A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

New Zealand – Queenstown

Adrenaline pumping city

semi-overcast 24 °C
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You can do practically anything here! Jet boating, sky diving, canyon swings, bungy, rafting just to name a few of the seemingly endless list of advertised activities. We knew this is what Queenstown is about and were intending to tick a few off the list!

The drive from Fox Glacier took us by some more stunning coast line and then into what I would call proper Lord of the Rings country! Driving along Lake Wanaka we almost expected to see Peter Jackson around doing some filming. As we later found out there have been lots of scenes from the upcoming Hobbit move filmed around here, so Peter Jackson may be have been in town.

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Swinging into Queenstown, it was a lot smaller than we were expecting. More like a ski town rather than a city, but considering its known for its ski season, that’s probably what we should have been expecting. The views around town are certainly pretty impressive. We parked up at the campervan site and walked into town deciding on the way to stop and have a meal out rather than cooking for our self.

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We went into a nice place on the waterfront and i had been hanging out to try the green lip mussels that i had seen around the whole of New Zealand. These things are big suckers, and were a tasty starter! Tanya sampled some of the New Zealand lamb and can confirm that they are a healthy breed this season!

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The following morning we were booked in to do our first high adrenaline activity... skydiving. Tan has done it before and loved it. Also she has teased me about not wanting to do it in Switzerland in 2006. Planning to put that to rest finally, I was all for doing it here in Queenstown! The morning was welcomed by rain on the roof of the campervan and a call into the office at 7.30am confirmed that the jump was on hold until 12. This wasn’t a bad thing as the 7am alarm seemed a bit too early for our unemployed bodies so we rolled back over and had a few more hours kip.

Checking in again at 12, the weather wasn’t much improved, so the lady said we could try again at 4pm or book for the following day. We decided to free up the day and go for tomorrow. This gave me the opportunity to tick something else of the list... Bungy Jumping. The very first Bungy was here in Queenstown so i thought it was appropriate to go to where it all started at the A.J Hackett Kawarau Bridge.

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Despite the mocking about sky diving, Tanya cannot bring herself to do a bungy, so i was on my own for this one. A quick weight check and indemnity signature and I had my slip of paper to take to the bridge. Before I knew it, I confirmed that I wanted to hit the water, my ankles were strapped and I was on the edge of the platform. The bloke behind me said ‘A wave to the camera over on the left’

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Then he said ‘right on the count of three, one , two, three’ and that was it, without a thought I went!

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At the instant my feet left the platform, I distinctly thought hmm, was everything connected? A short yelp and the valley was rushing past my peripheral vision and the water coming. That’s when the adrenaline kicked in and I can’t actually remember anything but tilting my head waiting to hit the water before being jerked back skyward. I was told that I had experienced ground rush (what Bungy is all about) which makes everything go faster thanks to the adrenaline. Wondering why I hadn’t hit the water, the guy in the boat said I did a good looking jump launching from the platform, but that makes it harder to hit the water.

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What a rush, that was WICKED!!

It was still early afternoon so we decided to head down to a little lake on the way back from the bungy. Hayes Lake was really nice as the sun came out and gave us some good views to read our books to.

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The following morning skydiving was on hold again when we made the early morning call, but things were promising, so we met at 10am for transport to the drop zone. On the way out the guy driving us pointed out a number of spots where filming has happened in the area including a spot by the lake that will feature in the upcoming Hobbit movie. We stopped for some views down to Glenorchy where the airfield is.

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At the airfield we waited while 2 British girls went up for their jumps first. We then were suited and booted in the attractive jump suits and rigged out with our harnesses. Then it was time to get airborne.

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Climbing up to 12000 feet, the views around us was amazing! The mountain peaks, the massive lake and the high hung glaciers were breathtaking. Enjoying the view was stopped in order to get rigged up ready for the jump. Tan would be going first and then me to follow. Before we knew it the door was open and the wind was rushing into the tiny aircraft.

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Tanya and her instructor shuffled up to position and they were hanging out of the plane. Then it was really strange to see them jump. To anyone who might have been a little nervous, it would probably send you over the edge because the wind and movement of the plane makes it seem a bit alarming.

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I shuffled over with my tandem master and hung my legs out the door where you really notice how fast you are going as your legs seem to get taken from you. A quick word from the tandem master and this is what happened for the next 45 seconds

The first instant of falling out was a real rush as we fell upside down and you see the plane leaving you. But then as we came around and righted and i let my arms out, there was no panicking or alarm, it was just a pure rush! I would even go so far as to call it calming as the mountains and horizon take up your entire vision as you kind of feel like you are suspended in air!

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The freefall didn’t seem too short or too long, just like 45 seconds and then the canopy was up with a jolt. We had a slight twist but that righted itself soon enough and then we were floating. My tandem master pulled a few twists and turns before letting me have a go. It only seemed like another 45 seconds and we were back on terra firma.

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Another awesome experience, and in a pretty damn good place for it too!

That afternoon we hung around town still buzzing from our jump and had a famous Ferg Burger. This is a Queenstown institution, and you will know the place as people are always queuing out the door! The burgers were massive and real tasty. We stayed around town until 7pm to pick up my skydive DVD then hit the road heading for Milford Sound

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Daniel - Bungy and Skydiving were AWESOME! I wish I had been able to take it in a bit more on the bungy, i was on the edge for only seconds before jumping. Maybe that works for nervous people. The freefall on the skydive was wicked amongst all the peaks and spectacular landscape. I was on a high after both of the activities, but if I was going to do either again, I would do another bungy first! Only because I found that more intense with all the scenery rushing past you. On the skydive, apart from the wind, the landscape stays relatively stable. Couldn’t have picked a better location for the skydive too!!

