Sunday, 30 September 2012

Mud pools, Hakas and sheep shearers

Before arriving in Rotorua we stopped at the steaming mudpools - there’s not a lot I can say about these.  The only thing that you are missing here is the smell - really, really rotten eggs.

From there we went to a Maori Haka.  Great fun, if a little cold, as we had to tour the village before we had a meal.  This culminated with a view of the pit that our food was cooking in.
Just when I thought my nose was going to fall off we went in to the warmth of the marae( village hall) and heard something of the Maori culture and saw some displays of dancing and weapons.  

Then it was on to the meal, which was very good.  It’s interesting how how a pit, some hot rocks, wooden staffs, sacking and a ton of earth or sand can produce a tasty meal but some folk on reality TV with all mod”cons” can’t.
This morning it was on to the sheep shearing, which believe it or not was an interesting, fun show.  It proved that you can train almost anything - dogs, sheep, ducks, and sometimes humans.

Lastly we went to see some kiwis.  Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of these as they are nocturnal birds.  We were able to go in and see them in their own habitats but not to photograph them.  They are smaller than I thought and according to out guide, very anti-social - absolutely amazing nevertheless.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The North Island

We arrived at Picton in the late afternoon which, to be perfectly frank, really reminded me of Largs so I didn’t take any pictures.  After spending the night here we took the ferry to Wellington, the capital of N Zealand.  Our ferries seem to get loaded and unloaded a whole lot quicker than here.  Our guide says that it is because the freight side is more important but in the space of our 3 hour journey we saw 3 other ferries.  One following us, and two others coming from Wellington so there are plenty of passengers.  This is the first ferry that I’ve been on where a train comes on to the ferry to bring freight containers on and then another comes on at the other side  take them off.  I had hoped to get photos but there was just no possibility to do so. 
We had a quick sightseeing trip round Wellington before we headed for Te Papa museum, which was brilliant.  It could really give ours a run for their money.  It’s built on the worst earthquake fault in the North Island so all sorts of things were done to try to protect it.  all the Maori “medicine” people came and cleansed the site, blessed it, and then all modern safeguards that could be put in were including these supports that the building is on top of which allows it to shake but hopefully not fall down.
This is this week’s quirky photo.
We weren’t able to do much more because the weather was just rotten that night and well into the next afternoon. Rain, rain and more rain(although not as much as you were getting).  This meant that our journey next morning was pretty dreich.  By early afternoon it did clear up a bit so that we managed to see Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano which erupts every 10 years with some rumbles in between.  We should have been able to see the two others standing beside Ruapehu but they were lost in the midst.  This area has stood in for Dante’s peak and was used in a number of scenes in Lord of the Rings.

By the afternoon things had cleared up enough for us to see Huka Falls.  The literal translation is foaming waters Falls - seemed quite a good description to me.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Christchurch to Picton

We left Christchurch heading for Picton and the ferry over to the North Island.  Our route took us up along the coast past some lovely beaches and little holiday towns that were just beginning to emerge from winter.
After lunch at Kaikoura we headed off to see the nursery for the  fur seals’ cubs.  Just further along the coast is a little stream at Ohua and the female seals leave their cubs at the mouth of this stream while they go out to sea to feed.  The adolescent seals take the little ones up to the “nursery” which is a little pool under a waterfall. There are no predators there so they are perfectly safe, although having watched a couple of the wee cubs negotiate the rocks in the stream bed I wondered what is “safe?” Anyway they stay up there until they begin to miss their mums when they come back down to the coast.
 Adolescents and wee ones at the mouth of the stream(look hard and you’ll see them)

 Having fun - the green spot is a tennis ball that someone must have thrown in.

  Why are those people staring at me while I’m enjoying the sun?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Mount Cook, Mount Cook

Sorry this post is mountainous. (That’s a pun in case you don’t notice).
We spent a good part of the day up in the ranges looking for Mount Cook and at one point is was doing a very good job hiding from us.

