A Travellerspoint blog

Easter Island

semi-overcast 7 °C
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Easter Island or Rapa Nui always held many childhood fantasies of mysterious rituals and rugged remoteness. I never thought I would ever make it there for real, but somehow we managed to just about include it into our route between Tahiti and Cuba.

We didn’t manage to book a room ahead, not for lack of trying, but everything had been solidly booked out from 2 mths before. Tripadvisor had given mixed reviews about most of the places. I tried to manage my expectations and figured the worst scenario would be camping which could be quite fun even in the chilly evenings.

We found all our worries were for nothing as, there were about 3 counters promoting local pensions. A lady sold us and a Swiss guy rooms ($20 a night) at the same pension on the other side of the main high street in Hanga Roa. She drove us there and also sourced us our own jeep for $30 for 24 hours. We had had an overnight flight and with only one full day in Easter Island so we were rearing to go.

Our pension was a little semi-detached bungalow in a large garden of other mini bungalows and a towering long hydroponic pepper patch. Our bungalow consisted of one room and a shower/toilet. It was clean enough and had the usual array of health and safety hazards. The window from the toilet looked onto the main kitchen. The kitchen was a compact with the only basics which led onto a terrace with a dining table. On the other side, a door from the kitchen led into a living room for the lady who served us breakfast and took our payment. She was a lovely granny like local who spoke no English but was very caring, serving strong hot coffee at every opportune moment.

We sat down at the terrace table and had our coffee to set us up for the day. We chatted to a Swiss guy and a Chilean guy about their travels while we looked past the garden. We could see a Maoi on the horizon. The air was undeniably fresh with heavy icy water droplets.
As soon as our red jeep arrived we were off around the island. There was no insurance , so everyone drives carefully. We needed to get money and the book had portrayed some complicated foreign exchange issue. We found the local bank as mapped by the book. After Julian threw a marginal frustrated fit as he had waited in a very long queue and then tried in vain to organize some cash from the bank unsuccessfully, we drove around the corner and found a brand new spanking red Santander branch. A well to do man inside showed us how to use the ATM – easy peasy. I have to say the Lonely Planet for the South Pacific islands was pretty crap – they really need to publish a new edition.

Hanga Roa was compact but busy little centre, with a sprinkling of tourist shops, hotels, eateries and car rental places. It seemed very carefree with kids playing infront of buildings and packs of dogs and wild horses trotting about. Tourists in all-weather anoraks and woollies and wellies trapsing around. Also I noticed just off the town, there were a number of crazy surfers boarding in the choppy freezing sea.

We followed the coastal road from Hanga Roa from the west to the north-east of the island. Most of the roads were good but some were dirt tracks.

We drove as close as we could to the nearest site. This lush emerald field was known as the Tahai Ceremonial Complex. It was just breathtaking. Hoards of wild horses seemed to be roaming free with their maine blowing in the wind. The Moai with a piercing stony glare had a back drop of formidable midnight blue waves crashing frothily onto the scraggy black rocks. I was impressed.

All of the Maoi dotted around Easter Island, to me were spectacular, so not sure I can do them much justice in the photographs or this blog. All I can say is they were all amazing and at a rush, we did manage to see everything we wanted to in 1.5 days.

Just a few things to note, the petro glyphs in the cave are definitely worth it. Also the one surprisingly amazing sight which blew us away was the crater lake of Rano Raraku in the southern tip of Easter Island. It is filled with rain water and plantation but looked like it is filled with glistening jewels. Also, try and get to the sites before the coach loads do, so best to start early.

We did as much as we could before it got dark. We walked back into town for dinner. The highest rated restaurant from the book was closed but we found a sort of italian restaurant. It was probably subzero and after we sat down on the terrace, we realised that there were no actual rooms. The view and the sounds were beautiful but jeesh it was freezing. Also, I think they forgot our order because it took them about an hour to serve us, still the food was not bad.

We were pretty tired by the time we walked home. A rather haggered alsation met us at the entrance and decided to become our dog. He lay on the doorstep of our bungalow, and protectively barked most of the night.

