Adventures of Frangipan

Friday, 31 August 2007

Portland to Seattle


I woke up early and tried to make it for the 8.30am train (I had a bus booked at 10.30am but wanted to leave early), but wasn't quite fast enough. So instead I got a coffee at the place across the road from the hostel, took a walk around the block, and had 15 minutes on the internet. Then I walked down to the Greyhound station, via Starbucks where I got an Iced White Chocolate Mocha.

The bus journey was fairly uneventful, and lasted four hours.

We reached Seattle at 2.30pm, and I walked 10 blocks to the Green Tortoise hostel, which is right outside the Pike Place Market, one of the big tourist attractions here. It is also a really nice hostel with nice staff.

I unpacked and changed, and had a quick wander around the market. The Starbucks here is the original one, so loads of people were getting their photos outside. I then walked down 1st Avenue to the Online Coffee Company, and spent too much money on the internet!

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Thursday, 30 August 2007

Portland Day 3


I went to Trader Joe's (good quality supermarket) this morning because I decided to spend today having a picnic in Washington Park. I bought strawberries, yoghurt, humous, crackers, and juice. I then stopped at Starbucks en route and got an Iced White Chocolate Mocha, which is now my new favourite drink.

I found a shady spot where I sat and read and chilled out for a couple of hours. It was quite pleasant except for the train to the zoo which arrived noisily every half hour.

I walked around the rose garden and took lots of photos, and tried to get a photo of Mt Hood, but you can't see it too clearly. I found another shady spot and sat reading for a little longer.

I don't know when I got back to the hostel, but I went out again to Backspace (internet cafe) around 5pm. I spent ages there, and had a couple of coffees and some cake. It's a great little place: they have tables with chessboards built in, a stage for live music, a gallery, internet points, and other tables dotted around. Later on, people came in playing cards too.

I don't know what happened today. I have been having a crap few days, but that improved earlier today. Then it all went to shit, and I'm not sure why. I think a lot of it has to do with being stressed about not being able to organise New England. But I'm also feeling lonely and ignored by my friends. And I hate that I feel this way here, because I really like Portland: it has a really great vibe.

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Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Portland is Too Hot

I went to Noah's for a bagel and coffee to start my day, then across the road to Shutterbug to copy my photos onto CD. I caught the streetcar to Downtown (not that far but it was more fun than walking, and air-conditioned), and wandered into Pioneer Square. They put on free concerts around lunchtime most days. Today was some sort of American Idol type thing. Didn't stay long.

I went to Veganopolis (the vegan cafe I found yesterday) for their buffet lunch. It was then that I realised that vegetarian come in all shapes and sizes: not all look like skinny waifs in need of a good meal, vitamins and some protein. Some look like a cross between a pirate and a biker.

After lunch, I walked over to the Waterfront Park. It was very pleasant but incredibly warm. I walked back via a fountain that people seem to use to cool off in the summer. The dads were having as much fun as the kids. I wish I had suitable attire with me too.

I took the streetcar back to the hostel, and spent the evening reading.

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Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Portland


So I got to Portland at 7am, but my hostel wouldn't open until 8am, and apparently it was only a ten minute walk. Luckily I found a Starbucks en route (and one with pleasant staff no less). I managed to pass the time there until about 8.30am, then continued walking.

I checked in but my bed wouldn't be ready until after 2pm, so I put my bags in storage and went for a wander. Northwest Portland is well-organised: the streets are named in alphabetical order, and the avenues that cross them are numbered, so you know pretty soon if you're travelling in the wrong direction.

So I wandered around 21st Avenue, whch is full of coffee shops, bars, and little boutiques. Then I went into the city centre (Downtown) and found an internet cafe called Backspace, which wasn't just cool, but also vegetarian! After spending a little time on the internet I walked towards Pioneer Square and found a vegan cafe. I got a little lost in Downtown, and went back to the hostel once I found my way out!

It's very hot today, and I'm feeling extra smelly since I haven't showered since my bus journey! After cooling down in the shady courtyard of the hostel, I walked up to Washington Park, saw Mt Hood in the distance, and read for a while.

I walked back down to the hostel via 23rd Avenue, another one filled with cafes and bars. I finally checked in and went for a shower, then wandered back to Backspace to upload photos and charge my MP3 player.

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Monday, 27 August 2007

On the Bus

I checked out of the hostel around 10am, then called the hostel in Portland and asked if it was OK that I show up a day early (the hostel I contacted at Hood River were being crap at replying).

Then I got the YARTs bus to Merced, where I got the Greyhound bus to Sacramento, then changed to a bus to Portland.

It was a 17-hour journey, and I arrived in Portland around 7am on the 28th August.

I also sat too close to the back of the bus where the toilet was, and a nasty smell came from there everytime someone opened the door.

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Sunday, 26 August 2007

Yosemite: Vernal and Nevada Falls


I didn't quite manage the 6.40am bus, but I was in plenty of time for the 8.20am. I caught the Valley shuttle bus to the start of the Vernal and Nevada Falls walk, and off I went.

