Australia and Oceania, Asia · 159 Days · 55 Moments · December 2017

A Flan on Tour

18 May 2018

We had planned a kayak in the bay for our final day in Cat Ba. Unfortunately we had had one too many drinks the night before. This left us pondering whether we could actually kayak in the midday sun whilst I was struggling to even keep my lunch down in a local cafe. However, after finishing what I still believe to be a miraculous tuna baguette I felt infinitely better and we followed through on our plan. We kayaked through the beautiful limestone bay and finding what we thought to be a public tropical beach we stopped off for a quick dip. We were soon informed that this was a private island and that he had to leave immediately. I got my kayak into the water with beautiful grace and floated back out to sea. It was from here that I watched the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen as Kieren and Ricky try and fail repeatedly to get into their kayak. Imagine the chuckle brothers, cupping water out of a flooded kayak. The guy who had told us to leave lent a hand to get us off his beach

14 May 2018

From Sapa we made the short journey to Lao Cai where we would get the sleeper train. We then had a short 5 hour wait until we could actually board it. Thankfully when we finally boarded the train we realised that it was a lot nicer than our previous train, with not a cockroach in site. The night was passed playing games, drinking beer and then trying to sleep whilst convinced we were going to fly off the rails at any moment. Unfortunately, the train arrived into Hanoi at 4am, so deliriously tired we sat in coffee shops waiting for our coach at 11am. The coach took Ricky, Kieren and I to Cat Ba where we were welcomed to sunshine and a hotel with a mountaintop swimming pool. The next day we hiked in the National Park and visited the beach. We hired bikes for this venture and Kieren managed to leave the key in his pocket whilst swimming in the sea. The hotel owner was not pleased and Kieren had to fork out for the mechanic costs. He was never trusted with a key again.

12 May 2018

We set off from Son La to Sapa on what would be our final big ride in Vietnam. The weather started off nice but the roads were incredibly bumpy and (still suffering from the night before) the going was tough. Finally the bumps stopped and we were treated to some smooth roads and beautiful views, however, shortly after, the heavens opened and we took shelter in a cafe. We eventually decided the rain wasn’t going to stop and took off again in our fashionable rain macs. The rain eventually stopped just as we climbed high into the sapa hills and we were treated to what is probably the best view I’ve seen on my travels at Heaven’s Gate. I couldn’t complete my final journey without one final breakdown... my first flat tire since starting from HCM. Nevertheless we made it into Sapa where the wheel was quickly fixed. Our hostel overlooked the stereotypical Sapa stepped hills. We used our time in the town to see the waterfalls which were stunning, and the market which was somewhat lacking.
In Mai Chau we awoke to the sound of constant cockerel calls at 3 in the morning. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the rice wine headache I had somehow acquired. The building works across the road at 6am finished the job, so that we were all up bright and early. The journey to Son La was hot, but filled with incredible landscapes which changed every 30 minutes. Once we arrived in Son La we quickly realised that it was only a stop off point before Sapa with nothing of interest to see or do. Whilst eating some questionable ‘food’ in a local bbq place we were trapped by a thunderstorm, with pouring rain, howling winds and flashing lightning. We retreated to our hotel, but soon decided to cross the road to the local karaoke joint. Here we finally decided to embrace the Asian karaoke culture and hire a private booth. The next hours are hard to describe, but there was a lot of beer, a ton of harmonising, a hint of rap... and a smidgen of Britney Spears.

10 May 2018

Jamie and I managed to break down only 2 times on the way back to Hanoi. We hoped to sell the bikes that day so that we could rent some decent scooters for the journey north. This proved more difficult than we first thought. Every person we approached took one look at battered old Mary and turned their nose up. I even managed to drop the bike on the floor in front of one possible buyer after not putting the kick stand down properly... this didn’t help my chances. After much negotiation I finally sold her for 1.5 million vnd, which just covered my rental costs. Ricky and Kieren arrived the next day and we introduced them to Hanoi nightlife with some 5k beers on the road side. The next day we collected our rentals and set off for Mai Chau. The journey was beautiful and we had glorious sunshine. When we finally arrived at our stilt house homestay in Mai Chau we were greeted with local food and rice wine. Needless to say it was a drunken night spent in the few local ‘bars’ in town.

5 May 2018

Ninh Binh is one of the most beautiful places any of have seen with huge cliffs jutting out of nowhere. Whilst exploring Bich Dong pagoda a man jumped out of the bushes. He gestured to us that he was both mute and deaf and that he’d like to show us the way up the cliff side. We reluctantly followed the strange man as he made peculiar noises and gestured erratically. By the time we reached the top we were seriously questioning the sanity of this man and whether we should be so close to a cliff edge with him around. However, it all ended well and the view from the top was well worth the climb. We also ventured to the Mua caves where we climbed the hill top for some more spectacular views. It was in Ninh Binh that we separated from Izaak and Danni as they set off early for the north in the hope of getting more done before the journey home. Jamie and I remained to tan, eat and sleep. We met up with Jamie’s work colleague and witnessed an incredible thunderstorm that cut off the power.

