Straight Outta Uxbridge

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tropical Paradise

Although at the current time of writing the Cook Islands are a bit of a distant memory, that memory is not fading so quickly that I can't tell you how great it is there.

If like me, you have never heard of the Cook Islands, they are a handfull of small atolls spread over an area the size of western Europe in the South Pacific. Rarotonga, the main island, is small. The ring road that follows the coast all the way round is 32km long if you scoot a complete circuit (something we did many times). This may lead you to believe that there is not much to do here - well, you'd be absolutely right. However, let's face it - doing things is overrated. Once you have been here for a couple of days the art of doing nothing can be taken to a whole new level (trust me, I'm an expert in this field). Reading, scooting and snorkelling are just about it for the activity list, and the most important decision of the day is what to buy for dinner.

It's funny, but after a week or so of picture perfect white sand beaches, swaying palm trees and glorious sunshine it is possible to catch yourself saying "I'm a bit bored of this now". Honestly, you wouldn't believe it but it's true. Anyway, we struggled on and broke up the days with the occasional piss up with our fellow backpackers (yes, they were twats - except "The English Girls") and daily snorkelling trips - probably the best since Malaysia.

Of course, by now you already know that I popped the question (or rather mumbled it) to the lovely Laver-soon-to-be-McPolin, so I wont go into that again, but suffice to say I couldn't have picked a more suitable surrounding (which to be fair is no coincidence on my part).

I don't really have much more to add as with it being 3 or 4 weeks ago I have forgotten all the usual funny anecdotes and sub-plots that make this blog such wonderful reading ;-), but my advice is simple - go to the Cook Islands, and if you can't do that then look at my pictures.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


What a popular word "Bula" seems to be in Fiji, the entire population seem to be extremely keen on shouting it at any given moment. A smile and a confidently projected "Bula!" certainly go a long way in this country - which is rather a relief when you consider that they were still eating people a hundred or so years ago.

It must be said that our time here was very much a mixed bag. Fiji is ultimately set up for the package tourist - hmmm, actually that's not really fair, perhaps that is true of the idyllic Yasawa Islands off the west coast, but I'm sure there are lots of other nice places to visit if you can be arsed. However, our spirits were initially doused by 10 days of stormy, wet weather that saw us holed-up in our room at Pacific Harbour, venturing out only twice a day to eat. Don't get me wrong, we had a lovely time. I think we read 6 or 7 books, watched plenty of TV (Fiji One is the only channel), slept a lot and learnt most of the Fijian national anthem - in Fijian. The problem is of course, when it's tipping down outside you hardly want to pack your bag and head off on a crappy bus to the nearest harbour to explore other islands.

We consoled ourselves in the knowledge that we were saving a heap of cash and splashed out (literally) one day on 9 holes at the local championship standard golf course. I managed to lose 8 balls in 9 holes, which I maintain was due to the cyclonic weather, and not the tricky course design - anyway, we had a buggy and so had fun regardless.

You might remember me mentioning a shark feeding dive, well let me tell you it was awesome! Predictably enough it wasn't me hand feeding the sharks, but I was kneeling on the ocean floor whilst the expert risked his fingers. Apart from the thousands of other fish interested in his wheelie bin of dead fish, quite a few reef sharks turned up and couple of bull sharks. Word had it that the silhouette of a 6m, man eating tiger shark had been spotted at one point, but not by me so I can't confirm. The dive master said there are 4 of them that are known to patrol those waters, but he hadn't seen - or fed - any of them for a week. One thing is for sure, when you are bobbing about on the surface, waiting for 10 other divers to get on a boat, that is the last news you want to hear.

Eventually the clouds did part and we took the opportunity to move to Suva, the capital. It would seem that our timing as usual was impeccable as upon our arrival it was announced that the military had given the government a week to meet it's demands over something or another, before it forcibly took control of the capital via a military coup. Tensions were high, but I'm sorry to report that there were no tanks on show. Actually, I doubt we would have noticed even if it had kicked off as we spent 8 hours on our second day there playing video games at the local internet cafe - and what a bloody enjoyable day it was too!

With only 10 days left to kill we pushed on round the mainland and hopped on a boat to the tiny island of Nananu-I-Ra. It may have a silly name, but it is located in the Bligh Waters (so named due to Captain Bligh's raft floating this way after the mutiny on the Bounty) and the soft coral diving here is world famous (yes, better than the Barrier Reef). There really is bugger all else to do here other than dive, snorkel and eat - but by now the sun was beating down every day so we had a marvelous time.

After killing 2 more days is a semi-posh resort by the airport it was time to leave for the Cook Islands. Would I recommend Fiji? Well, no - unless you are a) loaded, or b) a qualified scuba diver - in which case it is frigging magic!

