Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Monday, January 29, 2007


The German twosome left early and when I awoke (late) Yuko had already moved from her bunk to one of their vacant single beds. I took the cue and moved to the other.

The morning was spent by the lake, the gorgeous turquoise lake, reading and lazing. This place is far less developed than Queenstown, but, I would contend, just as beautiful. Certainly the view from the hostel, from my bedroom window, is incredible.

I got some chicken thighs and spinach (to accompany the perpetual noodles) for dinner then met up with the girls for walking. They had been horse-riding that morning. We spent an enjoyable afternoon walking up to St John's Lookout, the location of several telescopes (due to the clear skies hereabouts) and a cafe. En route I found out about Anne's checkered past. A sports centre receptionist, she has seen more than her fair share of family ups and downs. Now, in her early fifties, she is seeing the world. Already she's been on safari in Africa seven times. Anyhow right then she was suffering from a bruised rib (as diagnosed by Dr Jam in the pizzeria the night before) and the walk was not always kind. Nevertheless we made it to the top for our lemon, lime and bitters.

I had a fine appetite for my chicken thighs and spinach. Heating up the pan too much, however, I lethally undercooked the chicken, and, though the veg and noodles were lovely, I had to throw those delicious chargrilled drumsticks away. To compensate I got a burger in the nearby 'township'. Interesting (beetroot featured heavily), though not entirely successful.

With a bottle of wine and a big pack of crisps, I went to the girls' hostel to see if we could see the comet. They were already polishing off a bottle when I arrived. Beside us in the common room and apcked house was watching 'Mars Attacks'. Not to the girls' taste, but I, being a kid a heart, relish the nasty jokes. Sarah Jessica Parker grabbing hold of Michael J. Fox's unincinerated hand is a joy.

Soon though it was dark enough to go comet watching and sure enough there it was, Comet McNaught. A small group had gathered and a pair of binoculars was being passed around, but they weren't needed, the comet was wonderfully distinct. The tail in particular was huge. We even got instructions on seeing the Southern Cross from an amateur astronomer in the group.

By then the girls were ready for bed, so grabbing my wine I headed back along the lakeshore. Try and picture a drunk idiot wandering along a beautiful, moonlit lake, comet blazing overhead, with a bottle of very fine shiraz in hand and a headful of Chtulhu nonsense (the story I was reading concerned a lake and forest beastie that lurked around at night). I was a very happy camper.

Not such a happy sleeper though.

When I did get back I tried to answer some trivial pursuit questions for some Germans (they didn't know 'The Breakfast Club' or who Chrissie Hynde was), but I knew my time had passed. Thankful for my single bed I fell asleep easy, only to awake suddenly with burning nasal passages. No puke just nastiness. Anyhow, enough!!!!!

Next morning we went to Christchurch. Left in Cathedral Square, I had contacted the niece of my uncle (he is married to my mother's sister) who lived near Christchurch and was to stay the last few days of my trip. Grant, her husband, picked me up, but it turned out they were having lunch with friends, so first it was out to a lovely country restaurant for a BLT. Sandra and Grant are a wonderful couple with two lovely kids, Jonathan and Samantha. The afternoon was spent very pleasantly. Once back at their amazing house, designed by themselves, I fell asleep for over three hours. The others had arranged to meet up for 9, so Grant kindly drove me in to the rendevous. Rebecca had already sussed out the bars (Kristina and Rebecca had arrived the day before), so it was on to one Irish bar after another. The Limerick lass turned up, but had to leave early as she was leaving Christchurch the next day. Dr Jam turned up too, this time swapping the lovely Claire and Charlie, for Chloe, a lovely little English girl I had tried to flirt with on the Killer Pool night. As it happened she had just left school. Sorry folks, she did look older.

After drinks and manic dancing, 'Yellow Brick Road' singing and resorting to G and T's, I headed home by taxi.

This morning, awaking late (at 9), I kep an eye out the window for the girls, who were skydiving today. Apparently skydivers are often visible from the house. I didn't see them though. Then Sandra, the kids and I went to the Museum - very impressive - and then for lunch. I left them at that point and went inquiring about my China visa. Apparently it would take 4 working days to get, so I am leaving that obstacle until Thailand. Being in Christchurch, I felt obliged to go into the cathedral whereupon I met Martin from DCU again. He had just arrived. Anyhow hello Martin, I know you're reading and good luck with Melbourne!

There is a Giacometti exhibition on at the nicely designed gallery, but with not too much time I decided to look at the other exhibits and come back for that tomorrow or Wednesday. The gallery itself is fairly small and for those of you who know my gallery habits you might be surprised to learn I saw most of it in the hour I had. There are some impressive pices, mostly contemporary, but there's also a lot of less than imposing works. They make a big deal of a Dutch artist, Van Der Velder, who came to New Zealand, but though he can paint, and he can, I don't see much in his work. Dutch peasants are far more interesting in the hands of Van Gogh.

Anyhow I write now before heading to meet the girls for dinner. I feel very ungrateful not being with Sandra and Grant more, but we all split up now, so this will be most probably be the last time I'll see any of them for a while. And Rebecca was very threatening about my turning up!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Lake Tekapo

Did you know Dunedin features in 'The Call of Cthulhu'? Of all the places in all the world, huh?

Anyhow I got the bus yesterday morning for Lake Tekapo. I met Manon, Reggy and Ann at the bus stop, so the group is once more forming. Having made my pilgrimage in the rain to Baldwin Street the day before, I was a little put out to discover the bus was to stop at Baldwin Street to allow us to scale its height. I stayed in on board when we arrived. As it happened I was feeling pretty lousy with my cold and was to get worse.

We stopped to view somw volcanic rocks called the Moeraki Boulders, hemispherical outcrops from the surf of a nice shoreline, though a minute or two's investigation sufficed. Then some additional brekkie (I'd had my muesli earlier).

While I am about it I should raise an objection here to hostel cats. I like cats and I have no problem with people keeping them. I have no problem staying with people who keep them; that is their choice and I am a guest. But a hostel is a paying concern. When I arrived in the Central Backpackers in Dunedin, I was shown to my room by a young staffmember. Suddenly she saw the cat on the top bunk across from mine. Rather than complain, she petted him and let him snuggle up warmer in that person's bed. It didn't help that all doors in the hostel were open allowing the cat free access to everywhere. Later as I went for my food I found the cat jumping up on to the food shelf and attempting to investigate someone's foodbag. Indeed the cat's food etc. was right by the kitchen rubbish. I am sure there is a mousehunting service provided by such feline friends, but I am also sure that at the very least they pose a problem for those with allergies and at the worst a major health hazard. Certainly I got the whiff of cat's piss more than once. Anyhow sorry for the complaining.

We stopped for lunch and ataround 4 arrived at Lake Tepako. Minerals washed into the lake (and others nearby) by glaciers lends the water a distinctive turquoise colour. It can look stunnning. Lake Tekapo the town isn't much more than a strip of restaurants beside the service station, though a statue of a collie dog and a very small picturesque church give it some distinction. ONce the collie and church had been duly photographed I made a Lemsip and sat down to read.