Tanya – The included scenic flight was brilliant, what a great place to skydive! I regret not doing the bungy, but our budget is getting tight... Anyway, Queenstown was a great little city to spend a few days either relaxing or buzzing!

Posted by dbgomes 18:18 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand round_the_world Comments (0)

New Zealand – South Island West Coast

Pancakes with some Ice on top

semi-overcast 20 °C
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New Zealand’s geographical and geological situation means that the south west coast receives about 30meters of snow per year. This over a long time means that it is chock full of Glaciers. The two most famous ones were on our list to see, but we made a quick stop in to see the pancake rocks of Punakaiki

We hit the road as soon as we got back from kayaking and made a few stops along the road before pulling in late to roadside stop somewhere along the coastal highway. We actually got told from a guy at the petrol station to make sure we didn’t go all the way to Punakaiki during the dark as the coast road is really picturesque. We were glad to follow his advice as the following morning we had these great coastal views.

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We got to the location of the Pancake rocks around about 8.30am thinking that we had missed high tide and the blowholes that come to life at high tide. The pancake rocks are interesting with multiple layers of rock showing the timeline of the sea floor in the area.

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We went back to the carpark and saw a sign saying that high tide was actually at 9.45am so we decided it would be fitting to pass the time with serving up some pancakes in our van until high tide to catch the blowholes. The pancakes were yummy, but the blowholes weren’t getting their groove on this morning. When we went back to have a look, there was one chimney spout that gave us some shows, but the main blowhole was not doing much as the swell wasn’t as high or at the right angle or something. A lady showed us some video she got the night before and it was a lot more impressive then.

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Luckily the early morning clouds were starting to break up though with the passing time and we got some more shots at the rocks and along the rest of the coastline.

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As we got further south into Glacier Country the higher peaks began to rise from the countryside. We pulled into Franz Josef town and checked out for details of the glacier at the information centre before deciding to just go out and have a look at the glaciers rather than paying to hike on them as we have done it before in Norway.

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Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are really accessible being only a 30 min walk from the main road. We walked up to the face of Franz Josef in the afternoon of our time in the area then visited Fox Glacier the following morning. They were cool to see, but we both agree that Perito Merino Glacier in Argentina was much more impressive. The unique thing about these glaciers is unlike the others we have seen around the world, they don’t finish in a big lake, they just crumble onto the rocks and have a little stream coming from below them.

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Queenstown was the next destination with some high adrenaline activities on the cards!

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – The west coast was very picturesque and similar in many ways to the pacific coast drive that we did in California. If you are only going to see one of the glaciers in the area, Fox glacier was a bit more impressive I thought

Tanya – Similar to the Pacific Coast, but also at times like Death Road in Bolivia, beautiful. Other than fuel it was good to have a few easy days on the budget.

Posted by dbgomes 02:31 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand round_the_world Comments (0)

New Zealand – Abel Tasman National Park

Life on the waves

sunny 29 °C
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New Zealand’s smallest national park is big on beauty! This little chunk of land sticking up into the tasman sea gets lots of sunshine and after a few days of driving in the rain, we were glad to see the weather forecast showing a spell of sunny weather. There are two main options for seeing the national park – trekking or kayaking. We chose the water bound option.

We got to Wellington at a decent time for the ferry crossing south to Picton and had time to relax and watch a movie while queuing for the crossing. The weather had been clearing up and we had beautiful views of the crossing. We were welcomed to the south island with impressive views through the channels leading to Picton. The mountains just rise up from the water and we had nice weather to go out on the deck and watch the mountains go by as we arrived at the south island.

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That afternoon we drove along the coast as far as Richmond where we stayed for the night. We initially intended to do the Abel Tasman trek. The Abel Tasman national park, although the smallest in the country, is also the busiest, the stunning coastline making it picture perfect. As we´d wet our appetite for kayaking recently, we were keen to give it another go and the ´freedom kayaking´ option suited us perfectly, so we sorted out our reservations for the following day and just explored some of the bay for the remainder of the day. We found a lovely beach to have our lunch by and just take in the sunshine and the scenery on a midweek day while enjoying not being at work!

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We´d been told about a reserve on Ruby Bay that had $6 campsites so we headed there for the night. It was a beautiful spot right on the beach and the cold showers weren’t too bad.

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The following day we went to the kayak company and were issued with our tents and camping supplies and we packed these into our kayaks along with our food and clothes for the next 3 days. We then had a brief tuition with another 3 blokes who were renting for the day. Dan and I managed to push out through the waves without a hitch and were feeling pretty confident. We turned around and saw that everyone had made it past the breakers but the guy in the single kayak unsteadied himself somehow and flipped over. Not a good way to start, I certainly didn’t fancy doing the same! After the instructor was confident we knew what we were doing we were let loose on the open ocean.

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Low tide called for transport assistance for the kayaks and water taxis

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Dan making the final adjustments

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On the water!

We had a map of the coastline and the islands and had a lot to explore. There were a few islands along the way which we circled around. One had an amazing sand bar. The tide movements change the water level over 3 meters so sandbanks formed and the rock formations were very impressive.

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After a few hours of leisurely exploring we had to take on the mad mile. This was a stretch where the headland juts out into the ocean making for rougher waters. I will comment that the whole area we were kayaking in was in the large Nelsons bay so somewhat protected already. We definitely noticed a difference in the waters and the mad mile was tough work. We were relatively lucky that we had a helpful south easterly behind us.

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Along the mad mile we pulled into a pretty and secluded cove for a break and some lunch. Unfortunately we´d forgot to get lunch out of the fridge and had to settle for fruit and muesli bars which was fine although Dan was suddenly ready to eat our 3 days worth of supplies and somewhat worried about the smallish rations, which I found quite funny.

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We had decided to set up camp at Mosquito Bay which is one of the quieter campgrounds away from the walking track and set in a very picturesque bay. It took a bit of negotiating around the almost invisible sandbar which changed the island on the bay into part of the mainland. This island, we claimed as our own little island!