Some people stop at the Vernal Falls footbridge, which is only about 20-30 minutes up the track, and isn't that great. Not even a great view of the waterfall. The next stopping point is at the bottom of Vernal Falls where there is a huge swimming hole. It's quite far off the track, so you have to clamber over boulders to get down there, but it became quite popular later in the day. The next stop is the top of Vernal Falls and Emerald Pool. It's a good lookout to the trail you have to walk, and Emerald Pool is another good swimming hole. And the final part is up to the top of Nevada Falls. Less people do this: it is quite steep and another hour from Vernal Falls. But well worth it. There's another swimming hole too.

I reached the top, took some photos and checked out the view, then soaked my feet and read some of my book. You can continue along the trail (the Mist Trail) all the way up Half Dome, but that's another 4.6 miles. I chose to go back down. The round trip took about 4 1/4 hours. A rainbow had formed at Vernal Falls on my way back down.

I got the shuttle back to Yosemite Village, and had a pizza for lunch. I walked around the museum in the visitor's centre, then caught the shuttle over to El Capitan Bridge, where I sat on the beach and looked up for an hour. It's still huge. Got the shuttle back to the village, and caught the 5.40pm bus back to the hostel.

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Saturday, 25 August 2007

Yosemite: Valley


Everyone in the dorm was moving around, getting ready to go out. I thought I must've overslept, but found it was only 6.20am. So I stayed there until 7am, then got up and went for breakfast. Unfortunately I didn't leave early enough to get the 8.20am bus into Yosemite, and so had to wait until 10.15am.

I eventually got into Yosemite around noon, and picked up a map of the Yosemite Valley. It was so hot. 39 C apparently. I can believe it. I decided to leave the strenuous walk up to Vernal and Nevada Falls, and did the Valley Floor Loop instead.

I went to Sentinel Bridge to see Half Dome as Ansel Adams photographed it. I went to Yosemite Falls which dries up at this time of the year, so it's just a sheer drop and big boulders. I walked quite close to the Three Brothers and El Capitan. I'm still struggling to comprehend the vastness of El Capitan: it's not until you're stood really close that you can tell how big it is. I took a couple of dips in the river, then walked back to Yosemite Village, and got the 5.10pm bus back to the hostel.

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Friday, 24 August 2007

San Francisco to Yosemite

I started the day with a coffee and sat in Union Square while it was still quiet: everyone was already in work but the tourists weren't out yet. I went back to the hostel, checked out, and got the bus to the Transbay Terminal. Only to find out I didn't need to be there: I needed to be at one of the underground stations on Market Street.

Caught the underground to MacArthur in East Bay, and got the free shuttle from there to the Emeryville train station. I met a couple of nice guys on that bus, one who worked for Amtrak. They pointed out the PIXAR head office to me, which is evidently based in Emeryville. Once at the train station, the guy who worked for Amtrak brought me their brochures.

The train journey was uneventful. I read mostly. Got into Merced around 4.30pm and had to wait until 5.15pm for the bus. I got chatting to a guy with pink hair who was going camping in Yosemite for three days, and a girl from Massachusetts who worked on the other side of the park. It was incredibly hot in Merced: stood in the shade not doing anything, and still sweating.

The bus reached the Yosemite Bug Hostel in Midpines around 6.30pm, and I walked up the drive with a Korean guy who was also on the bus. It was a long, uphill way with my rucksack! One of the guys who worked there housekeeping and got to drive a golf buggy around picked us up about 100 yards from reception.

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Thursday, 23 August 2007

Good Day in San Francisco


I got a bagel and coffee from the Vietnamese cafe on the corner this morning: the bagel was good but the coffee was not. I walked along Columbus Avenue to Fisherman's Wharf, which is a little further along than Pier 39. While it was equally touristy and there were plenty of shops selling "I love San Francisco" tack, it was a little more bearable. I also got my first sight of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I took the streetcar over to Castro, since I walked about eight miles yesterday, and Castro is on the other side of town. I walked around a little, bought a couple of books, and got a coffee and cake. Here I found the next people who earned their tips.

Afterwards I caught the bus to Upper Haight and had a wander around the vintage clothes shops. I also found a great cafe near Golden Gate Park, selling organic and fair trade, and one of the few places left to serve coffee in real cups.

I walked into the park and firstly went to the Conservatory of Flowers, which were pretty; and then to the Japanese Tea Garden, which was a bit pointless. I got the bus up to Fort Point Lookout, right near the Golden Gate Bridge, got some photos, then walked a little way out onto the bridge. The phone for crisis counselling amused me.

Then I got the bus back to Stockton Street, and walked to the hostel. Had the rest of my Chinese for supper, packed and finished Da Vinci Code.

So today was much better than yesterday. Castro and Upper Haight were by far the best areas of the city, and with the friendliest people.