In the evening, and it being Australia Day, I went to a nearby restaurant to join others from the Magic Bus for dinner and drinks. Everyone was delayed, so it was just me and a Danish woman who is particulalry friendly with one of the drivers. It turns out she had been on the Magic Bus two years back and was doing it again to test the waters before coming to New Zealand to live. I think her Maori driver 'friend' is still around for her, so she's coming back soon. At that point the others arrived and I ended up ordering a venison and lamb pizza with Jam, his two English female friends (Claire and 'Prince Charles', the girl Victor once hooked up with), and two other English girls, Liz and Sammi (the one Phillip hooked up with). It was a pleasant enough evening, the pizza was fine, the company innocuous and my cold kept a little in abeyance by the alcohol. Ann, Manon and Reggy turned up later and I walked back with them.

I had ended up in a mixed dorm with Kristina and Rebecca. Kristina, after a long afternoon walk, was in bed, while Rebecca had found some German guy and stayed behind in the bar. I watched the end of 'Almost Famous' drinking a Lemsip and then suffered indigestion, on top of my running nose, so I may have kept the Japanese girl on the lower bunk, Yuko, awake. All fun and games.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Dunedin Horror

I am filling myself with vitamins, Lemsip and lozenges, battling a nose that runs when it's not blocked up. Naturally it had to rain today, but let me get things in order.

The railway station here is famed for its ornate exterior and Royal Doulton porcelain interior, so I thought I'd take a quick peek; it's only a few minutes away. Yes, it's pretty, but not too much to get excited about, looking more like an expensive country town station (which is, after all, what it is) than the glorious city hub I was expecting. I picked up some medication and headed back for lunch, that is chicken soup.

Of course, I couldn't resist that bookshop I passed when I set out again, so I purchased a nice anthology of Cthulu Mythos stories (including some by Lovecraft himself) for a couple of dollars. Well, hell, I've been reading Salinger long enough!

In the afternoon I had high hopes: the Otago Museum; the Botanic Gardens; the World's Steepest Street, Baldwin Street. The museum, however, which is better than one has a right to expect, took up my standard three hours. In an effort to celebrate their achievements, they even have a section concentrating on the local university, one of the first in New Zealand. One interesting piece told of the mixed flat student scandal of the '60s. Apparently in 1966, the University Council passed a decree that no student might live in an accommodation of which the University disapproved, unless it was their parents' home. As a result a male student, who had been living with three women, was expelled. Ah, what glorious days when students had fight in their souls! 1,800 students rose up and staged a live-in in the Registry, a third of them sleeping over. Although the University didn't repeal the rule, they gave in on most of the student demands.

On the top floor, the original natural history display is preserved (just like the animals) and it's very peaceful wandering around the glass cases filled with skulls, pinned insects and stuffed creatures.

I escaped at 5, hardly the right time to visit the Botanic Gardens, particularly as it was lashing rain. Rain is the bane of Dunedin life apparently, the monster under the well-made bed, and it made things miserable. One should weigh that against the price of housing though, a four bedroom villa costing $250,000.

Regardless of the intemperate climate, I determined to visit and scale the height of Baldwin Street. There are many steep streets in Dunedin, but this particular one was three kilometers out. Wearing a hoodie, I got halfway there before resorting to my emergency poncho, but the rain was too persistent. The poncho was, of course, a waste of space. Besides looking like I was wearing a plastic bag (which I was), the hood kept ballooning back until I put up my hoodie hood again allowing the plastic to stick to the wet cloth. The plastic too makes for a very uncomfortable walk, especially when you are walking a monster of a road, as Balwin Street turned out to be. I saw steps on one side, but felt that was a cheat, so I deliberately started to walk the path on the other side of the street. Near the top, the path gave out. The road was wet, the angle was steep (well, that was why I was there) and my rubber soled shoes slip. What could I do though? Braving the drain water rapids, I inched across the slippery road to the other side's safe last few feet. It was an easy toddle from there, though I was perspiring nastily when I finally stood in the rain at the top. One almost wishes they cut down the many trees on the street as there is very little view when you get to the top, very little to see except that steep road going down.

I knew there was some spaghetti waiting for me in the hostel, but I could not resist some fish and chips in a takeaway. How can they charge $2.40? That's probably 1.50 euro, yet that is how much I was charged for a pretty satisfactory takeaway (all that was missing was vinegar). And then the rest of the menu? Chowmein for $7! And it wasn't just that takeaway, others along the road were cheaper. I stopped again for a mocha and a quick read (I couldn't resist a little of 'The Call of Cthulu'; hee, hee, hee). All in all, I could easily stay a few days and sample Dunedin's cheap meals and cafe delights, but tomorrow I leave.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Snotty nosed and sniffling

Just a little more on last night's strange meeting. I was typing away in the Internet cafe beside the backpackers, writing to a few friends from my old workplace, DCU. When I left on my careerbreak last July, I was leaving a week after another employee in the HR department, Martin. I would know Martin well enough having worked on his department's website. Anyhow he was also doing some travelling. How that travelling got him to the very same Internet cafe as me, in Dunedin of all places, at the very same time, I will never know, but he walked in just as I was finishing the DCU emails. It turns out he has practically been making the same trip in New Zealand as me on almost the same days (some will see that as explanation enough). Anyhow we went for a pint or two and swapped notes. He heads on to Australia and then Japan next. I think back to meeting Micheal from DCU in the airport when I left, and then Hanlie, my South African friend, in Paris and I wonder. The phrase, 'small world', doesn't cover it.

Last night I read a copy of Empire lying around in the lounge. Some worrying film news. They have finally gotten around to making the long planned adaptation of Richard Matheson's classic sci-fi/horror, 'I am Legend'. Once upon a time they were casting Arnold Schwarzenegger, but now they have settled on Will Smith. Not sure I like the sound of this. What I read about the Arnie version deviated quite a lot from the book and I have no reason to think they've reverted to the original source for this. I still think the much maligned version with Vincent Price, 'The Last Man on Earth', gets an unfairly bad rap. It's as close to the novel as you can get (Matheson wrote the original screenplay, though he disowned it later). Worried.

Suffering now with a cold that has blossomed. Dunedin weather is too much like home to be funny. I will say though that I got a very good feeling about this city when we arrived. It's very European, or rather of the British Isles, and the buildings actually have a look of history about them.


Done-in in Dunedin

Not much time, so I'll write another list and fill in the details later.

  1. Went to Kiwi Park for shows. Swallowed a brick when rats repeatedly appeared during a conservation show. They were planned; I behaved like a kid at a pantomime.

  2. Got the Queenstown Gondola to the Skyline Complex overlooking the town and lake. Incredible view.

  3. Went on the Luge, a three wheeled plastic cart that speeds down a set track. Chairlift stopped uncomfortably on the way up. Took the scenic, less advanced route for my luge, but felt no need to try the advanced afterwards.

  4. Walked a little of the Ben Lomond Trail, but it would take too long, so I walked back and got the gondola to town.

  5. Met Phillip and German girl, Linda, in the supermarket. Linda has flu or a bad cold, so walked her back to YHA.

  6. Tuna sandwich and olives.

  7. Decided to hike the Fernhill Loop walk, meant to take 3-4 hours. I was advised to go the anti-clockwise route, but mistakenly went the other direction. Very, very steep ascent. Did the main route in 2 hours 20. Back to the hostel in under three hours.

  8. Tired. Laundry, food, shower.

  9. Met Rebecca and Kristina back from Milford Sound.

  10. Out on the tear. Nearly forgot the code for the hostel door.

  11. Home by 4.00. 3 hours sleep.

  12. On the road to Dunedin.

  13. Cd player on bus played my Beck cd. Not the wisest.

  14. Arrived in Dunedin. Hostel reasonable, but understaffed. Lovely Israeli girl on the bus and in the hostel, hee, hee, hee.