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We managed to set up camp in a good little spot and get some dinner going early in the hope of avoiding the mosquitoes. Unfortunately, there was to be no avoiding them.

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The next day we didn’t have to be anywhere or set up camp so after a bit of a sleep in we went in search of the seals to the north. The winds were not in our favour for heading north but at least they would help us return to camp. After a tough paddle around another headland, we made it into the calm wasters of Tonga island. Fortunately for our tired arms, that’s just where a few of the fur seals were resting so we got to sit back and enjoy the wildlife for a bit.

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We had been told that more seals hide out on the north side of the island so we decided to venture back into the rough seas to circle around and see. Moving around into the direct winds we went into very difficult choppy waters, but we were so lucky as there was a seal playing around in the water pruning itself. We got a few pictures but it wasn’t easy taking turns fighting against the waves trying to hold the kayak in position while the other took photos.

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Navigating around the rest of the island became much easier with the waves behind us and we had a few more seal sightings.

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We still had plenty of time to explore some other areas. After stopping for fresh water to take back to the camp we negotiated our way into a river which took us to a swing bridge that crosses the river.

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We had to go to the river late in the day to time it with high tide. Our paddle through the river was lovely and calm and negotiating our way back out again was fine until we had to get back into the ocean. The sea was breaking over a now covered sandbank and we had to carefully time when we would try to negotiate our way across it through the waves. Making our way back to camp was just as difficult as we fought to get around the headland. By the time we got back we were spent and happily called it a night early on.

The tide movements were crazy here with the two shots showing high and low tides of our island

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Our final day on the ocean was much calmer and we had a great sunny day to slowly make our way back. We repacked the tent and all our gear and headed out. Wed not done a good job of packing and had a rather lopsided kayak, but it was hardly a chore to pull into another oasis to reshuffle a few items.

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Last view of our island

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We also find the time to stop for lunch and a nice swim, it was a lovely relaxing day. We ended the day messing around in the surf and catching some good waves in, our shoulders were pretty sore by this point by we’d had another amazing adventure!

FINAL THOUGHTS
Tanya – This is possibly one of the most memorable activities of our holiday to date. It was great to set out on our own and explore in a different way from the water. We got a decent bit of exercise too which we haven’t had in a long time! I won’t be forgetting this experience for a long time.

Daniel – We have had some pretty bad weather up to now, but we happily endured that in order to be rewarded with some cracking few days of sunshine when we needed it most. A beautiful part of the country and i think we made the right choice to see it from the water! Mental note - Next time remember to pack more supplies... I was considering waking up in the dead of the night and eating our stash of food!

Posted by dbgomes 16:10 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand round_the_world Comments (1)

New Zealand – Rotorua & Hawkes Bay

Rotten eggs on the nose, Crushed grapes on the tongue

rain 17 °C
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Driving into Rotorua the sulphur smell hits you early on before you drive past the steaming mud pools! This volcanic town has a bunch of things to do in amongst its beautiful natural scenery. We would try to fit a few things in.

First stop on the adventure trail was for some Zorbing. In case you haven’t heard of it before, you hop inside a big rubber ball and get thrown down a hill. We went to the location of the first ever Zorb just outside of Rotorua. You are given three options
1. Straight track, zig-zag track or big drop track
2. Solo or with a friend (friends only on the straight track)
3. With water or strapped in.
We both selected the solo ‘water’ version on the zig-zag track which was said to be the most fun of the options.

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After being taken up the hill Tanya was first to go and after a superman dive into the zorb which is filled with nice warm water she was kicked down the slope and all I could here were screams as she bumped off the sides on the way down.

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I was next in and managed to get this video while in there.

It was a lot more of a buzz that we were expecting and I guess the closest feeling to being in a washing machine. You had no idea where you were going or when a big bump and turn were coming. We were both happy to check it off our adventure activity list!

We stopped in at the bubbling mud pools and steaming hot lakes right in the centre of town to check out the volcanism at work, surprisingly it wasn’t overly smelly down here compared to the road into town. Maybe we were just getting used to it or something.

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We then took a ride up the cable car for some views over the city and to ride on the luge carts that they have up there. The views going up over the city were great but really that was just a side attraction to having some fun on the luge tacks. We got a deal for 2 rides and started off on the ´scenic track´ which we were hoping to skip thinking that it would be a boring one to figure out how to use the luges. I was wrong, this was arguably the best of the bunch and we got some photos and video after a few stops down the long track. It was an awesome ride and the luge was definitely faster, wilder and even more fun than I was expecting.

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We took the chairlift up and hit the advanced track which was even faster to the point of getting air over a few of the humps.

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Having had a blast on the luge (I think they should do one in the hills in Perth!) we checked into a caravan park which had its own thermal pool, perfect for a relaxing break before cooking up some food.

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The next day was welcomed with some horrible weather. We drove out to the Blue Lake and Green Lake just outside Rotorua but they were both a distinctive shade of grey today!

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With the dim weather we headed south to Lake Taupo stopping into the Huka falls for quick look before a few hours solid driving to get to Napier and Hawkes Bay. The weather wasn’t much better down here and we couldn’t see more than a few hundred meters out into the bay, however the weather didn’t stop us doing a bit of wine tasting, for which the region is well known.

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That night we did our first freedom camping picking a spot by the side of the highway and pulling in there to spend the night. We cooked up some hotdogs and enjoyed a bottle of red that we had purchased at the winery. There are plenty of rest stops just like these on the New Zealand highways and it was great to have the countryside to ourselves – well the passing traffic also.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Daniel – Zorbing was great and the luge was a bunch of fun. I know my brother and cousin would have loved it too and it would have been cool to have them here for it, as Tanya didn’t really enjoy me overtaking and bumping into her luge :-) I’m loving having the camper van, you have so much more freedom with it to go where ever you want, when you want!

