Galapagos, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia
..absolutely ages since I got an email together. Hope you all had a
great summer back in the northern hemisphere & that life's good in
general and so.
Since the last mail we've had a great time in Galapagos, a slightly
miserable time in Quito, a culture shock in New Zealand and a couple
weeks each of breathing underwater in Fiji and breathing desert dust
in Australia. Mostly fairly civilized places so not quite as many mad
stories this time but if you have the time here's the long version...
== Galapagos ==
We got ourselves booked on an 8 day cruise of the Galapagos islands. A
cruise is pretty much the only way to see them since 97% of the land
is national park and off limits to independent travel. In the park
there's only a few dozen tourist visitor spots and each boat has a
fixed itinerary between them that they need to stick to. (And each
visitor spot in turn has a fixed walk you and your guide need to stick
to when you're there - amazing how well organized and protected it is
for being in Ecuador.)
We picked a trip that included the more distant western islands,
Isabela and Fernandia, for slightly less tourists and a bit more
volcanic activity (missed an eruption on Fernandia by just a couple
weeks :-( ).
Flew in to San Cristobal and after watching the customs dog walk
around on my backpack for a while we found the other ten people
heading for our boat, M/Y Samba. Already in the small harbour we saw
lots of animals, sea lions resting on the cliffs and bright red sally
lightfoot crabs everywhere..plus sea lions sleeping in a few of the
smaller boats actually..
First stop was Punta Suarez on Espanola island, where we saw the first
marine iguanas. Sitting perfectly still almost on top of eachother on
the lava rocks by the beach, they're very dragon looking little things
with spikes and thorns everywhere. Don't breathe fire though but if
you walk too close they might sneeze salt water on you! It's the only
sea going lizard in the world and they sit on the cliffs to heat up
before swimming out in the cold water to eat algae. They're usually
black but on this island they are black and red. We also saw some
smaller lava lizards, not too afraid of humans either, and galapagos
mockingbirds - unafraid to the point of annoying when they hop around
in front of you hoping for some food.
Everything on Galapagos will have had to either float, fly or swim the
about 1000 kilometers from the mainland to get there sometime in the
last few million years, and since mammals don't usually survive the
trip there's hardly any predators at all and all the animals are
really unafraid (you need to take care not to step on the iguanas by
On Espanola we also passed a waved albatross colony, was really fun to
see their strange mating dance. Found this picture on the net that
seems to have most of the moves but not all.
The move missing is a nice part where they do a wobbly exaggerated
walk lifting their feet high up while wagging their head and neck out
90 degrees to each side.. Words can't do it justice - it's a definite
They also can't take off from flat land so they all have to walk
across a good bit of the island to a cliff edge where they jump-start
There was also a colony of blue-footed boobies and nazca boobies, the
same ones we'd seen in mainland Ecuador. Their mating dance isn't too
bad either, left blue foot high up, right blue foot high up, then
skypoint with wings stretched out and beak straight up. The name
boobie apparently comes from a spanish word for "silly", because of
their funny walk and "relaxed attitude to being caught" according to
Finally we also saw galapagos hawk, galapagos dove and some galapagos
finches. At least half the animals here seem to be a "galapagos
something" - except for the seabirds almost every species is endemic
to the islands (and some exist only on one single island).
The next day didn't start quite as great, I'd gotten myself a 39.5
degree fever :-( If there was any part of the round-the-world-trip I
wouldn't wanna miss it would be this - been wanting to go to galapagos
since I was old enough to say "big turtle"...
Luckily this was also the day we were at the main island Santa Cruz,
where there's a doctor. Edel got me there while the rest of the group
went to the Charles Darwin research station to look at baby tortoises.
The doctor, while he didn't know what the fever was exactly, said he
was at least reasonably sure it wasn't dengue fever.. (we'd been to
the jungle in Ecuador beforehand) and got me some pills to calm the
fever down so I could continue the trip.
Felt better when we started the next day at Punta Cormorant, Floreana
island. The walking path led past a couple small lagoons with
flamingos, and then to a nice white sand beach, and on the black rocks
nearby lots of Sally Lightfoot crabs (the unusual name comes from a
Caribbean dancer if you trust this webpage
http://www.birdsandanimals.info/bcp/articles/species_names.htm , where
you can also learn what types of animals tits and asses are..).
We also went to Post Office Bay on Floreana, where there's an old
barrel acting as post-office - when you pass by you look in the barrel
to see if there's any mail going your way and if so you bring it
along. Anything you post there might find it's way to its destination
a few months later or perhaps never... It was used by whalers and
other strange people back in the days but is now used only for fun by
About the strange people by the way....Floreana was home to a few of
them - in the 1930's a German dentist Dr. Frederick Ritter who was
bored with dentistry moved there to live a primitive life and write a
new philosophy. He must have been very tired of his job because he had
all his teeth removed before taking off! Apart from teeth he was also
tired of his wife so instead brought his mistress Dore (who didn't
care that he was married to someone else because so was she..).
Another german family the Wittmers moved there after a while
disturbing the mighty philosopher, but that was nothing compared to
the mess later after a strange lady calling herself "Baroness Boise
Bosquet de Wagner Whereborn" arrived with her two german lovers Rudolf
Lorenz and Robert Phillipson, plus a third ecuadorian one she had
picked up on the way there. She was a wild megalomaniac, claimed to be
queen of the island and started giving everyone orders and causing
trouble, and for some reason she often had Phillipson beat Lorenz! To
recover Lorenz would find some peace for a while at the Wittmers (at
the Ritters the doctor was apparently busy beating Doris himself...).
In 1934 the Baroness and Phillipson first disappeared mysteriously,
then Lorenz (seemingly in a massive hurry to leave..) shipwrecked on a
small desert island and died, then Dr. Ritter died from eating
poisoned chicken (although he was a vegetarian!?) and Doris moved back
to germany after giving fifty different accounts of what really
happened. The Wittmers lived happily ever after and never told anybody
what they knew about it... :-)
Before these people there was also a shipwrecked Irishman living on
Floreana for many years, growing vegetables and trading them for rum
from the boats passing by. He managed to grow a lot of vegetables, and
consequently was drunk almost the whole time.