  15. Visit to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. Yum.

  16. Coming down with a cold.

  17. Sole for dinner.

  18. In Internet Cafe writing emails to workmates at DCU, when a guy who left on a year's break like myself suddenly walks into the Internet cafe. Madness!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Milton Sound and Sounds

Taking it easy, I went to the local Kiwi and Birdlife Park. As it was raining and I was late, the ticket seller marked my ticket so that I could return on Tuesday to catch the Conservation and Maori shows I had missed. Also because it was raining, I had the park to myself.

The 'guaranteed' kiwi viewing was only partly true. Kiwis are nocturnal and very shy so they were kept in a red-lit nocturnal house behind glass. Although one stood only a foot or two in front of me, the colours and the small eyes were invisble to me. Interesting though. Next and as impressive (if not more so) were the Tautaras, a reptile only found in New Zealand and one that constitutes its own branch of the reptile family tree (the others being snakes and lizards, crocodiles etc., and turtles etc.). The tautara has been around virtually unchanged since the dinosaurs and is unique among animals in that it has a third eye, albeit one that is covered over by scales eight months after it is born. It can hold its heartbeat to a steady one beat per minute and rarely needs to breathe. On top of all that it is believe they can live from 200 to 300 years. Remarkable stuff. On to the keas, the only mountain living parrot, and very intelligent birds. I was able to walk into their cage, but they demonstrated their intelligence by ignoring me.

Later I stood by the rare and endangered Black Stilt enclosure. It shared its space with ducks and oyster catchers. Suddenly alarm cheeps went off, ducks began fluttering and all in all a ruckus began. I thought for a moment it might be me; humans tend to react to me that way after all. But no, for almost immediately a stoat ran out from a bush, stood looking up at me, then sped back to the bush. That is not good, particularly not in an endangered wildlife park. mankind has brought a lot of destruction to New Zealand, particularly to its birdlife and one of the main imports to cause damage is the stoat. Luckily the cage was good enough to keep him out, but I let the admin people know when I got back.

I think it only fair, in the interests of documenting my culinary exploits to write that I treated myself to a t-bone steak that evening, one double the size of my hand. I cooked it (or left it raw enough) to perfection and was very pleased.

That night I got roped into a killer pool tournament. Philip, Victor, Joscelyn and Danny all bowed under the pressure, but Danny, who was playing immediately before me, left me with two gift blacks allowing me to get two extra lives. For a long while I was winning. A young English shark, however, who scarcely put a ball wrong all night, ended my dreams of pool glory and first prize of a powerboat ride, and I ended up coming third. I needed a drink or two in the teapot-serving World Bar (the teapots are a refreshingly original way of serving cocktails), so we joined the girls who had gone ahead. I had the added incentive of seeing the two Irish girls from Nelson turn up and head there. I left early, however, as this morning I had a trip to Milford Sound. (Besides I didn't get anywhere with the Irish girls)

Three English kids who had been in my dorm in Wellington, were in my dorm again. I had been notified of the squeeky ladder (a top bunk again), but when I got back was bewildered to find that Jamie, who occupied the bed below me, had left all his bags at the foot of the ladder. Try clearing and getting into your top bunk, in the dark, trying not to make a sound, while tipsy; it isn't easy, dear people. I had more luck though than when pool playing.

Phillip had been out until 4.30 am (a 28 year old English girl takes up a lot of time), but was bright and bushy-tailed (or as much so as he can be) when he got on. I was the one who slept for the first two hours of the trip. Elodie and Andy were also on board. The others have rented a car and are making two days of the trip, but my trip was included in my Magic Bus ticket, so I took the bus.

Although we started in sunshine, we neared a rain-soaked mountain range as we got closer. The Eglinton Valley (the first part of our route after Te Anau) was impressive, but the Hollingford Valley, the next stage, amazed us still more, with huge peaks shrouded in writhing cloud. After we got through the Homer Tunnel though, close to Milton Sound itself, things took on a whole new aspect. It is tremendous scenery and on this occasion the rain was a bonus as it gave birth to hundreds of waterfalls. They appeared as white lines of varying width veining sheer cliffs, and they were everywhere. Every so often a mountain peak would be revealed, but the summits were just as impressive with the cloud swirling around them. The Sound (which is not technically a sound at all, but a fjord) was almost a disappointment when we finally arrived. Almost. Getting on to the Milton Monarch, we headed out on to the water.

The cliffs around the sound extend upwards, stright upwards, for up to 1200 feet. There were those waterfalls again, and some lounging seals and then wind. Lots of wind and rain buffeted us as we clicked, clicked, clicked from the upper deck. More and more I lament this culture of photography that has grabbed the tourist. It is as if nothing has been seen unless we catch it on camera, though the reality is we rarely if ever look at these pictures. Spending more time on the reality rather than creating the facsimile would benefit us all. Having said that, I snapped away at the magnificence like the rest of them.

On the ride home I discovered my cd of Beethoven symphonies hidden away in my cd case. I had wanted to play the Ninth as we passed the waterfalls etc., and returning I now had this chance. Waterfalls and classical music are something of a cliche, but given the multitude and magnitude of these waterfalls, the music just about covered it. Beethoven's music suits Alpine splendour and this was most certainly Alpine splendour.

The driver then put on 'The World's Fastest Indian', the true story of septugenarian, Burt Munro, who broke the land speed record for a bike of a particular size with his home tinkered 1929 Indian motorcycle. I'd seen it before and enjoyed it, but even then I recognised the slender nature of the tail. It's really just a simple story padded out with mildly amusing road encounters. Still it passed the time after we left Fjordland Park.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Queenstown hangover

I changed rooms in the YHA and met a nice couple from Birmingham, Chris and Jo. They were on the Magic Bus destined for Queenstown the next morning too, so we had our alarms all set. I washed my clothes a second time, the machines making them dirtier than when they went in. Then I strolled off to the bar, late and promising myself to go home early given our early start.

It was another night of pool and partying. One Dutch guy told me how he was an Ireland soccer supporter after seeing them play Holland under Jack Charlton. He also followed Celtic because of their Irish support. Tired of this sporting talk, I turned back to the pool. Not a good move. I nearly had a fight with a guide from that afternoon's walk when he and another guy tried to skip the queue to play. I stood my ground and the bar manager backed me up. However, when they pressed the issue she decided she wanted no fights in her bar and turned the table off. The guide promised to play me tomorrow.

Tomorrow is another day and, having kept my promise and gone back to the hostel at 12.45, I awoke reasonably refreshed. Little Japanese Man was sitting in the dining area slurping his tea and eating muesli with chopsticks. I stuck to my spoon. 7.30 rolled around and I went to get the bus. Our new driver, however, seemed to think it was nice to have us stand around in the rain (and rain it did, torrentially) while he decided what bus to put us on. As there were nearly 80 passengers, once more we had two buses. Eventually we had our seats and were moving.

I read Lillian Hellman's introduction to the Hammett collection (I usually read introductions last in case they tell me too much about the book). Hellman and Hammett were lovers for many years and her short piece is as eloquent a tribute and as fine a portrait of real love as you'll probably ever read. It makes me sad to think of them both now in the past. Curiously enough, they were pals with Nathanael West (author of 'The Day of the Locust') when he ran a hotel in New York.

