A Travellerspoint blog

The City of Sails and steaming Rotorua

sunny 25 °C

Upon arrival in Auckland I headed straight to Albert Park, a beautiful green area on top of a small hill in the centre of the city.

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There were loads of birds everywhere, quite unafraid of people, including the red-billed gull.

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Auckland is known as the 'City of Sails' and it's easy to see why when walking along the waterfront by the marina. One third of the population of Auckland owns a boat and the hundreds of islands and bays along the top of the North Island must be a great place to spend time exploring. New Zealand's largest city felt very clean and safe, and I enjoyed just wandering around, soaking up the atmosphere. On my second day I visited the fish market. The range and quality of freshly caught seafood was very impressive and I thoroughly enjoyed the large plate of grilled calamari and NZ wine which made itself my dinner that evening.

The next place on my North Island itinerary was Rotorua, the most geothermally active area in the country and centre of Maori culture. This was also the first place for me to make use of my tent and camp (at Kiwi Paka - highky recommended; the free, hot thermal pool was great). I visited Whakarewarewa Thermal Village and was guided around by a Maori lady who lives there. Although also a tourist destination, the village is home to over 20 Maori families who live very traditional lives around the boiling thermal pools. They channel the water from some of the pools into outdoor baths; the minerals in the water are very good for the skin and have supposed healing properties.

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The village's meeting house.

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Natural 'oven' over a steam vent. The villagers use these like a pressure cooker to steam their 'hangi' meals.

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Sweetcorn is also dunked into the boiling pools to cook. I tried some - it was pretty good!

The village is built on one of the thinnest parts of the Earth's crust found anywhere in the world. The ground is hot to the touch and sometimes houses have to be evacuated as new geysers erupt from cracks which can appear overnight. Pohutu is the largest geyser and erupts about once every hour as the pressure gets too high. The boiling water is shot 30m into the air where it turns instantly to steam. Impressive!

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Maori children swimming in the river.

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Black swan on Lake Rotorua.

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Lake Rotorua
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Kuirau Park, near my campsite, also had lots of thermal features such as bubbling mud pools and steaming vents in the ground.

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Pretty flowerbeds are dotted around the park and various paths lead through the woods. There's a very strong smell of eggs everywhere you go in Rotorua, evidence of the geothermal activity and sulphurous gasses escaping from under the surface of the earth.

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The thick, stinking gasses gave some parts of the park a rather sinister feel, especially as the sun went down.
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(*I tried to upload some videos to this post but wasn't able to get it to work... Please go to my YouTube page too see them - there are 6:
http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAlexTiffany?feature=mhum#p/u

  • )

Posted by AlTiffany2 22:51 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Bustling Buenos Aires

sunny 39 °C

  • *Firstly, apologies to everyone who's following this blog; I have had internet access throughout the last couple of weeks but not long enough to do this blog entry justice. I am currently in Kaikoura, NZ and am using a miserable rainy day as a perfect opportunity to get you all up to date. (Being able to turn negatives into positives is essential whilst travelling solo, I've found.) I think I'll do a few separate entries leading up to where I am now as there is so much to say and I have so many photos to share!**
  • ***Message for Tom Cartwright - your watch/compass trick works in the southern hemisphere and, yes, it does point to North instead of South!****

...

It didn't take me long to realise that the hostel I'd booked into upon arrival in Argentina's capital city wasn't for me. No names mentioned...(Hostel Sudamerika) It was very cliquey and nobody seemed to want to talk to someone they didn't know (not the sort of atmosphere you usually get in a backpacker place). Upon subsequent consideration, it may have just been because I had been surrounded by so many friendly people in Chile and western Argentina that to be on my own again was a bit of a shock. This was the first (and only, so far) point in my trip when I really felt down and missed home. Nevertheless, hostelbookers.com recommended me another hostel with really great reviews so I decided to make the change...

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The Obelisco stands in the centre of the widest road in the world - over 13 lanes.
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It turned out to be a very good decision. Pax hostel and, in particular, the people I met there ended up being the highlight of my time in BA. The hostel had some great touches: squeeze your own orange juice for breakfast, all-you-can-eat breakfast with eggs (!), free Skype to call home, a rooftop terrace with BBQ, great showers and really welcoming, helpful staff. Shall we say, it was the binary opposite of the previous hostel (I hope Paul Morris is reading this!) Even tiny little things like a water purifier/cooler made living 'normally' that bit easier.