3 May 2018

We survived the rain in Cat Ba and headed off on the final leg of our journey from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. Amazingly, the bikes made the journey without any set backs, the only issue being idiot drivers on the crazy roads leading into the city. We spent a few days in Hanoi and met up with Bov who had come to visit from South Korea. Our time in Hanoi was spent mostly eating (as usual) and getting far too drunk. At the end of our night out with Bov we returned to the flat and as per decided to have a music session before bed. Izaak and danni wisely decided not to partake and to retreat to their bedroom. However, no walls could save them from the harrowing sounds that followed, as once again Jamie and I got far too into our harmonising. This continued for a solid 2 hours until Izaak apparently just trying to ‘scare’ us, lobbed a pan lid down the stairs. We were quiet after that. We said goodbye to Bov and hopped back on the bikes to get out of the city and head down to Ninh Binh

30 April 2018

The weather in Cat Ba wasn’t exactly up to tropical island standards with cloud, cloud and more cloud. Nevertheless, we explored the island’s jungle, climbing up to the top of one of the steep mountains in the sticky, humid heat. All of us were drenched in sweat once we reached the summit but the view was well worth it. The next day we decided to kayak to monkey island. I was certain the woman we were renting the kayaks off was trying to rip us off, but at the end of a very long, slow boat journey we did eventually find the kayaks we had rented in the middle of the bay. It was a long journey to monkey island and we found it disappointing when we arrived and found a single monkey on the beach. However, whilst we sat and drank beer several more arrived and soon they were attacking tourists and stealing things (exactly what we wanted). On the last day we were treated to some tropical weather. We took shelter in a cafe all day from a horrendous down pour that flooded the streets.

22 April 2018

The journey from Phong Nha to Cat Ba was horrible. Refusing to ride anywhere without easily accessible mechanics, we rode on dirty A roads with huge coaches honking in our ears for over 7 hours a day. This was only broken up by the next long wait in a mechanic whilst one of our bikes is once again ‘repaired’. Jamie swiftly bought a bike within half a day of leaving his at the mechanics and we were back to 3. My bike was the next to break down when just 20 mins into the day the gearbox exploded outside Vinh. One mechanic took it apart and said he could fix it for 2million vnd. He wasn’t too impressed when we told him to put it back together again because we didn’t have that money. Luckily the next mechanic managed to fix it up enough to get moving again. Beyond all odds we made it to the Cat Ba ferry on the day we said we would, just hours behind Danni. The past week has been the hardest riding so far and we are all glad to be off the bikes and enjoying the island life for a few days

19 April 2018

The trouble after Phong Nha all began with a flat tire. Jamie’s bike was the culprit. However, we thought our luck might have changed when a truck pulled over immediately to take the bike to a mechanic... we were wrong. The mechanic fixed the tire but the bike wouldn’t start again. This led to us sitting in the boiling sun all day in the middle of no where whilst this man ‘fixed’ the bike. We eventually resigned ourselves to staying in the area and cancelled the journey onwards. By around 6pm the mechanic was satisfied that he’d fixed Jamie’s bike and demanded 2.2 million vnd (£70) for his hard work. In reality the bike was still broken and as Jamie test drove it to find an ATM it once again broke down. Jamie was stuck in a lose lose situation and decided in the end that paying this mechanic an extortionate amount for a broken bike was too much. We left the bike there, promised to return in the morning and got out of there, one bike down.
Our arrival in Phong Nha coincided with Jamie’s birthday and we celebrated in style by hiring bicycles and setting out for a pub crawl in the beautiful countryside. The area around Phong Nha is littered with water buffalo and vibrant green fields. This peaceful scene seemed at odds with three boys flying down muddy hills, struggling to control bicycles with one hand whilst swigging a beer. The next day we had planned to visit one of the several huge caves in the area. We were very hungover but had no time to waste. In the end it was an amazing day filled with zip lines, river swims and mud baths. There was a total wipeout style obstacle course set up high above the river which we were advised not to try due to previous broken arms and dislocations. It goes without saying that we ignored this advice and headed immediately for the zip line that took you to the course. We soon learned why so many people had hurt themselves, with the bruises to show.

16 April 2018

2/2: We took turns leading the way on the horrible windy roads, narrowly dodging cows and rocks. The two behind could only follow break lights. We were well aware that any breakdown here would be a disaster with no one around for miles and no where to sleep. On various occasions each of the bikes looked ready to stop working completely. Eventually, after hours of driving like this and almost out of petrol we left the Ho Chi Minh trail and stopped at the first motel we found 12 hours after setting off. This motel was the worst place we’ve stayed in with huge spiders everywhere and disgusting dirty sheets. We slept in our clothes and agreed to leave as soon as we woke. On the drive the next day Izaak broke down and we spent the time waiting at the mechanics with an old man who (we think) told us that he was shot during the war. I played him some music and he seemed relatively impressed. Finally we arrived at Phong Nha where we could celebrate Jamie’s birthday and surviving the night.
1/2: After saying goodbye to the parents we spent our remaining time in Hue at the beach topping up tans. We then met Danni’s brother and left Danni with him whilst we set off for Phong Nha. We woke up late on the day of travel (possibly due to a hangover) and didn’t set off until almost midday. We expected a long journey and didn’t mind driving through the night but nothing could prepare us for what lay ahead. It wasn’t until we stopped for a routine map check at what we thought to be the half way point that we realised we had completely underestimated how far we had committed to riding and how long it would take with still almost 300km to go and light fading. Undeterred we pressed on and as the light faded, the rain drew in and the fog surrounded us, the Ho Chi Minh trail turned into something out of a nightmare for 3 boys on barely working bikes. The mist was so thick that the road had disappeared and we didn’t pass anyone for hours in probably the remotest place we’ve been.

