A Travellerspoint blog

Auckland to Hahei

This was our first day on our official Stray tour, the bus was a lot bigger than I had expected. Not sure why as there are pictures of them on the website! There were 37 of us on the bus that day and so it was good to have a few familiar faces from the city tour the day before. First stop was at the Stray head office where we were given a presentation on how the service works and had the opportunity to ask any questions. Then it was back on the bus as we headed for the Coromandel Peninsular. It was great to see the landscape change as we headed out of the city. We had been advised to make the most of sleeping on the bus on the north island as you won't want to miss any of the dramatic scenery in the south island, but there was no way I was sleeping that morning as we got our first to glimpses of this beautiful country.

We stopped off at a town called Thames, which is an old Colonial town that is surrounded by the Coromandel Ranges, to stock up on supplies. Not a bad backdrop.

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The river running through here reminded Captain Cook of the Thames in London and so this is how the town got its name. When this area was settled a lot of the Kauri forest was cut down and so now the town is trying to undo that damage by planting 1000s of Kauri Trees. The most famous Kauri tree in New Zealand is thousands of years old and 30 people can link arms around its trunk!

The first highlight of the day was going to Hot Water Beach, where you can dig holes in the sand which fill up with hot water that comes up front the natural springs. As we pulled up to the beach we were surprised how many people there were.

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I think we have been spoilt by the near deserted beaches in Perth and so had been expecting a more secluded experience. Putting that aside we headed to the section of the beach where clearly all the activity was going on. People armed with spades were digging holes and we decided to just go and put our feet in one that had been abandoned rather than hire a spade ourselves.

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Be careful though as some of them were really hot, like a scalding bath!

After lunch on the beach we were back on the bus to go to Hahei where we would be staying in lodges by Hahei beach. There was an option to do a kayaking trip to the famous Cathedral Cove but we decided to walk there in stead.

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Check out Hahei beach! This is more like it!

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The walk to Cathedral Cove was beautiful with great views back out over Hahei beach.

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The scenary along the walk really changed from flowered paths and forest to places reminiscent of the shire!

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The cove itself is pretty impressive, with an natural stone archway that you go through which I think is where it gets its name from as it could be as big as a cathedral!

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We definately had worked up an appetite as the walk takes about 2 hours and goes up and down quite a bit, so we were glad to have opted in to the group BBQ that night. Our driver Kea had done a great job getting it ready for everyone and ther was plenty to go round. It had been a long time since we had last travelled in a group of people and so it was great to hear about other people's adventures and also get involved in a game of Werewolf!

Not a bad first day with Stray!

Sxx

Posted by doyledan 14:08 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Auckland cont...

We were met by our guide Anna outside of YHA and joined 11 others on the bus and set off on our day of free fun. First stop was meant to be the Sky Tower but we couldn't find a park. It is here that you can do the Sky Walk around the top or do the Sky Jump where you throw yourself off the 192m high tower! We didn't have the budget to do these but some of the girls booked themselves on to do it later that afternoon.

We headed on and drove to Devonport! We hadn't realised we would be coming here again but we didn't mind as this time we drove over the Auckland .bridge to get there. Similar in design to Sydney harbour bridge but much smaller the interesting thing about this bridge is that as the population of Auckland grew they had to add additional lanes to the bridge which were 'clipped' on to the side, so heavy vehicles shouldn't use these lanes just incase! You can also do a 40m bungy of the bridge but none of the group were interested in this despite Annas best efforts to sell it in.

At Devonport we went to a different area called North Head where there are more tunnels, disappearing guns and stunning views over the city. Whilst taking in the views and Devonport Anna told us about the earthquakes in Christchurch that happened in 2011. She had just moved to the area and was there when it happened. We didn't know much about it and so were shocked to hear that the city was still struggling to recover from it several years later. A lot of the buildings had collapsed as they had not been built to withstand earthquakes and people moved out of the city, many to Auckland to start a new life. We would be finishing our NZ trip in Christchurch so it will be interesting to go there to see for ourselves.

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The group had all started to get to know each other, where people had come from and where they were going next. Most of them would be on the bus with us the next day which was great. Before lunch we played a game of heads or tails for the opportunity to win a Sky Jump...

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...and of course who should win it but DAN! :)

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So it was in good spirits that we went to the pub for some beer tasting and steak and chips!

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After lunch we headed back to the Auckland Bridge but this time we would be getting a closer look. Wearing hard hats and a harness we walked underneath the bridge to the viewing platform where we watch people braver then ourselves leap off the bridge and plummet to the river below. Their scared cries quickly turned to excited whooping as we all cheered them on.