Tanya – More excited about going skydiving at a later date I wasn’t expecting much of a thrill from the zorb – maybe the claustrophobic element adds to the buzz, it was great fun. The luge had some very impressive tracks and was brilliant fun, even for us bigger kids!

Posted by dbgomes 23:45 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand round_the_world Comments (0)

New Zealand – Coromandel Peninsula

Welcome to Ein Zid

all seasons in one day 26 °C
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The home of Middle Earth, the Rugby World Champions and a little black bird - New Zealand is our closest destination from Australia (although not really from Perth) but this will be our first time visiting this dramatic country.

The first thing we noticed on arriving at Auckland airport was just how friendly everyone was! While we have found people friendly everywhere, it was just even more noticeable here. Right from the bloke in customs, the girl at the mini mart and the bus driver from the airport – really cheerful and straight away offering help. The second thing we noticed was a lot of retail shops from Australia that we hadn’t seen for 6 years, it was like being back in Perth but with a slightly different accent!

After having the 8th of February 2012 disappear into oblivion as we crossed the international date line, we got into Auckland feeling pretty good. We took a stroll down to the harbour side passing the sky tower along the way. We settled down for an afternoon beer overlooking the water enjoying the feeling of being back in summer.

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The following morning we were due to collect our car to drive up to the Bay of Islands, but in the morning checking our emails before we left, the car company said that they didn’t have the car available and were refunding our money... Great!! Commence hunting around for plan B. We had initially decided on a car over a camper van, but over the last couple of days we were wishing that we had actually gone for a camper van, so we saw the cancellation as a blessing in disguise as we started to go down the route of looking for a camper van. The only problem now was that everywhere was all booked up given we are only just out of peak season. A few phone calls round and we eventually found one that we could take from the following day and at a higher price than booking a few months back, ohh well money can be replaced and all it meant for our schedule was dropping Bay of Islands off the destination list.

At 8am we were out at BackPacker Rental Van’s office watching a briefing DVD on how to use our camper van. By 9.30am we were on the road heading for the Coromandel Peninsula. After stocking up the fridge and pantry in the van, the drive took around 4 hours and we headed straight for the beach town of Hahei. The drive was beautiful and very much reminded us of the UK. Green, rolling hills and raining. We could have easily been in Scotland or the English Lake District. Although once we got to the coast line of the peninsula, it was a different story.

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We called a kayak company on the way there and booked in for an afternoon sea kayaking around the coastline. Having rain in the morning in Auckland, we had thought that maybe we weren’t going to have such a great day. Luckily, on this side of the mountains, it was beautiful and sunny with hardly a breath of wind.

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We were onto the water in a little group of 6 with our guide. She said that we were really lucky as the water was amazingly clear and the wind was so light. We set off for the island off the coast, I can’t remember what it’s called, but it is representative of the nose of the first Maori settler in the area!

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The only underwater shot we got before the Sony battery died

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Circling around the island, the water was crystal clear and really calm. We kayaked through one of the caves on the island and it was a great way to be able to see it up close and from the waters perspective.

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Heading back to the mainland, we landed at Cathedral Cove which has stunning rock formations with a big tall rock and a large tunnel through the headland. The beach was beautiful with nice white sand, calm warm water and these great natural rock features. We messed around for a while getting photos before having a beachside coffee and heading off.

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Paddling back we stopped at a few more of the little bays and then landed back at the Hahei beach. The guide told us that with it being low tide we were perfectly timed for heading round to the Hot Water Beach, which as the name suggests, has a thermal vent right on the beach leaching out hot water. When we got there, the tide was starting to come back in and the few self dug bathing pools were full to the brim with lots of backpackers down there for the same thing. Without any room to hop in we resorted to just standing with our feet a few inches in the warm hot sand and water.

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A bathing frenzy

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This one was actually cold, but needed it for photographic purposes

We got back into our home for the next few weeks and headed for our first camp ground leaving this beautiful area behind.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Daniel – Only spending 1 afternoon in the whole of Coromandel Peninsula was simply down to our limited time in the country as a whole. This won’t be the last time we visit New Zealand, so we will definitely be back to this part, it was beautiful!

Tanya – Sea kayaking was fantastic. My shoulders are a little sore, but it was a great way to explore the coast. The only other way to get to beautiful cathedral cove is a 1 hour hike so we definitely made the right choice. If we’d had more time we would have returned to hot water beach earlier (based on tide times) and taken a shovel. Oh well, we will just have to come back here too!

Posted by dbgomes 21:55 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand round_the_world Comments (0)

USA – Las Vegas & Grand Canyon

Viva Sin City

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Las Vegas is known the world over.
1. The best place for the mob to launder its money,
2. girls any way you like and
3. the location for many a forgetful hangover!!

We weren’t sure what to expect from it, its not like we haven’t been to casino’s before! On a backpacker budget we were either going to replenish some funds or send a few down the drain. Either way, it would surely be an experience.

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We drove into town just as the sun was setting. We could see the strip from the mountain pass as we came over it into the valley. The famous lights of Las Vegas were beginning to illuminate and we got a tingle of excitement hit us as we drove in to park up at The MGM hotel.

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We didn’t even set foot outside of the hotel on the first night, deciding to make the most of the free buffet dinner (being tempted with a buffet as a backpacker – always leads to overindulgence) included with our room and test out the gaming floor. We mostly played roulette and made a 50% profit on our money for the night! Good start.

