Monday, August 25, 2008

New Zealand (North Island)

A wet start to our month in New Zealand saw us spending our first day in Auckland holed up in the Library, where we got our first disappointment, NZ is a bit behind when it comes to offering free Wi-Fi. We ended up on the desktops they had available for 30 mins at a time. We did get up the Skytower briefly but as the weather was pretty miserable we quickly descended. The rest of our soggy time in the largest city in the North Island was spent trying to buy warm clothes on the cheap!

We decided pretty quickly to head further North to see if the weather would be better up in the Bay of Islands, it was a little. We did some cultural exploration visiting the Waitangi Treaty grounds where the Maori and British signed their agreement to share NZ and for the Queen to provide protection for them.

As we hadn't planned to stay long in the North Island we quickly continued our whistle-stop tour and ended up staying with Jen and Dave who we'd met in Samoa. Jen didn't stop feeding us from the minute we arrived till the minute we left! It was great catching up with them both, they really showed us the meaning of great Kiwi hospitality!

>From Jen and Dave's we did a side trip to the Waitomo Caves to see the glow-worms, thanks to the rain it was partially flooded so we got in half price which meant we had enough to visit a kiwi sanctuary on the way back. We also stopped off at an Angora farm to see some bunny bondage (see photos for graphic pics...).

On the day we departed from Jen and Dave's we woke to a flat tyre on the hire car so after changing that we said a sad farewell to our new friends in Te Awamutu and headed off to the stinky place known as Rotorua. We had been warned but nothing prepares you for the stench of this volcanic town. We had a wander round the even stinkier Wai-O-Tapu before a soak in the Polynesian spa in town.

Very relaxed we continued on to the east coast to see my friend Abi from home, her hubby Hamish and her little lad Jacob. It was great catching up with them and having a nose round Gisborne and the unspoilt coastline north of the town. The two nights we stayed with them passed too quickly though and we were sorry to leave their cosy house but we were back on the road down to Napier for a night far too soon. We continued quickly onto Wellington to stay with Anna's bro's friends place (tedious link). Danny and his girlfriend Penny were great hosts.

We had a walk up to Mt Victoria the first evening which got our hearts pumping! The next day we visited the Te Papa museum which is NZ's national museum and a great place to while away a few hours out of the damp afternoon. We particularly liked the earthquake simulator house.

On Sunday we had a nice veggy brunch cooked by Danny and Penny before setting sail for Picton and the South Island..


Tuesday, August 12, 2008


We arrived in Apia, the Samoan capital in the wee hours of Wednesday morning and were met by our transfer 'team', three big Samoan guys had been sent to pick us and another couple up from the airport to take us to our accommodation. We watched the sun come up as we passed sleepy villages and packed local buses of various vibrant colour schemes on the nearly two hour trip across the island to the Taufua Beach Fales (pronounced: fa-lays). Each fale was basically a raised platform with a roof and tarpaulin sides to keep the rain out. There was enough room in ours for a pair of single mattresses and our gear. Mosquito net was provided but thanks to the 98% DEET we'd brought with us we didn't suffer at all from bites!.

We had arrived at the beach in time for breakfast which was not only good food but a lot of fun too. All eighty odd guests sit down to breakfast and dinner together each day at two long tables to share the great food that is swiftly brought to the tables by the owners family members and other local villagers. We made some great new friends during these shared meal times and I think they are an awesome idea to help mingle with other like-minded travellers.

Although basic and a touch close together, the fales were right on the best beach of Samoa! The snorkelling was up there with some of the best sites we've ever had the pleasure of swimming. The coral was alive and well thanks to no boat use of the beach and there was an abundance of marine life much of which was new to us. We saw to name but a few; angel fish, parrot fish (blue and green varieties), blue starfish, plaice, black and white clown fish and plenty of others which we need to Google!

Each day at the beach was spent in a similar fashion along the lines of: eat breakfast, apply sunscreen, wait for high tide, snorkel for a while, snooze, snack, snorkel some more, read, shower, pre-dinner happy hour drinks with friends, dinner, more drinks, bed. Rinse and repeat for 4 days and you don't want to leave when the time comes. So much so we extended an extra day at the expense of seeing a bit more of Apia. We had a great time at Taufua Beach Fales and were very sorry to have to leave.