The rain continued all morning and wiped out many a photo opportunity, but by lunchtime the sun was out. The 'highlight' of the afternoon was stopping at Kawarau Bridge to observe the bungy jumping. After telling us to wait at the entrance where he would guide us through the centre, our driver went ahead and we only met him when we got bored of hanging around outside. The boredom set in again after thirty odd jumps, but we had to wait for our skilled driver to decide to appear before we could go.

The inventor of modern bungy equipment, Henry Van Asch, claims that bungy jumping challenges our mental obstacles, our decision making, our willingness to trust others and technology. Bollocks! It's a money making scam that needlessly terrifies thousands of Japanese tourists. Certainly AJ Hackett the pioneer of the activity comes across as the quintessential blond himbo. You may take from this that I did not participate in bungy jumping. I am sure were I to, I would be a fervent convert and urge all and sundry to leap from a perfectly good bridge. I didn't, however, and I don't.

Eventually we made it to Queenstwon and my hostel. Firstly I was greeted by Rebecca and Kristina who had a 'small gift' for me. They'd bought me a tiki, that is a small carved Maori amulet, often of greenstone or bone. I was completely chuffed. Once again I think them very sincerely. I am wearing it now. Then I got to my room where a young, blonde English girl sitting on a bed bid me hello. Like the weather the day can turn from grey to sunshine just like that.

Queenstown, apart from its adventure activity capital status, is also party central. A few English people who had been in my dorm in Wellington warned me of watered down drink in the World Bar, famous for selling cocktails in teapots. Watered down or not, after meeting in the Red Rock bar, we headed down for our teapots and stayed there. I got home with a monstrously good burger (I asked for blue cheese and they really used blue cheese) at around 4.

At 7.00 the idiotic German guys in the room let their phone alarms play military anthems for around five minutes, apparently through an amplifier. I resisted all but the most mumbled comment and went back to sleep. Close to 10 I had to get up to change room (I had initially only booked one night and they had no more beds except in an 8 bed dorm). I will chill for the day. By the way the lovely English blonde, Lizzy, has a blog which can be found at I must admit the whole setup looks a great deal better than blogger.

By the way, the lakeside views here are spectacular.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Cramps and Balrogs

I managed to leave the Blue Ice Bar at 11 or so having played some atrocious pool. I should mention that earlier in the day I had had trouble booking into the YHA hostel I am in. Initially I had been given a two bed room, really nice, and had just made my bed when a knock at the door dispelled the dream. I had been given the wrong room. I was out. And into a five bed dorm. Not too bad though as I was the second person there and got a single bed (avoiding the bunks). Later going into the room I met another occupant, a 60 something little Japanese man. He muttered to himself and when he wasn't muttering he wheezed and gasped while he pottered endlessly. I suspected this might be a snorer. When I got back from the bar, Little Japanese Man was fast asleep and snoring like a vacuum cleaner. he alternated his approach constantly and managed to defeat my ear plugs. On the rare occasion he was silent another occupant, an elderly English gent took up the running. I got very little sleep. Talking to Phillip the next day, it transpired this was the Little Japanese Man that had forced the four occupants of his room in Wellington out to the tv lounge for sleep.

Let us be under no illusions. Snorers are the balrogs of hostels, creatures of fire and smoke that choke your ear canals, casting you down into the chasms of wakefulness. Little Japanese Man or Misshapen Hulk they are evil and must be destroyed. Unfortunately I could not bring myself to wring the neck of the Little Japanese Man and as a result I went to the Franz Josef Glacier at 8.15 wary of my physical abilities.

I must confess I was worried about the glacier and a steep climb up 150 feet of ice was promised. Even before we got there we were warned and prepared for a ladder. How huge would this ladder be? Built into the cliff face it had to be at least 100 foot. It wasn't. It was a common or gardener one with chains to secure it. heartened by this I was heartened still more when we finally reached the ice face after 40 minutes walk; it was very unterrifying after all. Very soon I was convinced I had overcome my fear of heights and was bounding up ice steps. Of course, I hadn't overcome my fear, but I encountered nothing to aggravate it. I did discover, however, that I was surest of my footing when I didn't apply my conscious mind to the task of climbing. Automatically I was fine. Unfortunately being part of a group means you are constantly stopping and starting as those ahead of you stop or ease up. I was impatient to storm ahead. After some food though, my mind took notice once more of the walking and I was less sure of my footing. All in all though, I think I did a good job and I really enjoyed my 8 hour hike. Only at the end, as my body started to wind though knowing the end was near, did a cramp begin in my leg. I made it back well.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Some Alice Springs Snaps

Niall O'Leary and friendNiall O'Leary and friend
Alice Springs Desert Park
Alice Springs Desert Park
Alice Springs Desert Park

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Santiago pics

Santiago near Los Espanoles Hotel
Santiago Chile

Santiago Chile
Christmas tree in Santiago


Well, that night in Nelson (16th) was pretty heavy. Victor (Scottish) and Denny (Swiss) had 8 free drinks lined up in the Shark Bar, so we headed there first. Phillip, German, but Swiss (don't ask), was celebrating his 21st on the 17th, so 12 midnight was a good excuse to get things kicked off. Prior to that Reggy, or Regula, another Swiss paired up with me to play Robbie (Aussie) and Manon (Dutch) in pool. Surprisingly we won more than we lost, and all the while the Tui (a New Zealand ale) was flowing.

At 12, I selected Stevie Wonder's 'Happy Birthday to You' on the video jukebox and got in a Shaker Tail, or a shaker of some mixture of shots. Unfortunately the song got mixed up with other requests and didn't get played until 15 minutes later. The drink on the other hand went down very well.

Victor, Denny and I had worked up a free shot each and downed it before leaving (Butterscotch). Ah, were we merry. Then it was on to the Rock Bar where a lacklustre karaoke was in session. Without a qualm I put my name down ('I Can See Clearly Now'), but luckily was too far down the list to get called up. I had a beer or two and finished with a G and T. A pleasant walk brought us back to our hostel, the Paradiso, which overall was a cosy place to rest up for those two days.

Next morning up and at them. I was not quite hungover, but very tired and tipsy merry. At our first stop, given a nice green lawn, a crashed out face first, setting something of a trend, I believe. In the process I squashed a bug or something more unpleasant on to my t-shirt. I tried not to think about it too much.

Sleep on the coach, Beck playing along the way. Occasionally I read a little Hammett as I was nearing the end of the title story of 'The Big Knockover' and was hooked a little.

If I haven't said it already, I'll say it now, New Zealand is one of the most (if not the most) beautiful countries in the world. Few places I have seen compare. We stopped again to sample more of this beauty along a coastal walk. Beaches of white sand stretched along a wild sea, boulders and sticks of rock studding the water. Even in my dehydrated state I could appreciate the splendour. Amazing. The walk itself was a good hour, ending with an indifferent hotdog from a kiosk at Cape Foul. As I went to the nearby toilet I was warned by a solicitous American that it was called Cape Foul for a reason. It sure is. A colony of seals cause a whiff (though they provided us with a lovely sight, the pups playing, the bulls braying), but on this occasion she meant the toilet. Very stinky.

More sleep on the coach.

We stopped to photograph the Pancake Rocks, each column of stone looking like a stacked pile of pancakes. Good to see and by this stage the constant fast-paced walking ('We only have 30 minutes, folks!') was clearing out my head. Just as well that our destination for the night, Greymouth, boasted a brewery tour and sampling session.

