Friday, July 22, 2005

Frontier Canada... Vancouver and into the Rockies

Hello Y'all,

It has as I well know been rather a long time since the last update but now that I have unlimited internet access I am gonna nail this bad boy so that you've got so much bedtime reading that you'll have no trouble getting to sleep at night...

So Sunday June 12th, 2005. Got up at sparrow's fart to get a cab from The Green Tortoise to The Red Lion Hotel to catch my 3 week 'Frontier Canada' tour. So got the cab no trouble and aware that there are 2 Red Lion Hotels in Seattle I showed the cab driver my tour ticket to make sure that the clown didn't take me to the wrong one: "Yes sir, off course sir, I am taking you to Red Lion sir, no problem sir!" So assuming that the man has a hold of the situation I slump back into my seat.... The journey is however taking slightly longer than I anticipated having previously checked that it was only a 10 minute cab ride not the 20 that it had been so far... Naturally I reconfirmed our destination with the driver, and my doubts regarding his 'knowledge' of the Seattle area was immediately thrust back in my general direction, really how could I be so naive to think such a thing. So at the Red Lion we arrive, I pay the man for his less than satisfactory service (no tip) and as I get out of the cab I am immediately struck by the fact that considering this place has a number of tours departing at 7am all around the states, there is a startling lack of activity considering that the current time is 6.50am.. Common sense takes me to the hotels reception and once I mention 'Trek America Tours' greeted with a look of utter confusion I realise that this ain't the right Red Lion... So, with the assistance of a very helpful receptionist I managed to contact the tour leader at the right hotel, get a cab there and make the tour only 30 mins late with a mad sweat on...

So after meeting my travel buddies for the next 3 weeks: driver - J.D Boyle (Kentucky, USA), Luke and Georgie (NSW, Australia), Tim (Sydney, Australia), Carla and Edwina (Bath, UK), Claire and Julie (Scunthorpe, UK), Vaughn and Debbie (Rotherham, UK), and packing the van with everything including the kitchen sink we set off for Vancouver. However, first stop was the mighty Walmart... For those of you that have been to a Walmart before I apologise for boring you, but I was somewhat taken aback by this place, huge simply does not do this place justice as quite simply there is nothing you can't get there, and how cheap?? So we grabbed a few essentials for the next two days and took to the border. Passport control we had been warned could prove to be an extremely tedious affair, fortunately for us it was entirely hassle free.. Next stop Vancouver only 32 miles from the border. We entered the city via South Vancouver over the Granville St Bridge into Chinatown - Gastown - the very shady Hastings St and onto Stanley Park, the inline-skating capital of the world. We made it to Capilano RV Park mid-afternoon. This is a delightful spot just over the bridge directly under the freeway - perfect for a sound night's sleep in your first night in a tent for about 8 years.. oh and did I mention it was pissing with rain. Anyway, we set off into the city for some exploring, first stop Granville Island. This is a fascinating blend of restaurants, theatres, buskers, boutique shops and markets reached either by the bridge or our choice, the bathtub sized passenger ferry. After grabbing some nosh and a little wander Tim, Luke, Georgie and I headed for Gastown where Vancouver began after 'Gassy' Jack Deighton, an English sailor who gave up the sea to open a bar, and when a community formed around his watering hole around 1867, the Gastown name emerged. We took a few snaps of Jack's bronze statue along with the Steam Clock. From there we had a rather leisurely stroll around the Downtown area before making our rendezvous point at The Great Wall Mongolian BBQ Restaurant on Denman St at 6.30pm. This was a truly special place - $9 all you can eat Mongolian BBQ and hungry enough to eat the chair I was sitting on I made it up there 3 times to ensure that I got my money's worth. Satisfied and sick we took a well-needed stroll to the van along English Bay Beach and then back to the campsite for some a rather wet night's sleep. I did also get spotted sprinting the toilet in the middle of the night wearing nothing other than my boxers which did come back to haunt me several times.

Up nice and early on Monday we packed and loaded the van, a very meticulous, military-style operation and then hit the highway through Kowloops, Clearwater and eventually onto Wells Gray Provincial Park in the Canadian Rockies. Here we found our stop for the night at the Wells Gray Ranch where we had a cabin for the night - a very thoughtful way of breaking us in on the part of J.D as the tents were soaked and the forecast wasn't pretty for the coming night. It was then down to the nitty gritty of getting dinner prepared and cooked so J.D and I decided to take the initiative and get some home made burgers together and spark up the BBQ. Luke got a campfire going to provide a focal point and within a half hour dinner was served, the troops were fed and watered and off to bed we went.

Pretty rough night's sleep to be honest, especially embarrassing when I woke everyone up 'sleep-shouting': "HELLLLOO!".. I do recall a dream involving some red-neck standing in the doorway with an axe, I think the cheese we had with those burgers must have been kinda strong... At about 9am the group split into 'hikers', 'horseriders' and 'quadbikers'... Yes I was a quadbiker, I mean who in their right mind could resist tearing around the Rockies on a 300cc quad that can tackle pretty much anything including pushing over trees as we were demonstrated. The morning was topped off with some throttle opening and river crossing then back to the camp for a shower. Once the rest made it back we packed up and set off for Jasper for one of the most jaw-dropping drives of the tour.

First stop of the day was the stunning Helmcken Falls where the Murtle River surges 137metres down into a misty mess. Home to not only the more obvious bear, moose and elk but also 30 species of moss and about 50 species of mosquito, soon to prove to be the source of much frustration over the coming weeks. Leaving the Falls we headed past the heavy flowing 'Mush Bowl' of the Myrtle River and onto our lunch stop complete with raised viewing platform for some spectacular views of the Myrtle Plateau - incorporating Lake Mahood, Pyramid Mountain and Trophy Mountain.

Already feeling totally spoilt with the scenery we headed east towards Mount Robson Provincial Park complete with steep glaciers and more flora and fauna than you could shake a snake at. Mount Robson is 3954m and the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, a truly unforgettable sight. After making it to Moose Lake where we were lucky enough to get our first black bear sighting of the trip we headed across the salmon rich Fraser River into Alberta and set up camp in Jasper National Park at the Whistler Campground. Camp fully erect and we headed into town for a feast at the Jasper Pizza Place. It was then back to camp for some songs around the campfire and some very poor sleep, in preparation for tomorrow's hiking in the rain.....

Up at the crack on Wednesday for our hike. We headed into Jasper National Park to tackle the Sulphur Skyline Trail a 9.6km return trek with a 700m elevation gain... I have to be honest that the first 5 minutes of this actually hurt the most after that it was just autopilot as I thought sod this I'm gonna get my ass up here pronto. So that I did. Halfway up the skies opened and with the delightful blend of sweat and rain having a rather musky cooling effect on me I got to the top. The views = disappointing but that was wholly due to the dense mist that had formed across the horizon. The hike down was more of a jog to be honest as I wanted to get to the Miette Hot Springs at the base of the trek route to rest my weary legs... Back down in record time J.D, Luke and I decided to literally take the plunge and do the 3 pools ranging from 10C to 40C... The sensation jumping in the 10c pool (rodding cold) and then the 40c pool (jam hot).. something similar to thermal shock I imagine.. Similar feeling to when I ran into a glass door when drunk. That said it was a beautiful experience sitting in outdoor hotpools surrounded by stunning mountains.. not bad..EH! After the pools it was back to town for some fridge magnet and pillow purchasing then back to camp for dinner. With dinner out the way we hooked up with another Trek America group and headed into town to sample some of the local brews and have a taster of 'Pete's Nightclub'... It was around this time that I was told by J.D our tour guide that he reminded me of a cross between Robbie Williams and Dave Matthews...err not convinced myself.. I was thinking more Robin Williams and Dave Spikey... aaanyway hilarity prevailed at Pete's, there was drinking, fighting, vomiting (Tim!!) and a rather entertaining cab ride back to the campsite - all the ingredients of a great night out in Jasper.

Thursday we took off pretty early with some pretty intense headaches and headed to Medicine Lake. Then we took the short trip to Maligne Lake, the largest of the glacier fed lakes in the Rockies, a wonderful setting slightly spoiled by the hordes of tourist buses ploughing through there conveyor belt style, but otherwise perfect with Mt Warren, Mt Charlton and Mt Unwin surrounding the lake. Once I had said goodbye to my rather unpleasant headache we took a leisurely 3K hike around the area then headed back to camp for some chili con carne and some bocce ball. I'd love to say that I had a great night's sleep but that's simply not true.. In fact we all had to listen to sick girl and brutish boyfriend on the adjacent plot providing some pretty harrowing noises . Not sure what they were up to but all I can tell you is that she really did sound to be in a terrible amount of pain. errrr... ;)
Friday was a day packed with stunning sights starting with a trip to the Athabascan Falls on the Athabascan River and a superb drive through the mountains surrounded by literally hundreds of glaciers. Next stop was the Athabasca Glacier halfway between Lake Louise Village and Jasper Town. The glacier is the main attraction in the huge Colombia Icefield where you can find around 30 glaciers, 350m thick with ice. A true remnant of the last ice age covering 325sq km on the plateau between Mt Colombia (3747m) and Mt Athabasca (3491m). It's the largest icefield in the Rockies and feeds the North Sakatchewan, Colombia, Athabasca, Mackenzie and Fraser River systems with its meltwaters. After briefly visiting the Icefield Centre we made the short drive to the glacier parking area and took the hike onto the glacier itself, only a small feel of the glacier as the walking route only takes you onto the toe of the glacier as there is a significant danger of falling into crevasses which really would ruin one's holiday or should I say vacation. After the glacier we headed straight on to Banff. The weather at this stage had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Words can't accurately describe the level of rainfall that we experienced when we got to Banff but imagine standing outside and being pelted continually with buckets of water and you're about halfway towards visualising how wet you'd get. Our attempts at putting up the tents and trying to keep them dry were wholly pointless.. once erect all the tents were absolutely drenched inside and out so the prospect of sleep later in the day was not pleasant... After several attempts (failed) to raise the group's morale we headed into Banff Town to the monstermarket to stock up for dinner and I then made a dash to the camping shop to invest in some waterproofs, a very wise decision that I would definitely not regret. The rest of the day was filled with whining and whingeing and general low morale so I decided to consume as much cold beer as I could with dinner landing somewhere in the middle. At bedtime, errr whenever that was, we made a decision to break rule number one of camping in the Rockies - which was to sleep in the shelter where you've been cooking. Now this is a particularly BAD idea for one obvious reason which is that BEARS KILL and the least that they do is REALLY HURT!!! But, we really were left with very few options as the tents were totally flooded and I for one had no intention of sleeping in a bloody lake. So sleep in the shelter we did and foolish we were. The nights sleep was simply torturous and the only good part was the rather amusing interlude at about 4am when a very drunk dude staggered into the shelter thinking that we were his group and shouted: "Chris has been arrested guys!" at which point I shouted: "Shut it mate, we are trying to sleep and what's more who the f*** is Chris!" At which point he says: "Where are the van keys?" So I reply: "Well you see that tree over there? Well they are on that tree go get 'em". Rather confused he staggers off into the snow... SNOW!! What the hell... Yes it had started dumping with snow whilst we had been 'sleeping', and I mean DUMPING with snow. Deciding not to break the news to the already desperately unhappy group I decided to put my head down and leave them to discover that the nightmare had worsened when they awoke. So, when we all decided to get up at around 6am morale definitely hit an all time low and the decision was made to get the hell outta there. Wet tents packed and very wet clothes chaffing rather badly we set off for the mighty Medicine Hat.. yes there really is a place called Medicine Hat and boy it's a strange one.. So Medicine Hat here we come... watch this space....
laterz kids

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Sleepless in Seattle

Well, well, well....
kinda fallen behind with the blog, but there's a simple explanation really, namely that internet access is kinda hard to come by on campsites across Canada and even that said the comms technology here is on par with Sierra Leone so now I've got the chance here we go...
Photos to accompany this posting can be found HERE.......

Ok, left London on Tuesday June 7th to catch a flight to Copenhagen where I would be transferring to a Scandinavian Airways flight to Seattle. The Scandinavian Airways flight from London to Copenhagen left with the promptness of the English Railways system so my arrival in Copenhagen gave me just enough time to sprint to my flight to Seattle. Greeted by the flight crew I was notified that the aisle seat that I had booked had been given away, naturally I don't swallow that sort of shit without a fight so I pointed out that the least I would settle for is an upgrade for my inconvenience... and do you know what, they obliged! So, sweet as a nut.. Business Class to Seattle will just have to do. Now I don't know whether all flights to the US now have a mandatory policy of force feeding passengers in order to get them fully 'food trained' for life in the US but I can safely say that this one did in fact enforce this policy. I logged all meals, drinks, snacks etc and it was as follows (and no, I am not bullshitting, this is the real deal... or should I say meal deal):
- Drink and snacks
- Full meal with 3 rounds of bread rolls
- Ice Cream
- Drink and snacks
- Ice Cream
- Sandwiches and drink
- Fruit
- Drinks and snacks
- Pizza
- Ice Cream

and yes of course I opted in for the full monty, that's a lot of food for a 9 hour flight especially when you're expected to fit in some sleep somewhere amongst all that bingeing. Anyway, great flight and I also had time to finish my book (excellent read) 'Tuesdays with Morrie' by Mitch Albom and to watch the film 'Hotel Rwanda'(superb). Now another feature to this great airline that I was thoroughly impressed with was the following. All SAS flights have an undercarriage and plane nose camera that you can watch at any stage of the flight. So as well as watching the undercarriage camera of the landing in Seattle which was kinda cool, I watched as we flew over Greenland whilst listening to Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) which I have to say was a rather haunting whilst at the same time relaxing experience.

So yeah, Seattle. After the insanely extensive immigration checks, twice interrogated by half-wit immigration officials and about 10 bag scans I finally managed to start my trip in Seattle eventually making my way to The Green Tortoise Hostel in Seattle, in my room there were the almost-obligatory mute Japanese dudes fast asleep in the middle of the day. By the way, has anyone been to Japan and are you not allowed to sleep there? I am beginning to believe that that is the case because they're all clogging up beds in hostels around the world doing nothing other than sleep. Anyway, after making my bed I headed out into downtown Seattle for some action. I managed about 3 hours of wandering and orientation before the jet lag battered me around the back of the head and so I took off back to the hostel to chill out. Next thing I knew it was time to feed myself so I helped myself to some free curry at the hostel before heading off to find anywhere that showed the Lions rugby game. Finally tracked somewhere down at around 5 mins before kick off and then had the pleasure of giving several brief resumes of rugby rules to the many locals passing through the bar. Thoroughly exhausting and bedtime for Chopper came round immediately after the final whistle.

Wednesday I actually had a bit more energy so decided to do the tourist thing and haul my ass up the space needle after taking the monorail out to Seattle Center. It was here that I heard something odd, I hope you appreciate the strangeness of this and that it's not a 'you had to be there to get it' scenario, but as I was getting the Monorail back to downtown an American couple came upto the ticket booth just as the monorail pulled in and asked the ticket dude the following: "Sir, could you please tell us whether everything is OK on the system today?", me being me naturally had to ask them what in the name of Colonel Sanders they were talking about. "We just wanted to know whether the monorail is running smoothly today as we are about to take a trip to downtown." Now I don't know about you but that's some weird shit.

Anyway after that I did some very thorough exploring of the streets of Seattle and headed back to the hostel to meet some new people... Met Adam from Phoenix and Jordan from Bakersville, both top blokes that were the basis of my amusement and company for the next few days. Had a few cans of 'Mickeys' (great stuff at $1.20 a pint can) and grabbed some food before bed to make sure I was fully set for Thursday's stomp to Bruce and Brandon Lee's graves.

Thursday morning headed to the Merchant's Cafe in Pioneer Square for a hearty breakfast and some inside info from the cafe owner on my route to Bruce's grave then checked out the Seattle Art museum before heading back to the Green Tortoise to find Adam and head out to the graves. An hour and a half walk there and the same back kinda took the wind outta my sails but the experience was priceless and will always be a positive one for me. Sitting there next to Bruce for half an hour was a very therapeutic and humbling experience that I feel priviliged to have been able to do. Nice.

Friday I had booked an early start for a 12 hour day trip (250 mile round trip) to Mount Rainier. Mount Rainier can be seen from Downtown Seattle and it's 235,625 acres (97% is designated Wilderness). It includes Mount Rainier (14,410'), an active volcano encased in over 35 square miles of snow and ice, and the park contains outstanding examples of old growth forests and subalpine meadows. So off we set through Eatonville along the Nasqualle River, through Elbe (German settlement) and then onto Rainier Base Camp for some whoop ass views of the mountain. The only downer to the trip occurred while we got to base camp as a Chopper flew overhead with a bodybag (confirmed the bad news at Info Centre) as a hiker had fallen and died shortly before we got there. So with feet firmly on the ground we headed back towards Seattle via Narada Falls and Box Canyon Falls. Once the scenery was worn out the driver decided to give us all a US trivia quiz, in which I had a distinct disadvantage being the only non-American out of 10 people, pleased to say that I didn't come last and even managed to get myself into an argument with the driver as he swayed away from US trivia to ask us who got the 2012 Olympics, I shouted out nobody yet and he was like: "Wrong, it was announced that Paris have won the bid." You can imagine my reaction and seeing as nobody could back me up as they hadn't got a clue so we had to agree to disagree. As we all know it's not been decided yet... Don't we?
Saturday was a truly bad weather day so I monged out at the hostel for most of the day, the highlight being when some American dude was denied a bed at the hostel he decided to pick up the PC monitor and throw it at the wall... the Russell Crowe of backpacking I guess... Police turned up and arrested him, truly quality rainy day entertainment.

And the next update will follow real soon kids as I 'fill you in' with my wacky exploits of the past 20 days across Canada, watch this space..................

Ciao for now, Chopper

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A new home for the new start

Folks

it seems that I have landed myself a place to live for when I get back from the US and Canada, which is a huge relief.
I will be sharing a flat with my best mate Andy Monu (Monz), and flatmates Mark and Shane.

The flat is in Maida Vale (NW London) here in fact: CLICK HERE FOR MAP

and here are some photos that I have taken since being back in London... CLICK HERE

So, looking forward to life in the new hood when I get back, but there's one more adventure left.........

peace out..