The Land of the Long White Cloud was living up to its reputation, but then......
 it got better and 

 and better

but the Long White Cloud came back.  Never mind only 20% of people ever see Mount Cook - we did!!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

18,869 kms to Edinburgh

Having been as far south as we were going we now headed north again up the east coast.  This time heading for Dunedin - the Edinburgh of the South( I was told).  
The journey was mostly over the plains and paddock(field) after paddock of sheep.  Our guide says that there are 4.5 N Zealanders, there must be at least the same number of sheep, if not more.  Apparently lamb is very dear here because it’s mostly all exported.
The only other animal we saw was deer, which is also farmed and exported to Germany.  Now remember that bit of trivia, it may come in useful at some point.
We arrived in Dunedin in early afternoon and had the afternoon to walk around.  I’m afraid by the time I returned to the hotel I had no idea why Rev. Burns from Mossgiel, Ayrshire felt that the colony he settled here should be called Dunedin after Edinburgh but the folk who live here are very proud of their association. In the centre of town, at the railway station it tells you how far you are from Edinburgh. They also have a piece of Edinburgh Castle Rock there, which was a gift.  To be honest it could be rock from anywhere.  

The station has some beautiful stain glass windows.
The river which flows through Dunedin was meant to be called the Clyde but as there was already a river Clyde up north it was called the Clutha and no it does not have a pub called the Clutha vaults anywhere near it.

Many of the suburbs are built on the hills and Baldwin St in Dunedin is the steepest street in the world attested by the Guinness Book of Records. The photo looking down the hill was not taken by me.  You’ll be glad to know that my camera went up the hill- not me.

Once we left Dunedin we headed for the coast and stopped at Moeraki to see the boulders which are thrown up around this part of the coast.

They are made of a particular type of limestone and are hundreds of years old.  Over time they will begin to break down.

(Hoped you noticed there wasn’t one mountain in this post!) Blogger is playing at silly bees today so this is a bit of a mess

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Halfway between the Equator and Antarctica

We left Queenstown this morning for the Fjordland National Park.  Queenstown is THE holiday resort for New Zealand both for skiing and treking. It sits on Lake W........ surrounded by the mountains. It is a beautiful area although very commercial.

The journey to Milford Sound through the park was absolutely amazing.  The scenery was beyond anything I have seen so far - just one fantastic scene after another.

The journey to Milford Sound through the park was absolutely amazing.  The scenery was beyond anything I have seen so far - just one fantastic scene after another.

 Just inside the national park you are exactly halfway between the Equator and Antarctica.  I’m sure at some point in my travels over the years I have been exactly halfway between the Equator and the Arctic but nobody told me.  To get to the Milford Sound you have to climb up a considerable distance through the Humboldt range of mountains through a large avalanche risk area.  Now I thought  - good story for tourists but in actual fact there really was an avalanche risk.  Several had come down after the snow of two weeks ago and one or two were huge and had actually closed the road. Photo
Once we had crossed the avalanche area we had to go through the Homer tunnel, one of the longest in the world to get to Milford Sound.  after that you go down a switchback road for miles.  I really would not like to be driving a car down that road.  Hairy is the only way to describe it.  All the way down you are very aware of the avalanches which come down through this area.  The mountains are breathtaking.

The Milford Sound itself is half fresh water and half sea water as it goes out into the Tasman sea and finally into the Pacific.  It is actually a fjord hewn out by glaciers. The mountain walls rise up straight out of the water and just about half a mile out from where we boarded the boat to go out to the mouth of the Sound is the highest mountain that rises right out of water - the Mitre 
The scenery on the boat ride was awsome and so was the wild life.  Apart from waterfalls and mountains we also saw fur seals and little crested penguins. Photos
It was a long days driving today because the area we were in has only one road in and out.  It is a protected area so, despite the number of tourists visiting it, the road won’t be improved, just maintained.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

East to west and back again.

Since I’ve  left Hong Kong the temperature has dropped way back into the teens because it’s springtime in both Australia and N Zealand. It is quite strange to see the spring flowers and the trees just coming into bloom when at home we are going the opposite way.  

My tour left Christchurch at 8am this morning. It was barely 5 degrees and it was freezing. This week we are touring the South Island and since Christchurch is about halfway down the east coastwe have to cross the centre of the island through a number of passes to get to the west coast. Basically we need to go through the Southern Alps.  The scenery is just gorgeous.  