Friday, October 27, 2006

New Zealand

I'm not quite sure why New Zealand is named as such, as I haven't a clue where the original "Zealand" is. However, if it is anywhere near Wales then that should explain a lot. The scenery here is predominantly rolling hills and spectacular valleys - broken up by the occasional snow capped mountain or river rapids. Every conceivable part of the countryside is laden with sheep and, as it is the season, the fields abound with frolicking young lambs, blissfully unaware of their impending departure to the shelves of your local Tesco.

NZ is of course famed for the amount of life threatening activities that one can partake of. With creative use of a length of rubber cord, you can be shot from, swung over or otherwise jump off an number of pant-soilingly high bridges and platforms. Obviously Kerri and I were not remotely interested in any of this, and I am happy to add bungy jumping to skydiving and anchovies on my list of things I am happy to die with out trying.

That isn't to say we were complete pussies mind you. Soon after our arrival we went on a "Swim with the dolphins" trip in the Bay of Islands - "Not very extreme" you are no doubt thinking? Well northern NZ was in the grip of a mini cyclone at the time and with people puking all around me I was up on deck doing my best Captain Ahab impression. We did manage to spot 3 dolphins, but evidently they don't much like shitty weather either and so they didn't hang around long enough for us to get in the water with them - a fact that I was not too distressed about as from under my woolly hat it seemed to me to be a feat akin to jumping off a P&O ferry in the middle of the North Sea. Instead we retired to a more comfortable area where, in between trying not to be thrown off our seats, Kerri tried to convince me of her own strongly held belief that the dolphin and the cow are evolved from the same common ancestor. I'm still waiting for the evidence.

Next up on our adventures was horse riding (Christopher Reeve can tell you how dangerous that is). My boasts to Kerri about how horse riding was "easy" held true, and it would seem as though I am a natural in matters equine as before long I had graduated to stunt riding - cantering along with my hardhat over my face and only one foot in my stirrups. Unfortunately my steed soon tired of this showing-off and at one point decided to drag me through the lower branches of a particularly spikey tree - much to Kerri's amusement.

Volcanic Rotorua was our next stop - apparently the Earth's crust is at it's thinnest here and the town is full of steaming thermal pools and puddles of boiling mud. The downside is the overwhelming smell of egg that makes a picnic in the park impossible (unless you're having egg I suppose).

After whizzing down the east side and waiting in the disgrace of a city that is Wellington, we got the ferry over to the south island to continue our circuit. Almost as soon as we touched down the skies parted and glorious sunshine illuminated what we both think to be the more beautiful of the two islands. Kaikoura is dramatic, Christchurch is delightful and Dunedin is... well Dunedin is officially the furthest city from London, so that's something.

Queenstown is adventuresville again and cue aborted activity number 2. We signed up for some whitewater rafting but a sudden downpour the night before made the river too dangerous. "Bummer bro" (that's authentic Kiwi speak). Instead we drove up to Fox's Glacier (no relation) and took a half day trek across the ice. It's not every day you get to stroll across a 20,000 year old block of ice and it was awesome. Knackering but awesome. Back up to the north island (a day late after missing the ferry) and on with the wetsuits to explore an underground cave system inhabited by gloworms, and another fantastic outing that proved to be!

In general New Zealand is amazing. Beautiful scenery, friendly folk (if a little too obsessed with The Lord of the Rings) and non-stop fun if you want it. Must come back with a shedload more money...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Rest Of Australia

Oh bloody hell, I have been putting this off for a good few weeks now. It's not that we didn't have a great time along the south of Australia, it's just we're in New Zealand now and I just can't be arsed to write about it. Well here goes; a summary in 3 paragraphs:

1. The South West

Probably the most picturesque part of the entire country, the south west is known for it's giant Karri trees. Sure they're big, but they're hardly awe inspiring. We did attempt to climb one that had nothing but a spiral of metal poles drilled into it, but we bottled it when we got to about 35m (less than half way) - you'll see why when you look at the photo. We were more than a little bit wobbly when we came back down, and managed to do ourselves a mischief which rendered us unable to walk, get in or out of our van or generally move without pain for the next 3 days. The coast line is also rather nice down here and we even spotted a couple of migrating whales from the comfort of our van.

2. The Nullabor Plain

The journey from Esperance to Adelaide crosses this vast expanse and could be quite possibly the most boring driving experience possible to mankind. The advertised highlight of this 2 day trip is the longest straightest bit of road in Australia (90 miles) and the photo opportunity it presents.

Let's move on...

3. The South East

The highlight of my time here was catching up with my cousin and her family in Adelaide and meeting my long lost Uncle who lives betwen there and Melbourne. We had a terrific time with all of them and Kerri even shed a little tear as we left - bless her. Another amazing costal drive, including a visit to some rocks in the sea called the 12 apostles (which you can see Kerri enjoying) led us to Melbourne, which turned out to be our favourite city in Australia. To quote myself "It's well lit."

So there you have it. This actually came out more interesting than I thought it would. We left Melbourne after a couple of days and drove to Sydney (rather like a homecoming) and then we flew to New Zealand.

