A Travellerspoint blog

It's the end of the world as we know it!!!!!!

Patagonia Argentina

After quite the journey from New Zealand to Buenos Aires, we arrived for the last section of our journey around the world. That is South America. We were also extra excited because one of our best friends Maire was joining us for 2.5 weeks while we make the journey to Patagonia.

From Buenos Aires (ill post about this city later) the three of us we took a flight to a town called El Calafate and this is where the adventure began. Its difficult to know how to begin describing patagonia. We had heard from people that it was amazing but i think all 3 of us were in for quite the shock when we finnaly arrived. The first thing you notice about Patagonia is the space. There are masses of landscape that seem quite barren but have spectular features such as rivers, mountains and of course glaciers. Patagonia itself is over 3,000km for Buenos Aires and its spans across the very south of Argentina and Chile. Because of this, we were never going to see everything so decisions had to be made. In the end I think we made some pretty good ones. We arrived in El calafate and got a bus to El Chalten. It is located within the Los Glaciares National Park at the base of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy mountains. It is a popular area for trekkers similar to its Chilean counterpart the Torres del Paine National Park. We booked into a apartment for 5 nights and set about planning our treks. Trekking in El Chalten is very easy to plan in that you are given a map as you enter the national park of all the possible routes. The routes are very well maintained. They have no real facilites on them and you need to bring all your own food etc but as a result, the parks water resources are spotless and the water is drinkable from source. The other thing about Patagonia is the weather, it is super changeable. I have never seen anything like it. It can also get very windy but we were so lucky in our time in El Chalten. Over the course of the days we did nearly all the day treks there were to do which meant we done 3 x 1/2 marathons over the course of 4 days plus a few shorter ones. It was a lot but oh my are they worth it!!! They are amazing beyond words. The first trek, the Laguna de Los Tres led us up to near the base of Fitzroy where we sat above two glacial lakes looking at the fitzroy peaks and condors flying past every now and then. It was a beautiful sunny day and I think its one day that the 3 of us will hold in our memories. The other two long treks were of similar sights with the last trek bringing us 1,000m uphill to a viewing point that looked over both the mountains of Cerro Torre and Fitzroy. It wasn't quite as sunny as the first trek and the height meant we couldn't hang around too long on top but it was worth the climb. Here are a few pics from El Chalten. fitzcompresssed4.jpgfitzcompressed5.jpgfitzcompresssed3.jpg

We were quite sad leaving El Chalten with all of us realising that we were very lucky to have seen such sights but we had more of patagonia to see so we made our way back to El Calafate to see one of its famous tourist attractions the Perito Moreno Glacier. We decided to do the mini-trek on this as we heard it was worth the money and so it was. This glacier is a major tourist attraction and as such you dont get much privacy there but i think that there is more than enough glacier to go around. Tourists aside, on first glancing this glacier from the bus window i think my words to ger were 'Holy F**k'. I was really awe struck by the sheer size and formation of it and when we went to stand on the viewing decks beside it, you could hear it cracking. This glacier is of particular interest to glaciologists because its one of the few glaciers that is growing in size. We normally tend to hear of receding glaciers but in winter time this one grows which will hopefully ensure it lives on for some time yet. The trek itself was interesting as we had never used crampons before so it was different experience trekking on ice. We got use to it quickly and just to ensure we enjoyed ourselves, we were all given a free whisky " whisky on the rocks' as they call it. Ok so its a bit of a touristy gimic but we enjoyed clinking our glasses none the less.

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Apart from the glacier, all the other trips out of El Calafate were a bit beyond our budget so we booked a bus to where else but the 'end of the world'. The city of Ushuaia on the Island of Terra del Fuego. After a 19 hour bus journey with a few hold ups at the chilean border we made it to the end of the world. Ushuaia itself is a popular tourist spot for a few reasons but the one I was jealous of was that its a popular port to begin your journey to Antartica. Realistically we could never afford one of the expeditions but it was cool to watch the massive ships and imagine what it would be like to arrive in Antartica just 48 hours from Ushuaia. I think all 3 of us resolved we would be back to try it out when we had more money in bank!!! While we ddn't board one of the antartic ships we did do a boat trip around around the area of Ushuaia and it was really enjoyable especially getting to view a sealion colony on a nearby Island.

