Friday, 5 February 2010

San Francisco and Yosemite


I'm finally here and I mean that in two ways; one, I am actually in San Francisco; two, I'm UP - TO - DATE with my blog entries, sorry that it's take me a long time, especially sorry to you nana as I know you like to read these, not long till I'm home now!

Well San Francisco is full on cool, its an American city where there is decent public transport and you can actually walk! Well I arrived about mid afternoon and made my way into downtown towards my hostel for the night. The hostel was okay, they put be in a dorm room with one other guy which doesn't really help if your trying to find people to go out and explore the city with. Any how I dumped my bags and went for a bit of a wander around the downtown area; I also gave Cynthia a call to see if it were okay for me to come out and say hi! I headed out to see Cynthia, Sami, Catherine and Elizabeth for a spot of dinner before heading back to the hostel for the night. I lucked out big time as Cynthia said it was okay for me to stay with them whilst I was in San Francisco!

I spent the next week or so checking out what SF had to offer, walking the streets through the different boroughs, Mission, Castro, Haight and Ashbury, Presidio, North Beach, Golden gate Park. Each one was cool for its own reasons. I visited the book shop in which Jack Kerouac was said to hang out; walked the "Hippy" streets of Haight/ Ashbury; Checked out China town and the crooked-est street; boated over to Alcatraz (very cool), went for a night out with Sami to The Mission listening to some uber cool jazz (Jazz Mafia); spent a day with Cynthia and the Girls around Muir Woods (HUGE Redwoods!) and the North Bay and best of all ate some rather nice food! I had a great time in San Fran just relaxing, it was also great to see Cynthia and her family as I had not seen her since I was about 8!

While I was in the area I also made the effort to get out too Yosemite National Park. It was a complete pain to get out there, a day of travel each way but boy was it worth it. This place is amazing, what made it even better that it was covered in snow. I met a guy called Egor, from Serbia, in the hostel who went walking with me around the national park. We started to walk up to the top of Yosemite Falls (5th largest in the world according to them!) but Egor had to walk back down as he was wearing trainers, not the best in deep snow (thigh deep in places)! I decided to catch up with these two guys who were in front of us so that I was not making it up there alone. It was a pretty hard slog but boy were the views worth it, right across the valley to half dome and well as the 1000ft or so to the valley floor! They way down was far simpler though, I donned my water proof trousers and practically slid the whole way down!

Well after a megga tiring day I headed back to the hostel before making my way back to San Fran for one more day before heading out to Portland, Oregon. The last day was spent walking over the Golden Gate Bridge!

Next... Portland on a train, not such a great Idea!


So Cal meant to be sunny...right?


Well its about time that I sat myself down in front of a computer, for many hours I might add, and update this blog to real time!

So you've read already about the events leading up to the flight, well luckily enough the flight itself was rather uneventful, as per usual I found it extremely hard to get any shut eye, even after consuming a few whiskey and ginger ale's! I also managed to rush through LAX at the other end, these kinds of things aren't meant to happen, c'mon my bags are meant to be late, at least the immigration guy should be an arse, this guy was pleasant and chatty...whats going on?

Well LA was a bit of a soggy affair I seemed to have timed my arrival with one of the largest storms they've had a long while, oh joy. LA is not great at the best of time's but when it rains its just plain miserable. As such I didn't actually get to see that much apart from Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Strip and the odd shopping mall. I did, rather bravely I may add, venture into downtown LA as I wanted to see the Disney Concert hall and whatever else downtown had to offer... nothing. I didn't even make it out to Venice beach or Universal Studios! I did however meet some cool people, I hung out with a Swedish guy called Freddie and a German lass called Jenin. The hostel itself was kinda cool they ran an open mike night which after a few beers was absolutely amazing! I also discovered that French-Canadian women can be incredibly attractive, I'm thinking of going to Montreal now ;).

Next stop after LA was to Santa Barbara on my first ever and worse so far Greyhound trip. First off I alighted at 7th street, downtown LA as my map told me that the Greyhound was on 7th. What I failed to notice was that it was on East 7th which is bloody miles away, at least 15 minutes by bus. Arriving at the station just on time I got my ticket and then found out, the hard way, one of Greyhounds infuriating annoyances; they just love to overbook buses and seats are allocated on a first come first serve basis! You guessed it, I didn't make the bus and I had to wait 6 hour's for the next one in a station full of crazy peoples, no not really just the odd one or two, I added a few more to give the dialogue some element of danger, I've gotta make LA seem interesting some how!