Posted by Bushra 06:50 Archived in Chile Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Tahiti and Bora Bora

sunny 30 °C
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After reading all the slating reviews of Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia (45km across), we had no intention of going there but were forced by plane timetables to have a night there. We had heard that it was extortionate and a 5minute taxi ride from the airport to the hotel could cost $30, so we were going to walk it. With just our backpacks we found our way out of the airport and onto a pavement next to a 4 lane highway of speeding gas guzzlers. Incidentally this was not THE highway of 6 lanes which is further up the island. It was like back being in Asia but with everybody in the cars and hardly anybody walking the streets at night like us. We did ask a local passerby if we were walking in the right direction and though he spoke French, some broken English tumbled out of his mouth. He was really friendly and we were on the right path.

After spending a week in Rarotonga, we were really sensitive to pollution. We could smell and see the smog in the air. There were estuaries running under the pavement which were drowning in used coca cola cans and general rubbish. We walked past quite tightly packed neighbourhoods , with lush gardens of hibiscus flowers and trees swollen with mangoes or breadfruit.

Eventually we found our hotel – the Sofitel. It was Saturday night and the foyer of the hotel had a noticeable amount of anorexic middle aged women in tiny sequined dresses showing of their patina pins. We had no intention of going out on the town but also no intention of eating at the hotel. Julian left me in the bedroom to hunt and gather. He managed to come back with a very tasty takeaway Chinese. We actually found the Carrefour the next day ( 5 minutes walk from the hotel) so we could pick up some French cheese and baguette etc for lunch.
We were flying out on Sunday evening, the next day. We did toy with the idea of getting up early and going for some surf lessons, after all surfing was invented here. Or maybe taking a day trip around the island via the Gaughan museum (which had no original Gaughans). It all seemed a bit much when we had a plane to catch that evening. We figured the safest option would be to go into the main town. On Sunday, the hotel told us that no buses were running so they booked us a cab. It was not as bad as we thought but it was still $40. Once we were on the highway, we saw lots of buses which were running – but they didn’t really stop at bus stops. They kind of shout out of the window at pedestrians if they want to take the bus and then they stop. Anyway we were dropped off by the harbour in the main square of Papeete. It was boiling hot and sunny and everything felt quite neon bright with the lingering stench of the night before. We followed the walking tour in the lonely planet. There was a veritable amount of clubs, bars, shops and a market. Most things were closed bar a few cafes, so we did not see that much other than some well-kept plants in a park, impressive yachts and a lemon yellow catholic cathedral. I guess it sort of reminded me of Marbella. We had a coffee and got the bus back to the hotel. The hotel had a narrow black rocked beach, so we sat there amongst the topless honeymooners and ate our picnic.

Bora Bora
It was dark by the time we were boarding for Bora Bora but we watched the lights of Tahiti disappear into the distance. We noticed that we were sharing our 45minute flight with a number of very well-heeled passengers with bling jewelry. We were unashamedly scruffy as always. The plane landed on a slither of a motu (an islet) north of the main land mass. Then we were herded onto a boat which sped to the main island in 30minutes. We stayed on the top deck but it got quite windy and cold. As we approached the port, we noticed that the main square had a sort of a dance-athon going on. We figured it was to entertain the local cruise ship embarkees.

A very jolly lady beckonned us to her minibus. Her husband – this big beardy friendly man lolled about in the back with their 3 small sleeping kids. Thing to note, we asked the lady if we had to pay her the cost of the taxi or if it was part of our room rate and she said it was all ‘included’ and well in the end we found $80 was added to the bill at the hotel. In hindsight there was no other choice, but it would have been nice to know if you were paying for something when you specifically ask !

We drove in the dark for about 20minutes before reaching our hotel- Mai Tai. The Mai Tai had mixed reviews on tripadvisor but for us it was fine for 2 nights. It was pretty much on the beach (but did have a small road between the hotel and the sand), so we could snorkle every day. We also took out a kayak and made an attempt to reach the nearest motu which was 30minutes away, but the waves and wind were too high, still it was hilarious. The hotel staff were very friendly and helpful and the hotel food was great. Expect to pay $40 a head for dinner (unless it’s rancid looking pizzas and junkfood) anywhere on Bora Bora, but we did find a little supermarket where we could buy water and bread and cheese etc.

We took a trip to the town centre. What can I say, it was dead ! Only the extortionate black pearl jewelry shops were open. Even walking around was quite an effort because the roads were so broken with rubbish thrown into the rubble. However the locals were friendly and the views of the mountain were amazing. We killed some time just watching the locals fish at the harbour. We even spotted a Japanese film crew and struck up a conversation with them. They were doing a travel program. A beautiful little girl who was with a family fishing, sat with me and smiled and chatted to me in French.