I felt there wasn't really very much to see in BA, for a city of its immense size - one of the biggest in Latin America. Also, I ended up spending a few days longer there than I would have liked. I had planned to take a side trip to Uruguay, catching the ferry over the Rio de la Plata to Colonia, as this looked very beautiful. However the price was prohibitively high and I decided that I could not afford it. Apparently prices sky rocket for a few weeks after New Year as this is peak summer holiday time for Argentineans. Still, this meant that I had more time to relax in the sun and read my book (again, think positive).

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Government building - 'The Pink House'

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Some parts of the city look very European. BA is known as 'The Paris of the South'. Not sure about that, but I can see what they mean.

The city's waterfront, Puerto Madero, was a pleasant place to stroll and there were some interesting old boats. This is definitely one of the more upmarket parts of the city with lots of fancy cafes and restaurants overlooking the marina. The area around Pax hostel, Constitucion, however, was somewhat unsavoury and, in certain places, downright dangerous.

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The Reserva Ecologica offered a peaceful release from the crowds and the pollution of the city. The area was reclaimed from the sea and the swampy, leafy invironment is home to many beautiful birds. I saw an iguana there - great to see some wildlife after all the stray dogs and cats in the city.

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Most South American cities are really dirty; BA is no exception. People leave their rubbish on the corners of roads and many older buildings have a grimy coating which just leaves you feeling unclean. (One of the things I noticed, and enjoyed, when I got to New Zealand was how clean everything is and how good the fresh air smells!)

One afternoon I went to La Boca, one of the Barrios to the south of the city and home to the infamous football team Boca. The staff at my hostel were very clear that this district is the most dangerous in BA - "You have to get the bus, don't bring too much money and stay in the main street." Apparently being even two blocks away from the main touristy area is seriously bad news and muggings/kidnappings are common, even in the day time. Of course, I took their advice and was fine. Boca is culturally one of the most interesting parts of the city with it brightly coloured houses and tango displays on the street.

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One evening I went out, with two German guys and an American, Dan (renamed Dank by a hippie), to Palermo and ate at the, supposed, best steak restaurant in Argentina, La Cabrera. It really was amazing - huge, so tender and served with about 20 little bowls of side tasters on a massive wooden board. Not cheap but, considering the quality and how much you'd have to pay at home, definitely worth it.

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As I said before, Pax hostel was a great place to meet interesting people and have fun, especially in the evenings. My new found comrades and I propped up the cellar bar most nights. Spontaneous, late night games of beer-pong always led to some great laughs. One night some of the staff went out clubbing and took a group of us 'gringos' (non-locals) along too which was great fun. The managers of the hostel owned another property in the city, affectionately known as the 'Crack House,' which housed staff and a few long term Pax guests who couldn't bring themselves to part with the place. Whilst no longer inhabited by substance abusers (well, mostly) the flats had more than their fair share of cockroaches... Still, I guess it would have been a cheap place to rent.

Whilst safer than many South American cities, you still have to be very careful in BA - even in the day time. I quickly got into the habit of bringing the bare minimum of things with me when going out and, if going down the street to get dinner, I would empty my wallet of all the money I knew I wouldn't need - just in case. I got the impression that the police were very corrupt too and, whilst having no dealings with them myself, people told me that just a few pesos is enough to make them turn a blind eye to some lesser offences - such as speeding or drug dealing. And on the subject of drugs, I was slightly surprised to learn that most taxi drivers have a stash of cocaine in their glove box to sell, as well as offering the 'conventional' cab service. It's another world!

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(*To Dad and Y4 - Mr Mouli enjoyed his time in Argentina. You can just about see the famous Obelisco in the background.*)

On January 10th I caught the shuttle to the airport and began the 8 hour wait for my flight to Auckland, which soon became a 10hr wait (thanks Aerolineas Argentinas - always delayed). So, at half past 4am, after witnessing a spectacular lightning display overhead, I trudged onto the plane for my 13 hour flight. This was fairly uneventful, after a scarily bumpy few minutes following takeoff as we flew through the thunderstorm. Got some brilliant viwes of the sunrise from above the clouds and of icebergs as we flew over the Antarctic (pointed out by the pilot).

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You don't see that everyday!
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First glimpses of New Zealand: The mountains you can see above are in the Tongariro National Park - I was walking there a few days ago. Didn't know that when I was in the plane though!

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Arrived at Auckland on the morning of the 12th and proceeded straight to the city centre to get on with some sightseeing. Such a relief to be able to speak English again, and it was mercifully cooler than Buenos Aires - a pleasant 25 degrees.

Posted by AlTiffany2 18:55 Archived in Argentina Comments (3)

A crazy time in South America

semi-overcast 27 °C
View Round the World Gap Year 2010-11 on AlTiffany2's travel map.

