm and awaited our transfer to the bus which we had booked through the hostel. It was slightly more expensive but it was “different quality”. Fortunately this meant better and the journey to Lijiang commenced. Interestingly when we told the receptionist about the funeral she put her fingers in her ears and said she didn’t want to hear as she believed in ghosts. Well….I have some pictures so goodness knows what’s in store for me! More pictures later once I’ve downloaded them!
The fireworks in Hong Kong were incredible and we had a fantastic view thanks to our great hostel owner Wincent. He even bought us beers for after…what a great guy. We made our way back to the hostel where obviously some people kept drinking. I however had to be up early for my flight not mainland China.
I made it to the airport with plenty of time and passed through passport control with few issues. It did take me a while though to find departures due to the size of the airport and various shuttle buses that take you to and from different terminals. In this case I bag dropped in T1 and flew from T2. Hong Kong does provide a great service though of being able t check in your baggage in the city centre. Saves on lugging it around and very efficient. I didn’t do this but thought London should adopt this given the number of tourists and travellers. In the waiting area I noticed a western guy looking a bit lost so spoke to him in the queue for the plane. He was also travelling for a few weeks in China and had a similar plan to me. After a brief discussion Daniele decided to join me to the hostel and see if they had room and cancel his other reservation which he had made I order to get his visa. He had also been learning Mandarin for a few years so a bonus in terms of being able to get around using the basics. Getting to the hostel was easy and there was plenty of room so we checked in and went to explore the city by foot. Armed with a map we set out to look at the blue lake, the temple and the local market. Kunming has a laid-back attitude and has an interesting mix of people who look less Chinese and more Viatamese or Burmese. I guess that is part due to the war and its consequences in terms of refugees. There are many shopping malls and you can really see how the face of China is rapidly changing. English isn’t really spoken at all but some signs are in English especially street signs. Just don’t get lost as they wont be able to help unless you have the Chinese characters.
Yuántōng Temple was great and at over 1000 yeas old is the largest Buddhist complex in Kūnmíng. To be fair it’s been rebuilt a few times but still quite spectacular. There was also statue of Sak- yamuni, a gift from Thailand’s king. I don’t really get board of temples which offer a sense of calmness from the madness of the crowds at other Chinese tourist destinations around new year such as the stone forest. That’s to come! Green lake park was also interesting to stroll around and people watch it more like be watched. There were nice Chinese tea house structures and ponds you can walk around and observe how the locals while away the hours with games or Thai chi or just filling their faces with chicken feet and dumplings whilst spitting and snorting on the floor. Yep! Going to have to get used to barging, staring, and constant grunting and spitting. Nice hey! This is China #TIC where face book, blogging, Google etc is banned and anything can happen including conning and bribes for bus seats. Guide books are quite helpful though not just for knowing where to go and Chinese characters but also for a price guide. Think this may be handy for India. The markets were full of more animal sales, puppies, birds, turtles in plastic bubble key chains etc. There were also tea traders and street food. Prices are very different to Hong Kong and even in standard supermarkets. I use ‘standard’ loosely as you can buy a snapper turtle to eat in Walmart for £17.80. Spicy food is also all the rage which is a nice change. Fortunately the hostel does great food as many places are shut for new year still. We did however manage to eat some street food that came to 15 yuan (£1.50) for two of us.
So the stone forest takes two hours, plus to get there via bus to the bus terminal then us to the forest. We managed to get to the bus terminus but had to queue for over 1 hour to get on the express bus as it was so busy it’s locals on a day out. Trying to work out how to get into the forest was interesting and yet more huge lines of people pushing and barging for tickets. We met up with another couple from uk and Ireland who were working in Mongolia which eased the pain a bit.