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Back in London

Well, well, well. How lucky am I, get to travel around the world and even get to fit in a month's holiday back at home amongst it all..

SO then arrived back in London Heathrow at 6.45am on Tuesday April 26th where I was met at the airport by Janet along with her carefully constructed 'Welcome Home Shackleton' sign! To say I was tired is like saying that the Pope (either the new one or even the old one) is Catholic... I was as tired as I have ever been in my life after many dull hours watching movies on the plane staring at my watch and praying for the 'ironbird' to get back down on that tarmac. Janet ferried me back to hers where we caught up and I tried to catch some sleep before heading out that evening to see a few old faces (well 9 months older anyway).We all met up at The Metropolitan - Monz, Nick, Sara, Adam, Saskia, Hugh, Al, JonC, Mark, SJ, Pierra and Simon - sharing a few ales. I have to say that I was a little subdued that evening and it's pretty simple to explain why. Back in the pub in London with all my mates after being in Hong Kong for 7 weeks, Oz for 6 months and New Zealand for 2 months is a very strange feeling. IT's also very hard to even know where to start. 'So how was it?', 'What was the best bit?', 'What was the funniest thing that happened?'... I mean CHRIST ALIVE, I have absolutely no idea where to start when answering those questions, it's alomst like you've got so much to say that you really do have no idea what to say!! So yeah that first night was really hard, very strange indeed. At closing time, Al, Jon and I headed off to the Notting Hill Arts Club to listen to some tunes and have a couple more beers before I had to throw the towel in and persuade Al to get me to the nearest sofa!!

So Day one back home out the way! All in all the first week back was a quiet one, really getting to grips with this land that I love to hate but also if I am honest love so much. My first weekend back I went to spend some time with my mum and dad in Norfolk and also get to know their new Cavalier King Charles puppy - Flora - the most beautiful little pup you'll see, but aren't they all really. Had a lovely weekend with mum and dad, just catching up and putting my mum's mind to rest really that I am still alive and in one piece. Went for a lovely meal one evening at The Dove Restaurant at Harleston, magnificent.

As well as getting myself out of London to Norfolk to see my parents twice, the second time with Janet, we also managed to get out of London as far as Somerset to spend the night at the truly indulgent Babington House. Where we went for massages, reflexology, gym time, great fodder and an incredible room to boot. It would have been amazing to spend a few more nights there but as we are only mere mortals we could only afford the one night!

And also week 2 gave me a chance to get my arse back into gear after a week off the exercise. So the new routine is as follows, monday - wing chun, tuesday - gym, wednesday - wing chun morning and wing chun evening, thursday - gym, friday - gym..... So, I am pleased to say that I have kept this up for the whole time that I've been back now, I needed to because going on the road again for 5 weeks doesn't really allow for that time.

As well as keeping the fitness routine up I have also managed to get some culture in since being back in London. I managed to get to see a very good stage adaptation of Paulo Coelho's best-selling novel 'The Alchemist' at The Pleasance Theatre in Islington. I was also very lucky to get to see the Frank McGuiness play 'Someone who'll watch over me', a really quality production with a really quality cast (perhaps the only weak link being Johnny Lee Miller). Managed to get myself to the cinema for the first time since before Christmas to see both 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' and 'Kingdom of Heaven' the former definitely for enjoyable than the latter. Orlando Bloom being cast as lead role in the latter was truly a schoolboy error.

So, not long to go now before I am heading off outta blighty back on the ironbird to Seattle!!

So here we go, the schedule for the final leg of Chopper's tour is as follows (if STA sort out the flights they so monumentally f***ed up!):
Depart June 7th for Seattle
Depart June 12th for Seattle for 3 weeks across Canada with sleeping bag and tent.
Arrive New York July 2nd (1 night New York)
Depart New York July 3rd for Buffalo/Boston
Depart Buffalo July 9th
Arrive New York July 9th (joined by Janet)
Depart New York July 13th
Arrive London July 14th!!!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Bangkok to Blighty

Well kids seeing as I am bored shitless, no correction this is a level of boredom that I have only otherwise experienced while watching paint dry and playing chess at the same time whilst listening to Genesis... I am sat here in Bangkok International Airport with another 6 hours waiting to go before I catch my flight to London.

And it is whilst in this higher state of boredom that I am forced to notice the HUGE number of western guys with Thai ladies hanging off their arms. No wait a second I am not saying that we all don't deserve our share of happiness... of course we do, but this is my 5th visit to Bangkok and I have genuniely not noticed it being such a prominent sight here.

Anyway, just thought I'd remark upon that.......... I will see many of you abck in London, I really hope it's raining.

Chopper

Thursday, April 21, 2005

NEWS FLASH: Olympic Chopper returns to UK

Folks,

had some trouser soilingly exciting news on Tuesday, namely that I will be representing the Ving Tsun Athletic Association as one of three Wing Chun artists to be demonstrating to the Chinese Olympic Committee from Beijing here in the main arena of Hong Kong's Kowloon Park Indoor Centre this Sunday.

The event will feature 11 styles of Kung Fu from Hong Kong, including Wushu, Chow Gar, Choy Lee Fut etc. I will be demonstrating real-life applications of Wing Chun techniques to the committee with another student. As some of you will already know Wushu is to be a offical medal event at the Beijing Olympics and the idea of Sunday seems to be that the committee gets to see the quality of Wushu in Hong Kong along with other styles of Kung Fu.

As you can imagine I am somewhat nervous, but incredibly honoured to be part of this event, especially after last Sunday's representation in the Wing Chun demonstration in Kowloon Park. I have no doubt that I will be the only westerner once again and I'll get some more 'What the hell are you doing here?' looks, but who gives a shit, I'll nail it and hopefully they'll be giving me the thumbs up again like last week!

Some more news, heading back to London on Tuesday of next week (26/04/05) to get Canada and US trip sorted, so hopefully get a chance to catch up with a few of you....

keep rockin'
The Angriest Man in Asia

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

More tea vicar?

Well, well, well....

It's been a few weeks since I last updated so here goes.....

OK, one of my best mates from back home, one Richard Craig, who I went to school with and Newcastle University arrived the Friday before last, and I cannot tell you enough how good it was to see a friendly face over here! I met him at the ferry terminal at about 4pm after I had been for a beasting session at the gym and naturally I was waiting around for some time before he came through the somewhat lax security. We headed off to my 'apartment' err I mean room to show Rik around, which took all of about 1 second. We then decided to head off and get some food. So we headed off to an excellent sushi place in Soho (Rik also shares an unhealthy obsession with sushi just like me). There we stuffed our faces and headed off to Lan Kwai Fong where I took Rik to The Whiskey Priest, perhaps the most pleasant and friendly of LKF's bars where he met Jon the manager and Tracey and Ralph his understudies. From there we headed to Stormies before taking the huge step of staggering into Insomnia to listen to the live band. After much ear bleeding and having to restrain Richard from causing a riot we left and made the short stumble home.

Saturday was time to take my first proper sampling of Dim Sum, so Rik and I headed to a very good place near the Western Markets in Sheung Wan. In we cantered and plonked ourselves amongst the hundreds and hundreds of locals. This really was an amazing meal, we ate ourselves stupid for about 3 pounds each and we drank unlimited and excessive amounts of chinese tea (ch'a)... Needless to say we've been back there a number of times and every time seems to be accompanied by lots of in-jokes and endless exclamations of 'more tea vicar?', I guess you need to be there.

Now that weekend did take a sudden and rather dramatic turn for the worse. Judging by my experiences here so far I should have really expected this but oh well. Both Rik and I spend some of Sunday and most of Monday and Tuesday totally layed out by the flu, hopefully not the avian strain that's sweeping its way across Asia but a more common and still very unpleasant 'standard' version.

Sunday morning I did however have the extreme honour to be invited by my Sifu (teacher) to accompany him, Master Ip Chun, and family to the grave of Grandmaster Ip Man. Grandmaster Ip Man is quite simply the most famous and most respected Kung Fu Grandmaster ever to set foot on this earth, perhaps more famous to westerners for his teaching of Bruce Lee. So took the train journey out to Fanling and then made the trek up to Ip Man's grave. There were many family members, members of the public and kung fu artists from the world over randomly gathered to pay their respects. Food was laid out in front of the grave along with beer and soft drinks for everyone to share as a form of respect and celebration. This was both a surreal, humbling and calming experience that I am eternally grateful for. Yes, Ok I could have quite easily have made the trip up there on my own like Joe Bloggs, but I doubt that I would ever in my life have had the chance to take the trip there with the 2 sons of Ip Man, and their families. Thank you Sifu Patrick.

So yeah, after that unpleasant event number 104 so far in Hong Kong reared it's ugly head... we surfaced properly on Weds but I headed off to kung Fu on Tuesday as a) I'd have to be hospitalised to miss it and b) I had a demonstration in Kowloon Park coming up that I had to speak to my Sifu (teacher) about.....

The rest of the week really flew by dominated by still feeling slightly under the weather and my preparations for the previously mentioned kung Fu demo in Kowloon Park. Friday however Rik and I decided to head over to Macau.

Macau lies 65km west of Hong Kong but actually predates that territory's colonisation by almost 300 years, Macau was the first European enclave in Asia. It's an awesome mix of cultures - Mediterranean and Asian architecture, food etc. Getting there is a piece of p***, I mean cake, as there are ferries running every 15 mins and the journey itself takes only 55 mins.

That said, once you get there there are of course many of the similar problems that you experience in Hong Kong. For example we were told that there was a shuttle bus to our hotel at the marina. We get off the ferry go through passport control and right there is a desk with the name of our hotel branded across it... Up we go and enquire about said shuttle bus to get looks along the lines of: "What in the name of God are you talking about you strange english bastard." A few more insanely odd looks and someone gives in at the sight of my blood reaching boiling point and decides to volunteer some information by pointing in the direction of a bridge and phelgming up....

Off we wander and there we are, there's a fleet of different shuttle buses for every bastard hotel under the sun, other than our rather grandly named 'Hotel Ritz'. There are of course several people manning the shuttle bus rank willing to direct us to the correct bus. We exchange information with them... being the hotel name and we get another look that can only be described as: "Stop wasting my time arsehole!"... So we sit there to calm down for a few seconds and I order Rik to call the hotel on our great 'roaming mobile phones' that we have been promised.. will work in Macau... errr, work my arse! So another Hong Kong surprise as the phones are packed in. We then consider a taxi for a few minutes and then someone starts ranting like a maniac and pointing at one of the buses.... Hotel Ritz bus has arrived, thank you Lord!!! As always you kinda get there in the end but it's always far from straightforward..... So on the bus we get and the driver puts his feet up and takes a nap, at which stage Rik and I decide that we'll make as much noise as possible to prevent the bloke from nodding off. It works and off we go. As we get to the city centre he gets a call on his mobile and diverts the shuttle and picks up a handful of shady looking characters (obviously his mates) and gives them a lift somewhere, then we finally make it to the hotel.
Hotel thumbs up, for 20 quid a night it was a bloody steal to be honest. Anyway, we get to the room and rest our legs for a few seconds and the phone rings to tell us that some champers is on it's way!!! Yee haa... Now this has to be the most thoughtful gesture ever but the lovely Janet had called the hotel and got them to bring it to my room in the hope that I have a better time in Macau than Hong Kong.. what an amazingly beautiful gesture..

So we settled into the room, had baths (not together, that's wrong) and believe me that's my first bath in 9 months so it was amazing, especially with a couple of glasses of champagne! And then we headed out to the more portuguese part of town for some nosh. We found a lovely portuguese style place and demolished loads of seafood and fresh fish before heading to the mighty Sands Casino.. a 200,000 sq ft casino in the heart of Macau, not just that but also the newest.
So we arrive and after some pretty thorough security we get in and head upstairs for a beer before mustering the balls to hit the roulette tables. Now at this time I will just let you know that gambling is illegal in Hong Kong and China... so have your wildest guess as to where they come to get that huge Chinese gambling fix.... errr yeah you've got it... here. That night there must have been about 10,000 people there, literally throwing money away, people gambling on roulette and throwing down the equivalent of 500 pounds a number!! mental..
Anyway, my night on the tables started off very well, went horribly wrong in the middle and I pulled off a miracle at the end to win it all back and some. my last $50 chip went on 1 and it came in at 35-1.. so won back the 100 quid I'd lost and 20 quid extra to pay for my room for the night...rock and roll. A couple more beers to drown Rik's sorrows and then back to the hotel for some kip. Saturday we made it to the city centre nice and early and had a good stroll around central Macau and I have to say that I really was very impressed. OK, it's definitely not somewhere that you can spend more then a few days but it's beautiful, friendly and the food is very high quality.

So back to the madness of Hong Kong.... Where we went for some Dim Sum again before heading out to lan Kwai fong for a few ales before settling down to prepare for my big day in Kowloon Park. The day of the DEMO!! Got to Kowloon Park for about 1ish and met with a bloke from my class who I would be demonstrating on. Things starting kicking off around 2.15 when hordes of people starting showing, some setting things up, some getting a good seat etc. By 2.45 things were ready to roll. The programme was being distributed and myself and Don would be number 10 on the agenda of 34 demonstrations. Firtly though as a point of unification all the participants (my good self included) had to perform the first open hand form of Wing Chun, Siu Nim Tao (the little idea).. That done.. to perfection I had to wait a nerve wrecking 30 mins or so before taking to the arena with Don to bust some moves. I did 4 pretty effective applications of Wing Chun that one might use 'on the street' so to speak. The crowd loved it and after much applause and cheering my work was done. The nice touch was that afterwards the other participants that had up until then ignored me or given me looks of "what are you doing here?" (well I was the only westerner there), they came to me and bowed and gave me a big smile and a thumbs up... So my demo in Kowloon went well and home I went with a huge smile and two tired legs after 3 hours of standing in 90% humidity!

This week has been pretty quiet to be honest. Headed over to Causeway Bay on Monday for a great meal at a Vietnamese meal in Times' Square. Now we were seated at our table, studied the menu, made our selections and over came the waiter, we ordered and when I announced that I would have the barbequed Mandarin Fish there was a strange commotion followed by some in depth deliberation between the waiting staff, then the waiter returned with another waiter to announce that it would take 25mins and was I sure that's what I wanted. Well, I had no idea what a Mandarin Fish was but I loved any baked/barbequed fish... so thats what it had to be.... Anyway it arrived, it was amazing but little did I know it looks like THIS! So, I will think twice about the next Mandarin Fish that I demolish!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Hong Kong.... all wrong

Ladies and Gentlemen,

So yes I arrived in Hong Kong on Sunday March 20th at about 11pm and made my way over to the Island on the train and then to my hotel for the night. Hotel was dead, no food to offer to I was forced to leave it when really I just wanted some nosh and some shut eye. I jumped in a cab and asked the delightful man if he could take me somewhere nearby for some food... "AH, you go Lan Kwai Fong sir!" fair enough Drives, you're the boss and I quite simply don't know my arse from my elbow here so hit the gas pal..

So, I get to Lan Kwai Fong.. which is basically an L-shaped pedestrian way that is HK Island's chief party district, the bars are all very similar and there's not a great choice in the way of restaurants. So thanks Drives... The interesting thing was that the World Cup Sevens had just ended that evening so everyone was rat-faced, singing, falling about etc... I grabbed a bite to eat, toyed with the idea of joining in the fun and decided that I was way too sober and tired so bed it was.

Monday morning bright and early I headed over to Sheung Wan to find my apartment at WStudios. I had reserved a mid range apartment, in the 'able to swing half a cat' category and would be meeting Eric at reception. True as life Eric was there in all his glory and I told him who I was, that I had a reservation etc etc, and he looked at me like I was talking swahili.. "Eric that's not a look I like to see mate", I said to him. His reply was naturally along the lines of the fact that he didn't have a f***ing clue who I was and what I was doing there, odd considering we'd exchanged about 20 emails and spoken twice on the phone. I politely asked him that intricacies aside were there any rooms available, yes there were but in the 'able to swing a cat and a half category' which was outta my price range... So I had to settle for that for my first two weeks and then I could downgrade to my 'action man size' accommodation.

So great, a roof over my head.. what more could you ask for, well I could ask for seeking out the South East Asian Wing Chun Association, the point of my visit here after all. So off I went... I found the SEAWCA, and there was rod all going down there. I called all the numbers I had, out of service.... Now I thought to myself, this is gonna be real fun. So, after finding something remotely resembling food I decided to head over to Kowloon to seek out the Ip Man athletic Association to see what the crack was there. There I met a man called Sam Lau. I will resist saying anything derogatory as he is a very accomplished man in the world of kung fu but his business like attitude immediately made me feel very uncomfortable, and he was pretty rude to me to tell you the truth. Being able to feel comfortable is crucial when seeking out a martial arts instructor. He did recommend that I checked out his hostel over the road, so I though what the hell, why not. Well I think you may have seen the photo... nuff said on that.

Next stop the Ving Tsun Athletic Association on Nullah Road, Kowloon. Base of one Ip Chun, Son of the late Ip Man (sifu of Bruce Lee). I finally found the place and their friendliness and positivity was a total contrast to my previous experiences that day. They helped me find an appropriate Sifu in the shape of Leung Ting Kwok (Patrick) a very nice man and the longest serving student of Ip Chun. I am now training with him about 4-5 times a week, in a class and private type environment and learning quite a bit.

BUT, yes there are always buts... buts, not butts. Here I will explain the predicament that I have found myself in here in Hong Kong. Basically, the place is insanely expensive, mainly the living costs. The kung fu us great but not so significantly cheaper than back home that it could justify the living costs. hong Kong is also not a place for 'travellers', people stop by here for a few days en route to China/Thailand etc but not for any significant length of time, therefore meeting people is very hard indeed, and if you do you have to rely on going to bars to get drunk, which in itself is a very expensive pasttime...