My husband who has had family fight in WWI and WWII loves war history; so we decided to follow a ‘lonely planet’ walk to some giant cannons on the main hill. These cannons were left by the Americans when they used it as a supply base whilst fighting the Japanese. Anyway we walked up and down the main road around the island trying to find the entrance to the path, and then were told by a café owner that the book was wrong and the path was now privately owned because someone had bought the land with the cannon to build a house.

Oh yes, and we did have dinner at Bloody Marys. I had read a lot of the hype about it and how everyone from Cameron Diaz to Bill Gates had eaten there. To be fair,good eatery options on the island were limited. We were picked up by the Bloody Marys mini bus, which we noticed was full of Americans and no French tourists, which is always worrying when you are going to a restaurant in French Polynesia. The restaurant was well themed, with sand for floor and hut like décor. It all started off in a ceremonious way by everyone congregating around a table of delectable fresh line caught seafood glistening temptingly. You just point at what you would like. The only preparation on offer was ‘on the grill’ but there was a choice of sauces. Oh yes, and they don’t tell you the prices so you have to ask. It was not ridiculously expensive, though for the same price you could certainly have a Michelin starred lunch in London which had the same quality of ingredients but much more refined skill in cooking. The food was delicious though there were some tasteless items on offer for instance there was a booth selling Bloody Marys merchandise like Tee-shirts with a crowd of Americans with dollars in hand waiting for their turn. Anyways it was a fun night out and I do recommend it.

For our last night in French Polynesia, we had booked one night into the best possible overwater bungalow at the 5 star Le Meridien on the neighbouring motu. It was a total blow out, because we figured when else are we going to be staying in Bora Bora. A minibus took took us to the Le Meridien harbour, passing a number of derelict hotels and scrapyard gardens with ragged children playing. There was definately a rich tourist/ foreign hotelier vs poor locals divide.

We were taken to the resort by a little speed boat and the resort really was out of this world. Our staff walked us around the communal areas – the bar, restaurants and reception and then drove us in a caddy taking the scenic route through the sumptuous grounds of palm trees past the beach cabanas and finally our own decked lane to our bungalow.

We ooohed and aaaahed amazed. Floating nets cascaded from the sculptural wood ceiling of the four poster bed. We pressed our faces against the floor window onto the water underneath. The curtain which backed onto the bathroom area had petal shaped cut outs and somehow the light from the water through the floor window seemed to float onto it and make it look like it was on fire. The unadulterated view from our balcony was of the main island with its rugged overgrown peak. From our balcony there were some spiral steps straight into the clear turquoise pacific. It was deep enough to dive into. A very well thought out room.

We eventually prised ourselves away from the bungalow to venture down to the beach. Le Meridien have what is called a Turtle Sanctuary within their ‘lagoonarium’. The waters were crystal clear with some well positioned coral and abundance of exotic gaudy coloured fish. We snorkeled there for absolute hours. On the otherside of the lagoonarium there was the main beach. Again we did some kayaking.

For dinner we ate at the bar with some cocktails. It was all very romantic. We decided to head back to our bungalow till the traditional dance show on the beach later on that evening. The staff had left us a bottle of champagne! That really was a nice touch. And the show was fabulous, but probably not that traditional. At the end, I even danced at the front with the troop.

Just a faultless experience all in all.

Posted by Bushra 12:32 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged beaches round_the_world Comments (0)

The Cook Islands - Lazy Lazy days

sunny 35 °C
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We stepped off the fully packed Air New Zealand plane, into the brilliant sunshine of Rarotonga with a Kia Orana welcome. Kia Orana means may you live long. Not that there were no clouds. It's just that everything was bright and lucid, but relaxed at the same time. Smiling faces and glowing skin. As we queued up through immigration, I noticed the pretty bright flower the women at the desk wore behind their ears. Apparantly if it is behind the left ear, you are taken and behind the right ear you are available.

It was funny thing, which I cannot really get my head around. Basically travelling around the world we had gradually lost a day somehow and now we had just crossed the dateline so gained back the day.

Standing within the curve of the baggage conveyor, was an elderly guy with a hawaiin flower shirt, garland of flowers around his weaved hat, big glasses, singing and playing the ukele. Absolutely brilliant !

