Friday, 31 July 2009

Wwoofing in Australia

Train journeys can be quite enterntaining. Once you have resigned yourself to the long day ahead you can start enjoying the views outside, and, even more interestingly, the views inside the train, the human zoo.

My 13 hour train journey to Menindee proved to be one of these trips.

It was a really early start, leaving at 6.20am, with 12 long hours to look forward to.

Australian trains are fairly comfortable, and not used by the public very much. The expansion of Virgin Blue or Jet Star has killed what was left of it, and now most people fly. However the little town I was heading to didnt have an airport, so the train was the logical solution.

On our way I managed to see some great landscapes, rugged mountains, eucaliptus forests, and the normally dry plains of the Outback, but as it had just rained they were covered in a carpet of lush green.

Inside the train it was even more interesting in terms of people watching. A lot of elderly people seemed to travel on this train, their traveling heavily discounted.

The couple behind me were just plain odd. He was making notes of each time we passed a kilometer sign and a half kilometer sign, so thats lots and lots of notes this being an 850km journey. His intention was to calculate the speed of the train at each time. His friend, this old dear, had the highest pitch voice I have ever come across, sounding more like a 5 year old child than someone near 70, though she clearly had her wits about her.

Obviously Australians being as they are, everyone had to come and enquiry about the gentleman's strange hobby.

There was a group of short haired, larger than average arse, fleece wearing lesbians, that every so often got off the train and started to do stretches on the platforms, as if they were on a long haul flight and were worried about the pressure.

Things went fine til I got to Menindee and found no one was waiting for me...panic was about to strike as I was in the middle of nowhere, and I didn't have my hosts number...

But eventually Barb came to pick me up and we drove the 50K to the farm.

There was a time that the farm, then called Netley Station, extended over 1 million acres, had 100,000 sheep, and cows and horses on top of that...I can't even imagine the size of this.

The farm was then split into several parts, and Bill and Barb bought Bindara in 1980. The drought has meant that they have had to get rid of most of their animals and there are only 25 cattle and 20 sheep or something like that left. They seem to have found a good source of income with eco tourism, as they have people staying in the cottages at the back of the farm, plus caravans and campers.

So far this thing of woofing has been good, I get up early, have some breakfast, work for a few hours in the vegetable garden, lunch, then work for a few more hours and then enjoy the end of the day with a walk.

If Barb and Bill were from Mars we may have had more things in common. They are a deeply Christian, Labour hating family, with a natural misstrust of anything that comes from the Government or the big cities. Nonetheless, as far as it goes I am enjoying my time here. They are extremely welcoming, friendly, and I am learning about a way of life that I am amazed to discover still exists.

Let's see what happens over the next few days.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Campervan Vs Camp-ette

So typical of Oz, had people been shooting at the sign?

My campervan turned up to be more a camp-ette, a little van that could take only two people.

Aussies are obssesed with health and safety, so campervans are only allowed to carry people at the front, to ensure they have a seat belt, and mine was so small that it only could carry me and one other person...

Anyway, this time I didn't pick up any hitch hikers, and so ended up doing the almost 900 km on my own. Sadly, I was let down by the relocation company. I was meant to have the van for 2.5 days that would have allowed me to visit a couple of places I wanted to see along the way. The night before leaving though they informed me that I actually only had 1.5 days. As I really needed to get to Sydney I had no choice but to accept their new conditions. Still, it was a very cheap way for me to get to Sydney.

On the way I saw some great landscapes, but as it was on the motorway, I couldn't really stop and take pics.

My few weeks here have told me something about Aussies: that they are the friendliest people I have ever met.

A few evenings ago I was lost in Melbourne, and I approached a young woman. In the UK she would have probably screamed, hit me with her handbag and called for help. This young woman however, as she didnt know where the street I was looking for actually was, took out her iPhone and searched the internet for a map. And God knows I look rough!!!

I am now back in Sydney and tonight is our free BBQ in the hostel.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Falcon Crest

How cute is Damien's dog?