10 April 2018

In Hue after possibly one too many drinks and saying goodbye to the rest of the group who sensibly retreated to the hotel for an earlier night, Jamie and I set out on a mission to befriend some locals. We had no luck in a busy locals bar so retreated to a cool bar we’d visited earlier. The 4 guys in there were all listening to music and rapping in Vietnamese. Seeing this as an opportunity to befriend some locals Jamie joined in with some beatboxing which they seemed impressed with... until one of them showed us his incredible beatboxing skills. Undeterred I asked them to teach me how to dance and so proceeded a series of dancing lessons which ended with me with my top off playing some weird fighting game. Little did we know, this bar is a hip-hop Mecca that people travel to from all over to rap with these guys and there we were... the least hip-hop guys in the world, trying to blend in. The next day we visited the imperial city, site of one of the bloodiest battles in the war.

8 April 2018

After Hoi An we travelled to Da nang where we explored the marble mountains and drove up to the lady Buddha, a huge white statue on top of a misty mountain. From here we made the beautiful drive to Hue through the Hai Van pass. We were within touching distance of our destination when I decided to throw myself over the handlebars of my bike after breaking too hard for a red light. As I skidded down the road past my brother and Jamie mum and dad watched the spectacle from behind in all its glory. 1 month without a serious bike incident and I decide to have one right in front of my parents. Luckily I survived with just a few grazes, a sore shoulder and a bruised ego. I struggled to get my bike started again at the side of the road much to the amusement of the locals who pointed out each of my injuries just to remind me, but I managed to get her going and we completed the journey.

31 March 2018

Once we met up with the parents in Hanoi we were free to explore. The city is an absolute hive of activity constructed of old beautiful buildings with lots of character. The streets are almost impossible to walk down with scooters whizzing past you tooting their horns. We explored the night markets, picking up some cheap treats for ourselves and ate some delicious bun cha in the same restaurant as Obama. We also managed to find some pho that we actually enjoyed, probably because it wasn’t eaten at the side of a dirty road and full of mystery meat. From Hanoi we caught the sleeper train to Da Nang. With 6 of us squeezed into the noisy, dirty, cockroach infested cabin it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t get much sleep, but it was almost worth it for the beautiful sunset we saw when we woke up. We then spent 2 days in Hoi An, famed for its cheap suits and beautiful river side. The whole town is covered in lanterns which at night looked amazing reflected in the still water.

28 March 2018

Having booked our flights to Hanoi we had a few days in Da Nang to relax. This meant eating lovely street food and wandering the crazy streets. We had lunch one day in a local surf pub ran by a Vietnamese woman who was a translator for the US army during the Vietnam war. The pub was littered with pictures from her past and the food, a combo of Vietnamese and American, was amazing. We decided to rent a couple of boards from her and try our hand at surfing. Izaak did well... I was useless. Our last day we decided to get drunk in an attempt to relax ourselves for the flight. However, the drinking started at around midday and our flight wasn’t until 10.45pm, so we knew we were facing an uphill struggle to maintain our buzz. Many bars and some Chinese food later, and by the time we boarded the flight everyone was half asleep. Izaak spent the flight in a daze like a tranquilized animal dribbling against the window whilst I was annoyingly awake. Nevertheless we made it to Hanoi.

23 March 2018

In Quy Nhon we stayed in one of our best accommodations so far. A hostel 10 metres from a beautiful beach with rolling waves. We spent the majority of our time there in a bar next to the sea, drinking cocktails and listening to the waves before stumbling back to our hostel for a drunken band session.. queue the guitar, ukulele and harmonica at 2 in the morning. Jamie’s bike exploded on a routine trip to town and a mechanic once again stripped it down and put it back together with questionably positive results. We travelled to Quang Ngai next and visited the My Lai memorial museum. This is the site of a massacre during the Vietnam war in which 504 Vietnamese peasant members of Son My village were murdered by US troops in a horrific fashion, with the victims including many women and children. The place was very quiet which made it somehow even more impactful. From Quang Ngai we made the two day journey to Danang where we’ve been enjoying the street food and trying out some surfing

20 March 2018

On the last day spent in Nha Trang we decided to treat ourselves to a beach day. We set off in our trunks with packed towels and almost made it all the way to the beach before Izaak got a flat tire. I think we all knew instantly that the day was ruined. We spent hours traipsing around the local town which was very lacking in mechanics and had some mystery meat soup from a road side cafe. The wheel was finally fixed after lunch but as we drove off Izaak’s bike started smoking and sputtered to a halt. We had to tow it back to the mechanics, getting very strange looks from locals. We finally made it to the beach just in time to see the sun disappear... Half the bike journey from Nha Trang to Quy Nhon was on a very boring motorway with huge trucks beeping past us every 2 seconds, but the second half made up for it with beautiful coast line. We’re currently chilling by the beach in Quy Nhon sheltering from the stormy weather and hoping for sunshine!

15 March 2018

The journey from Da Lat was breakdown-free but we did encounter a torrential downpour which led to us taking shelter with several other drenched bikers in a man’s hut. Nha Trang itself is a bit of a commercialised town, full of wealthy Russians and Chinese. Our first stop was Ba Ho Waterfalls for some cliff jumping. We had to essentially rock climb up this beautiful waterfall. Once we got to the top I spent a ridiculously long time trying to psych myself up to jump into the (possibly crocodile infested) water. We then ventured down to the next waterfall where locals were jumping from a ridiculous height. I stood looking from the top with no intention to jump but peer pressure from jeering locals and onlookers convinced me to have a go. After many failed attempts at making my body work I eventually jumped. It was so high it completely took my breath away. The street food we’ve had in nha Trang is the best yet. BBQ’d duck and roasted pork mince in fried rice paper.