Well arriving at SB at night really didn't give me the chance to have a look around so I headed straight for the hostel and checked in. I got talking to an American guy, Matt from St Louis, Missouri, in short order we were walking downtown and enjoying a pint in a rowdy bar. The next day was spent on two wheels exploring all that the SB area could offer, luckily for us the weather was great! In LA I was obviously sheltered from the storm somewhat as all along the beach in SB were grounded boats! There was a lovely old Spanish Mission that we visited and had a walk around just a short ride outta town. In the late afternoon we cycled down to the peir as there was meant to be an Australian celebration and I was intrigued as to how SB residents would celebrate Australia. Unfortunately we couldnt find it, somehow, and I have no idea here, we 'just' appeared in a bar and happened to be sitting down trying all of the microbrews with the barman. Strange how these things happen.

Well the next day I arose early and took the Greyhound (unneventful this time) to Santa Cruz. Unfortunately SC was not gifted with the same sunshine that I had down in SB, which rather put a bit of a downer on things seen as SC is a beach/ surfing destination. The hostel was great but they shut you out for half of the day! I spent the next day walking around with a really nice guy who spent his life on organic farms. We walked down to Natural Arches State Beach expecting some impressive sight, but all we got was one unimressive coastal arch (the rest collapsed... 50 years ago) and scrub land. The town of SC was not that great in the rain either. By the looks of things I'm going to have to come and visit all of these places for a second time in the summer!

Next instalment SAN FRANCISCO, wahoooo!


Thursday, 4 February 2010

Goodbye New Zealand :(

Hey and welcome to part 5 of the megga update.

I'm beginning to wish that I kept on top of things now!

So after leaving Patoka and making my way over the Kaweka's I made it to the foot of Tongariro National Park, and amazing place in which there are three large volcano's Ruapehu, Ngarahoe and Tongariro. I skirted along the eastern edge of the park making my way towards Turangi for the night, before walking the Tongariro Crossing (most popular day walk in NZ). The hostel I stayed in was not all that great but hey it was only serving as a bed really before I rose early the next morn to start my walk. I decided to get up really early in the morning and start the walk from the opposite end that all of the tour buses go to as I did not want to share the track with hundreds of other people. Arriving at 7am I started the steady climb up to the top of Tongariro. What a walk I first started off in thick forest on the lover slopes of the volcano before making it out into the scrub and bushy stuff. Along the way I passes the Ketetahi hot springs, belching out huge plumes of steam from stinking fumaroles, before making it to the summit. Oh boy what a sight, two huge volcano's stretching off into the distance, brilliant emerald lakes, steaming vents, red craters, WOW! Stretched before my eye's was a scene that wouldn't look foreign on the surface of Mars, or at least that's what I thought! I was incredibly lucky at this point to have the whole thing practically to myself, but as soon as the thought passed my mind hordes or people started appearing in the distance. OH no! I practically rushed up to the summit of Tongariro so that I could have the peak to myself without having to share the view with dozens of others! Well after reaching the summit and heading back down I got talking to a Swiss chap all the way down the mountain back to my car, it was great talking to him as he had just arrived from the States, so I was trying to extract as much information as possible from him!

Arriving rather tired at base I took off some rather hot clothing and changed into something a little more comfortable before making my way up to Lake Taupo, one of the main destinations on the North Island. To be honest I didn't know what all the fuss was about really, yes the views were beautiful as they are all over New Zealand, but there was not much to do in the area unless you had either a bike or a boat, of which I had neither. Well I met a nice chap called Richard from the UK and we went out for a few beers in the evening; as it turns out he was heading the same way that I was so he and I ended up travelling together for the next couple of days. After having a quick nose around Taupo I rather rashly decided that it would be a great idea to do a bungy, hurling myself off a 154ft cliff attached to a glorified rubber band! What a nutter I kept thinking, it didn't actually sink in til I was standing on the platform all strapped up and It was my time to go! I do not know how I did it I got the the edge looked straight ahead, 3...2...1...JUMP! whoosh. I distinctly remember plummeting towards the waters surface before getting dunked, WOW what an adrenalin rush, super cool. I will definitely be doing one of these again!