Then there were a few penal colonies on different islands that all
collapsed in riots.. One on San Cristobal lasted 16 years under a
tyrant Manuel Cobos who paid workers and ex-prisoners of his slave
colony with his own invented currency usable only in his own shop....
He sometimes had people killed or left at uninhabited islands to die
(one person survived 3 years on Santa Cruz by drinking iguana
blood..). Cobos himself was then finally hacked to pieces 1904 during
Apart from making interesting material for a few books (well worth
reading), the history of people on the islands unfortunately also
involved slaughtering several hundred thousand giant tortoises. There
used to be at least one subspecie for each major island, but now
they're gone from Floreana and a couple more islands. From the Pinta
island only one individual called "lonesome George" remains and he's
kept at the Darwin research station.
The whalers used to take tons of them on board for food - kept upside
down in the ship the tortoises could stay alive for up to a year even
with nothing to eat, so made a great supply of fresh meat on long
Anyway, on Floreana we also had time for some snorkeling, I skipped it
since I was still feeling a bit bad but Edel went - was her first time
snorkeling and she saw a sea lion play underwater - not a bad start!
During the evening and night the boat sailed to the west coast of
Isabela, the biggest island. We saw some whales on the way and the sea
was pretty rough but we had got used to being on a boat by now - we
were actually starting to feel weird on land instead (after the week
was over it took us several days to fully stop feeling the constant
rocking of the boat..)..
In the morning we had a walk on the lava fields at Punta Moreno,
Isabela. It's a very strange landscape, nothing but sharp black lava
rocks everywhere as far as you can see, and just a lonely cactus or
some other pioneer plant here and there. There were a couple small
lagoons in the lava field with some flamingos, and one lagoon which
was connected to the sea and had several big sharks swimming around in
it just under the surface!
Next stop snorkeling in a place called Dereks Cove. It's actually a
bit cold in the water even though Galapagos is right at the equator,
but there was enough colourful fish to quickly forget about that. We
also saw a couple green sea turtles gliding around in the water, not
in too much of a hurry so you could swim along and follow them. Our
guide showed up after a while and showed us to a small hidden lagoon
closed off by the low tide, you had to walk over a bit of lava to get
to it. Wasn't really sure what would be in there but a couple of the
other people from the group who had already snorkeled there said it
was one of the most amazing things they had ever seen! When we got in
we saw what they meant, the little lagoon was absolutely full of sea
turtles - a dozen in every direction you looked, from a half meter to
perhaps two meters in size. Swimming so slowly, they don't move away
if you come close and don't swim up to inspect you (like sea lions for
example) either. Like they'd been swimming around there for a million
years and it couldn't matter less to them if you are there to have a
look for a few minutes. Very unreal to be there just surrounded by
them, so beautiful.
After the snorkeling we went to Elisabeth Bay. It's a mangrove and we
didn't land, just went around in a small boat. Saw penguins and more
turtles, and sea lions up in the trees! (and I have photos to prove
Then in the evening the chef, guide and ship crew surprised us with a
cake and some songs on the guitar for Edel's birthday :-)
Next day started in Urbina Bay on Isabela, and we set out to look for
land iguanas. This area looks very different from the lava fields of
the rest of Isabela - flat and full of green. The whole area, several
kilometers, was lifted up four meters from the sea bed unexpectedly
one day in 1954 - coral, fish, lobsters and all! It apparently
happened very fast, with lots of marine life that didn't have time to
escape dying in the sun..
We saw lots of land iguanas, and some goat skeletons lying around..
Goats and other introduced animals are the main threats to the
Galapagos fauna now, and lots of money is spent eliminating them. Back
in the days whalers and other boats often dropped off a few goats on
uninhabited islands to have a good supply of meat when they came back
the next time. On one Galapagos island four goats were dropped off a
hundred something years ago, and when the conservation people started
to try to get rid of them now there were several hundred thousand!
Goats eat pretty much everything with roots and all, so can often
completely turn a place into desert. The conservation people have some
unusual tricks to get rid of them now, dogs with leather boots that
can walk on the sharp lava fields and my personal favourite, the
"Judas Goat" trick! In this one they catch a few goats and attach
radio-collars to be able to track them when they release them again.
Then, being very social little environmental disasters, the "judas
goats" lead the hunters straight to where the herd is hiding!
(If anyone's interested: http://www.gct.org/project4.html &
Back after the walk we saw lots of birds diving for fish just by the
beach where we were waiting for the boat. There were perhaps a couple
hundred of them up in the air, boobies and pelicans together, all
diving at the same time coming in again and again - felt very strange
to see so close.
Next stop was Punta Espinoza on Fernendina island, a great lava beach
full of marine iguanas. Could see some of them swim out to sea to eat,
or come back in and crawl up on the rocks to heat up again (missed
them at sea later when we were snorkeling though).
Also on this beach was a colony of flightless cormorants - almost as
prehistoric looking as the iguanas. We could get really close to them
too and see their nests and young, and watch them drying their useless
scraggy looking wings in the sun.
The boat then set course for Santiago island, and me and Edel missed a
whale shark while we had an afternoon nap. :-(
Next morning at Puerto Egas on Santiago we did a long walk among the
strange rock formations on the beach. Saw some fur seals (sea lions
really, they just renamed them back in the days so they could hack
them up and sell their skin - people don't buy "sea lion" fur, sea
lions are cute and we've seen them on the circus... - "fur seals" are
ok though!). There were also some lava herons strolling the beach
looking for food, fun to sit right next to them when they try to catch
a fish in one of the small tidal pools.
Another round of snorkeling with sea lions (they're very funny
underwater - always come up to have a look and show off how much
better they are at swimming than you!), and we also saw some sting
rays and sharks.
Next stop was Bartolome island and the Pinnacle rock with some great
views over the islands. After taking the obligatory pinnacle rock
photo we went for another snorkel - saw some galapagos penguins this
The last full day on the Samba we started in Black Turtle Cove on
Santa Cruz. It's another mangrove so we only went around in the small
boat. We saw lots of boobies, terns and pelicans in the sky and golden
and eagle rays plus sharks down in the water. The golden rays swim in
schools just under the surface - looks very strange. Amazing
throughout this whole week how the sky always seemed full of birds and
the sea always full of fish wherever we went. Some people say
Galapagos is like another planet but I think it's just like this
planet...like this planet must have been everywhere before mankind
started the slaughter.