The stone forest is a conglomeration of weird karst geology of grey limestone pillars split and eroded by wind and rain- water (the tallest reaches 30m high), the place was, according to legend, created by immortals who smashed a mountain into a labyrinth for lovers seeking privacy. If you can get past the hundreds off Chinese tourists shouting and screaming and pushing for pictures this is quite a fascinating place. After several requests for photos and cameras being pushed in our faces we were quite glad to get out and on the last but one bus home. If you see my face advertising some Chinese brand I don’t agree with any of it. I’m purely holding a banner. In fact all four of us were! Ohh I nearly forgot, we came across a wrestling ring in the middle of some some stone pillars so we watched that whilst again being watched. Food….we need to eat and get food. We walked to the hostel nearly being blown up by a small child letting off a firework off the bridge that landed 1 meter from the shop front #TIC. The hostel came up with the food goods and we had a few beers and retired to bed. We thought about a walk to the local hill but had heard it was also full of people so we opted for the bamboo temple which isn’t actually made of bamboo but made for a nice trip for a few hours peace and quiet. We even had some food made in the temple with the locals basking in the sun. Yep it’s a good 19 C here which is not what I was expecting. Evenings are cold though. The temple was lovely and proved interesting for its 500 statues of Nobel people which were very realistic. Apparently you are to enter the doorway with your left foot and then count to the right until you reach your age. This Nobel is what reflects your inner self. It didn’t help that there were 3 levels so hard to know where to start and stop. The bus back made me laugh as a child had a top stating “This way up”and underneath written “Lief is” I’m assuming this is meant to say life. Tomorrow we are going to try to get to Yuanyang rice field 7 hrs away. Who knows if we will get there as there are 4 buses a day and the computer system is down so been unable to book. Keep you posted.
It was an interesting few hours making my way across from Coromandel town back to Auckland, thinking about what i had in store for me for the next leg of my journey into the unknown. I wasnt able to check my bag in anywhere as I decided not to book accommodation due to a flight time of 6am meaning I had to be at the airport for 3am! I went straight to the airport with many hours to kill (8pm until 4am) with nowhere to sleep but a McDonald’s table and a plastic chair. I watched a film but want really able to get any sleep until I was able to check in at 4am. I found a comfortable sofa and got about 1 hours sleep before my 3.5 hr flight to Brisbane. No sleep on that flight due to constant food interruptions and then onto my 9 hour flight to HK. A few hours sleep (maybe) but not enough! I arrived in HK airport and managed to get the bus to the hostel. I met a Brazilian guy who had been in mainland China so we chatted and comforted each other on where to get off the bus.
I knew it was going to be a culture shock but nothing really prepared me for the masses of people coming into HK for Chinese New Year. HK was cold and wet and frantic with the beeping of horns and flashing lights of a massively over populated city where prices are high and space is at a absolute premium. The hostel was in a highrise block with no lift so trekking up the stairs was exhausting to say the least. One thing that quickly became apparent is that there are no cooking facilities in most of the hostels in HK so eating out was going to have to be the way forwards. For the first time whilst travelling I felt like a stranger,on my own, totally disoriented and incredibly tired. I managed to find a noodle place to eat near the hostel, ate and went to bed. The food was incredibly salty and I am sure packed full of MSG based on the dreams and sweats I had. Lets hope I get used to this as I think there is going to be more to come!
The following day the weather looked like it was to improve so I took myself off around the city, taking in some of the local sites and familiarising myself with the metro system and getting my Octopus card (like an oyster card). The Octopus card is great as you can use it in 7/11 and many restaurants so it makes it really easy to pay for things. I even had Chinese fast food breakfast of fried fish, toast and tea. I manged to get around Hong Kong Park, the botanical gardens and the surrounding area of Soho, Hollywood road (famous for antiques) and the mid level escalators that I think are the longest escalators in the world. The park was incredible, set in the middle of the city and is more like a zoo with aviaries and money enclosures along with lakes with turtles and Carp. Later in the afternoon I met up with Claire who I used to work with. We took the bus up to Victoria peak and caught up whilst walking around park of the HK trail with great views across HK island looking out to the surrounding islands of Lamma and Lantau. Sunday was peeing down with rain but I decided to get up and go and pay a visit to Chi Lin Nunnery. This is a Buddhist complex built entirely of wood surrounded by lotus ponds and bonsai trees. There was also a vegetarian restaurant under and waterfall which was beautiful where I had the 4 seasons blessing menu consisting of braised black jelly fungus with chestnut and gluten, deep fried black termite mushrooms, sweet and sour what gluten with pineapple, seasonal greens topped with Cordyceps and a soup ( I don’t know what this was). It was actually really delicious and just what I needed after struggling to know what to eat.