On our way to Rotorua we stopped off at Huka falls for a bit of a nosy, quite cool, the Waikato river, 100m wide, all of sudden gets squeezed through a gap that's about 15m wide, as you can imagine this produces some quite spectacular flows! Well after a short drive we arrived at the rather pungent town of Rotorua, famous for both its Maori culture and extensive volcanic activity in the area. Rich and I spent two days here visiting some hot springs and boiling mud pools, climbing some of the local hills and frequenting a Maori cultural show. Now these cultural shows are not normally my scene as they are ofter incredibly busy and incredibly tacky, you know they just have that 'fake' air around them. However fake it felt it was a good night, interesting to see some of the Maori dance and war chants as well as tucking into a Hangi a traditional Maori feast. One of the best things that we stumbled across was Kerosene Creek about 20 minutes south of Rotorua. It is a hot river that you can sit in, boiling in fact, it stings to get in before you get used to the temperature. Its a magnificent place, like a giant outdoor hot pool, certain parts of the river bed were too hot to even stand on!

After a couple of nights in Rotorua, I said goodbye to Richard and made my way to the Corremandel Peninsula via Mt Monganui. The drive itself was a short and easy one but it got incredibly busy when I made it into Mt Monganui, a mega popular holiday destination for Kiwi's. I stopped off for long enough in the town to walk along the beautiful beach and climb to the top of 'The Mount' for some incredible views of the coast. Not wanting to stay I continued on my journey north to the Corremandel, heading straight for the Corremandel Forest Park. The park was extensively logged for Kauri (a great Kiwi tree) in the 1800's and as such there is a great network of loggers tracks through the forest up to the 'Pinnacles' an area of mountains formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago. I made it to the park by late afternoon and on the advice of the warden I parked up and missioned it up the mountain to camp for the night before heading out to summit the Pinnacles the next morning. I was lucky enough to be gifted with beautiful weather on the way up there affording great views across the park, I could even see the coast! Unfortunately the next day the weather was not so great, a tad overcast and a spot of drizzle, miraculously though once I summited the mist cleared enough for me to see all around the park.

After summiting in the morning I rushed back down the mountain to my car, packed up and continued on my North Island whistle stop tour. I was anxious to get to Auckland and get the car on the market just in case it did not sell very fast. Well my driving tour of the Corremandel Penisula was very nice there were lots of opportunities for me to stop off along the way and take some lovely photos and just generally soak up the view. I did stop off along the way at Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. Unfortunately I was not going to be around at the right time to truly enjoy Hot Water Beach; this place is amazing, you literally take a shovel and dig a huge hole in the sand at a certain point and hey presto HOT TUB! Speaking to people who did get a chance to go in, they said that the spring water was SO hot they were having to get cold seawater to cool it down! Why oh why can't England have some super cool places like this, its just not fair! Well after packing up here I headed towards Auckland, camping for the night on a quiet roadside adjacent to a tidal flat. I was graced by a beautiful sunset which I thought was a lovely symbol for my last ever night in the dove wagon.

Well I wanted to avoid the Auckland rush hours so I set off at about 10 to make my way into the city. I was not really looking forward to this bit as I knew that I would be incredibly bored in Auckland; the 'city' is quite literally just one street, Queen St. I checked into a rather nice hostel with very comfortable beds and set about getting the car ready, clearing it out, washing and hoovering it, packing all of my stuff away; this as you can imagine took a considerable amount of time. Cutting a long and boring story short, the car sold in only 2 days, for a profit too, I was cuffed! It could not have gone any better, well it could of, the guy could of offered me a stupid sum of money for the car ;) ! With all this fresh 'dosh' in my hand I decided to book myself on abus tour of the Northern most point of NZ as this was the only part that I had yet to see.

Setting off on the bus was a strange feeling, I felt like a true grockle and I didn't like it but I got used to it. The general route of the bus took us from Auckland to Pahia/ Bay of Island, Cape Regina and back and then back to Auckland. Its like a hop on hop off system, you can stop off at any point for as long as you wish. I decided to stay up in the Bay of Islands for longer as I had met an American and Dutch guy up there and we were having a laugh. It was a pretty cool trip, I was able to see some massive Kauri trees, hugh sand dunes (which we boarded down!), Cape Regina (where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet, you can actually see this!) and the Bay on a kayak. The Bay of Islands is also home to Waitangi, which is a very important place in NZ history, it is were we Brits signed a treaty with the Maori Chieftains declaring sovereignty over the lands in exchange for protection and British citizenship for the Maori tribes. As you can imagine it didn't quite go to plan and there are still troubles and debates about the legality of the Crowns claims to this day. It was a great last few days in which to end my trip!

