Well, I went to Cincinnati and I walked around the block and I walked right in…
to my friend’s house.
And then we walked around the block again (or, uh, had a wild car ride to 4th and Race), hopped on the Megabus and went to Chicago. Took over the whole back row of the top deck with our food, crochet projects and feminist pop culture mags.
The American road looks something like this from the back row of the top deck of the Megabus.
Six hours later, Chicago looks a bit like this. (If it’s dark, you’re on a bus and don’t hold your camera still.)
It looks like a lot of other things too. In January, it can also look very snowy and be a sea of down coats. It can look like this from 96 floors up, at sunset
Meanwhile, Cincinnati, the Queen City, can be seen from above as well, if one wends one’s way through the maze of the Carew Tower to the observation deck. Wear your hat, gloves and scarf, children, it’s still January and we’re still in the Midwest. This is one view from above (49 stories up this time).
But what I will say for now is
(And the ice cream.) See you again one day, and many more stories to come…
The afternoon in question was that of 4 March 2010.
Took the Tube to Embankment and wandered along the river. Had a coffee, visited the Tate Modern, then crossed the “wobbly bridge” to St Paul’s. Saw a signpost for the YHA hostel I used to stay in along with the other Kenyon-Exeter students back when I was a young study abroad student and we used to come to London for educational theatre outings. Couldn’t resist a detour to go have a look. I can still remember being in the dorms and and listening to the clamouring bells of St Paul’s. After my nostalgia trip, I stopped for some dinner in a restaurant where I reckoned I could eat alone in style (ah, well you know me…I’m always stylish, eh? Especially with jet lag?) and sat next to the window with a view of the cathedral.
But no rest for the wicked. I needed to once again collect my trusty backpack and travel the Northern Line to check into my B&B in Muswell Hill, to be ready for the start of my course in the morning.
And I had a fantastic and powerful weekend, which I won’t go on about right here, right now. But I will tell you I went to Toff’s of Muswell Hill one night, which I’m told is ‘dead famous’. I’d had potato wedges earlier in the day so I told the guy I wasn’t sure I wanted chips with my fish. He gave me a scoop anyway, on the house, so I would have the full experience. Isn’t that nice?
Just catching up with myself here…
My last night in Auckland I met up with my friend Joanna, who had finished her Magic Bus experience. We were both leaving NZ the next day, she being off to Sydney and I of course being LA-bound. We were staying in rival mega-hostels in the city centre but had coordinated our meet-up days earlier from Rotorua. It was more complex an operation than you might think, as her phone didn’t work in NZ. So I had to check in to the Surf ‘n’ Snow then find my way to the Nomads Fat Camel before we could explore the food ‘n’ drink options available. It was nice to have someone to laugh with on this last night.
And the Sky Tower looked kinda cool all lit up at night:
Next morning I had a bit of time to stretch my legs so I wandered into Albert Park and discovered a festival of lanterns.
I also saw some trees that seemed enchanted
and a building society sign that reminded me of the night sky.
Soon enough it was time to collect my trusty backpack from the hostel and once again catch a bus to an airport. On my flight to LA, I had a neighbour who was spending a year travelling the world. I took a few suggestions for my next big trip…
But back to the current trip. I had yet another flight to catch, a short jaunt to Phoenix. (Where my mom and brother were late to pick me up! They had a very good excuse, though. Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m only mentioning it to make you cringe! Heh heh… The worst part of the experience was when an evil phone ate all my quarters. But I digress.)
Then had a few lovely days in Tucson with family. Kicked myself that I hadn’t brought my AV cable for the camera with me, as with that I can do beautiful slide shows of my escapades on my grandma’s big TV. And you can’t just go and buy one of these cables. Three words: wild; goose; chase. Watched the Lord of the Rings films instead. (“I was there. And there. Oh yeah, and that bit was pretty. You saw the photo of me with Mt Doom, right?”)
Then, guess what, I got on another bus (shuttle) to the airport and flew from Phoenix to Heathrow. Ah, that old familiar flight. Except this version was delayed by two and half hours, so we departed at 11:30pm and arrived late afternoon the following day. (Flight attendant: “The hours of daylight are approaching rather quite quickly so if those passengers in window seats would close the window shades…”) During the flight the guy at the other end of the row from me (we had two empty seats between us) invaded “my” one of the empty seats with his feet. Grrr, my empty seat, get off! I am normally a really non-irritable person but that foot got some hard stares from me. Yeah, I’d pull up my silk eye mask and everything, just so I could really scowl at it in the dark. But I don’t think it was the foot’s fault really, I just wasn’t going to get much rest on this particular flight.
