Whakapirau beach

Not far from where I am currently staying is Whakapirau beach which sits at the head of Kaipara Harbour. There used to be a fabulous oyster processing shed here but it seems to have closed down. Darn, I was looking forward to a delicious feed of fresh oysters. Oh well, I shall have to pick them myself now.

There is a great swing off one of the huge trees right on the beach. Thankfully that was still here!

Waipu Matariki fireshow

Happy Maori New Year! Matariki is the Maori name given to the Pleiades star cluster, or by the name I’ve known it by, the Seven Sisters.

Waipu a little town near to Maungaturoto were having a fire show in celebration of the 2010 Maori New Year. The Maori New Year is marked by the rising of Matariki and the sighting of the next new moon.

Despite the look of rain a good turn out showed up for the 6pm fire show. Not a bad night out for a little NZ country town!

Kaitaia road trip

The best fish and chips EVER can be had at Opononi fish shop. Their breaded hoki fillets are the BEST!

We also took the ferry across at Rawene for only $12.00 it is worth a ride on a beautiful day.

We took a trip up north to visit Steve’s parents. Perfect day for traveling and seeing the countryside.

Hong Kong, China

Love, love, love Hong Kong. The heat for one thing was incredible. Finally bliss to strip off and not have to wear thermals all the time, you need to wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen which would have been good if I didn’t have to toss it at the airport security point!

Our three nights here were fantastic with some excellent meals and just wandering the streets at night where the humidity was still at epic proportions. If you have been to a tropical location before you will also notice that most living bug-like creatures grow to epic sizes including their snails. I was quite thankful not to run into any spiders as I’m not a fan of foot sized creepy crawlies.

HK Disneyland was rather crap but I’m glad I can mark that one off my list of worldwide Disney’s to visit. Even Eurodisney was better. Just really lame rides in HK. I think they definitely go for cuteness and not thrill seeking.

Had a fantastic Korean meal as well as some delicious crab from a local, back street vendor. Still standing so that’s got to be good. Anyway, I would highly recommend HK. We stayed on Kowloon Island near Ya Mae Tai station and loved it. Three days just wasn’t enough time to explore. I wouldn’t bother with the evening light show on the water but the Walk of Fame is great around this area anyway. The cooling breezes off the water are lovely at night.

Getting to and from the airport is a breeze. Everything is so easy and air conditioned. I thought Germany was efficient. They look positively relaxed in comparison to the Chinese. The skyscraper homes were also amazing as were the chaos of people. Even though there are thousands of people surrounding you I was amazed at how respectful people are of keeping a personal space between them. Also, respectful of keeping their mobile phone conversations personal to themselves so you don’t have a constant barrage of mobile ring tones and screaming idiots. Everyone’s phones appeared to be on silent vibrate and then when they answer the caller doesn’t have some ridiculous conversation at the top of their lungs. Loving HK! The same goes for general conversations on the street and the flow of foot traffic. How can a city with a mega population just run so beautifully and be so clean! Amazing on so many different levels. I would visit HK in a heart beat.

Shopping wise -there is plenty of trash to be purchased but the big electronic ticket items didn’t have a cash price difference. We had done all the price shopping before coming here and really there were no major bargains. I did love the fashion sense though. Incredible individual labels if only I could get my western sized butt into any of it!

Any country that you have to catch a train to get to your plane gate, has to be an epic one to explore!

Bremen, Germany

We really enjoy Germany and in particular staying with our friends H and U in Stuhr. The weather was lovely for us (only 1 day of rain) and it was great to slow down after a fairly hectic month. We are now back in Newport with M and the cats. Yes, Clarityn is a must for me with my cat allergies. Blahhhhh.

Anyway, here are some pics from our time in Germany where we managed a couple of bike rides, lots of yummy food (in particular the weiss spargel/white asparagus which is in season at the moment and totally yummy), church services and touring the countryside.

Heathrow terminal 3

We got here from Wales with plenty of time to spare. I was rather thankful for this given we were over the weight limit by a significant amount and at £47 per kilo this required some repacking. What I failed to realise in my rush was that I managed to take with me all the liquids which of course are not permitted through security in the quantity I now held! Some more repacking and sharing the liquids with Steve. Unfortunately my shampoo, fav red nail polish and beloved Olay were among the items that had to go! The young lady working at Krispy Kremes scored big time today, she was chuffed.
We ended up taking the Heathrow Express (yep John, I caved) and paid the £18 each instead of the underground as the bags were too heavy.
Loving the airport with lots of room, ok lighting and plenty of shops to browse. Anyway I have managed to use half my iPhone battery life so far today. Goodbye England, Ni hao Hong Kong!