Los Angeles

After the fiasco of getting here from Austin, our car collection and hotel check in were both very smooth. We arrived exhausted so after a quick bite hit the sack ready for a day of exploring the following day. We drove up the coast to Santa Monica beach passing Venice beach on the way. We took a stroll along the beach when we got there. It looked just like Baywatch; people skating and cycling along the prom, surfer dudes waiting for the next big wave, lifeguards poncing about with their orange buoys, all that was missing was 'The Hoff' and a soft rock theme playing in the background.

After that bit of nostalgia we jumped back in the car and headed the long way up to Hollywood and Highlands via Sunset Boulevard, passing Beverly Hills and other posh superstar neighbourhoods. We could tell this by the guys offering to sell us a map of their houses at every set of lights! We didn't feel like doing any stalking though so we were in Hollywood before lunch. After a quick burger and shake in Jonny Rocket's we set off back to the hotel to catch up on some planning for New Zealand and Samoa.

Tuesday morning we checked out of the Royal Century hotel at 11, and headed to do some last minute shopping for Samoa and NZ. First, we went to a 'Recreational Equiment Inc' (REI) store in Manhattan Beach. My kind of shop full of gadgets and gizmos for travelling and adventures. I managed to pick up a new t-shirt as one of mine has been wreaked by the washing machines we've used recently. Also picked up an MSR water micro-filter treatment pump to save us from buying bottled water everywhere. After some other retail therapy we headed to another Mall, this time we ended up watching a film to pass the last couple of hours in the US of A. The Dark Knight was the only film that fit our schedule so we enjoyed that before heading to LAX for our flight to Apia, Samoa.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Austin, Texas

Dave; one of my housemates from Uni picked us up at Austin airport on Wednesday afternoon. Dave got married in January to Donita, but we couldn't attend so it was nice to see him and his new bride. Unfortunately their two children were travelling with their Aunt so we didn't get to meet them.

The first night we were treated to a tasty BBQ cooked by Dave, beer can chicken is a great invention! The net day in an effort to be a little sporty we tried out a new sport called 'Disc Golf' which is basically the same rules as golf but with a frisbee instead of clubs and a ball. Turns out its a good laugh, although the heat of Austin doesn't exactly help with the fun. We had a dip in the local river afterwards to cool down, as the nearby 'river pool' was shut for cleaning. That evening we headed to an restaurant that also had a games complex attached where we played various fun fairground type games for tokens. At the end of the evening between the four of us we had barely accumulated enough tokens to get a cuddly toy... We had a lot of fun though.

The next day we went for a walk in McKinney National Park, which was hot to say the least. Luckily there was a nice natural pool at the end to take a dip in. The water was quite warm so we weren't as cooled as we'd hoped. The four of us went for tasty steaks at a Salt Grass steakhouse. The steaks were so big we had to share one per couple! Very tender too, they just melted in your mouth.

A visit to Texas wouldn't be complete without a trip to a Tex-Mex restaurant, so after spending Saturday lounging round at Dave's like the good ol' days we topped up on the previous days indulgences with burritos, fajitas and tacos. Afterwards we went to see Jurassic Park at a theatre where people commentated on the film like Mystery Theatre 2000 we used to watch. Quite funny in places especially pointing out the continuity errors. We were lucky to be allocated a balcony box where each couple got their own lazyboy-couch to lounge on some more. This I've decided is the only way to watch films at the cinema!

Sadly our time is up in Austin and we're trying at the moment to get to LA. At this point however the poor planning of American Airlines has meant we've spent 6 hours waiting for a plane to take us there. It doesn't look like its going to be ready any time soon either. A comedy of errors by incompetents has meant that our plane needed a part that was in Dallas, which was loaded onto a plane heading this way, that plane broke before it left Dallas too. So they put the part on a second plane out of Dallas only to find out when it arrived that they'd loaded the wrong part! American Airlines are worse than pants at customer service, we've been given $10 (GBP5) as compensation for wasting the best part of a day. Rubbish. I don't think we'll be flying American Airlines again anytime soon, even if they are the cheaper option.

Update: we finally arrived in LAX seven hours late, only to have to wait another 40 mins for our bags to arrive after a change of carousel too. Fed up with all things American Airlines we finally got to our hotel about 8pm tired and annoyed.