On the the way back to Auckland I also met up with a guy called Dave Jewel who I used to go to middle school with years ago, I ended up staying at his place for a couple of days which was great. It was nice to catch up with some familiar faces. The funny thing about this meet is that Dave and I both left the British Isles on exactly the same date, but we took slightly different routes.

Well heading back to Auckland I had a fairly uneventful last two days before getting on my flight; now here is where the story does get a little more interesting! So I arrived at the airport fairly early as I wanted to check in and get myself a good seat in the aisle over the wings. Well it turns out that my travel company - STA - had indeed changed my flight but they'd only made a reservation for my place and not actually produced a ticket! This meant that Air New Zealand were unwilling to let me board! Boy was I fuming, and to make it worse STA travel UK were closed, so I couldn't get a ticket number. STA travel UK open at 09:00 GMT, check in closed at 22:15 GMT +13, this meant that I had 15 minutes in which to call STA get a ticket number, check in, go through security and board! PHWAR! Guess what I made it! What an end to an eventful chapter that was NEW ZEALAND; good bye!

See you next time from the United States of America!

"Ooo arr comebine arvestar"

Hey and welcome to part 4 of the great update!

Boy was it strange dropping Steve off, we'd been traveling together for a long time, a little over 4 months I think; very strange to be travelling alone again!

Well I headed out to Taradale, a suburb of Napier to go an see Jane Crosse (my godmothers mother) whom I had not seen in a long time. Jane was awfully nice and put me up in her place for a few days while I sorted myself out and came up with a plan. It was great to stay with someone I had known from the UK to get that home feel again! Plus the added bonus of nice cooking! I ended up staying in Napier for a few more days as I had to get some stuff done on the car and a little bit of shopping. Whilst I was at Jane's we drove out to Puketitiri to visit Chris (my godmothers brother) and to go have a look around Balls Clearing, one of the few remaining spots of natural undamaged vegetation. I also had time to go to Cape Kidnappers and see the Gannet colony, quite an amazing sight seeing 2000 odd birds right in front of you completely unfazed!

Chris was kind enough to invite me out to his place and use it as a launching pad for a walk into the Kaweka ranges. Chris in my mind has one of the best jobs in the world, he owns his own helicopter and flies hunters, fishermen, trampers, kayakers, well anyone really into the Kaweka, Kaimanewa and Ruahine ranges! What a job! Well I headed out the next day in the Kaweka's for a three day hike in gorgeous weather, boy was it hot! I unfortunately got a huge blister on the heel of my right foot on the very first day of tramping which made for painful and slow going. The views were stunning, I could see right to the middle of the North Island spotting, Ngarahoe and Ruapehu volcano's in the distance, what a majestic sight. For the whole three days that I was out in the wilderness I did not see a single person, it was if I had the whole place to myself. It was also out here that I realised that I would in fact miss New Zealand when it was time for me to go, I have really enjoyed working/ living/ traveling around this country, a great place... needs better beer though ;) !

After getting back from my tramp I stayed a few more nights at Chris' place before heading out to Sarah's other brother, Ben's place at Patoka Station to work for a bit. I had been looking forward to this for a while, seeing a true NZ farm. On my first day I got stuck straight in, helping moving sheep around the yards putting them through the sheep dip! Over the next two weeks or so I helped out with a variety of jobs across the farm, moving sheep/ cattle, putting sheep into the wool sheds for shearing, dagging, dosing, general farm hand work, I also dug (using a trencher) a whole set of trenches all over their property for water pipes. It was hard but enjoyable work, I loved it! Whilst I was on the farm I also had a chance to have a god at a spot of clay pigeon shooting, much harder than you think! I also had a chance to go out on a spot of hunting, although we didn't get the chance to shoot anything much larger than a few rabbits.

While I stayed with Ben and Suzie I ate great food imbibed nice wine and beer and just generally relished in the fact that I was not moving to a new destination every 2 days. I noticed that whilst travelling it really helps to stay put for one in a while. Ben and Suzie were also kind enough to invite me to stay at their place for Christmas which was great, I met many of their friends and generally had a good time enjoying company. They kindly bought me a Christmas present, incredibly short shorts; one thing I noticed in my time in NZ was all Kiwi men just loved to wear rugby/ running shorts at every conceivable moment! Seen as I was given a pair for Christmas I decided that I would have to wear them whilst I was working on the farm, to fit in you know, wouldn't want to be a funny Johnny foreigner! New years was also spent at Ben and Suzie's place, another great evening.

After leaving Ben and Suzie I headed over the Kuripapango Road to Tongariro national park to continue my journey towards Auckland.

Adios til part 5.