Some parts of the road must have been interesting when they were originally cut  through.  It’s still a road that you have to pay attention to if you are driving.   

The west coast consists of beautiful beaches and a number of wee towns.  It’s clearly a part of N Zealand that has not been highly developed. and is a bit depressed.  Apparently until about 20-30 years ago most of it was only accessible by sea or air.  The main industry was coal mining and that has seen a slump particularly since the mining accident of last year. 

Having spent the night in the Fox Glacier township( a town that if you looked the wrong way you would miss) we set off this morning for a walk to the base of the Fox Glacier.  It’s a very invigorating way to start a morning because it’s freezing and most of the walk is done on loose scree - well worth it however.  

From there we set off again to cross back towards the east coast through some of the most gorgeous scenery that I have seen.  One lake after another surrounded by mountains; each more beautiful than the last.  I think my favourite was Lake Hawea where the mountains were mirrored in the lake but really it was hard to choose.  

Two down on the way to the third

The flight to Melbourne to Christchurch was very peaceful (thankfully) and for the last hour the views were magnificent.  We flew down over the Southern alps, which are covered in snow and looked wonderful.  Mount Cook, the highest peak, was poking through the clouds like a wee pokey hat.  Unfortunately I couldn’t reach my camera to take a photo and I didn’t think to use my phone.  I don’t know that I would have done the scene justice anyway.

I spent a few hours wandering around Christchurch.  I really hadn’t realised that Christchurch was still barely recovering from the last earthquake.  The city centre is no more.  It’s not possible to walk around that area because of all the dangerous buildings.  Some, such as the Cathedral, may be able to be repaired - to some extent and others have just been or, are in the middle of being, pulled down.  The area just outside this zone is “remade”.  Some of the shops which would have been in the city are in this area and they are all housed in containers which have been jazzed up.  It’s absolutely amazing to see.  I don’t think I will ever look at a container in the same way again.  

Of course Christchurch was founded by English settlers but a major part of its development and indeed it’s continued development is down to 2 brothers and their family, who came from Riccarton, Kilmarnock.  The river here is called after the Avon water and names connected with the Deans brothers all over the area.  Now I bet that you didn’t know that Linda.  The gorgeous park for which Christchurch is well known in NZ was gifted by them as well as a number of other amenities.  

Sunday, 16 September 2012

One man's art.

Not sure at the moment that you are going to get many photos from here because my camera’s memory card may be corrupted :(
So here’s a brief description of my day.  First thing this morning I headed over to Hosier Lane because it is an art gallery for graffiti.  It’s a very narrow lane which contains a support unit for young down and outs.  They have literally covered every available wall in graffiti and some of it is awesome( just for you Morven) and some of it - not so much. Now this is a narrow, dark lane which has literally been transformed with the colour on the walls and given some of the folk who have done it a voice. While I was there some of the other visitors wanted the walls washed because it shouldn’t be allowed.  Duh! If you don’t like this sort of art don’t go and visit it.
One man’s art is another man’s..........
From there I went on a walking tour of Melbourne which was great fun.  It took in Chinatown, the Arcades which are really just the little streets with roofs over them but they are all victorian so the stained glass, rot ironwork etc is amazing.  Now I did take a picture of this but I doubt that you are not going to see it.  In one very up market arcade there was a dress shop selling extremely expensive dresses and in between all the dresses on show and lining the shelves were dozens and dozens of skulls.  Why?
That’s it for Melbourne.  I enjoyed the visit.  What will I remember from here - the Lanes and the lamb patties with the tzaitski on Turkish roll thing.  Delish!