13 March 2018

In Da Lat we finally decided to get our bikes looked at by a mechanic. With the use of google translate we carefully constructed a list of problems, of which mine definitely seemed to be the longest, and headed to town. The non-English speaking mechanic took one look at the the jibberish we had scribbled down and waved it away, asking for one problem only to fix. I said ‘the power’ and he quickly took the scooter apart and put her together again happy that he had fixed the problem before doing the same with Jamie’s. Satisfied, we paid the man and drove off but I quickly realised that nothing had changed. The rest of the time here has been spent exploring the waterfalls, one of which was accessed by a self driven alpine roller coaster. This was a lot of fun but the lack of health and safety in Vietnam and the signs everywhere which blamed the customer for any health dangers made us very tentative on the corners. We also went round the crazy house and a bar that is designed as a maze.

12 March 2018

After exploring the jungle in Cat Tien we set off on the 2 day journey to Da Lat. Everyday we set off on a new days ride with a chorus of stuttering engines and worried looks as we struggle to get each bike going, but the old battered bikes are trudging on. First stop off was Gia Nghia. We felt like celebrities (or freaks) here as everyone stopped to stare at us, not used to the sight of westerners. One man asked for a picture with us in front of his shop, eager to entice more customers. Our hotel advertised karaoke, so that night we ventured to the top floor to give it a look. We found an empty restaurant but for one table of Vietnamese men, each taking it in turns to blast out a ballad, so we swiftly made our exit. The drive to Da Lat was stunning and the roads felt like our own personal race track as we sped down hills and struggled up them again. Da Lat itself is a nice (but cold) little town nestled in the mountains which we’re excited to explore.

9 March 2018

We packed our bikes in Trang Bang and made the 7 hour journey to Cat Tien National Park. The bikes seemed to be coping well but whilst on a routine drinks stop we witnessed a Vietnamese man on a scooter plough head first into a tractor just down the road from us. We all took stock, reminded ourselves to always be wary of what’s around us and headed off again. Mine was the first to break down on the first bit of bumpy road we encountered, 2 hours from our destination. I free wheeled it down the hill to a shop and luckily a group of locals stopped to help. One got her going again and all he wanted in payment was a pound coin. Cat Tien itself is a beautiful low lying jungle full of monkeys, snakes and crocodiles. The first day we walked over 15km to crocodile lake and managed to spot a little crocodile munching on a fish (luckily we got a lift back). Picture 4 shows the moment I saw a snake. The second day we visited the gibbon sanctuary where they rehabilitate monkeys for the wild

6 March 2018

The journey to Trang Bang was relatively uneventful but we soon discovered that Izaak’s bike is far too loud, Jamie’s bike makes a strange high pitched whirring and mine back fires any time I let off the throttle. We are driving through Vietnam incredibly inconspicuously... as if we want to be pulled over by the police. Once in Trang Bang we drove to Cu Chi and crawled through the (very tight) original tunnels used by the Vietcong during the war. On the return journey we were caught in a downpour. We took shelter in the one cafe we found, empty but for the elderly owners. The menu was entirely in Vietnamese so, thinking with my wallet, I pointed at one of the cheapest things. My tight nature came back to bite me as the man returned with a boiling pot of snails for us all. The woman dished them up and eagerly watched us, waiting for us to try. We each had to chew down a slimy morsel before she was satisfied. Sometimes the cheapest thing is not the best option

4 March 2018

Before arriving in HCM I arranged two bikes for Jamie and I. When we arrived at the very dodgy looking homestay where the bikes were being sold we found an even dodgier guy. One of the bikes was perfect... the other looked like it had been half-heartedly pieced together from random parts. We bought the one that looked like it wouldn’t fall apart after 1 day and met with Izaak who had found another. With the bikes sorted we were ready to enjoy the city. We visited the war remnants museum, giving a horrifically detailed account of the horrors of the Vietnam war, and wandered around the city stopping at quirky coffee shops and food markets. I made my favourite purchase so far of a handmade guitar from Guitar street, where old Vietnamese men craft beautiful instruments. One particularly drunken night we unknowingly stumbled onto the Saigon strip littered with seedy bars and neon signs. Tomorrow we say goodbye to HCM and the adventure on our bikes begins

27 February 2018

We arrived in Sihanoukville and met Jamie at our hostel before boarding the speedboat to Koh Rong. Koh Rong is an island off the southern coast of Cambodia with beautiful sandy beaches and jungle like trees. I was still suffering from stomach troubles but at least I could suffer in beautiful surroundings, although the drunken night we spent stumbling around the island bars probably didn’t help. After a few days in paradise we returned to Sihanoukville and caught our plane to Ho Chi Minh. Having heard mixed things about HCM I didn’t know what to expect but I was definitely pleasantly surprised. The people are lovely, the food delicious (and cheap) and the roads are chaos as thousands of bikes squeeze into whatever gap they can find. As we scour the streets looking for bikes to buy, dodging scooters left right and centre, it becomes more and more daunting that once we find them we will actually have to ride them on these roads

26 February 2018

Shortly after leaving Pnohm Pehn station we realised we had boarded the slowest train in the world to Kampot, but it was well worth the journey. Kampot is a countryside town surrounded by jungle and farm land, and it was here that i had my first brush with food poisoning, leading to a restless night and half a day in bed. After a quick recovery I caught up with Izaak and Danni on a rented scooter and we explored Kep beach and The White Elephant caves together. The next day we headed to Bokor National Park, a beautiful elevated jungle. At the summit is an old colonial church and huge abandoned hotel, making for a strange scene as we ate the boiled rice and (questionable) bbq chicken that we bought at the top. On the way down we visited a waterfall which was disappointingly dry, but still home to thousands of white butterflies which clung to the rock in groups. It was a very fun road to test out my new scooter skills as we wound back down to earth.