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The other main attraction in Ushuaia is the Terra del Fuego national park. We headed out for an afternoon and done a 3 hour coastal trek which was really nice except we were all dying with hangovers so probably didn't appreciate it to the fullest. We were proud of ourselves that we made it out though!!!! The following day was a little more sucessful and it was one that I was most excited about. It was a trip to Martillo Island to see the penguins. I had Ger driven mad wanting to see penguins since he mentioned patagonia and now it was finally a reality. We got a tour to the islands with a group 'Pira Tours' that allowed us to walk around the Island for an hour. It was really brilliant and we all loved it. There were so many penguins!!!! The main two species are Magellanic and Gentoo penguins although we were lucky enough to see one 'tourist' king penguin. Needless to say the camera was snap happy as seen below.

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The penguin trip was our final destination in Patagonia and the day after we sadly boarded a flight, waved goodbye and headed back to Buenos Aires. I think there was a bit of tear in all our eyes!!!!

Dodging Mosquito Status: Yipee -none at all, it looks like the end of the world is the place to escape to!!!

Posted by ofenelon 15:23 Archived in Argentina Tagged el patagonia chalten Comments (1)

Volcanoes and the Great Walk in the North Island

It was hard to imagine that the North Island of New Zealand could be much more scenic than the South Island but we were soon to discover that in parts it was every bit as spectacular. Unfortunately we had only 10 days left in New Zealand so while our time was short on the North Island, it was certainly memorable.

We began our journey by visiting the city of Wellington. It's a really cool city and reminded me of a mini melbourne with its cool cafes, shops and one of the best museums I've ever visited - the Te Papa. I'm not really someone who loves museums but this one is very interactive and after about 3 hours we hadn't even left the ground floor.

Following wellington we headed north to the most famous day trek in New Zealand. The tongarino crossing. It is now more noteably famous as it is home to the lord of the rings 'Mount Doom' or Mount Ngauruhoe. It's not just this mountain that makes it so spectacular but more the region in general. The crossing is a trek that takes you through and up several volcano's, across dried up craters, view over emerald lakes and you can summit both Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongarino although Mount Ngauruhoe is v steep in parts and very tricky. We went to the summit of Mount Tongarino which I'd highly recommend as its not too difficult and it give s a great view of the overall region. We were lucky enough to get a spectacular day and sitting there on Mount Tongarino was something special. The region is still active so unfortunately we couldnt cross the full way as one area had erupted the year previously and was still dangerous. It's also not a trek for you if you want to be alone. There are lots of people doing it. I think its still worth it. Its also tough enough trek (probably about 6/7 hours) but the landscape is very unique. It's definitely one of our highights of New Zealand.

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After the tongarino crossing we drove to the volcanic town of rotarua. We were primarily here to stock up on supplies for the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk but Rotarua is an interesting place in itself. First off, the whole town smells of suplhur. It is really noticable as your driving into it. It makes the most of its volcanic activity and has lots of hot springs, mud baths and geysers you can visit. Unfortunately we didn't avail of these as our time here was spent preparing for the next big trek - The Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk located in Te Urewera National Park. This is one of New Zealands great walks but its probably not as popular as some on the south Island. I would imagine because its a little out of the way to get to. The national park is about 3 hours drive from rotarua and most of that is on very windy gravel roads. Once we got near the park, we left the car at a guesthouse and paid for a transfer to the start point.

The trek took us four days to complete but it we loved it. It was difficult with some serious climbs in it especially the first day when it was 700m uphill through forest. Doing it with full backpacks adds considerably to the difficulty. The one thing about these great walks is that you need to bring all your facilities/food with you for the full 4 days. There are huts along the way that you can book into and sleep in but there are no cooking facilites so they must carried with you. The huts themselves are basic but are some of them are really nice and they can be located in the most beautiful areas. We were so lucky and got beautiful weather so when we arrived at the hut, we could relax usually beside a lake and maybe go for a swim.

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If there was one thing I would recommend doing in New Zealand then a great walk would be it. There are nine walks in total located in both the north and south Island. They can be booked easily through the DOC website and you can camp or stay in huts. They can be physically tough going but you can spread out the walking to suit your needs. I think the best thing is that apart from the senery, you can switch off and completely relax.

After the walk, a very tired Ger and Ollie returned to Rotarua for a night and then to Auckland where we sold our camping gear, returned our rental car and got ready for the nect big part of the trip - South America.

Dodging Mosquito Status: Not much sign of them in the North Island or their horrible relative 'the sand fly. I'm guess they are not lord of the ring fans!!!