I arrived here after another overnight flight.  It wasn’t a great flight because a wee one on it only stopped crying about an hour before we landed.  I was quite glad to get off although I wasn’t feeling brilliant.
My hotel is right in the centre of Melbourne near to Federation Square( the equivalent of George Sq although it looks a lot different.)  The buildings are all modern architecture. When I get my photos connected again I’ll let you see what I mean but it’s really too difficult to describe them.  I thought they were really interesting but others around me hated them.  I definitely prefer the architecture of cities like Melbourne from original buildings right through to today.  It’s like seeing someone grow up.  
The layout of Melbourne is a bit strange.  There is a grid system for the city but every alternative road (going horizontally) is boulevard width and the ones in between are not quite as narrow as lanes or alleys.  So the wide ones are Bourke St and Collins St for example and the narrower ones are Little Bourke St and Little Collins - see what I mean?  Apart from Collins St which is the equivalent of Great Western Road the wide ones have all the tat of the day on them - a bit like Argyll St and Princes St now and the narrow ones are where the expensive shops are.  Weird.  Then going vertically theses streets are joined up by lots of little lanes and alleys.  Some of them have amazing shops, coffee house etc in them and some have nothing.  Dame Edna alley round the corner from here has a flashing sign, stars all over the cobbles and is a stinky wee place that ends in a brick wall.
When you go out at night for a meal its one of the lanes that you go to.  There are very few restaurants on the main throughfares but really excellent ones in the lanes.   My favourites, so far, have been in Degraves lane and Hardware Lane.  I loved the big man who told me in a strong Italian accent” You no go down there lady, they be sharks.  Come ‘ere I  give you garlic bread for nutting and maybe my son” I had to eat there.  The garlic bread was good, so was the gnocchi but I left the son.
I’ve come to the conclusion that JK Rowlings as here before she wrote Harry Potter.  There’s a Potter art gallery, a Grainger gallery and Lygon St which is nearly the same and as well as that the lanes could have been where JK got some of her ideas.
Hats off to Melbourne too, it’s the first city that I have been in where the city tour bus costs you nothing.  Same service as other cities but you don’t pay a penny.  Stopped off at a few places including the Shrine which is basically the war memorial but it’s built so that on 11/11 at 11 am the sun shines through an opening in the roof right across the tomb of the Unknown warrior.  I’d read about it and didn’t quite believe but it is possible especially since November is late Spring.  I had a wee “Morven” moment there.  One of the guides was a Vietnam veteran and he heard me talking to another guide about their poppies which actually look like real poppies and came over.......25 minutes later I got away.    At least he was nice the Englishman in the queue for the bus at the square just had a chip on his shoulder.

Onwards and upwards

The Mid levels which are about halfway up the Peak, have their very own escalators to take you up.  They run for a couple of miles from harbour level up to about three quarters of the way up.  Before 10 am they apparently only come down the way to bring all the folk who live up there to work and after that they only go up.  The escalators are covered so that they can be used in all weathers.  It’s quite interesting traveling on the escalators because they start up like moving walkways and become almost vertical moving stairways.  I’m not sure that I would like to come down some of them in the morning.  Anyway I didn’t have that problem.  I just had to walk down hundreds of stairs but first of all I wanted to get up to the top of the Peak.
To do that I took the Peak tram which has apparently been running up to the top for over 100 years.  It was put in for the well to do British and European Victorian settlers who wanted to live up there in their big houses away from the. disease and squalor.  It’s a funicular train and it takes 10 minutes to take you up to the Peak.  Most of the way is very steep although now and again you go hurtling down a wee valley and then up again at some speed before the climb slows the train down.  
At the top(well as near to the top as I was going since I am not my brother) there are awesome views out over the whole of the island.
I did get my photo taken at the Lion gate but you’ll have to wait to see that.  Going back down was very interesting.  The seats were facing backwards and lets just say that you take off at some speed and don’t slow down much.  That about covers it. I’m glad I’ve done it.  I won’t be doing it again.  The wobbles in my knees walking down the stairs after that to get back to the harbour may or may not have been the amount of stairs I had to cope with.
Well that wraps Hong Kong up.  As I said at the beginning I wasn’t sure what to expect of Hong Kong but I have throughly enjoyed it( apart from the humidity).  I loved the wee Star ferry.  I think it will be one of my highlights but so was the sampan ride and for very different reason the trip up to the Peak.  However I think the thing I’ll remember most is the unfailingly polite, helpful and friendly people of Hong Kong
I'll try and catch up with myself in the next 24 hours but I DO want my photos although I know they are not brilliant.  It's a lot easier thantrying to describe things.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Walking in a sauna

For some reason my laptop is not reading the memory card in my camera so you'll have to live without photos for this post.