18 February 2018

The journey from Auckland was comfortable enough and as we passed over Kuala Lumpur I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises as the sun set fire to the Malaysian clouds. As Izaak drove me into Siem Reap on the back of his scooter it was clear that Cambodia was going to be unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. The next few days in Siem Reap consisted of lotus farms, beautiful food and chasing the Angkor Wat sunset on our scooters (which may or may not have caused me to loose my balance on a particularly sandy corner). From here Claire and I caught the coach to Pnohm Pehn, which is a much busier and more stressful city. The city, and Cambodia, have a dark recent history and we visited the killing fields to learn about the Khmer Rouge genocide which was as interesting as it was harrowing. Here innocent civilians were taken to be executed. After spending a couple of days avoiding tuk tuks on the busy streets of pnohm pehn we are headed to (the much quieter) Kampot.

14 February 2018

Getting out of Wharangai proved more difficult than we imagined when the orange liquid leaking out of the bottom of Naomi’s 1994 Toyota turned out to be from the radiator and not ‘definitely just rust’ as we earlier thought. $400 later and the radiator was replaced but the battery had also decided not to work. After a jump start from the mechanic and an agreement not to turn the engine off until Auckland we headed off. The car stayed together all the way to Auckland and we had a good couple of days before Naomi returned to her bar job in Tauranga. I spent my last night at an open mic in Auckland trying to build up the courage to perform with alcohol and ending up too drunk to play. Nevertheless it was a good night spent with a friend from Hawke’s Bay and a couple of others. Sitting in Auckland airport I am both sad and excited. Sad to leave behind this beautiful country and all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way but excited for the adventure ahead. Bring on the next one...

10 February 2018

The weather for my last week in New Zealand has dramatically turned from 30 degree heat to cyclones and rain, making hitchhiking a real challenge. Nevertheless I made it to the coromandel peninsula where I explored the hot water beach - a beach where you can dig in the sand and make your own heated pool from the hot water underneath. Next I headed to cathedral cove, a beach famous for its beauty (I did well to get atleast one picture without the crowds of tourists in the way - probably cause of the torrential rain). Luckily I met a girl in tauranga with a car and she agreed to take me up to northland. So today we drove up here and found the sun again hiding in Wharangai, that is before the thunder, lightning and torrential downpour that night.

7 February 2018

After two rides from Tauranga I arrived in Matamata which is famous for one thing and one thing only... Hobbiton. It is the most touristy thing I’ve done so far but I felt like a little kid on Christmas Eve as our bus pulled along the rolling green hills on the way to the set. I loved every second. The free stout in the Green Dragon at the end of the tour was delicious. The place is so perfect that I debated stowing away in a hobbit hole and never leaving. The next day I rented a bike from the hostel and cycled out to Wairere falls. Every time I’ve cycled so far I think it’s an amazing idea until half way down the road when I remember that I hate cycling. However, the view was definitely worth it as I dangled my legs off the 153 metre high waterfall (click on the last picture)

5 February 2018

After a couple of days in Napier stuck in time I hitched to Gisborne. A nice kiwi woman took me the whole way and told me all about the area for the 4 hour drive. There was little to do in Gisborne but the main reason I was there was to find a lift to the nearby natural water slide that people raved about. Luckily I met a Dutchman called Klaas in my hostel who was driving through the next day and on to Auckland, meaning he could drop me at my intended destination of tauranga at the end of the day. The water slide was fast, fun and sore in equal measure. We watched as kiwi kids flew down at lightning speed without a care in the world. Klaas is incredibly tall, dwarfing me, and so I was in fits of laughter watching his gangly figure try to hang on to his tiny purple body board as he sped down the slide.. he was not so amused. I arrived in Tauranga later that night and watched the sunset over Mount Maunganui on Waitangi Day. A very kiwi day

2 February 2018

My two days in Wellington involved a guided tour of New Zealand’s main government building and a very drunken night out with a group of guests from my hostel, a collection of 9 different nationalities. With the help of a Canadian (who’s name I forget) I made the 4 hour journey to Napier, a town I had heard little about, leaving me with no expectations. I was very happily surprised with the coolest little town I have come across in New Zealand. The whole town was totally destroyed in the 1920s by an earthquake and rebuilt in the Art Deco design of the era. The Gatsby style buildings look out onto a grey sea with some of the biggest waves I’ve ever seen rhythmically crashing onto a black beach of pebbles. Maori gangs are rife in the area, giving the town its final ingredient, as big tattooed maoris strut through the street, occasionally giving each other the stink eye. All this makes the town look like some kind of movie set as old collides with new in many ways. It is stunning

31 January 2018

After forking out far too much for the bus up to Nelson I was set on hitching from here on out. I made my way to Picton via 3 separate rides, the last of which was a Latvian musician by the name of Reina travelling with his wife and child. He’d travelled all over the world, including Syria way back when it was peaceful, and invited me to his gig later that night in Picton. I promised him I would be there but didn’t know what to expect when I arrived later, imagining the old classic of Ed Sheeran covers. He played some of the most beautiful instrumental songs I’ve ever heard, picking the fret board up and down as the guitar lay flat across his lap like he was playing a piano. Each song had a travelling tale behind it which he explained in full, only increasing the beauty of each. The next morning I caught the ferry across the Cook Strait in the midst of a cyclone. The crossing was surprisingly smooth. I guess when your used to the Irish Sea a little cyclone is nothing.