And all of this coupled with a very unfortunate incident on Monday has made me believe that the most positive thing for me to do would be to leave. The incident is as follows.. I bumped into a mate from school's brother, and we had a few drinks, then decided to head to Wan Chai (party area) had a few drinks there. Then decided to leave, I was basically given a drink that was drugged, started hallucinating/feeling sick/staggering insanely.... I woke up in a doorway minus my phone and about $2000HK. This was an extremely unpleasant experience that I truly hope that I am never the victim of again. It does seem however that this is rather commonplace here in Hong Kong (see here) . So all in all, I now have a lot of negativity surrounding my experience here and this has obviously fuelled the feelings that I was already having.

So....... my mate Rik Craig from school is coming tomorrow to visit for 2 weeks, where we will get a lot of tourist stuff done.. See the islands, head to Macau etc and then I have decided that I will head back to the UK for a short while before heading off to explore Canada and the US.

So there we have it folks, Hong Kong, kinda gone wrong. A shame to be honest but I should have understood that it wasn't going to be too straightforward when everyone I told that I was going to be here for 3 months basically laughed in my face. That said, at least I discovered that there are some genuinely evil people in this world, and I will be more vigilant, as kung fu doesn't work when you're drugged and out cold on the pavement.

Ciao

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Western Australia and back to Melbourne (and back to Perth)

So...onto Perth. Right now it's worth putting a few things in perspective... Western Australia covers 30% of the Australian continent (almost as big as India) butit has less than half a percent of India's population!! That's nuts! Nearly all of the 1.8million people in WA live within 200km of Perth and the rest are nearly all inhabiting the incredible coastline.

Anyway.. I arrived in Perth at stupid O'Clock in the morning so it was time to get some shut eye and catch up with Drew and Janie at a decent hour on Monday as they had the day off due to the Labour Day public holiday in WA. For those of you that don't know, Drew is a great mate of mine that I met at university in Newcastle and it was Drew whose wedding I came over to Perth for in May last year, but this time around I had a bit more time to actually see the place! So Monday morning comes around and Drew and I head out for some brekkie whilst Janie heads off for a run and cycle in preparation for the triathlon she signed herself up for at the weekend (nutter!). After briefly reacquainting myself with Subiaco (the suburb of Perth where Drew and Janie live) Drew and I headed off to Fremantle in his brand spanking new Cherokee Jeep where we had a nice stroll and caught up some more over a beer at the Little Creatures Brewery. It was then time to catch up with Janie's mum and dad, Ray and Sheila over in City Beach where their truly incredibly generous hospitality kicked off. Drew and I took the dog down the (nudist) beach for a run around and we got back to Ray and Sheila's in time for the beer and snacks and time to catch up with Paul and Audrey (Janie's brother and his wife). After a pretty long day we headed back to Drew and Janie's beautiful apartment in Subi for some dinner while Janie's sis, Sally popped over. It was then off to Bedfordshire for Chopper as I had to be up early on Tuesday to get somne touring booked up.

Tuesday I headed over to Northbridge in Perth to see if I could get myself booked onto a trip down to Albany and the Margaret River. It just so happened that there was one leaving Weds morning at 7am returning Friday evening, which couldn't have worked out better really as I could get so one of the most beautiful parts of Oz and back in time for Drew's 30th birthday party on Saturday evening.... So job done! A quiet night for me as we briefly headed down to the Blue Mussell restaurant that evening for some errrr... Mussells and then off to Bedfordshire again ready for a 6am start to get me over to Northbridge for the tour bus.

Weds morning I arrived at the backpacker tour bus place in very good time and a steady stream of other traveller types started to arrive, and I noticed a definte pattern emerging.... namely that they were all female...What a shame.. So yes 7.30am came around and we were all ready to head off, that'll be me and 11 ladies..
So Day 1 we headed out of Perth to our first scenic stop for a cuppa tea at Dawesville before arriving at Bunbury at the Dolphin Discovery Centre, where I did actually see a dolphin (about half a mile out to sea). We headed off to Busselton to get some lunch and then onto Meelup Bay for a swim. Meelup Bay was a truly beautiful spot, and there was nobody there! incredible... We then headed to the famous surf spot at Yallingup, part of the Margaret River region proper. Then we shot off to Canal Rocks where we did I spot of climbing and watched as the Indian Ocean battered the rocks, a very calming experience. Then just before the end of the day we headed to Surfer's Point at the Margaret River, home to many an international surf tournament. We then got to our accommodation at The Inne Town backpackers... I was given the shittiest dorm that side of Sydney which was apparantly the dorm for the long-termers, hence the shit EVERYWHERE. So I went to see the boss and rather politely told him that I was going for a walk into town and I would be back in 25 mins and when I got back I expected him to have made a bloody good effort at at least revealing my bed and the floor. So off I went into town for some fudge tasting at the Margaret River Fudge Factory, and yes I returned to see him frantically hoovering the dorm and putting clean sheets on my bed. It's truly amazing what a raised voice can do sometimes... That evening I headed down the pub for some nosh with a couple of irish lads, Liam and Graham, had a cracking evening made even better by the talent contest in the pub I recall one particular act that was so shit that everyone in the bar headed outside, and bear in mind that it was pouring with rain!!!

Day 2 we were up and gone by 8am and headed towards Cape Leeuwin, past Augusta to see where the Indian and Southern oceans meet. From there we were in the magnificent Karri country through Pemberton. We then stopped for lunch at the huge Gloucester Tree, which you can climb if your balls are large enough.. But at 61m high and a distinct dislike of heights I decided to head off for a scenic walk instead with some of the others in the group. Then off to the Valley of the Giants - the Ancient Empire & Treetop Walk. Here there are gigantic tingle trees which you can walk amongst, but you do it from the treetop walk canopy. Although pissing with rain it was a magical experience, and made even better when we came back down and I saw my one and only Quokka!!! What a cool creature that is. And naturally I bored the shit out of everyone by going on about it for the rest of the day, and they were gutted as they never saw one. Tree theme now over, we headed to Greens Pool in William Bay and then for a walk over the Elephant Rocks before heading through the beautiful town of Denmark and onto our hostel in Albany. It was then dinner down the pub and a few games of pool and 'local' watching, a very fun pastime when you think that the gene pool might be on the slack side.

Day 3 was dominated by the remarkable coastline of Southern WA. We went to the Blowholes and then onto the Gap and Natural Bridge (see my photos) before heading to Middleton Beach, an amazing spot where I played some Aussie Rules with the driver. (football by the way, not fighting) We then went via Mount Barker for some well earned wine tasting here. Then there was plenty of sleeping for the 4 hour drive back to Perth.

Got back to Perth at about 6.30pm on Friday and after making it back to Subiaco Drew, Janie and I headed out for some very average mexican food. Janie made her feelings known and I think she picked up a $100 voucher, and why not. Saturday was a day full of preparations for the big 3-0 for Drew, there was beer to be bucketed, lawns to be moved, dogs to be walked and tables to be moved.. So all that done there was time for a shower and then it was party time. It was a really nice evening as I got to meet plenty of Drew and Janie's mates, some that I had met briefly at the wedding and other's a hadn't. But it really is clear to see that Drew is very happy there in Perth, and personally I think he's a very lucky lad. I do believe he had a good evening and I was very pleased that I could be there to celebrate it with him. Lord knows how his parents stayed awake as long as they did having just flown in from England, but it was a remarkable effort. Sunday inevitably was a day of clearing up and relaxation, but not for Janie as she was up at crazy O'Clock for her triathlon and even more remarkably she came away with the fastest swimming time, simply nuts and hugely impressive. After consuming lots of great food and the off glass of wine we headed off. I was very kindly being put up in Sally's spare room (Janie's sis) as Drew's parents, Malcolm and Mary had quite rightly taken over Drew's spare room. Monday was actually the day of Drew's birthday and for me anyway was another very relaxed affair as I had time to get lots of photo albums put together online and some sushi for lunch with Drew in Perth with a bit of admin to sort in time for tomorrow's trip to Melbourne for a few days of 5-star luxury and mighty fine company.... That evening Drew, Janie, parents, Paul, Audrey, Sally and myself all went to a lovely restaurant called the Witch's Cauldon for dinner and I felt like a total tool for having to leave for the airport before my main course even arrived, but I made my apologies and made to the airport......

So back to Melbourne! As you may have read by first impressions of Melbourne were not good so there was plenty of opportunities here for those impressions to be turned over. I got to the beautiful Adelphi Hotel and had to pay an extra $100 early check in fee due to it being 5am, which I was happy to do having not slept since Sunday night. Anyway, Janet showed up at about 9am and after some breakfast we headed off to explore Melbourne. First stop the botanical gardens, then a good wander around central Melbourne and then a free tram ride to St Kilda for a lovely lunch and some WA wine. I had to take a kip due to being totally exhausted and we later headed out to a very nice bar/restaurant called the Hairy Canary on Little Collins St, the cocktails and food were great but did I see a hairy canary, did I hell.
Righto, Day 2 = Zoo, and what a bloody good zoo it is... Seriously, Melbourne Zoo puts Sydney Zoo to shame, healthy animals everywhere with plenty of space. A thoroughly enjoyable trip to the zoo, where I even got some video footage of a monkey drinking his own urine - eat your heart out Attenborough! That evening we stumbled across a really amazing place called Chaise Lounge for the jazz night, if you're ever in Melbourne get your ass down to Chaise Lounge... dodgy website, but a great bar. We then found a good feed at one end of Chinatown where we polished off a bottle of vino with our monster portions of grub, then over to the Hairy Canary for a couple of cocktails.

Early start on Thursday as we headed off for some exploring... The tour took us firstly out to the Dandenong Ranges, full of lush ferns and dense forest. We then stopped at Sherbrooke Forest, home to lyrebirds, crimson rosellas, cockatoos and galahs. You could even feed them... just hold out your hand with bird seed, wait approximately 2 seconds and there's birds everywhere, hours of fun, but sadly we only had about 20 mins. From there it was time to go for ride on the restored Puffing Billy Steam Train through Australia's most notable narrow gauge railway. At this stage the rain finally subsided and we headed off to the Fergusson Winery for an awesome roast lunch and unlimited wine... very nice! From there it was off to Healesville and onto the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary for Australia's 'premier wildlife and nature sanctuary'... and you know what, it was pretty damn good, even got to see a Duck-billed Platypus for the second day in a row, result! From Healesville it was back to Melly for some fun and games. Janet was off to a wedding at the weekend and there was a pre-wedding dinner at the Waterfront Restaurant at the Crown Casino complex going down, which we duly attended. Had a really nice meal there, met some lovely friends of Janet's and to boot, I won $90 at the casino on the roulette table!!! Good work sir....
And that was pretty much my second trip to Melbourne in a nutshell... Epically better than the first, down to awesome company and a totally beautiful hotel... (that's not to say you weren't good company Dave and Chris!!!). My opinion of Melbourne has been truly transformed... go there, don't expect something classically Australian but it IS a wonderful city.
So... back to Perth on Friday lunchtime for a couple more days. Saturday really was a lovely day as we all headed out for some wake-boarding.. Now let me enlighten you here, I usually get on pretty well with most things I put my hand to, no seriously I do if it entails something physical/sporty but never have I been so totally useless at anything in my whole life as I was at wake-boarding!!! Truly pathetic, in fact incomprehensibly bad (I think you're getting the picture now, yeah?). So pride swallowed along with half the lake we headed to Ray and Sheila's farm for the night for a true Aussie barbeque and beer. I have to say that there could have been no better way to spend my last night in Australia, the hospitality was amazing. Oh and I nearly forgot about the farm itself, stunning, truly stunning. So yeah, Drew very kindly drove me to the airport first thing Sunday morning for my flight to Hong Kong.... the next adventure... which will follow shortly..

Monday, March 28, 2005

Hervey Bay to Cairns

So.....

we left Hervey Bay on Sunday, Feb 20th directly to Airlie Beach (the gateway to The Whitsunday Islands), our route taking us via Bundaberg, Gladstone, Rockhampton and Mackay arriving at about 9pm after a monster 10 hour drive. Jesus, yeah, I just remembered that really was a long drive - I think it was about 850km. I also managed to pick up a speeding ticket, kindly granted to me by the Queensland Police and I have never managed to get around to thanking them enough for putting me in a shite mood for the rest of that day, but whilst I am on the subject, thank you Queensland Police for making me $250AU poorer, your generosity overwhelms me!

Back to the matter in hand. Airlie Beach is nestled between the sea and the pine forests with just about everything to be found along a shortish stretch of road... Shute Harbour Road and the short Esplanade. Contrary to the name, Airlie Beach offers sod all in the way of beaches due to the fact that beach bathing would almost certainly mean death in this part of Queensland due to the ever increasing population of Irukandji Jellyfish If you get stung by one of these fellas you might as well save yourself by cutting your head off, far less painful way to go.

There is however a beautiful lagoon (shagoon) which kinda makes up for it. But as I have touched upon, Airlie Beach is where nearly all the trips to the Whitsunday Islands depart from. The nightlife here is more than respectable, it has to be as hundreds of backpackers pour into the place either waiting to get on their respective boats or come off their boats waiting to leave the next day. Anyway, we arrived quite late Sunday evening and very soon after met up with Lacey Laye (from Fraser Island trip) and our buddy Jay who Scott lived with in Manly. We managed a few shandies before throwing in the towel and accepting that a meat pie and bed would make much more sense, so meat pie and bed it was.

Monday was pretty much a day of relaxation as we headed over to the office for our sailing trip confirmation, wrote some postcards and filled up on Sushi. Monday night however was a very different matter. Scott and I had noticed the rather heavily advertised 'Foam Party' @ Mass Nightclub so resist that we were definitely not able to do. After a pretty good feed at our hostel, which incidentally was awesome, Beaches Backpacker Resort.. I introduced Scotty to the legendaru Vodka and Ginger Ale combination. Suitably impressed we met up with Lacey Laye and persuaded her to accompany us to the foam part. Rather reluctantly she did and I'm not sure she stayed very long, especially after the 20th time that Scott and I tackled her into the 5ft of foam around the dance floor. It was here that Scott and I met, Andrea (Montreal), Vanessa (Montreal), Megan (Montreal) and Lindsay (Indiana). An absolutely amazing group of girls who we later hooked up with again in Cairns. We had a great night in the foam, I lost count how many Bundabergs and coke that I lost on that dance floor, but who cares! For those of you that haven't made it to a foam party yet, do it, there are very few opportunites that allow you to face pie people and rugby tackle them to the floor with almost no repercussions, quite remarkable, although I am sure that people wouldn't be quite so laid back about it in the UK!!
Hangovers in full flow our Tuesday morning was spent moping around searching for nurofen (or any other brand of high-strength/high-quality pain killer for that matter) and preparing ourselves for the 3 days ahead onboard the New Horizon. We managed to get to the marina for 2pm all in one piece. Bought plenty of beer and boarded the vessel. Attempts were made to meet our rather unresponsive shipmates for the next 3 days. We were introduced to our amazing crew Pete, Pete, Izzy, Miranda and Captain Roger. These guys were truly class and did everything for us, they cooked great meals, washed up, made tea, taught us how to dive etc etc and bearing in mind the cost of the trip they must have earned peanuts for their efforts. Day 1 was rather quiet as we caught some rays (sun not fish) and were fitted with our stinger suits. Stinger suits are highly unfashionable but highly necessary when in the waters of Tropical Queensland, because of course the jellyfish. Suits, gloves and hoods are required at all times as looking like a tit is far less important than having multiple heart attacks and dying as a result of making contact with an Irukandji Jellyfish. Our boat was particulary stringent about this as the week before a 35 year old bloke was stung and yes he had several heart attacks and the last report was he was still in hospital and still in a coma... nuff said.. After a great meal that night and few beers, Scott and I got into bed (together), yes we had to share a bed, such is life on the ocean. Scott was very amused when the 6.30am call for breakfast was made and he woke me up for me to say: "What? Where the hell am I?.... Oh yeah on a bloody boat, Great!"

Wednesday gave us plenty of time to get to know our stinger suits more intimately and explore the magnificent Whitehaven Beach and the Whitsunday Island National Park. After some most impressive and unforgettable snorkelling time we headed back to the vessel and sailed north to Pearl Bay where we dropped anchor and watched the sunset. Roast beef dinner and plenty of Tooheys New and another sleepless night followed. Day 3 gave us an opportunity to do some more snorkelling/sun worshipping before heading back to Airlie Beach to the marina in good time. Another night at Airlie Beach allowed us to attend the post-sailing dinner where we actually got some free beer courtesy of our crew, we then headed to the huge hostel bar for some more 'entertainment' and then I decided to throw the towel in and hit the hay as Piers and Scott headed out for more debauchery.

Friday, Feb 25th... Off to Townsville or should I say Clownsville, for our two nights on Magnetic Island
We got to the ferry terminal in good time and after heading back into Clownsville for some nosh we made the ferry having opted to leave my car at the port. After a very pleasant ferry crossing we made it to our hostel.. Arkies, which had definitely seen better days. Oh well you can't win 'em all! Friday night was the last Friday of the month, and on Magnetic Island that means that everyone (from Townsville too) heads over to Base Backpackers Resort for a 'Full Moon Party'. Now I will keep it brief here but never has anything been so overhyped! What a waste of time that was, Friday Freak Show would have been a more appropriate way to bring in the crowds. So we gave it our best shot and headed back to Arkies around 6am to bed, where we stayed for about 10 hours only to eat and go back to bed. Believe me kids, Magnetic Island ain't all that and should you ever head that way my advice would be to pass Townsville and spend a few nights at Mission Beach soaking up some sun and getting some well needed rest before hitting Cairns.

Which moved me nicely towards... yes, Cairns. We got to Cairns on Sunday afternoon where we headed to Captain Cooks Backpackers, and why not we did have two free nights there after all. Now let us pause for a second... How bad must somewhere be for you to make the decision that staying there for free would be foolish? Very, very bad is the answer.. and that is why we decided to head straight to Gilligans..... Now quite simply this place is the best hostel I have and ever will stay in, so rather a wise move opting to knock back the free beds.