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Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Crap Day in San Francisco


I got up quite early to take advantage of the free internet in the hostel and upload some photos. I was out ready to explore San Francisco by 9am. I headed through all the fruit and vegetable stalls of Stockton Street, towards North Beach where I got some breakfast in an Italian cafe. I then walked to Pier 39, which was very touristy and twee. From there I walked along the Embarcadero to the ferry terminal, and then turned up Market Street. Fairly certain I was being yelled at by a crazy tramp as I crossed the street...

I walked along Market Street, then turned up for Union Square, where all the expensive shops like Macy's and Saks are. I went to Borders and bought a couple of books. As I was rejoining Market Street, I passed all the tourists getting their photos of the cable car turning around, and queuing up for their ride.

I walked miles up Market Street and eventually reached Lower Haight, where I had lunch in a Moroccan cafe, and possibly found the first waitress who earned her tip. After that I got a bus back to Union Square, bought some clothes, went to Starbucks, and then back to the hostel.

So today was pretty crap. Pier 39 was full of tourist eateries and shops. The Embarcadero was just a really long walk past all the ferry buildings. Union Square would be great if all I wanted was to shop. And as I found out later, Upper Haight is the nice part. Felt like I wasted the day.

Later in the hostel, I got a Chinese from a place up the road, and I got a fortune cookie with it: "treat yourself to a good book for a needed rest and escape". Who says they aren't accurate?!

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Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Monterey-Salinas-San Francisco

Another pancake breakfast, then repacked all my luggage and it felt considerably lighter. Checked out, then first went to buy a new pair of sunglasses, and then to the bus stop. I got the free bus to the transit plaza, to get another bus to Salinas, to later catch the Greyhound bus to San Francisco.

The shuttle bus went through some of Old Monterey (a little further along than the pier) and I realised what a shame it was that I didn't check it out: it's all old Spanish mission-style and quite pretty. I got to Salinas but had a few hours to kill. I started with lunch in a cafe called "Untamed Foods": all organic and healthy stuff. Then I went to the Steinbeck Centre and Agricultural Museum. The agriculture side didn't take long, but I learnt a fair bit about Steinbeck and could've spent a lot longer there. Steinbeck was born in Salinas and moved to Monterey. The majority of his books are all based around here.

I still had some time, so I walked up Main Street and back down, and spent some time in an internet cafe. The guy who served me was a fan of Paul Oakenfold and UK electronic music, and wanted to go to Creamfields at some point. It surprised me that someone on the other side of the world had heard of Creamfields.

When I got back to the Greyhound terminal, one of the guys who worked there lifted my bag onto the bus. He said I was very strong and said I could beat him up any time!

The bus journey was uneventful, but I was impressed with myself for walking from the bus terminal to the hostel, and not taking any wrong turns! The hostel wasn't exactly standing out though: I was stood on the opposite side of the road and couldn't see it for looking. It was just a door with a small sign and led upstairs.

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Monday, 20 August 2007

Monterey


I didn't sleep well last night: I'm still out of sync, everyone else in the room was already asleep when I went to bed, and there were a couple of snorers.

But I was up at 7.30am, and got ready for the day before helping myself to the DIY pancake breakfast. I left the hostel just before 9am, walked down to the recreation trail that runs along the coast, and walked to Lovers Point. Monterey has a rocky coastline with occassional sheltered beaches. There is a kelp forest here, and loads of seals and sea otters. It also has whale-watching, dolphins and lots of birdlife. And signs warning you that there may be a tsunami due to earthquakes.

So I spotted a few seals and sea otters on my way to Lovers Point, then rented a kayak and paddled over to San carlos Beach on the other side of town. I was told to stay in the kelp and therefore out of the way of the boats, and no closer than 50ft from the seals and otters (unless they choose to come closer).

It was a bit difficult spotting the seals and otters amongst the kelp. You'd think it was a head above the water, and it would turn out to be a kelp leaf on an angle. But there were a few to see on the rocks and the beach at the Stanford Marine Research Centre, and the further I went, the more I spotted. I stopped and watched one (which I thought was kelp until I saw it's nostrils), then it disappeared under the water. I started to paddle off and heard breathing behind me: got a bit freaked out when I realised it was following me! There was also a group of around ten sea otters, who must've felt like an exhibit having six kayaks around them.

I got a bit scared on my way back to Lovers Point because I was paddling into the waves and the wind had come up a bit: I kept having images of me crashing against the rocks! Once I felt safe amongst the kelp near the beach, I stopped to watch a couple of seals in the water. More kept appearing, until I could six around me. I left after a few minutes and headed over to a sea otter closer to the beach. He seemed to feel a little uncomfortable with me there, so I was about to paddle off, when three seals surfaced: two in front of me and one behind, all within about five feet! I couldn't paddle off because one was right next to me, so I just hung on to the kelp and went "oh shit oh shit oh shit", until they all went underwater again. I got out quickly after that, only for another to pop his head up a little closer to the shore! Certainly had some close encounters with them, so I'm glad I went, but I was worried about being so close!