Monday was going to be an interesting day as this was Visa day. Logistics were going to be a theme of HK as I had 5 days to apply for a chinese visa for mainland which would take 5 days to process and the application centre would close on the Friday due to New Year. Not stressful at all! I manage to find the travel service where I was to apply only after having walked 40 minutes down the wrong road. 1 hours later I was at the CTS and was able to ask my increasingly burning questions such as when does the visa start as this would dictate when I was able to leave HK. To cut a long story short the visa is valid for 3 months but only allowed 30 days in mainland china meaning I can not leave HK until at leat Sunday as I have a flight booked out of Beijing on the 6th March. At least I know what I am working towards now and can relax a bit in the city. I still need to get out of HK though when Monday -Wednesday is full swing New Year. After much debate and searching on the internet I decided to go for the flight option to Kunming and take the west trail of China. Hold on though Ive just found out this is Malaria area so here is hoping that the weather is cold enough to prevent them from invading and that mosquito spray will do its job for a few days. Having enquired about getting some tablets it would require a prescription from a doctor and guess what……everything is closed!
The rest of the week was spent explroing HK, wandering around temples (Man Mo was great) and markets (temple night market was….interesting!).
I don’t know if HK is a fusion or just confusion. I’ve never seen so many high end shopping malls followed by traditional fruit, meat, veg markets and tat where you can buy pretty much anything, some of which I swear is illegal. It’s always interesting seeing a chicken being picked slaughtered and plucked infront of you when there is a KFC just on the corner. Hummmm! As the lady was on the phone I wondered if she was taking orders. Buildings are also held up with Bamboo scaffolding in some areas where in the city there are multi billion dollar skyscrapers. Can’t cross the road? Just look up as there is probably a big foot bridge zig zagging its way through to some mall on the other side of the street. Apparently HK is the only place in the world where they are still allowed to use bamboo for skyscrapers scaffolding!
Around Mong Kok (one of the most densely populated areas of HK) you can find streets just full of flower sellers another full of animals for sale including dogs in windows and 100s of live fish wrapped up in bags ready for the next punter looking for a gold fish as a pet. Hop along to Yuen Po street market and you have old men feeding locusts and worms to their birds in cages…all for sale of course. Apparently this is a very popular pet in HK, I’m guessing due to lack of space in apartments.
I took a trip to Aberdeen (not THE Aberdeen) where the sampans of HK boat dwelling fisherfolk used to moor. Not a particularly pretty area but interesting to learn of the history of where HK started. The fish market and boat repair area proved really interesting. There was also a really nice walk in Aberdeen park to the reservoir where there were loads of black kites and was actually and historically important place in terms of building constructions for water works in HK and surrounding islands. The parks go someway to show how diverse HK really is. With so many islands and green areas it doesn’t take long to get out to see the beaches and more natural side of the city. A stark contrast to the symphony of lights show every 8pm which highlights the famous skyscraper city skyscape from the Kowloon side of the city. A great ferry trip for 29p across the harbour on the Star ferry.
Two fantastic walks that I did were the Devils peak and the Dragon back. The Devils peak is where the British army or local pirates to control the passage of Lei Yue Mun which remains an important nautical passage in south China. The remain of the redoubt and batteries are still on the peak and made for an interesting visit followed by a walk to the quarry and local fish markets. The Dragons back has beautiful coast scenery which goes along the ridge of Sheck o peak to Wan Cham Shan. A real treat as the weather has taken a turn for the better and moved from 3 C to more like 22 C (crazy).
I had actually moved hostels and whilst it was a slight down grade it is super friendly and organised trips like the ones above. I actually feel like I am getting used to HK and its mad mix of western and chinese culture and have even experimented a bit with the food. Ive had some great dim sum at places such as Dimdimsum Dimsum and also the world famous Michelin star restaurant Tim Ho Wan. I even ate meat in the form of a BBQ pork bun which I have to say was really nice. I will still be avoiding meat however whenever possible. The smell is one of the things that really stands out for me in HK. it isn’t unpleasant but it smells just like China town I’ve been to anywhere in the world. I can’t really describe it but you will know what I mean if you’ve been to London. A sweet, meaty, floral kindda deal with a touch of star anise. I met some great people in the hostel and we went out for clay pots which was delicious and consisted of rice in a pot with a meat or fish of your choice on top. You could have a deep fried pigeon if you wanted or chicken feet but we opted for prawns and the more adventurous eel. This was later washed down with some beer from the 7/11 bar crawl around Lan Kwai Fong. It is quite popular to buy beer in the corner shops and drink on the street as the bars are so expensive. We are talking 1.50GBP ine the 7/11 or 8GBP in the bars. HK aint cheap and to be honest I will be slightly glad to be moving to cheaper climates in the next few days. Saying that eating out is relatively cheap compared to the UK or NZ.