We had a nice lay in, enjoying no set plans after a lot of long days on the road. We headed out onto the strip and after a few photos and taking in the atmosphere someone said to us that we could get some free stuff if we just went to see their new hotel. After being promised cheap Cirque De Soleil tickets and a free lunch I said to Tanya, may as well for some free stuff. It turned out to be a timeshare sales-pitch, which was fine as we sat there drinking our free drinks and light snacks. Although after nearly 2 hours there the dude trying to sell us the timeshare was really angry with us when we continually said no (even though after 5 minutes he said ‘i know you’re not going to buy’). He just stood up and left and he got another bloke to come over an finish off our meeting. It was quite funny and we didn´t care, we just saved our self a packet on a show and lunch.

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New York New York with a rollercoaster in the hotel!!!

We went and enjoyed the lunch which was at a Brazilian BBQ place which was really nice. They continually brought out fresh cooked meat and you took what you wanted. Suitably full, and still laughing at the experience of the timeshare sales pitch we walked down the strip past some of the most well known hotels/casino’s in the world. The Bellagio, Paris, Ceasers Palace, The Mirage all seemed like we knew them already!

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As we walked back to New York New York where we were seeing the show, everything we had just seen in daylight was now starting to light up into a whole new world.

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The show we were seeing was called Zumanity – The sensual side of Circque de Soleil! Not sure what it was going to be like, it turned out to be really fun! A massive tank of water, hoops, ropes, acrobatic ribbons and gymnastics mixed with lots of boobs and near naked bodies were really cool routines. But in between all of these breathtaking high acrobatics there were a few ‘characters’ that came on stage and got lots of people from the crowd involved for little breaks in the show. These were just as enjoyable and extremely funny. It seemed like we had a really good crowd in that night as almost all of the people that they picked out were really lighthearted and played along with the skits. There were some really funny moments and we left the show really impressed with the whole thing.

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The only photo I snuck during the show

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We made an early start in the morning for a trip out to the Grand Canyon. We were originally going to spend a couple of nights out there and was hoping to do some trekking in the Canyon, however that was looking a bit difficult for in the winter, so we decided to only do 1 night out there and spend another back in Vegas as we wanted more of Sin City!

After about 6 hours driving, we finally pulled into the Grand Canyon National Park and started along the scenic road along the southern rim (which is usually closed to regular vehicles, low season has its advantages). We were immediately blown away at the first viewpoint! The scale of the canyon is truly incredible and cannot be appreciated without seeing it with your own eyes! And there was even snow along the rim.

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As we went further down the road the views just continued to change and we realised that the first views we saw were only just a small fraction of this entire natural phenomenon!

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Some of the viewpoints were on parts of the rim which jutted out into the canyon and really took our breath away with the size of this place

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We watched as the sun went down and lit up the upper rocks in the canyon. It was a great few hours spent just taking that view in. We would have really like to have done a few days hiking into the canyon, but that will have to wait until next time!

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On the way back to Las Vegas we stopped in at the Hoover Dam which is another amazing engineering feat that turned Las Vegas from a desert backwater into a viable city. After driving over the dam, I went for a walk back over it while Tanya took in the view above the dam and watched the playful chipmunks.

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A little less water than normal

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Back in Las Vegas, we stayed at the Excalibur Hotel this time and after getting checked in went down to the LVH at the other end of the strip where we heard that the Superbowl would be shown for free (a lot of places were charging to watch the game). I don’t follow American Football that much, but I do usually try and watch the Superbowl, so having the chance to watch the biggest sporting show with a big crowd would be an experience. The game was good as it went right down to the wire and we didn’t mind who won. There were probably about 1000 people in the show room watching it and the atmosphere was great. The $1 hot dogs were also pretty good!!

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After the football we headed over to the stratosphere hotel. At the opposite end of the strip to where we had been staying, we got some great views from the top. We also had a ride on the Big Shot – The highest amusement ride in the world. We were shot up into the air without seeing anything except the lights of Vegas. We were buzzing afterwards!

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Another of the insane rides hanging off the side of the Stratosphere

We walked back down the strip stopping at the Bellagio to watch their famous fountain show. I didn’t know water could be made to dance like that. It was pretty cool!

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The next day we drove back to LA and checked in to our hostel in Venice Beach late in the evening. We have travelled throughout South America and seen a fair few homeless people, but driving through the suburbs of LA, we were shocked at how many homeless there were on the streets! Its crazy that this is a first world city!

We had a late flight out of LA, so only had the day to look around. Unfortunately the weather was terrible so we decided to do a bunch of admin in the morning to see if the rain passed. We got out for a quick stroll down Venice Beach, but it probably needed to be a nice day to look better than we saw. We headed out to the airport early to wait for our flight to begin the next part of our adventures - New Zealand.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Daniel – Vegas is like Disney Land for adults! I thought that we might run out of things to do there as its just casinos. Couldn’t have been more off the mark. We didn’t spend much in the casino’s either just enough to have some fun. I think we will actually come back here, maybe with a bit more disposable cash next time though. Nothing more i can say about the Grand Canyon – amazingly massive!

Tanya – Cirque-de-soleil – amazing! Food – amazing! Bellagio fountains – amazing! The strip – amazing! Winning money – amazing! Loosing money – still fun! Grand Canyon – A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! Well for a tacky city, it gets my vote.
We really had a great time. The grand canyon is less accessible over the winter, our ambitions of trekking rim to rim were thwarted by the winter closure of the north rim. Too bad we had a superbowl game to return to Vegas for. This has been so different to the rest of our travels and as we like a bit of a flutter on the tables, even loosing was still fun!

Posted by dbgomes 03:02 Archived in USA Tagged usa round_the_world Comments (0)

USA – Pacific Coast & Death Valley

Heading on the Highway, Looking for Adventure

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Although we had recently ventured to the snow slopes in a hire car, this was our first road trip of the holiday and it was exciting to embark on a new adventure with little idea as to where we were going other than highway 1 and then towards the bright lights of Las Vegas.