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Our afternoon as a group was coming to an end and so Anna dropped us off at the Sky Tower so the jumpers could take their positions. Dan would be jumping alongside Louise and Grace and we all had a giggle as they into their super hero outfits! As they headed off to the lifts Nicola, Eleni and I headed to the drop zone at the bottom of the tower.

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From here we craned out necks to try to see when they would be coming out at the top. It was so high, more than 5 times the height of the bungy platform. There was one jumper from the previous group who still needed to go and we were given the count down and quickly a spec at the top came hurtling down to the ground. It was over in seconds but looked like great fun. It's probably at this point I should clarify that the jumper is attached to a harness which regulates the speed of the fall!

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The girls made their jumps like pros and then it was Dans turn! He screamed like a girl..... Only joking! He was a pro too! We do have a video but can't upload it at the moment so you ll just have to believe me :)

What a day!

Sxx

Posted by doyledan 00:56 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

New Zealand! First stop Auckland

I can't believe we are here. This is the last country on our epic trip and one that we have been looking forward to most. With promises of amazing scenery, adventures and of course hobbits we were excited to be moving on.

We would be exploring both North and South Islands in 3 weeks using the hop on, hop off bus provided by a company called Stray. Spotting a good deal back in Easter we got our Shortmoe bus ticket half price, and would be booking our accommodation and activities along the way. First stop for us was Auckland and as our timings didn't work to catch the bus on the first day we arrived in NZ we spent a couple of nights here. Getting into the city from the airport was easy as there is a bus that runs every 10 minutes for $16 and the driver was happy to drop us off near where we were staying. We had chosen to stay in an apartment we had found through air B&B, a website where people can rent out rooms in their houses. Our hosts were a friendly kiwi/English couple with 2 cats and it was lovely to have a homely welcome after leaving our Aussie family behind.

It was early in the morning when we arrived and after popping over the road for a yummy breakfast a much needed nap was in order before we explored the city.

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We were only about 20 mins walk from the centre so decided to just walk into town and see what we could find. As soon as we got more into the city it felt oddly familiar, it was almost like what Melbourne would be like with a harbour.

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We had heard that Stray offer a free city tour in Auckland so we headed to their shop to find out more. We had missed that days departure so booked ourselves on for the next day and decided to catch a ferry over to Devonport.

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Return ticket was about 11 bucks each and only took 15 mins. As we got closer you could make out the quaint houses looking out over the water and we instantly thought we would like this place. It was very picturesque and had an old world feel with a horse and cart, little cafes and shops and we discovered that yarn bombing happens here too! This is where knitting is wrapped around objects and we d seen this in Melbourne where trees and even bikes had been given the tea cosy treatment.

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On Devonport there is Mt Victoria one of the many volcanic comes which make up the area. Describing it as a mountain is a bit deceptive as its more of a big hill but keen to see the views back over the city we grabbed a picnic, dodged an old lady who offered us a lift in her car to the top before asking if anyone back at home would miss us if we were kidnapped and pay a ransom, and then followed the path to walk up to the top.

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Most people seemed to have been drawn into the cafes for lunch so it felt like we had Mt Victoria to ourselves as we spiralled up to the top being met by one gorgeous view after the next.

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At the top you can seem remnants of how this area was used during the Second World War where defences including disappearing guns and tunnels were built incase there was an attack on the city. This location was chosen as Mt Victoria is the highest cone at 87m.

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Not sure what the toadstools were about but I liked them!

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We had heard that the museum was good so caught the ferry back to the city and then a bus to go and check it out. Unfortunately we had lost track of time hanging out in Devonport and arrived only half an hour before it closed. This turn out to be a bit of a bummer and a blessing as we discovered that the museum wasn't free for tourists and cost $25, but as it was close to closing we were allowed in for free for a quick look.

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Keen to find out more about the Maori culture we headed to this section but we were so tired by this point we weren't taking much of the information in and so headed back to the apartment. It was only here that I realised that I had burnt my face! After months of being vigilant with the sunscreen I had made the rookie mistake of being fooled by the clouds and gone out without sunscreen or a hat! I had forgotten that there is a hole in the ozone layer over New Zealand and the sun is STRONG, with average burn time here being only 8 minutes!!

Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 22:29 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Sydney!!

Arriving into Sydney we were obviously excited and we were fortunate that my brothers mate Martin and his wife Kelly had offered to put us up whilst we stayed. Like most desirable cities, the accommodation skyrockets and so it was a real bonus to friends to stay with and so nice of them to offer. Martin was able to fly by the airport and pick us up, what a gent! We had planned to stay one night and then grab a hire car to drive to Port Stephens to do the Dolphin experience. Having finished that we would then head back to Martin and Kelly's to stay over a couple more nights and leave on the Monday. Arriving on the Thursday evening meant it was dinner at home and a good catch up, there was wine involved!. Kelly had made some pizzas which were scrumptious. 'Top Tip', cook the pumpkin first with garlic before adding onto the pizza to cook! Delicious!