That’s what it feels like - a sauna, which is not at all grammatical but when it’s 80% humidity outside that is the way it feels.  I’m loving Hong Kong and its people but their weather -  not so much. I really don’t know why I actually bother showering in the morning because 5 minutes after I leave the hotel I feel as if I have just stepped out the shower.  My advice to anyone who wants to visit Hong Kong is:  do it before or after August / September.  All the travel info I read told me about the temperatures; none mentioned the humidity.  It’s been between 29-34 degrees since I arrived and that includes evening and night time.  I could just about cope with that if it was a dry heat.  It’s not.

Enough of that, onward ever onward.  I spent most of the day either in an air conditioned bus or subway walkway for the reasons mentioned above.  I did venture out from time to time but had to retreat back when it got too much.  The plus side of that is that I have seen a huge amount of Hong Kong.  The bus and subway covered the centre and another bus took me out to Stanley and Aberdeen harbour.  I wouldn’t be a bus driver in Hong Kong if you paid me.  You are either negotiating very busy crowded streets between other buses, trams cars etc or very busy, very very steep narrow streets crowded with cars and people.  

Anyway I saw where the handover of Hong Kong took place.  It’s commemorated with a big golden lily since that is the symbol for Hong Kong Kong.  It looked quite cheap and nasty to me but everyone’s taste is different.

The shop keepers here seem to be very organised.  If you’re  redecorating your home go to Johnstone St, Fashion Walk does what the title says, Hennesey St gets you electronic goods and any mall will sell you Gucci, Breitling etc.  Designer goods really matter.  I don’t think I have ever seen so many designer bags hanging from folks’ arms anywhere. As you go up the Peak the shops become smaller and often far more expensive.  Hollywood Rd is just one antique or art gallery after another but the roads that go vertically between are crowded with little shops selling food,stalls selling anything at all, homes and people.

It’s also around this area that you are liable to see homes or buildings from the 19 /20th century sitting cheek by jowl with modern buildings.  I know that the same can be said for home but the contrast between the earlier Chinese styles buildings and the last 60 odd years where any cultural influences in actual building has gone is marked.  However most of the buildings under construction are are covered in bamboo scaffolding which didn’t look at all substantial to me but it’s good feng shui and that is what is important.

My trip out to Stanley and Aberdeen was interesting as the bus followed the coastline closely and as you know I am not the world’s greatest traveller on windy roads.  Think Arran roads crowded with traffic in very hot weather and you’ll get some of the picture.  I (and the rest of the bus) was only  saved by the traffic jams. Anyway we did eventually arrive Aberdeen harbour for our sampan ride.  This is where the Tanka people still live on their junks.  I think that they are probably the Chinese equivalent of our Gypsy/Travellers.  The harbour is really a sight to be seen.  In the midst of some very expensive boats sit all these wee junks.  Some of which look as if they have been plying the water for a long while and others look as if they are the harbour tips.  Not sure that I would want some of them for neighbours.  Apparently the government has been trying to rehouse them ashore for the last 10 years or so but the majority are declining to be moved. 

In the midst of it all sits a huge floating restaurant which is apparently one of “the” places to eat.  I wasn’t persuaded.

I finished the day off by another trip over to Kowloon to eat and to see the Light show which happens every night at 8pm in Hong Kong, but you have to see it from Kowloon.  All the financial buildings, most of the hotels and quite a few boats are involved and it is some sight.  Every electronic geegaw that could assist in making this eye catching is used.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

First impressions 8 September 

I don’t know what I expected to see when I arrived in Hong Kong but it wasn’t what I saw.  To be honest for most of the drive from the airport I could have been anywhere in the world.  The scenery was very similar to what you see arriving in Tenerife except that the multi storeys that populated the landscape were not hotels but actual homes.  The only thing that indicated Hong Kong were the busy taxis speeding by on the motorway system with Chinese writing all over them.
THe journey to my hotel took about an hour and for most of that time we were on the motorway.  It was only when we arrived in the city of Hong Kong that I began to see differences.  While the multi-storeys were still there, the shops, the signs, the decorations, and the trees which were either down the middle of the road or along the sides indicated something new and interesting.
It was HOT as in 32 degrees at 6pm and the heat just seems to lie on top of you. 