After the daily snorkeling we went to North Seymour and walked through
a large colony of frigate birds and boobies. Saw several frigate birds
with their strange big red throat pouch inflated, and some more land
The next morning we sadly had to say goodbye to the Samba crew and the
other people on the cruise. Was a really nice group and the guide,
Maurice, was a real personality.
Back on dry land again only for a little while Edel and I got a
speedboat taxi over to the Santa Cruz island (to catch up on the
things I missed when I had a fever). It was a pretty rough crossing, 2
hours in a small boat with two 150hp engines. First we went to the
Charles Darwin research station.
Darwin himself travelled through the islands in 1835 and found lots of
inspiration for his theory of evolution from seeing how the animals
have adopted to survive in this strange place (was mainly the finches
that tipped him off apparently).
He was a bit afraid of upsetting the church so when he published his
The Origin of Species twenty or so years later he didn't include
mankind in his theory. The church got furious anyway of course, and in
a famous "monkey trial" a bishop asked Darwin's side if it was
"through your grandfather or your grandmother that you claim your
descent from a monkey?". The person speaking for Darwin replied that
he was less ashamed of being related to a monkey than he was of being
related to an influential person who speaks about subjects he knows
absolutely nothing about! Evolution-creationists one-nil :-)
Once everyone calmed down Darwins book, and the second one The Descent
of Man, helped to bring us another step out from the dark ages
(well.., hasn't helped on everyone
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4136690.stm . Don't miss the reply
the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" :
Sorry, sidetracked again.... In the Charles Darwin research station we
had a look at where they are raising baby giant tortoises, and also
spotted Lonesome George - the only survivor of the Pinta island
Early next morning we took another speedboat back to San Cristobal, an
even rougher crossing this time - we arrived not noticeably drier than
if we had swam across! By swimming we would have missed the child
puking all over the boat though of course.. Also saw some flying-fish
A change of clothes and a trip to the San Cristobal highlands later
and we were in a plane back to the real world again :-(
First thing back in Quito I posted my dozen or so film rolls home & my
brother Mikael's been scanning negatives night and day (thanks :-) so
they're up at http://david.tryse.net/bigtrip-southamerica.html now if
anyone wants to have a look.
== Quito ==
Had a couple days to spend in mainland Ecuador before flying down to
Santiago to catch our New Zealand flight.
We went to a massive market in Otavalo north of Quito one day,
extremely busy with people but a good place to stock up on some warm
clothes before we got to the New Zealand winter. This market is a
known pickpocket place and I was keeping an eye on my daypack the
whole time - wasn't going to ruin a
5-months-in-south-america-with-nothing-stolen in the last couple days!
Then, on the bus back to Quito someone crawling under the seat manage
to slash the bag right between my feet and get away with a camera lens
before I could notice.. The camera didn't disappear luckily but it
still made me pretty cranky..
The rest of the time in Quito wasn't that great either..one joyful day
filling in insurance forms (like it ever pays off) and one sunny
morning in an unimpressive botanical garden, where I managed to spill
coffee on most of my remaining camera equipment and also padlock my
bag with the key inside it (you had to leave your bag at the entrance
so you wouldn't fill it with their cactus before you walk out).
Then the flight.., we had the Santiago-Auckland flight booked for June
30 since many months and had booked a Quito-Santiago flight for the
28th before we went to Galapagos to get down to Chile in time. When we
got to the checkin in Quito the girl told us we were supposed to fly
the 29th instead. Ticket with our names says 28. We scream a bit about
needing to catch the Auckland flight (not mentioning it's a 42 hour
"connection") but my spanish skills aren't really at a level where I
can sound polite when dealing with something like this - "Tu
computadora no es mi problema, boleto es veinte ocho!"... Edel did
better and the girl called lots of people trying to sort it out -
after two hours she tells us that some unknown "Erika" person had
called in and changed it for us four days ago, and the Bogota-Santiago
flight was full so she couldn't put us on it even if she wanted to!
She could put us on the Quito-Bogota one & then the second flight the
next day except for that Edel is Irish and wouldn't be allowed into
Columbia without a visa (we all know what they did..).
After another hour (when the plane had left, without us) she let us
know that "Erika" was someone from the agency where we had first
booked the ticket. So the next day we went to their office with swords
and battle axes but Erika explained that the airline had called them
and said that the plane was cancelled so they had needed to move
us..she called the airline and they confirmed it. Then we asked the
airline person on the phone how the plane could have been both full
and cancelled - "it was put back on in the last minute". But if it was
put back on surely we would still have had a seat on the plane then? -
"the plane was cancelled...". Dodgy Colombian airline... They
eventually allowed us to fly the next day, but not before trying to
make us pay extra for having changed the date of the ticket!
http://www.avianca.com "We fly to deserve your support and admiration" :-))
We still had 18 hours in Santiago since they didn't mess up any more
after that, but we didn't have enough energy to leave the airport -
spent the first 15 hours in a cafe (more hours than I spent in a cafe
in one go before even with french people..). 13 cups of tea later and
we finally got on the NZ flight and landed in Auckland the 2nd,
slightly exhausted from having spent the last 4 days in planes and
New Zealand is usually difficult to get to I think....last time I
tried a couple years ago, via Dublin-London-Auckland, the first flight
suddenly disappeared from all screens without any notice at all and
when I eventually found someone to ask they said it got cancelled but
that they'd pay for taxi home and back for the flight the next day.
When the taxi to the airport the next day didn't materialize and I was
starting to get nervous about missing it again and called I found out
his car had broken down..
== New Zealand ==
Got there in the end!
The culture shock of being in a developed country again after five
months in south america was interesting. Strange to get used to cars
not racing to kill you when you cross the streets for example.. Felt
almost like being royal when cars stop to let you cross (either that
or your brain telling you "don't walk - it's a trap!"). Everywhere we
went in south america they seemed to have that pretty handy
turn-right-on-red rule from the US, with the exception that you can
drive Even if there is actually people crossing the street!
I missed all the little kids shouting "gringo" after you everywhere though..