So then I re-entered the UK. They seem quite used to me by now, I hardly get questioned at all by immigration. But I wasn’t heading onwards to Bristol just yet. I would be staying in London, first in Shepherd’s Bush with a friend, and then in Muswell Hill for a very special weekend workshop.
I was really looking forward to a lot of things. Not least some sleep!
What can I say, you were fantastic. You provided the perfect setting for me to explore my own sense of adventure. Life will never be the same again after this trip, so thank you for being a part of it. I am more centred than ever before. And my world feels better.
Mt Maunganui was very pretty. I enjoyed that more than central Tauranga. I thought it was hilarious when you sent a horde of insects that looked like sandflies to afflict me as I climbed the mount in the blazing sun, but maybe they weren’t actually sandflies. At any rate, I don’t see any new bites so possibly it was a practical joke?
It amused me to see a local brochure bragging that a ‘leading guidebook’ says that Tauranga is about as Riviera as New Zealand gets. I know for a fact this was Lonely Planet because of course that is the guidebook I am using. What I want to know is: were the LP authors being catty? I initially thought so but Mt M is pretty good, I have to say, and it was nice to see the sea, as always. You know I’m a fan.
So onwards to Auckland this afternoon. On the express 4-hour bus with no toilet breaks. (Contrary to popular rumours, I am not obsessed with toilets. I’m just saying.)
Before I go, I just want to say how I adore your public toilets with the flashing lights, and the ones with sliding doors (not obsessed), your roadside signs bearing public service messages such as DRINK DrIvE (it’s a visual thing, that one), the funny vowels and expressions of your people (‘sweet as’), your amazing wildlife of the sea and land, including the sometimes suprisingly loud birds and insects (but not the sandflies, even when they get into my ear so I can hear them buzz)…oh, and so much more.
Lots of love,
And now, uh, I’d like to thank the South Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, Wanaka for being being there for me, the whole South Island for being magical and the North Island for being pretty damn cool (and hot!) too. And thanks to friends new and old, and anyone reading. I know I’m strange but you chose to read this. By the way, this blog doesn’t end here. ‘You’ll never see the end of the road while you’re travelling with me.’ (That’s from a song by Crowded House – I was quoting this at some point in my trip, and then this morning they played it in the cafe where I was sheltering from raindrops…)
‘One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.’ (Henry Miller)
My last morning in Taupo I did the Huka Falls walk. To get there you walk alongside the river, and go past the Taupo Bungy centre. I watched a few people do their jumps over the river. Nice spot for it.
Then through the bush (cue pic of tree fern and…tree)
and finally you hear the rushing and roaring of the Falls. They must be near! The view when you get there is quite breathtaking.
I headed back after that, stopping off at the Taupo Bungy cafe for my habitual coffee. Still no bungy jump for me, in answer to those who were betting I would do one while in NZ. Don’t you know I don’t follow tick lists?
It was now time to get my stuff and get on the bus to Rotorua. Sulphur City, here I come. And yeah, you do smell it as you approach. I’d had a preview during the Tongariro Crossing, actually. Yum yum, eggy fumes.
Some fascinating facts about the area, now pay attention. The Rotorua Basin was formed by volcanic eruptions, and I read somewhere that Rotorua has one earthquake a day, of Richter magnitude 2 or less. You get geothermal water spurting to the surface in geysers in some places and there are lots and lots and lots of sulphur flats and pools, complete with colourful (and hardy) microorganisms and that delicious odour.
I set off that afternoon to explore the city. First up, the lake (it’s a spent volcano under all the water, of course), where there are black swans. Which are more dangerous than you might think.
Notice how on the sign the beak illustrated is so that of a kea. Yeah? Must be a multipurpose ‘don’t feed the birds’ symbol, but makes me laugh everytime I look at it.
Then onto the steamy, smelly stuff in Kuirau Park. This is a thermal area you are free to wander around (there are paths to keep you safe) amongst the sulphur, bubbling mud and steam.
That evening I met up with my Magic bus friend who I’d been coincidentally trailing through the North Island, and we had a beer and talked about boys. Good stuff.
I had set myself the challenge of going mountain biking in Rotorua. The forest just outside the city has some of the best mountain biking trails in the country.