Posted by ofenelon 06:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Camping and Tramping on the South Island

It took me a little while to settle into our next destination of New Zealand after the excitement of Christmas and adjusting to be back out travelling again with just the two of us. I found it a little strange for a while. However, it isn’t exactly hard to orientate yourself in New Zealand. It is very easy to get around and they provide tourists with endless free maps etc to get you on your way. We picked up our rental car in Christchurch and decided to do an anti-clockwise route of the south Island making Kaikoura on the coast our first stop. Our first impressions of New Zealand were well ‘wow’. This is one seriously beautiful country. In Kaikoura we decided to make the most of the marine life and we went swimming with the fur seals and it was fantastic. The waters were a little colder than Indonesia but we jumped in with our warm wetsuits and soon got use to it. The seals themselves are amazing. Some are shy but others are really curious and they swim right up to you and duck under and around. One of the seals allowed me to swim right beside him for about 30m out to sea and then back again. He just rolled around while I snorkeled beside him.

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After the seal swim we also done a whale watch which was cool as we got to see a sperm whale however, the boat was quite big and full and I felt like it was a bit of a money making operation but it was really cool to see a whale none the less.
From Kaikoura we made our way to the Abel Tasman National Park on the north east. After a night in Nelson, we headed to a campsite located just outside the park. The one thing I should mention is that New Zealand has an amazing Department of Conservation that maintains parks, trails, camping grounds all over the country. They are really well maintained and so well signed . As a result, one of the major activities here is ‘Tramping’ (what we call trekking). They have fantastic website outlining all the walks (long and short) that you can do including many that are in the Abel Tasman Park. We decided to do a two day coastal trek in the park. Cars are not allowed into the park so we got a water taxi to the top of the park and walked back over two days. It was beautiful except for the first day it rained all day. Trying to put the tent in the rain was amusing to say the least. We got a bit of sleep and we didn’t get wet in the tent but the next morning most of our clothes were a little damp which explains why I’m wearing a strange outfit below (my only dryish clothes). The trek was about 45km in total so we got to see a lot of the coastline in the park and the scenery was breathtaking . The beaches along that area are pure golden sand, almost deserted except for some ‘trampers’.

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From the Abel Tasman we headed to the west coast to a little town called Hector. The weather wasn’t the best so decided not to camp and we stayed in a wonderful place called The Old Slaughterhouse which overlooks the wild west coastline. Its located up on a hill so you have to park the car at the bottom and head up the hill (they collected our bags thankfully!). The house itself was like a little hideaway with two beautiful cozy lounge areas, no telly/internet and two lovely old dogs and a cat called Jefferson. As the weather was wet, we decided to stay two nights and relax with our kindles and a glass of wine.

From the quietness of hector, it was time go further south to the less quiet town of Queenstown. This was quite a far journey so we made a stop over in hokitita one night stopping on route to see the Fox Glacier. There is a walk right up to the glacier and while we didn’t pay to do a glacier trek we still got and impressive view of it and the surrounding valley.
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The next two night were spent in Wanaka. Wanaka was a lovely spot, located on Lake Wanaka. We stayed in a really nice campsite and went on some lovely walks in the area. The scenery around Wanaka and Queenstown is really spectacular with views of the Remarkables mountain range (a ski area in the winter). Aside from skiing, Queenstown itself is famous for its adventure activities – it was the birthplace of the bungee jump. You can do any amount of activities here and there are some really great walks in the area too. We done some beautiful walks but we didn’t really get a chance to do any of the more exciting activities because they are a little pricey if your on a budget so we decided to save our activity spending for a few days later when we would go swimming with dolphins in Akaroa. We did manage to sneak in a trip to the ice bar - see below.

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Akaroa is on the east coast, another long journey so we took a look at the map and we thought we might camp up at Mount Cook to break up the journey. The DOC had a campsite there that looked like it could be nice and we were interested in seeing the famous Mount Cook. It was only as we got closer to the region did we realise what we nearly missed. The scenery in this area is spectacular. The area is wild, the mountains imposing and the campsite is located just beside Mount Cook. We were sad to have only spent one night here except but if I was to go again, I would probably try stay down the road in the backpacker inn or else bring a warmer sleeping bag!!! It was very cold in the middle of the night but still I guess it will probably be the most scenic camp I’ll ever do so I wont complain.