Everyone speaking english everywhere also felt strange in the
beginning. Edel doesn't have to do all the talking in shops etc. any
more - it took some getting used to for her as well, as illustrated by
this beautiful quote from the woman I love: "David, I keep thinking;
'why are you talking?' " :-))
We rented a car for driving around New Zealand, picked one from
Ezyrentals since we couldn't resist their slogan ("Rent me - I'm
ezy!"). I've never driven a right-hand-drive car before (always
brought swedish ones over to ireland for, er.., sentimental reasons..)
so it took a while to stop looking for the gear stick in the right
doorside, and I was indicating with my wipers for several days.. New
Zealanders are so patient on the road though, from south america I
kept expecting to feel my ear drums pierced by an army or car horns
every time I messed up but it never happened. Pretty friendly place
overall New Zealand, even safe enough to hitchhike in (I picked one up
already the first day...don't know how safe he was with me driving
really but anyway..).
Another observation about the kiwis is that they are mad! Every high
enough waterfall or cliffedge has signs begging you not to climb the
fence and jump! Don't think these signs are needed in any other
country.. NZ is the home of all the crazy adrenalin activities, bungy
jumping, whitewater rafting, jetboats and all that - as the guidebook
put it "for any difficult, dangerous and challenging way to get from A
to B, New Zealand is the place to do it".
I had enough of bungy jumping the last time I was here, but we had
some good rounds of childish fun sand tobogganing and quad biking in
the sand dunes of the "Ninety miles beach" (64 miles long..) at the
top of the north island - I got sand in my eyes, ears, mouth, nose and
hair but it was good fun. When we got to the massive sand dunes we saw
some local boys come driving down them in pickup trucks.. Mad!
Before driving down to Rotorua we also had a look at some of the kauri
forests up in the north. Kauris are massive trees, among the biggest
in the world. When us whities found New Zealand a couple hundred years
ago we quickly cut down almost all of it as usual..there's about 3%
left now. The little that's left is still very impressive though - one
tree we saw was over 17 meters in circumference - seemed just like a
wall of bark when standing next to it.
== Rotorua ==
Rotorua stinks. A lot. It's a very geologically active place, with
hotsprings, geysers and thermal areas everywhere - you even see smoke
coming up from the drains when you walk the streets - and the whole
place stinks of sulphur. After a day or two you don't really notice it
any more though (which means you've gotten used to it and you probably
The place has some interesting things to see though, we visited a few
of the thermal areas for a closer look at some boiling mud pools and
colourful lakes filled with things you normally only see in the
periodic table. The nicest one was Waimangu with a big 55 degree warm
lake with smoke dancing on the surface in strange patterns, and
another 80 degree warm bright blue lake that follows a strange 38 day
cycle of filling, overflowing and then receding 8 meters before
starting over. Another nice area was Wai-O-Tapu, very colourful lakes
and a geyser that goes off 10:15 each day...because that's when they
pour soap in it to kick it off - this trick was apparently discovered
a long time ago by some unsuspecting settlers washing their clothes
there - they had to pick down the (very clean) clothes from up in the
We took a break from the hotsprings one day to go Zorbing. A "zorb" is
a big semi-transparent plastic ball with a smaller plastic ball
suspended in the middle inside it. You and a bucket or two of water
are located in the smaller plastic ball inside while the big plastic
ball rolls down a very long hill (wonder how they come up with
everything..). Edel and me went together in one zorb and it was really
excellent fun. Had to go for a second round as well.
On another break from the mud pools we had a look at a nice seven
meter waterfall not too far from Rotorua. While we were there some
rafters suddenly came paddling down the fall...the raft and everyone
on it were completely gone under water for at least a second before
they popped back up again - they didn't seem to be missing anyone at
least.. Mad I tell you!
After Rotorua we spent a day or two in the Coromandel peninsula, but
it had been raining a good bit so we had to turn back several times
because of landslides and floods - were lucky we didn't get stuck out
there for days in the end - and then we drove down to Waitomo.
== Waitomo ==
Waitomo's famous for it's caves (in fact, there's nothing else there
at all..) and it's glowworms (..in the caves). Glowworms are little
insect larvae that hang in the cave ceiling and make sticky threads to
catch food with, and glow with a nice blue light to make food come
closer to have a look. It does the sticky glowing business for over
half a year, and then lives only a day or two as adult. Sometimes when
there's thousands of them in one place it can look almost like a
starry sky of another planet.
The first day in Waitomo we went blackwater rafting (=raft, or more
float, on an innertube down an underground stream in a cave). It was
just me and Edel on the trip, plus our guide Winnie (like in "Winnie
the Pooh" we were told). Now, when you think of a caver you probably
think of someone crawling through tight spaces or abseiling etc.
That's not Winnie. What's a politically correct way of telling this
now?... He was the biggest Maori I've ever seen!? He definitely knew
this cave though, and must have done the trip a good few times because
he was really into his routine. A bit too much routine
actually...could have skipped the introduction bit just after entering
the cave since it was just Edel and I on the tour and we pretty much
know eachothers name/homecountry/hobbies/etc at this point.. Anyway,
it was an interesting trip, just floating around in darkness looking
at a few glowworms up in the cave ceiling not knowing where you're
going. There were a couple smaller waterfalls (that sound a lot bigger
as you slowly float closer without seeing anything at all..) - the
first one we had to stand at the top and fall backwards from to get
down and the second one they had actually installed a plastic slide
in. Quite fun, but the water was absolutely freezing cold, even with
The next day we had a look at a couple of the more touristy caves, saw
some amazing formations and enough glowworms to make a milky way but
it was a little bit hard to shake the disneyland feeling with
tourgroup and guide, and stairs and handrails installed everywhere.
We checked out some more interesting limestone scenery on the drive
out to the coast, a walk close to Waitomo passing through some ancient
collapsed caves was pretty nice - here and there in the forest there
would be an arch from the cave still standing or some stalactites
among the tree ferns..very strange place.
From there we made our way to Taupo, and then down to Wellington for a
ferry over to the south island.
== Nelson ==
We stayed a few days in Nelson and had a look at the Abel Tasman
national park - more limestone scenery with old trees hugging
strangely shaped rocks and another big cave, Rawhiti, with no fences,
stairs or tourgroups :-) - lots of fun to explore on your own.