That evening Rob was arriving from Sydney and we (I) had rather foolishly (in hindsight) advised him to get his ass straight to Captain Cooks from the airport, so rather embarrassed I hoped that he might call me on arrival at the shitehole once he had noticed a) what a shower of turd the place was and b) that we were not staying there after all. Luckily he did call and he obeyed my instructions to get in the first available vehicle to Gilligans where there was a bed waiting for him. After shouting more instructions at Rob (something along the lines of 'stick your bags in the room and come with me we're going on the piss') we made our way down to the highly impressive bar at Gilligans along with Scotty and Piers (with Marie naturally following shortly behind, with longer preparation time needed than us chaps) where we were soon met by some old faces in the form of Lacey Laye, Vanessa, Andrea, Megan and Lindsay who duly accompanied us to 'The Woolshed'. The Woolshed is a truly debauched establishment and is something of an institution in Cairns. Apparantly it has been going for aeons and the overwhelming smell of stale and ingrained booze comes as testimony to that. That said, it's a pretty surefire place to have a bloody good night, if of course you enjoy drinking like a fish and dancing like a retard, so I fitted in rather well as you can imagine. As you can also imagine some rather impressive hangovers usually follow any visit to this place and I can safely say that mine was a rotter. But that didn't stand in my way of getting up on Monday to rob the opticians... well when I say rob it was actually their carelessness that did them out of $100 and I simply couldn't bring myself to be British about it and point out their error as they gave me 3 months worth of daily disposable contact lenses for 20 quid, I am a 'backpacker' after all. A day of good food and sun worshipping lay ahead, I had planned to attempt to sell my car that day but fear of possible drink-driving offence while doing so prevented me from doing so. Met up with the girls again that evening, and my better judgement, and the fact that Dave, Paul and Zooks were arriving from Sydney for a week the following lunchtime, meant that it was one beer and then in with the towel for me whilst Scotty, Piers and Rob headed off to 'Sporties' for the $5 as much as you can drink in an hour deal (nuts hey!).

So I was up like a flash on Tuesday as fresh as a daisy and after a good feed I met Dave, Paul and Danny and with the emotional reunion out the way - i.e once I Danny had stopped hugging me - I headed off to scour the used car dealers of Cairns, and with offers ranging from $2.5k to $4.5k in the first 5 stops I knew that I was in for an interesting day. And after meeting several aussie reincarnations of Arthur Daley the 'interesting day' thought was definitely a certainty. After about 12 or so dealers I found one that was willing to exchange cash for my beloved '93 Toyota Camry even though both rear shocks were blown, all it left was for me to take her away, get her cleaned and pay my speeding fine! and return with the goods tomorrow. Which is exactly what I did but not necessarily in that order. I went to the Queensland department of transport first and after about 45mins of mindless queuing clutcing hold of that dreaded yellow slip I sauntered up to the desk with my cash and paid the fine, at which point the lady asked me whether I would like to keep the ticket as a souvenir of my stay in Queensland. At this stage what I should have said was: 'No but you can almost certainly feel free to stick it up your a***', but what I actually said was, 'You know what I will, thanks.' So off I went to Gilligans to inform the crew of my success. That evening we decided to host a little gathering in our room with Vodka and ginger ale as the theme and ipod cracked up. There was a pretty good turn out as the girls rocked up and Dave, Danny and Paul brought along Marvin the Misfit from Hamburg, quite a character I can tell you. He was later nicknamed Marvin Gaye and I can tell you right now it wasn't because of his soulful voice. Needless to say we had a blast and need I say that we headed straight to The Woolshed for some after party frolics. Once Marvin had taken about 300 photos of us all the quite rightfully took Dave's crown of 'Snap Happy King' then we were able to relax and get on with the madness that The Woolshed provides.

Now let me pause for a moment folks, I am aware that you are noticing a pattern emerge here, a pattern somewhat coloured by alcohol... Well, that be Cairns I'm afraid to admit. Wednesday did have one notable achievement, Dave and Danny accompanied me to drop off my motor at Arthur Daley's Motors, which in itself was adequate amusement for the day. The madness started when the sales manager, Arthur himself, informed as that there was an aboriginal lady that had drunk a few litres of meths and had locked herself in the boss's office. She had then put on his shoes and coat and was making random phonecalls, to where we don't but I am not entirely convinced that she did either. This whole fiasco went on for about an hour until the police turned off to cart her off, well actually carry her by her arms and legs into the back of a paddy wagon. It was a genuine Australian Cultural Show that I won't forget in a hurry. Once that mayhem had passed I was able to sign over the car to Arthur and get my cash. The only thing was they actually forgot to get the car keys off me..... These used car dealers really can't get the staff. So I did the right thing and went back to give them the keys, and off we headed to Gilligans to prepare ourselves for... wait for it folks.... The Cairns Pub Crawl.. the official one that is, not just us wandering around battered.

And what a fascinating 'cultural' experience that turned out to be, there was a horizontal bungee where opposite sexes had to pluck bananas outof various orifices with their mouths, there was 'strip musical chairs' lost only by a slight technicality by Danny to some Irish girl, there was a bizarre game at Gilligans which can best be described as 'strip musical sexual positions'.... errrrrrr.... best stop there...
Thursday the girls and Kubus left us, but that wasn't enough to stave off our hunger for The Woolshed. Thursday did however start off rather amusingly as Dave, Danny and Paul had booked themselves onto a Great Barrier Reef trip.... well, only Dave actually made it as the still drunk Paul and Zooks couldn't quite make it to the boat for bouncing off the walls of the hostel. Friday was a shock to the system as we all had a 6.30am start to make it out the front for our Cape Tribulation Tour buses. There was quite an unforgettable moment when Danny (still quite drunk/very very hungover) rushes outside to be met by his driver who asks a very reasonable question; "Where's your ticket mate?" to which Danny's response was.... 'F*** this man, I'm gonna go tomorrow or something!".... Quite hilarious and quite what Danny was thinking I will never now, however Dave appeared shortly afterwards to reassure young Daniel that a ticket is of course required and to hand ot over to the nice gentleman driving the bus... problem solved and no need for Danny to rebook for tomorrow. So off we headed in different buses, I was with Scott and Marie and we headed north to Mossman with the first stop at a small wildlife sanctuary where we fed Cassiowary birds, held some tree gliders (flying squirrels) and had some brekkie. It was then off to The Daintree for the ferry crossing across the croc infested Daintree river for the drive up to Cape Tribulation. Just to add to the experience it was raining in the rainforest and we stopped at the Marrdja Botanical Boardwalk to errr.. take the boardwalk through the rainforest where we saw plenty of king ferns, spiders and the rather far out looking Mangrove Swamps. Bitten to shit by the midgies we headed back to the bus for the trip to PK's Hostel where we would stay for the night. Now it's at this point that I have just remembered the pair of rather young, rather naive english girls on our tour that had a quire remarkable ability to ask the MOST insanely stupid questions known to man. I wish to God that I could remember them all, but a) you simply wouldn't believe most of them actually came out the mouth of a human being and b) it would just be far too traumatic for me to relive such stupidity. How I restrained myself from throttling them I simply don't know but I did. Here's one for a taster.. "Are you serious? Emus can't actually fly?". Like I said, sorry to disappoint but recounting any more would be far too traumatic as I have done my damnedest to banish that madness from my memory banks.

Our hostel was pretty good, although spider infested, the kangaroo burgers were to die for.. ask the kangaroos. One we had all regrouped at the hostel from our various tour buses it was time for some relaxation by the pool, some pool, and booking our morning of sea-kayaking for saturday. We also made a visit to the 'Bat House' where we had a very interesting talk on the flying-foxes that they foster there and then Paul and Danny headed off around 7pm for a rainforest night safari, as I headed off to bed for an early night.
Saturday we headed off to our kayaks and took to the ocean for a totally amazing morning kayaking off the east coast of Cape Trib. Danny and I chose to take a 2-man kayak which as you can imagine was a total laugh. Danny persisted on continually scooping water into my mouth rather than grasping the physics of the paddle's relationship with the water, but funny it was. We stopped briefly for some photos and then paddled to the shore for some coconut husking and passionfruit eating. We then went for a little wander with our guide and found some green ants. She then pointed out that if you lick the arse of a green ant it tastes rather like a lime, so I grabbed one and naturally as you do, I licked it's arse much to the disgust of the rest of the group. Paul then decided he would follow so I picked one out for him whereupon he decided to french kiss my fingers rather than the ants arse, very amusing! It was then time for the kayak race back to beach. It is here that I would like to claim that Danny and I won, however we came second to Piers and Dave. I was nearly sick when we finished again due to the amount of sea water Danny had scooped into my mouth.

We then headed back to The Daintree where we embarked upon a river cruise to do some croc spotting, and we weren't disappointed as we saw several crocs. This is truly amazing seeing these beasts in their natural environment, an unforgettable experience. It was then time to head home via Port Douglas, a rather upmarket tourist trap that left little to excite the senses. Basically a five star version of Cairns where your money would last half the time. We stopped briefly en route back to Cairns to watch some paragliding then headed straight back to the hostel for one last taste of The Woolshed.

Sunday we said goodbye to Marie and the rest of the day was naturally a rather painful day as I was also leaving that night, but of course the adventure has to continue and although I had to say goodbye to some truly great mates, I can safely say that I will see them again. So all the boys saw me off as I took the 10.55pm flight to Perth to catch up with my old mate Drew now living in Perth with his wife Janie. So thanks Dave, Danny, Paul, Scott and Piers for such fantastic times.. like I said, see you again. And that's where the east coast trip ends... But that's not it folks, next stop Perth........

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Surfers Paradise to Hervey Bay

Well while I'm in the mood I might as well crack on with the rest of my journey up to Cairns..

OK, well we left Surfers on Saturday, Feb 10th (Jesus, it seems so much longer ago than that!!) with the intention of heading straight to Noosa. Now this route takes you right through Brisbane, which is exactly what we decided to do. Although Brisbane is the state Capital of Queensland we decided unanimously that stopping there was not going to be worth our time. The main reason being that of all the people we'd all met, both from Australia and travelling there, nobody, and I mean nobody had ever said: 'Make sure you check out Brisbane'. It was just one of those places that always remained unremarked upon, so miss it out we did and passed straight through.

We did however make the decision to make our one stop along the way to Noosa at the famous Australia Zoo
Crikey! I hear you shout. Yep you got it, this is the place that's owned by that mad goon, Steve Irwin and his wife Terri. Australia Zoo is about 50km north of Brisbane in the back arse of nowhere, so obviously the only reason to head out here is to see the Zoo with all it's amazing animals and hope that you might get the chance to meet the maniac Steve himself. Unfortunately we didn't get to see Steve or his wife, but we spent a good few hours seeing the amazing work that this guy has put into preserving, and educating people about Australian wildlife. If you ever around Brissie then this place really is a must! It was here that I saw my first albino kangaroo, quite an amazing sight, although the enjoyment was rather short lived by the fact that I was bitten by a rodding spider on my toe. It would be exaggeration of monumental proportions to say that this was a hugely unpleasant experience because it wasn't. The bite itself felt like I had stood on a drawing pin and said spider unfortunately was squashed under the weight of my 96kilo frame, and there were no after effects from the venom. But that said I would safely say that I wish I had escaped Australia without a spider bite.

From Australia Zoo it was quite simply pedal to the metal as we headed directly north through Caloundra, Mooloolaba and Maroochydore and onto Noosa on Australia's Sunshine Coast.

So, Noosa, actually one of my favourite places in Oz. Why? I hear you cry.... Well it's not that straightforward to explain that. I guess because it's so relaxed, there is no neon signs that seem to accompany to many spots in Oz, beautiful beaches, beautiful people without the arrogance that usually accompanies that too. We knew that our buddy Bruce was staying at the Noosa Backpackers so that's where we headed and met him almost immediately upon arrival. It really is nice arriving somewhere totally new and seeing such a friendly and familiar face. We had 4 fantastic nights in Noosa or was it 3, who cares? The backpackers we stayed at was great and basically Bruce, Marie, Scott, a very attractive aussie girl and I had our own flat to ourselves. The first night was very tame as Bruce and I caught up and we recounted the many nights and days on madness that accompanies staying at Boardriders backpackers in Manly. Day 2 was a good time to try and get our bearings, and believe me it's very tricky getting your bearings in Noosa! We all headed to the beach after watching Bruce surf for a while (very impressive). We then decided to check out the bar/club at Koala Backpackers in the evening, which was a very strange affair. It was there that we met a character called T-Bone, well Scott did anyway. Unfortunately T-Bone has some sort of brain damage but that never stops him showing up every night and dancing like a maniac and trying to pull every available female. I guess the main thing is that he's having the time of his life.
Finally on Day 3 Chesney returned from visiting his parents on the Gold Coast, so Scott and I located him and we headed to the beach for a while to play some rugby and have a long overdue swim. It was great to catch up with Chesney, a true character and I am very much looking forward to him visiting London in November..lock up your daughters is all I can say! We had a few drinks in the hostel bar that evening but as the one designated driver on my car it was an early night for me due to the full day of driving on Wednesday in order to reach Hervey Bay in good time to catch our group meeting for the Fraser Island trip. So after saying goodbye to Ches and Bruce it was lights out for Chopper.

It's great waking up in the morning being the only one that's not hungover and I obviously milked it for all it was worth. So yeah, off to Hervey Bay via the rather appropriately named Gympie, although I think that the locals had decided to refrain from wearing leather masks due to the intense heat.

So we arrived in Hervey Bay after lunch in time for our 3pm Fraser Island trip briefing at Beaches Backpackers Resort. Beaches was a great place and the whole Fraser Island trip was well organised and totally painless. So fully briefed and allocated to our groups we headed off in different directions to buy food and booze etc before getting a decent night's kip ready for the 7am start. More briefings over with we actually managed to get into our 4x4s and onto the ferry over to Fraser Island.

Fraser Island is 123km long and is the world's largest sand island, and that aside it is a truly magical experience. As you hurtle around in a massive 4x4 packed with 10 people the scenery ranges from silent forests and beaches sculpted by wind and surf, to crystal clear streams and lakes. The east coast of the Island is a 90km beach which you hammer along at 80km an hour and it's actually classes as a freeway so watch out for the police speed cameras! Driving along the sand dunes there was like driving in snow, then ice, then snow, then ice, then snow.. you get the picture!
Anyway, Day 1 we headed directly to Central Station (not a station) an old logging depot and then 9km north through the woodland to Lake Mackenzie, ringed by white sand with clear, tea-coloured water reflecting a blue sky (sounds amazing doesn't it.. well it was, truly magical). From there I took over the driving (oh dear) and nailed it down to Seventy-Five Mile Beach and then to Dundaburra. We arrived here (bsae camp) at around 6pm and with the sun rapidly disappearing we had very little time to erect our tents. Not a problem! With the two tents alocated between the 10 of us, Dan, Rachael, Naomi, Gemma and Dave in one.. Scott, Marie, Kerry, Vicky and I in the other we headed over to the cooking area to prepare our bbq. Scott was Iron Chef for the evening and we had a great feed and with dinner out of the way by around 8pm we all got stuck into the copious amounts of boxed wine that we had so foolishly brought along. It was not long after that Scotty and I decided to introduce ourselves to one of the other groups, and what a wise decision that was! It was then that we met Ali G and Piers, two total character and all round damn good eggs that were the source of much amusement and inspiration over the next two days. I would like to tell you what time we got to our tent that night but I simply have no clue, my last memory of the evening was when Lacey Laye (girl from Canada) got up to go to the toilet and Piers threw a whole dustbin of water over her, a classic moment. Anyway Scott and I did make it back to the tent somehow avoiding the dingoes and learned in the morning that we kept laying across the girls... oh well! So Friday.. what an unpleasant day! Scott and I were really feeling the ill effects of boxed wine both suffering from almost brain haemorrage like hangovers in the intense heat (36c) as we made our way to Indian Head at about 7am! Ouch! The views from Indian Head were however well worth the very sweaty trek. It was then about another 9km to the Champagne Pools, which are a cluster of shallow safe swimming pools right above the surf line. We chilled out(!) here for a couple of hours before heading back to the 4x4. It was here that Scott and I had a real treat. As we plodded along the walkway there was a girl below us that clearly thought the coast was clear (so to speak) and she got into her birthday suit for us! What a nice way to get rid of a hangover! Ok, so then off to lunch in Happy Valley and then some time to cool off in Eli Creek, a really beautiful swimming spot. The early start meant that we had to be back at base camp by 2.30pm... which we duly did. Now, getting back to camp so early really was a disaster waiting to happen as I am sure you can guess what follows. Errrr... well think about it, 60 or so young(ish) travellers and as much booze to kill a small army... well say no more. We did manage to fit in dinner thanks to the girls and it was excellent I might add. So, after I had washed the dishes it was Bundaberg time!
Our last night on Fraser was simply amazing as both our group and Piers's had a total ball. Scott and I didn't actually make it back to the tent that night as we only got as far as the truck.
Saturday was a rather sombre affair as everyone kinda had the blues knowing that we had to get the ferry at 5pm back to Hervey Bay. We had time to make it to Lake Mackenzie one last time before catching the ferry back to Hervey. We then had to go through the rather dull experience of returning the vehicles but I guess it was less painful than we had all envisaged. What's more we had one last night at Beaches to enjoy. There were however several goodbyes to some fantastic friends, namely Jenny, Rhonda, Hattie, Lolanda and Ali G, but such is life on the road.

Sunday we were all still in sombre mood as Scott, Marie and our new recruit Piers took off bright and early for Airlie Beach where we would embark upon our Whitsunday Island adventure.........which follows next folks

Friday, March 25, 2005

Plenty more photos too.......

I thought that I would put these up here too - photos from Jan 15th through to March 23rd 2005

Me Birthday - CLICK HERE


Australia Day and last few days in Manly - CLICK HERE


Sydney to Noosa - CLICK HERE


Hervey Bay and Fraser Island - CLICK HERE


Airlie Beach and The Whitsundays - CLICK HERE


Magnetic Island to Cairns and Cape Tribulation - CLICK HERE


Perth and trip to Albany via the Margaret River - CLICK HERE


Perth and back to Melbourne.. and back to Perth - CLICK HERE


enjoy kids

Chopper

Nailing the East Coast of Australia... Manly to Surfers Paradise

Dear All,

this is hugely overdue I know and apologies for that, but I have to say if I thought more people were actually reading this then I might have felt more inclined to be more disciplined with it... However, onwards and upwards.