After my wildlife trip, I went for a walk along Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck's book of the same name, and to Fisherman's Wharf. Both filled with tacky tourist shops. I got a crepe and a coffee, then went to the aquarium. I saw a variety of fish that were apparently in the kelp I kayaked through, then went to a show about sea otters. It was aimed at children but it was quite informative. Then I wandered around the rest of the place, seeing some coral fish, penguins, hammer head sharks and loads of jellyfish.

I got back to the hostel around 5.30pm. My feet are now sunburnt, to match my tummy, the top of my back and my neck. It hurts. Spent the evening on the internet and made the mistake of buying a 12-inch pizza for dinner. Managed half of it, but think I'll have to leave the rest.

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Monterey is very picturesque. I can understand why people choose to live around here. If the beach is what you're after, this is much more preferable to Santa Monica (although that was a nice beach). And it's a smaller, more pleasant town too. So it's a real shame that they have all these tacky tourist shops and cheap-eats. I feel that they bring the place down. But maybe the people of Monterey like it.

I should also mention that it's pronounced "mon-er-ay". The Americans drop the "t". I tried that too, but it sounds ridiculous. I don't know what they think when I pronounce it "mont-er-ay", but I have had some funny looks.

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Sunday, 19 August 2007

Santa Monica to Monterey


I was up too early this morning: breakfast hadn't started. Gave me more than enough time to get my stuff downstairs. Had breakfast and checked out by 8am, then walked three blocks to the bus stop, and waited for the #10 bus to take me to Union Station to get my train.

It was a fairly uneventful journey, but it did get me thinking. I didn't venture into Hollywood or downtown LA, partly because I didn't really have time and partly because I was kinda scared. But now I'm not sure why: London and New York are both bigger, and they don't scare me, and I think it's about the same size as Sydney, which didn't scare me. So I probably would've coped fine. But I didn't have much time, and I'm not that bothered about missing it.

Union Station is very grand though. They might not do much rail travel over here compared to flights and cars, but they do it well. The train left LA at 10.15an, and I was lulled into a sleep almost straight away. I woke up before we reached Santa Barbara, which was the only vaguely interesting part of the trip. That was a very pretty stretch of coastline. The rest of the scenery seemed arid. I spent the journey reading (onto Da Vinci Code now), sleeping, and wandering back and forth to the dining/sightseeing carriage.

We reached Salinas at 6.40pm and got the bus to Monterey from there. The driver very kindly dropped me off outside the hostel. After a quick walk down to the drugstore for a new toothbrush, I spent the rest of the evening on the internet and planning tomorrow.

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So Santa Monica looks good. It's all tree-lined avenues, brightly painted attractive buildings, a gorgeous beach and fabulous weather. But, unfortunately it is still a city. There is a lot of noisy traffic, and loads of homeless people. I'm struggling to find hospitality staff who are earning the tips they so desperately need: not too friendly. And like I said, the pier reminds me of Blackpool.

The stereotypes are all there too. Girls really do rollerblade along the promenade (reacreation trail over here) in their bikinis, and girls wander around the shops with their bags draped over one arm, and chatting on their "cell phone". And all the people exercising for fun in the heat, sweat pouring off them...

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Saturday, 18 August 2007

Santa Monica


Had breakfast and went on the internet trying to arrange the next part of my trip. I had to phone the hostel in Monterey, and managed to get the last bed for Sunday and Monday nights.

Headed down to the beach around 10am. It's a very wide beach: it took at least five minutes to get near the ocean! I stayed there until around noon, then walked along the beach to Venice. Once there I walked along the Ocean Front walk, which is lined with stalls selling artwork, jewellry, henna tattoos, clothes, and allsorts. There were also a few psychics and tarot card readers, a few street performers, and the Venice Freak Show, which was something to with animals and they had a snake at the door, so I stayed away!

There were a few interesting things there, but I wasn't looking to buy. It probably was the first and will be the only time I see a guy sat on the bonnet of a yellow Porsche with a snake around his shoulders though.

Anyway...Then I wandered back to Santa Monica, did a bit of shopping, and bought some food. There were lots of street performers along Third Street Promenade too, mostly singers. I went back to the hostel, read, went on the internet, ate, showered, packed. And then went to bed.

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Friday, 17 August 2007

Arriving in the USA


We arrived in LA at 10.45am, but it took ages to get through customs, so it was about noon when I got out of the airport. All the airport traffic and the lack of signs was kinda scary, but I was pointed in the direction of the shuttles, and got one to Santa Monica. It still took until 1.30pm to get there!

I've only been here a few hours and I've already been blessed by God for donating money to help disadvantaged kids, and seen a woman walking down the street animatedly talking to herself.

I had to wait until 2pm to check in, then I showered and headed out. I walked through Pallisades Park, which has a view of the ocean, and along Third Street Promenade, which seems to be the shopping hub. Then I walked down Santa Monica Pier where there is a fairground and a few shops. It had a bit of a Blackpool-if-it-was-sunny feel to it.