== Kaikoura ==
My brother Mikael joined us in Christchurch for two weeks. :-)
His bag only made it as far as Munich in Germany though. :-( Funny
really since he didn't even transfer through there.. (assuming it
must've fallen out of the plane..).
We headed up to Kaikoura first for some swimming with dolphins. They
gave us full-body wetsuits with gloves and hood but it was still
absolutely freezing. The boat took us and about ten others out to
where they found a group of Dusky dolphins, then everyone would jump
in the freezing water and splash around or make noises hoping one or
two dolphins swimming by would take an interest for a few seconds.
When all the dolphins had passed everybody had to swim back to the
boat again so that it could go catch up with the dolphins, and then
everybody could jump in again for another try. This might not sound
like the spiritual experience you imagine when you hear "swimming with
dolphins" but it was actually quite fun, despite the cold. I had a few
dolphins circling around me the last time I went in, and Edel found
humming a tune in the snorkel got them to come over for a look. The
best part was when we were back up on the boat afterwards though - the
boat was right in the middle of a school of over a thousand dolphins,
we'd see them everywhere swimming close to the boat or doing jumps and
somersaults far away in every direction. The Dusky is one of the most
acrobatic dolphin species and for a while we could see at least two or
three of them in the air at any point. Absolutely magic.
== Westport ==
The next day we crossed the Lewis pass over to Westport on the other
coast. Stopped by the pass for a nice short walk through a forest
drowning in lichens to a place called Cannibal Gorge (named after some
incident between Maori tribes..).
From Westport we first checked out Dennistown, an old coal-mining
ghost-town on top a small mountain nearby. Lots of old rusty machinery
lying around everywhere, especially around a steep rail line that they
used to get coal down and empty wagons up the mountain. It was the
worlds steepest rail line apparently, a risky self-acting
gravity-powered construction, now with old rusty wagons lying around
it in the bush everywhere from old derailments..
Next day up to Karamea. It's one of those 'where the road ends'
places, and you pass 'no gas for xx kilometers' when you drive there.
We had planned to visit a cave the guidebook recommended, the
Honeycomb Hill cave, but when we got there after a very long winding
road it seemed it got changed since the book was printed so now you
needed to be on a guided tour (big angry signs telling you how big
fines you'd get). We probably would have sneaked in anyway but there
was a car from the cavetour company parked close by and we didn't
wanna get caught.. There were a few other nice walks around there as
well though luckily, checked out a couple small caves with big
spiders, had a picnic by a little tarn deep in the forest and then
headed for the Moria Gate Arch (don't know if it got the name before
or after the Lord of the Rings movie..). It's a massive limestone arch
with a stream floating underneath, and the forest on the way there was
really gorgeous - everything covered in several decimeters thick moss
and tree ferns everywhere. Found a giant carnivorous snail that only
exists in this small corner of the south island.
Mikael's bag finally caught up with us in Westport before we headed
down to Franz Josef Glacier.
== Franz Josef / Fox Glacier ==
Celebrating that Mikael's bag had made it's way back we decided to
fall out of an airplane ourselves. Fox Glacier is a pretty nice place
to do a skydive, you have the view over Mount Cook (New Zealand's
highest mountain) and the glacier to enjoy as you're racing towards
the ground at 190kmph. (Edel decided to give this one a miss..) Me and
Mikael went up in a small plane together with our tandem jump buddies,
both named Rod. Some very nice views over the mountain chain on the
way up, and then at 12.000 feet, about the same height as Mt. Cook, it
was time to jump. Sitting with the legs outside the door at the side
of the plane waiting for the jump is probably the worst bit...it's the
only bit that's any bad at all actually! The freefall is absolutely
amazing, such a buzz. Like the best amusement park ride you've ever
done multiplied by a thousand. Puts a smile on your face that would
make a cop shine a flashlight in your eyes and ask for a bloodtest if
he had just pulled you over on your way home from work..
The freefall lasts perhaps 30-40 seconds but feel over way too soon.
The contrast between 190kmph wind on your face and then the silence
and peace after the parachute is opened is very cool though. Mikael
and his tandem buddy had jumped just after us, and we saw their chute
open up in the air. Took a couple photos with a disposable I had
brought up but I was probably to excited and they'll come out blurry..
Mikael and Rod navigated closer until the two parachutes were hanging
really close to us in the air, then we split and each did some
acrobatics on the way down - amazing how well you can control these
things actually.. Rod handed me the handles for a while but I didn't
really dare pull hard enough...so he started pulling the wires higher
up and the chute was spinning around wild in the air.
Two soft landings later and then me and Mikael were probably annoying
Edel the rest of the day not being able to stop talking about it.
Before we headed off from Franz Josef we also did a guided halfday
walk on the glacier. The walk wasn't all that spectacular but we saw
some of those cool Kea's - alpine parrots with a reputation for being
cheeky - pulling off the rubber from around the doors of parked cars
and taking off with windshield wipers etc. In the evening me and
Mikael also did a short bush-walk looking for glowworms. There were
hundreds of them in some corners of the forest - very mystic to see
little glowing "eyes" everywhere around you when you walk in the woods
Next morning we drove down towards the tiny town Haast (where we had
lunch in a tavern overfull with old hunting trophies while watching
big women in wellington-boots play pool and drink beer), and from
Haast we drove along the Haast river up through the Haast pass (a
"Julius von Haast" travelled by in the 1800's and, being a modest man,
named everything he saw after himself. There's also an extinct "Haast
Eagle" among other things..).
We only spent one night in Queenstown before heading on to Milford. If
we had had more time we might have stayed a day or two for trying some
more of the adrenalin activities - apparently you can bungy-jump from
a parachute being pulled behind a speedboat now! (wonder how they come
up with everything..).
== Milford ==
Milford Sound in Fiordland, southwest south island, is the second
rainiest place on the planet according to our guidebook - 7 meters of
rain per year! (I'm guessing one of the three last places I've lived
in, Gothenburg/Holland/Dublin, in #1 on the list..).
Te Anau is the last place of any size on the way to Milford, and we
stopped there to rent snowchains (just in case) and fill up on gas
before passing the "no gas for 120km" signs driving north.