Getting to Santiago was a very drawn out affair. The 12 hour wait in LA airport wasn't too fun; I got out my sleeping bag and got a few hours sleep on the floor of terminal 2... The next two flights (to Bogota then Santiago) were fine - I was in a state of semi-zombification by then. At midnight on Christmas Day (flying over Peru), all of the plane's lights were switched on and Christmas music was blasted out, to many people's amusement (and annoyance.) I met an American/British couple on the Santiago flight who offered me a lift into the centre of the city, which I gratefully accepted. So, at 6am on Christmas Day I found myself sitting on a bench in Plaza de Armas waiting for places to open up. Predictably, there was nobody about, except for a few sleeping tramps and lots of birds - a really surreal experience and certainly the weirdest Christmas morning I've ever had!

Later that morning I booked myself into the Andes Hostel, in the centre of downtown. This was a friendly place with lots of foreigners, a bar, pool table, great showers and a rooftop terrace. Christmas afternoon I spent exploring the Cerro Santa Lucia, an attractively landscaped hill in the centre of the city which was visited by Charles Darwin and has good views of the city. Santiago lies at the foot of the Andes but, although the towering mountains are visable, a layer of smog makes their outline rather hazey.

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Another day I went to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. There is a funicular but I decided to walk up to the top, it took about an hour. This hill was pretty high and the panoramic views were even more impressive from the summit. There is a statue of the Virgin Mary at the top as well as a small church and a Nativity scene. On the way back down I decided to take a different 'path' which gradually petered out into steep sandy banks, streams and lots of cacti... After much scrambling however I managed to get down!

There are many bars in the Barrio Bellavista area of Santiago, just over the river, at the foot of Cerro San Cristobal. Along with various people I met at the hostel (Chilean, American, Canadian, Argentinean, French, Brazilian - lots of, Australian, South African) I went out every night and experienced the night life. The best place was a salsa club.
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My three Brazilian roommates and I decided to make a day trip to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, on the Pacific coast. We teamed up with two Argentineans, Juan and Gaston, who had their car and drove us all. Four people in the back of a Ford Focus for 2 hours there and 2 hours back... well I guess roughing it is what it's all about! Vina de Mar is basically a beach town and Valparaiso (very close) is Chile's main sea port. Valparaiso's ascensores (funiculars) are famous and take you up to the hills surrounding the town.

The next day Juan and Gaston tell me that they are heading back home to Buenos Aires and that I'm welcome to join them. What luck! The drive from Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina crosses the Andes and the scenery is incredible. Apparently Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside the Himalayas, can normally be seen clearly from the Chile/Argentina border, however the cloud and rain meant that it was pretty obscured.
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Our hostal in Mendoza, in the heart of Argentina's wine growing region, was very smart and had a pool.
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I had planned to spend a few days in Mendoza however the guys I was travelling with suggested we went to San Rafael, about 200km south. We camped in the valley of the Atuel River, right by the river in a very scenic spot. We spent two nights here and, in the days, went white-water rafting (some of the best in Argentina, apparently) and drove up into the Atuel Canyon to get some beautiful views. The whole area was very quiet, we almost had the place to ourselves which was great.

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On New Year's Eve we went out for a massive four course meal at a restaurant near our campsite and ate asado (traditional BBQ, so much meat!), drank the local wine and toasted (outside, in T-shirt and shorts) with champagne at midnight.

Yesterday we drove the 12 hour journey to Buenos Aires, arriving after midnight. Juan and Gaston had to go back home (and to work) so I booked into the Sudamerika Hostel in the centre of the city, right near the famous obelisco. This was, however, not before being told by another hostel that there were no beds available. And the taxi driver tried to scam me - if a trip costs 23 pesos and I pay with a 100 note, I think I am due more change than 6 pesos! He didn't seem to mind when I pointed this out and quickly gave me the proper change; just trying it on I think. I may be a tourist but I'm not stupid or about to get cheated!

Right, off now to get my head around where I am!

Posted by AlTiffany2 10:30 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

After a week in Wyoming...

overcast -2 °C
View Round the World Gap Year 2010-11 on AlTiffany2's travel map.