Then I decided I was a little bored and in need of a haircut, so found a place which could do it straight away. After that I bought a couple of magazines, went for a smoothie, then went ot the cinema to see Bourne Ultimatum. Which was rather good, but I felt myself nodding off due to jet lag.

I walked back to the hostel, spent a bit of time on the internet, and then went to bed. Here endeth my first day in the USA.

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Leaving New Zealand

Kris went to university around 9am and I sorted through all my stuff, deciding what I needed for the USA and what I could send home. I was left with two bags of stuff to send home, and still a lot of stuff going with me.

I tried walking down to the post office with my stuff, but got about half way there and decided I had to get the bus. It wouldn't all fit into the biggest box they had, so I had to send a padded envelope to, totalling $250! Luckily, I still had a lot of NZ money!

Afterwards I went for a coffee, which was made mildly more interesting by a woman at a nearby table having an epileptic fit. Then I went on the internet again, before realising that I still needed to close by NZ bank account. That only took a few minutes though, and I walked out with a lot of NZ money.

I met Kris on campus for lunch, then we walked back to his halls so I could get the car. I drove him back to his department, said goodbye and then drove to the airport. Glad I left loads of time to get there, because I took a wrong turn and found myself in the public car park of the airport. I could've got out for free except I somehow lost the ticket, and so had to pay $24 to get out. Just for making a wrong turn!

Anyway, I dropped the car off and they gave me a lift to the terminal. I didn't do too much in the airport - had some food, read Harry Potter. Waited. During the flight I read more Harry Potter and watched Zodiac. Qantas seem to think it's normal to put jelly-based desserts with veggie meals. That's the second time it's happened. And the normal meals have different desserts which I could eat. Don't get it.

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Thursday, 16 August 2007

Auckland, Wasting Time


Crap weather today. Kris and I planned to go to the Waitakeres, but neither of us fancied hiking in the rain. So Kris went to university and I went into the city. Did some shopping and went on the internet, and got thoroughly wet walking around.

I got back to Kris's halls around 7.30pm, put my laundry on, and then we went to another common room in the halls because it was his friend's birthday and they were having cake. I already knew two of the girls there (Liz and Vanessa) and got to meet Kim, the girl he likes.

We went back to Kris's room and he did a bit more work while I read Harry Potter. Then he invited Ambre (French girl) to join us for a few beers. Then Joseph (Austrian guy and Ambre's boyfriend) joined us. He didn't stay long, and then the three of us went to Sion's room to watch some Father Ted before going to bed.

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Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Northland Day 2


It was blowing a gale in the Bay of Islands this morning: everyone in the hostel who had a trip booked had it cancelled. I spent a couple of hours on the internet, then went over to Waitangi, where the treaty was signed in 1840. I saw a really big waka (war canoe), the house where James Busby lived, and a meeting house which was opened during the centenary celebrations in 1940.

Shame I didn’t come here before playing Trivial Pursuit: James Busby was the answer to one of the questions: who was the first Resident of New Zealand?

After Waitangi, I drove a little further north to Kerikeri. Another place which is best in good weather I imagine, but it was nice all the same. I had some lunch and headed back to Auckland. When I stopped for petrol, I noticed that I’ve lost a hub cap sometime since Opononi. Not too bothered: it was only plastic and I took out insurance which should cover it. I’ve been saying “hello possum” lots over the past couple of days, but it’s much less fun alone!

Back in Auckland by 7.30pm, and read Harry Potter because Kris had work to do.

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Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Northland: Beaches and Big Trees


On my own for a couple of days now: Kris doesn’t really have any money left, and wanted to get back into doing work. So I headed north. My first stop was Goat Island near Leigh, which is a marine reserve. I took a walk along the rocks and saw lots of fish, and a few seals in the distance.
Next stop was Pakiri Beach, which involved driving along long stretches of unsealed roads. It was a nice sandy beach, and a good place to collect shells, but not really worth the drive. When I finally got back onto the main road, I continued north to Brynderwen, where I turned for the west coast of Northland.

I stopped in Matakohe at the Kauri Museum, where I looked at a few examples of really big trees. The biggest recorded was eight metres diameter, which is painted onto the wall, but it’s still difficult to comprehend. Makes our oak trees sound so small!

By the time I reached Dargaville, I was fed up of trying to find radio frequencies, so bought a couple of cassettes. Unfortunately, they were bad cover versions of hits from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. And you don’t get the whole song either: just about a minute of each, badly mixed together.

So after Dargaville was Waipoua Forest. I stopped at the forest lookout, which had great views, but creeped me out because I was the only person there, and hadn’t seen anyone for miles! So I took a couple of photos and got out of there again. Next stop was the visitors centre, then on to see some really big trees. Time was getting on now: I was hoping to be in Opononi on the other side by 5pm. So I picked the two shortest walks to see the trees. Creeped myself out again when I went ten minutes into the forest to see the Four Sisters: four Kauri trees growing really close together. When I reached Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest, I finally saw some other cars! I didn’t think I’d have time to appreciate the size of the biggest tree in the forest, but it really was surprisingly big: I stopped in my tracks when I first spotted it. Stayed and looked at it for a while, then drove onto to Opononi.