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Ger’s birthday was arriving as we left Mount Cook and we decided to spend it in akaroa and to do something he had always wanted to do – swim with dolphins. We organised it through a really nice farm hostel who do trips to swim with hector dolphins. Hector dolphins are the smallest and rarest dolphin in the world. They are only about 1m in length and there are 7,000 of them in New Zealand and big groups of them hang out in and around the harbour of akoroa. The one thing about them is that you never know where exactly they are so as we headed out in the boat we had to locate them first. Luckily a we spotted them a while later and we were able to get in. They are really beautiful creatures and at first, they didn’t seem to bothered with us but after a little while, they approached and began to play. They swam towards us, zooming around and past us much to our delight and a few even done little jumps out of the water. When Ger first got in about 4 dolphins went and circled him, I reckon they were wishing him happy birthday. He was delighted needless to say!!! They don’t hang around you the way the seals do but rather they swim past you and then come back again. It was a memorable birthday for Ger.

Our stay in the South Island was nearly over but we spent a night Christchurch before heading to the ferry as we didn’t see Christchurch on our arrival. We booked in a hostel that’s a converted jailhouse. It’s very cool and was a bit of a novelty.
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Christchurch itself is and interesting place at the moment. The CBD was devastated by the earthquake in Feb, 2011 and the city is under major reconstruction. At the moment, it s bit disjointed as you would expect but there are some really interesting bars/cafes popping up are many are housed in containers. It’s a bit mad looking at it but its functional, very quirky and of course it means businesses can continue to operate. Even the token Irish Bar has its own container!!!! We walked around the city for a few hours and while its very sad to see the devastation it caused –especially the lives that were lost – there are definite signs that Christchurch recover from this into a great city.

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Well that’s it from New Zealand so far. I’ll update in a while on what the North Island has to offer. We are beginning our adventure in the city of Wellington.

Dodging Mosquito Status: It turns out that New Zealand has an evil cousin that resides on the west coast mostly. He is called ‘The sand fly’. While its not quite as smart as the mossie, it is definitely as destructive and leaves a nasty little bite!!! Fortunately our encounters were sparse so we escaped with relatively few injuries.

Posted by ofenelon 12:39 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

How 3 Irish react when faced with an Australian spider!!!

Warning: Best not to read if you have a fear of spiders.

From reading the previous posts you have probably surmised that this trip has been somewhat focused on seeing as much wildlife as possible and heading to Australia should be an animals lover dream. It was true that I was very excited at the prospect of seeing kangaroos, wombats etc however one thing I had put out of my mind was the number of potentially dangerous spiders & snakes that live in Oz. If there is one thing I have learnt from this trip so far is that actually no animal/insect is actually dangerous unless it is provoked or annoyed (the exception being the mosquito). This knowledge still didn’t seem to stop me being nervous that I might accidentally get in the way of one of these deadly creatures

My first encounter with one of the ‘poisonous’ spiders was a redback that was pointed out to me in Perth. I was surprised that he was so small but was assured that it would do no harm unless provoked so I happily took a photo and we left him go about his business.
My next encounter was not so pleasant. On christmas eve morning, Ger casually turned to me and said ‘oh that looks like a redback on the wall beside our bed’. After further inspection we surmised he wasn’t a redback so I decided we best call for ‘help’ from Niamh (Trent our aussie expert was out of the house at the time). Niamh ran in and exclaimed it was a white-tail and we should get rid of it. They are not quite as poisonous as some of the others but can give a very nasty bite all the same. Not really wanting to kill it but not really wanting it in the bedroom, we disposed of it and all was good. Ger who had been in the shower during the disposal returned and I informed him we had dealt with the spider. His response was ‘Ok, and what about that one behind you? ‘ At which point, I screamed, jumped back and viewed another one looking up but this one was a lot fatter and looked evil. I called Niamh again and when she arrived this is when the pandamonium began. Niamh and ger went to kill it and when they sprayed it, it exploded and shot little babies out all over the place. I ran up the corridor exclaiming I was going to be sick (not helped by the fact that i was very hungover from the previous night). All i could hear was Niamh’s scream ‘Its got babies’ and a few gasps from Ger. They eventually dealt with it but needless to say we were all a bit shook after it. It was like a scene from Aracnaphobia or something. It definitely took a few hours for my pulse to return to normal but luckily we got over it and continued with the christmas celebrations.

Not wanting to put people off visiting Australia , I should point out that actually seeing/encountering poisonous spiders and snakes is quite rare and everyone was very surprised when we recounted our tale . Also, the number of really cuddly & interesting animals in Australia definitely makes it a must visit country for wildlife lovers. See pics below.

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Posted by ofenelon 14:28 Comments (2)

Christmas Down Under

Firstly a big Happy New Year to everyone, i hope all your celebrations went great over the festive season. Secondly, apologies for the delay in the blogging, my festive celebrations went a little too well in that I drank and ate my way through our time in Oz.