Our hostel, the Neptune, was a very nice surprise. Though I was in an 8 bed dorm with most of the rest of the group I've hooked up with, there were no bunks, it being a huge room with single beds. It was really nice (as Phillip might say, 'nice' being his word of the tour).

The Monteith Brewery is a small operation, run by 10 people. These 10 are only back from their holidays, so not much beer has been brewed of late. The tour was pretty bland as a result, a huge group being shuffled from one bit of unused machinery to another. The testing at the end allowed us to taste 6 or 7 of their local brews. Some were quite nice, Monteith Gold being probably the pick of the crop. Victor, a fiddle-playing, Gaelic-speaking, English-disliking Scot, felt it was a matter of honour for us to drink the Celtic brew (something like Kilkenny's), so once we got transferred to a local hotel for a barbeque and 'mega pint', we had a pint of the stuff. The barbeque, a very reasonable $5 included in our tour fee, was princippaly sausages. For another $5 you could get a steak and I cannot resist a steak, certainly not a large blue steak, which is what I didn't resist. More pool, more drink. A little, shy Japanese girl, Tyco, looked pretty out of it, so I took it on myself to introduce her to the group. Having been 6 months in New Zealand, she has been fairly unhappy, not being able to make too many friends. With her cute face that shouldn't have been a problem. Anyhow I was a complete gentleman, drunk though I was. Given that this was Phillip's real birthday, Rebecca and Christina, the 2 German girls, produced a nice chocolate cake to chase the beer down.

There were 80 people going down today, so instead of 1, there were 2 Magic Buses (as if by magic, another one appeared). Our bus was still very packed and after engineering a seat for Denny beside Christina (apparently a match to be made), Rebecca delivered me to the middle chair at the back of the bus. Too uncomfortable, I moved up to sit beside another German girl when we made a supermarket stop. We were making our way to the Franz Joseph Glacier where prices are a little more expensive, hence the stop.

I finished Hammett this time. 'The Big Knockover' and its sequel 'The $106,000 Bloodmoney' are convoluted, but irresistible. The Continental Op is a powerful creation. In 'The Gutting of Couffignal', a story that anticipates all the Die Hard movies and more, the Op, in a splendid defence of socialism (note who are his adversaries in this tale), claims he doesn't care about money or dames just doing his job. In 'The Big Knockover' and its sequel we see just how far this can take him (according to Wikipedia the title story is the inspiration for 'The Usual Suspects'). Murder by proxy is not beyond him, though as he says, he played the cards as best he could, but at the end of the day they just fell the way he wanted. The collection is not perfect; a tale of European intrigue, 'This King Business', is an uncomfortable attempt at exploiting the Op's Machiavellian side in an overtly political way. I get the feeling Hammett had just read 'Nostromo'. 'Tulip' too, a short segment of an uncompleted novel, is tantalising as autobiography, but a little out of place in the company of the Op stories. Nevertheless the book is a great read and never less than interesting.

So now I am in Franz Joseph, a full day glacier walk booked for tomorrow. I intend taking it easy for a while. I have just burned some pictures to dvd so I will be posting a few over time.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Abel for Anything!

Really unhappy with the way these blog posts are going. I just don't get much time to write them, so they ae turning into a list of events. Still the plus side is that there is so much going on. Today for instance we went sea kayaking in the Abel Tasman Park (at 6.20 a.m.!) and then were brought by watertaxi to an incredible beach from which we walked back. Had I not seen Whitehaven in Australia, I'd be tempted to list that beach as the best I've seen. Right up there though. The walk back, through incredible forest scenery, took us 4 hours.

I met 2 Irish girls at the hostel when we got back, one from Limerick and the other from Kilkenny. The Limerick lass was a real stunner. Shame about the age though.

I'm heading off now for more drink. Should be a good night.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hold Your Popcorn!

I had always believed the phrase "It will make you puke" as applied to a movie was figurative. Tonight, however, in viewing 'The Holiday', I realise this expression should be taken quite literally. I can't remember when I have ever seen such a sickening gooey mess of cliches as that flick. Naturally it is targeted, very, very cynically at women, a true 'chick flick' and at each of the girls (who wanted to see this trash) cried at the sight of a mugging Jude Law mugging his way through the sensitive, crying widow role. I like a good romantic movie as much as the next filmgoer (witness the other Kate Winslett flick, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", a real romantic movie), and can cry with the best of them, but this badly directed (particularly with regard to the actors who are let get away with pantomimic performances) chocolate box is so calculated to appeal to its female audience as to be supremely nauseating. If I had of only had an aisle seat. As it was I struggled to hold down my popcorn.

Earlier today, Manon, Elodie and I got the cablecar to the Botanic Gardens and had a really pleasant walk. Ironically given the girls' tears tonight, I think it was left to me to really enjoy the Lady Knox Rose Garden.


Putting Your Foot In It

  1. Wellington's a pretty messed up place. Women here are beautiful but seem to be intent on being impregnated by Maori. As a result the place seems to be full of single moms studying business with a fear of men because they feel they are seen as a soft touch.
  2. If I hear "Summer of '69" one more time I will hang the DJ.
  3. Casual dress - ie. t-shirts - won't get you into nightclubs. Better sew a collar on your shirt.
  4. To a drunk Irishman Kiwi accents can sound British.
  5. Australian redheads are wiser than their years. They spend their days reading 'property porn'.
  6. Everyone's out for a free drink and drunk Irishmen can be soft touches. We learn though.
  7. Wellingtons do, however, make good quarter pounders with cheese.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

These are a few of my favourite things...

  1. Steak in overpriced Irish pub with Philip, Maria, Montserrat, Christina and Rebecca.

  2. Heiko joined the gang and we headed for Blend

  3. Met Scotty another driver from Magic

  4. Many drinks

  5. Dancing on counter

  6. Many drinks

  7. More dancing on counter

  8. Many, many drinks

  9. Awoke this morning at 6.00 due to mass exodus from room

  10. Went back to sleep

  11. Awoke again feeling lousy

  12. Nice fry up in Kenny's Cafe

  13. Te Papa Museum

  14. Te Papa Museum

  15. Te Papa Museum

  16. Te Papa Museum

  17. Te Papa Museum

  18. Te Papa Museum

  19. Bought strange fish, salad and lemon juice

  20. Cooked and ate a mountain of fish. Drank half lemon juice. Not wise

  21. Soon to depart for more shenanigans

Thursday, January 11, 2007

To Taupo

I met Heiko yesterday and went along to the Polynesian Spa for the afternoon. The general area is comprised of four pools, one alkaline and three acidic, ranging in temperature from 38 to 42 degrees. It was a fairly relaxing time.

In the evening Patrick popped up, so he joined Heiko and me for a meal in the Pig and Whistle. As we were eating, in walked Rosie, John and Mareille. Great to see them and judging from their itineraries I may see more of them.

This morning en route to Taupo we visited some mud pools and a geyser. Once you photographed one mud pool you've photographed them all, but you still do it. Having said that we went to a thermal pool reserve and it was very impressive. The sulphur and other minerals coloured the pools in a kaleidoscope of hues.

Avoiding the 'Big Swing', I went powerboating near the Huka Waterfall. With a lot of spinning and close to bank speeding, I enjoyed it immensely, but didn't get the adrenaline rush you might expect. It's more fun than fear.