I have spent the last few days at Damien's farm, which is just like Falcon Crest but instead of wine they have horses.
It is a lovely place and it is such an experience to come to his house, an opportunity to discover another part of Australia that you might otherwise not see when travelling, the rich old fashioned one.......we were driving in a Rolls Royce and I don't recall ever being in one before.
I kept thinking it was a Driving Miss Daisy moment, but that made me Miss Daisy

I stayed behind when Damien left, he offered me the use of the car but I was scared of causing damage to something the size of a tank.

Why is the engine in the steam train back to front?

So I am back in Melbourne and in two days I will be on my way in a campervan......I am taking a relocation vehicle, which has to be driven somewhere, and I am saving a lot of money in the process.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Living Out Of A Bag

Cathedral Cove ( North Island )

(Click on Panoramic to view)

Today I am leaving to head back to Oz, it has been six months to the day since I left the UK.

Throughout the past six months I have seen some great sights and met some fantastic people. At the same time, life does get hard always moving from one place to another, packing and unpacking. I have been living out of a bag for six months, and sometimes I get bored of it.

I am bored of having worn the same clothes for six months and of the lack of little luxuries. I am really over not having all the required ingredients when I cook and that I have to make pasta without Parmesan cheese. And sometimes I realise it is quite sad seeing myself and other backpackers hunting around the supermarket, deciding what to have for dinner, based on what has been discounted.

However, I am not going to cut the trip short, I have so many things that I want to do before heading back. I would have little to do back home at the moment anyway, the recession is still going strong, and there is not much work.

But most importantly, for every low moment, there have been 20 amazing ones. For every time I have missed my things back home there has been a new friend to laugh with, a new sight to marvel at or a new food to try. For every time I have almost fallen into a dirty toilet there has been an awe inspiring moment. For every time I have been sick of eating porridge, just cos it is the cheapest and most filling breakfast in the world, I have had another ten that make me laugh.....

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Smelliest Town In the World

I managed to get myself out of bed early enough to enjoy one last sunrise in Tongariro, and once again it was breathtaking. It was another cloudless morning, crisp and beautiful.
So leaving behind the National Park I drove North for a few hours to Taupo. Taupo is a little tourist town by the lake, and most of the backpackers who come here have some cash to spend which they throw from a skydiving. I even condisered it, thinking perhaps it would help me get over my fear of heights. If I could jump from 12000 feet there would be nothing for me to fear anymore. Well, thankfully, I came to my senses. I just could not justify spending £130 doing something I would probably hate.

So, after a stop and short walk around town, I went over to Rotorua, the smelliest town in the planet, and considering I have been to Kolkota that's saying something.

Now that I am here, I can't comprehend why people want to live in a place that feels as if God is constantly above them on a fart-athon!!! It reeks, the smell of rotten eggs is everywhere.

Sometimes it recedes just to hit you later in the face when you least expect it. You don't even have to be near one of the vents to get a whiff of the rotten eggs.

I have spent the day doing some of the local walks, some of which are of an eerie beauty, the barren Sulphur Bay brings to mind images of a post nuclear war planet.

On my way, I came to realise that I am now at the equator of my trip and I am starting to make my way back.

Oddly, the next few countries are scarier to me than South East Asia. I have never been to Central or South America and, although I speak the language, they are probably as alien as Malaysia or Thailand could be.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Mount Doom and the One Ring

View from the highest point in our walk

Way up at the top the sun shining through ice

Another really start for me, 6.30am, trying not to make too much noise so I won't wake up Andy, my snow boarding room mate. Once again, I have been very lucky, and following days of rain, fog and wind, today starts with stars shining in the sky, and the sun starting to show its first rays behind the mountains. It looks like it is going to be a great day for a trek.I am picked up at 7.15am by Sarah, a lovely Kiwi, too full of energy for this time in the morning, especially as I have not had a coffee, at times like this I really miss my expresso machine. When we get to the start of the trek we are joined by a mini bus from Taupa, the main centre for adrenaline rush seekers and also the world's skydiving capital. Like in Tasmania, and the Himalayas, it is bitterly cold and gusts of wind send us shivering while we get ready and kitted for the walk. For the first time I will be taking ice cruttons, as we will probably need them at higher altitude. As we start climbing snow covers our way, first as a thin layer, later on as a white blanket reflecting the rising sun. In the distance behind us we can see Mount Taranaki, around 100 km from where we are.

