Thursday, 18 August 2011

Around the world in 199 days

Note: this will be the last post on this blog so please scroll down to read about Rio de Janerio and Philip´s final thoughts.

Most people travel to find out about themselves, rather than the country they are visiting. I was certainly guilty of that on my last world tour in 2007, so I wanted to do things differently this time and really try my best to learn as much as I could about the country I was in. Therefore I am not going to harp on about how I have changed as a person (also because that is what people expect if you have taken a ´gap-yaaar´) but I will try to come to some conclusions about the five countries we have visited over the past 199 days.

The old cliche ´hindsight is a wonderful thing´ is true when I look back at the route we originally planned for this trip. Going to Japan first was great as it immediately forced us into a diverse and vibrant culture, so different from our own. We had 2 weeks to see as much as we could and we really went all out to experience the ideals, values, people, beliefs and attitudes of Japan. We were thrown head first into travelling and we were also very lucky in that we left Japan a mere few weeks before the devestating earthquake hit. Likewise, Australia and New Zealand worked out well for us as we wanted to travel through Oz during their summer/autumn and be in NZ in the winter for the snow. They both worked well. However, it was a big mistake to think that we could add a trip to South America on to the end of our already large and demanding tour. South America is a huge continent; something we only realised when we started to plan our time here. By that time, with our diminishing budget adding to the pressure of planning, we realised that we had to shorten our trip and go home early. It is only possible to really experience South America properly if you do it in one stand-alone trip. It is not something to be attempted as an afterthought! Despite that, we have enjoyed our short 3 weeks in Argentina and Brazil, but we know that we will have to come back if we really want to get under the skin of all the countries on offer here. We both agreed that we would be very daunted with the prospect of another 3 months travel at this stage. Although we have enjoyed ourselves hugely, we are also tired, in need of routine and our own beds! I never in a million years thought I would say that.

So although I think we got the route/structure of our trip and budget slightly wrong, I firmly believe that we got everything else right. It is quite difficult to compare the countries, and experiences we had in them, against each other as they were all unique and special in their own way. However, for entertainment I will try to follow the lonely planet´s ´blue list´, in which they vote for a winner of any particulaur category. So the marks go to:

People - Australia. You simply cannot beat this bunch of lively, happy, friendly people. They are wonderful.
Scenery - New Zealand. It is stunning.
Food - New Zealand. With more Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir that I could ever ask for, and fresh, organic foods everywhere, it is without a doubt the winner.
Experience - New Zealand. We did loads of adrenaline fuelled activities there and we strived to do something different every day. There was always something on offer.
Challenge - Argentina/Brazil. Travelling in Japan, OZ and NZ was easy. Everyday in South America challenges your mindset, beliefs, attitudes and opinions.
Weather - Australia. Western Australia to be more precise.
Transport - Japan. Mega-efficient, clean and always on time. I can´t forget our 2 wonderful campervans though!
WWOOF host - Uralla wildlife santuary (kangaroos!)

I think that illustrates (in a basic form) what was great about each country. I think my earlier blogs have made it quite clear that New Zealand is a clear winner for me. If I ever have the opportunity to move there, I will be there in a heartbeat.

So..that concludes our fantastic trip around the world. I have learnt a lot about the people, land and culture of every country we have visited, but especially that of Australia and New Zealand as we were there for so long and had the wonderful opportunity to WWOOF with different people. I would recommend the wwoofing scheme to everybody as every host family can teach you so much. How would I have ever learnt about generators, feeding hens and trimming vines before now?

Travel is as much about the journey, and the people you share that journey with, as the destination. We have met fabulous people all over the globe, and I couldn´t have asked for a better, more relaxed travel-mate as Philip. He has calmed me down, made me see things rationally, looked after me and made me laugh for 6 and a half months. I think he deserves a medal!

Thank you for reading my blogs for so long. I hope you have enjoyed them and learnt things, as we have, along our journey. We now have the next part of our adventure ahead of us and will take our experiences with us into the future.

Over and out,

(August 2011)

Final Thoughts...

I´ve decided to make a guest appearance on the blog to share my thoughts on the trip as a whole now that we are at the end.

I´ll make this as brief as possible. Every place we have been to has been an incredible experience for me. The things we have done, places we have seen and people we have met have all been amazing in the true sense of the word. I was hoping this trip would help me work out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and I can safely say it has. It may not be in the way I expected but then I guess these things never turn out that way.

So where was my favorite country? Well they were all great so I´ll have to broaden it to my favorite experience in each country.

Japan: The people in Japan are so friendly, considerate and helpful, I was really blown away by them. My Birthday experience in Japan was a real highlight too: climbing a hill to a viewpoint of Mt. Fuji then staying in a traditional Japanese room (thanks to Hana for that!).

Australia: Again, the people really stood out for me. Not quite in the same way as Japan but everyone you meet instantly becomes your friend and they will happily offer to put you up for a week in their family home after talking to you for 5mins! (true story!). The Kangaroo sanctuary was an amazing experience. Feeding and looking after all the ´roos was something I never thought I would do in my life. Not only that but meeting someone who has sacrificed running hot water, a flushing toilet and electricity to dedicate their life to helping orphaned animals was very humbling. Also, driving 8500km across Australia was pretty cool in itself.

New Zealand: Wow, what a place. I´m getting bored of saying this now but the people there really were brilliant. People will literally stop you in the street and ask if they can help you with anything... A far cry from rioting. The scenery really takes the biscuit here, it is like driving in a postcard. Every corner you turn there is a new vista to take in (about 1500 photos). House sitting in the Coromandel Peninsular was brilliant fun too, and Jae will remain a firm friend of ours in the future.

South America: I´m doing both Argentina and Brazil in one as comparatively we didn´t spend as much time here. Iguazu Falls is one of the most amazing natural wonders I have seen. I don´t know how they did it but the only way you could get closer to the falls would be to swim over them. That stomach dropping feeling looking over the edge into the oblivion is incredable and I would urge anyone to visit Argentina purely for the falls. Brazil is hard to describe as we have only spent time in Rio. The city is interesting and there is always a lot going on. The beaches are nice (but I´ve seen better to be honest), and seeing the favelas, Christ the Redeemer and sugar loaf was certainly worth while.

Well, I guess that´s it. I´ve had the best experiences of my life on this trip and can safely say I wouldn´t (nor couldn´t) have done it with anyone else. Thanks Hana :)

See you all soon
Phil xxx

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Rio de Janerio


We have come to the end of our time in Rio de Janerio, which is our final destination. We arrived on Saturday and have been staying in the famous Copacobana beach area (Im sure you know the song). When we were in the taxi from the bus station in Centro to the beach suburbs, we were rather overwhelmed by the sights, smells and sounds of Rio. It is a crazy city and there is always something to watch and gawp at.
The layout of Rio amongst all the hills and around the sea makes it quite a sprawling city, but it doesnt have as many inhabitants as I imagined. The population is around 6 million, whereas Sao Paulo is home to 70 million people! There are 22 favelas in Rio; 14 of which are now controlled by the police, and 8 still run by gangs and drug lords. It makes for very segregated living, with crime occuring often. We were warned by other travellers to be extremely careful here as thiefs operate everywhere, and we even heard stories about girls having their earrings ripped out in the street! Needless to say, we were wary on our first few days here, and have been really careful during our stay.
To be honest, I am not too sure why people think Copacobana is that great. As far as I can see, it is a large, dirty beach next to water that is not suitable to swim in. Moreover, the street it is on is lined with prostitutes at night time. Aberdyfi beach in Wales is more my scene! Having said that, the view of Sugerloaf mountain from the beacfront is quite special.
On Monday we did a full day city tour to get our bearings. We went to the top of sugarloaf mountain via cablecar, took the train up to Christ the Redeemer statue, saw the most famous football stadium in the world (although it was closed to prepare for the 2014 world cup), walked down the strip where the carnival happens, and took a look at a massive 1970s cathedral. We also enjoyed a Brazilian BBQ at lunchtime, and met various holiday makers from around South America. It was a fun day out and a safe and interesting way to learn more about Rio and Brazil.
We have spent the rest of our time in Rio mainly in Copacobana, due to the heat and the huge expense of the city. Food is the same price as at home and it has been around 30 degrees for most of our time here. We have really enjoyed having some sun after spending so long in Winter in the Southern hemisphere! It is hard to believe that it is actually still winter here. Our tour guide told us that in summer it can reach temperatures up to 47 degrees!!
It is hard to compare Rio to any other city in the world as it is so varied and different. I have enjoyed experiencing it, but it has been a bit of a shock after all the fresh air and open space in New Zealand. I am not sure if I would recommend it as a holiday destination to people who have the same interests as me. Probably not.
We are about to go out for our final evening meal in Rio, and of the trip as a whole. We have the day in the hostel tomorrow before we fly at 11pm. We will land at Heathrow at 2pm on Friday afternoon. We are both really excited about going home now and cant wait to see our family and friends.
We will both write a final blog tomorrow to sum up our world trip.