Other activities have included going to see the Giant Buddha at Po Lin Monastery on Lantau island and a trip to the fishing port of Tai O where historical Tanka boat people still live in their stilt houses and make shrimp paste and dried fish on straw mats. An entertaining trip involved going to Sha Tin temple of 10,000 Buddha (actually 12,800- not that I counted!). It was built in 1950s and has steep steps lined with Buddha galore all with very interesting/funny expressions. I do wonder what some of them were thinking. There are also several temples and pavilions split over two levels as well as a 9 storey pagoda. Happy valley race course also made for an interesting night out.
New year is hotting up and the market in Victoria park (HK largest outdoor space) was rammed on Sunday. It took us over an hour to walk just one lane of the market and we were shoulder to shoulder. It is quite nice though being taller than most of th chinese so you can see above the crowds, get some good shots and pick your next strategic move in the never ending pushing crowds.
Monday was parade night and we had already seen the rehearsal for the ending. An interesting experience that I am not sure I want to repeat (4 hours of standing and pushing) but the highlight being the dragon and lion dance which people went crazy over. A fight broke out after a chinese lady and guy pushed to the front nearly knocking over a child which was an interesting experience as it demonstrated how much people in HK really do not tolerate of like people from mainland china. The guy from HK apologised and stated he was HongKongeese and not Chinese. An interesting observation and one that I fear spells trouble for the future of China and HK relations.
Tonight is fireworks which are built up to be spectacular. We will meet as a hostel at 6.45pm for a 8pm display. This will be my last evening in HK before I head off on a 9am flight to Kunming to star my journey into wild china. I have my VPN set up and my translation apps downloaded so wish me luck. The rough route for the next 4 weeks looks like this (I think)
Hong Kong-Kunming-Dali-Lijiang-dequing-Chongqing-Xiab-luoyang-Beijing-HK to Deli (6th March).
If you don’t hear from me it is probably that WordPress doesn’t work in mainland or the VPN has failed.
Its been a while since I last posted back up in the North island and so much has happened that I couldn’t even have wished for. Stunning scenery, walks galore, swimming with dolphins, BBQ, beach fires, swimming with dolphins and over coming fears of horses. In the style of my NZ blog here is the run down.
I travelled across the stunning Cook Strait to the seaside town of Picton, then on to Kaiteriteri where the beautiful golden sand beach Was just on our doorstep. What a way to spend Xmas eve sailing across the Strait through the Marlborough sounds. Normally I’d be working out how to get back from work. Travelling is such a tough life :).
Kaiteriteri at the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park. On Xmas day I began my adventure by bike into Abel Tasman National Park. Nothing else was open or working so this was my only option. A 10k cycle on very windy steep hills nearly killed me but totally worth it. Swimming in the sea and the only one on the beach. A taste of Paradise! I walked 20k and then cycled back before the next kiwi bus arrived. It was an improvised meal of salmon encroute with Mach and veg and of course a bottle of the local Marlborough Sauvignon blanc. Perfect! The next bus arrived and then it was BBQ and party time. Such a different Xmas but just what I needed…a bit of reflection time with sandy beaches, beautiful blue clear water and sun.
The following day we headed to Westport via This the iconic Nelson Lakes on the way to Westport. I had a few days here to relax post Xmas. There was meant to be a horse race on but we just missed it so we headed to the local bar where there was a live band and a party vibe. It was a little bit of a spot the inbreds but it made for an entertaining evening. It was a 5.30am start ready for my surf lesson so drinking was moderate! I’m suited up in my second wet suite on the side of the road and ready for the lesson. I found it hard to concentrate as my feet got nibbled by sand flies…bloody things. Lesson done and now time to wade into the water and put into practice what I’ve learnt. I hunk I learnt that it is hard work and very tiring with some serious arm ache the next day. I had a great time and managed to just about stand up but quickly fell off. I did managed to stump my big toe quite badly which made walking interesting for the next few days but did it stop me…did it heck. I had a bit of a rest and checked out the local reserve walk and beach….more sand flies. Got to love them.