Right, I left Manly on Thursday, January 3rd 2005 with the only real plan being to make it up to Cairns (North Queensland) by the start of March in time to hook up with my pals - Dave, Danny, Paul and Kubus (from Buffalo, N.Y) who would be starting their trip down the East Coast.

Wednesday night was a very quiet affair with Thursday's ETD being roughly 10am. I did make it out on Weds night however purely to say a few goodbyes and give myself one last reminder what an incredible place Manly is. All fool anyone that makes it to Sydney and doesn't actually make it across on the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly wharf, the $7 single ticket could be one of the best spent journeys you will ever make on public transport.

So, Thursday morning all packed and ready to head over to pick up Scott and Marie, travelling partners from the US and Denmark respectively, when I get a call from one Dave Minnuto, which went as follows:
'Yo Ed mate'
'Dave, what's up'
'Er well I have been thinking and I was wondering whether it might be OK, you know for me to come with you guys just for a week or so?'
'NO problem Dave, I am pretty much on my way over right now'
'Are you sure?'
'Yes Dave, goodbye'

So there we have it... and then there were 4! After saying goodbye to Aki and Paul. I took the 'scenic' route (i.e went the wrong way) out of Sydney, North towards Avalon and Palm Beaches (where Home and Away is filmed) then onto the freeway to Newcastle, yes Newcastle. Now Newcastle was founded in 1804 for convicts too hard even for Sydney to cope with, and that aside it was in it's heyday a city of heavy industry but is still New South Wales' second city. Upon arrival we checked into the huge YHA and took off for a wander and some scran. Still coming to terms with the fact that we had left Manly I think that both Scott and I (the others would be returning) were a little subdued that day but we soon found the answer to our woes!.. namely the free food and pub quiz night at 'The Brewery'.. a pub incidentally, not actually a brewery. Now as far as first nights go on the road this was definitely a good one. Not only did we take part in the aforementioned pub quiz we took it apart, even in the face of some rather blatant cheating all around us. So we stormed the pub quiz and gladly accepted our prize of free champagne which we took downstairs to enjoy as the resident thrash metal band were starting to crank up the volume. I talked Super 12s rugby and Ashes cricket with a few of the locals before we walked Marie home and headed out for a couple of very mediocre pints in two very mediocre bars, then off to bed to prepare for the drive to Port Macquarie.

So.. off to Port Macquarie. Firstly we headed just North of Newcastle to the stunning Port Stephens, a very wide bay area extending inland for some 25km, nicknamed 'Blue Water Paradise' for a very good reason. Then onto the main township of Nelson Bay perched at the tip of the southern arm of the bay. Tummies rumbling we made it to Bulahdelah just in time for lunch where we refueled at 'The Plough Inn'. Just after Bulahdelah we turned east on the Lakes Way towards the coast past Myall Lake past the holiday town of Forster-Tuncurry. From there it was mostly unsealed roads to Seal Rocks, a very remote fishing village/hippy commune and the only settlement in the Myall Lakes National Park. Having National Park status ensures that this area remains unspoilt, and the small beach is truly beautiful with crystal clear waters marooned between two headlands. It is also apparantly one of the best spots to dive and see nurse sharks in the whole of New South Wales.

From there we headed to the Sugar Loaf Point Lighthouse built in 1875 which I would love to tell you more about but misinformation in our guide books made us miss the tour so we headed off somewhat disappointed through Taree and then onto Port Macquarie. Upon arrival In Port Macquarie it was like the blind leading the blind as we tried to locate our desired hostel only to find that there were no beds at the Inn, we naturally refused the stables and moved on to 'Sundowner Breakwall Tourist Park', and what a find that was. We had our own cabin for the next two nights which definitely did the job. We made tacos for dinner and drank vodka for dessert then headed off to the Port Macquarie Hotel to taste the local nightlife... It was not difficult to comprehend that Port M was also established as a place for hardened crims.. having watched some goon land at our feet after being ejected we headed in to find hundreds of incomprehensibly smashed punters. I believe we lasted there for about an hour and a half, which believe me is an admirable effort!
Day 2 in Port M was a very chilled affair, lazing by the pool, sushi for lunch and dinner at Winky's followed by ice cream and bed, ready for the early start on Sunday for Coffs Harbour.

The route to Coffs was a simple, short (thank God) and pleasant one taking us through Crescent Head, Nambucca Heads and then to Coffs where we checked into the hugely impressive YHA. Brand spanking new and with all the bells and whistles and only a 5 minute stroll to the beach. We headed into the town for some nosh and then headed back to the pool which was way too tempting to turn down, especially as the heat had been turned up to around 35C. After a dip and a frazzle we headed to the beach to errr cool down!? Dave, Marie and I headed to a fantastic sushi restaurant right opposite the YHA for dinner where I consumed approximately half my body weight in raw fish much to the amazement of my fellow travellers. We naturally felt obliged to sample a beer or two so we took the short walk to the Harbour to the RSL club where our evening was cut short due to the barmaid's fixation with playing back-to-back Annie Lennox tracks for an hour, the line was swiftly drawn when our ears started bleeding and I thought I could feel a brain haemorrage coming on.

Having come to the decision that one night in Coffs was more than enough sampling we were up bright and early Monday morning to make the drive to Nimbin.....

From Coffs we headed north via Woolgoolga, home of a beaming bright white Sikh temple that looks so out of place it's untrue, onto Grafton sat on a bend of the wide Clarence River, which almost encircles the city. Then onto the old port of Ballina, at the mouth of the Richmond River, with a rather odd Giant Prawn marking the entrance to the town. My only real memory of Ballina was the huge tea-tree plantations on the outskirts of the town. After much pleading from Dave and Scott we stopped in Lismore to try and find a suitable venue to catch the second half of the 39th SuperBowl which we duly did before heading to Nimbin.

No I am not sure how much you all know about Nimbin but probably the less the better. Nimbin is apparantly one of those places that 'you just have to go' when heading up the East Coast of Oz.... correction, you absolutely DON'T have to. Let me explain why, I will also give you some background to the place...
Nimbin was the site of the famed Aquarius Festival that launched Australian hippie culture in 1973, and is much more reluctant than it should be to move out of its 1970s time warp. All the houses and shopfronts are decorated in bright psychedelic shite and all the shops sell health food, hippie shit and hippie food and most of the locals have stuck to the hippie dress code or 'alternatively' they look like they might mug you. Dope here is a way of life and if you stand in the middle of Nimbin it's enough to put anyone off drugs, quite frankly the place is a disgrace. Sure enough it's OK to spend one night there, we found an Ok hostel with an Ok pool that put on an Ok barbeque, but that's about it. It was a stupidly hot day when we rolled into town so the appeal of resting up and having a dip appealed before getting into Byron Bay the next day. In hindsight, which is always a very nice thing to have, I should have hit the gas, maybe even hit some hippies and got the hell outta Dodge.. That said the night was.. OK and it allowed us to get up at the crack of dawn toss the keys out of the car window at the hostel owner and head straight to Byron Bay in good time. Oh yeah and if any of you go there I will offer you three tips: 1. If you see a guy walking down the street with a stuffed Racoon, hit him hard. 2. Do NOT go in the pub as it is littered with the dregs of society. 3. Just drive through the place and stop only to contemplate that of all the people you know, there will be noboby that has done less with their life than the people you are looking at right there!

BYRON BAY... now here's a place that's overhyped. Sure enough it has 30km of almost unbroken sandy beaches but so what. The West Coast of Australia has thousands of almost unbroken beaches and you don't have to put up with the whole 'small town getting too big for itself shite'. Ok, maybe I am being too harsh but it's really not that special, yes it's beautiful (when it doesn't rain all day and night) but as the Rough Guide points out... 'its about as subversively alternative as MTV'...
Dave, Marie, Scott and I headed to our hostel for the next 3 nights... The Arts Factory Backpackers Lodge. Now this place is very well known, more for it's 'alternative' feel than it's comfort, but hey why not? Take a look at it yourself here. There is however a great pool and a great pub in the complex with fab food at a decent price and we had the use of a basketball court for when the rain wasn't doing its thing. Marie's boyfriend Jon arrived shortly after our arrival and Scott, Dave and I opted for one of the 'woodland lodges in a bushland creek setting'... give me a f***ing break!! I think what you mean is 'a spider infested shithouse in a mosquito infested swamp setting'. So needless to say we all got eaten alive and for our third night Scott and I threw in the towel and moved into a dorm for an all round more pleasant experience.
But all in all Byron was kinda fun. Jay (mate from Manly, from Texas) decided to come visit while driving a camper van down from Brisbane and brought a surprise guest with him in the form of Rob Kubus. So needless to say our first night in Byron started and ended with a very strong beer and Bundaberg theme to it. Oh yeah and day 2 was almost identical. Now the cynics among you are wondering why we didn't get out and do something, well in Byron there are beaches and err beaches and it rained tropically all day every day... so nuff said. Day 3, Dave, Rob and Jay took off back to Sydney and Scott and I slept, not sure what Marie and Jon did, don't really want to know to be honest.

Thursday 10th Marie, Scott and I left Byron for Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. Spiritually if not geographically 'Surfers' is at the heart of the Gold Coast and it's a great place to spend a few days. We had two great nights here at the Islander Backpacker Resort, basically a hotel cum backpackers in the centre of town where we had a great room to share with a lad from Aberdeen called Stuart who was great fun. The weather that first day wasn't great and although we had a good scout around town and checked out the stunning and huge beach the weather got in the way of our 'relaxation' time. The hostel provided vouchers for free food at one of the pubs around the corner. Now 'free food voucher' naturally conjures up images of a bowl of Pedigree Chum, but alas no, the food was plentiful and quality and for those of you that believe in the saying that 'nothing in life is free', well you're bloody wrong! So after a damn good fee we headed to Melba's (bar) for several drinks, followed by another bar where we danced the night away true Surfers style. Friday naturally brought a rather interesting hangover so we decided to head off for some breakfast. It was en route to breakfast that I had an unusual experience, now I am not sure that it was more unusual because of the hangover or not, I will let you decide. I went to buy a smoothie in one of the shopping malls with Scott and Marie before heading to the beach for some sun when a bloke (roughly 45 years of age, reasonably well dressed) comes rushing up to me with his hand held out. I look at Scotty and he looks at me with an equally confused look.
The guy then says: 'Hi, my name's Jon, I have two questions that I hope you can help me with...'
Again I look at Scotty confused, the bloke then asks: 'Now I need to firstly find a telephone and then I need to find a pool table'
I said:'What the f***, are you mental? You're stood right next to a telephone box and Surfers has about 200 pubs and nearly every one has at least one pool table... Now what's your problem?'
The guy looks back at me bemused and walks off........ Most unusual..

So due the severity of the hangover it was a quiet night in for me that night and a good feed ready for tomorrow's trip up to Noosa to catch up with Bruce and Chesney our two good mates from South Africa that we met in Manly at Boardriders Backpackers....

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

At last some more Photos

As promised here are some more photos - 6 new albums in total, so enjoy:

as promised here are a number of photos.. the best way to view them
might be to create a login with Ofoto but see whether these links
work, they should:

there are 6 albums since the New Zealand ones from a while ago:


Start of OZ and thanksgiving - CLICK HERE


New Year - CLICK HERE


Manly Oceanworld and the Blue Mountains - CLICK HERE


Xmas 2004 - CLICK HERE


The Hunter Valley - CLICK HERE


Road trip to Adelaide - CLICK HERE


take care kids

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Sydney to Adelaide and back......

And a good day to you all... Hope you enjoyed the photos and hope they were worth waiting for..

I thought that I would add a brief entry to cover off the Adelaide trip on the basis that hilarity did prevail and that I have never driven so far in my life! The whole time I was on the road I kept thinking of that Alan Partridge radio sketch when he's interviewing the 'famous french racing car driver' Michel Lambert, and the first question he hits Michel with is: "What's the furthest you've ever driven without stopping?".... Because I knew for a fact that on this trip I would... drive the furthest that I have ever driven without stopping, mainly for the fact that I was the only insured driver and it's a rod of a long way.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAnyway. Dave (mate from Buffalo, New York State), Chris (Pom from Manchester) and I set off about 10.30am January 5th from Manly with the aim of making it to Adelaide via Canberra and Melbourne and back in 7 days. Now we were all under no illusion that this is a bastard of a long way, but it could be done, it would be short time wise but that's all we had to spare.

Leaving Syndey we took towards Botany Bay (the airport) and out towards Wollongong where I was desperate to visit the Nan Tien Buddhist Temple, the biggest Buddhist Temple in the southern hemisphere. This is an extraordinary place situated half way up a hill overlooking the rather dour, industrial site of Wollongong. So besides the rather suspect location it was a very peaceful first stop on Day 1.

Next stop had us pulling into the Italian fishing settlement of Ulladulla very near the Morton National Park. After refuelling with pasta we headed towards Canberra. I would like to say that there was an air of excitement amongst the crew but never have I had such low expectations heading towards the capital of a country... may I add, the capital of an incredibly beautiful country.

Canberra quite simply has to be the biggest shower of shite on earth, period. All I had been told about Canberra was true and that is why I and you should you ever go there, have very low expectations because the end result is that - you aren't disappointed and you can happily continue your journey south towards the Snowy Mountains into infinite beauty... There is one thing about Canberra that shocked me, and it is this. We drove straight into the car park in the belly of New Parliament Buildings in the middle of the day and there was ZERO security! Nothing, zilch, not any security of any description, not even a fat lad stuffing doughnuts down his gullet reading some top shelf material...

So the drive to Merimbula started. Merimbula was the chosen location of our first night on the road, for what reason I can't quite remember other than I was shattered and it kinda made sense. Merimbula is a very popular place for holidaymakers from Victoria to get a break from hectic?! Melbourne life. We pulled into Merimbula at around 8.30pm and checked into the delightful Wandarrah Lodge YHA, and were given a thorough run through the rules by 'Sweaty' Betty. Food then consumed it was off to the bottle shop for some beers which we decided to consume down by the lake. We immediately noticed about 20 people wading in the lake with buckets, which we later discovered was the local night-time past-time... prawn fishing. After an unusual meeting with 2 hammered female 'youths', who I add had never met someone from outside Australia?! we headed back to the comforts of the YHA for a few hours of shut eye.

After a 9am departure we headed into the state of Victoria through the beautiful Gippsland Region to Lakes Entrance, an old fishing port/tourst town. Now when arriving in Lakes Entrance there is something that you will notice almost immediately.... Everyone here seems to be very, very closely related - the Lakes might be big but the gene pool is definitely drying up. I found myself continually helping people struggling with 'knuckle drag'. That said, lunch at Dj's was good and huge giving us that extra bit of energy to make it through to Melbourne on Day 2. We decided that having heard such good things about the St Kilda district of Melbourne that that is where we would stay. On consulting the ever reliable Rough Guide to Australia, it described St Kilda as "sophisticated yet seedy" with a "raging nightlife". The search for a hostel bed at such short noticed proved to be more of a problem than we had anticipated but we finally struck 'Gold' by getting a dorm at Jackson's House run by someone that can only be described as a 'freak' called Tim.

It was at this stage that the cry for food and beer was performed and we did just that. Eager for entertainment and the 'raging nightlife' of St Kilda we headed to 'The Elephant and Wheelbarrow' a well-known English pub in St Kilda. Now going to English pubs ain't something I do abroad usually but to put I bluntly I needed a bloody good feed and the shite on offer everywhere else just didn't cut it for Uncle Chop Chops - so a Cumberland sausage maybe even laid by the elephant himself and some veg and mash was gonna have to do. It was shortly after dining that the 'band' came on.. Now I have heard a number of cover bands in my life, some good, some bad. But what I really object to is cover bands that play tunes that they never, ever have a hope of doing justice. I mean by all means murder your Crowded House etc but leave Bono and the likes alone, they don't deserve it.

My wait for the cacophony to end was in vain and we had to leave to Dave's disappointment at around 9.30pm when my ears started to bleed. Our evening then consisted of a futile wander around the streets of St Kilda in search of something bordering on fun. Even a few games of pool with a couple of kinda nice English ladies didn't quite cut it. Finally we made it back to Jackson's House where we sat our arses in front of the final 30 mins of Fahrenheit 9/11. Chris and I made it to bed but Dave passed out in the living room so I went down to revive him. There were about 5 people still there as well as Dave so I naively start slapping Dave shouting 'come to f***ing bed Dave', I then turn around to see everyone staring at me thinking: "Those 2 are gay! He's pleading with him to come to bed with him!" so I went back upstairs leaving Dave to make his own way to bed.

Now it's here that I have to tell you about Melbourne... Never have I been so disappointed by a place in my life. I had very high expectations of Melbourne, partly, I believe, because people regularly seem to mention it in the same breath as Sydney. Believe me people, do not swallow this crap. There are many attractive elements to Melbourne but with Sydney it simply does not compare and even forgetting that I left bitterly disappointed. There was one saving grace to our trip to Melbourne, well for Chris and I anyway... we got to wander around Ramsay Street or Pin Oak Crescent as it's actually known. There is something oddly satisfying that you have done exactly the same thing as millions of bored Neighbours fans in Melbourne in search of some of Melbourne's excitement. I must write to the Rough Guide when I get back to blighty.

As nice as it was to leave Melbourne the drive on the 7th was a beast. Around nightfall we landed in Warrnambool, a strange seaside agricultural town where we stumbled across the Warrnambool Hotel, a modest place with a great pub and a few rooms above. But although a test of stamina it is the drive to Warrnambool from Melbourne that stands out in my memory on this trip. It more than ably competes with the Big Sur coastline of California and the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.

The Great Ocean Road in Victoria is quite simply amazing. It's a very winding 280kms of awesome coastal scenery with gems such as the 12 apostles, London Bridge and Bells Beach (of Point Break fame). The road itself hugs the coastline betwen Torquay and Apollo Bay passing through the stunning coastal towns of Lorne and Angelsea. From Apollo Bay the road heads slightly inland through the forests of the Otway National Park before rejoining the coast at Princetown to wind along the shore for the entire length of the Port Campbell National Park (The Shipwreck Coast). I think we were still lost for words when we arrived in Warrnambool not to mention incapable of pronouncing it's name. After checking into our room (which I must add had the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in) we headed out for some nosh and decided rather predictably to grab some beers so back to the Warrnambool Hotel. This was a great place, full of friendly locals and average priced beer and even some entertainment as we watched two fully grown men attempt to strangle each other to death - laughed I nearly cried!