There's a few tour buses that come up here from Queensland, and we
were joined by them when we stopped at a couple smaller sights just by
the roadside on the way. They'd usually come running (literally) from
or back to the bus and stop to take a photo of themselves in front of
(not the sight itself but..) the sign saying which sight this is...
Some of the scenery on the way was just amazing though, high
snowcapped mountains and deep valleys as the road was snaking it's way
towards Milford. We spent a night in the only accommodation in
Milford, and then did a few walks in the area, one through a nice
mossy forest high up to a glacier lake Marian - almost mirror blank
and surrounded by snowcapped mountains - and another walk to a 200
meter waterfall called Humbolt falls.
From then on pretty much all we did was drive, over to Dunedin on the
east coast to spend the night, then to Christchurch for Mikael's
flight home, (then an hour trying to find the way out of Christchurch
because Edel was reading the map :-), then up to Picton and ferry plus
drive up to Auckland the next day. Found out we had done about 8000 km
over the six weeks when we handed the car back!
== Fiji ==
Spent the two first days in Nadi on the main island sleeping and
figuring out which island to go to. Nadi itself is not a very nice
place. We stayed in a cheap and pretty strange hostel just outside
town...there was someone "fixing things" outside our window in the
middle of the night, and the same guy then also combined apologizing
the next day with asking if he could borrow some money for a couple
weeks.. They were also annoyingly persistent that we should book
somewhere to go through them.. Them, and an over-friendly woman who
dragged us in from the street to her tour agency one day ("where are
you from darling", "Irish girls are very pretty"..) seemed to think
the best place to go to was the Yasawas - some party islands in the
west of Fiji popular with tourists. So we decided to go to Taveuni in
the east :-).
It's a full day by boat or 1.5 hours by plane to get there so we found
an internet cafe and booked a flight (after politely answering the
travel-agent woman's "are you married?" and "did you meet in the
airport?", and promising to come back after we have a cup of
All well so far... Unfortunately, when you book with Air Fiji online
it doesn't actually book anything - just sends an email to someone who
might look at it when he gets into the office (this is a tiny
fineprint on the final confirmation page, after you enter credit-card
details..). Now, the flaw with this way of doing things will jump out
when you book on a weekend and your plane is at 7am on monday, like
ours was.. The guy at the checkin said the plane was full but he could
probably fit us on if there were a lot of kids flying (they go by
weight..) but we'd have to pay at the counter, and he couldn't be sure
that they wouldn't charge for the internet booking later as well...
Had to wait until the office opened to cancel the internet booking and
then we did some complaining here and there with responses ranging
from nice to "you're the only one complaining!" and after a while they
found another plane that would be going to Taveuni "sometime between
ten and half past ten or so..". It wasn't on the schedule or on the
departure screens or anything but we did get to take off eventually,
in a small 15 seater plane.
We were sitting just behind the cockpit and it was interesting to look
at all the little instruments and controls.. First time I've seen the
runway when going in for landing as well - I always imagined it would
look sort of like a straight line in front of the plane though...not
at a bit of an angle! Lots of breaking and bumping and steering left
and right in order to stay on the asphalt / off the grass & then we
were in Taveuni alive and quite thankful for it.
Even the local picking us up (his name was Mr. Bean) said the landing
== Fiji - Taveuni ==
Mr. Bean gave us a lift to Susies Plantation Resort - a charming but
under renovation place mainly aimed at divers (which we were aiming to
become here). Sunset view and right by the ocean side, the place has
space for only about 15 people and for a couple of days we were even
the only ones there. Ended up staying for eleven days - the longest
we've stayed in one place anywhere since we headed out in January.
In the evening some of the Fijians working there would usually be
singing and playing guitar or setting up a kava session. Kava is a
mildly intoxicating traditional Fijian drink - it's prepared in a
large bowl that everyone sits in a ring around and then a
coconut-shell cup is passed around for each person to have a sip. The
drink looks similar to muddy water, with a taste also not too far off.
I gave it a try one evening but couldn't notice much effect apart from
the tongue feeling numb and sort of furry..
(kava actually used to be used in the west for treating anxiety
disorders and other things, and Fiji was exporting tons of it - until
some pharmaceutical companies started a get-rid-of-the-competition
campaign a couple years ago with still unverified claims that it's
causing liver damage and it quickly got banned everywhere. :-( )
Edel started on her PADI Open Water dive course the second day - I'd
already done mine in Sweden back in -98 (logbook notes from my first
dive: "bad visibility - about 50cm, water +6 degree celsius, wind,
snow"... Didn't log anything on the rest of my swedish dives - I must
have been to depressed after that first one..) and once in Thailand
again a couple years later. Since Edel was the only one doing a course
at the moment she got one-on-one instructions and I got to go along to
freshen up my skills a bit.
Taveuni was an absolutely brilliant place to do the course - about 30
meters visibility and around 25 degrees in the water, lots of coral
and fish already very close to the shore (we'd seen a moray eel, a sea
snake and lots of other things only by snorkeling a bit the first
day). The instructor Rami was brilliant as well, and never missed a
chance to remind Edel to look out for dangerous sharks :-))
We did all the first dives for Edel's course around the same area -
started to recognize some of the animals there after a while. There
was a lobster we'd drop by most days and in one place a colony of
garden eels - strange things that live in a hole in the ground and all
stick their heads and necks up like a forest of ..i don't
know..strange eel-like things.. (..just in case this didn't make much
sense here's a google image search
http://images.google.com/images?q=garden%20eels ) When you move closer
they all slowly back down into their holes at the same time. We also
saw lion fish and another moray eel.
For the last Open Water dive Edel already had all the exercises done
so we headed out for a fun-dive at a big coral reef ten minutes away
by boat. There was no bit of land sticking up around the reef and it
looked very strange with waves breaking just right in the middle of
the sea. The reef had tons of soft coral and we saw a big eagle ray,
unicorn fish and another sea snakes (they're three times more
poisonous than the indian cobra apparently..).