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Dan was happy to be in a car again and hitting the road. We headed for Monterey on our first day which is few hours south of San Francisco. It took us much longer than this however as we had to stop constantly for pictures of the dramatic and ever changing coastline. It really was stunning even though there was some typical northern California fog around.

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Due to our late arrival we didn’t get to see much of Monterey as initially planned. The next day we headed south again and first stopped at nearby Carmel which is a nice little village right on a beautiful beach. The weather was a lot kinder today too.

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Hitting the highway again we saw signs warning of road holdups ahead but they also said Big Sur was open for business as usual so we happily stuck to highway 1 and continued to enjoy the beautiful coat road. We made it to Big Sur with no hold ups, we didn’t stop but it looks like the hippy town its described as – very small and tucked away within beautiful national park.

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Not far from Big Sur we found the road closure which was due to an earlier rock slide (most likely caused by the new bridge work going on there). The nearest detour was 1.5 hours back the way we came and then on a parallel road. The prediction was another 1.5 hour wait so we just drove back a short way to a pretty little cliff-side restaurant for lunch.

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We went back towards the road closure and joined the queue of traffic waiting for the road to open again and eventually we were on the move again. After continuing for another few hours we stopped at the elephant seal colony at Point Piedras Blancas. I could have watched them for hours (had it not been so cold and windy), the seals were very entertaining and quite noisy too. The sound reminded me of someone trying to start a lawnmower with all their belching and farting!

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The big fella getting his grove on


Due to the delay I was going to miss out on some wine tasting that I´d been looking forward to but we’d decided to detour to Death Valley on the way to Vegas so had to keep going and arrived in Santa Barbara early evening.

We chose to go to Death Valley because of its proximity to Vegas, but the name certainly was intriguing. What is this place called Death Valley, with Badwater springs, Devils Golf Course and ghost towns? Well Death Valley used to hold the record for the hottest place on earth till a few years ago hitting 57 degrees Celsius. The combination of clear skies from the rain shadow, being surrounded by high mountain ranges and lack of any vegetation means the temperature only goes one way.

It wasn’t the smallest detour so we made an early start and got to the national park around 2pm. We stopped for a few quick photos on the way up as we passed through some desolate, lonely looking countryside and mountain ranges as we dropped below sea level.

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Once in the national park, the first port of call was Mosaic canyon. It was very impressive as we wandered into a canyon which slowly enclosed around us with amazingly smooth walls. It was like walking through a time shot of geological formation and really gets you thinking of the high school geography classes again wondering how these formations are made.

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The sun was rapidly setting, but we managed to drive past some sand dunes before stopping for pictures at Zabrisky point and then sunset at Dante´s view.

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Sunset at Dante’s view overlooking the salt flats

We spent the night in Beatty which is a typical small American town. We ate our diner in a Saloon (which somewhat resembled my Dad´s big shed, but nonetheless, the ribs and burgers were great). In the morning we had breakfast at a diner for heavy pancakes and bacon and eggs. We had only just scratched the surface in Death Valley so we went back out there for more sightseeing. We stopped at Rhyolite Ghost town.

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Then back in the national park we stopped at Devils golf course (so named as only the devil could play golf there), Badwater salt lake at 85m below sea level and Natural Bridge canyon

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Devils Gold Course

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Badwater Basin

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The road then took us on artists drive towards ‘Artists Palette’ and then another stop at beautiful Zabrisky point before a drive through twenty mule team canyon. The colours and contours of these areas were amazing!

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It is a really stunning national park, despite the name! Driving through the canyons is pretty special too. If we had a 4WD we could have explored further but even the gravel roads are well maintained and marked on the map.

So we survived Death Valley and now viva Las Vegas which might be a different story...!!

FINAL THOUGHTS

Tanya – 2 nights was possible for highway 1, but not long enough to explore the towns in addition to the views so another couple of nights would have been great. The motels have been amazing, and sometimes cheaper than hostel dorm rooms! Death Valley was beautiful, I couldn’t believe what diverse scenery the desert had to offer in just 1 national park.

Daniel – Pacific Highway 1 is as stunning as everyone says. The coastline is so rugged and rough and every turn around a cliff edge bend in the road was always another breathtaking moment. It was good to be able to go at our own pace in the car and that meant that we could include the detour through Death Valley which was so different but no less amazing. Death Valley for me was like walking through a geology class with the effect of wind and water on all the layers of rock so clear to see.

Posted by dbgomes 01:11 Archived in USA Tagged usa round_the_world Comments (0)

USA – San Francisco

Making sure to wear flowers in our hair

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Landing and making our way into San Francisco was strange. It felt like we knew the place already. I’m sure it was a combination of computer games, movies and TV shows that made everything look like a familiar city. This would continue over the coming days as we worked our way around the famous landmarks.

On our first morning in San Francisco we went and hired a bike from around the corner of our downtown hostel and headed west towards the Golden Gate Park. On the way out through the neighbourhoods we didn’t encounter too many of San Francisco’s famous big hills. We did however go past the houses from the old TV show, Full House.

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The Full House houses

We went up the de Young art museum in the park which gave really good views out over the city on a fantastic clear day (given San Francisco is famous for its fog, we were really lucky). We continued on through the park to the coast line at lands end. The park was really nice and seemed like a great area to be able to hang out on a fine sunny day

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At the coast we headed uphill past the seal islands, got our first glimpse of the famous Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and through Presidio with more great open space, gardens and short walks. There were some really nice houses too and clearly well off areas of the city around this part of the cycle.

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We arrived up to the bridge soon enough and it was quite an impressive sight! The red bridge against the blue sky background made for some great photo’s. The views off of the bridge back to the city and Alcatraz were also great with the really clear day.

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We finished up our ride in Sausalito and got the ferry back to the city piers just as the sun was setting behind the bridge, which was an awesome finish to a great day out in San Francisco.