Bye from Brazil,

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Cordoba and Iguazu falls


We have reached Rio de Janerio today, ending our 2 weeks in Argentina.
After Buenos Aires we took a 12 hour bus journey to the second city. I much preferred COrdoba to BA as it was cleaner, more compact and there were more interesting things to see. We toured around the beautiful churches, cathedrals and Jesuit temples. We also had fun in the markets and various restaurants, despite then having to spend most of my time on the toilet!!
On Tuesday we embarked on a 22 hour bus ride to the north east. The bus was also 4 hours late so it was the longest journey of my life! However the overnight buses in south America are comfy and spacious..thank goodness! We arrived in the small town of Puerto IGuazu on Wednesday. PI is by the border of BRazil and Paraguay and is a rural and charming place. It was so nice to be out of the smelly polluted cities.
On THursday we went to the biggest and best waterfalls in the world; Iguazu falls. They were absolutely magnificent and nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of them and the volume and intensity of water. It was a wonderful day, and despite getting soaked, we decided that the trip to south America had been worth it just to have seen the falls.
Last night was another 24 hour bus ride into Brazil. We arrived at COpacabana beach in RIo this afternoon feeling very tired. I can't believe that this is our last destination and that we will be home on FRiday!

Check for the last blog later in the week.

Love Hana x

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Buenos Aires

Hola from Argentina!

We landed safely in Buenos Aires on Sunday night after an awful flight from Auckland. Never fly with Aerolinias Argentinas! We have spent the last 5 nights exploring this colourful city and practicing our Spanish (the phrase book is still vital!(

On our first day here, we did a tour around the city to get our bearings and an overview of the place. We went to the North, which is the posh part, and saw where Evita is buried and some wonderful churches. There are districts with expenisve shops and apartments, and the feel is very Parisian. The architecture is similair to that of an old European city, the difference being in the cleanliness of the place. There is litter and dog poo EVERYWHERE in Buenos Aires. When we are walking around, I spend most of my time concentrating on what I'm standing in!

The South side of the city is the poor bit. La Boca is famous for its football team, and people on our tour went to see the inside of the stadium, but we were told to stay on the bus because it was too dangerous to get out. The area felt a little dodgy but we didn't see any real poverty there, and I loved the colourful houses and watching the children playing football in the street.

After the tour on the initial day, we have spent the remainder of our days here re-visiting the areas we were shown, to explore them more fully. People warned us to be careful in BA, but I haven't felt worried here. Crime does happen, but we have been staying in the city centre and watching each others backs.

Our hostel has been pretty bad, and it is freezing at night time, but it is cheap. Transport and some activities are expensive, but in general, food and everyday living is much kinder to our budget than Australia and NZ. The people here are also friendly and helpful and forgiving of our horrific Spanish! The weather remains cold during the day...we have now been in winter since March!!

The best thing that we have done so far has been to experience a tango evening. We were picked up from the hostel and taken to a traditional tango house, where there was an open bar. We started with an hour long tango lesson...hilarious! We were taught the standard tango moves and can now do the square, ochos and tango pose, if that means anything to anyone. Afterwards we were served a 3 course dinner and watched a professional tango show. Having done the lesson ourselves made us really appreciate the skill and beauty of the dancers moves. It is a lovely, passionate dance.

Tomorrow we leave Buenos Aires and travel 10 hours on a bus to Cordoba, which is Argentina's second city. We will be there for 4 nights before leaving for Puerto Iguazu.

So, we have generally good impressions of Argentina so far, other than the dirt and noise of Buenos Aires, which is extremely daunting after all the space and fresh air in NZ. Also, the people here like to protest in the streets all the time, and it is pretty worrying to see thousands of angry people marhcing towards you at once! We have been sheltering in many a coffee shop when that happens!

Must sign off now. We are going out to have our final meal in the capital. Argentinians don't eat until 10pm at night!

Please forgive any spelling/grammar mistakes. My jet-lag combined with a spansih keyboard does not result in the best blog!

Hana and Philip

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Farewell New country in the world

It will be with heavy hearts that we leave New Zealand on Sunday. Our three and a half months here has been an incredible journey; we have met some fantastic people, seen jaw-dropping scenery, tried adrenaline fuelled activities and sampled some of the world’s best food and wine. I can safely say that it is the best country on earth. You can’t beat that!
The past week has been spent in Queenstown with Philip’s parents (Moira and Ian). It has been so lovely catching up and enjoying their holiday with them. During the week we have done some more wine and cheese tasting, been ice-skating, driven to Wanaka and walked around the lake, tried cross-country skiing, and experienced Queenstown’s best restaurants and bars! They have also very kindly put us up in a fantastic room in the Sofitel hotel, so we have been living it up in pure luxury! We all enjoyed Nordic skiing, which was extremely hard work, but worth it! I was terrible at ice-skating but very good at the wine tasting!
To celebrate our final few days in New Zealand, my birthday and Ian’s birthday, we have been skiing today and will also be going tomorrow. The snow has been falling heavily over the last few weeks so the conditions are perfect. The sun was shining today and it is nowhere near as busy as the European or Canadian resorts so we had a fab time whizzing down the slopes. I cheated on my poor snowboard and hired skis’ to see if I could still do it...luckily I could just about keep up with Philip! I am really looking forward to my birthday tomorrow which will be spent skiing, followed by drinks in the hotel and then a posh meal in a very swanky French restaurant. Perfect!
Unfortunately, Moira and Ian fly home on Thursday, and Philip and I will begin our trip back up to Auckland. We have 3 days to drive the entire length of both islands in the snow, so wish us luck! We will have to say a tearful goodbye to our trusty steed, Daryll. He has been an awesome campervan! We then fly to Argentina on Sunday afternoon, where we will spend the final 3 weeks of our round-the-world trip (as well as in Brazil).
So, this will be the final blog for New Zealand. I don’t need to repeat what an incredible country I think it is, but I do urge you to come here as soon as you can! The Kiwi’s are just as friendly as the Aussies, you simply cannot top the scenery, everything is priced fairly reasonably, there is heaps to do and the wine is unbeatable. As they say here, “Pretty choice eh?!”
Marks out of 10 for New Zealand:  11
Please let me stay!!!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

In search of sun in the Southland....