I got some food in Opononi and phoned a hostel in Paihia in the Bay of Islands, then carried on driving. Reached Paihia by 7.30pm, and spent the evening reading Harry Potter.

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Monday, 13 August 2007

Caves and Glowworms


Waitomo is famous for its glowworm caves, and that’s basically the only reason tourists come here. Most of the caving activities, like tubing and abseiling, were too expensive for us though, so we settled with Spellbound: a bit of walking, followed by sitting in a boat in one of the caves, followed by another bit of walking through another cave. If it’s good enough for David Attenborough, it’s good enough for us.

We got picked up at the I-site, and driven about 25 minutes into the countryside. We had a five-minute walk down to the cave opening, and had our photos taken with our hard hats on. We walked a bit of the way into the cave and switched off our torches: it was pitch black, as we expected. We put them back on and walked a bit further, where we saw glowworms with their sticky threads that they use to catch prey. Then we walked a bit further in and climbed into the boat.

At this point we switched off all the lights, and spent 20 minutes going up and down this stretch of the river, looking at the glowworms on the roof of the cave above us. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we could see more and more. It looked like a starry sky, which is the whole idea behind them catching their prey. On the way back out, we left the lights off and stopped at the same spot as on the way in. Now that our eyes had adjusted, we could see daylight and even a few glowworms, where it was totally black before.

We had coffee and biscuits before moving onto our second cave, The Cave of the Spirit. There were very few glowworms in this cave, but lots of stalagmites and stalactites, and some bones of animals that at some point got trapped in the cave.

Once back in town, Kris and I went to the museum and then for pizza, while Freddy and Inga went to The Shearing Shed, where they shear Angora rabbits.

We left Waitomo around 3pm. Kris has had this thing for a few days now: he wanted to make a video of us all doing a Dame Edna impression (“Hello Possum”) when we saw a dead possum on the road. He finally got his chance to make it today! It is quite funny, but probably more so for us!

Anyway, we dropped Freddy and Inga off in Otorohanga, because they were catching the bus south, and Kris and I drove back to Auckland. We continued the alphabet game, and I got a little lost by Hamilton, but otherwise it was quite uneventful.

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Sunday, 12 August 2007

Taupo to Waitomo


We checked out, but weren’t planning to leave Taupo until 3pm. Rainbow Lodge lets you stay all day after you’ve checked out though. Kris and I played Scrabble, which I lost badly, but didn’t have a terrible score. Then we went to Taupo’s mini golf, and both did better than yesterday. I even got two hole-in-ones! Kris had another go at the golf game on the lake.

We went back to the hostel and had another game of Trivial Pursuit (lost badly), had lunch, and I finally got round to writing in my diary for the first time in days!

We left Taupo at 3pm and headed for Waitomo. Played “eye spy” and went through some scary hailstones. We checked into Juno Hall Backpackers, which has a bit of “school field trip” feel to it. The four of us walked into “town” – Kris saw half a dead cat – and got some supplies. Freddy and Inga walked back while it was still light, and Kris and I went for a beer in the tavern. Walked back in the dark, then I spent the evening reading Harry Potter.

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Saturday, 11 August 2007

Napier


Went to an internet café early and copied my photos onto CD to free up memory card space. Also found out that my second memory card had a virus, so I bought a new one to replace that.

Me and Kris went to Napier today. It wasn’t really worth the two-hour drive. We looked at art deco architecture, got an ice cream, and played mini golf, which I lost badly. We went up to Bluff Hill Lookout, then had fun trying to open the petrol cap on the way back. I had to phone the rental company and got a bit angry with the girl on the phone!

Horrible weather on the way back. We amused ourselves with “eye spy” and the alphabet game. Once back in the lodge, we played Trivial Pursuit (back to the good old days!) which I won, and a few beers and supper. We went to Mulligans around 10pm and had a few beers there.

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Friday, 10 August 2007

Rotorua to Taupo


Checked out and went back to Te Whaka for the cultural performance. It was quite interesting having half-dressed Maoris stamping and dancing, and making weird faces at us. Anyway, that finished around noon and we got on the road to Taupo. We stopped at the Wai-O-Tapu thermal reserve on the way. We wandered around looking at the thermal activity. Most of it wasn’t that exciting to look at, but the whole idea of the thermal activity and Champagne Pool were good.

Back on the road to Taupo, and we stopped at the Huka Falls before getting into town. I’m still awed by the sheer volume of water gushing over the falls: two swimming pools per second. Once in town we went to Rainbow Lodge and dropped our stuff off, then wandered into town.

Kris had a couple of tries at a golf game on the lake, then we went to Breakers for some food and a few games of pool. Then we went to the Irish bar next door for a couple, then back to the lodge. We watched Donnie Brasco and I finally got started on Harry Potter 7 – which Freddy gave to me – before bed.

