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

Dart River Jet Boat, Arrowtown and the Skyline Gondola

I had a hectic last day in New Zealand planned but was beginning to flag… After the early starts and long driving I really needed a lie in. But there was no chance of that as I was being picked up at 7.30 am to go on a Jet Boat trip along the Dart River.

The coach headed thought Queenstown and along the opposite side of Lake Wakatipu to the one I had travelled down the previous day. We were heading for the small village of Glenorchy. We got some amazing views towards the top of the lake.

The 3 Islands at the top of Lake Wakatipu

The 3 Islands at the top of Lake Wakatipu

Views towards the top of Lake Wakatipu

Views towards the top of Lake Wakatipu

On arrival at Glenorchy we transferred into smaller 4wd buses. Glenorchy is known as “the gateway to paradise” and the backdrops have been used in films such as The Hobbit, Lord of The Rings, Wolverine, Prince Caspian, Vertical Limit and Avatar.

After leaving Glenorchy we entered the Mount Aspiring National Park. We made a couple of stops to be able to capture on camera the beauty of the landscape.

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Before venturing onto the boat our guide took us for a walk inside a forest of red beeches. This included a chance to walk inside the hollow trunk of a living tree!

The inside of a red beech tree

The inside of a red beech tree

After the walk through the forest it was time to board the jet boat. Our driver, Royce, welcomed us aboard. The jet boat was full with 15 tourists. I sat on at the back near the 2 engines. The ride was exhilarating. We sped along the Dart River away from Lake Wakatipu. At times it seemed we were headed for rocks but Royce would then turn the boat at the last minute to thankfully miss them. He would from time to time turn the boat into a 360 degree spin.

After about 15 minutes the boat ground to a halt. It had grounded on the bottom of the river. Royce got us to stand up and rock the boat but to no avail. another boat circled round us to see if it’s wake would release us but that didn’t work either. Royce then said he needed volunteers to get off the boat to lighten the load. The river wasn’t that deep but was flowing fast. We all had life jackets on and a waterproof jacket. Being the only British member of the crew I was of course one of the first to volunteer. The coldness of the water took my breath away. I linked arms with the other 2 volunteers and Royce and before long we were on the shore. I was wearing jeans and trainers. Both were saturated with water! In total 9 of us evacuated the boat before Royce got it moving again. He moved it closer to the shore and we all got back on. This incident added to the excitement to be honest.

Passengers abandoning ship!

Passengers abandoning ship!

After taking the boat as far up the river as we could we then headed in the other direction towards the lake and after around an hours jet boat ride we were disembarking at the top of the lake. My jeans and trainers were wet through but it was a great experience. These things happen in New Zealand.

I'm on the back row - can you spot me?

I’m on the back row – can you spot me?

In the afternoon I headed for Arrowtown which was established in the New Zealand Gold Rush towards the end of the 19th century. I gave a lift up there, in my hire car, to Adam and Lori the American couple I had met on my trip to Milford Sound the previous day. Lori was keen to see the AJ Hackett bungy bridge which is on the way up there. We stopped off for around 15 minutes and saw about half a dozen people throw themselves of the bridge. it looked frightening!

This was as close as I was going to get to doing a bungy jump!

This was as close as I was going to get to doing a bungy jump!

Arrowtown is a beautifully preserved old town. In some ways it felt too perfect and that I was stepping onto a Hollywood set. A friend had recommended to me a bakery at the end of the street and their excellent strawberry muffins. I walked in an ordered one. Unfortunately they are not always on the menu and I was there on the wrong day. Having not had lunch at this point I decided to go for a sandwich… We visited the remains of the Chinese settlement in Arrowtown. Chinese labourers were encouraged to come and mine the gold but they lived in a different part of town and exoerienced discrimination.

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The shop in the Chinese settlement

The shop in the Chinese settlement

In the evening I travelled up the Skyline Gondola in Queenstown and feasted on the “eat as much as you can”  buffet dinner In the restaurant at the top. The gondola is a cable car which takes you up onto Bob’s Peak where there are panoramic views of Queenstown and the Lake from 1500 feet up.

The view from the top of the skyline gondola on Bob's Peak

The view from the top of the skyline gondola on Bob’s Peak

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So my whistlestop tour around the South Island of New Zealand was at an end. I had an amazing time and can’t wait to return.

Tomorrow I was to fly to Melbourne for Christmas and the 4th Ashes Test.