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The following day we had organised to catch up with Karen and Ramsey who we did the Inca trek with back in Peru. They had given us some tips of things to do in San Francisco and booked us for lunch at Greens down at Fort Mason. We rode on the famous San Francisco cable cars and hung out the side as we went up and down the really steep hills. They pretty much exist only for tourists these days, but were cool none the less and it got us there faster too. Lunch was really nice, they had picked a really good spot and with clear views out over the bay area. It was great to catch up with Karen and Ramsey again, reminisce about the Inca trek and tell them about our travels. They gave us some good advice for the upcoming drive down the pacific coast and we promised to repay the favours whenever they make it down to Perth!

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After a quick stop in at Kara’s cupcakes, we burnt off the calories by walking back up the hills to twists of Lombard Street and then down through Chinatown to get back to our hostel to do some planning for the upcoming days

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On our final morning we had booked onto the Alcatraz tour, the quick ferry ride out there over the really calm waters on another fine day made me say to Tanya, ‘I could have swam back to shore after escaping the prison.’ On the island we started with a 15 minute video of the history of the island from its military prison beginnings through to the penitentiary prison that its most famous for. The audioguide around the prison itself was fascinating and probably one of the best audio tours that I have had. They had ex prison guards and prisoners taking you around the prison on the audio tour

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Don’t drop the shower soap

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It was really interesting to hear the accounts of the 1946 ‘Battle of Alcatraz’ escape attempt and the 1962 escape made famous by Clint Eastwood in the movies. The escape cells were reconstructed and the audioguide told the details well. On the way out I picked up a book written by a lady who lived on the island as a child that looks into the 1962 escape and she was even on site to sign it for me.

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Grenade marks from the retaking of the prison in 1946

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Escape cells

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The escape route up the service pipes

We got back into the city and picked up our hire car to start our journey south.

Final thoughts
Daniel – I could live in San Francisco. I see why it is a popular city, maybe we had a rose tinted view with having such good weather given how bad it can be. The city had a really cool vibe, great open spaces, nice suburbs and houses and natural scenery outside of the city. A great stop on the journey.

Tanya – San Francisco had to be my favourite city so far. My judgement may be clouded by the amazing weather we had, we were very lucky to have 2 beautiful sunny days. Biking around was great, we were able to cover alot of ground and really enjoy the neighbourhoods (although not the up-hills) and it was a great way to cross the bridge. It was fantastic to see our old mates all the way from Machu Picchu, share stories and eat great food.

Posted by dbgomes 21:36 Archived in USA Tagged usa round_the_world Comments (1)

USA – Breckenridge

No time like Snow time!

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Travelling in a country’s winter season has its downfalls such as missed out beach time and needing to pack space taking clothes in your bags. On the plus side though, it means we can do one of our most favourite things... SNOWBOARD!! We had decided to do some snowboarding a long time ago when we were first planning the trip. We found out that some of our friends from Perth were also going to be snowboarding in the USA around the same time. A quick facebook message and we were locked in for Breckenridge with Ryan, Alex and Jeffro.

We landed into Denver and got out to the car rental. Surprisingly when we were looking into transport to Breckenridge, hiring a car was cheaper than paying for 2 person bus transfer to the resort. This 2011/12 season hasn’t got off to a great start in the USA with minimal snow in a lot of resorts. Breckenridge had ok snow cover but nothing flash, luckily for us, the first real big dump of the season was forecast for our first night here. The hire car people were recommending that we upgrade our little hatchback to a 4WD for the forecasted bad weather. The upgrade price wasn’t much so we took their advice and hopped into our flash Jeep.

Given we have been on the road for 6 months now, we haven’t been lugging our snowboard gear with us this whole time. Luckily Jeffro was bringing a few bits with him like our goggles, but we stopped off on the drive at an outlet shopping centre and picked up some discounted snow jackets and trousers. We got into Breckenridge just as it was starting to snow and met up with Jeffro at our condo. It was really good to see Jeff again, and we couldn’t believe that the last time we saw him was down in Bolivia, right at the start of our travels! We went out for some dinner to meet up with Ryan, Alex and some more friends of theirs, Alicia and Rich. It was good to have a group of us, as snowboarding trips are always a good laugh with a bunch of us.

The snow really came down during the night and we hit the first lifts of the day with the snow still really coming down. We had a great morning with us 4 boys making the most of the fresh powder with plenty of tree runs, while the girls cruised the powdery pistes. Ahh its good to be back on the snow!!! We caught up with the girls for lunch and cruised around together making the most of the great fresh powder right up until the lifts closed. A full day of hard riding took its toll and we were wiped out from our unconditioned bodies. We celebrated with our traditional bottle of champagne that is a signature of our snowboarding trips in the past

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Jeff loving the fresh stuff

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The rest of the week was filled with blue sky days except for a little freshen up of snow on one of the days. Another couple Brett and Megan got in mid way through the week to join and it was great with a good group of us all being similar skill levels.

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Tan taking in the views

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Trips to the jacuzzi were a little cold

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Us boys went off for a few backcountry trips and were punished with difficult walks at high altitude, but were rewarded with some untracked powder stashes. Breckenridge also has a lot of tree lined piste’s which are great for ducking into for some fun runs through the trees.

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The view from our hike into the backcountry

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A little run through the trees

Australia Day also coincided with our time in Breckenridge which was great as we threw a Triple J Hottest 100 party (A big music countdown back in Australia). We got onto the internet webcast of the music countdown and got the BBQ fired up ready to enjoy the countdown. One thing was missing though, an Australian flag. Luckily we had spotted one down on a bridge in town. Operation Flag soon commenced and we came up with a plan to acquire the flag. Being honest thieves, we even wrote up a sign to leave saying we would return the flag the following day :-)

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The BBQ was great and in true Australian style we cooked up the burgers in thongs (of the flip flop variety), boardshorts and singlet. Not to be outdone the girls had a turn cooking in interesting outfits! Much fun was had with plenty of laughs and good times until the early hours of the morning. It was great to spend Australia Day in the snow!