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Thursday, 9 August 2007

Rotorua


Started our day with a walk around Rotorua. There are a few thermal reserves around where you can pay to look at geysers and mud pools and have a guided tour; but there is also thermal activity around town. We started in Kuirau Park, looking at bubbling mud and steam coming off ponds and lakes. It was quite interesting, but there is only so much time you can spend looking at steam.

From there we walked to Ohinemutu, a lakeside Maori village, with a meeting house and church. We carried on along the lakefront and came to the waka, or war canoe; then past the museum and government gardens, a quick stop at the supermarket, and then back to the hostel for lunch.
After lunch we drove to Te Puia on the edge of town to see the Pohutu geyser, which is pretty much always exploding water into the air. When we got there, we found out it was $50 to get in, because you get a guided tour and cultural performance and stuff. So we drove out again, and went to Te Whakarewarewa instead. This is a Maori village on the other side of the Pohutu geyser, only costs $23, and you still get a guided tour and cultural performance. So we had the tour and went for a wander, and we can come back tomorrow for the cultural performance.

We went back to the hostel, then Kris and I went to find a bar. We ended up in The Lazy Dog, which was much nicer than it sounds. After a few drinks we got a pizza and went back to the hostel for another spa, and were joined by two Irish girls.

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Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Travelling Again

Walked down to get the rental car at 11am: it’s a red Toyota Echo. Nice car but took a while to get used to the clutch/biting point: lots of boy racer starts! I met Kris’s Welsh friend Sion, and turns out he’s from Mold and worked in Denbigh before heading over to NZ.

We left the car by Kris’s place, then went to see his office, then met up with Freddy and Inga for lunch. Kris had to leave for a meeting, so we walked down Queen Street and then sat in Albert Park for a while. They walked back to their hostel and I waited for Kris, then we got our luggage into the car and drove to their hostel.

We left Auckland around 5pm and drove to Rotorua, which took just over three hours. Not a particularly interesting journey: it was dark. Really notice the smell once you hit Rotorua though: that lovely rotten egg aroma! Once in the hostel, Kris and I got some beers and went for a spa.

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Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Leaving National Park

Monday.
Last day! I had to show Elisabeth the ropes. All done by 1pm, then spent the afternoon doing the usual TV and puzzles. Went to Schnapps around 8pm. Had supper there because it was being bought for me. Hamish wrote “Happy Travels” on the side of the plate. Ange gave a reference that I asked for: it was really good. Bought a few cocktail shakers and shared them out. Spent most of the night chatting, until I decided I wanted to change the music. Put Rage Against the Machine and Metallica on, and moshed with Connie and Ange. Bad idea: serious case of “mosher neck” afterwards. Disapppointed that Ashleigh and Anna didn’t show up, but still had a fun night. Ange got very drunk and it took Zeus ages to get her home. Me and Ray threw drinks on each other. And finally everyone left by 2.30am, so Ray, Amanda and I had drinks and were the last to leave.

Tuesday.
I was packed and all ready to leave by around 11am. I had so much stuff that I kinda looked like I was moving out! Went over to Schnapps, partly because I was bored and partly because Spud didn’t join us last night. Said “bye” to everyone again, then Cy gave me a lift to the bus stop. The south-bound bus arrived and told me that the north-bound bus had broken down and would be at least another hour. Luckily Clare and Zeus arrived at Basekamp (near the bus stop), so I waited inside with them. Got to Auckland around 9pm and took a taxi to Kris’s place. Good to see him. We chatted for a while, then headed out for some drinks with his friend Liz.

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Sunday, 5 August 2007

Thursday 2nd - Sunday 5th August

Thursday. Woke up at 7.30am, so a grand total of 10 hours sleep in the past two nights. Managed to stay in bed until 10am though (it's my day off, by the way). Paulina finished work and we headed up to the skifield. Really shitty weather, so we headed over to Ohakune instead. We had lunch at Utopia Cafe, then came back around 2.30pm because she had work at 4pm. I was going to go to Schnapps to see a band in the evening, but the weather was still crap, so I stayed in and watched a couple of films instead.

Friday. Supposed to be my day off, but Paulina asked if I would mind helping because there was quite a bit to do, she had slept in, and she wanted to move into Clare's before work this evening. So I worked 10.30-12.30 and just did all the lodge bedrooms, cleaning and making beds. Had lunch, went on the internet, and got ready for work. In Schnapps at 5pm. Worked until quite late, then had a drink with Ange, Amanda and Zeus before walking home.

Saturday. Worked until noon, then had another boring afternoon of lunch, puzzles and TV before going to Schnapps at 4pm, for my last ever shift! Everyone was being overly helpful so I could have a "cruizy" shift. The customers made that awkward. Not overly busy, just ticked over nicely. Spud wasn't impressed with my last staff meal: chips, cheese and pesto. There was a DJ playing at 10pm, so I spent an hour on the door. Three guys started stripping for me because they wanted free Jagermeisters. It didn't work. Finished at 11pm. Ange and Anna were saying "last ever time signing out" and looking worried/sad. I stuck around for a few drinks and danced to the DJ. Left around 1.30am, and got totally soaked on my walk home. Nick and Hamish both told me that it had been a pleasure to work with me.