We have been having an interesting time since we left our beloved Wanaka. First, we went to Queenstown to check it out before meeting Philip’s parents there next week. We had a great time walking beside the lake, eating Fergburgers and enjoying the lively evening scene during our 2 days there. However, we didn’t visit any of the attractions or do any adrenaline-fuelled stuff as we will do that next week with the Brierley’s.
Our next stop was Te Anau, which is the gateway to Milford Sound. It is a really small and quiet town with not much going on, but the drive from there to Milford was absolutely stunning. We stopped off at many lakes, gorges, waterfalls and scenic reserves, making our journey a long but enjoyable one. It rains most of the time on the West coast but we were lucky and saw the sound whilst it was dry, although there wasn’t much sun! We didn’t do a boat trip on the water because I did one 4 years ago and they are very expensive, but other people we met told us that we didn’t miss much due to the rain. We had a fabulous day there and it was interesting to compare the area to the Marlborough sounds, where we spent our time with the Hague family. I’m still not sure which one I would give my vote to.
After Te Anau we sauntered slowly down the coast to Riverton, which was a sweet coastal village. We found a small campsite run by a lovely elderly lady and plonked ourselves there for 2 nights. The shared lounge had a large log fire which we had mainly to ourselves, and we were situated at the end of a scenic reserve that offered fantastic views over the sea. The only downside was that the rain began to chase us again, so that by the time we left Riverton, we nearly had to build ourselves an ark.
We drove (nearly sailed) to Invercargill which was a complete dive. It made Southampton look glorious by comparison! Seriously, there was nothing to do there and it poured  and poured, so the less said about that day, the better. Unfortunately the rain followed us from Invercargill through the Catlins, which we were told was an area that would impress us. It didn’t. I’m sure that it is pretty on a sunny day, but as we were nearly drowning in blanket rain, we continued driving until we found Dunedin. And there we had some luck...
According to my Mum, Dunedin is the Celtic word for Edinburgh, so we were delighted to find Princes Street and George Street in the large hilly town. The place was full of Scots, whisky bars, Scottish place names and galleries. We had a very enjoyable day visiting the public art gallery (one of the best I have been to), the central museum, the cathedral, watching a Labour protest and doing a brewery tour. Speight’s (NZ’s oldest brewing company) is based in Dunedin, so we did a guided tour around the factory with tastings at the end. It was fascinating, but I preferred the Montieths beer (which apparently can be bought in Waitrose so try it!). Dunedin was refreshing and cultured and gave us a deserved break from the rain.
On Sunday we looped around and headed north to Oamaru, which is another coastal town. We were surprised to find a historical precinct there, complete with its own Victorian settlement. We loved wandering around the old buildings which now house arts, crafts and second-hand bookshops. It is the first historical place we have seen for a long time! We also visited the cheese factory and later that evening, we were lucky enough to see yellow-eyed penguins arriving ‘home’ for the night whilst we walked along the cliffs. They are lovely animals and made us laugh with their funny antics. They take forever to come ashore, surfing the waves until they are able to stand and right themselves on the sand. They then waddle slowly across the beach and into the shrubbery protecting the cliff face. They come in one-by-one so we were watching them for nearly an hour. Fabulous!
We left Oamaru this morning and came inland to Mount Cook. We saw NZ’s biggest mountain from Fox Glacier a few weeks ago, but there is no road connecting the two, so we have finally made it to this side of the mountain range. The rain has eased off over the past few days, to be replaced with snow. Lots of it. We had to attach our snow chains for the last 50km of our journey, but Philip took it slowly and we arrived safe and sound. It is absolutely freezing! There is only an unpowered camping site in the village so we are in a YHA tonight, which is an amazing change. We love Darryl but it is becoming extremely cold and living in a van for 5 months has started to take its toll....
We will be in the Mt Cook national park until Thursday, when we will head to Lake Tekapo. This area is simply stunning with snowy fields hiding beneath enormous, white mountains that are reflected in turquoise lakes. The lakes around here have large amounts of rock sediment in them, giving them an amazing blue/green appearance. We feel extremely lucky to be snowed in here!
Although our experience of the southland was pretty murky and bleak, we have had a fun week and I still love NZ more than ever. Nothing can put me off!
Until next time...

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Wanna come to Wanaka?

We have enjoyed another fabulous week in the best country in the world. After seeing the Franz Josef glacier, we drove down the road (well, snailed along its twists and turns) to Fox glacier, which was equally impressive. The town itself was smaller than Franz but had a great laid-back feel to it, despite there being lots to do. We spent our first day walking around the beautiful Lake Matheson (2 hour return loop) which gave us reflective views of Mt Cook (highest mountain in NZ at 3754m) and Mt Tasman. The thing I really love about NZ is the diverse landscape on offer all the time; you can spend a morning viewing a glacier surrounded by a rainforest, then drive down the road to the beach and then turn around to see a lake with mountain vistas. It really does have it all.
Last Friday we made the epic journey from the glacier country down to Wanaka. It was the most stunning drive of my life, just beating the Coromandel drive. Although it took us nearly 5 hours, the scenery was breathtaking and we had to stop every 10 minutes to take another photograph. We encountered the region’s beautiful twin lakes (Wanaka and Hawea), Mt Aspiring National Park, dramatic valley views and rugged costal backdrops. By the time we reached Wanaka, we were seriously excited!
Wanaka is at the southern end of Lake Wanaka, 100km north of Queenstown. It is much quieter than Queenstown, but still has a lot to offer travellers, and I decided after 2 hours here that it is my favourite destination so far. There isn’t much in the way of history or culture and the bar-hopping party animal would be bored senseless, but for those who love the outdoors, great walking and cycling, scenery and adrenaline fuelled activities, you need to come to Wanaka.
We found a wonderful campsite by the lake and have parked ourselves here for the past week. The site (which I remember visiting 4 years ago), has a log fire, underfloor heating, free internet, a spa and sauna and sky TV. Luxury indeed! Whilst we have been here, we have made friends with some of the locals and become well acquainted with the hiking trails around the lake and in the mountains. We have spotted wild deer and moose (although Philip thinks they were elk) and some huge birds. We have been spending our days mainly cycling and walking which has been fantastic, especially as the weather has been glorious. We have had pure sunshine for a week! The days have been bitterly cold though, with frost on the ground for most of the day and snow in the mountains. Despite that, the ski fields still haven’t opened so we are crossing our fingers that it is going to dump soon so we can get some snowboarding in.
Last night we treated ourselves to an evening at the cinema, although this was no ordinary cinema. A national treasure, cinema Paradiso is a small place in town that puts on arty flicks as well as blockbusters, but the seating is in the form of sofas, beanbags and even a converted car! We were allowed to take drinks and delicious food in with us, and the film stopped at half time for pizza and warm cookies. It was amazing! It was even cheaper than most normal cinemas so the evening was a real bonus. We need things like that in the UK!
I will be leaving Wanaka with a very sad face tomorrow. I have loved our stay here and I kind of wish that I was staying here for the whole winter ski season. It is a truly fabulous place. However, we will be on our way to Queenstown tomorrow to experience the end of ‘winterfest’. Philip will be in his element as we will be going to watch a snowboarding competition on Sunday and the whole festival is dedicated to snow and winter activities. We won’t be spending long there though, as we will be returning there for a week at the end of our trip when we will be meeting up with Phil’s parents. So on Monday, we will be heading south towards Milford sound and then on to Dunedin.
Have I whet your appetite for a trip to New Zealand? We have heard from people that tourism is down 20% here at the moment due to the Christchuch earthquakes, and people are a little worried that it won’t pick up in time for the world cup. So if you were thinking about visiting NZ, please do come now!
That is all for now.
Over and out,

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Towards the wild west...