As my time in Laramie draws to a close, I am trying to remember everything I have done in this past week - the list is a long one! The weather last week was great; clear skies and sun, although very cold (and going down to about -20 C some nights). The weather has closed in somewhat recently however; we had about 8 inches of snow last night and it's still falling now. I've taken this as an opportunity to update this blog and keep everyone informed of my movements over the last week.
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Firstly, Tom and I went ice fishing on frozen Lake Crystal in Curt Gowdy State Park, about half way between Laramie and the state capital Cheyenne. DSCF1139_-_Copy.jpg
Tom has built his own 'ice house' out of wood and canvas, to protect against the weather on a bad day, which we dragged out onto the lake on skis. However, the sun was shining and most of the time we spent out in the open.
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I caught seven fish (not bad for a first timer!) The ice was about 5 inches thick, however now and again there were very loud cracks and the ice would split a good distance. Tom assured me that it was perfectly safe, although I have to say I was a little nervous at first!
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Later that day I went flying in Tom's Cessna Skyhawk. I've never flown a plane before and, with a little help, I took off, flew and landed it. The views of the Laramie Basin and surrounding Rocky Mountains were breathtaking. We flew past a few Golden Eagle nests and saw one soaring up close.
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Just over the border into Colorado we got a great view of some Hoodoos (rock pillars) and, on the way back home, buzzed really close over Jan's house (well, Tom and I thought it was funny!)

(There should be some videos here - if not please see the 'Videos' section of my profile here on Travellerspoint to see them. If you still can't get them please let me know and I'll try to fix it!)

The next day we went up into the mountains to shoot some of Tom's guns. We made some targets out of cardboard.
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I fired a .22 rifle and a .22 automatic pistol first.
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Then moved on to an old British .303 rifle made in 1941 (I was most accurate with this).
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Finally, I had a go with Tom's Dad's Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum revolver (loud and very powerful!)
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Tom said he was impressed with my shooting (would've passed US army weapons training, apparently - again, not bad for a first timer!)

Snow shoeing and cross-country skiing were yet more new experiences. We went up into the Medicine Bow National Forest and - for the most part - cut our own tracks in the powdery back country, exploring the silent wonderland we had entirely to ourselves.
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That's one of the great things about Wyoming, it's so easy to get away from it all. On our skiing day, Tom and I stopped in the middle of the forest, built a fire and sat by it eating our lunch.

I spent most of Monday with Jan's friend's grandson, Ian. We played a bit of football (soccer) and basketball at the public recreational center. Then we went back to his house and played pool. We are roughly the same age and it was really interesting to talk about the similarities and differences between being a student here and back home in England.

Today I visited the geology museum at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
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They have loads of really impressive displays of dinosaurs and other fossils - mostly discovered locally.
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They have the famous Allosaurus called 'Big Al' - at home we have a video about the life of this dinosaur so it was quite a surprise to suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, meet him face to face!
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(Above, Big Al and me.)

Finally, I had some great news the other morning. St. Peter's College, Oxford have offered me an unconditional place to read law, starting October 2011. I am thrilled to bits!

Tomorrow I'm getting a Greyhound bus to Denver, then a flight to Los Angeles, then a 12 hr wait (can't wait - not!), then another flight to Bogota, Comombia, then yet another flight to Santiago, Chile... A bit of a mission!!
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Antelope
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Ok, I think that's everything... Thanks for reading - stay tuned for more!

Posted by AlTiffany2 15:16 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Arrival in Laramie

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View Round the World Gap Year 2010-11 on AlTiffany2's travel map.

Hi everyone.
After a long couple of days of travelling I have finally made it to Tom and Jan (my great aunt and uncle)'s house in Laramie, WY. We stayed at their son Matt's place in the 'Mile High' city of Denver, CO the night I arrived in the US. Yesterday (after exploring an extraordinary and truly massive warehouse-store selling literally everything, called Costco) we set off driving north towards Wyoming.
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The views of the Rockies along the way were pretty impressive and the change of altitude was definitely noticeable - going from the Mile High city of Denver up to Laramie which sits at over 7000ft.
Some of the mountains which can be seen from Laramie are almost Alpine height - Medicine Bow peak is just over 12000ft high, however, as the surrounding area is also pretty high up, they don't look quite as towering. The altitude is a big factor here (as well as the cold, of course) and just walking into town I could definitely feel myself getting short of breath. As this is in the middle of the vast prairie (almost desert-like), the air is very dry and I have been getting thirsty fairly quickly.
The temperature is pretty mild here for the time of year (just over freezing now), though due to the mountain climate this can change very quickly. It is not uncommon for night time temperatures to fall to -30 degrees Celsius, or even colder (thankfully, not recently) and for up to a couple of feet of snow to fall in one go. Just goes to show how badly we deal with even a small amount of bad winter weather in the UK!
Weather permitting, I hope to borrow Tom's snow shoes and maybe his skis and go for an explore up in the Snowy Range, the mountains above Laramie.
Going to head outside and do a bit more exploring now. Keep following for updates!
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Posted by AlTiffany2 11:43 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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