28 January 2018

Next I headed to Abel Tasman National Park for a 2 day camping trip. The weather was HOT and the scenery was stunning with wild jungles giving way to golden beaches. The hike itself was relatively uneventful which I was thank full for. The first night I camped on my own private beach joined only by the incessant chirping of bugs in the jungle behind me and the steady noise of the waves hitting the shore. The second night after a 4 hour walk I camped at bark bay, a beautiful long golden beach. As I was swimming in the morning some women told me to move quickly, I scrambled to the shore line and a huge sting ray glided right past me. After this I caught a water taxi (...a boat) back to the start of the track and hitch hiked back to Nelson with the woman who owned the restaurant where I had lunch.

26 January 2018

I decided to have a rest after Greymouth and travel by the much more convenient bus. On the way to Nelson we stopped at the pancake rocks which had some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve experienced so far. As we travelled along the coast you could see huge jungle-like forests jutting from mountains onto pristine sandy beaches. Nelson itself is a nice little town but wins top prize for ugliest cathedral which looks like something you’d find in a prison. I spent the day on the beach swimming in the warm Tasman sea and preparing for my trip to Abel Tasman tomorrow. I should have enough water this time...

24 January 2018

After the disaster of the hike I said goodbye to lake hawea with blistered feet and headed to Franz Josef. After a lift from a Taiwanese couple who stopped at every single photo opportunity on the way, but were lovely, I made it to Franz Josef. Here I wandered to the glacier and when the sun went down I walked through a glen covered in glow worms. The next day I hitched with a kiwi woman. This was my favourite so far, partly because she had her puppy frida with her, and let me play with her when we stopped for coffee, but also because she was a really nice girl who was actually in politics. The hostel in Greymouth had free kayaks which you could take out the back into a river and lake, so of course I took advantage of this. Later when the sun went down me and a few other guests started a fire and played music. A German girl made us all ‘stick bread’ apparently a German tradition (like toasting marshmallows but with bread).

22 January 2018

2/2: I moved on not really dwelling on it much and set up camp at the bottom of the huge hill. It wasn’t until this point that I checked my water supplies and realised that I only had a drop of water left in my other bottle. I was already very thirsty and the hut that I thought was at the bottom of the hill turned out to be 5 hours away, but going back up the hill would probably kill me. At this point my inner bear grylls told me that I was probably going to die here miles away from everyone unless I made a decision, so I pressed on and aimed to finish the track, another 12km. By this time it was 7pm and I only got to the lake by 11pm where in the pitch black, exhausted, dehydrated and still another 6km From the town I set up my tent and bedded down. I awoke to a beautiful view of the lake but in my delirious state it was tough to enjoy, so I set off on the rest of the walk. The sprite at the end of that walk was beautiful and I live to fight another day. A walk of at least 32 km
1/2: I planned a 3-4 day hike from Hawea on the advice of the kiwi who gave me a lift. It can only be described as an unmitigated disaster.. I set off and the first 5km were some of the hardest walking I’ve ever done. 5km of pure uphill climbing for most of which I was on my hands and knees scrambling up rock. This was not easy with a big pack. Still I got to the first hut relatively early so decided to press on to the next. I got to the next at about 5pm, by this point my feet were broken and I was ready to settle for the night but there were already two hikers in there and it was pretty cramped so I walked further down the track to find the next hut. This was only about 1 or 2 hours away but down a sheer hill which I had to slide down most of the way. It was here that the hike took a turn as I passed a woman, drenched in sweat on the way up who asked me if I had any water. I said of course and handed her one bottle which she guzzled down and left before I could say a thing...

20 January 2018

After spending way too long in Te Anau and visiting Milford sound I decided enough was enough and got a lift with a couple of Germans to Queenstown. I stayed with a girl I met in Wellington and she had amazing views from her house on fern hill. We spent the day soaking up the sun and then went for a night out in town which was a lot less busy than New Years and consequentially a lot more enjoyable. The next day one of Tilda’s kiwi flat mates took me and a Canadian we’d met on one of his favourite hikes. He knew the area so well, telling us all about the gold mines in the area, and we cured our hangovers with a dip in a freezing river. I decided I wanted to keep moving so the same day I said goodbye and hitched to lake Wanaka and on to lake Hawea (thanks to a nice kiwi and a couple of Aussie pilots). Lake hawea is a beautiful lake with crystal clear water and the town is very chilled out. All I can say is it’s nice not to be in Te Anau.

16 January 2018

The journey from Invercargill was fairly uneventful thanks to a quick pick up from Donna who was a courier dropping off packages to Te Anau. In Te Anau I planned to start the Kepler track, a 4 day hike that took you through the Fiordlands HOWEVER, little did I know that you have to book the campsites on the track beforehand. The hostel workers were amused at the fact I thought I could just stroll up and walk a natural track without pre-booking. What a crazy notion. Anyway, I reverted to plan B which was a day hike totalling 8-10 hours. I took the first half in my stride, passing hikers with huge backpacks with ease. The views were incredible from the top and I thoroughly explored the natural caves at the campsite (I went down the stairs and straight back up cause it was dark and scary). It wasn’t until half way back that I realised 8 hours was quite a long walk, and all i can say is I did NOT enjoy the last 2 hours. I can’t help feeling thankful that pre-booking is a thing...