The next day we had the morning free to go and check out the iconic Sydney Harbour! The station was only 15 min walk from Martin and Kelly's so we hopped on a train which took us straight to Circular Quay.

The double decker trains caught our attention straight away as it pulled into the station.

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Pulling into Circular Quay we were met with the WOW factor as a huge cruise liner was parked up in the bay next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was huge! And as we walked out to see the full view of the bridge and the opera house it really struck me how iconic this area was! I could see why people love it so much.

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Walking around we decided to go towards the Opera House, there was a bar situated on huge harbours edge and so we decided to walk around for a bit and end up there. Not sure what the what socks, vests and pants were about but it was quirky which we liked.

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The Opera house and the Bridge together really catch your eye and there are photo opportunities at every point. We of course obliged.

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It was cool with our camera zoom to be able to see the people climbing the harbour bridge up close as we had booked on to do this during our stay.

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Walking round the opera house, Sarah had a go at Opera busking...

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After taking in the awe of the harbour we headed on foot to see other parts of the city, which is the best way to get a feel for a place. My first impressions of the CBD area were good we walked up past the botanical gardens towards Hyde Park. (So many names familiar to UK have been used it started to feel like home). On our way through we passed this Wild Boar statue which is supposed to represent the friendship between Italy and Australia as it came from Florence. It is supposed to be good luck too rub its nose. Donations that people give go to the hospital that it sits outside of.

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Walking towards Hyde Park we were lucky that Sydney Festival had begun that weekend and so there was a pop up village for people to walk around even fit with an inflatable Stonehenge! Why? I'm not sure, I guess why not! ... As it was the weekend the queue was long with families so we couldn't have a go...:-(

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Making our way through the village we headed to a cafe for lunch and waited for a short while to walk to our hire car depot.......

The previous blog tells of our dolphin adventure...

And now I will start where Sarah left off .....

Getting back in the afternoon to Martin and Kelly's we had had so much excitement it felt like that should be the end of the day. Fortunately we had time to go into the city again with Martin and Kelly as they had thought it would be a cool idea to check out Cockatoo Island.

Sadly, upon arriving at Darling harbour there were a clamity of a errors with the staff saying the boat was full, then ushering people on to another one we could of caught without telling us. Then being handed 'priority tickets' for the next ride and when it arrived the floods of people went ahead of us because the staff hadn't informed the Boatmen so there was no space for us, the boarding passes meant nothing! Muppets! It wasn't meant to be....

Instead we caught the ferry back round to Circular Quay to enjoy the views from the river of the harbour, they took us to Martins favourite pub, which was like you typically English set up, full of character and good times. We chatted away about travels and suchlike which was great, it nice to hear what other people have done as it gives you inspiration for the next time.

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We parted ways in early evening as Sarah and I had been treated to a classy meal at Peter Doyle's Restaurant, provided by Peter Doyle! Not the owner of course but Sarah's dad. Another gent!

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What would normally be a stretch for Sarah and I was made possible by Peters generosity, which we are both very thankful for. Cheers mate! :-) x

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What was even more of a treat was that we managed to bag a superb view of the Opera House as the sun went down. The seafood feast was indulgent and so bad but good, as was the wine. Sarah can vouch for that I think?

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It was a fun night.

The next day we had our Sydney Harbour bridge climb and so a lazy morning nursing the indulgence we headed back into town in the afternoon. The climb experience is a definite must having done it. You are not able to take your own camera for safety of the drivers that pass under you as you climb the bridge and so we don't have many photos taken accept these money shots!

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Our guide Tom was really informative about Sydney, the Bridge and the people who made it. Some of the stories of the workers was incredible. The best one was of a gentlemen who had fallen 50m from the bridge into the water and was certain to have died if not for his quick reactions to turn in the air so was feet first before hitting the water! Amazingly he survived with just a couple of broken ribs but when he was found later having been picked up by a passing boat his feet had gone through his shoes from the impact! He was back at work again within 2 weeks!

The bridge is an impressive feat of engineering and what I didn't know was that it is made of all straight metal parts, not one bend was used to create the arch.

The 4 hour experience had been well worth it! We were pretty tired after it and I wasn't feeling too well so we headed home.

Next day it was our flight out to New Zealand so we decided to do the coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi beaches. To be honest this walk did make me think 'it would have been cool to live here'. Every turn there was a picture moment and the bays between the beaches had perfect spots to chill. The walk as well is challenging but easy too and many people would be jogging past us on their morning run.