Today we headed down spectacular State Highway 6, that stretches 435 kilometres along the rugged Tasman shoreline. The road winds through a diverse series of landscapes. Highlights today included the Cape Foulwind seal colony walk, rugged beaches, and the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. Man those seals really stink but it was cool to see the pups play. Tonights accommodation was the legendary Poo pub where we had the chance to enjoy a delicious group meal and dress in bin bags. The least said the better but it was boozy and hot, especially when you are dressed as a Tui thanks to my costume designers and stage hands. Bird dance was my speciality. I also had the chance here to design and make my own greenstone which I will gift to my mum. The area is well known for greenstone and later gold mining. Gifting greenstone is a Maori tradition and hope that my mum likes it and treasures it. It took a while to make but I was really pleased with what I managed to achieve.
After breakfast at Lake Mahinapua we hit the road on our way to Franz Josef. Franz Josef is the northern gateway to Te Wahipounamu, the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage area. The region includes Aoraki/Mount Cook, Westland Tai Poutini, Mount Aspiring, the Fiordland National Parks, and surrounding conservation lands. It was cloudy when we woke up but the clouds burnt away as we entered franz Joseph town. Perfect time to try my hand at Kyaking with beautiful views of mount cook and mount Tasman. I was a bit of a natural and me and Elodie ploughed through the water at quite some speed. Unfortunately the weather turned to custard the following day resulting in all activities being cancelled. I did a 8 hr walk to a summit of a hill but it was just cloudy although coming down we sneaked a view of the glacier down the valley. The weather had started to clear so I walked a further 1.5 hrs to the terminal of the glacier. It was worth it although nothing compared to those I saw in South America. It was scary to note how far the glaciers had receded in such a short time. It was in Franz where I met a girl who was from Bidford on Avon but had been living in NZ for 4 years. Very small world.
We started out early in order to catch the perfect mirror reflection of Mt Cook and the Southern Alps on Lake Matheson. The weather was just perfect and I got some great shots that I posted on FB. We then travelled down the last stretch of Highway 6, stopping at popular scenic spots along the way. Then it’s into Mount Aspiring National Park, arriving in our new year spot of Wanaka in the afternoon. We checked into the hostel and did a booze run before having a BBQ and jumping on a boat. The sun was out and we cruised to a remote beach where we jumped off the boat and swam and generally had a merry old time of it. Back on the boat and a few free drinks before we headed off to the lake front for live music and fireworks. We did a count down but we were either late or the fireworks were early. Either way I saw it before most of the people reading this, which felt quite weird where it was 1pm the following day when I was in Arrowtown that the uk saw in the new year. It wad nice to briefly chat to my relatives even though it was brief.
After Arrowtown it was on to the world’s first commercial bungy site – the Kawarau Bridge. Only the brave will sign themselves up for this iconic NZ activity…and I’m not one of them. I got the sweats just watching the video. Some signed up for the Nevis, a 135m drop off a cable car. Crazy! On arrival in Queenstown we headed down to the waterfront. I didn’t do anything to crazy but did some more walks up past the gondolas for a 8 hr hard hike to the summit. Stunning 360 views. Who could go to QT and not have a Fergburger. I opted for the cod father and ate it by the lake front. Delicious! The following day I went luging. Think Marino cart down a tar caked hill track. It was great fun with great views and no queues as the weather had turned bitterly cold (it’s all relative) but I did have a jumper and trousers on. Now down to the Deep South.
We head towards the east coast via the massive Clyde Hydro Dam and the Central Otago fruit growing basin. Dunedin is famous for its student activity, being home to 20,000 plus students at Otago University, the city is also well known for its Scottish heritage (means Edinburgh). On arrival we did a city tour including a visit to Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest street and man is it steep. I looked around the city but unfortunately it was very quiet due to holiday time. It was certainly very different from most of the other cities and towns in NZ with an older more British feel ( bricks and stone). The train station tiles were quite impressive.
It was then on through the Catlins…as far south as you may ever go in NZ. We went through awesome native forest, sandy beaches and saw rare wildlife. The Weather turned and we went on the hunt for New Zealand sea-lions (New Zealand’s largest native mammal). We saw one in the water but it is usual for them to be basking in the sand. The weather improved though as we headed to a 180 million year-old fossilised forest where we were lucky enough to see the world’s rarest penguin (Yellow-eyed penguin) returning from a hard days fishing. The night was spent in Invercargill, home of the world’s fastest Indian and Henry the tuatara! It was also nice to catch up with a friend I’d made in South America who lived there. A quick coffee with him before we head off to the famous Milford Sound.