After the Gili Islands we headed to Bali to update the wardrobe a bit before heading to Oz. It was badly needed, I'm think our jungle attire would probably stand out just a little in the height of christmas celebrations! We spent two days in Bali running around shops, eating and just enjoying a taste of city life again. I cant really say much about the culture of Bali as we didn’t experience any during our time but we both knew that outside of the main super touristy shopping areas, a cultural feast awaits. Bali is meant to be brilliant once you go off the beaten track a bit. I guess we will have to return to find this out for ourselves!

Onward from Bali we headed to our first Australian destination of Perth. After a bit of a visa and flight panic in Bali i.e we had to buy new flights with a different airline, we were very relieved to land in Perth in time for the run up to christmas. We were met by Ger’s cousin and it was really great to see a familiar face again. The other great thing was just to be back in a country where we weren’t stared at or hassled. Don’t get me wrong we absolutely loved Asia but it can be a little tiring after months of travelling around it. As a result, I think our biggest ‘culture shock’ was the settling into life in Australia and it took a few days to adjust to the relaxed pace of living in Perth. Perth itself is a very interesting place at the moment as it is in the middle of a real economic boom as a result of a thriving mining industry. The downside is that it is very expensive so we were really grateful of having a bed to stay in with Ger cousin Eileen and her fiance Declan.

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Expensive though it might be, it’s a lovely city with lots of really brilliant outdoor facilities and is very close to a really nice wine region ‘Swan Valley’. We had a lovely afternoon on a wine tour sampling the delights of the local wineries. Needless to say we tried it all and left with a merry glow – just getting into the spirit of christmas. The strange thing for us about Perth at this time of year was the heat and seeing Santa in shorts. It didn’t really feel very christmassy but we didn’t mind so much. Heat in December was a nice novelty for us. It was also a really nice heat in that it wasnt humid. We hadn't realised until Australia just how humid it was in Indonesia. There is quite a lot to do in and around Perth and I would recommend the tour of Freemantle prison and a trip to little creatures brewery They also have great national parks near the city where you can spend several hours trekking about. We had a lovely week there and really enjoyed staying with Eileen and Declan - thanks again lads!!

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We left Perth on the 22nd and flew to Melbourne to spend christmas with my lifelong friend Niamh and her boyfriend Trent. I hadn’t really thought about christmas too much until we landed in Melbourne and then the festivities began. By festivities, I mean the traditional excessive drinking and eating but we embraced and loved every minute of it. While they live near the city center, they had booked a house in the countryside in Wilsons Prom for us all to celebrate days around christmas. After a very interesting christmas eve morning (see separate blog post) we left for the house. The house was meant to be a surprise for us and what a surprise it was!!! We arrived at a beautiful traditional country house complete with pool, jacuzzi and lots of kitchen space to cook up a yummy christmas dinner. We had an amazing time there and I think we were all sad leaving. Niamh and I both tooks lots of photos of the rooms just in case we ever win the lotto and can afford to replicate it back home :) Just close to the house is the nature reserve of Wilsons Prom which is an area with lots of trails, wildlife and stunning beaches. I managed to snap a pic of a wallaby on the way home.

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We returned to Melbourne on the 27th of December and Ger and I were excited to experience what Melbourne had to offer. We had always heard great things about Melbourne and it didn’t disappoint. It is probably the best city I have ever visited in terms of its amazing facilities. Its had lots of outdoor pitches, stadiums etc for people wanting to do outdoor activities and it has an unbelievable cycling infrastructure. We hired bikes for a week and just rode around the city on those. There are many bike tours you can do around the city and the cycling lanes are first class. The city itself is very trendy with lots of really cool cafes, shops, interesting museums etc. Like Perth it is quite expensive but the services are very good.

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The one thing about Australia that was particularly noticeable is the size of it. It is massive. We were only able to do the two cities and wish we could have done more but unfortunately moneywise, Australia is currently not the best place for backpackers. Its experiencing an economic boom which is great for residents but its a little pricey if your on a budget like us. That said, it is such a diverse country with amazing wildlife and a high standard of living that it is definitely worth visiting. I know I was really sad leaving - there were tears!!! It was probably just as well that we had a ticket booked to New Zealand or else we may have stayed!!!

Dodging Mosquito Status: Was too busy dodging spiders to notice!!!

Posted by ofenelon 14:24 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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