Well, we have had yet another exciting week. We finished our WWOOFing stint at the Hague’s home last Monday, and were very sad to have to leave our en-suite and fabulous views of the sounds! Unfortunately everybody caught a stomach bug over the weekend and so we left feeling a bit dodgy. By the time we arrived in Nelson (2 hours later), I was very poorly so we had to hole up in a motel for the next 2 nights. Needless to say, Monday and Tuesday were slightly wasted as I was in bed, and Philip, my wonderful nurse, was waiting on me hand and foot. Luckily, by Wednesday morning I was much better and we were able to continue with our journey as planned.
Nelson was an attractive city with an art-deco, hippie feel. It has more sunny days than anywhere else in the country and is hailed as one of NZ’s most ‘liveable’ cities. It was a pleasant enough place, but other than a modern and architecturally fascinating cathedral, there wasn’t much in the town itself to keep us there for more than a few days, so on Wednesday afternoon, we drove to Moteuka.
Motueka is a fruit growing town lying in the heart of green-tea, hop, apple, grape and kiwifruit orchards. The area surrounding the town was beautiful, and we used the campsite there as our base for a few nights. On Thursday we were up early and picked up by a local tour company to have a day in the Abel Tasman National Park (NZ’s most visited park).  We took a water taxi up the east coast, spotting funny rock formations and seals en route. It was like a travel brochure come to life! We were dropped off halfway up the 51km track and instructed to walk back! We walked from 10am until 3pm with a young German girl called Lisa. The walk was stunning – the water was so clear and we had fantastic views of the limestone hills, caves and waterfalls. We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the only populated part of the park and were then picked up by our skipper at a beach further down the track. It was a great day out.
On Friday we had a slightly lazier day and drove up Takaka hill (where a lot of LOTR was filmed) and down into Golden Bay. Just below the summit was a dramatic lookout over Tasman Bay and Abel Tasman, so we could admire the route we walked the day before. The small town of Takaka is the only service town in the area, and there seemed to be a strong local community of artists, the dreadlocked types, crusty fishermen and hardened farmers. We really loved the main street, which served plenty of vegetarian food and had some appealing galleries.
We had a drearier day on Saturday as the rain came in and the whole of the South Island was issued with an extreme weather warning. We spent the day driving back across the hills and on to the West coast, which is where we will now be for a while. Over the weekend we passed through the rather depressing towns of Westport and Greymouth...New Zealand is beautiful but there are certainly some towns that I want to escape from quickly! I guess a lot of new development and building happened in a time when not much attention and/or money were paid to the appearance of these service hubs. Nonetheless, there was some exciting scenery to be explored around Westport, and we enjoyed a long stroll into the wind along the well-named ‘Cape Foulwind’. We also saw a large seal colony there and took photos of the remarkable ‘Pancake Rocks’ (they literally looked like piles of pancakes).
Philip decided that we have done enough wine tasting in New Zealand, so on Sunday night we did a brewery tour. Montieths brewery in Greymouth is one of NZ’s oldest and biggest makers and exporters of beer, so seeing as the HQ was down the road from our campsite, we indulged ourselves with an evening tour and meal. The tour itself was fascinating (I previously had no idea how beer was made being a wine drinker) and we were allowed to try as many varieties as we wished at the end. It is worth pointing out that on all of these alcohol tasting tours that we have done, the majority of other people also on the tour are English...a coincidence?! Maybe not.
And so we are now firmly on the West coast of the South Island. This area was my favourite part of the country when I visited 4 years ago, so I am glad to be back. This coastline has less than 1% of the population scattered amid 9% of the country’s area but they are a very friendly bunch! I think it is crammed with tourists during the summer months, but we seem to have the place to ourselves at the moment, which is the advantage of travelling in winter. Today we are in Franz Josef, 5km from the glacier (named after the Austrian emperor in 1865). This afternoon we walked to the terminal face for a great glacier view and tomorrow we intend to explore further walking tracks and routes around the glacier. This evening we have been chilling out in the hot pools (yes, more!) and watching the rain, which we are hoping will turn into snow overnight. It is now extremely cold at night time and there is more snow falling as we head towards July, so we are grateful for our little heater in the van!
Over the next week we will be stopping at Fox Glacier, driving the Haast pass and heading towards Wanaka. I will try to update you with more news at the beginning of next week. This blog is now on paperblog, so check it out:
Lots of love to all,
Hana and Phil 

Friday, 10 June 2011

Finishing the North Island and Marlborough

Hi everyone!

What's news? We haven't heard from quite a few people for a while, so do please keep in touch.

We have been having a great time in NZ. It is still my favourite country...despite the rain!! My last blog left off in Napier, where we thoroughly enjoyed the wine region in Hawkes Bay, but not the art-deco! From there, we drove South to a lovely little area called Martinborough. It is becoming very popular for it's Pinot Noir wines, so we had to check them out and see what all the fuss was about. Martinborough itself is only a small village but it is surrounded by boutique vineyards, so it was an idyllic place to wonder around and do some tasting. We also visited the first inland town to be built in NZ, and it was colonial. Greytown was also a fantastic place to buy chocolate as they had an incredible outlet called 'Schocolate' there...yummy!

Our final destination in the North Island was the capital, Wellington, which is windy and sophisticated. However, it is pretty small for a capital city so we enjoyed our two days there walking around and soaking in some culture. Obviously NZ doesn't have many cities, and it was rather nice to be back in civilization for a while! We managed to fit in a visit to the museum of NZ; Te Papa (our place), which was huge and took all day! Well worth it though.

Last Friday we took the ferry from Wellington to Picton, on NZ's South Island. It took 3.5 hours and was extremely expensive! Nonetheless, we arrived in a very cold Marlborough on Friday night and were excited to be on the South Island, as Phil has wanted to come here for ages. On Saturday we did a wine tour around the Marlborough region, which is famous for Sauvignon Blancs (which you must know if you have ever spent time with my Mum or I!) Because it is my top tipple, Phil drove me around hundreds of vineyards, which was wonderful!! Some of the wines I tasted which you may of heard of include Montanna, Villa Maria, Dry Hills, Wither Hills, Cloudy Bay. I tell you....I think we are going to be wine experts by the time we leave NZ!

On Sunday we arrived at our next WWOOFing stint. We are staying with the Hague family at their stunning home in the Marlborough sounds, between Havelock and Picton. They built the house themselves and it sits on the top of a hill overlooking the sounds and Queen Charlotte Drive. The family are great; Ian and Mandy run a boat-building business and their children, Sam, Ritchie and Becca are in their early twenties and live at home. There is also another English WWOOFer, called Zoe, here so there are heaps of people around! It has been wonderful to have so much company after it being just the 2 of us for so long. We also all have our own room (with an ensuite and dressing room) so that gives you an idea of how monstrous the house is!

During the past week we have helped to clean the warehouse where Ian works, we have pruned the vines they have growing, dismantled their swimming pool, fed the chickens and collected eggs daily, kept the fire going and done basic house-hold chores. They have been hugely generous with feeding us and providing wine and stimulating conversation on a daily basis. Also, the weather has been pretty awful during our stay so we have done lots of TV watching, reading and chatting with Zoe, who is lovely. We will be staying here until at least Monday, and we will see how it goes from there.

Our other news is that we will be cutting our world trip short. Unfortunately our funds are starting to dry up  pretty quickly, and we realised that our plans for seeing South America were completely unrealistic. We have bought our flights forward and will now be flying out of Rio de Janeiro on 19th August. The purpose of this trip was to see Aussie and NZ properly and we will definitely have achieved that! We will still have 3 weeks in Argentina and the South of Brazil on our way home, and we will then be moving to Edinburgh as soon as we return to the UK. I have been offered a place to study on the Creative Writing masters course at Edinburgh Uni, starting this September. Although we are sad that we have to cut the trip short, we are over the moon that I was accepted on to the course and will be living in a new country! Ha ha. And like Jess rightly said, South America and the world are not going anywhere (hopefully) so we have promised ourselves that we will be returning to Chile, Peru and Bolivia as soon as we are solvent again.

Well, that is all for now. Please please send us your news.