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Chopping onions is so much better with goggles on

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We made the most of our final day on the snow being some of the first people up and last people down. It had been a great place to board for the 5 days. We caught up with everyone for a few last drinks before packing up the bags. We had intended to sleep for a few hours, wake up at 2am to leave Breckenridge, drive for 2 hrs back to Denver, check in and get our 6am flight. The snow started to come down again in the early evening and by 11pm there was a fair amount covering the ground. We decided it was probably best if we headed off then to avoid any problems. The Jeep paid for itself at this point, as the roads were covered in a good foot of snow and we passed many trucks on the side of the freeway with their chain tyres just spinning and going nowhere. Whilst it was a slow drive, the Jeep got us over the pass and back down to Denver in one piece. We slept in the car for a few hours (figuring the car was more comfy than the airport) before handing it back in and getting our flight to San Francisco via an 8 hour stop in Chicago.

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Great snowboarding crew

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Clearing the Jeep for departure

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The interesting roads back to Denver

Final thoughts
Daniel – Breckenridge was a great place to snowboard with lots of cool terrain. We were incredibly lucky to time our arrival with the first decent dump of the season. As always, boarding with a bunch of friends made the days even much better. Looking forward to spending more snow days with everyone in the future!

Tanya – If we were going to holiday in the states in the winter, then we had to go snowboarding. The fact that it coincided with friends being there and Australia day were just a few extra bonuses! We were fortunate to get 10 inches of snow the night we arrived, it was a bit of a shame that we were leaving the next time it snowed, but an exciting drive to the airport past many stuck trucks. Pleased to report that we continue our adventures with no broken bones!!

Posted by dbgomes 17:11 Archived in USA Tagged usa round_the_world Comments (1)

USA – Washington DC

White Houses and Capitol Buildings


View Round The World on dbgomes's travel map.

We landed into D.C. early in the morning so after checking into the hostel, we went straight back out to check out the sights. First stop was the Capitol Building, scene of the congress not long after the creation of the then 13 States of the USA.

The Capitol Building was a short walk from the hostel and after starting out as the place of the democratic Republic, being burned down by the Empire, and rebuilt even grander is a very patriotic sight for Americans. In summer you need to book ahead to have tours inside the Capitol, but being off season, we just rocked up and got straight onto a tour.

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The tour of the Capitol included a short video on the American congress followed by an interesting stroll through the main parts of the building. After the tour we crossed through the underground passageway to the Congress Library for a quick look around before getting back on the streets and walking down from Capitol Hill to the National Mall

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The National Mall is recognisable from plenty of movies and news broadcasts as the open space that runs down from Capitol Hill to the Lincoln Memorial with the Obelisk and square lake between the two. It’s quite a bit bigger than we expected and was quite a walk from the Capitol Building. From afar the Obelisk doesn’t look that big, but once we finally got to its base, it was rather impressive.

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Tanya didn’t have the energy to make it all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial, so we hung a right from the Obelisk to Mr Obama’s residence. You see the White House on so many movies and news broadcasts that for some reason it didn´t seem as big or imposing as we were expecting. The early start and spending all day on our feet was getting to us, so we called it a day to

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The following day we were going to dedicate to getting into a few of the many museums that are in DC. On both sides of the National Mall, there are lots to choose from. We decided to start in the National Air and Space Museum, then more on to the Spy museum and see what else we could fit in. The problem though, was once we got to the Space and Air Museum, we ended up staying all day!

It was so interesting, and even spending the whole day there, i felt like i could have gone back for another visit! There was everything from the Wright Brothers exhibit, through early commercial aviation right up to spy planes, war planes and modern flight on the Air side of the museum.

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On the space side of the museum there was a lot of really interesting things to see with moon rocks that you could touch, command modules from the Apollo and other space mission (which were really cool to see how cramped the space was in them and the primitive control systems that they had) and a bunch of prototype copies of other space equipment that currently resides on the moon and out in space.

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Apollo 11 Command Module

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Hubble Test Space telescope

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There is an IMAX cinema inside where we went to watch a cool 3D movie about the hubble space telescope and what it has seen as well as a planetarium with another movie on space and infinity. Both of the movies were great and even better seeing them on the globe screens and IMAX.

Leaving the museum at closing time we headed back to the hostel to get ready to meet up with Gopala (from the Antarctica trip who we also bumped into on the W trek) who lives in DC. We went out to a nice Thai place near to his place and caught up on the travels since we last saw each other. After the great meal, he took us for a night time drive of the sights of DC. As we pulled up to the Lincoln Memorial it was starting to snow just in time for a few photos.

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We were up early again the next morning and there was an icy covering of snow on the paths. The guy was supposed to be giving us a lift to the airport which seemed like it was going to be a big help. We were waiting around at 6am as agreed, and after 30 minutes without a sign of him, we decided to hotfoot it down to Union Station to grab a taxi from there. We managed to get one quickly but we didn’t really appreciate the added stress.

Final thoughts:
Daniel – Loved the Space and Air museum! You could definitely spend a good amount of time visiting all the museums around the place in DC! Seeing all of the landmarks that you see in so many TV shows and movies was really good!

Tanya – It was great to see the capital city, although I hadn’t quite realised how big it was. Everything was in walkable distance, however with just 2 days to see as much as we could those distances added up quickly once we got going and my feet were ready to fall off! It was great of Gopala to take us on a night tour of the city from the comfort and warmth of his car!

Posted by dbgomes 22:40 Archived in USA Tagged usa round_the_world Comments (1)

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