Gliding in Chippenham

A wee bit of a late post but I really enjoyed my day out gliding in Chippenham. Thanks M for arranging this. It was a great day, perfect weather and really thrilled to see the Air Cadets are full of enthusiastic kids. Wish I had been aware of them as a group to join when I was younger!

I was really surprised to find out that launching a glider isn’t just done by another powered craft but among other things also by a bungy cord attached to a machine at the other end of the field that pulls the glider into the air. Very cool! I even got to fly the glider as well. Awesome times.

To be sure, to be sure – tis Ireland at last

As it would be, no volcanic ash cloud was going to keep me from my lifelong dream of getting to Ireland. Having just returned from France and the ash cloud continuing to cancel flights it truly looked like our trip would be a no-go. Forecasts were not favourable so we decided to can the trip. Our fellow Aussie traveler based in London also thought this was the best call so that was it. Trip over before it had even begun. So much for a long weekend away with my two Aussie girlfriends.

However, never under-estimate a woman who is determined to get to her dream country even if she can’t control the volcano! I woke up on the morning of the flight at 5.30am, did a quick check on my IPhone for the latest Met Office and Ryan Air flight updates. Woo hoo – flights were on. I tossed and turned for a bit wondering if my remaining travel partner from Australia would be keen to go. So I gave it a shot. I quietly tapped on her door and poked my head in. “Hey, would you think it would be totally crazy if we went to Ireland today? The flights are on!”, “No, let’s go!” came the reply.

Next it was a flurry of throwing things into a bag, calling for a taxi and hitting the road. Quick as you please thanks driver! While in the taxi this is when we had time to think about what clothes we had brought with us and whether they were even clean (after having just returned from Lille late the night before). Oh well, you can buy underwear anywhere right.

Three hours later we were in Dublin, Ireland, checking into the hostel that we had canceled a couple of days before hoping that they still had some spare beds. Score! They did.

We spent the next 4 days walking around Dublin, taking a bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren and a train to Kilkenny for the day. You could call it an Ireland “taster”.

I finally got to have my first ever Guinness in a real Irish pub. The Palace Bar had the right old school pub Irish charm to me so it was the perfect place to sample my first Guinness. Can I just say that the creaminess that comes from a freshly poured dark one is superb. As a very strong tasting beer it has come to grow on me (or maybe it is my waistline). Next on the list was an Irish stew. Found a lush stew to mark this off the list however I can’t remember the name of the pub. Great stew but not a memorable pub. Next, what would a trip to Ireland be without some good Irish music. Tick. Try the Celt Pub on Talbot Street. They had a great three piece in here on violin, whistle and guitar. The atmosphere was incredible. Finally, the Book of Kells at Trinity College. Awesome to finally see but in reality the Trinity College library is what blew me away! 250,000 books and manuscripts that all smelt lushly booky in the most amazing room ever! Oh the stories they would tell.

The day trip from Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher was a 12 hour Paddy Wagon Tour. The Cliffs were great and we had a good period of time here to explore. I was surprised though that a vast majority of the cliffs are on private land so you can’t actually do the walk along them. Well, you can but having passed all the warning signs that they use to block your way I am pretty sure you should forget any insurance should you get blown off the edge. Believe me with the gales blowing around there this is a distinct possibility. I did ponder ignoring the signs for a moment (I could imagine Steve already wandering off past them) but my “goody to shoes” mindset kicked in. The Burren was excellent with its barren landscape mingled with the delicate wild grasses and flowers that grow where ever they can find soil. The Paddy Wagon tour was fine but I wouldn’t have rated it as top notch. You get a bus ride, Irish music, commentary and a goodbye at the end. I haven’t done any bus tours before so I have nothing to compare it to. It is an easy way to get around without any hassle I suppose. Just hope you get other like minded, quiet spoken, nice smelling tourists with you on the bus seeing as you share the same space for 12 hours.

In all, were my expectations of Ireland met? To be honest, I had high expectations to begin with. Dublin I am sure we didn’t spend enough time in to discover all its charms? It did make me feel like I should always be on “point” there due to the number of drunken men hanging about. Although there was a large police presence most of the time which feels a wee bit safer it also makes you realise that there are obviously quite a few issues that arise to need their presence. Temple Bar area was OK but obviously just full of tourists. If you want a real bar experience pick something further out of town where you know the locals go. We loved Madigans Bar on Talbot Street. The interior is spectacular and the bar men are efficient and friendly.