Next day we started the Advanced Open Water course, this one's more
fun than the first Open Water - less study and exercises like swimming
underwater without the mask and more just fun dives. You need to do a
deep dive and a navigation dive and then you can pick three more
dives, a night dive etc. The deep dive was the one we did first, down
to 30 meters (standard open water lets you go down to 18). At 30
meters some people can start to feel nitrogen narcosis - you act sort
of foolish or drunk (try to give your air-regulator to some fish
swimming by or simply can't be bothered checking how much air you have
left etc..). There were four of us plus the instructor on the dive,
and to check if we felt the nitrogen we each had to answer a simple
math question (8x7-5 etc.) in sign language. Everyone could still
answer properly although Tamsin, a nice english girl diving with us,
had some vertigo-like disoriented feeling for a moment. Manessa, a
Fijian also on the dive, was the one seeming most affected though -
swimming backwards and crashing into the bottom etc. but we learned
later that that's just his style. That, and touching everything...
Next dive was Peak Performance Buoyancy - once you learn to feel
comfortable underwater it's usually the buoyancy that takes time to
learn (you spend your first few dives floating up and sinking down all
the time..can be pretty tricky to get right since if you go down a
couple meters the air you have in your BCD vest compress and you sink
more..and if you go up a bit you float more and keep going up..). We
spent most of the dive hovering midwater in meditating bhudda or
matrix pose. Saw some more lion fish and a very strange stargazer
fish. The navigation dive next wasn't quite as much fun, but we still
had time to look around a bit.
The last day of the course we did a naturalist dive (learn to identify
all the different coral-reef fish we'd been seeing each day;
triggerfish, butterflyfish, surgeonfish, clownfish, parrotfish etc.)
and a night dive.
The night dive was very different to anything else I've done. It was
the usual five of us and each person had a really strong underwater
torch. It was more easy to get disoriented with up/down since the
water surface isn't lighter than the bottom any more. Also more
difficult to communicate (you make signs with the flashlight instead
of hand signals) and to tell who's who from all the torches in the
water - me and Edel stuck pretty close the whole time. All the animals
we saw were different as well, big-eyed red squirrelfish, barracudas,
large shrimps and crabs and a big white moray eel. Very interesting.
The next day, fully certified :-), we went for a daytrip by boat to
the rainbow reef (a 30 kilometres chain of reefs between Taveuni and
Vanua Levu) to dive the white wall - Fiji's #1 dive spot!
To dive the white wall you enter a tunnel about 10 meters down and go
down inside to 28 meters depth when you exit at the beginning of the
wall. The tunnel has a big hole in the side so there's some light in
it the whole way down, enough to see a massive napoleon fish waiting
for us at the other end! The bit going through the tunnel was a little
messy since there were a few of us and not much space, but the wall at
the end was very dramatic. When you're at 30 meters it continues
completely vertical most of the way up to the surface and also another
40 meters or so below you, and it's full of white soft coral the whole
way. We continues to swim along the wall the rest of the dive, and the
place could really give you that feeling-small sensation when you're
hovering in the water a meter or two away from the wall and it
continues as far as you can see in every direction. Edel had a bit of
vertigo in the beginning since we couldn't see the bottom at all, we
were holding hands to stay together and she felt like I would drop and
fall if she let go! It was also more difficult to keep track of depth
without any bottom..we got down to 34 meters by mistake once.
By the wall there were lots of coral fish, clownfish and anemonas and
we saw a sea turtle at one spot, and if you looked to your other side
into the massive big blue you could sometimes see shadows of bigger
fish gliding by out there.
The next dive was another wall dive at rainbow reef - the purple wall.
Right after we went down we saw three whitetip reefsharks resting on
the bottom. It was a bit more current on this dive and once we got to
the wall (almost as huge as the white and full of purple soft coral)
the current was so strong that we were practically flying. It was a
really excellent feeling to be carried along by the current, past the
wall and then over the bottom, and we barely had to swim at all - you
could simply float along and try to see as much as possible of coral
and fish just flying by you! A very nice finale to our Fiji diving..
Our last day at Taveuni we got another lift with Mr. Bean to the other
side of the island for a long coastal walk. It was a pretty nice walk
by some white-sand beaches (so we got to take the typical fiji
postcard photos and pick some seashells), and at the end it led up to
two waterfalls in the forest. Both the falls landed in the same little
plunge pool and you had to swim from the riverbank a bit further
downstream to get to the pool - very nice and hidden. The highest of
the falls must have been around ten meters but that didn't stop an old
Fijian guy who had guided some other people there from climbing to the
top and jumping in.. I decided to skip that one (Edel wouldn't let me
In the morning we got another 15-seater flight back to Nadi, was
raining heavily and the tiny windscreen wiper working frantically on
the plane's front window didn't add much to feeling safe...the landing
was better than the last one at least though.
Next day a bigger plane to Sydney.
== Sydney ==
Had five days here but didn't do all that much.. Went to the Sydney
aquarium for a day, to get over some of the diving withdrawal symptoms
but it didn't help much. We also sorted out our visa for Indonesia one
day and had a quick look at the famous Opera house another. The area
around the opera house was closed off though because of some big
business meeting with top CEOs from all over the world. There were
hundreds of people protesting there as well, seemed like everyone that
had anything at all they wanted to protest against took the
opportunity. We saw signs against nuclear energy, extreme-left
anti-capitalism signs, people protesting against the Chinese
extreme-left government's persecution of Falun-Gong & some teens just
protesting against the cops that were there to look after the
protest.. (might have missed some part of the puzzle but I found it a
bit difficult to see the connection some of the protests had to do
with just a big business meeting....).
== Alice Springs ==
Another plane ride to Alice Springs in central Australia - saw nothing
but red flat desert for ages flying in. We had planned to rent a car
for a few days to see Ayers Rock and other things in the area but it
turned out to be a good bit more expensive to rent a car here than in
New Zealand..ended up booking a tacky three day bus tour instead. Very
tacky, it came complete with a 50 meter camel ride and everything..
There were twenty others on the bus, mainly younger than us and in
Australia on an extended drinking-holiday, and the constant music on
the bus must have been too loud even for someone who (unlike me..)
happens to like 80's superhits and Queen. The first day, apart from
the camel ride, we had a good few hours in the bus ("galileo, galileo
figaro"..., "oh, it's raining men, hallelujah"...) on the way to
King's Canyon. Did a boiling hot walk in the quite dramatic landscape
around the canyon (was close to 40 degrees and even the just hundred
meter climb at the beginning of the walk was pretty tough). Slept
under the stars for the night - it hardly ever rains out here and a
sleepingbag is enough for the cold.