After a good night's kip we headed off through Port Fairy, Nelson, Mt Gambier and on to Kingston S.E - home of the Giant Lobster. Then through the incredible Fleurieu Peninsula to Glenelg, perhaps Adelaide's most popular beach town 11kms S.W of the City. Now I arrived in Adelaide with almost no expectations and I left thoroughly impressed. Impressed with the people, the beauty, the everything - full marks Adelaide. We found ourselves a great little hostel near the beach in Glenelg and had a really relaxing evening allowing us to get the most out of Adelaide the following day. Adelaide is definitely somewhere I will be returning to one day, I mean the place has a restaurant for every 29 people!!!

Sunday in Adelaide rocked and after visits to the Sir Don Bradman museum, the South Australia Museum and a good trot around the city, oh yeah and a chance meeting with Shaiob Akhtar at some traffic lights, we returned to Glenelg to drop Chris off and Dave and I started the monster 2000km drive back to Sydney at about 5pm.

That evening I managed 500km before we stopped for some well needed sleep in Mildura before getting up at sparrow's fart on Monday and nailing the 1,500km drive back to Sydney in around 11 hours taking the Sturt Highway across the Murray River and through the Riverland region to the New South Wales border.

Finally made it back to Manly at about 7pm on Monday two days ahead of schedule and with 4,500kms on the clock and a job well done. As Scott said to me on my return: "Chopper, you are a machine"... Although I am not sure I'll be doing that amount of Kms in 5 days again if I can help it.

Big shout out goes to Dave and Chris for navigation and managing to stay awake in the car after day 2, you guys made it such an awesome trip.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Xmas 2004 and New Year 2005

Ok, so yeah, Christmas. Well I have to admit that I had conceded that Christmas 2004 was not going to be the most festive affair that I had ever been part of. Walking around Manly and Sydney you actually struggle to have any idea that Christmas is on it's way and with very little planned for Christmas Day and a stinking hangover from Christmas Eve I felt that the day might be something of a disappointment.

After a traditional Christmas meal of full english breakfast, Scott, Brodie and I headed over to Joanna and Wes's place in Queenscliff that overlooks the whole of Manly Beach. Armed with a case of Tooheys Extra Dry and a slab of beef about 20 of us descended upon the apartment for a great day. Dave, Brodie, Scott, Bridget and I then headed over to the harbour beach for a fire/drinking/general tomfoolery, finally making it back to Dave's place for around 11pm.

All in all an very very different Xmas but no less enjoyable and I have to thank all the folks here for making it a great day after all.

New Year however did have a huge air of expectation what with Sydney's fame for such impressive firework displays, the backdrop of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and all. New Year's Eve we headed over to Jenni's house in North Sydney, a perfect spot only 10 mins walk from the bridge. Dave, Danny, Scott, Marie, Bridget, and about 10 others rocked up for a bbq and headed off for the fireworks at Midnight. WE finally made it back to Jenni's after several falls and stumbles for some more madness and then finally making it back home for about 6am and a New Year's day spent almost entirely in bed.

New Year's 2005 will definitely go down as one of the best ever, sadly not spent with all the people that I would have liked it to be but again I have to thank all my buds out here for making it such a great day and I one I won't forget.

Thanks

The Blue Mountains

Well, well, well... It's been a while but finally I have managed to pull my finger out and get the blog and the online photo album updated.

Just before Christmas a group of us decided to make the ridicuously short trip out of Sydney to the Blue Mountains Region of New South Wales. The Blue Mountains are the section of the Great Dividing Range nearest Sydney taking its name from the blue mist that hangs in the air from the millions of eucalyptus trees.Our trip took us out of Sydney to the Sydney Olympic Park to take a brief look at the 110,000 seater Telstra Stadium then onto the Blue Mountains themselves.

Our route took us through Penrith, Wentworth Falls and finally on to Katoomba. First stop Valley Heights to take some shots of the Western Ridge, then on to Wentworth Falls for a brisk walk and views of the falls themselves. Then on to Katoomba, the biggest town in the Blue Mountains and the site for the best views of the Three Sisters and Echo Point. From here we headed down to the Valley Floor taking the Skyway and the incredibly steep Scenic Railway back up to Katoomba.

From Katoomba we headed into the heart of the Blue Mountains National Park back through the stunning garden town of Leura to do some Kangaroo and general fauna spotting. We were not disappointed at all. After a full day out of Manly, the withdrawal symptoms were starting to affect us all and we headed back for about 6.30pm

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Thanksgiving....The Hunter Valley and The Aussie Reptile Park

Dear All,

It's been a while I know but I've been busy with the Wing Chun and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so there's been very little to report other than having no skin on my knuckles and bringing sweating to a whole new level.

So for those of you that don't know (ie; almost everyone) it was thanksgiving the other week and seeing that most of my mates out here are septic tanks then I thought I would join them for their thanksgiving dinner at the hugely famous 'Ribs and Rumps' restaurant in Manly. Now bear in mind folks that I am sure that most of you have been to a good steak restaurant, yeah I have too, but this is a world class one! Almost any celebrity coming to Sydney has been here... Now they don't just do steaks they do something here called the 'Man o War' which is basically a 'have a go if you think you're hard enough' challenge. It's a $60 steak which weighs in at 1 kilo (yes, 1 kilo) and you get a shite load of fries with it too and yes I think you've got the idea, you have to eat the bastard... Well, I thought that I was hard enough, and guess what... I was, I nailed that bastard in sub 15 minutes accompanied by cheers and gasps of shock across the restaurant as people looked on in awe at the monster that is Chopper. Believe me folks this is no mean feat, this is a 35 ounce (weight) steak, whats more a rump steak with no fat whatsoever!!!! Anyway, I now have almost legendary status here when it comes to food consumption.

And....last week I headed out to the Hunter Valley with 2 mates of mine, Dave and Paul from Buffallo, New York, for a days wine tasting and general mischief. I rolled by Dave and Paul's Monday morning and we made it pretty smoothly to our accommodation in Abermain by about 1.30pm. Our hotel was class, 'The Abermain Hotel' was a really homely, friendly place with it's own bar and genuine 3 armed locals to boot. We asked the lady at reception about getting on a last minute half-day wine tour and winthin minutes she had it in the bag, having organised where we were to meet the rest of the tour with a taxi already en route to take us there... rock and roll. So the three of us where chuffed as hell with our room, 15 quid each for the night.

Said taxi arrived and we were at the Tower Estate Wines, part owned by none other than Rick Stein. Here we took a unique approach to the wine tasting by starting at the top of the list of available wines and naturally finishing at the bottom. Bottle of Verdelho in hand off we went to the mighty and very highly regarded Pepper Tree Wines the same wine tasting tactics were adopted here by which stage a general feeling of well-being was being experienced by all.... Next stop Ivanhoe Wines an old favourite of mine having been here before in April, unsurprisingly nothing had changed and the wine, as before, got me drunk. We then managed to persuade our tour girl to take us for some cheese tasting at the McGuigan Cellars the cheese here is totally awesome, it's so strong that it actually numbs your whole mouth, not to everyone's taste but judging by the sudden 5pm rush, the port tasting next door certainly was.

We then decided that as we were only hammered we would go to The Potters Brewery and get totally tanked, and so we did getting fully stuck into the beers brewed on site and then when we'd nailed them it was back to good old Carlton Draught - my current number one Aussie tipple. By 9pm we got a call from the hotel asking about our whereabouts as they were locking up at 10pm... ok slight logistical problem, but sure enough a solution was only just around the corner as the barman offered us a free lift back to the hotel (instead of a $50 cab ride) what a bargain! So we got back to the hotel just in time for some Bundaburgs and Coke and general tomfoolery and drunkness with some of the hairy locals, then some pool with Dave and off to bed.

Tuesday morning off we set for the Australian Reptile Park. Now I had been told before that this was not really worth the visit (err Pierra?) but this place rocks!! waaaaaaaaay better than Sydney Zoo, and this is why....They have everything Australian here and more, and you can actually see and more often than not touch, rather than the Zoo where all the animals are dying from heatstroke and lack of water. We went to a spider talk where they brought out funnel webs, red backs and huntsmen and showed us what to do when bitten (other than fall to the ground and soil yourself while frothing at the mouth).. We then held a boa constrictor and I held a shingleback skink which was so cool, oh yeah and a baby american alligator. We then fed the free roaming kangaroos, lots of fun, although I did get mauled by their fleas. All in all a great couple of days out, and if you go to Sydney get yo' ass to the Reptile Park.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Well what'ya know

Folks

I went to that other Wing Chun school the other day and it rocks - problem solved. It's basically a hybrid martial art incorporating the most effective techniques from Wing Chun, Western style boxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu... So looks like you won't be hearing from me much for the next 3 months.. ;)

Had my first sparring session the other day, you know head guard, gum shield, gloves, as I am sure that you can imagine it was awesome. Caught an accidental elbow in the eye and my contact lens fell out but otherwise unscathed and held my own admirably.

laters

Chopper

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Land Down Under

Hey there folks. I've been here in Manly on Sydney's Northern Beaches for the past month. Manly is situated seven miles north-east of Sydney on the lower Northern Beaches. Surrounded on three sides by water, Manly is a top spot to access the harbour and the 18 ocean beaches, coves and inlets to swim, sail and surf. In a nutshell Manly is Sydney's top beach resort.

I have now moved out of the delightful 'Boardriders Backpackers' into my own apartment, or should I say 'unit'. Basically I have a fully-furnished studio apartment on Addison Road, Manly, just seconds from Manly Wharf, oh yeah and did I mention that I have a pool, well I do, not my own pool but hell it's still a pool.

Here is a link to map of the lcoation of my 'unit': MAP

Other than that I've started training at the International Wing Chun Academy in Sydney's Chinatown, which while thoroughly enjoyable is proving rather frustrating to say the least. For those of you that give half a shit, there are a few distinct differences between the Wing Chun system that I am familiar with and the one taught here.. Which has meant that they are making me learn their system from scratch... Therefore frustrating from two angles as a) it's not as effective as the Kamon system that I am used to and b) it just gets boring when you aren't getting the chance to progress....

SOOOOOOOOOOo... I am going to visit another school over here on Wednesday run by a guy called Rick Spain.. I will give that a go anyway and take a rain check after that. I just hope that when I get to Hong Kong that the wing chun world might choose to put politics aside..

Other than that, still hanging with Dave, Danny, Scott and Paul from the US. Aki from Japan who is a true character. This guy has diplomatic immunity as his Dad is a highly ranked official in the Japanese CIA and mad as Aki is it's a miracle that he's as together as he is considering his nomadic existence. I must admit that I wouldn't mind having a diplomatic passport and another 6 others...

I think quite a few of you have seen the Halloween photos, but for those of you that haven't... Photo 1 / Photo 2

Oh yeah and I also bought a new car, when I say new that's not entirely correct. It's a 93 Toyota Camry 2.2l, it's a fine motor air con, tinted windows, automatic blah blah blah. It's get me around Australia anyway, so that's what matters. As soon as I get a photo taken I'll let you see her......

Met one of my neighbours the other day too, a bloke called Aiden, nice enough chap and to boot his Dad used to play for guess who in the 60s..... yep Watford FC.. and for some more 'isn't it just a small world' tales I bumped into Sally who I travelled from Nelson to Wellington with in New Zealand.. I was also walking through Manly the other day and walked past one of the barmaids from the Royal Oak in Clapham... yes I hear you, it is truly a small world...

but for now folks adieu


Thursday, October 21, 2004

Some photos at last...

Folks

I have managed to upload some of my photos from my last 3 weeks in New Zealand.

You can view them (hopefully) by clicking HERE

then click on the purple 'View Photos' tab under the first image... rock and roll

Besides that I trust that you are all well. I am now in Manly, yeah Manly tee hee, which is in the Northern Beaches suburbs of Sydney. I am having some difficulty finding a room here so for the time being I am living like a bum in the local backpackers here, what a shithole, but at least the oversized cockroaches are here to keep me company at night. Some of them even have the heart to snuggle up to me on my pillow, they really are so thoughtful...

While my struggle to find habitable accommodation continues I have actually met some 'damn good eggs'. Bruce and Chesney from Durban are two of the funniest characters I've met, not to mention Dave, Paul and Danny from Buffallo, New York. All good clean fun.

Anyway, I need to go feed the cockroaches so must dash.
All the best
Chopper

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Orkland...and goodbye NZ....

Righto. Left the City of Sulphur for Auckland via Waitomo on Thursday and I gotta say that it was the most enjoyable journey that I've had to far. Ray the drives was a total leg end and we hit it off from the start (so to speak) I think that's because I was the only one of us on the coach that actually understood his jokes. They were a little to crude for the girls from Hong Kong and they went straight over the heads of the old couple from Mansfield.

The coach left Rotorua heading through South Waikato, and then a strange little place called Tirau, 54km south of Hamilton. Tirau is rather oddly famed for it's obsession with corrugated iron, said material having been used to create a Giant Dog and Sheep in the town centre, the Dog doubling up as the Vistors' Centre. From there we headed to Karapiro for a stop. Karapiro is home of the New Zealand's Annual National Rowing Championships and way back in 1978 was host to the World Rowing Championships, should you ever go there the very proud locals will not let you forget it!

We then headed through the King Country (named after the Maori King Movement.. and I ain't talking dysentary here folks). Shortly before lunch we made it to Waitomo, to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, one of the North Island's premier tourist traps.. I mean attractions. The cave has been know to the local Maori for many years, but the first European to explore it was an English surveyor called Fred Mace. It really is an awesome sight as you cruise underground with a Milky Way of little lights overhead. The only disappointment is the popularity of the cave as group after group is shuttled through there relentlessly throughout the day and with very little personality to the tours.. That said it truly is must see.

Ray then took us to the Angora Rabbit Shearing Shed (basically so he could get his commission from the absurd amount of shite that the Hong Kong girls planned to spend at the shop). Shearing Rabbits didn't and still doesn't get me going in any way whatsoever, definitely one to miss, thanks Ray.

Next stop, Ngaruawahia, a very important centre for the Waikato Maori people and the home of the present Maori Queen...wait for it.... Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, and The Ngaruawahia Regatta is held here every March (THE major event in the Waikato Maori calendar).

Shortly after 6pm we finally made it to Auckland, the City of Sails (not sailors Al!). As soon as I got off the coach the skies opened... they've not closed yet either and it's Saturday afternoon!

Now the rain has totally stuffed my plans to go to the Bay of Islands.. I had to make a call on whether to risk the weather or head further up North to check out the best of NZ's beaches. I did however make the right call as the Northland has been subjected to awesome thunderstorms for the past few days. I have used my time in Auckland wisely though and done all that I wanted to do here, even met some nice people, oh yeah and some freaks but bear with me on that one, all will be revealed in a few paragraphs time.

So yeah, Auckland. Got a bed in a hostel right in the heart of the City, just metres from Queen Street (yes Al, QUEEN street), the equivalent of Oxford Street back home I guess, only about a tenth of the size. Friday I headed on a monster walk around the City (@5 hours) to get my orientation sorted and get myself to 'Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World'... on public transport, which gladly proved to be ridiculously simple, take note Ken. Check out the website, as there's a great story behind this place, and it's a definite must-see for visitors to Auckland. Oh yeah and I also walked past none other than actress Madeleine West... WHOOO! I hear you cry, you know Dee Bliss from Neighbours . Yeah I know, sad huh, what's more sad is that I actually saw her three times that day in three totally different locations. But hey she's not hard to spot as sadly she's about the most attractive female here... aaaanyway.

Other spots on the tour have been The Skytower, the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere, totally incredible views... when the mist clears that is, and home to the short-browning Sky Jump... err count me outta that one kids.

I also headed to the highly rated Auckland Museum which I can safely say didn't disappoint. The trip to the Museum takes you through the beautiful city district of Parnell, roughly speaking the Chelsea of Auckland and well worth a visit, it's beautiful.

Now, oh yeah the freak story.. Well this occurred on the ground floor of the Auckland Museum, in the Auckland City History section. There I was minding my own business swotting up on 'Auckland through the ages' when a middle aged English 'gent' with his young daughter made some dull comment to me about something that slips my mind. Anyway, he asks me where I am from etc, he remarks he's English etc, moved here with his Kiwi wife etc etc. He then asks me what I think of NZ, I tell him it's great etc.. THEN he starts ranting on about the amount of 'sh**-stabbers' as he chooses to call them and how all the 'ni**ers' from London seem to be making their way over here with all the 'rag-heads' and Iraqis.... Hmmm, it is at this point that I say to him. 'Excuse me pal, I'm not interested in this, I'm not a racist and I don't want to listen to this otherwise I might do something I'll regret..'.. So I turn on my heels and walk away, as I do this he shouts across the Museum, 'I'm not a racist!!'... Yeah, whatever mate. But I actually felt good about that after I walked away, as Number 1 he was a big bastard and Number 2 he got me well pissed off it would have been easy to just stand there and continue the 'conversation' but it was satisfying to basically put two fingers up at him and walk off, oh yeah and Number 3 Museums are totally the wrong place to hit people!

So there we are folks, that's basically Auckland, nice city, lots to do see but I gotta get some sunshine so Sunday afternoon I'm off to Sydney to do just that. New Zealand is an incredible country, a microcosm of all the World's natural attractions. The two islands as you can tell are totally different in character, almost different countries it seems. Distances are all manageable so it really is a great place to travel around and it's affordable so it remains for me to say. SEE THIS PLACE.... SOON!!