The hostel is okay, nothing fantastic. Our driver is not the most helpful. I get the feeling he is avoiding a lot of work, advising us to book accommodation and ferry crossings ourselves (while the other drivers have said there would be no problem). He is also very close to a lot of the optional activities making you feel he is getting his pay from several quarters. Nevertheless we are off for beer and food with him in a moment.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rottenrua's not so rotten

I am now in Rotorua with the smell of sulphur in the air (no, not me, the place is riddled with hot springs). Mary has just boarded a bus for Auckland while I stay here one more night.

My day in Whitianga had been spent mostly washing clothes and chilling out. It is a small town with a lovely beach and a brisk trade in backpackers. As a result the place was booked out and I ended up in Bay Watch, actually a bedroom converted to a 4 bunk dorm, run by an elderly pair who seemed to just let it run itself. An English woman, Toni, seems to have allowed herself to be sucked into the Bay Watch whirlpool and is staying there the season. She was in one bunk. Another bunk was occupied by the only other occupant, Herr Schmidt, actually Patrick, a consultant from Munich. The dorm had no key and the backdoor to the house was left continually open. I am not sure quite what this says about Bay Watch or Whitianga, but you can draw your own conclusions.

That evening Patrick introduced himself. A year or so out of college, he is travelling alone and I get the impression he is suffering a little. He wanted to know about the Magic Bus. I gave him the lowdown, but politely refused his offer to go to the cinema. I was hoping to meet up with the others after my laundry was done. Waiting for that I walked the quiet beach.

When I did get to town I headed for an Internet terminal in the local sports bar, Smitty's. There was Patrick with the news they were all down. I was hungry, so I assented when he proposed going for food. A lot of places close down really early in Whitianga, but in the end the Italian place, Dino's, where we ended up was pretty good. Another German group were sitting next to us (Germans are the new Irish), while a pretty Canadian served up my spaghetti marinara.

Across the road from the restaurant was the main backpacker pub, The Blacksmith's. Anthony and Philip from the Magic Bus were sitting with three grungy girls I'd noticed earlier. Naturally I had to intrude. Annie from Oregon, Lauren from Vancouver and Lynn from Palmerston North (New Zealand) were pretty and fun, so it whiled away the hours, well, hour. For a seaside town, things were very quiet.

Next morning I awoke to rain. The weather, which had been cloudy, was now distinctly homely. Cookie, the driver, was waiting when I emerged and after picking up a few others destined for Auckland, including Philip and Brat, we headed off. I had believed I would have to go to Auckland before going to Rotorua, but Cookie had told me the day before I could avoid that by getting picked up by another Magic Bus at Waitomo, famous for its vast cave system. It sounded good to me, saving me an extra day. Waitomo too sounded promising and I put my name down for black water rafting.

At Waitomo, Robbie, a new guy on the bus, several girls from the bus we were joining, and I got our wetsuits, wellies and helmets for the cave trip. The idea is to float down an underground river using tyre tubes. Quite apart from the stunning interiors of the caves, the trip is also an opportunity to observe one of Nature's treasures for the roof is studded with the bright blue lights of glow worms.

Our guide was a huge Maori guy who nearly killed us before any caves were reached speed driving to the mouth of the system. Ironically as we got in he told us seatbelts weren't used here. Luckily we had already put on our hard hats which hit against the roof perpetually. There is an optional tour involving abseiling into the caves, but we scaled the stairs to the mouth instead. Once inside, with our hat lights off, the glow of the glow worms was truly spectacular, especially when we entered the cathedral cave, a vast cavern, lit by thousands of the larvae. I was put at the front, told to turn off my light and on we trudged. Eventually we were walking into deepening water, then the floor went. Our tubes kept us upright and we formed a line,each holding on to the tube in front, excepting me of course.

We came to a platform with water rushing over the edge. Our guide told me to stand backwards at the edge, my heels over, arms crossed, looking at the ceiling, tube around my backside, light off, and fall. I did. I came up spluttering but alive and when he told me to stand the water was only waist high. It got deeper though. A slide lay ahead and as I neared it one of my wellies, full of water and too large (the group before us took all the boots), slipped off my foot. No diving for that. At the slide I was told to lift my feet as I hit the water, otherwise my legs would double up and hit my chin (shallow water being at the base). Again I did as I was told, but with an absent welly, I still grazed my heel and walked the short remainder of the trip with a little limp.

All in all the experience was amazing. Surprising myself, I had no claustrophobic qualms, no problems whatsoever though I did whimsically wish the current had been strong enough to push us.

We had a shower, got dressed, drank some soup and got on our new bus. Lo and behold, grinning and waving, there was Mary, en route to Rotorua. She had done a boatride through the caves and was convinced the glow worms were fake. Now plum-tuckered out, we fell asleep, awakening to the smell of rotten eggs in Rotorua. As it transpired we were in the same hostel and were booked in for a Maori dinner and show that night. Some things just work out.

We had been told to await pickup at 6.15 and avoid any bus that didn't look like the one on our ticket (another operator apparently poaches tourists). The bus arrived at 6.40 and was totally different to the one on our tickets. I suspiciously asked questions of our guide (Dennis), but when he produced more tickets with our names on them I conceded he was the real deal.

A chief had to be chosen from our busload of passengers. Once again a German, Alex, emerged from the back seats to take up the challenge. His role was to represent our canoe (bus) in the welcome ceremony. When we arrived we were urged not to laugh at any part of the welcome ceremony. This is a dangerous thing to do as it puts the idea of laughing in your mind. Standing around an enclosure, our five chiefs (one from each bus) stood forward facing three gates into the village. Screams were heard from the nearby forest when suddenly out of one of the gates a warrior jumped out. He goggled, lolled his tongue, hopped around while brandishing his decapitator. Don't laugh. A huge fat guy, naked to his skirt appeared over the gates, lolling and goggling some more. Don't laugh. Two more warriors repeated the actions of the first, the last leaving down a leaf of peace to be taken up by one of our chiefs. To be honest, the urge to laugh was modest. I thought of Irish dancing and how ridiculous that can seem. This was an ancient ceremony and deserved respect. However, always at the back of my mind was the question: how much of this is authentic and how much drama for the tourist.

It had been raining all day and was still. The invitation to enter the village accepted, we rushed through at speed to avoid the wet and into the auditorium for a song and dance routine. They said that some songs had been adapted to modern tunes and I'd swear the last one was a Japanese song from 'Kill Bill'. The Maori are a handsome people and one of the women was real model material, which was as well as she seemed to mess up in almost every number. The others were a wee bit more professional.

Finally we went for dinner. A Maori hangi feast is comprised of food cooked on hot stones under the soil. This gives it a slight earthy taste which is pleasant. There was quite a feast laid on with lamb and chicken, greenlipped mussels and seafood, potatoes and sweet potatoes, etc., and we were encouraged to eat seconds, which I dutifully did. The pavlova and other dishes were served for dessert, again with seconds. Afterwards I was stuffed (and cooked on hot stones under soil). The chiefs were presented with small gifts, one of them, an old guy from Kerry, doing Ireland proud with a nice little thank you.

The coach home was taken up with karaoke, though I'm not sure about "The Wheels on the Bus" being a karaoke classic. Back at the hostel, Heiko, from the Paihia group showed up and off we went to the local Irish bar. Guinness and baby Guinesses for all concerned. Things seeming fairly quiet here too though, it closed by 11.30.

Given my stuffing earlier, I deservedly suffered indigestion last night.

