Archive for October, 2011

Isla de Pascua

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

I didn’t know much about Easter Island before going there – it’s one of the few Pacific Islands I could get to on my round-the-world ticket and it has those carved stone heads. To be honest I don’t know much more about it after four days there – the stone heads are called Moai, there are fewer of them than you might imagine and the bases they stand on are called Ahu. Only a handful of the sites marked on the tourist maps with little Moai symbols actually have standing, and therefore photogenic, examples. Those you’ve probably seen photos of are at the Rana Raraku quarry where they were hewn from the rock. Almost all of the surviving Moai are found there. The symbols on the map actually signify an archaeological site, typically a jumble of stones half buried in the grass. You need a pretty good imagination to see them as the archaeologists have described them.

It’s a one-town island. Hanga Roa has the airport, a collection of souvenir shops, some tiny “supermarkets”, several car hire places, loads of restaurants and lots of tourist accommodation. It also has two diving centres. They both use speedboats to get to the dive sites, taking upto about eight divers at a time for a single dive before returning to shore. Both provide full equipment. I did a couple of dives with Orca Diving.

The first dive was at Moto Nui. The water was cold compared with Koh Tao – 20 degrees Celsius instead of 30 degrees. Ten degrees might not sound much but it makes a big difference. Even with a full 5mm wetsuit and hood I was shivering within about five minutes and sucked through my air like it was going out of fashion. But it was worth it. The water was an incredible blue and the visibility was amazing at 60+ metres. There weren’t many fish. I saw puffers, trumpet fish, long nose butterflies and several really colourful moray eels. There were lots of corals too. The second dive was at The Pyramid at Te Peu. Again the visibility was incredible, the water was cold and there were similar numbers and varieties of fish. I had planned to do five dives to get a discounted rate but decided two was enough given the water temperature. It felt strange being a paying customer and not being one of the staff, lugging equipment around and looking after the punters.

For the rest of my time on the island I hired a bicycle and explored. Outside of Hanga Roa there are just two surfaced roads and a handful of dirt roads. The dirt roads are pretty bumpy in places. I cycled and walked about 90km over three days and saw most of the island. It was a nice place to spend a few days. There are some photos in my Easter Island set at Flickr.

Just like home

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Well, not exactly, although there are lots of similarities:

  • Rolling green hills covered in gorse bushes.
  • Driving on the correct side of the road.
  • Fields full of sheep and cattle.
  • Speaking English.
  • Expensive.
  • Rainy.

On the other hand:

  • Snow covered mountains dotted with skiers and snow boarders.
  • Penguins, seals and albatrosses.
  • Clean air, wide open spaces.
  • Thermal springs and earthquakes.
  • Relaxed and laid back natives.

The lists could go on but those are the things that stick most in my mind. And yes, there are snow covered mountains in Great Britain, and thermal springs and  the occasional earthquake but there are more of them in New Zealand.

After five days hanging around in Christchurch for post (which still hasn’t arrived) I gave up and got on the bus to Kaikoura. The scenery on the way, as everywhere else in New Zealand was beautiful. Snow capped mountains in the distance on the left, rolling green hills between them and the road, ocean on the right. In Kaikoura the mountains come really close to the shore giving peaks, beach and ocean in a 50mm field of view. I thought I’d left the crappy weather of the last few days behind in Christchurch but by the evening it had caught up.

As far as the diving school was concerned it was still winter so they weren’t doing weekday dives. The bad weather meant the dolphin and whale watching boats weren’t going out either. So I walked the Kaikoura peninsular track in the rain on Wednesday morning, grateful to the hostel manager for the loan of a pair of gumboots.

It was still raining on Thursday, another travel day – to Auckland by bus and inter-island ferry. A lot of people have flocked to New Zealand on account of a game played by big hairy men with a funny shaped ball. Apparently there was a game in Auckland at the weekend and hoteliers were using that as an excuse to vastly inflate their prices. My bed for Thursday night cost NZ$25, the cheapest I could find for Friday night was NZ$85. Too expensive for me so Friday was another travel day, up to Rotorua.

Rotorua is an active geo-thermal area, riddled with hot springs, bubbling mud pools and geysers. I was expecting a lot more rotten egg smell all the time. In fact there were only infrequent whiffs unless I was standing right next to one of the thermal features. The town boasts some of the same adventure activities as Queenstown including jet boating, flightseeing and tandem skydives. The sun was out again and I was content with a walk through the redwood forest on the edge of town. Wandering in the peace among some of the largest living things on the planet I felt a strong urge to get naked and run around. My conversion to free spirit is obviously incomplete since I resisted the temptation.

Next day in Rotorua the rain was back and it followed me up to Auckland. See, just like being in England.

There’s just an hour left before I have to catch the bus to the airport and there try to retrieve my walking boots from the MAF (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry) people. Rentokil finally cleaned my boots (and charged me NZ$20 for the privilege), sent so many months ago from Thailand so I wouldn’t have to carry them all through SE Asia. MAF inspected them again and declared them safe to be out and about in New Zealand. But by then I was in Rotorua and just a couple of days away from leaving New Zealand. It seemed like the surest way of getting them back would be to collect them at the airport. Was that tempting fate? We’ll see. Messrs Sod and Murphy be warned! Stay away from the airport today!

Later I’ll get back all the hours I’ve lost in time zone shifts flying eastwards by crossing the dateline. My flight departs at 17:10 today (Tuesday), and arrives in Santiago de Chile at 12:40 on the same date, four and a half hours before taking off. A kind of time travel. What are your travel plans for today?

Stuck in Christchurch

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

One night was all I had planned in earthquake devastated Christchurch. Just long enough to collect some post from the Post Office, have a quick look around and hop on a bus to Kaikoura. Unfortunately my post hasn’t arrived. The Post Office is closed over the weekend. So I’m stuck here until at least Monday. That’s a triple whammy because

  • there’s not a lot to do here
  • it steals time from the places I will go after here
  • there is nowhere else to sensibly go for the weekend using the bus pass I have

So it looks like being a research and planning weekend for North Island, Easter Island and Peru. Made more difficult by the fact that internet access in New Zealand is basically crap. It’s also expensive. This may be a first world country but with only 4 million people the telecoms infrastructure is a bit lacking. Very few hostels offer free wifi or internet connected PCs. In most places it is NZ$3-4 per hour for a painfully slow connection. There’s not exactly an abundance of internet cafés either, and those there are have the same expensive and not astonishingly quick connections.

I checked for any tango in Christchurch over the weekend. Google says not. It also doesn’t offer much hope for any milongas in the places I’ll be, on the days I hope to be in them before leaving New Zealand.

Fingers crossed my post arrives soon and I can resume my travels. What are you hoping for on Monday morning?