Another few hours in the bus ("I will survive, ooooo, I will
survive"...) on the way to Kata Tjuta - The Valley of the Winds - in
the Olgas. It's another strange pile of rocks sticking up from the
completely flat desert around it not too far from Uluru (Ayers Rock).
I think I likes the Olgas better that Uluru actually, very round and
strangely fluffy looking shapes for being absolutely gigantic rocks.
In the evening we went to watch the sunset over Uluru (following the
"sunset viewing; buses" roadsign..) at a parking lot together with a
couple hundred others.. The sunset viewpoint was located so that you
have the sunset at one side, and on the other side - 180 degrees away
from it - the Ayers Rock. Doesn't make much sense in case you were
hoping to fit both in one photo....
The sunrise viewpoint the next morning made slightly more sense..
Afterwards me and a Polish guy (the only person older than me on the
trip..) climbed the rock, while the rest of the group did a walk
around the base. It's a 350 meter climb but it was still early in the
morning so wasn't too hard (the short climb in King's Canyon the first
day was tougher...wouldn't have wanted to walk up Uluru in 40
degrees..). There's actually hand-rails installed most of the way up,
and there's a long ant-train of people walking up (lots of old
Japanese people actually..). Bit of a strange looking thing when you
walk on it the Uluru, got the same angle on the slope almost the whole
way up where you climb it and no loose rocks or sharp edges anywhere -
the whole thing looks very sand-blastered over hundreds of thousands
of years with only round smooth shapes everywhere. Very nice view from
the top - would have been even better to be there for the sunrise
And after this another very very long bus ride back to Alice Springs
("mama, I just killed a man"..., "crazy like a fool, without daddy
cool"..., "another one bites the dust"... etc. etc.).
At least the trip was cheap!
== Darwin ==
Another flight later and we were by the north coast of Australia. We
were a bit more selective about which trip to book this time for going
to the Kakadu national park. Got one with a group-size, people (..and
music) that better suited a cranky old man like myself.. It was just
us and seven others in a 4 wheel drive jeep for four days.
The first morning, before driving towards Kakadu, we stopped at a
beach close to Darwin for a quick introduction to indigenous culture.
Three aborigini brothers taught us the arts of didgeridoo, spear
throwing and making fire. The didgeridoo is such a great instrument,
really sends chills down my spine. I did manage to find a tone in one
but couldn't figure out the circular breathing they do to keep on
playing while they take a new breath. Next spear throwing at a
kangaroo! The kangaroo was made of polystyrene but still got away
unfortunately.. The price for the first person in the group to hit it
would have been to not have to do dishes for the four days but the
price stayed unclaimed.. (I broke a spear though!). A couple of us
also had a go at starting fire (the
use-a-bow-with-a-string-to-rotate-a-stick method) with (almost..)
entirely traditional tools. The first guy failed but I, big swedish
caveman, make good fire, using sticks and old redbull can, and fishing
line! Good fun..
Next stop on the way was an hour boat ride looking for big crocodiles
(they can get up to over eight meters and we saw some five meter ones)
and strange birds, magpie geese, jaribu storks and a weird snake-neck
bird we saw catching a fish (which an eagle was then trying to steal
Next we saw thousands of flying foxes (big bats) in a tree by the park
center on the way to Ubirr - an aboriginal rock art site. The drawings
here were very impressive compared to the ones we'd seen in the desert
- must have been a lot easier to find food around here so they had
more time to practice the arts. Most of the paintings were of fish and
wallabys in a sort of x-ray style where you can see the muscles and
bones inside. One old painting was of a Tasmanian tiger, which has
been extinct on mainland australia for at least a thousand years (they
survived on tasmania until early 1900's when us whities came and
killed them all). Driving from Ubirr we saw a massive fire by the
road-side - they burn off a lot of the grass here in the early dry
season now, like the aboriginis used to, in order to avoid bigger
forest fires in the late dry season. And all the extra dust in the air
makes some unbelievably colourful sunsets..
Next day to Twin Falls and Jim Jim falls. To get there we had to drive
a long 4WD track, and cross a meter deep stream (was happy we hadn't
gone for the rent-a-car option now..). Some amazing views over the
gorge from the top of twin falls and then a nice cool swim a bit
further upstream (can't swim at the bottom of the falls since the
salt-water crocodiles sometimes come up there..).
Jim Jim falls was even more spectacular. A walk between two high
cliff-sides among massive fallen down boulders leads to a big deep
plunge pool under the falls. The falls were dry at this time of the
year, but it was still an amazing place for a swim - surrounded by 150
meter cliffs on three sides. (No crocs here luckily).
Camping by the night at Maguk, where I managed to whack myself good in
the face while collecting firewood. Not completely sure how, was dark
and the flashlights were dying..think I was pulling a branch from a
dead tree on the ground and the whole tree followed or something.. Got
a few smaller cuts plus a big one from my nose out over my chin
(missed the eye at least..). Edel helped me back to the guide, Gus,
who did a good job patching me up (he had paper-stitches and
everything in his first-aid kit). Looked like a big Al-Capone when I
eventually had a frightened look myself in the jeeps rear-view mirror
the next day but it's mostly gone by now..
A long 4WD drive and walk to a place called Graveside Gorge the next
day. This place isn't even on the national park maps, and only this
company have permission from the aborigini owners to visit it. On the
way there we saw some six meter high termite mounds and wild horses.
Another very scenic spot, and more swimming under waterfalls.
(Collecting firewood in daylight on the way back.)
And the next morning another round of swimming under a different
waterfall at Maguk (spending a day this way doesn't really get old
though..). There were some strange rock formations and interconnected
pools at the top of the fall, you could dive down in one pool and swim
up in another.
Then back to Darwin :-(
Kakadu is one of the most stunning places we've seen anywhere on the
trip so far..I'd definitely try to come back here at some point..
Next a flight to Bali where we are now. Been here a couple days so far
and my brother Staffan just got over from Sweden as well. We'll start
to make our way towards Komodo and the big lizards tomorrow..
I promise to write not quite this long a mail the next time...
(If you spent the time reading this far you might as well spend
another minute writing a reply! I'd love to hear from you all ;-)