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As we reached Bondi we got to see the iconic beach that many impressions of Australia are based on. I was impressed but I had seen plenty of other beaches in Australia that would compete.

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One of the cool extras was this pool which sits on the edge of the rocks full with sea water, an awesome place to do your laps. Apparently, during storms a whale was washed up into it!

After a well deserved coffee break we found a bit of food and chilled on the grass taking in the surrounds. We had to call it a day to head back to Martin's to get bags before heading to the airport.

A big thanks has to go Martin and Kelly for giving us a bed and showing us around. You guys are awesome!

Australia has been good to us and we were sad to say goodbye. We've made long life friends here and I hope we can all meet up someday in the future for some more shenanigans!

Stay tuned for more tales.

Dank

Posted by doyledan 00:44 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Part of the Pod!

Dolphin Swim Australia

It's been a childhood dream to swim with dolphins so when we found out about Dolphin Swim Australia we had to add it to our list.

This is no ordinary dolphin experience as you swim with the dolphins whilst holding on to a rope underneath a boat. This means that you are travelling at the speed the dolphins travel at and if they choose to engage with the boat and the swimmers then they swim past in all directions around you... So it is like you are one of the Pod! I believe this is currently the only experience like this is NSW and possibly the world. To say we were excited was an understatement!

Check out this underwater shot from their website!

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Based in Port Stephens in New South Wales we tagged it on to our trip to Sydney, hiring a car to drive two and half hours north of the city. As we needed to be down to the d'Almora Marina to get kitted up with our wetsuits at 5.20am we decided to head down the afternoon before. January is a busy time in Port Stephens and we struggled to find accommodation that was available or that didn't need a minimum number of days per booking. Luckily Dan stumbled across the Lemon Tree Passage Motel on the other side of Nelsons Bay whilst looking online and managed to book us a room there. It was perfect for what we needed and after the drive we were ready to chill out with some dinner by the bay before having an early night.

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We were up at 4am and made it round the bay in good time to find parking, get our wet suits and find the boat. There were 20 swimmers on the boat that day and we all listened intently to the instructions on how to use the harness and get in and out of the water, whilst trying not to be distracted by the beautiful sunrise over the bay.

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Five swimmers and a dive master would be in the water at a time, with another dive master sitting in the net suspended above the water incase anyone needed any help. The groups were split up by ability so the most experienced people went in with the dolphins first, I guess to make sure the dolphins were happy to interact and not be scared away by someone who might have difficulty. With all our diving this meant that we were in the first group of the day. All kitted up we were ready and so it was just a matter of keeping an eye out for any dolphins.

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We were told that only a few days before there had been a super pod of over 200 dolphins and so we hoped we would be meeting up with them again. On the horizon one of the spotters pointed out birds congregating over the surface in large numbers, a sign that there were dolphins fishing in the area and as we got closer you started to see where their fins were breaking the surface as they sped though the water.

On board the boat was a dolphin specialist who directed the captain on where to position the boat, they never chase or interrupt the dolphins natural behaviour so we watched at a bit of a distance and waited to see if they would want to engage with us. She would also advise if the swimmers should leave the water if the dolphins had had enough of our company.

It was very exciting as the pod of closer and as soon as one was spotted under the boat suddenly you realised they were all around us. There were at least 100 of them in every direction. The crew on board started to whoop, whistle, cheer and bang on the boat as the dolphins are intrigued by the noise.

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At the shout of 'Group 1 are you ready' we got into our positions on the net, hooked on to the rope, secured our masks and snorkels and jumped in the water.

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The cold of the water was a bit of a shock but that was quickly forgotten as not one but four dolphins came zooming in from the right, then three swooped in from the left. The dive master kept pointing in all directions as dolphins were everywhere. It was like being in the middle of a dolphin display team as they flew through the water, doing barrel rolls and loops to get a good look at us. INCREDIBLE!! They are so fast and graceful and you really appreciate just how well suited they are to living in the water. We had all been told to sing through our snorkels as their research had shown that this intrigues the dolphins enticing them to come in for a closer look. My singing was more like excited squeals as the dolphins came close. They must think we're very weird! As Dan was on the outside of the group he had a dolphin swim right alongside him and could hear it singing back!

Our time in the water was over too soon as we had to let the others have go too!

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But we didn't mind as we had amazing views of the dolphins surfing in the waves to get over to the boat. I think they were taking it in turns to to swim with us as well moving in and out from under the boat swapping from one side to the other.

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We were wild dolphin swimmers!! Woohoo!!

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Sxx

Posted by doyledan 23:02 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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