My roommate in the hostel (who hails from Bristol, UK!) would have joined me but she needed to go to work, so I was on my own. To get to the place, I needed to take the bus and then walk out to the start point for the trails, where there is also a company that rents out bikes, even to beginners like myself. The woman there handed me a map and showed me which trails she recommended, then off I went, starting with a warm up on the Kids Loop (don’t laugh). I moved on to more challenging trails but still within my ability…until the Creek Trail I was on suddenly went ballistic and there were some massive twists and turns. I got going too fast and knew what was going to happen. Now just to minimise the damage… Yep, down I went! I have the battle scars that go with that, grrr, tough Tracy. But everyone knows what you do when you come off your bike. You get back on. (You are allowed a breather first, though.) It was a fantastic and exhausting experience and I’m thinking I should get a mountain bike when I return to Bristol! I just wish I’d had time for the Dipper…
Slept soundly that night! Next morning was up for one more walk amongst the odours before my bus to Tauranga, my last stop before Auckland.
Tauranga is not as great as I’d hoped so far. I went on an estuary walk yesterday that incorporated far too much Big Noisy Road for my taste (as well as an unhelpful diversion where part of the route was closed but luckily I do like a puzzle). I then had a longer than desired walk to the nearest supermarket but I’d already worked out a fun evening plan to relax. Two main ingredients. 1) Treat myself to a falafel for dinner, and 2) go to the cinema, as it was Tuesday (and it’s cheap Tuesday at the cinema in Australia and NZ, for some reason). Falafel was tasty and the film was fine. Back to hostel, and to bed. NZzzzzzzz.
Today I’ll be taking the local bus to nearby Mt Maunganui, which should hopefully be pretty. I’m in the mood for some nice scenery here in the so-called Bay of Plenty.
On Saturday I did the Tongariro Crossing – and it was amazing. I was showing my pictures to a friend here and she wasn’t that impressed with the scenery so I’m thinking maybe you did kinda hafta be there… But it’s a volcanic and thermal landscape (an active one too!) and quite otherworldly. I’ve put some photos below to give a flavour.
The walk starts off gentle. Here you can see Mt Doom, er I mean Mt Ngauruhoe.
Eventually you start climbing. And up and up you go, along the so-called Devil’s Staircase, giving you views of the surrounding terrain and clouds. This part is a killer.
And eventually you find yourself above the Red Crater.
Coming across a ridge, you then get fantastic views of sulphurous lakes. Very pretty, but don’t contemplate a swim here!
Beyond the ridge, you can look back and see the Red Crater from a new angle. Such striking colours!
The terrain changes again and you can see the steam from some thermal springs as you make your way downwards.
And eventually everything settles down into the usual forest bushwalk. Ferns, ferns and more ferns, etc. You can see pics of that sort of thing elsewhere! Then after approximately seven hours of walking, one drags one’s exhausted carcus onto the waiting shuttle bus. So that’s my very quick overview, hope it’s vaguely accurate.
Here’s me with Mt Doom. Picture was taken by a guy who was running the track. Madman.
Well, I’m now in Rotorua and have more to tell of volcanic and thermal deliciousness but that will have to wait until my next post as it’s dinnertime, I’m afraid. Suffice to say it’s quite eggy here in Rotorua. (I’m not talking about my dinner.)
Flight up to Wellington was rather a non-event but it transplanted me nonetheless back to the North Island. Managed to jump off my bus at the right spot for the YHA, then after checking in went for a somewhat mirthless walk in the city (sorry but the weather was bleak and I felt a bit off).
But when I returned to my room I met one of my roommates, from England and a similar age to me, and we got on great. I invited her to share my stir fry (one of about two specialties of my hostel cookery) and then we thought we’d go out for a drink. Now Welly is supposed to be all cool and it is but I felt a bit less than cool as the night continued.
Check us out. We thought somewhere with live music would be good but then the place we thought sounded good wouldn’t let you in if you had a water bottle in your bag. We couldn’t ascertain the reason but moved on and were given vouchers for a free drink at someplace called The Mermaid. We thought this would be a trendy bar but maybe worth it for a free drink (backpacker thinking, you see). We tracked the place down and when we entered were accosted by a heavily made-up woman who looked at us with disdain as she pointed out we’d still need to pay the entry of $20. We removed our backpacker selves, fleeces and all, from there quite quickly and then looked back into the place to see that it contained mostly men, with just one other woman in evidence…and she was wearing basically underwear. Ah. (Though the voucher had come with a flyer advertising a ‘ladies night’, this being illustrated by naked male torsos. Anyway.) I must admit we cool girls finally just settled on a hot chocolate each, which we sipped in the hostel lobby while engaging in a bit more girl talk before bed.