Trip to Milford Sound on the BBQ bus

A must for visiting this part of the world is a trip to Milford Sound. I had pre booked today’s trip before setting off from the UK. It was marketed as a journey down to Milford sound with a barbecue meal en route and a boat trip on arrival at Milford sound. Most of the tours down to Milford Sound from Queenstown are in full size coaches. The BBQ bus is a more intimate experience. It’s a nine seater minibus and the business is run by driver and tour guide Nick. Apart from me and Nick there were 5 others travelling that day. A young American couple, Adam and Lori, and a group of 3 from Brazil. Adam and Lori were holidaying in New Zealand over the Christmas period. Their home in the states is Atlanta but they are both living and working in Melbourne for the next couple of years. I didn’t get to know the Brazilian threesome. Their English wasn’t great. The male member of the group had a little card with the word “SEXY” written on it which he produced at each photo opportunity…

I sat up front with Nick. He is a kiwi, originally from Dunedin, and has been doing tours from Queenstown to Milford Sound for over 10 years. He used to have a much more sizeable business with 2 bigger buses and employed staff. He has decided this year to scale back the business to give himself a better work/life balance and reduced stress. I could totally sympathise with him given my own recent work situation. I got on really well with Nick. He likes his cricket and rugby and was so incredibly keen to give an excellent customer service all through the day. He was knowledgeable about all aspects of our trip and suggested ideas for other things we may wish to consider through the remainder of our time in Queensrown.

We travelled along the side of Lake Wakatipu in the shadow of The Remarkables mountain range. After the town of Kingston at the end of the lake we moved into farming country with deer, sheep and cattle stations all around. Nick pointed out a tree/shrub called a Bog Pine which was only found in this part of New Zealand and Siberia. As the land masses of New Zealand and Siberia were never connected how did that happen? The likely explanation is due to bird migration.

We stopped at Te Anau for a coffee break and to allow Nick to hitch up a trailer for the BBQ. I walked down to the lake with my coffee and took a few snaps. It was a clear day but at 9am in the morning it was chilly down by that lake. There was a statue of a bird, the Takahe, which had been thought to be extinct but was then rediscovered in the wild and is now protected.

The Takahe statue

The Takahe statue

Lake Te Anau

Lake Te Anau

We got back on the road and were soon entering the Fiordland National Park. The scenery stepped up a level. Mirror Lakes was particularly memorable with the mountains almost perfectly captured in the crystal clear lake water.

Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lakes

We stopped at Cascade Creek and whilst Nick cooked lunch we went for a walk through a forest to Lake Gunn. It was really tranquil.

Lake Gunn

Lake Gunn

Lunch was excellent. Really tasty with plentiful quantities. I think I had 3rd helps… we lunched by the creek with the surroundings covered with lupins.

Lupins at cascade creek

Lupins at cascade creek

After lunch we got back on the road and made further stops. At one of these I tasted the crystal clear water running in a creek. We then reached Homer tunnel which bores through a gargantuan piece of mountain rock and without which the road would not get to Milford Sound. The tunnel took 19 years to complete and opened in 1954.

Magnificent views between Cascade Creek and the Homer tunnel

Magnificent views between Cascade Creek and the Homer tunnel

The entrance to the Homer tunnel

The entrance to the Homer tunnel

After going through the tunnel we made a further stop at a spectacular waterfall known as “The Chasm”

The Chasm

The Chasm

On arrival at the Milford Sound harbour we boarded a big shiny boat. There weren’t that many tourists on it so there was plenty of space and opportunities to get plenty of photos. Milford Sound was discovered by a Welshman, John Grono, in 1812, and he originally named it Milford Haven after his home town in Wales. The name was changed to Milford Sound. Nick informed us that actually it is not a Sound but a Fjord but I guess it’s probably too late to change the name to Milford Fjord?

The Milford Monarch

The Milford Monarch

As the boat set off I stood at the bow on the top deck. It was exhilarating! The spectacular cliffs on both sides and waterfalls cascading and the feeling of being somewhere quite special. Rudyard Kipling called Milford Sound the eighth wonder of the world and I can see why.

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After travelling along the fjord for around half an hour we were out at sea. On the way back we stopped at the Stirling Falls and got wet with spray. The boat also stopped by a rock on which fur seals were sleeping in the sun. We had been blessed with amazing weather on the boat trip and I felt very privileged to have visited such an amazing place.

Out at sea

Out at sea

Sleeping fur seals

Sleeping fur seals

Stirling falls

Stirling falls

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After getting back to the Harbour we were faced with a 4 hour road journey back to Queenstown. There were alternatives by helicopter and plane but I decided that would be too extravagant and would blow my travel budget!

So we retraced our route through this magnificent country. I enjoyed chatting with Nick on the way back.

After getting back to Queenstown at 8pm I had a walk down into the town and watched the sun setting over the harbour. A perfect end to a spectacular day.

Sunset over Queenstown

Sunset over Queenstown