90% of the tourists were kiwis or ozzies. And I would say a good 65% seemed to be very chatty OAPs ! The rest were couples around our age and 90% of them were honeymooners. We stayed in a mid-range resort called Edgewater Resort. Not our usual thing, so we didn't know what to expect. It was not a cool place but a very comfortable place and we had a great view of the sea through the gardens, and got 6 nights for the price of 4. Because of the gained day and generally lethargy we got all confused about whether we needed to extended for another night.

The first couple of days, we just adjusted to island life with a little bit of snorkelling close to the hotel. We dragged our lazy feet up the palm lined, black lava stone crested white sandy beaches. Clams with gaping mouths set in lava for eternity. Seashell cornets housing hermits scrambling around under your feet. The only disconcerting element were the stray dobermen crosses. Growing up in the 80s, watching programs like Magnum, I have always been scared to death of dobermens. They were always the guard dog with super sharp teeth practically frothing at the mouth at the sight of anyone but their owner. However this doberman just trotted over to me and started to gently lick my hand with a smile. Just such an adorable friendly dog. She followed us for a good half a mile, pushing her head under our hands for a pat or cuddle, even jumping into the sea with us.

The surf crashed onto the reef edge, 200 metres away from the main beach. The sea was quite refreshingly cold in the blistering heat, and visibility through our snorkelling goggles near the hotel was pretty cloudy; but a little further out, we saw In the coral reefs, saw electric blue star fish, tonnes of black and brown sea cucumbers, moray eels, long thin white fish with big eyes which stopped to look back at me, shoals of multicoloured parrot fish.

Over the 5 days in the Cook Islands, I would say, we didn't do much at all. Our routine was get up wash etc, go for the huge buffet breakfast, get our things, wait for the hourly hop on hop off bus, find a spot to get off and go snorkelling, then get the bus again to go into town and get something to eat, then stroll around, may be read, go back to the hotel for a rest, watch a silly movie in the room and repeat all in the evening.

It was relaxing and just what we needed.... and yes..... there were times when we were bored. What a great feeling.

A few highlights :

Walk Across the Island - We did an 8km walk over the hill through the forest from one side of the island to the other. Actually we did it the wrong way round as recommended by the book and then got totally lost and walked around the hill high up off-piste scaled some boulders and back down again waded through slippery streams and muddy paths for 4hrs. It was a pretty cool adventure.

Trader Jack's - amazing restaurant we frequented. Totally recommend the fish tacos and dukka sauce on parrot fish.

Local Dance Show - our hotel had quite a good one, and some teams for a competition were staying at the hotel, so we watched them practice.

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Aitutaki Day Trip - Unbelievably amazing.

It is not an ambition of mine to find paradise, probably because I have always been suspicious of the word. Many years ago, my cousins lived in the Seychelles and I spent a few weeks dossing around there. It was beautiful for sure and what I thought was 'Paradise'.

Aitutaki took the word 'Paradise' to a whole new level.

We had bought a day trip with Air Rarotonga, which was not cheap : $429 per person. At 7.15am, they picked us for the short 45minute flight. Aitutaki airport was literally a hut. We were picked up to be taken to the second highest point on the island. In February a cyclone had ripped up – news story"http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTS2Wmq2iRU".

The driver pointed out to some islets on the horizon and said "When we locals get stressed the whole family take a boat and stay on one of those for the weekend, with some tents and supplies", a kiwi from our hotel asked "What do you guys get stressed about ?", he answered "When things get too boring".

He then drove us to the jetty, where there was a catamaran called "Land Luvas" waiting for us. We looked onto the beach, and the neighbouring islands. It was stunning. Crystal clear waters in between all the islands, just lagoon after lagoon. The weather was just perfect. We stood up top for most of the time. Down on the lower deck, the boat driver was playing the guitar and telling cultural stories. I didn't really listen.

We first went to a lagoon for a swim. We had a little walk around the islet and then got back on the boat towards honeymoon island. A spectacular peice of beach with only the 10 other tourists on our boat. It allowed us to wade knee deep through the water for about 300 metres over some sand banks to one-foot island. It was just beautiful.

The crew caught some fish and barbequed it up for us with an array of salads and grilled veggies.

We could see that the unspoilt waters teamed seacreatures. The water was flowing down, so we walked up to the north of the island and tiptoed around the sea slugs washed up on the beach and jumped in to snorkle. All this crytal clear water snorkelling, led to Julian burning the top of his feet so he had to sleep with wet towels on his steaming feet but he did not complain one bit. Aitutaki was literally the most beautiful place we had ever been.

