The Last Post

I write this having been back in the cold, wet and windy UK for a couple of weeks. This has given me time to adjust to what is, quite frankly, a far more mundane existence. It has also given me time to reflect on my trip.

My trip has been an amazing experience and I have many memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Pretty much everything I have done on the trip has been fantastic but there have been two real highlights that stand out.

The first is the 6 days I spent on the South Island of New Zealand. I loved the wonderful scenery and doing some amazing things including whale watching, a heli-hike onto Franz Josef Glacier and jet boating.

Whale watching at Kaikoura

Whale watching at Kaikoura

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Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

The second highlight was the week in India touring the “Golden Triangle” with G Adventures. I loved travelling through such a vibrant country seeing some amazing sights, experiencing the culture and eating some absolutely fabulous food.

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Jaipur

Jaipur

Palace of the Winds

Palace of the Winds

Trying to make a puri

Trying to make a puri

Amber Fort

Amber Fort

I have seen some amazing sights Including:-

Uluru

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The Taj Mahal

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Sydney Harbour

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The cricket obviously didn’t go according to plan. I watched every one of England’s losses to Australia and became increasingly resigned to the entirely predictable nature of these defeats. Disappointing as the cricket was it gave me a base to explore the great cities of Australia. I was part of the world record attendance for a test match at the MCG on Boxing Day.

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Some stats!! My trip took me away from home for 79 nights. I travelled in 5 countries – Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, India and the United Arab Emirates. I went on 17 flights and travelled with 8 different airlines. I stayed in 20 different hotels. So making all these flights certainly means I have had an impact on the environment. All the air miles equate to 4.85 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The driving I did in New Zealand, 1095 kilometres, added a further 0.26 tonnes of CO2 emissions. I am investigating what I can do to offset this.

Best airline – QANTAS. I flew with them more than any other airline. Great service delivered by “real people” not the archetypal young “trolley dolly” you find elsewhere.

Best airport – Dubai. Space age. Roomy. Waterfalls!

Worst airport – Goa International Airport. Dirty toilets and rowing cleaners. Make sure you scan your luggage first! I also had issues at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport with baggage coming off the wrong carousel and lengthy queues for biosecurity checks.

Favourite hotel – The Point, Brisbane. Great service and a room with a fantastic view. Well located for the Gabba and the free boat service into central Brisbane. I also had fantastic service and food at the Resort Terra Paraiso in Goa. Excellent towel and pillow art by housekeeping!

View from my room at The Point, Brisbane

View from my room at The Point, Brisbane

Free city hopper boat service in Brisbane

Free city hopper boat service in Brisbane

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Housekeeping art at Resort Terra Paraiso, Goa

Worst hotel – Great Southern Hotel, Sydney. Room very dated and felt claustrophobic

Favourite cricket stadium – Sydney Cricket Ground. Blends futuristic new stands with well preserved old pavilions.

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Worst cricket stadium – The WACA, Perth. Little shade and needs urgent redevelopment.

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So would I do it again??? The trip has been very much a once in a lifetime opportunity. It has cost a pretty penny and I now need to start earning again. 11 weeks away is a long time and there were times particularly around Christmas and New Year when I was really starting to miss family. Keeping in touch through instant messaging, email, FaceTime and Facebook has been invaluable. When you can talk to somebody and see them on screen the world does not seem such a big place.  I have loved experiencing the different countries and cultures and a much better climate. So yes I would definitely do a big trip again but not for as long.

Has the trip changed me??? Well I don’t feel any different. It may have given me a different perspective on a few things. The trip has definitely given me the desire to travel more and explore further some of the places I have been to.

A successful trip can only take place with help from others. I have had great support from friends and family. They seemed to think my trip was a much bigger deal than I thought myself and showed this with a great send off before I went away. I was worried about my house being left empty for an extended period of time. Thanks to Mum and Dad and my next door neighbours Kathryn and Steve for keeping an eye on it for me whilst I was away. My house remained totally intact whilst I was away but ironically suffered storm damage within a week of my return!

A big thank you to my travel agents, Round the World Experts, and in particular Nigel Wright for turning my dreams into reality.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog. I have enjoyed writing it and it is something I can always look back on. The blog seems to have generated quite a lot of interest – It has had over 4300 views and over 100 comments.

Finishing the blog helps me put the trip “to bed” and allows me to focus on the next phase of my life which starts with the search to generate an income.

My first ever camel ride in the Dubai Desert

My first ever camel ride in the Dubai Desert

Helihike at Franz Josef Glacier

I had one full day at Franz Josef Glacier and had pre-booked a walk on the glacier. I checked at the place where the walks went from that they had my booking details on their system. They did but unfortunately I was the only person wanting to do the walk and it would be uneconomic for them to do the guided walk just for me. So unless someone else booked to do the walk that day it wouldn’t be going ahead… I was left with the prospect of spending a day at an amazing place without actually stepping foot on the glacier.

I was staying at the Terrace Motel and I turned to the proprietor for advice. He was really helpful and within a few minutes I was booked on a heli-hike and got a refund on the walk. I have to admit there was a bit of a cost differential but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity not to be missed….

The heli-hike consisted of a helicopter flight up and onto the glacier followed by a hike on it for a couple of hours. The helicopter took off and within no time we had landed on a flattish area on the glacier. The flight up was exciting, perhaps a bit too much for me as on a couple of occasions it seemed to me as if the helicopter was on a collision course with the mountain!

We were provided with walking boots, crampons and water proofs. The glacier was impressive – with caves, crevices and streams running though it. It is also gradually moving down the mountain. Although you couldn’t actually feel it move glaciers are always moving, a bit like a very slow river. In the New Zealand summer the speed of movement is 15 times faster than in the winter. Due to global warming the glacier is gradually getting smaller. The new ice formed from fresh snow is not enough to fully replace the melting ice. By the end of the century the glacier could disappear. So get here whilst you can.