Having bumped into Mary again, it was sad to see her head off this morning. She leaves Auckland for Melbourne tomorrow and then on for an enviable trip to USA, Canada and Mexico. I wish her well.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Pool Sharks and Pipi Patches

As usual I was one of the last getting on the Magic Bus, so most of the seats were taken. I sat down beside an Asian girl who, it turned out, was actually from London. As things went myself and Mary, for that was her name, were partners in crime for the next three days.

Our first stop was walk five minutes and hug a tree, specifically a kauri, a huge protected species. Having done this we headed on to look at the outside of the Kauri Museum. I say the outside because no one really had any interest in going inside. Our guide and driver, Greg, had had a heavy night (driving) the night before and was the most talkative or helpful. Nevertheless I figured out the way Magic Bus works in fits and starts. Onwards we drove, arriving in the Bay of Islands in the late afternoon. By this stage, a small group of us had already bonded together and we all met for a barbeque and drinks. There was Rosie, a very tall, very attractive wine merchant from Edinburgh; Paola, an Italian midwife with a Limerick mother, who had an intially offputting, but ultimately endearing habit of saying "My love"; Heiko, a German guy who wore a baseball cap perpetually; John and his french partner, Mareille, two teachers from Oxford; and Satomi, a beer guzzling crazy Japanese girl. We did go on to Baby Guinesses at one point, but it was an early night.

Early night it may have been, but a huge, oddly formed creature in my dorm ensured I got no sleep. This bald creature had a snore like a juggernaut stuck in sand. I learnt the next day from the three blonde German girls that I was not alone, no one had slept through his snoring.

Next day we boarded a different bus operator, King's, for a day trip to Cape Reigna. Delayed by a bunch of breakfast guzzling American schoolkids, we eventually made our first stop hugging another kauri tree. Then we arrived at the lighthouse in Cape Reigna, the departing point for all the spirits of all dead Mauri heading to sea. A Maori troope made a little dance at the lighthouse, but I had made the wrong choice and walked a nearby hill instead, so I only arrived in time to pay a tip. The next stop was lunch by a beautiful beach. The downside, a toilet full of mosquitoes. Also I'd forgotten my towel, so no swimming for me. Instead Mary and I hopped the roasting sand and ate some salami sandwiches.

The afternoon held the highlights. Arriving at giant sand dunes by the 90 Mile Beach, we boogie boarded down their amazingly steep slopes. I was petrified, but after the hard slog up the slope, the only way was sliding down on a mini surfboard at 100 mph. In the end I did it three times. It was exhilarating, though on the last attempt my hands began to lose their grip and I had to stop earlier than I wanted. As usual I was the last back on the bus.

We sped down the 90 Mile Beach, a wonderful sandy expanse that is actually only 64 miles long. many an unwary car gets stuck and subsequently destroyed by the rising tide, though this has also happened to the coaches of some other tour operators, as we were told with some glee by our driver, Murray. Murray had won an award or two for his guiding/driving and in truth he was great fun. The theme tune to 'Bonanza' was played as we raced the sands as a future aide memoire.

The kauris featured yet again on our way back. The Old Kauri Kingdom was a furniture shop/cafe. Because kauris can no longer be cut down, only logs recovered from swamps are used in woodwork. This means kauri woodwork is expensive. We saved our money for the fish and chips Murray promised us as our last stop before home, that is Paihia. They were the best fish and chips I have had in many a year. Eating them meant none of us had to eat that night allowing us to concentrate on more important things like drinking.

When I arrived back at my hostel, the creature had hung up a bedspread and towel to shelter his bed while he snored once more. This boded well as if he snored now, he may have been planning to be out all night. I showered and left for drink. It was an excellent night and my Aran Island Basking Shark tale got yet another airing to tremendous applause from some nearby tables. Mary herself proved to be a pool shark, but kindly held fire to make a game of it now and again.

Another early morning for Sunday meant we were all home close to 1 am. Next day Paola and I went on a 'Swim with Dolphins' boat trip. If the dolphins are feeding or there are young present swimming is not allowed. The reality is that this will apply 95% of the time. This was very sad for Paola as this was a dream of hers. I had been told when booking the tour that being a poor swimmer I would be given a lifejacket. Not so. Onboard I was told if I needed a lifejacket I would not be let in the water. One way or the other then all I would be able to do would be to view the dolphins. Thankfully we had many dolphins to view, hundreds of Common dolphins and a pod of 6 Bottlenose dolphins making very generous appearances. Despite bringing extra batteries, my camera continually ran out of juice.

We got back at 12 and it was then I remembered I hadn't checked out of my hostel. It was some challenge trying to pack one or two last items while a gaggle of Hispanic cleaners hoovered around me. Eventually I was out and on the bus back to Auckland.

Our new driver was to be plagued with bad luck. Snuffling monstrously (at least we think it was him), he had just gotten out of Paihia when a pickup truck smashed into his side mirror. That delayed us. Then the gear stick looked like sticking. Sleepy getting onboard, we very quickly woke up on that journey.

Seeing a Maori fern at a roadside souvenir shop, I was reminded of Hundertwasser, the Austrian artist who designed a flag for the Maori using the symbol. An hour later we passed the "Hundertwasser Toilets".

Stopping at a roadside cafe for ice cream, we spent some time with the local llamas before Paola noticed a pregnant male seahorse in the local aquarium. Unthinking she took a picture using flash, then noticed the sign saying "No Flash - Flash blinds the Seahorses". Embarrassed, she struggled to turn off the flash. Satomi, however, always impetuous, went ahead and blinded the seahorses some more prompting the staff to come over. To think that poor seahorse would never see his children.

Mary and I were in the same hostel, so we ended up going for sushi in a local restaurant, then on to kill some terrorists and zombies in the local arcade, then to pool where Mary killed me. We chilled a little in the hostel lounge. A musician, dancer and artist, I was treated to Mary's scrapbook. Of Chinese/Trinidad descent, she has just spent six weeks in China teaching schoolkids English (she is a primary school teacher), so she had many a tale to tell. Sadly our partnership in crime had to come to an end as she was staying on a day in Auckland before heading to Rotorua, while I had a 7 o'clock start today to get to Whitianga.

The hostel, by the way, the YHA International, was a great deal better than the Pipi Patch in Paihia or the Fat Camel in Auckland (the one I stayed in before). Lots of room, clean and no snoring, the only drawback was the heat, but I nevertheless got some sleep.

It was a very much smaller bus that collected me this morning. So far our group is comprised of an English software developer, Martin (slightly out of his skull on joints); an Aussie, Michael; Brat, an American from Lake Tahoe; a Swiss joiner, Simon; and a French manager, Anthony. We had a lovely swim at Cathedral Cove and are now in Whitianga, a small seaside town. The weather is overcast, but warm and Martin has us going for pints (we had a lager at 11 this morning). Tomorrow I head to Waitomo and on to Rotorua.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Go Murray!

I need time and don't have it, but I just wanted to write that my trip to the Bay of Islands was very special. I met some truly wonderful people (for 3 days we really, dare I say, bonded). New Zealand itself is truly special, a really incredible country, and yet I have seen very little of it. Anyhow a big thank you to everyone I met for a great few days. Remember the theme from 'Bonanza'! Go Murray!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Babel and Babies

I took the Link bus to the Domain, a large Auckland park that happens to contain a huge, well-regarded museum. The link bus does a circuit of the city taking in many of the principal streets. I left it very late, however, and then got on the Link going in the opposite direction; in other words I took the long way around. When I got there there was only half an hour before closing time. This was just as well as it meant I wandered into a nearby glasshouse and fernery. I am no botanist and have no real interest in plants, but it was beautiful. I had taken Salinger's 'Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour An Introduction' as it fit in my pocket and I suspected I might be reading in the park, so I took it out and read on a bench. A very pleasant amusement.