I can't even describe it because it was too amazing.

We were transported back to the airport all content around 4.30 and back in Rarotonga airport around 5. As we sat in the mini bus back to the hotel, reflecting on the lovely day, just when we thought our day could not get better, a humpbacked whale jumped out of the sea and then from under the sea started to spurt out water like a ghyzer.

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All in all, Rarotonga was fabulous - in a very very relaxed way.

At Raro airport, while waiting for the flight to Tahiti, the ukelele man started to set up - the same guy we saw as we came into this wonderful island. He clocked me looking at him and walked over and sat next to me and started telling me his life story. He was so open and frank and rather blunt. It turned out he was born and bred in Rarotonga but was an MBE. He had travelled a bit as a rugby player and he used to be an airport security guard and had met the queen when she came to open the new airport at Rarotonga in 1976. He also mentionned that never trust anyone from Solomon Islands. He mentionned that there were lots of types of christianity on the island though a few years ago these religious paradigms had been reduced to 4. He pointed out trouble-makers on the island and generally gossipped about his life and people.

As we steped out onto the tarmac, he gave me a huge wave from this stage.

Posted by Bushra 04:25 Archived in Cook Islands Tagged beach paradise round_the_world Comments (0)

Taman Negara, Malaysia

sunny 30 °C
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We stayed in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel very nearly next to the stunning Petronas Tower. There was a lot of construction going on in the KLCC and the hotel was surrounded by it, but our room was dead quiet with a breathtaking view of the KL skyline. No complaints about the hotel, it was as expected. We decided not to venture too far from KLCC and chilled out. It was very much an expat/tourist area with tonnes of 5 star chain hotels and mock-western bars such as 'Aloha'. Kinda of incongruous in a muslim country. Surprisingly in the foyer of what looked like an office block, we found a lovely casual Japanese restaurant called Yukozona. We went there for lunch and dinner ! I can recommended the fish head which was fried incidentally.

All fed, watered and chillaxed, we were ready for our 2 day stint in the oldest rainforest in the world : Taman Negara.

After a number of treachorous uncomfortable buses throughout our holiday, I felt rather anxious about catching the bus from KL to Juruntut. I was pleasantly surprised, it was like a National Express but with bigger seats – very comfortable indeed and pretty much empty. The rules around the taxi drivers were pretty strict so no haggling was required. We shared a 30 minute cab ride from the bus station at Juruntut to Kuala Tembling with an american couple who were teaching english in Taiwan. We arrived at the Kuala Tembling at midday. There were a handful of tourist agents so if there are enough people (around 10) to fill a boat, you can play them off eachother until one boat will take you then and there rather than wait for a scheduled one in a few hours time.

Empty longboats were sliced into eachother at the jetty. The one we climbed into, had a loose green tawpawlin roof with open sides.There was no raised seat, so you sort of sit with your legs out wide on fabric cushions. This was great for me because I have little legs but not so great for Julian ! The 2 hour ride snaked through the lush towering rainforest right into its heart. It was so relaxing, I actually fell asleep.

The boat moored up onto a floating wooden cafe on the banks. We had to get off the boat with our bags onto a narrow ledge which had diners at tables. After all the effort of not falling into the river, we ended up eating there. And the ginger prawns were pretty tasty I must say.

We stayed at the Rainforest Resort which was supposed to be one of the better places in the main town. The poshest complex which looked remarkably like the Dharma Initiative in Lost nestled within the rainforest was across the river. Our water taxi actually moored up at the same time as their guests, and we got to experience their welcome of the hotel staff putting on a song and dance !

We managed 3 walks in our day and half.

A little background :


"In the heart of the Titiwangsa Mountain Range, which makes up the central spine of Peninsular Malaysia, lies the country's most important protected area called Taman Negara (which means 'National Park'). The park comprises over 4,000 square kilometres of primary forest, mountain peaks, swift-flowing rivers and cascades.

The national park is home to around 14,000 species of plants and trees more than other forest in the world. Basically, there are over 2,400 species of flowering plant, 200 species of mammals, 350 species of birds, 67 species of snakes, 55 species of frogs, 80 species of bat, 30 species of rats and 109 species freshwater fishes.