Out and about: 10-11 September
I woke early this morning mainly because I’m still not in this timezone.  It was very peaceful sitting drinking my first cup of tea watching a wee group of folk go through theirTai Chi exercises in the park opposite my hotel.  It didn’t give me the notion to run down and join them but I don’t remember seeing anyone exercising like that at 7 in the morning at home.
After breakfast I set off to explore.  I decided to start off with a trip on the Star ferry because one of the travel writers / sites I’ve been reading said that it should be on the top 10 of things to do on your bucket list.  The folk here must have been reading the same stuff that I do because it’s on hoardings all over the place.  It’s certainly an experience.  The ferry terminal are somewhat older than the one that the Arran ferry leaves from -think immediately post-war like a bit out of a black and white Orson Welles film and the ferries themselves are about the same age with the kind of seat that you change the back of of depending on which direction you’re going.  Chugging across the harbour you see tiny, tiny wee boats and huge liners, ferries etc all going hell for leather.  None of them seem to be aware of each other but they must be because there are no collisions.  

The skyline of Hong Kong is amazing seen from the ferry.  Morven would say AWEsome.  I don’t know if I can say yet that riding the Star ferry is on my top 10 because this is just my first stop but it’s definitely something I’ll remember for a long while. Maybe it's bringing back memories of the Renfrew ferry.

My overriding impression of Hong Kong is of a modern high rise city that is clearly one of the financial capitals of the world. The history of the colony isn’t always obvious in its buildings.  Now and again you come across a building from another century but it seems as though most of the buildings that would have told Hong Kong’s history are gone.  The majority of buildings that you can see are, at the most, 50-60 years old.  Many of them are designed to show of the wealth of the companies and inhabitants.  Those that don’t show this could be classed as high rise slums.  I’m sure that some of the folk that live in them could almost reach out and touch their neighbours’ flats.  Only those who have the expensive houses and flat on the Peak or outwith the city have gardens.  On the plus side there are trees, parks and play areas everywhere.

Of course most of Hong Kong is built on very steep hillside so that must have something to do with the types of buildings used.  Apart from the buildings nearest to the harbour everything is on a slope and sometimes a very steep slope.  The buildings nearest to the water are built on reclaimed land and there's a lot of work going on to expand this area.
I hadn't realised just how many young British people live and work here in the financial district.  It's quite strange sitting eating and drinking and hearing braod Yorkshire or Aberdonian in the midst of all the Chinese voices.
I'll have to try and upload some more of my photos tomorrow but the internet connections are not always of the best so I'm calling it quits tonight.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Setting off on my trip

Later this week I'm setting off on a round the world trip.  

I'll be flying to Hong Kong first and from there to Australia.  The third leg of my trip takes me to New Zealand where I will be touring around for about 3 weeks before flying onto Hawaii.  
From there I will be flying to San Francisco and then travelling across America to Houston for the Quilt Festival.  From there I'm going to Nashville and then onto New York before returning home.

The purpose of my blog is twofold.  Firstly it will act as a kind of diary of my trip for me because  I don't think I'll be doing a trip like this again. Secondly it's a way of any family members or friends keeping track of where I am and what I'm doing.  I doubt that it will be the most exciting blog in the world but I will try to use it to document my trip.  

Its not very likely that I will be blogging every day  because hopefully I'll have better things to do with my time but I will try to blog every two or three days. You never know I may become a blog fanatic but  I think that this is highly unlikely.

I'm hoping to include photos on my blog as well but I'm not the world's greatest photographer so this may not work out.  I'm going to try to add a photo tonight just to see if I can do it. It has nothing to do with Glasgow or me it's just a picture I took at Loch Lomond one sunny morning in May.