I am reading this final book of Salinger's for completion's sake. Once again the Glass family are the star attractions, and Seymour Glass in particular. It is many years since I read 'The Catcher in the Rye' and I cannot remember it too well (though I know the hero is Holden Caulfield). I would be very surprised if a Glass didn't figure in there somewhere. I still have to finish Hammett yet, so I won't write any reviews yet.

The Fat Camel Hostel (where I am writing this) is now my accommodation in preparation for my trip tomorrow. A free 'dinner' was provided at 7. I was accidentally given two vouchers which was as well as the trick here is that they want you to upgrade for four dollars. The initial portion then, in this case of basic carbonara, fits comfortably on a saucer. My two saucers helped my stomach for a while. While I think of it I had an awkward, but lovely potato and pork soup in a Japanese restaurant for lunch. They served it with four saucers of pickles and a bowl of rice, the lot costing ten dollars (around five fifty euros). It was lovely though I should have paid attention to the description that said pork bone for that is all the pork that was in it. I was the only caucasian there and I was sloppy. My 'I have nothing to declare but my genius' t-shirt is over the top at the best of times, but I felt a bit of a plonker wearing it streaked with potato and pork soup. When I tried to give them a tip they didn't know what I was talking about.

I decided to take a walk to the cinema to see what's on. I ended up watching "Babel" by the director of '21 Grams'. It is so doggedly determined to achieve its political effect that it almost forgets to entertain. Certainly knowing how things are going to work out (roughly) doesn't increase one's interest. It is overly long and overly 'tragic' (actually pathetic in the dramatic sense), but still worth a look. It is good to see different stories from different countries with different actors (Pitt, Blanchett and Bernal excepted) for a change.

And while I remember it, I saw 'Scoop' and 'The Queen' on my various flights recently, both films in their own way featuring the Press. 'Scoop', the latest from Woody Allen, purports to be some sort of comic thriller about a journalism student tracking down a serial killer with the help of a dead journalist. How the mighty have fallen! Allen should seriously consider leaving us with the works we love him for and stop poisoning his oeuvre. 'The Queen' on the other hand is really good stuff detailing the week after Lady Diana died as experienced by the British monarchy. I disagree with the monarchy as a concept and the British monarchy in particular, and have never had any interest in Lady Di (nor understood the fascination), but dramatically the film weaves a little bit of magic nevertheless. Helen Mirren is fine as Elizabeth, while Michael Sheen, though very close to an impersonation, nevertheless makes Tony Blair almost amiable. He is almost the hero of the piece, at one point berating a slimy Alastair Campbell for sneering at her predicament. Still in my view Blair betrayed Labour and funnily enough the film almost supports such a contention (Cherie is quick to point out his contradictions). Queen Elizabeth is given a human face and though I doubt this will be featuring on her DVD shelf anytime soon, she should be grateful she came out of the movie as unscathe as she does. The film seems to be attracting far more attention over here than it ever did back in Europe.

A big mention now for Ian and Roisin whose new son, Euen, was born on New Year's Eve and Tom and Ann whose new son, Eoghan, joined their household of boys yesterday. Similar names on similar dates, all very coincidental I'm sure. My best wishes to both families.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Auckland - First Impressions

Auckland is not a bad city at all. Nice weather, friendly people and a good, walkable layout to the city. I had intended travelling today, but the departure for my first destination on the Magic Bus tour I have booked, Paihia, doesn't leave on a Thursday. An extra day here is no loss, though I will be returning next week before heading south.

Had a lovely Thai meal yesterday too, a yellow seafood curry. I did some shopping (sleeping bag) and rambling yesterday, going up the Sky Tower for a great view of the city. They have panels of 38 inch glass in the floor so you can see the streets beneath your feet. First look and vertigo starts, but once you keep telling yourself it's as safe as the rest of the flooring the mind settles down. Yes indeed, first impressions are good.

A Few Recollections of Sydney

Now safely ensconced in Auckland, I thought I'd recall one or two things about Sydney.

When I arrived that last time, having got off the plane from Alice Springs, I hopped in a shuttle to Central, ran to the platform for the train to Bondi Junction, leapt on to the train and came face to face with the Corkonian, Louise, who had been on the Uluru trip. In a city of millions what was going on? The train goes through Kings Cross where she was staying, so not so unusual you might say, except she wasn't going to King's Cross, she had got on the wrong train. Anyhow we made smalltalk and promised to meet up over Christmas (we didn't). Before you misty eyed-romantics see the hand of Fate at work, I must remind you that she would not be my cup of tea.

Another woman who would not be my cup of tea, but who was stalking me, was Paris Hilton. Not content to appear in Munich while I was there, she now followed me to Bondi (ostensibly flogging her new drink). On my walk in the rain to Bondi Beach, she hid herself in the bar, Iceberg's, where I sheltered temporarily. Then leaving Sydney she followed me to the airport too, ostensibly to go home. I wish she'd leave me alone.

The day before the party in the girls' house (three days before New Year's), I came down with a bad back and could barely walk. My sofa bed though deliciously comfy more than likely aggravated it. I tried Nurofen Plus, but the only cure was alcohol and it worked a treat. The back pain now returns (more than likely the haversack - 21kg - but the hotel bed was very comfy).

Sydney is a very easy place to get stuck in. If you are in Australia for any length of time try to escape its grip, there is so much to see. Having said that, Sydney is great, really great. And while I am about it a big thank you to Lynda, Niamh, Twiggy, Julie, Rachel and Ronan who made me feel very, very welcome over the Christmas Season.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Bronte, Bondi and Balloobaed

I spent all of New Year's Day afternoon on Bronte Beach. I may be an albino, with an out of shape body and little ability to thrash in the water, but I confess to being a beach bum; I love it. The sea was rough, but shallow and for all my fear of getting out of my depth, I had a really good time.

Dinner time too I spent at Bronte, buying a grilled seafood combo takeaway and eating in the picnic area by the beach. Afterwards I was tempted into walking the beach walk to Bondi Beach. Again it was all it was cracked up to be, a beautiful stroll. As I rounded a headland to view Bondi though, the rainclouds opened. I took shelter in Bondi Hotel, had a pint, won the price of the pint on the pokies and got the bus to Bondi Junction.

The girls had been out all night and all day, going to the Tea Gardens in the Junction to ring in the Irish New Year (11 am that morning). Any excuse. Now 11 pm I thought I'd poke my head in to see if they were still around. They were. Their stamina puts me to shame. Vowing to only have one, I stayed until 2 or so, chatting up Limerick lasses and any girl I could get my metaphorical hands on.

Taxis were hard to come by, so I nipped into an Indian for a curry. Lamb Korma is always nice and this definitely was, though I can still taste it. Finished I walked out to more rain, but thinking it might ease up, I began walking home. It didn't. It got very, very much worse. I nearly drowned. In the end I took shelter in a phonebox until a passing cab took pity on me.

All set for New Zealand now. I fly out at 4.30 and I have my Magic Bus ticket and hotel for the first two nights booked. It will be good!