Loads of love,
Hana and Phil xxxxxxx

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Rotorua and Taupo

We have had a hugely enjoyable and action-packed week. We were very sad to leave the Coromandel and Jae last Monday, but we have had a pretty busy schedule this week. After leaving Ann and Brian’s we headed south to Rotorua, which lies on a large thermal area, meaning that it stinks of rotten eggs! The sulphur rich smell lingers everywhere and the town is quite weird to walk around as it has spurting geysers, steaming hot springs and exploding mud pools on every street. There is also a large Maori population in Rotorua (around 35%), so there was a lot to keep us busy for a few days!
We stayed in the sulphur city (also known as Rottenrua) for 3 nights. On our first full day there (Tuesday) we hired mountain bikes and went for a hell-bent ride through the Redwood forests. They have a great set-up for mountain biking with heaps of great tracks which are colour coded depending on distance, severity, their difficulty etc. We had the bikes for around 3 hours and it was real proof of how unfit we are! We were seriously exhausted by the time we handed them back. However, it was great fun and a wonderful first experience of proper mountain biking.
That evening (after resting our weary muscles in the hot pools) we went to a cultural Maori evening. There was a performance by the local people, which included dancing and singing in their traditional costume, and we also had a meal cooked in the hangi style (in the ground). The best part of the evening however, was when Phil was called on stage to perform the Haka! He did really well and provided me with a lot of laughs! (see facebook for the video)
On Wednesday we went Zorbing, which is essentially being pushed down a hill in a hamster ball full of water. AWESOME! It was sooo much fun and we couldn’t stop laughing. Afterwards we went to the wildlife centre as we had been given free tickets, so we walked around the park and saw lions and other cool animals. It was a bit tame, but pretty good for a freebie!
On Thursday we continued south to Taupo, which sits on the north-eastern shores of Lake Taupo, NZ’s biggest lake. The lake sits in the caldera of a volcano which began erupting about 300,000 years ago. Today it is a spectacular place to drive around! Unfortunately the weather was bad and it rained a lot on our first day there. We didn’t let it stop us though, and we visited many a waterfall, damn and even a ‘honey hive’ where we saw lots of bees and ate lots of honey! We did a ‘craters of the moon’ walk which was great as it really showed the effect of the thermal area bubbling beneath the ground. We were also highly cultured and went to the cinema to see the Hangover 2...great film!!
Yesterday morning we left Taupo and drove around the lake and into the Tongariro National Park (NZ’s first national park). It is high in the mountains and shadowed by active volcanoes and show covered peaks. It is probably best known for being ‘Mordor’ and other locations in Lord of the Rings. We stayed in the village of Whakapappa, which was near the ski-fields. It absolutely POURED when we arrived at lunchtime so we couldn’t see much of the surrounding area. Nonetheless, we put our waterproofs on and went for a 2 hour stomp through the forests to see a waterfall. Luckily, there was a large chateau in the village so there was a warm drinking waiting for us on our return!
This morning we woke up to a gloriously sunny day. We stepped out of our van and were met with the sight of a snow covered mountain and a large river tumbling its way through the forest beneath us. We couldn’t believe that we hadn’t seen it yesterday!
 We had a spectacular drive back towards Taupo this morning, and then we headed east towards Napier, which is on the east coast of the north island. I was interested to come here because it is the art-deco capital of the world. Following a devastating earthquake in 1931 the town had to be rebuilt and was done so in the art deco style. We were keen to do a tour around the place and check out some cool architecture but it became obvious after a while that art-deco really isn’t my thing. Oh win some, you lose some! Anyway, we had a nice walk in the sun this afternoon and planned our day tomorrow- we are hiring bikes and cycling around the Hawkes Bay wine region (hopefully incorporating the vineyards and doing some tasting). I will let you know how we get on in due course.
So...that has been our exciting and busy week! We absolutely love NZ and are enjoying every second, despite the occasional downpour! It has now turned very cold, especially at night. We are making our way towards the depths of winter!
I hope everything at home is well. Please stay in touch.
Loads of love,
Hana and Phil xxx

Saturday, 21 May 2011

"House Sitting"

Hello all,

I hope everybody is well and enjoying the weekend. We have had a fab two weeks on the Coromandel. Our humble abode (!) has served us well, and we shall be extremely sad to leave on Monday. Jae has been a delight to look after, amusing us everyday and keeping us fit! We haven't seen much of the cat, but she does like to join us in the evening when we light the fire.
There isn't much news to report in this blog really, as we have been mainly chilling out and enjoying having a house for the past two weeks. We have done plenty of reading, I have been writing and Phil has done more photo editing, we have walked 3 times a day and made daily trips to the beach. We went into the local town, Whitianga, a few times but didn't spend long there as we couldn't leave Jae for more than a few hours.
On Thursday we drove to Hot Water Beach....the name says it all! We took a spade and dug ourselves a hole in the sand, which provided us with a very warm bath! The water was BOILING! We had to dig a channel into the sea so that cold water filtered into our pool and cooled us down! It was an interesting and enjoyable experience. I think New Zealand is bubbling under the surface....any hole in the ground either smokes or boils!
Ann and Brian will return tomorrow to claim their house and dog back. We are cooking them dinner and then leaving on Monday morning. We will head to the middle of the North Island and spend around a week in Rotaroua and Taupo.

We hope to update you soon. We are still absolutely loving New Zealand. It is stunning.

Please keep in touch and send us your news.

Love Hana and Phil xxx

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Coromandel Peninsula

Hi all!

We have been having the most incredible time since my last blog. After our week in the Northland, we drove South past Auckland and then East to the Coromandel Peninsula. I didn't come here during my last visit to New Zealand but my Auntie highly recommended it, so we decided to check it out. WOW! It is absolutely gorgeous. I have never seen such fantastic views. We snaked our way up the West coast past inlets and bays and islands, and then over the mountains to Coromandel town. The town was small but very charming and full of colonial buildings. The peninsula is full of hippies and vegetarians so we had some gorgeous food in 'eco-warrier' type cafe's and restaurants.
We decided that it was time to get our hands dirty again so I took the WWOOF book out (it was beginning to collect dust) and contacted some people about doing some farm work for them. A lady called Ann responded, asking whether we would be interested in house-sitting for her, so we replied straight away and said that we would be with her on Friday. Great result!

We arrived safely at Ann and Brian's yesterday. They are really great people and the place is amazing! The house is on a hill at the top of a steep drive and it is built out of wood. It is a U shape that centres around a sunny courtyard. We have an incredible room with its own bathroom and the views are to die for. The house is on 50 acres with smashing views from the top of the peak behind the main building. We walked up there with the collie this morning and saw islands, bays, cliffs, dense forest, mountains. It is one of the best views I have ever seen! They have also insured us on their 4x4 and given us permission to ride their quad bikes and motorbike on the property. They have a big TV, a very well stocked fridge and pantry, roaring log fire and internet access...and they gave us $200!!! I'm waiting for the catch...surely it can't be this good?!! 
Over the next 2 weeks all we have to do is feed the dog, take her for a few walks a day and keep an eye on the power (they have solar and wind power that provide electricity but it can also be topped up with a generator). They haven't left us any jobs to do at all so we have a completely free schedule. There are some wonderful beaches and great coastal walks around so we are going to try some of them whilst we are here. I am looking forward to doing lots of writing and Phil is already out with his camera. He has just been out chopping wood with an axe for our fire this evening!

Well, I'm sure you all hate us now so I will stop bragging. Please send us your news as we love hearing from everyone. We have internet access readily available for the next few weeks so please ring on skype if we are online at the same time. 

Lots of love,
Hana and Phil xx

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

More to come (slow internet!)

Photos of the Northland, NZ

Kia Ora!