I will leave you with another question and it's one that has been grating me for the entire time that I have been away, and I dare say that in my time in Australia I will ask myself this question many more times... it is: Why do the English take it upon themselves to not only talk utter shite when they head to the other side of the world, but also behave like total arseholes?
Please enlighten me my friends.... I will update you on Australia once I get my sorry as over there, and believe me it is a sorry ass, I think I had some dodgy sushi some time yesterday.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Wellington... and onwards

Right.. one thing that I had to see in Wellington was The Beehive and the Parliament Building. These are 3 buildings that form New Zealand's parliamentary complex, the most striking of which is 'The Beehive', it gets its name from the fact that.... it looks like a beehive! It was actually designed by British architect Sir Basil Spence (also Coventry Cathedral) and while architecturally it's the equivalent of a steaming street turd, it is the architectural symbol of New Zealand. The Parliament House on the other hand is a neo-Gothic gem..

Next stop just had to be the Zoo, for those of you that haven't quite grasped this yet, I am a HUGE fan of Zoos, in short they always make my day. At Wellington Zoo there are all the old favourites... Chimps, naturally having a tea party of course, Lions, Tigers, Sun Bears and the star of the show, The Red Panda!
I decided to stick around in Wellington an extra day to see the rugby game at the mighty Westpac Stadium, Wellington Lions Vs Northland, which I am glad I did as it was a total try-fest..Wellington are currently leading the NPC in NZ and it's no wonder why. The side is a graceful blend of promising NZ talent and proven All Blacks performers (Tana Umaga, Jerry Collins, Ma'a Nonu to name but a few).. result 65-12.
On leaving Wellington I did force myself to address a number of questions, namely: How does a capital city like Wellington afford to have an airport only serving domestic flights? What are all the psychopaths that come out at night doing during the day? How can there be so many bars and they all be shite? Why are all the women so horrendously unattractive?.... I am still of course searching for the answers.

Sunday I headed off to Lake Taupo across the Great Desert Road, oddly named due to it being neither great nor desert in fact it is quite often closed due to high levels of snowfall, but that's a minor detail that we can ignore. I did however see the awesome Mt Ruapehu (2797m) home to the largest ski field in New Zealand. I did arrive safely in Taupo to be greeting by Dave from 'Rainbow Lodge backpackers' together with broad brummie accent, but nevertheless a bloody nice bloke.

Lake Taupo is New Zealand's largest lake and in the very heart of North Island (606sq km in area and 357m above sea level for the geographers amongst you) it was formed by one of the largest volcanic explosions of all time and the surounding area is still volcanically active (massive understatement) and there are a number of thermal areas. Taupo hails itself at the Trout fishing capital of the World, and who the hell am I to argue.... having seen some of the specimin's pulled out of there, they would look more at home in Chernobyl. I decided to hire a car for a few days and head off solo to do some exploring, and what a good call that was....

First stop was The Craters on the Moon, part of Wairakei, New Zealands largest geothermal field. If that wasn't rad enough I then headed to Wai-O-Tapu 'Thermal Wonderland'. Having expected everyone to be prancing about in their longjohns I was pleasantly surprised to find New Zealands most colourful and diverse volcanic area, full of pools, lakes, craters, steam vents, mineral terraces, hissing fumeroles, mud pools and sulphur caves. In short this was 'bad ass' and thoroughly enjoyable.

After all this walking I thought that I would treat myself to an afternoon at the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua. I went to the Lake Spa Retreat section where you are presented with 4 shallow rocks pools (hot mineral pools) of gradated temps from 36C to 43C, overlooking Rotorua Lake's Sulphur Bay.... and boy could you smell it, it was like being back at the Zoo again. This went rather swimmingly (errrr) and to top it off I opted to get a 30min Aix Therapy session. All robed up I went through to the waiting area to soon be greeted by my 'therapist' Sue. Now bear in mind that Sue was on the wrong side of 50, so there was nothing over-pleasurable about this therapy session! The famous Aix massage is described in the brochure as follows: "Aix Massage, The Aix massage therapy was introduced in Rotorua from France in the early 1900's and has been available at Polynesian Spa for over 30 years. Aix is a smooth flowing massage done under jets of warm water using coconut oil as a massage medium." Well that just about sums it up! Mainly enjoyable, besides when ageing Sue's flapping breasts rested on my head at one stage, oh yeah and the point where she moved onto my legs and asked me to pull my shorts up and 'show her a bit of thigh (retch) but hey you can't win em all can ya folks!
Last but not least in Taupo I visited the Prawn Farm the world's only goethermal heated Prawn Farm where as it says... you can 'meet em, greet em and eat em'.. I did the tour which was actually really good fun, this consisted of an introduction to "Grumpy" the largest Prawn in captivity and I also had the opportunity to hand feed the juvenile prawns, which was kinda weird. I never thought I'd say this but prawns are cool (errr).
I then headed back towards town stopping off at the spectacular Huka Falls.

So, Taupo turned out good in the end, except for one thing, I picked up an ear infection and had to fork out $130 for a doctors visit and anti-biotics, yeah thanks for that.

I am now in Rotorua where I have to spend the night so that I can get the bus first thing tomorrow (07/10/04) to Auckland via the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.

Today I did manage to walk to Rotorua's largest and best-know thermal reserve and a major Maori cultural area.. 'Te Whakarewarewa' pronounced, 'fa-ka-re-wa-re-wa'. This is home to the New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute, the most prestigious place in NZ to study for Maori wood sculptors. Also here is the an amazing geyser called 'Pohutu' (Maori for explosion), an active geyser that apparantly erupts between 10 and 20 times a day spurting water about 20m into the air. It was a very impressive performance today anyway! Also here I got to see working Maori craftspeople, an art gallery, a Maori village and some Kiwi birds (the feathered kind!), all very impressive.

So, off to Waitomo tomorrow, then Auckland for the night before I head to the Bay of Islands, then back to Auckland. After that folks it's gonna be goodbye Aotearoa and g'day Australia.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Transalpine, Greymouth, Nelson and that hairy ferry

Dear Al and Debbie.... er I mean dear all
So then after leaving Wanaka I eventually made it to Christchurch after a frustrating coach trip with people puking and several unplanned stops (the coach kept breaking down). After a very quiet night in CC I got up at crazy O'Clock to get on the Transalpine train to Greymouth. As my previous description states this is supposed to be one of the best train journeys in the world... I was not disappointed, it was sweet as bro. But let me enlighten you. Trains in New Zealand are a big deal, they really are, it's basically the same procedure as getting a flight, namely that: the stations are usually out of town, when you get there you have to check your bags in to be put on the luggage carriage at the back of the train, you get a boarding pass after you check in... In short it's a bloody hassle and most unneccessary, but hey it was worth it.

I got to Greymouth a town that by the description of its name doesn't really conjure up anything too exciting but I was nicely surprised by this small town with plenty of character and a huge whitebait fishing industry, oh yeah and a shit hot brewery. I arrived at my immaculate backpackers and offloaded my gear to be then recommended the Monteith's Brewery tour by my hosts Cat and Craig. Good call. The tour started at 2pm and it was your bog standard brewery tour until... Our guide announced that as it was the last tour of the week and the staff party would be kicking off shortly we could not just have the standard tasting session of Monteith's 6 prize winning ales but she would allow us to pour our own beer at will for the next 30 mins. Not one to hold back on such occasions myself and a kiwi guy whose name unsurprisingly escapes me for the moment went medieval on said prizewinning ales. We were turfed out approximately 7 pints later, a commendable effort for 30 mins bartime I am sure you will agree. On the way home I headed to the pie shop for some stodge and was not disappointed as they gave me 3, yes 3 steak and cheese pies for the price of 1 as they were about to close... result. That night I went to see 'The Station Agent', for those of you that haven't see this film, SEE IT! It's a masterpiece.
Saturday lunchtime I left Greymouth for Nelson, or 'Swindon-on-Sea' as I like to call it.

Nelson was an interesting 3 nights. Saturday night I set off to check out the local beers and to catch England v West Indies in the ICC Champions Trophy final. My bar of choice was The Grumpy Mole which did have it's plus points... It was not only home to the only attractive barmaid that I have seen so far in New Zealand, they were all stunning... But why here in Nelson I ask myself.. that question remains unanswered I am afraid. Anyway here I met Red and Chris who were to be my drinking buddies for the night and my tour guides of the nightlife of Nelson. Nice blokes but I struggled to keep up with them and had to head home at 4am in a terrible state. Sunday in Nelson is something that I would not recommend. Everything closes, even most of the restaurants and cafes, so it was another cinema trip for me to see 'Dodgeball', again SEE THIS FILM! Pant shittingly funny..
Here I have to describe to you my first and hopefully last extraordinarily uncomfortable situation in NZ. On returning from the film I headed back to my backpackers to have some nosh and chill out only to be greeted by a very strange dude in the kitchen, lips caked in red wine brandishing a large cooking knife, the conversation went exactly like this: "Hey you are you English?"... "Yes mate"... "Well you remind me of that fucker Princess Diana! hahahhaha!"
So what do you think to that folks? Personally I was lost for words, totally lost for words. I returned to my room and conjured up plans of revenge for this freaks behaviour, finally opting for letting it lie.
Monday I headed out to the Abel Tasman National Park, one of the true gems of New Zealand, a fantastic day cruising around the coast mesmerised by the stunning beaches and fauna that would look most at home on the Big Sur or Thailand, I only wish that I had more time to explore and I only wish that my knee wasn't totalled from snowboarding so that I could have actually done some tramping for a few days, but hey. Nelson all in all was a good experience, met some dudes, namely Pierre from Cape Town and Sally and Alice from Chester who all kept me entertained.

Tuesday however was not a good day, it even ranks as my top trouser browning moments of all time. I got the bus from Nelson to Picton to get the Interislander ferry service to Wellington, the capital and focal point of North Island. For those of you that have travelled on a large car ferry you will know that they are rather large vessels... Well, as we left harbour the captain announced that not only were the weather conditions despicable but he fully expected most of us to need the sick bags and sickness pills on offer in the shop!!! I soon realised that this was not just his edgy scouse sense of humour shining through but this was reality. I can safely and unashamedly say that this was my most terrifying experience to date. The vessel was getting HUGE air on waves reaching the top deck! I am not a religious man at all, but I did choose to have a few quiet words with our creator. The aforementioned 'quiet words' did have an effect as 3 hours later we did reach Wellington, but I have never, ever seen so many people vomiting freely in daylight in my entire life, in fact one whole day later I can still smell puke...
So then Wellington.. Wellington is a city in the true sense of the word, plastered in american fast food chains and other such delicacies. Once the rain stops and you're able to walk the streets of this city rather than swim them, it all becomes clear, Wellington is beautiful. Today I made it up the Cable Car and walked back down through the botanical gardens to the port, then back along the waterfront to the mighty Te Papa museum, which was stunning. To top it off I managed to get some Grade A sushi in place just around the corner from where I am staying. It is a replica of Yo Sushi! in everything but the price, in fact it was over a third of the price. Things are looking good here on North Island and there's plenty more to come before I head to the land down under on October 17th... I will keep you posted, but in the meantime eat plenty of vegetables, have a few early nights and Al please look after the baby.
Big love Chopper

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Goodbye Wanaka....

Hey there, s'been a while. I am finally leaving Wanaka (Glendhu Bay) after 3 weeks of total happiness. This Friday I will be heading back to Christchurch to catch the TransAlpine train to Greymouth, supposedly one of the great rail journeys of the world. You pass across the Canterbury Plains and farmland, followed by the gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River. The train then climbs into the Southern Alps before descending through lush beech rain forest to the West Coast town of Greymouth. The journey is 223.8 kilometres long and takes four and a half hours. There are 16 tunnels, and 5 viaducts, the highest being the Staircase standing at 73 metres. So that's Friday covered!
Since I last wrote I have learning to snowboard, injuring myself regularly, recovering and then trying to learn to snowboard again. Si, P and I have made a trip to Queenstown to ride the Gondola and the luge. Visited the nearby gorge set in the farmland of one Shania Twain, and on Monday we made it to Mount Aspiring National Park to walk the Rob Roy Valley Track.. a 3-4 hour return hike. This was absolutely stunning as we saw The Rob Roy Glacier, sheer rock cliffs, waterfalls and crossed a great swing bridge across the Matukituki River. All this was just 40 min drive from The Du along a mainly unsealed road.

After crossing the above mentioned bridge, the track climbed through a small gorge into beech forest then into alpine vegetation at the head of the valley where the Rob Roy Glacier could be seen. The weather was great and although some of the track had broken away from the side of the forest it was pretty unchallenging but totally beautiful, well worth it.
Tuesday we decided that it might be worth visiting Cardrona ski field, which we soon realised was a waste of time as it failed to rival Treble Cone on every count, nevertheless hilarity prevailed and a good day was had by all with some apres ski beer and pool in town at 'Shooters'.. not 'Hooters', sadly.

So as the 'Glendhu Bay' chapter closes the Greymouth, Nelson, Picton, chapter opens, the road trip must go on... I can only hope that I meet as many great people on the rest of my travels as I have had the pleasure of meeting here in Wanaka. What I have to say about this place, as I am sure Si and P will explain when you see them next, is that everyone seems to get on - a community of like-minded people. I have met people like Lisa, Jay and Lance from the US, Carlo from Cremonese, Josh and Bronye from Newcastle, Australia, Kiwis.. Brits from Hull dare I add and countless others that have made my three weeks here both memorable and enjoyable. Peace out...

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Wanaka... the West Coast and the club ski fields

Queenstown, yes Al.. Queenstown.. Well I have to say that it was a major disappointment but I have to admit that I was warned. Queenstown is basically the San Antonio Beach, Ibiza of Winter Sports and anything extreme, being Bungee Jumping, Jet Boating, Bungy Swings, stunt plane riding, Skydiving, basically you get the picture. I have to be honest it wasn't for me, full of folks stuff themselves with Big Macs and staggering about the streets day and night. I am sure that had I come to Queenstown when I was say 18 with all my mates it would have been the best place on earth but sadly this time it didn't win me over. I cut my stay short one night and headed to Wanaka for my appointment with Si and P, but as I was running ahead of schedule I opted for staying in the backpackers to get to know the town.
Wanaka is another one of New Zealand's gems, it sort of reminds me of my recent visit to Te Anau (huge lake, small, friendly.. perfect almost).
I found my bunk and headed to get myself booked into a jet boat ride and then get a route sorted for an afternoon stroll. My jet boat ride took me around Lake Wanaka and along the Clutha River, it wasn't quite Shotover River in Queenstown but it rocked alright. The jet boat is a truly awesome invention and I recommend a ride when you get the chance. Matt the driver was a true Kiwi adrenaline junkie, I asked him how much fun he had the first time he drove one of those things, his response: "I can't really remember to be honest mate, I was only 5, me Dad had one." OOOOOkay..
After my walk around Wanaka I had to opt for a quiet night in front of the Olympics with the inmates of Cell 1 at the Bullock Creek Backpackers. Monday morning I met with Si Lambert and hilarity has since prevailed. Got my skis and stuff sorted and headed back to Si and P's caravan at Glendhu Bay Motor Camp ('The Du'). Well now I know why Si and P have so enjoyed their time here so much, it is total paradise. The Du lies about 18k outside of Wanaka in a bay around Lake Wanaka with the snow capped mountains settled behind, truly amazing. P and Cath returned from Skiing at Treble Cone and we all caught up. Monday through Friday the four of us skied Treble Cone several times and I generally got myself acquianted to life at The Du, full of hilarious characters and a great community feel.. hmmm, nice.
Friday we left for a mini road trip up the West Coast to the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers via Lake Matheson, a beautiful spot where we did the 80 min walk around the lake. We settled into our own bunk room at Chateau Franz backpackers and headed down the boozer for some food and fuel. Saturday morning was Chopper Time! P and Cath booked us onto a 30 min helicopter ride around the Glaciers and Mount Cook with one landing at the top of the Franz Josef Glacier. We had our own helicopter and fortunately even our own pilot, Bernie. As you can imagine the ride was incredible, similar to the flight from last week but different, both awesome. I will get the photos up soon for you folks but I need CD access. Be Patient on those.
After the flight we headed to Arthur's Pass for a night's stay before taking Cath to Christchurch for her Sunday flight back to Oz. Top this, we had our own three bedroom lodge with fire, kitchen etc etc and we got more snow all for about 18 quid each... result. The night ended with red wine and Macaroni Cheese courtesy of Si, everybody was happy.
Sunday we dropped Cath off at Christchurch airport and headed across to the Broken River club ski fields.. Ok so club field skiing is a very uncommercial way of enjoying some pretty extreme skiing. Basically Club fields are often less crowded but offer fewer facilities. Fields are maintained by their ski club and facilities often include rope tow or lifts only with generally no snow grooming. This adds up to everything being totally extreme even from getting up the road to the mountain, even then there's usually a hike involved. Broken River was quality, we staying in a lodge right up the mountain. Our Lodge Mum was a young Japanese girl called Tomo who was insane, totally in control of everything. We all had our own duties eg. cooking, washing up, veg preparation, cleaning, rubbish etc. It was a totally different and unrivalled skiing experience..I'll make no bones about it this is the way to ski, there's no fancy frills it's for the ski enthusiast. The roads were majorly hairy! I quote: "Snow chains and courage to be carried at all times" from the Mount Olympus access road sign. From our 2 nights in Broken River we headed to Mt Olympus for 3 nights. Here there were 11 of us from the Broken River lodge basically in a shed with a fire and a shower and a cooker, the rest of the facilities were generally outside. We had three excellent nights, some insanely difficult skiing and generally a top time.

From Mt Olympus it was back to Glendhu Bay via Methven, the gateway to the Mt Htt ski fields. Now, I have my own caravan in The Du with my new neighbours Lisa, Lance and Jay. I have decided to stick around here with Si and P for a week or two as the west coast has been covered so next stop's gonna be Hokitiki..

Friday, August 20, 2004

Te Anau - tramping capital of the World

Well folks, I left Dunedin on Wednesday lunchtime for a place called Te Anau. The route took me through Milton, Balclutha, Gore, Lumsden and finally to Te Anau... a 4.5 hour coach trip, but beautiful nonetheless. Oh dear, I forgot to mention Peggydale where I saw an extraordinary advert for something called FAGG'S Coffee, which is made in a place called Ponsonby, it's slogan goes as follows....'FAGG'S-The Great Straight Coffee...Not as Ponsonby as the name suggests'... totally odd I thought, not sure that we would get away with that in Clapham.