Mount Taranaki in the distance, but don't blink as you may miss itIt is the most climbed, and probably most photographed peak in NZ. This is Lord of the Rings Country, in front of us is Mount Doom, actually known as Mt Ngauruhoe, if I am not wrong it is where Sauron forged the One Ring.

Mount Doom, but I never found the ring of power

And a different view of the mountain, didn't get to see that one....However, covered in snow it looks completely different. Throughout the day we will come across other areas that were used in the movies. Sarah and Collin pushed us a bit as we were behind schedule and if we didn't make up time we might not be able to do the crossing, get to the highest point and come back. This seemed to work a treat and we all speeded up a bit. One of the most amazing things of the day was walking through some of the dead craters, which in the summer time are use for camping and playing rugby and cricket. Around midday we reached the highest point and Sarah confirmed that we would be able to the crossing. We had been told to bring our own lunch so I had prepared myself some pasta with eggs and bacon and brought lots of fruit to snack on the way. I was surprised when people starting taking out little sandwiches. It goes beyond me how people can live on one or two sandwiches. It is ok for a mid morning snack, what the hobbits will call elevenser's. So, when I was ready to tackle my huge lunch box a tragedy occurred.......i had forgotten my knife and fork!!!! I had brought extra salt and pepper, but nothing to eat my meal with......I soon realized that no one else would have a spare fork, they did not even have one that I could use after they had finished, so I decided to eat my dinner Indian style.

Another pic I don't want my mother to seeI loved the place where we stopped for lunch. The ground was warm, all snow had melted away, and steam was rising. The geothermal heat from the volcanoes comes through the soil and warms you up. As we needed to speed up Sarah decided that the best way to descend was to slide down the slope of the mountain . It was not a great look for me as I was instructed to tuck my fleece and jacket into my tracksuit bottoms and to slide on my arse - it was great fun if a bit undignified.

Sliding down on my wet arse

As I am sliding the small of rotten eggs hits me in the face. Initially I wondered how someone could fart so badly that I would notice it in this open space but as I got to the bottom I realized it could not be someone's wind. I eventually asked and someone explained it was the sulphur coming from the volcano. At the bottom of the slope we walked for a while through another snow-filled crater but now we had to set the tracks. At this time of the year there are hardly any trampers and the snow is pristine from the previous night, making walking a bit harder, but all that more scenic. Once we get across the mountains, and rest for a bit in the last hut/toiltet, the descent seems to be taking forever. The adrenaline kick you get from the views and the sliding wears off and now I am just dying to get to the end. I just want to get out of my wet socks......The team that took us there has the bus waiting for us, with some beers, how very thoughtful.
All in all it has been a great day, an amazing experience, and I am glad that I have been sensible and done it with a group, sometimes it is good to know your limitations. I am shattered and, although Andy invited me to go out with him and his snowboarding mates, I think I am just going to hit the sack.....

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Tramping on ice

Tongariro Volcano

I am now in a little town called National Park. It seems that no one could be bothered to give this place a name - it is inside Tongarino National Park so I guess it seemed like a logical choice.

I don't know if this really is a town or just a group of lodges, ski and snowboard shops and a few bars. However, no one can deny that the views from here are just amazing.

View from my hostelVolcanoes standing in the not too distanct bring back memories of hobbits, elfs and Aragon, and I am expecting to find Gandalf at some point while I am here.