Hello from New Zealand! We have thoroughly enjoyed our first week here, despite the heavy rain and howling winds! We arrived from Sydney last Sunday and spent 3 nights in a hotel in Auckland, which seemed like absolute luxury compared to our campervan in Australia. We took in the main city sights, but seeing as Auckland is a small city and it was pouring for the duration of our stay, we did quite a lot of cafe hopping and went to the cinema twice! The best thing we did in the city was to visit the ice bar. The bar is made completely from ice (even our glasses were ice) and was minus 5.4 degrees while we were in there. You are only allowed to spend half an hour inside the room, so we had one drink, played air hockey and had our photograph taken. It was a wonderful experience and a great start to our trip.
On Wednesday we picked our new campervan up. We have a much larger and well designed van now. It has been painted with green and brown Maori designs and is called Darryl. Luckily he is warm and snugly and has room for 3 people, so there is plenty of room for us and space for our bags and pots and pans etc. Once we left Auckland we headed north to the coastal town of Wairea where we spent the first night in our van. On Thursday, we went to the hot springs in Wairea. The thermal water bubbles up from under the ground and has created various pools, some of which reach temperatures up to 48 degrees! We spent the morning swimming and relaxing in the eggy smelling hot tubs and baths and also enjoying the awesome water slides which spiralled and twisted from great heights, eventually spitting us out into the warm water below. Philip and I were the only adults continually queuing for the 3 different slides!
As I said earlier, the rain this week has been torrential (I think it’s following us around the world). Villages and towns have been cut off, there has been a deadly tornado in Auckland and a state of emergency declared. However, we are British and used to this sort of weather, so we continued north and into the gales and downpours. The upside to this is that it gives me a wonderful excuse to nip into cafes and, on occasion, vineyards. We visited ‘Ransom Wines’ after our hot pool experience and shared a gorgeous platter lunch in stunning surroundings. New Zealand has some fantastic wines and everything here is much cheaper than in we have to give all the food and wine a try! That evening we stayed in a campsite near a sailing club, so I did my Dad proud and went into the club for a drink. We were met by lots of elderly men who were very kind to us and gave us a free dinner. The Kiwi’s seem to be as nice as the Aussies.
On Friday we continued our pursuit of rain and followed the road north again to the Bay of Islands. There are 144 islands around Pahia and Russell, which are the main villages in the area. We stayed in Pahia and managed to find the only place in town showing the royal wedding..the RSL club (royal servicemen legion). The TV had no volume and we were thrown out just after they said ‘I will’ (I thought it was ‘I do’?) but we walked back to our campsite in the rain feeling patriotic. On Saturday we were lucky enough for there to be a slight break in the weather so that we could get out on a boat. We took a 3 hour cruise around the Islands and were given heaps of cultural, historical and geographical information about them. The highlight though was seeing masses of bottlenose dolphins. I couldn’t believe my luck! They were surrounding our boat and came right up to us to say hello. Philip has some great shots of them showing off in the water.
On Sunday we left the Bay of Islands and drove just south of Cape Reinga. We were hoping to see the top of NZ but the roads have been closed as bridges have collapsed. However we found a wonderful spot at the end of 90 mile beach and a campsite that had immense facilities with a roaring fire and TV. We planned to stay there for one night but fell in love with it so stayed there last night too. Yesterday we had a break in the weather and enjoyed some sunshine, allowing us to walk on the long beach and play lots of table tennis!
Today we enjoyed a very speccy drive from Aphiri through the Karri forests and along the coastline. We were extremely lucky as our original plan was to drive to Auckland today, but we kept stopping to gawp at the views, so we only made it half way down the coast. We are so grateful as it means that we missed the tornado that hit the Northern suburbs this afternoon. Instead, we loved taking the vehicle ferry across to Rawene and eating our lunch outdoors in the sunshine, walking deep into the forest and playing on the zip wire in our campsite this evening!
We aren’t too sure what are plans are for the next week yet. We are hoping to go to the Coromandel Peninsula but we may just stay put for a while and see what the weather does.
So our first week in New Zealand has been exciting, eventful and wet! The Kiwi’s are great and the prices here agree with us. The landscape is absolutely stunning and has already beaten Australia hands down! Sorry Oz...
We will try to update the blog again soon. I hope everyone has had a lovely long Easter and bank holiday break.
Loads of love to all xx

Saturday, 23 April 2011

On the road...part 4

We have come to the end of our journey in Australia! We finally made it to Sydney on Thursday having driven 7500 km across the South coast, through desert, rainforest, beaches, pouring rain, blazing sun and maddening distances. When we arrived in Perth at the beginning of Feb, Sydney seemed very far away, so it was a proud moment for us when we left our beloved van a few days ago. Despite being old and shabby, she got us here in one piece!
After leaving Melbourne a few weeks ago, we drove through Victoria to New South Wales, which is a breathtakingly beautiful place. We passed through Australia's version of Stratford Upon Avon (ours is better!), their Lake District (theirs is better!) and then into and up the coastline of NSW. We spent every day at a different seaside village or town and were awarded with stunning scenery of mountains, forests, beaches, lakes and, quite often, kangaroos. My favourite place was a spot called South Durras, as we stayed in a campsite that had the beach on one side and the lake on the other. We loved it so much that we got up before dawn to watch the sun rise so that Phil could get a good picture. That's dedication to photography!
About a week ago we went inland to a gorgeous valley called 'Kangaroo Valley'. It was a quaint and quiet little village nestled into a thick forest on the valley floor. There weren't any roo's there but there was the most stunning waterfall that I have ever seen. The Fitzroy Falls fell against a dramatic limestone cliff and into the valley far below. Check the photos out! After KV, we made the mistake of going to Canberra. God knows why it is the capital of this great country! There is nothing to do there other than see the parliament buildings and art galleries. Boring....
Our next stop was the Blue Mountains. Wow! The views there were amazing. I have never seen anything like the vast space and lush green vista's that can be photographed from the 3 sisters lookout in Katoomba. A must for anyone coming to Oz.
....And now we are in Sydney! Sydney is a lovely city and hasn't changed at all since I was here 4 years ago. We are a bit 'museumed out' so we have enjoyed just walking around and sampling the Sydney life over the past few days. Yesterday we took the ferry out to Manly and today we walked across the harbour bridge and ate in Darling Harbour. Just lovely!

And so I conclude our 2.5 months in Australia. The things that stand out as the best, or most enjoyable, moments are:
Seeing dolphins in Bunbury
Working in the kangaroo sanctuary
Becoming ace surfers (even if I say so myself!)
Sampling the delicious Australian wine on tours and tastings
Our stay in Melbourne
Walking in the Blue Mountains

However, what has made Australia so enjoyable for us has been meeting such honest, friendly and kind people. The Australians are in a class of their own when it comes to confidence and generosity. Those we have met have really made our time here so special and memorable. Despite the views I mentioned above, I don't think Oz is the prettiest country and it certainly doesn't have affordable activities on offer, nor does it have the weather that it is for some reason famous for...but what it does have is a terrific sense of adventure, great open space and the nicest people one could ever hope to meet. I will be sad to leave tomorrow, but I will be doing so with a smile on my face because a great time has been had here.

Australia rating: 8.5

Finally some photos of Oz! (Part 2)

Finally some photos of Oz!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

On the road...part 3


Despite Alys informing me that nobody is reading the blog, I am going to persevere with it and hope that somebody is still reading! If you are that one person, I hope you are well.
So, we have had a wonderful few weeks of driving around and seeing spectacular places and meeting incredible people. We really loved Robe in South Australia, which is where I left off last time. It has a pretty coastline, Norfolk pines lining the streets and old sandy buildings. We spent our two days there walking on the beach and over the cliffs. We were lucky enough to see a sea turtle scurrying into the sea whilst watching the sun go down. Idyllic. On our first night in Robe, we met 6 Australian travellers in the caravan park. They were in very posh caravans and invited us to have a drink with them and play cards. We had a lovely night with our new friends and they kindly invited us to stay with them at their house in Melbourne. Therefore, I am now writing this blog from Graeme and Jeanette's garden, in sunny suburban Melbourne.
After leaving Robe we spent a few days driving across the South Australian coast and into Victoria. On the way we stopped at Beachport, Mount Gambier, Nelson and Cape Bridgewater, amusing ourselves with swimming in salt lakes (7 times saltier than the sea!) looking at petrified forests, admiring the big blue lake, walking along never-ending jetty's and being sprayed by giant blow-holes. The weather improved slightly and we had a wonderful time roaming around the coastline and being met with a new and enjoyable experience every day.
Last Saturday we left the pretty town of Port Fairy and started driving along the Great Ocean Road. You have probably seen pictures of it, as it is one of Australia's most iconic scenes and popular with travellers and tourists. The road isn't long but it is very windy and narrow and there is so much to stop off and see en-route. We saw the Bay of Islands, the fallen London bridge, Loch Ard Gorge and the twelve apostles. These things are all limestone cliffs, caves and stacks that have been carved away from the rock due to wind and sea erosion. The result is a beautifully dramatic coastline. The East part of the road took in gorgeous towns such as Angelsea and Torquay (everything here has a British name!) which we loved. Torquay is where surfing was invented and is the home of Rip Curl, so we felt that it was only right to treat ourselves to a day of surfing. We had a lesson in the morning and then were left to our own devices in the afternoon. We both had a ball and improved our surfing a lot that day.
On Tuesday we left the Great Ocean Road and drove to Melbourne. Graeme and Jeanette live 40kms East of the CBD but their house is near the train line so it has been easy to nip in and out of town. Needless to say, we have spent every day in the city exploring a different area. Melbourne is an attractive place with lots going on and it has an excitable vibe to it. As it is much bigger than Perth and Adelaide, some areas have a more edgy feel and geographically, it sprawls in all directions. However, the centre is quite compact and we managed to see all the main sights, including Federation square, the centre for moving images, Melbourne museum, the old treasury, parliament house, the war memorial (which had stunning views over the city), the Botanical gardens, Captain Cook's cottage in Fitzroy gardens, St Paul's cathedral, the MCG stadium and much more. We certainly packed a lot in!
It has been amazing having a proper bed and shower and lovely home cooked meals this week. Jeanette has been so kind to us and we are forever stunned at how friendly and helpful all Australians are. They seem to be  happy all the time and they never moan about anything. Aussie's are also very proud of their country, people and culture, which I think is so refreshing. Britain needs to become more like that!
Last night we had a fab night out in the city with Jeanette's daughter, Leah, her husband and their friends. It was great to meet some young working professionals living the city life. They took us for drinks on the river and for a meal in Chinatown which they all insisted on paying for. You see? Aussies are great people! Tonight we have managed to get incredible tickets at the MCG to see an 'Aussie Rules' football game. The stadium seats 100,000 people so the atmosphere should be electric. We need to spend this afternoon learning the rules of the game so we know what's going on! Leah bought us opposing team scarves so the competition is on between us!
Sadly we will be leaving Melbourne tomorrow, but on to new places. We have 11 nights to get to Sydney so we are going to take the coastal route into New South Wales. I will update you once we have reached Sydney on the 21st (if anyone is still reading!)