Parts of the area were first protected in 1925 as the Gunung Tahan Game Reserve, named after the area's highest peak. In 1939, while under British jurisdiction, the protected area was expanded to encompass parts of the states of Pahang, Trengganu and Kelantan and was renamed King George V National Park. After Malaysia's independence, in 1957, the area assumed its current title of Taman Negara."
We approached the park office at around 4pm of our first day, eager to do the canopy walk. There was a lady slumped on the desk, clearly it had been a long day. We asked her directions to the canopy trail, and she summonned up a ''Close" and then she carried on looking the other way. I thought she said meant it was close by. We asked her what she meant, and she kept saying the same word. It transpired that this walk had "Closed" at 3.30pm !

It wasn't dark, so we decided to go for a little wander into the forest anyway. The paths seemed quite clear, through there were very few signs. The vegetation seemed prehistoric in size with huge curling leaves and ginormous tualang trees (kompassia excelsea), the tallest tree in South East Asia, various types of hardwoods such as meranti (shores spp.) and keruing (dipterocarps spp.)

The paths were quite wet and muddy with lots of slippery trunks lurking out of the ground in gravity defying contortions. We didn't see that much wildlife, except for some frogs, lizards and birds. The book had mentionned to expect your body to covered with leeches but we didn't see any. Mind you our body's were lathered with insect repellent.

We walked for a couple of miles, just getting a feel for the area and then headed back.

The next morning, we were up early and heading for the canopy walk. We were the first ones there the next morning at 9am. With 9 bridges and 10 platforms, 40metres above ground and 530 metres it is the longest Canopy Walk in Asia and possibly the world ! We walked slowly, with my husband being allowed to walk a few metres behind me for safety reasons. Looking down from the bridges was amazing.

As we finished our walk, we noticed all the tour groups starting the walk at around 10.30.

The next trail we followed was to the nearby peak of Bukit Teresek, just 2 kilometres from the headquarters. It was boiling hot and humid. The walk was all up hill (mostly steep) – a real killer if you are not used to this kind of thing ! But definately worth it. At the top, we looked out and jungle went out as far as the eye could see.

Posted by Bushra 03:37 Archived in Malaysia Tagged landscapes trees round_the_world Comments (0)

Melbourne : The Great Ocean Road

all seasons in one day 7 °C
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Originally we had booked to go to Melbourne for just 2 nights because we were planning to head to Tasmania, but because of time constraints we had to cut out Tasmania. What to do in Melbourne with just 3 days ? We made a rough sketch to check out the Great Ocean Road and to go for dinner at an old friend's place in the Melbourne burbs on Saturday night.

We arrived after midnight. At 5 °C, it was bloody freezing which was a bit of a shock compared to Asia. There was a huge queue through immigration – ever seen "Border Control" ? , well they were filming it then and there.

Our hotel of choice was of convenience – the nearest to the airport – Formulae 1. It was so basic and souless, that it bordered on kitsch. The bathroom had a sort of alien space pod - moulded toilet and shower. And we had this cross bunkbed above the normal bed.

The next morning, we picked up our small car and headed south towards the ocean. There is a toll road from the airport to Melbourne and you pay via phone or internet within 48 hours of using it, similar to the London congestion charge. We took the highway which would bypass Melbourne traffic, and turn right at Geelong – may be do a little bit of surf shopping in Torquay. Both Ripcurl (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rip_Curl) and O'Neill (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O%27Neill) had originated from this sparsely populated area. Within an hour we were off the main urban highways and onto a windy steep road in deep dense lush dripping forests with roadsigns warning of kangaroos.

The roads were empty, well tarmaced, well signposted and people drove at a leisurely pace and there was so much space. Another shock after Asia. We refamiliarised ourselves with priviledged western infrastructure.

We managed to completely miss Geelong and hit the coast about 100km west. The rugged scenery and huge waves were breathtaking. The first main town we came to was Lorne. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorne,_Victoria). We stopped to have a quick look around. There seemed to a hotchpotch of relaxed, slightly surfy cafes, craft shops and clothes shops ranging from surfwear to vintage. The sea air was bitingly cold, so we end up going into thrift shops and buying some winter woolies for us to recycle when we left Melbourne. Cockatiels and ravens were flitting around our heads. There was an air of carefree expanse.

We popped into the tourist office. The guide seriously loved his job, he spoke to us for ages about what to do and where to stay locally. Even with the cold weather, all the cafes seemed to keep their doors wide open. I guess fresh sea air can only be a good thing. After a lovely coffee and toastie, we headed further west on the Great Ocean Roads towards the Twelve Apostles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twelve_Apostles_%28Victoria%29). Having visited Australia 5 years ago, we knew it was dead easy to get around. We didn't have a guide book for Australia but Julian had printed out 3 bits of paper of the area and we had some maps free with the Avis car.