Next stop on the Kramer itinerary was Napier. After a long bus ride, I arrived at was greeted by my friend from the night before and her friend from Scotland (they both are travelling on the Magic bus, a tour company to which they give mixed reviews; I was on the ol’ InterCity). I wiped the sweat from my brow as it was a sultry evening in Napier and headed out the door with them to get some dinner. Napier touts itself as the Art Deco city (because I believe it was flattened by an earthquake and then rebuilt in that style), and there was an Art Deco festival of sorts going on. Lots of old cars and older people prancing about in period costume.
After we ate we felt like a stroll. This walk incorporated a visit to the supermarket (the highlight of every backpacker’s day or night). This may not sound exciting. However, when we exited the supermarket we were suddenly lost. Yes, lost when exiting a supermarket we had just used. Hmm, anyway, the three adults eventually used their combined wits and the map to find the way back to the hostel. Which was just down the road. Ha. We were all tired, ok.
Next stop Taupo, and I shall be here two nights. They have a great big lake and all that. But look at this!
I have booked myself onto the Tongariro Crossing expedition and will be walking my socks off tomorrow. Weather report is good. Just need to get off this computer, make dinner and go to bed so I am bright and shiny for that 5:40 am pick up tomorrow. Ahhh…!
I stayed at one of the best hostels ever in Dunedin, Chalet Backpackers. The rooms are big and airy and have harbour views and it’s cheap. Big kitchen, big long table in the dining room for chatting with your neighbours. Listing the details doesn’t do it justice, really. The point is it feels like a home from home here and the people who run it are extremely friendly and helpful. (They are not paying me either, this really is a lovely place!) Anyway, this is where I made my home for four nights.
People often say that Dunedin feels very English. It has Scottish roots actually, amongst others, and my understanding is that Dunedin is the Gaelic for Edinburgh. But what you need to know about Dunedin is that it is very, very, very hilly. Like San Francisco hilly. In fact, it boasts the official steepest street in the world. I went up on a hot afternoon. Yeah, pretty steep but I seem to have developed insane walking skills (or just plain insanity) so didn’t bother me!
In fact, after a coffee in the cafe of the botanic garden I found another really steep road and walked that for awhile to try to get to a viewpoint that some people had told me about over dinner the previous evening. I didn’t find the lookout but I did get up high and sweat a lot and get a nice sunburn on my hair parting (that burn’s peeling now, nice and flakey). The botanic garden is very big and a great place to pass some time. One highlight for me was the aviary where I saw various exotic birds including two African grey parrots who have learned to wolf whistle. They demonstrated for me. Nice work, guys.
The day after the hot, climbing day was freezing and rainy. I of course left the hostel wearing summer clothes and proceeded to freeze. I did start to wonder if this was Britain…but the the Kiwis will tell you their weather is changeable too. Luckily, I fancied visiting the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, which is a beautiful space to view art. They had some very interesting things indeed, including a Tom Kreisler exhibition which I found intriguing and amusing. Later in the day I put on many more clothes and went on the Elm Wildlife Tour to the Otago Peninsula to get up close with some of the area’s wildlife. We saw royal albatross, some sea lions, yellow-eyed penguins and yet more New Zealand fur seals (always a pleasure), plus various birds including oystercatchers.
My last full day in Dunedin was devoted to getting my arse into gear trip planning-wise. Following much behind-the-scenes drama I had now decided on a rough plan for the final less-than-two-weeks of my trip. I was headed to Oamaru just an hour or two up the east coast to see the blue penguins. Then to Christchurch to fly to Wellington. From there various versions of North Island itineraries float like geographic gumdrops before my eyes. But more of that later.
Sunday was also Chinese New Year, as I am sure all are aware. Dunedin’s Chinese Gardens were open for free that evening and there were lion dances and the like, and to top it all off fireworks. I went along with a Kiwi roommate of mine, where we were initially underwhelmed by the ‘launch of the lanterns’ we’d had advertised to us. But then we had the dances followed by some truly vibrant fireworks! You can’t get tired of fireworks. Happy Year of the Tiger, everyone.
Before catching my afternoon bus the next day I explored the shops a bit and drank some coffee (Dunedin has a very strong cafe culture – now you have many facts about the city; just ask for more, anytime!) and then visited the free Otago Settlers Museum where I learned more about the heritage of the place. My favourites were the room that was set up like the – what do you call it, cabin? – where people who were coming to settle would have slept in bunks and taken their meals on the long sailing voyage to get there, and also the transport gallery. There is a penny farthing bicycle there you can try out by climbing up some steps but I was too chicken to do it without an accomplice. (I felt similarly when sitting in a city park and eyeing up the zip slide and other intriguing equipment. Ah, there are unexpected drawbacks occasionally to travelling solo! And why do we have to be ‘too old’ for certain things anyway?)