Now let me tell you some more about Te Anau. It is in a region called Southland, famous for its Milford Sound (which in fact is a fiord and not a sound for all you geologists out there) the area is predominantly of Scottish heritage and there is also a significant Maori population.
Fiordland is part of Southland and home to the Fiordland National Park, part of Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area which includes the most famous walks in NZ, for which to actually walk some of them there is a waiting list of over 1 year!!
So Te Anau, my hostel looks directly onto Lake Te Anau which is, how does one say... f***ing awesome, that's it. It is the 2nd largest lake in NZ, after Lake Taupo (North Island). Te Anau is therefore the sightseeing walking capital of the world, with some walks undertaken by the true pros that last up to 10 days. This kind of walking is known as 'TRAMPING'.. and no folks I don't mean that kind of tramping, the kind that consists of sitting on park benches in your slippers drinking Kestrel Super and masturbating like a baboon.. I mean trekking.

So I arrived Weds and had a hilarious first night. It was quite late so I stretched my legs for an hour and headed to The Moose for some nosh and beer. Here I met Paul 1, the lumberjack, Paul 2 - the butcher and Andrew the builder... utter loons! Yes, we got drunk together between a few games of pool. Now I will stop here as this is where something odd happened, my new found pals after about 5 games decided to stop playing me as they were convinced that I was a pro and therefore some sort of Pool Shark!!! Well I was playing the best pool of my life, and the booze for once was not becoming a hindrance... It was now that I turned my attention to the TAB machine,no not more fags, this is a betting machine..kinda like having a bookies in the pub but with the human element removed. I decided to put a dollar on Zac Callum in the 11.10pm, I can't even remember whether it was a dog or a horse, I think it was a dog. However it won and I pulled in $18.90, rock and roll let's all have a pear. Then we decided to leave to go to 'The Ranch', a peculiar venue, not for the faint hearted. I do remember walking home with Paul 2 and him saying: "Jeez we's ginna be crooked in the mornin" (hungover), he was right.

Thurs I dragged myself to the boat for the 30 min trip across Lake Te Anau to Cavern House home of the Te Anau Glowworm Caves, the only ones of their kind in the S.Hemisphere. You basically enter a strange underground world of rock formations, fossils, waterfalls and whirlpools then finally to a cavern of total silence and darkness.... the glowworm grotto. What an experience..

Today.. Friday I was up at 7am, said bye to Barry and Bridget from Iowa, my roommates(mentalists).. he kept calling me Edge (I mean what sort of anus is called Edge!) and was picked up by Curly (bus driver) with Bruce and Shirley from Taranaki on board (on holiday from N.Island) to head to the cruise on Milford Sound. Briefly... Milford Sound is a 22km long fiord dominated by the 1695m Mitre Peak mirrored in the water below, dotted with spectacular waterfalls, one.. Bowen Falls, drops 160m - that's higher than Niagara!! I decided to pay extra to be taken to the stunning underwater observatory to see the life in the fiord, I was not disappointed.

Then my world and my life took on board something that I am still struggling to comprehend.....
I decided that being where I am in one of the most magical parts of the world, that I would do something that I knew would be more than just memorable. I decided to FLY back from Milford to Te Anau up and over the mountains, at a cost but it had to be done. Originally as I was the only person booked (they like to have 2 people to make the books balance a bit better) and they would not let me fly, but I begged them and they folded! SO I met Russell my pilot for the day and he drove me to the plane. Now this is the type of plane that you see and then say: "I'm f***ed if I am going up in that thing!" but I did! Russell the pilot and Chopper the passenger up front alongside him. As many of you know I hate flying but this was something totally different, I simply had no time to be scared/terrified I was totally in awe of what I was seeing. It was 40 mins of magic, but it seemed like hours. I even enjoyed landing in the field outside the town. I feel privileged to have done this and what I saw up there will stay with me forever..

Right it is here that I sat down and thought about something that I wish to leave you with....
Attractive and magical places (and occasionally people/women) typically render us/me aware of our/my inadequacies with language. I mean..yes, the scenery was breathtaking and life here is incredible but somehow that description needs more depth but I simply cannot find the right words to do today justice.

What I will say is that it was one of the best days of my life...Over and out as Chopper heads to Queenstown tomorrow morn for some adrenalin pumping action..

Monday, August 16, 2004

The A-Team finally cleared.....

Spotted this just now, I have been laughing for over an hour...

http://www.theonion.com/news/index.php?issue=4032&n=1

Chopper

WB wednesday

I just had to share this with you people as I have never heard of anything so depraved as this....
Here in Dunedin every Wednesday at the top bar here they have WB Wednesday, what does WB stand for I hear you cry, WB stands for 'Wife Beater'. The night which is heavily attended by both male and females consists of you paying the $5 entry fee (under 2 quid) and you get 2 beers and a vest.. you are encouraged to wear a balaclava and you are free to slap women's arses.

Vile huh? So far the oddest thing that I've come across over here.
Uncle Chop Chop

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Week 1 in New Zealand

I thought that it was about time that I let you folks know what the hell I've been up to since I left Singapore...so here goes kids: I arrived in Christchurch in South Island on August 8th at around lunchtime and I have to say that there were two things that immediately struck me, the first was the utterly miserable immigration officer and the second was the fact that it was f***ing freezing cold. Of course I expected it to be cold being Winter and all but not as cold as it was (is). Well I made my way on the bus to the City Centre to get my ass to Stoneyhurst Backpackers, pretty cool place I'll have to admit - 90% Japanese so not too many folk to commuicate with, I did try but gave up. I thought it best to stretch my legs even though I was wrecked with jet lag. Went out to Hagley Park, which is the biggest public parkland in New Zealand, it's huge and as you can imagine it is dominated by sports, everything from Rugby to Netball etc etc and there is an 8K running track all the way around, 'good as gold'. I then took in the Arts Centre, the Museum and the lovely Cathedral Square. It was then some time for some shut eye as Chopper was bushed.

Due to some jetlag issues I woke up wide awake at 4am and thought that I would do some more 'leg stretching' which is something that when I even feel remotely bored, I tend to do, I am tending to think that I am turning into Forrest Gump!! sort of... I clocked pretty early on my trek that sod all opens until 7am but I had also clocked a very cool bakery by then, so I stocked up on steak and cheese pies at opening time and then headed for the info centre. Now, one thing about New Zealand is that there tourist info service is extremely impressive and what's more if you ask a kiwi something not only do they usually know they will happily disclose tons of info. They have enormous national pride and also they are extremely knowledgable about their country. I took a bus to the gondola to get some kick ass views over the Banks Peninsula and Christchurch, I was not disappointed.
Photo here: Christchurch and Southern Alps

The gondola took me to some breathtaking views over Lyttleton (port town) and the rest of the banks peninsula and it was then that I really first saw the Southern Alps, absolutely stunning, most stunning being Mt Cook. I then took the bus back to the centre and took in the trams, punting on the river Avon and had a feed at the Asian food hall. Again at this stage I wish to emphasise that Christchurch is swamped with Japanese, no incorrect, New Zealand in fact is swamped with Japanese, most odd and I have not yet discovered why. I have met many Japanese, the odd one believe it or not knew enough English for us to converse and they both said to me: "I hate Christchurch"... "why", I said, because there are so many Japanese people... hmmmmmmm. Tuesday was a belter, I took the tour of Akaroa, which is the one and only French settlement in New Zealand, so that I could see the Hector's Dolphins being the smallest Dolphins in the World. The trip out to Akaroa was really impressive I had my first sighting of the Black Swan, a native of Australia (they are the emblem of Western Australia and Perth's Swan River is named after these things). We went through Tai Tapu, home of the New Zealand Cricket Academy, most strange that it's in the middle of nowhere, on through Motukarara (Land of the Hill of the Lizards) and then through the awesome Gibby's Pass, around Lake Ellesmere (the 6th largest in NZ and home to 160,000 birds). Then past Kaitorete Spit - developed by the early Maoris, and then on to Akaroa.

Once I got to Akaroa I got myself on an ocean going boat to see the Hector's Dolphins, see: http://www.wdcs.org/dan/publishing.nsf/allweb/08E489AA927308A480256B130043C4C2 and I saw about 15!!! they were totally cool and really playful, it was also breathtaking I loved it. Being on that boat allowed me to see parts of the coastline that one would not usually see which was amazing. Being on my own at the back of that boat with nothing but Ocean to look at also gave me a few moments to reflect, and I think that that was the first time that it actually hit me what I was doing, and not just that but that it was something that felt totally right, and what's more that I was/am totally loving it!
Photo here: View from back of boat

Wednesday I departed for Timaru where I did lots of walking, and I mean lots of walking. It was here that I met a wicked Japanese dude called Hisashi, and taught him loads of daft english slang, mainly from Bo Selecta! and Little Britain and he was somewhat confused but he took my teachings on board (I know because I have bumped into him again in the hostel that I am in in Dunedin) which was hilarious and an aussie called Anton from Melbourne, a great lad. Timaru was totally beautiful, from the top of the town you had magical views of the Southern Alps to the west and then a beautiful bay and beaches to the east. I was only one night in Timaru so I headed off on Thursday morning with Marcy, new buddy - Maths teacher from Seattle. She was a lovely girl, very quiet and certainly not used to my deep sarcasm and scepticism but think she got used to it.

My next journey took me to the now sleepy but once thriving Oamaru, a town that is supported by mining of Whitestone but once Gold. Truly architecturally rich but not a place for the restless. BUT.... what Oamaru does have is some very rare wildlife. That evening I went with Marcy, Peter the Oxford undergraduate and Bruce our driver to the Yellow eyed penguin viewing point, they are the rarest in the world and only found in this part of NZ, and with only 5,000 in existence now, we were all rather surpised to catch sight of 5 and it was unforgettable. Then to top it off I went to the blue penguin viewing point, also rare and the smallest penguins in the world, I saw about 10 of these. After the penguin watching we headed to the strongly recommended Criterion Hotel (now just a pub with an open wood fire) for some nosh and some Wanaka Tall Dark for me (that's beer to the rest of you). It was here that I witnessed something unusual, but it has happened several times since, the NZ phenomenon of 'Jammin'. Basically after enough beer, all the locals take turns murdering tunes that you and I have grown to love over the years, it was a sad day.

I headed off to the Moeraki Boulders with Marcy on the bus. I had negotiated with Bruce to pick us both up at 2pm for $10.. errr. He did eventually pick us up but at 4.30pm, not funny I was almost ice. But the boulders were pretty mental, glad I got to see them, they are truly odd things. So eventually made it back to Oamaru to thaw out and headed out for a wander.. Was heading for a beer on the way home when I bumped into Marcy again and we decided to have a beer and mull over the option of going to 'Jammin' night at the Penguin Club see: http://www.thepenguinclub.co.nz/home.html . We did and it was pretty damn good, the Metallica cover band brought a smile to my face, not sure the rest appreciated it so much though.

Saturday I headed to Dunedin with a plan to see Otago Vs Northland at Carisbrook stadium (rugby). I did make it and it rocked, incredible standard, Otago for those of you that don't know are a shit hot NZ team and they have their own Super 12 team, a great game.
Photo here: Otago Vs Northland
Pies and beer... Also bumped into Anton at half time and we headed back to the hostel after the game to catch up. Sunday hungover but managed the Taieri Gorge Railway journey (supposedly one of the top 5 rail journeys in the world) and I'd have to agree that it was mighty fine but not having done the other four I do have trouble agreeing with its ranking. In the evening Anton and I took a bottle of wine over to his cousin Jimmy's house (he is a student at the Uni of Otago) it was certainly interesting to see NZ student slums!
It was then that it started snowing and it hasn't stopped, all the roads into and outside of Dunedin are f***ed so my trip to Milford Sound is looking very unlikely at best even though I am not scheduled to be there until Friday. This has angered the Chopper as Milford Sound was in my top 3 things to do over here, maybe another time though hey kids.

Over and out from your uncle Chop Chops......

Friday, August 06, 2004

Raffles 'the gentleman thug'

Seeing as I am shortly departing for Christchurch (NZ) I thought I would update you on the delights that Singer Poor has to offer. I arrived on Monday evening at Changi airport Singapore to be greeted by the Zigster, and I've had a blast ever since. Went back to Ziggy's apartment on the east coast at The Bayshore to meet two friends of Becca's and tuck into some homemade sushi and chinese, top scran, then a mild bout of jetlag set in as I went to sleep only to to wake up at 4am and stare at the walls for a few hours.
Tuesday we set off for the Singapore Botanical Gardens and the National Orchid Garden, where believe it or not there was an orchid named after Maggie Thatcher after one of her visits, it was all red and twiseted, oh yeah and it was f***ing hot. Then we took a junk tour of the waters of Singapore for around 3 hours with a brief stop on Kusu Island (turtle island).
Photo here: Kusu Island
Stopped off at the supermarket for some supplies for dinner and then I tasted my first Chicken Murtabak, I shit you not it was delicious, basically a pancake with an egg broken on it then chicken curry added and folded.... some seriously good shit, kinda like a Roti but better.
Wednesday was shopping n'shit followed by the night safari which rocked, saw: Asian babes.. I mean Rhinos, Golden Jackels, Striped Hyenas, Lions, Sloth bears, Bongos, Hippos, Asian Elephants, Malaysian Tigers, Bearded Pigs, Tapirs...bored yet?? btw a night safari is a safari of animals that are mainly active at night (errr nocturnal), at night...doh
Thurs, went over to Sentosa Island with Zig, which was great. We headed straight for the Butterfly Park/Insect Kingdom and rushed through to get to Mr Scorpion...
Photo here: Dr Dolittle..he talks to the animals
what a legend we had a good craic with him playing with his scorpions (he had 70 with him!!) and sweating heavily. Then Underwater world, the beaches, some top notch hawker food and then we got the cable car back to the mainland and headed off to a 5-a-side footy match which went rather well, I even got asked to make an appearance for the Pirates, an 11-a-side Saturday team... in goal of course, I think they were rather impressed with my ability between the sticks, even if I do say so myself... I said sticks. Friday was Singapore Zoo...very impressive, Polar bears blah blah blah, but seriously it was incredible and then we went for Tiffin Curry and Singapore Slings at Raffles, no not Raffles the gentleman thug from Viz, the colonial hotel that still sits in all its grandeur in the middle of the city, most enjoyable.
All in all, I would recommend Singapore for sure, very forward looking, almost futuristic in parts, we should get KKKKKen over to look at the public transport system, kick ass. The only serious question mark lies over their ability to drive, not good. Now for me it's off to Christchurch, and I have already booked myself into a 4 bed dorm at the 'Star on the Square' hostel in Cathedral Square, the girl on reception that I spoke with yesterday assured me that I was sharing with 3 female swedish gap year students..... I will find out in about 24 hours. Watch this space...

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Thanks

Just wanted to thanks those of you that made it to Sand Bar on Friday July 23rd for my surprise leaving bash - it really was a total surprise.
Special thanks goes out to Monz, Al and Hugh for getting all you folks together and ensuring that it was kept secret. I am told that my face was a real picture when I walked in to find you all.
I must admit in hindsight that Al talking just me out for dinner for his birthday was very odd, I did think for a second that he was going to propose to stop me going away, I was thankfully wrong.
Respect must also go to Rik Craig for still being vaguely compus mentis at midnight having been drinking since 10am having been at Lords all day watching the England v West Indies test, very impressive. And to Mark for hauling himself out of bed having been laid out by the flu.
Oh yeah and I managed to get home without getting bashed by Eastern European gangsters with baseball bats, which is nice......
It was great to see you all, I will never forget that day - so thanks again, I will miss you all.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Itinerarrrrrrrrrrrrrrry

Finally I have managed to make my way to TravelBag to get things all booked up, how exciting.

Depart Sunday August 1st to Singapore via Frankfurt, yes Frankfurt. Arrive Singapore on the 2nd at 5.55pm.
Spending a few days in Singapore with Ziggy, leaving on Saturday August 7th heading to Christchurch via Sydney, finally getting to Christchurch on Sunday August 8th at 1.20pm.

After spending a few days in and around Christchurch and then heading down to Dunedin it's off to Wanaka to see Si and P for some extreme Winter Sports action where I can perfect the 'Hanging Ostrich' and hopefully pull of some new radical moves. After hanging with the guys in the van for a while (I'm sure it won't take long to outstay my welcome) I will spend another few weeks making my way around South Island, then make the crossing from Picton to Wellington to see what North Island has to offer.

I depart from Auckland on Sunday October 17th arriving in Sydney mid afternoon. I have a fair bit of time to make my way overland to Cairns (6th March to be precise) when I leave for Perth where I can hopefully catch up with Drew and Janie for a couple of weeks while seeing some of what Western Australia has to offer at the same time.

It's then off to Hong Kong for a few months arriving there on Sunday March 20th. Finally leave Hong Kong on Monday June 20th heading to Bangkok with the aim of spending some time in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, heading back to the UK on June 30th.... maybe...

Monday, June 28, 2004

Crikey O'Reilly

Well, another week passes and still no firm interest in the flat, which is obviously frustrating / approaching desperate.
A few people have been round but still waiting for someone to put an offer in, so fingers crossed as I am rapidly getting more and more broke with the passing of each day.
Also, the whole S.E Asia thing is looking less and less likely before New Zealand, which is really no great disaster as I can make that trip on the way back when I head to Hong Kong.
And as this weekend is drawn to a close, I would like to thank JonC for introducing me to The Redback Tavern in Acton, oh dear what a shockingly dangerous place that is.
I will be sorting out some sort of leaving bash soon so will keep you posted.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

One step closer....

yep, one step closer to the next chapter in my life starting - I finish my job at Jobsite this week after a few weeks shy of 4 years.

Gone are the days of the alarm clock going off at 5.25am, now it's gonna be more like 7am as I head out to Clapham Common for Kung Fu, or even to the gym to beat the mad morning rush of the bored housewives... what a strain.

Fingers crossed the flat gets sold sooner rather than later or my plans could go tits up so to speak.

But anyway, had 4(ish) great years at Jobsite and a big shout out to the marketing crew, and of course Sihing Dunning.

Keep it going kids and keep in touch.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Wing Chun stuff

thought I might as well get this up here:

Click Here

and

Click Here

cheers