Sunday. Worked 9am-2.45pm. I chose to do motels, which wasn't a terrible choice, but I did have to refuse to get angry with one couple who left a huge mess in their kitchen. Another unit did leave some Vienetta which cheered me up! My replacement, Elizabeth, arrived and moved into the staff room. I'll be training her up tomorrow, on my last shift. Had lunch, showered, did some puzzles, and went on the internet.

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Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Friday 27th July - Wednesday 1st August

Friday. Went up to the skifield around 9am, and spent an hour and a half in the cafe, waiting for the weather to improve. There seemed to be quite a lot of people skiing, but most of the lifts were closed so they were all using one slope. It wasn't that bad, but certainly not ideal conditions, especially for learning. So I drove back around noon, got some petrol and groceries, and went back to the lodge. Went into work in Schnapps at 5pm. Nothing special. Walked home at 2am with Jo.

Saturday. Had to work today, even though it was supposed to be my day off. Can't complain too much - I did get Thursday off. Finished at 1pm, changed and went to Schnapps for lunch. It was quite busy, and Sarah was there so I ended up having lunch with her, and playing a couple of games of pool. Started work at 4pm, and it got busy around 5.30pm, so it was good that Mike arrived early. Once all the other staff came in at 6pm, I tried doing the floor (basically clearing tables), but ended up taking meals, doing a bit of glass-washing, and clearing tables. Getting frustrated with the other staff, but maybe I'm just expecting too much: like Jeff said, I'm a fast learner. It was quite a busy night but everyone left fairly early, so we were finished by 1am.

Sunday. Worked 9am-2pm. I did the lodge and the vacuuming (no beds, hurray!). Had lunch, did my laundry, went on the internet. Freddy sent me a message saying she'd already finished Harry Potter 7, but some evil kid ruined it for her by telling her the ending. I said she wasn't allowed to tell me anything because I wasn't going to buy it until I reach the US. Watched Spiderman in the evening.

Monday. Worked for a couple of hours. Went on the internet and found out hiring a car in the US would cost be $1000 before I take petrol into account, so I will now be travelling by bus! Went through the Lonely Planet finding names of the local transport companies to look up. Went into Schnapps around 6.30pm: I was in charge of the pool competition. Thought I'd be in for a real boring/easy night since there are so few tourists in the village at the moment. But it was actually quite popular. We had enough people to go from 7pm to 9pm in the speed round, and then we played two semi-finals and the final. Rick knocked a couple of the more competitive players out of the top four, so they played a couple more speed round to get back into the finals. Ray won the competition and the $100 bar tab though, and bought me a drink. Stayed for a couple more with Spud and Rick too.

Tuesday. Paulina's ex phoned at 3am, which woke me up. Don't know why she couldn't just ignore the call, so it took me a while to get back to sleep. Meant to phone Nain this morning for her birthday, but forgot to set my alarm. Left her a message instead. Worked for a whole 15 minutes today! Paulina and Jeff were about to go to Taupo as I finished, so I changed quickly and joined them. We joked that we should've just got a bus from National Park, because we saw loads of people from the village in Taupo. We had lunch in a Japanese cafe, then split up. I chatted to Amanda for a while before she went to the cinema, and I went to an internet cafe. Spent an hour in there, then met up with Paulina and Jeff again. I drove back - lots of fun in the fog! Straightened my hair and watched some TV before running to Schnapps in the rain at 5.30pm. Lots more people for the quiz this week: there were 12 teams and I gave away loads of spot prizes. The first round was taglines from films, where they were given the tagline and had to guess the film. The tagline from City Slickers was there: "Yesterday they were businessmen. Today they're cowboys. Tomorrow they'll be walking funny." One team - The Fuckin Nihilists - put Brokeback Mountain, and the whole place erupted with laughter when I read that out. After the quiz, I had my dinner and staff drink, and joined Ray, Nick, Paulina and Anna. Walked home with Anna and Radka.

Wednesday. Woke up at 4am and couldn't get back to sleep. Got out of bed around 6.45am, got a coffee and phoned Nain at 7am. Chatted for half an hour, then had breakfast and watched world youth athletics until it was time to start work. Both of us should've been working today but it was quiet, so it was just me, and it only took a couple of hours. Spent the rest of the day going through the US stuff I got off the internet in Taupo, and doing puzzles. Went into Schnapps at 4pm. There was a strange lady in, who shared a bit too much. Told us she was on a date with a guy, but wasn't that attracted to him, and wasn't into casual sex. We later foiund out she'd apparently escaped from a mental home! It was a really quiet night otherwise, so we closed up at 9.30pm, then headed down to Basekamp where they were celebrating Swiss Day. Aside from the music - which reminded me of Eurovision - it was a fun night.

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