I eventually dragged myself away from all these diversions and took the bus to Oamaru. Now the big draw in Oamaru is the blue penguin colony. So first stop was the hostel (another friendly place complete with Tigger the cat), then to the i-site for info, ended up booking tickets for the evening ‘viewing’ of the penguins with a guy from Hong Kong who’d I’d met when we discovered we were both heading to the same hostel. Then we both felt like a walk so followed the ‘skyline walk’ to get some views of the city and harbour. The route also dips into forest, including some native bush. Here’s a view of the harbour and some cabbage trees. They have a lot of those in Otago but I don’t know why it’s called a cabbage tree:
At some point I found a ready-made club (or is it a back scratcher?).
For dinner, I had fish and chips and Tigger tried to charm me into giving him some. No such luck, kitty! Then to see the penguins. Do not expect any photos here as people are not allowed to use cameras within the viewing area, and you can only use one without flash outside of there (in the dark), so use Google image search instead. Blue penguins (also found in southern Australia, where they call them fairy penguins) are the smallest species of penguins. They are also the only ones to have blue and white feathers rather than black and white. The ones who have been out at sea fishing all day band together into ‘rafts’ for safety as it starts to get dark and then arrive on shore together. At the Oamaru colony we watched each raft come up out of the water, preen their feathers and shake the salt out of their faces, and then eventually make their way up to cross over the the nesting areas in groups. They move in the determined way of penguins on land, leaning forward and inducing smiles. I love ’em. They also make a racket as they call to mates and tell off anyone who tries to poke their beak into their nest burrow. As you leave the evening’s viewing you can look out for penguins in the car parking area, as some of them nest out that way in burrows or under buildings. We came across a few and watched them but unfortunately it was far too dark to get a decent photo.
Today I came to Christchurch on a full-up bus with very little leg room. My ipod served me well – so glad I remembered to transfer it from backpack to daypack before I boarded, life saver. The journey had an extra element of excitement as my Travel Companion Extraordinaire was in town as well (I describe him as such, as I know now he’ll be reading, having discovered this to be the idea way to remember all the best bits about our camper van trip – hi there). We found each other and I dumped my stuff at the hostel, then had to feed my flat white addiction. Chocolate fudge cake added itself to the proceedings, but this was not instigated by me. Boys and chocolate, eh! After this the sunny afternoon needed to be honoured further by a walk in the park. We found ourselves in the botanic garden and there was absolutely no silliness at all.
Now time for pizza and a beer. I’ll miss ya, J, you big…thing. But will defeat you in our tennis rematch in Bristol…
End of internet session. Logging out!
So we made it to Milford Sound, on a day tour by bus with a cruise on the sound at lunchtime. Fiordland is so raw, the scale of the earth brought home to me in this landscape carved by glaciers. As for Milford Sound itself, it will perhaps always for me be associated with a sense of sadness and loss (or a memory of such, one day) and with, of course, sandflies. My face was still swollen. We chatted with the crew, who sympathised with my plight. A bite to the eye of lip will often swell up frighteningly (and very unbecomingly). In my case it was just a longer plight due to allergic reaction. (But as I write I am quite recovered from this particular suffering!)
It is a beautiful place, somewhere that the mist becomes. It is serene but there is life there – seals, and a rushing waterfalls, one of which the boat approached so closely I stood in a wild shower, laughing as I filmed (hoping my camera would forgive me the dousing). (Maybe I’ll post the video sometime…)
The next day we set out from Te Anau for Wanaka. I would be staying on in Wanaka, while my travelling companion of three weeks would continue on to Christchurch, over the next couple of days, to return the van to its starting point. My plan was to spend some time in peaceful Wanaka then to carry on to Dunedin to avail myself of the wildlife dense Otago Peninsula. From there I was (and remain) uncertain as to what my next moves would be as I made my way back up north.
I love the sea but have found a different sort of beauty, one I did not immediately fully appreciate, here in the lakeland setting of Wanaka. I have done some fantastic walks around, and overlooking, Lake Wanaka and the surrounding landscape. I have gone kayaking on the lake (by morning, so peaceful, and also so amazingly energising). I have met fantastic people in my hostel (YHA Purple Cow, check it out when you’re next in town…they show a movie every night at 8pm!) from all over the world, have had glimpses into other lives…and into my own life as well. Remove yourself to another place and you may leave the mundane but you take yourself with you. Of course, you say…well anyway. I must stop now, nearly time to gather my bags from the hostel and catch my bus to Dunedin and leave this pretty place.