Well, that is it for now. We have some pictures on facebook so check them out if you're interested. I hope all is good back home. Remember to be proud to be British!!

Lots of love,
H xx

Monday, 28 March 2011

On the road...part 2

(I wrote this blog on Saturday so please excuse any confusion over days!)
So after an exciting but demanding week of looking after kangaroos, we decided to give ourselves two weeks off to recover.  We left Denmark (which was a beautiful place) last Wednesday and went to Walpole, where we walked in the valley of the giants. They have a really well-done treetop walk there, which takes you 60m high into the forest. It also swings in the wind to mimic life in the trees. We were impressed and took many a photograph! That night we drove to Albany but it was a nasty town with nothing going on, so we free-camped on a beach to the East of the city. Early on Thursday morning, we drove 5 hours to Esperance, and the rain began...
From last Thursday morning until yesterday (Friday), it has been pouring! I think we are always told to believe that Australia is a constantly beautiful place where the sun always shines. That is a lie! It rains a LOT when it wants to, and there are hundreds of miles of awfully boring landscape between the ‘wow factor’ spots. Needless to say, we found them.
The drive to Esperance was wet and uneventful, but when we arrived there were many things that we wanted to see. We had been told to go to the Pink Lake, which is a huge lake that is Pink in colour. We drove there as part of the tourist drive, but unfortunately, we couldn’t see a thing through the fog and rain, so we spent the rest of that day doing chores such as laundry and the ‘weekly big shop’. This is starting to sound like home...rain and chores! Luckily the rain stopped for a while the next day, so we were able to walk on the beach and meet Sammy, the resident sea lion. We spotted him in the water whilst walking down the long pier, and he was very photogenic. There are some wonderful national parks around Esperance, but due to the rain we weren’t able to get our van over the dirt track that leads to them. Twas a great shame. 
On Saturday we started our long drive east. If you have a map nearby, find Esperance in Western Australia, and then look at Adelaide in South Australia. The distance was huge! We did that stretch over 4 long days, mainly through the Nullarbor desert. ‘Nullarbor’ means ‘no trees’ in Latin, so that gives you some idea of what to imagine. There was one straight road that we followed for thousands of kilometres...and it went on...and on....and on. There were maybe two small towns on that stretch that each had a population of around 8 people. I’m not going to write much about the few days we spent driving because it will bore you as much as it bored us when we were doing it. However, I will just say that Phil drove extremely well and we made it in one piece.
On Tuesday we arrived in Adelaide. It was a bit of a culture shock to be back in civilisation but we both welcomed the change. Adelaide is a stunningly beautiful city, and I don’t know why it isn’t as visited as the other big Australian cities. It has lush botanical gardens, green parks everywhere, some great museums and art galleries, a beautiful oval (and I don’t even like cricket!) a posh university, an aboriginal centre, heaps of shops and restaurants and a great wine centre. We have been staying in a campsite in the North of the city, overlooking the river. We can walk into the CBD which has been a wonderful rest from driving.  So for the past few days we have been loving city life and all the perks it brings.
On Wednesday, something very strange happened. Phil and I were looking at the menu outside a noodle bar, when a couple (roughly the same age as us) walked in and told us to eat there as the food was good and cheap. We took their advice and had a lovely meal. The other couple sat a few tables away from us, ate quickly and left the restaurant whilst we were still halfway through our food. When we asked to pay the bill, the waiter told us that we only had to pay for our drinks because the other couple had bought our dinner for us. WHAT?! We couldn’t believe it! We had only exchanged a few words with them so we couldn’t fathom the fact that they had paid for all our food and what’s more, hadn’t wanted any thanks for doing so. Maybe I am a cynic, but that sort of thing never happens. When we told a guy back at the campsite about our experience, he just said, ‘welcome to Australia!’ Maybe it isn’t so bad after all...
So, the past 2 weeks have included long drives, hard rain, boring scenery and dull evenings. However, we have also had a wonderful time in Adelaide, received free meals from generous strangers, and (for the past 2 days) some glorious sunshine. Overall, a pretty good time.
We were supposed to drop our campervan off in Adelaide yesterday, but we decided that we couldn’t bear to part with it, so we have hired it for the rest of our time in Australia. We are so glad that we still have the freedom of the van, but as Oz is so expensive, we have decided to change our flights and leave a few weeks earlier than planned. We are having an awesome time here, but it is too expensive to stay. We will still be able to do everything that we want to, but at a slightly faster pace!
Tomorrow we are embarking on our third WWOOFing experience. We are staying at a farm in the Adelaide hills belonging to Sven and Judith and their 3 children. We have no idea what the area will be like, or what we will be expected to do on a daily basis, so watch this space..! We are really hoping that this host will be as varied and rewarding as the last two.
I hope everyone is well? Dad informed me of a spring heat wave that you are enjoying so I hope it lasts.  Please write to us and tell us your news.
With lots of love,
Hana and Phil xx

P.S – You are probably noticing a distinct lack of photographs from our time in Australia. We are really here (I promise), we just haven’t found an internet connection fast enough or strong enough to upload any pics yet. We will keep searching and put them up as soon as we can.

P.P.S – It is now Monday and we are in Robe in South Australia. Unfortunately we had to run away from the WWOOF host yesterday as the accommodation was dirty, the people unfriendly and the work involving spiders. We felt bad about it but there wasn’t much point staying there if we weren’t going to enjoy it. So we are now near the Victoria border and taking it slow. We are free camping to save money and enjoying being able to relax more and drive less! 