A long day of travelling but Milford Sound has amazing scenery. The day included a 1 hour 45min boat cruise through the sound exploring soaring peaks over 1 mile high, towering waterfalls and New Zealand nature at its best. The Homer Tunnel that cuts through the mountains was incredible especially as much of it was done by hand and saved a 12 day trip to get to see this magnificent place. Then it was back to Queenstown before heading up on the east of the South Island.
We headed out of Queenstown, through the Lindis Pass ‘Lord of the Rings’ territory. After stopping to admire Mt Cook at Lake Pukaki, we traveled to Lake Tekapo with its amazing location by snow-capped alps and clear starry skies situated in the Macenzie basin. I opted for the star gazing as this one of the few gold rated night sky reserves in the world. A 12.45am start and we gathered to be told the wind had become too strong to head up onto mount John. In fact a guy was stranded up there I heard on the news, unable to get his car down due to 170 km/he winds. All was not lost though as the sky was clear and we were able to go up to the sister observatory. It was incredible and made me feel so insignificant on the scale of the world. Space is an understatement. I looked at tarantula nebula in the closest galaxy to ours and areas where stars are born. It was simply mind blowing. This is the scene you see on NZ TV Chanel one. The good shepherd church and a clear starry sky. It was odd to see the night sky in the south but also fascinating. I had decided however that before lake Tekapo I would head to Mt Cook…NZs tallest mountain. If booked into the YHA and got my transfer from Twizel to MT Cook village. The weather looked as though it would turn so I headed out and did a few hour walk of the hooker valley and views of Mt Cook. It was getting quite cloudy and started to rain so got wet coming back but kept my fingers crossed for the following day. That evening I met a guy called James (from Shropshire) whilst watching LOTR..as you do. We decided to check the weather in th morning and try and do the 8 hr Müller hut treck. Low and behold the weather cleared at about 10am the following day so we jumped in the car and started on our merry way. TThe wind picked up on the way up preventing us from getting past the ridge yo the hut bug the views were incredible with glaciers all around. It was incredibly exposed though and sheer drops down so we headed back behind a rock to grab some good before making the decent though snow, holders and alpine tracks. I was keen on doing Arthers pass as was James so we booked into the YHA and travelled from Mt cook through the pass stopping off at some rock formations on the way and tunnelling through water filled caves ( well James did). We walked to a waterfall called the Devils punch bowl then crashed at the local bar called the wobbly kea and watched the crazy Kea hop across the road ( the worlds only Alpine parrot). The following day was an early start to make our way to Christchurch to drop the car off. A great little adventure and nice to get off the bus for a bit.
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island and the 3rd largest in New Zealand. It was interesting witnessing a city rebuilding and flourishing in the wake of the 2011 earthquakes with funky Re:Start Mall, street art and pop-up bars around the city. I stayed with an old school friend Patrick and his wife who I don’t think I’d seen for about 10 years plus. It was great to catch up and see him doing so well. As he is working in construction it was fascinating to hear the situation with building plans and the politics involved. If all the plans are pulled off Christchurch will be the destination city in NZ. The free walking tour was inspirational although I did shed a tear when an extract was read from a book written by a Japaneese student who was trapped the building that collapsed and killed 115 people of the 185 who lost their lives that day. I really enjoyed Christchurch and could see the potential for the future. I just hope they speed it up a bit for the sake of the locals and future prosperity.
Departing Christchurch bright and early, we arrived in Kaikoura. The weather had turned again so I opted for a walk along the peninsular via the seal colony. I got soaked and saw nothing as the sea just spat in my eyes against the torrid winds. I headed back to the YHA and dried off before cooking dinner and grabbing a beer. The guys in my dorm were great so we pulled a maters onto the floor and watched divergent 2. Bag packed and ready for 4.30am start to swim with Dusky dolphines. We got knitted out in our wet suites ( I’m getting good at this) and headed out onto the boat in search of the Dolphines. Suddenly everybody becomes a spotter. After about 45 minutes we see a pod swimming and we get the all clear to jump in and start entertaining them with our weird and wonderful clicks and noises. The Dolphines were fast so we jumped back in and gave chase. They were all around us as two pods joined together ( over 200) and we jumped in. They swam around us and under us jumping over our heads. Incredible to think these are wild Dolphines. A wonderful experience. I spent the rest of the day repeating the walk I’d attempted the day before. Thus time though the weather was perfect and I couldn’t resist a crayfish pattie sandwich. After all Kaikoura means eat crayfish. Just what the weary traveller ordered!