The image I came away with did differ from my expectations. Ireland was:
Flatter than I imagined
Not as green as I envisaged
Sunnier than expected (I am sure this was just good fortune and possibly why it was not as green)
Locals were friendly and filled with stories just as I expected (they were fab!)
Filled with more pubs than I expected (apparently there are 1000 in Dublin alone)

I think my desire to see the countryside of Ireland has been quenched at this stage. If I was to visit again I think it would be via a rental car to get into the more remote areas and see if I can dig out a few fairies from somewhere.

Lille, France

Currently in Lille eating pastries, coffee, chocolate and bread. After 3 weeks without running this could be detrimental to my health!

Also saw John Butler Trio at the Zenith on Saturday night. They were fantastic. I was so looking forward to seeing them and they met all expectations. Amazing musicians!

Kit review (no not the car, the gear)

I realised that when we came back from Finland I had completed most of the trip write ups. Then we took off to Paris and I never finished the remaining few days. I had also put together a review on some of the clothing kit we took with us. Thought I would finish this off and post it. I will then have to get on to finalizing the other days and posting them as soon as possible.

We purchased a few items before our trip to Finland but most of the gear we took we use daily in the UK. Yes, how sad are we that we still haven’t managed to acclimatise to the UK weather.

I was quite concerned that I would be cold in Finland but I also didn’t want to take massive amounts of luggage with me. This was my kit list: 2 pairs of fleece lined trousers (shower proof), waterproof pants, 2 pairs of thermal leggings, 4 thermal tops, 4 pairs of mountaineering socks, 3 t-shirts, 3 microfleece jumpers, Berghaus jacket with Gortex outer, Rab Neutrino down jacket, 1 pair of Scarpa hiking boots, 3 pairs of gloves (inner for dexterity, warm layer and waterproof layer), polarfleece buff, hat and of course a cozzie and personals.

The real winners on the trip would have to be the polarfleece buff, Icebreaker thermals, Rab Neutrino down jacket and the Berghaus Goretex jacket. I started out using the Rab jacket for everything including skiing. Then I found I got too hot, sweated too much and this left me with a damp down jacket which was not nice when we would stop for breaks. This was no fault of the jacket but just that I was overdressed for the conditions. So, I switched to doing the heavy exercise in the Berghaus jacket and inner which kept me warm but not overheated and sweat excessively. Then when we had finished skiing I would swap jackets for the warmth of the Rab down jacket.
The buff was excellent and really needed. I pondered for ages whether to bother taking one as all my jackets have high collars and warm buffers around them. In all honesty I am so glad that Steve convinced me to take a buff. It was a permanent fixture on my neck for the entire week. Very useful during skiing to cover your face and ears from the cold. Ice would start to form in my nostrils so I would use the buff to cover my mouth and nose created a warm environment and no ice.

Thermal leggings and tops were purchased from Icebreaker. I baulked at the prices while purchasing them but they proved their worth in Finland. I alternated between a pair of Icebreaker leggings and some cheaper KMD ones that I bought years ago. The KMD’s worked but I preferred the Icebreaker pair for softness, slightly warmer, longer leg length and the ability to wear them for longer periods of time without getting smelly. Sounds gross I know but when you are out bush you don’t have a choice.

Almost forgot the head torch. Steve purchased 2 head torches before we left. These were fantastic pieces of kit especially for the night skiing. Sun up was normally around 8.00am but it wasn’t daylight until at least 9.30am. It started to get dark again around 2.00pm and night by 3.30pm. In short we didn’t get a whole lot of daylight hours. Although quite well lit around the town and the snow manages to provide a lot of illumination in the dark the head torches were great when lighting a fire in the huts or checking maps/signposts on the ski routes. The torches would generally indicate the batteries were going flat (due to the cold) but once back indoors they would come right again. I always carried a spare set of batteries in my inside pocket to keep them warm. Even with the low battery light flashing the torches kept going and never once gave out during the whole 7 days.

We only got temperatures down to -14 degrees Celsius so this is as far as the kit has been tested. The only area I was chilled were my legs. It was bearable but had it gotten colder I think I would have been in a bit of trouble. I generally wore a pair of leggings, a pair of fleece lined trousers and my waterproof covers. A pair of ski pants would probably have been a bit more useful had it been colder. One night Kerryn and I went out for a walk into town to mail some post and headed out onto the lake Aurora Borealis hunting. It was already -12 at the time and dropping so I added another layer to my legs – a pair of my flannel pj bottoms complete with Winnie the Pooh on them (under my waterproofs of course) this seemed to do the trick. I wouldn’t recommend this as a permanent option but in a worst case scenario it worked a treat for me. 😉