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Uralla - WWOOF no.2

Last Tuesday we left Herriot Wines and ventured down the Muirs Highway towards Mt.Barker. We were very nervous about the second WWOOF arrangement because we had enjoyed ourselves so much in Manjimup. Our worries were heightened when, 42kms before Mt Barker, we turned off the highway on to a dirt gravel road and drove up it for 20 kms into nothing but bushland. I like the countryside but this felt very isolated and I was terrified! Deciding that we should at least see the place before we turned round and ran back to civilisation, we bravely continued, following signs to Uralla Wildlife Sanctuary. When we pulled into the long drive, there were kangaroos everywhere! We couldn’t believe our eyes. This must be a place worth sticking around for...we hoped.
We parked our van outside two white cabins and walked through a metal gate. Once inside the house yard, we saw at least 25 baby joeys hopping around and a few being bottle fed by a French couple, Estelle and Damien. They introduced themselves as fellow WWOOFers and showed us around. The living quarters were made up of two basic wooden cabins; one for Mandy and John (the hosts) and one for WWOOFers. The toilet was outside the gate and in a temporary shed...and it was a drop toilet!! The baby roos lived amongst the house and house yard, and then there was a further 5 acres of a ‘pre-release’ area, where around 10 older kangaroos lived. Past the gate (with the toilet) there were heaps and heaps of ‘wild’ kangaroos that had been released back into the bush, but had stuck around for more food and bread. We were overwhelmed by it all and were quickly shocked into a new way of life.
Mandy and John English are a couple in their 50’s living on 150 acres of Australian bushland, surrounded by Government protected parks. Mandy is a nurse and works night shifts so that she can spend the day with her kangaroos, and John works during the day at a vineyard nearby. They have been caring for wildlife for 11 years, and specialise in Kangaroos, wallabies, euro’s, dingoes, emu’s, chickens and rejected ducklings. They have to rely on help from WWOOFers as the kangaroos are fed regularly and need to be toilet trained when they are very young. We had a timetable of feeding sessions, which we soon had memorised; everyone was fed at 7am, the pre-lease at 8am, the babies at 10am, everyone but the babies at 11am, the babies at 2pm, the pre-lease at 3pm, everyone but the babies at 4pm, the babies at 5pm, the babies and toddlers at 6.30pm, bedtime and bread at 7pm....and so it goes on. Needless to say that we were shattered at the end of everyday!
We soon settled into a routine of feeding, changing beds (baskets with two joeys in each one) washing the bottles and re-filling them with milk, cuddling the joeys and raking their poo. For most of the week we worked with Estelle and Damien, and a German girl called Caroline. There was another French guy (Olivier) staying there who we got on with very well. We improved his English and he attempted to teach us French. We were also joined by two further WWOOFers on Monday; a girl from Belguim (Melissa) and an Italian guy (Antonio). Mandy was a great help when she was at home and we learnt so much about kangaroos from her. All the kangaroos had a name and it was vital that we learnt their names quickly so that they had the right bottle at feeding time (different kangaroos had different milk) and could be observed for any problems/illnesses. As you can probably tell, the first few days were a hectic whirlwind!
My favourite kangaroos were the two very little babies (9 months old), Barbara and Shammy. They needed lots of cuddles and attention and even liked to sleep in our beds. There was also a joey with a spinal injury, called Charlie, who I adored because he could only hop a few yards before falling over and rolling around. Mandy and I took him to the chiropractor, who improved the injury a lot. Mandy thinks that his Mum was hit by a car and whilst Charlie survived, he sustained injuries all over his little body. It was very bizarre holding a kangaroo on my lap in the car for an hour! Mandy has promised to send us news of the babies so that we can learn about their progress and daily activities. Phil also became attached to a duckling that he rescued and named Smithy. His mother had rejected him so we took him into our care and Phil fed him and regularly cuddled him. He was even starting to swim when we left yesterday!
There is so much to write about Uralla (which means ‘our home’ in the aboriginal language) that I can’t possibly tell you about it all. We have come away with lots of kangaroo knowledge, stories and interesting tales to tell...and a new appreciation of flushing toilets! We experienced a very 'back to basics lifestyle', lighting a fire to have hot water for our showers and only using water when absolutely necessary. It was a refreshing experience. So we left the sanctuary at 10am yesterday after a fascinating and hugely enjoyable week. Mandy is an absolute diamond and I hope that people continue to donate money to keep the volunteer run sanctuary alive.
We are now in Denmark, which is on the South coast on WA. Yesterday afternoon we hired some surf boards and had a great time playing in the waves. It was Phil’s first time surfing and he was a natural. He was standing up on every wave that he caught and loved it! We are both exhausted today (and battered and bruised) after two very full weeks of WWOOFing and surfing yesterday. Today we are heading to Walpole to walk through the valley of the giants. There is a walkway in the treetops that swings in the wind, so wish us luck! This afternoon we will drive to Albany, which will be the start of our long drive East.
I hope all is well in the UK and that everybody is fine. For any Japanese readers, I hope you are OK and managing. We are thinking of you all the time.

Lots of love to everyone. We will try to write again soon.

Heaps of love and kisses,
Hana and Phil xxx

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Green fingers..

Hello from a rainy Manjimup!

I hope everyone is well. We have had a great first week of WWOOFing at the vineyard. We have learnt a lot, met some fab people, and become very dirty! Our main jobs have been to look after the animals and manage the upkeep of the grounds, so we spent Monday and Tuesday working in the vines (weeding and re-stringing). We learnt how to take the laterals off the stem of the Riesling vine and how to tie certain knots. We also placed large nets over the Shiraz grapes to stop the birds getting in and eating it all. Rick, the farmhand, has been wonderful at keeping us entertained with his stories, although I’m fairly sure that he likes to scare us with wild tales of spiders and snakes.
On Wednesday and Thursday we sorted out the Kikuyu weed that has been growing all over the vineyard. It was really hot and hard work, and it showed us the major disadvantages of working outside in Australia. Anyone who thinks that they want to work on the land, or own a farm or even a few veggie patches, should try WWOOFing first. It’s not that it has put me off ever wanting a patch of land, but it is seriously hard work that is forever ongoing and tiring. Nevertheless, the experience has been worthwhile and has taught us a lot about ourselves and the way of life that we might want in the future. Moreover, we now know a lot more about wine and gardening and we have seriously green fingers. Watch out Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie Dimmock!
Friday and Saturday saw us painting the cellar door and storage barns. The vineyard is on a hill and gets a lot of weather coming over from the coast, so the rammed earth buildings need a coat of sealant every once in a while to protect them from the wind and rain. We also continued to weed in the flower beds around the house and sweep the cobwebs from the ceilings, which was a gross job! We are given larger jobs to keep us out of trouble in the mornings, but we constantly keep an eye on the animals, making sure that they have been fed and the chicken’s eggs have been collected, and also alternating the sprinklers so all the veggies have a chance at survival! It has been extremely hot this week.
During the afternoon we have a few hours of free time, so we have been into town a few times, but there isn’t much going on in Manjimup. The town has a yokel feel, and is 14 kms (‘clicks’, as Rick calls them) from the farm, so we haven’t spent much time there. However, on Friday we realised that we had a flat tyre on the van so we had to drive slowly to a garage to get it sorted. The mechanic was not impressed as the tread on 2 tyres were completely bare and wouldn’t pass a police test (whatever that means). There was also a nail in the back tyre so they had to replace the front 2 tyres and fix the back one. Whoops! Luckily, the rental company paid for it all and apologised for the state of the van. Hopefully we now have a chance of crossing the Nullarbor desert with no problems in a few weeks time.
The Herriot family have been very kind to us. Lexie (6) has Down syndrome, so we have learnt a lot about children with special needs and their requirements. Yvonne’s eldest child, Aimee, also has 3 of her own children and we saw a lot of them at the beginning of the week. Tahlia (4) and the twins, Oliver and Dominique (4 months) are a real handful, so our experiences this week have put us off kids for life! Yvonne is busy with the house, kids and animals so we haven’t seen much of her whilst we have been out working, but we have had some delicious organic meals with her. It is fantastic being able to pick your own veggies before dinner, and collect fresh eggs before breakfast. The family have gone to Perth this weekend so they have trusted us to house sit for them for a few nights. We have been left with loads of jobs but it has been nice being able to slob out a bit! They don’t have a TV but they do have a few DVD’s so we relaxed and watched one last night which was a real treat.
 On Friday evening we drove to Nannup to the music and hippie festival. We had a fun time and there were some brilliant live bands playing, but the drive over was horrible! We had been warned about driving too much at night, but seeing as Nannup was close, we weren’t too concerned about heading over at 6.30pm. Mistake!! There were kangaroos everywhere and it was so nerve wracking for poor Phil trying to dodge them on the road. We were fine and made it there and back with no problems, but we are NOT driving again at night.
Before I sign off, I have to mention the other scare that Phil had this week. He is not a fan of spiders as it is, so when he was bitten by a REDBACK (!!) on Tuesday, it was nasty!! We were working in the vines when one managed to crawl up his sleeve and bite him in the armpit. Ouch! They are mildly poisonous but he is fine now and it will make for an impressive story in the pub.
Well, as it has now stopped raining, I better get back outside and take the quad bike out for a spin. It’s a hard life.
We are off to Mt.Barker on Tuesday to WWOOF at a Kangaroo Sanctuary. I’m, not sure if they have internet so farewell for now!

With lots of love,
Alan and Charlie xxx

P.S - Phil has selected some photos to upload but the internet is slow here, so we will try to get them up soon. Watch this space!

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