12 January 2018

The Catlins 2/2 I originally planned to stay in Papatowai for 2 nights but I felt I had seen everything it had to offer so headed south. I was picked up very quickly by a lovely Danish couple who told me all about the birds they’d seen. They took me to Wanaka where I was picked up by two Italians who spoke no English and dropped me at Curio bay. The bay was beautiful and I camped overlooking the beach. That night at dusk I managed to spot a yellow eyed penguin (the rarest in the world) waddling along the fossilised forest. I’d heard you could swim with dolphins in the bay so the next morning I dove in where some had been spotted earlier that day. A few minutes later two Hector’s dolphins came swimming right past me on either side. They were playing with the people in the water. It was the most surreal thing I’ve ever experienced. After another night camping at curio bay I left the Catlins and three separate rides got me to invercargill. A South American, French and German.

11 January 2018

The Catlins 1/2 The last 3 days have been the craziest and best of the journey so far... I set off from Dunedin armed with my $10 tent from Kmart, packed bag, guitar and sign with the aim of hitching a ride to the Catlins. I was only waiting about 30 mins when a lovely Kiwi farmer’s wife picked me up and she told me all about her love for the new labour government before dropping me at Okawa. From here I hitched a ride with an American man and Dutch girl. We explored the waterfalls along the way. The American was a hitcher too and (being an american) was very loud and excited by everything. The Dutch girl and I listened as he told us stories of his travels. We explored the waterfalls along the way together and then they dropped me at Papatowai campsite where I spent the night. The next morning, taking the advice of the kiwi farmer, I visited the lost gypsy gallery in Papatowai. This guy roams the beaches and makes inventions out of the stuff he finds. It was incredible.

10 January 2018

I planned to leave Dunedin yesterday but a hostel worker mentioned some work setting up the local circus in town and I jumped at the chance to actually have some cash entering my wallet rather than the other way round. The day was long and tough with no lunch break. Hammering huge metal pegs into hard Earth in the late afternoon is not easy when all you’ve had to eat for the day was a slice of toast that morning. However, I expected nothing less from the circus and the $165 dollars is now sitting nicely in my wallet. Now, time to finally leave Dunedin and shimmy on down to the Catlins...

8 January 2018

It feels amazing to be out on the road on my own again. I made it down to Dunedin thanks to Gerben the German (who actually turned out to be Dutch). The journey was long but Gerben was a nice guy, even if he favoured heavy metal on the radio a little too much for my liking. Dunedin is a sea side town with lots of character. It has old brick buildings that make it look like it has been pulled right out of Europe, along with a few chaps walking round in kilts. I spent the first day exploring the botanical gardens and climbing up the steepest residential road in the world. I still can’t believe there was no admission fee for that bad boy, at a sweet 1 in 2.86 gradient... daaaamn that’s steep. Today I decided to hire a bike and cycle the Otago Peninsula. The peninsula is home to albatross, penguins and sea lions. Unfortunately I only saw the latter of the three as the rest only seem to conveniently appear once you pay for a tour... but it’s a very beautiful place.

4 January 2018

Jamie and I had a tough first day of the year in a little house in Arrow town. Suffering from what we believed to be an allergic reaction to lactose on Jamie’s part and low-level alcohol poisoning on mine, we spent the day struggling to share the one toilet on offer. However, the next day after feeling (only slightly) better we spent the morning on the luge in Queenstown and then headed for Franz Josef. The next day was my birthday and more importantly sky dive day. Picture 3 sums up the feelings of two boys, still recovering from what we now believed to be food poisoning, about to jump out of a plane at 9000 feet. We got really ‘lucky’ because we were one of the only two to get to jump that day due to weather... and I have never experienced anything like it. We came back down to earth afterwards by cooking in the hot pools and then bedded down for the night before returning to Christchurch today. A birthday to remember for many reasons!

29 December 2017

After Christmas, me, the cousin and a few friends packed the cars and headed off on a road trip to Queenstown for New Years. We stopped at Lake Tekapo (a glacial lake) along the way and ended up camping beneath the stars at Lake Ohau for two nights. The lake was stunning and it was nice to finally be out in the New Zealand wilderness and to see some stars! The camping stop may have involved a midnight swim in the lake and it was immediately evident that the term ‘glacial’ lake should not be underestimated. We ended up staying at Kirsten’s aunts in Arrowtown and it was nice to have working showers and a toilet that wasn’t a hole in the ground. New Years itself was very busy but there was live music on the lake front along with fireworks of course. I am definitely feeling worse for wear today but on to the next year!

23 December 2017

Earthquake ruins and Turkey chewin... It’s been really nice staying in Christchurch for a while, having a proper bed without snoring backpackers in the same room and some decent food in my belly. On the day I arrived we went into the city centre which is unrecognisable from the Christchurch of the first time I came. Kirsten pointed out that every car park or empty space used to be a building and the damage from the Earthquake in 2010 is still evident all over the centre. We went to Quake city (earthquake museum) and saw a video where survivors told their experiences and some of them were heartbreaking. Christmas has been spent at Kirsten’s house with her Irish flatmate cooking us a huge feast. With all her flat mates being Irish it goes without saying that there was plenty of alcohol, which I’m suffering for now...