From here it was back up to Picton for a ferry to Wellington. I had found out that my visa had been approved so I stayed a few extra days in picton doing some walks and cruising around the coast line with Naomi. I’d met her in tombstone hostel and she was keen to meet people and give her car a spin. We headed to Havlock the green muscle capital of the world where I ate a muscle pie. We then ventured to Palorus bridge where more LOTR action took place. We headed back via queen charlottes drive before being dropped at my new hostel- jugglers rest. Here I met a guy who was cousins with a family who lives in Harvington and owned the Mill hotel. A fab hostel with an organic garden where you can help yourself, no bunk beds and circus toys to play with. Perfect!
I headed back to Wellington on the ferry and picked up my visa the following day but not before checking out the Weta caves studio and surrounding beaches. In the evening I caught up with my friend Greg and then hopped on the bus up to Taupo where I was to be picked up to head on my East coast adventure.
My East coast trip ended up being me and my driver Q. There had been a miss understanding and resulted in just me being booked on. I wasn’t complaining but it made for a very personalised trip around the East coast. We shared food and I got stories from the local area. We stopped in Napier the 1920s town of NZ. It was struck by an earthquake back in the 70s and rebuilt in 2 years with a 1920s theme. Incredible what can be done when you put your mind to it. I was invited to go onto a double bowed Waka, one of 10 in the world and thought to be what the polanisians travelled over in.We headed around to Gisborne via Hawkes bay where I did some wine tasting and later watched the sunrise on the beach. The first place in the world to see the sun. Later in the morning a headed out in waders to feed sting ray. They are like a Hoover and the short tailed Ray actually mounted the guides trouser and punctured a hole in his waders. Some were pregnant and others were ready shown by their blue spots. A really unique experience. We continued around the coast and were invited for a drink by one of Qs friends which turned into a BBQ and a few more beers. Amazing hearing local stories and how the local mountain was thought to be the first bit of the north island that was pulled out by Maui. Quite a special place in Maori believes and culture. After my first proper Hongi ( greeting) we headed to the farm where we were staying. In the morning I had signed up for the horse trek. I am terrified of horses but tried to hide it, badly apparently as Reg could smell my fear. First thing was to hug the horse….Jesus! I did it and after a lesson mounted it and slowly got to grips with the reigns. Off we go…a two hour trek across the beach, through rivers and up the mountain ridge. Little did I know my horse liked to roll on the sand so had to consantly keep it moving. Viking (the horse) was great and I even managed to stand up on the stirrups and hold his mane running up the hill. Horses are weird but think I have overcome my fear. We continued to head around the coast seeing where captain cook arrived in cooks cove after having no success in poverty bay due to a miss understanding where his men killed some Maori. We swam in the sea and saw the longest pier in NZ (600m plus). We headed further around the coast to where the Maori iwi (tribe) that didn’t sign the treaty live. I was welcomed warmly and swam in the sea with the view of the White Island ( a crater of an active volcano that pokes up out of the sea). A quick wash off then I to the hot tub before wine and food. Another Hongi and sing song and we headed back towards Rotorura. I had a wicked time and feel privileged to see an area where many do not get to see and is 50% Maori.
From Rotorura I headed back up to Aukcland and picked up a life to Coromandel town where I did a few walks, bought smoked fish and took a trip to New Chums beach, one of the top 20 beaches in the world. I will be sad to leave the lions den hostel where I have managed to catch up with blogs and chill out by the sea before heading back to Auckland airport and on a flight to the big busy city of Hong Kong. I don’t think it could get any different but let’s see. Hostel booked and visas all a go go before Chinese New Year kicks in and I try my skills at Chinese to head on my next adventure up towards Beijing.
A lock due to having to have it cut off as the code changed in my bag.
A hat but managed to get one in a charity shop.
An ever expanding Facebook friends group
A wealth of info and experiences I could only have dreamt of
A hobo beard
A two page list ( and growing) of things to consider if running a good hostel.
Bye for now. China here I come!