We drove all the way to Wye River, snaking down the coastal road, stopping periodically to try and spot whales. It really is a beautiful drive. I know it sounds so British, but the heat in Asia had felt oppressive, so it was nice to feel the cold.

We didn't quite make it to the 12 apostles before dusk so we headed back to Lorne and booked into the Pacific Grand Hotel overlooking the sea. It was an old victorian building with huge glass doors opening onto balconies.

Slightly fed up of restaurants, we went to the local fish and chip shop and ordered Battered Blue Grandier, with calamari and scallop and chilli sauce. We parked up as close to the sea as we could and sat in the car, listening to the radio and the waves crashing on the shore and devoured our fish supper. The windows steamed up and we smelt like saucy sea creatures but it was the best fish and chips we have had ever.

Day 2 in Melbourne, consisted of us driving east up to Mornington Peninsula. We went for a boardwalk around this lighthouse and we got on this cute ferry which took us across to the Yarra Valley side of Melbourne. Most people seemed to going in the opposite direction for the weekend. This was all wine country and we were planning to drive to the main Yara Valley area but as soon we got close to Melbourne, the traffic started piling up and we realised we were running out of time for our dinner party. We had to rush straight back to the airport, drop off the car and then get a cab to our hotel – the Radisson, Flagstaff gardens to Duncan's who lived in the Hamptons which was 40minutes away in Hamptons.

About 8 years ago, I worked with Duncan in IT for an insurance company. We even sat next to eachother when he was applying for a visa to Australia. He moved to Melbourne with his wife and 3 young kids about 7 years ago. He bought a tumble down house on a big plot and the builders and the spreadsheet told him that it was cheaper to bulldoze the old house and build from scratch rather than renovate. Cate and he meticulously designed the perfect family home with pool, but not a fuddy duddy boring house but a really cool hi-tec house with little British (there's that word again !) eccentricities and tonnes of light which allowed the chi to flow and his kids (and new dog) to run about free. They had a huge staircase (very against Ozzie convention) in a vast hallway with light streaming through which then lead up to huge landing. The landing was very innovative – it was a fab communal play areas for his kids with sofas and a tv. It meant the mess was always kept upstairs.

We have been doing renovations for years (9 houses in 15 years) and we are in the middle of one now. With old houses and it is nigh impossible to get the finish right because the house moves and creaks and nothing is straight. With Duncan's house, the finish was exceptional. A real advert for a new build ...and in fact family life ! I took pictures to steal interior decorating ideas for our own place.

Duncan and Cate had made a delicious lasagne and had invited a couple of friends around – Janette and Peter. A really nice down-to-earth couple who regailed us with funny anecdotes and the usual aussie straight talking. For me, with Duncan and Cate, it was nice to gossip about the old gang and talk about what people were up to now. We had such a lovely time. Real kindred spirits.

On our final day in Australia, we were total zombies and only had the morning really before we had to move on to the next country. We took the red circle line tram (which is free!) to the city centre and had lunch at the buzzing lanes. It was teaming with cool and funky sorts. The sky was bright and a mixture of modern high risers emblazened with familair logos such as PWC. We tried to get into the Tim Burton exhibition but the queue was way too long, so we sauntered down the Southbank of the Yarra River. It was a nice sunny day and whole families were out cycling and walking about town. At the north, there were plastic boards with different countries and how many immigrants from that country lived in Australia. We noticed some of the boards like Israel, Croatia, USA had been spat at !!

Auckland – one night. Didn't leave the airport as we got in last thing and left first thing but must comment on how great this airport hotel was. The hotel was called Ventura Inn & Suites Auckland Airport. And also on the radio – the following joke was bloody (by the way I was born in Bangladesh so am brown and am used to in London everyone being super politically correct) :

The background was, kiwis were getting their knickers in a twist about the fact that schools in NZ were teaching chinese as a second language. Rather progressive and forward thinking, I reckon. Anyway as a response, the DJ hooted "If learning Chinese makes you a Communist, then learning German makes you a Nazi and learning French .....makes you an arsehole."

He then proceeded to laugh for about 5minutes. Gotta love the kiwis (-:

Posted by Bushra 02:03 Archived in Australia Tagged buildings people Comments (0)

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