I was joined on the heli-hike by Rob and Sam from Andover, Hampshire and a young Austrian couple Steve and Bettina. Our kiwi guide was called Sam.

It was a fun 2 hours with the best bits being sliding through caves. It was my first experience of crampons and was impressed with how good they are at keeping you on your feet. Towards the end of the 2 hours we returned to the chopper landing site. The weather was starting to close in. The cloud was getting lower. We needed the helicopter to land soon or we may be stranded.

In a glacier cave

In a glacier cave

In a crevice!

In a crevice!

Feeling the ice cold water

Feeling the ice cold water

As we waited there was a very loud rumbling noise from beneath us. It felt as if the glacier was about to collapse from under us. Even our guide seemed worried. Thankfully the rumbling stopped and the helicopter soon appeared and it’s weight didn’t cause any problems. But it was a REALLY worrying few minutes.

The chopper returns

The chopper returns

Back in the Franz Josef town – I needed a beer! I went to lunch with Rob, Sally, Steve and Bettina. This is the second helicopter flight I have done in this trip and both times the people I have been with have gone for drinks and a meal afterwards. Is this just a coincidence or are helicopter flights a really good bonding experience??

Later in the day I visited the Kiwi Centre in Franz Josef. There are a number of sub species of the Kiwi and one or two of these are declining in numbers. This is because of a number of predators that have been introduced by Europeans, most notably the stoat, that kill the kiwi chicks. At the Kiwi Centre in Franz Josef they collect kiwi eggs and then hatch then and rear the young. After they are old enough they release them into the wild at an age where they can withstand the stoat attacks. At the Kiwi centre the sub species they are protecting is the Rowi. I saw three of them but unfortunately no photos for the blog as they do not allow them…. Taking photos could impact the kiwi shortly before they are released back into the wild.

So all in all a really good day after a tricky start…

Christchurch to Franz Josef Glacier Road Trip

I checked out of my hotel at Christchurch Airport and set off on a long journey. The map estimated the 395km distance from Christchurch to Franz Josef would take over 6 hours to complete. This meant that I was not able to see Christchurch at all as there simply wasn’t time. Next time perhaps?

It was raining in Christchurch and as I was heading over to the west of New Zealand through a mountain pass I was envisaging hairpin bends and poor vision. As it turned out the driving was relatively straightforward although the weather meant the views were not as spectacular as I was expecting. I stopped at Arthur’s Pass for lunch and checked out the visitor centre which gave the history on the area and in particular the building of the railway tunnel which transformed travel from the east of the South Island to the west.

Soon after Arthur’s Pass I passed a sign for a viewpoint. I pulled in. There were 2 green parrots in the parking area. I saw a sign saying “Don’t feed the Kea”. They are the world’s only alpine parrot and although once widespread through New Zealand are now protected. They are drawn to places where people may be as they have sussed out that easy food supplies should be available. I was snapping photos of the views when I noticed that one of the Kea’s had jumped on top of my car and didn’t seem to want to move. It started pecking around the top of the car near the side windows. I tried to get it to move but it wouldn’t. By this stage the Kea had attracted a few other people who were laughing and taking photos of it. Needing to get back on the road I decided to drive off thinking the Kea would just fly off if the car started moving. Well it didn’t happen that way….The bird slid down my front windscreen before taking a few steps on the bonnet before eventually flying away. I read later that Kea’s like pecking the rubber around car windows and have been known to shred car fittings. A lucky escape!

The Kea

The Kea

My hire car under attack!

My hire car under attack!

Further on the landscape flattened out, it started to brighten up, and I reached a small town called Kumara. I pulled up and decided to have a wander around. There were a number of big signs erected which detailed the history of the place. An old guy came over and pointed to the sign I should read which had the history of his family. Kumara is an old gold mining town which was established in the 1870’s during the New Zealand gold rush. It once had a population of over 4000, a hospital and 50 pubs. Its population now is only around 300 and many are direct descendants of the original people who moved there looking for gold. The old guy I met, Mr Payn, is descended from one of these families. He told me about getting dragged out of the only pub that survives in the town, The Royal Theatre Hotel, by his mother many years ago when he was drinking under age.

Mr Payn, a descendant of one of the original Kumara gold mining families

Mr Payn, a descendant of one of the original Kumara gold mining families

The only surviving pub in kumara

The only surviving pub in kumara

Soon after Kumara I reached the west coast and I stopped at the coastal town of Hokitika where I stopped for a coffee. It is a pretty little place although the grey sand on the beach wasn’t particularly inviting. I decided to let the chance to visit the Sock Museum to pass me by…

A Hokitika street

A Hokitika street

Hokitika town clock

Hokitika town clock

One of Hokitika's top attractions?

One of Hokitika’s top attractions?

I needed to move on so I resolved to get to Franz Josef without any more stops. This was easier said than done. The road down to Franz Josef contained absolutely stunning scenery of lakes, forests and views of the glacier as I got close to my destination. I decided there and then that I needed more time than a week to do New Zealand anything like justice and resolved to return one day to spend more time here.

Lake between Hokitika and Franz Josef

Lake between Hokitika and Franz Josef

Distant view of Franz Josef glacier

Distant view of Franz Josef glacier

I arrived in the small town of Franz Josef Glacer at around 6 and checked into my motel. I had an evening meal out in the sunshine with a spectacular view of the glacier whilst enjoying a couple of different beers from the Monteith brewery. A perfect end to a memorable day.

View of the glacier from where I had dinner

View of the glacier from where I had dinner