My main reason to come here was to do the Tongarino Crossing, which is meant to be the best trek in New Zealand, but somehow I forgot that we are in the winter, and it is all covered by snow, so my plans have changed slightly. I am still going to do it, but will have to go with a group, and this time I will not be able to climb to the top of volcano as I wanted to. My friend Nat was saying how brave I was to have trekked in the Blue Mountains on my own, well now I am going to have to be less brave and I am feeling a bit out of place.

At this time of the year, the middle of their winter school holidays, there are mainly two types of people here. Snowboarding teenagers, and families with small children that come to ski for a bit and then play in the snow.
It is the wrong time to be here as everything is fully booked and I am having to pay $35 for a dorm instead of the usual $20 as all the cheaper ones have been booked. To make matters worse I have been told I need to leave by Friday as they are completely booked for the weekend.

I spent most of today visiting the area trekking, or as they call it here tramping, by the beautiful Lake Rotoponamu that fills a dead volcano. Then I went to the start of the Tongarino Crossing and realized that it would have been mad to attempt the 18 km on my own as the tracks are covered with snow and ice. So a very early start for me tomorrow at 6.30am and I don't want to think about how cold it will be.

Weather here is pretty mad, one second sun is shinning, next starts raining, though not sure my pick is that clear, lol

Sunday, 5 July 2009

New Zealand's Answer to Girls Aloud

Wellinton at sunset

I am getting a bit worried about this blog of mine. I was checking the incoming traffic and I suddenly realized that Google was sending me people who had searched for Glass High Heels......I know why this is happening, the story of that awful drag queen contest.....

Glass High Heels

......and I know that I should be grateful to Google for any traffic they give me, but do I really want to be the Information Centre for people with bad shoe taste.

Walking around town I have discovered New Zealand's answer to Girl Bands. The UK gave us Girls Aloud, South East Asia gave us the fabulous Wonder Girls, who I love, and New Zealand has given us Topp Twins. And they are huge here, lots of posters everywhere, and it is not even Pride time.

I am off to do some trekking tomorrow morning and will be back in a few days, though, this being New Zealand, there is probably internet all over the place.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Wine Tasting

I am now down in New Zealand, on the other side of the world. I am finding it odd that when I get up most of my friends in Europe haven not been to bed, and some are still having their dinner.
I had a great flight to Auckland, as Emirates decided to upgrade me, which is always nice, I just wish it had been for an 8 hour flight - that said, I am not complaining. It was a pity that at 7.15am it was too early for the offer of free champagne, though not for the couple sitting nearby who had clearly been upgraded too.
From Auckland I took an internal flight down to Wellington, where Charles lives. I had not realized that this country is bigger than Britain, and a lot longer, so my idea of hopping on a bus to get there was out of the question.

Anyway, Wellington is a bit odd, well I think all of NZ is odd. There are only 4.3m Kiwis, a third of whom live in a city, Auckland, but then there are millions and millions of sheep, everywhere. And cows, thank God this is not India, cos if those cows were allow to roam free the country would come to a stand still. We actually did, when a herd that was been moved decided to travel on our road.

I spent the first two days catching up with Charles, going to gym, and in general just chilling after Tasmania. Then yesterday we went away for the weekend. Down to one of the wine producing areas in the country. It was a place called Martinborough, cute sleepy little town, that Wellingtonians like for its wine and fine dining...I am grateful to Charles for taking me there, it was lovely, and far off my budget.

Today we went down to Cape Palliser, much more my scene. A rugged, remote and fairly people free part of the region. It has an extremely dramatic landscape, black sand beaches, against a blue ocean and barren hills dotted with the odd sheep that braces itself in the unforgiven wind.
Not only did i get to enjoy the landscape but, for the first time, I also got to see some seals, though I had seen sea lions before in San Fran...they had a baby seal with them, so, so cute, I decided that the Canadian Government needs to be shot for allowing the seal cull every year...

We are now back in Wellington. I have got to stay another day as there are no buses tomorrow to Tongariro Park...I am going there to trek among the volcanos