The End.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Pilgrimage of Sorts

I'm afraid this is another of those blogs I really should have written a few weeks ago. The passing of time dulls the memory and unfortunately the amusing little anecdotes seem always to be the first to go. Consequently I can assure you that our journey from Broome to Perth was a lot more interesting than I am about to make it sound!

That said, much of the 3000km drive is more sodding bush. Trust me, the view loses it's magic after a couple of days. The one beacon of hope was a trip to the World Heritage listed Shark Bay. Those of you from Uxbridge will most likely be unable to contain yourselves about now as you will probably have driven past the "Denham, twinned with Shark Bay Australia" sign on more than one occasion. Well I can confirm that Denham Shark Bay does in fact acknowledge us in return as you can see from the photo.

My ambassadorial role extended to me telling a bloke in the pub that I was in fact from " the other" Denham, to which he replied "Well we won't hold that against you, you pommie bastard.". Not quite the reception I had expected, but undeterred I told several other people, with the owner of the local gift shop being the only one to show any particular excitement by our visit.

Western Australia is one of the most sparsely populated areas on Earth, and when you're there it really shows. A traffic jam consists of any three cars within a radius of 200 meters of each other and a "big town" has a general store as well as a petrol station and a pub. However, almost at a flick of a switch, once you pass Geraldton about 300km north of Perth, the landscape suddenly changes from the arid scrubland that bored the hell out of us of 2500km, to a glorious land of rolling hills and perfect rainbows.

We only spent a couple of days in Perth - just enough time to wander round the shops and have one night out with an amusing German couple. We had another camper to pick up and another mammoth drive ahead...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Kimberley

Darwin is a much smaller city than you might expect. With a population of just 71,000 people there are essentially only 2 streets and a shopping centre that puts even the Pavillions to shame (that's the crap one in Uxbridge incase you don't know). However, it is full of nice enough folk (despite an obsession with country music) and after a pleasant couple of days lounging around a pool we headed off to Broome in our spanky new luxury camper.

The route to Broome goes accross the north west tip of Australia, through an area known as the Kinberley. The drive is... well to be honest it's bloody boring. The main activity is seeing whether on bit of long straight road is longer and straighter than the last bit of long straight road. 62km was the longest bit of road without so much as a slight curve - how very interesting. See the photo for an example.

The only minor bit of amusement came when we visited a town called Kunnunra. Behind the town is a big rocky hillock of sorts know as "Kelly's Knob". In fact, the summit of Kelly's Knob offers good views of the surrounding area, so the sign actually says "Lookout - Kelly's Knob".

Granted, this is only amusing if you know a Mr. Richard Kelly, even then you have to be aware of his historical fondness for exposing himself - but nonetheless we can all marvel at the coinsidental fact that his soon-to-be wife's name is Kimberley.

Oh yeah, Kerri has just reminded me that I have conveniently forgotten to mention that we ran out of petrol in the middle of freaking nowhere. I guess I had better take responsibility as I had refused to pay the frankly extortionate $1.90 a litre the the rip-off merhants at the Doon Doon Roadhouse were charging. What I failed to realize was that the next fuel stop was 200km away and I had only a quater of a tank left.

With no sign of life for 50 miles in any direction, our first reaction was to poo our pants and we fully expected to have to wait a couple of days for a spotter plane to rescue us. However, in a stroke of good fortune tha can only be described as divine, no more that 5 minutes behind us was a campervan eing driven by a couple of Germans. God bless them and their efficient nature! Not only did they have a jerry can full of diesel, but they also understood the workings of our Mercedes suficiently to get her started again!

I swear, I will never hear a bad word about them again.


Cairns to Darwin is a 2900km drive, much of which is only really possible in a 4x4 jeep. "Activities" as such are few and far between, the main attraction is the front row seats as the landscape changes from rolling hills and meadows to grassy savannahs to croc infested creeks and swamps to 350 million year old red rock outcrops and baron desert.

For 5 days we had 8 hours a day of the most satisfying driving conditions a man can ask for. There were bumps and jumps and power-slides round dusty corners before engaging 4WD to negotiate overflowing streams or rocky creek beds - lots of fun, especially as there usually isn't another vehicle for 2 hours in either direction!

Although I must say it wasn't always the real life version of a really good video game - Kerri drove sometimes. During these times we would marvel at the wild kangaroos and the enormous meter high eagles standing in the middle of the road eating the dead, wild kangaroos.

These roads are littered with roadkill, so we console ourselves in the knowledge that it was only a matter of time before we contributed. I was cruising along at a sedate 60km/h (it was getting dark) when suddenly a foolish roo leapt from the bushes directly into the bull bar. One sickening thus and a couple of bumps later it was a gonner. At least we assume it was, a 5 minute conversation followed in which we decided to assume it was dead as neither of us really wanted to check. "Never drive at dusk or dawn" is the advice we received 2 hours too late. We just thank the good Lord that Kerri wasn't driving.