21 December 2017

Auckland... again Back in Auckland tonight after the short trip from Rotarua. We stopped off at a kiwi sanctuary on the way. Excuse the awful photo but we weren’t supposed to take pictures so it’s a stealth shot. The kiwi is such a useless creature that taking pictures of them probably kills them off too somehow. The amount they were falling over I’m not surprised they’re almost extinct, but really cool birds. Once back in Auckland I spent the afternoon/ evening in Silo Park (my new favourite place) having a cider and listening to the carol singers. It’s pretty surreal hearing Mariah Carey’s ‘all I want for Christmas is you’ whilst baking in the 26 degree heat, but I could definitely get used to it. Looking forward to Christchurch tomorrow and some food that isn’t a pot noodle or a ham and cheese bap.

20 December 2017

Yesterday I arrived in Rotarua. It’s the 5th highest place in the world for Geo Thermal activity and I don’t know what that means but the water is really hot and smoky. It’s also probably in the top 5 for overpriced activities so I took the cheaper alternatives. I wandered through Kuirau Park where you can see bubbling ponds and mud pools, visited Ohinemutu (a Maori village) and sunbathed by the lake. Later on I was playing guitar in the park as the sun went down and a kid came up to me asking ‘HEY, YOU BUSKING BRO? CAN I HAVE A TUNE PLEASE?’ I gave him my guitar and he proceeded to belt out one direction and demand money from onlookers. He was from Rotarua and told me all about his family and the famous New Zealand gang that were rife in the area. Cheers Jake 👍

17 December 2017

The last few days have been spent exploring wellington. It’s a lot smaller than Auckland which made it a lot less painful on my feet and less touristy. It’s a really laid back town with skateboards seeming to be the main form of transport and lots of quirky shops. I chilled out on the beach, climbed mt Victoria and visited Te Papa museum, the national museum of New Zealand. I’m amazed at how good it was for the fact that it cost me nothing. The Gallipoli exhibition had huge life like models of soldiers who had fought in the war which were incredible, and there was an earthquake simulator (which I really enjoyed and didn’t terrify me at all) Today I caught my coach to Taupo which is a nice little lake-side town (as are most of the towns in New Zealand). On the way we passed the Volcano Mt Ngauruhoe which is Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. I’ve just been cooking in the geo-thermic pools in Taupo and about to tuck in to a chilli and beer at my hostel 👌

16 December 2017

Tonight I arrived in wellington after a 10 hour train ride. The journey was amazing and showed how New Zealand’s landscape changes from one place to the next from snowy mountain ranges to jungles. When I finally arrived at my hostel here the woman (I think) on the desk was amazed by my name because it was the same as a character in a video game she played. She proceeded to show me the character on google and explain the pros and cons of each of their weapons. When she told me that she actually had a copy of the game on her console in her room upstairs I got a funny feeling again and decided to get out of there sharpish. In other news I gave 60cents to a huge dancing Maori before I left Auckland and he looked at me with a big beaming smile and said ‘THANK YOU BRUDDA’. I think I am at one with the people of NZ now. You’re probably picturing him doing a native dance but he was actually popping and locking to dubstep.. and I loved it. Currently chilling with a beer on the waterfront ✌

15 December 2017

Tonight, because I’m staying in a hostel in the city centre, I witnessed Auckland at night. It’s an old cliche but the city comes alive. I heard of an outdoor cinema in a local park so I headed to that. Silo park is an old industrial centre on the port that they’ve modified into a really cool park. Once I arrived there was no sign of a movie so I searched everywhere, eventually ending down some dodgy road with no one in sight. Ready to give up after searching for about an hour I could suddenly hear the ghostbusters theme tune, quietly but definitely. So I hurried towards it and what did I find but a woman blasting out the theme tune from her van. Two sequential thoughts crossed my mine at this point 1) why whilst sitting in a van on your own would your choice of music be the ghost busters theme tune 2) this is a trap. I imagine there were at least 10 tourists like me in her boot, so I got out of their sharpish and defeatedly skulked back to the hostel

13 December 2017

Auckland is huuuge. The first day here was spent exploring the city, which started with a ferry ride across the river mouth to the town centre. The most noticeable building is the sky tower which juts out on the skyline, but at $29 to climb it I chose to climb the much cheaper ($0) and more natural Mt Eden, an extinct volcano that borders the city. From here you can see the whole city, which is surrounded by these volcanos. On the second day I travelled to kitekite falls and the adjoining beach on the west coast. The waterfall was impressive but the beach blew me away. It has black volcanic sand and swimming in the sea is not recommended because of huge waves and rip tides.

11 December 2017

And so it begins... the journey was long and tiring but worth it. Pictures 2 and 3 demonstrate my range of emotions on my IOM to London flight. I sat down in my seat with ample leg room, near the front so less turbulence and not in charge of any emergency exits.. ‘Well done owain, you’ve really pulled it out of the bag here’. Wait a minute... what’s that sound piercing my ear drums. Oh, that’ll be the wailing baby behind me. I was genuinely impressed with the pair of lungs on this child, but despite what I believe to be irreparable damage to my ear canals the rest of the flight went smoothly. Then from Heathrow to Auckland. I haven’t been on a long haul flight in so long that I genuinely believed the first class seats were the facilities provided for everyone. See pictures 2 and 3 again for my range of emotions when the air hostess pulled back the curtains to show us where the scum would be sitting. Auckland is beautiful, vibrant and hot - I am tired, jet lagged and smelly