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Dust if you must

27 December 2006 2 comments


Dust if you must

Originally uploaded by cool_spark.
Dust if you must but there’s not much time
With rivers to swim and mountains to climb
Music to hear and books to read
Friends to cherish and life to lead

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture or write a letter
Bake a cake or plant a seed
Ponder the difference between want and need

Dust if you must but the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain
This day will not come around again

Dust if you must, but bear in mind
The time will come and it’s not kind
And when you go, and go you must
You yourself will make more dust

“This is a poem I saw on the way to the Putaruru Blue Springs, the prime source of NZ’s mineral water”!

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Categories: NZ

Canyoning adventure off Piha

24 December 2006 3 comments

Just as I promised in my adrenaline post, I booked myself on a day long canyoning trip out of Auckland. I had not heard of canyoning till my Queenstown trip, where I saw a few brochures on Glenorchy canyoning and felt sad I would not be doing it. But a long gap between my last exam and my long flight ensured that I would be able to do it, though not in Queenstown.

Canyons are very attractive natural formations, the charm of water and walls of rock combined. This makes them ideal for small waterfalls and pools. Canyoning involves walking along the streams, jumping into the pools, abseiling the waterfalls, sliding down them, in short, lots of adventure. Confidence with water is a must. I read canyoning is popular in Spain and other parts of Europe. Of course, NZ, being the adventure zone of the earth, will not let go of such an exciting activity and offers it at many places. Karnataka has one at Dandeli (Kali Rafting http://kalirafting.com/other.htm).

9Dec. I have chosen the Blue Canyons adventure. It is a Saturday morning and I await the shuttle at Sky Tower. They describe it the tallest tower in the southern hemisphere. I am not much fascinated by tall structures, especially if they make you pay for it. So I end up not seeing it. My guide Neil who runs the Auckland trips picks me, a couple of British guys and a Kiwi lawyer couple. We don’t often find any natives on the touristy things and so it is strange that a Kiwi couple that too a lawyer one is coming! Though I had seen West Auckland from the air, I have not seen its attractions like the Waitakere ranges and the Piha beach. Neil is very friendly. The sights from the top of the drive are pleasing. Just before the Piha beach road, we branch off to the Lone Kauri Road. We stop by a shack, where we get our kit (wet suit, harness) for the adventure.

It has been an usual summer day, quite nice and warm. We walk for an hour amidst the beautiful bushes. Just as we start to get tired, we reach the start of our canyoning adventure. We get into our wet suits and practise abseiling. We walk along the rocks for some distance before we get into our first jump. It is a freestyle jump. None of the swimming pools I have been to have allowed me to dive and so this is my first dive. No hesitation, no inhibition – every adventure freak must have these. I fall awkwardly into the waters and manage to come out. A pleasant feeling covers me as I complete the swim to safety. The stream is cold, but the excitement of the jump trumps the coldness many times over.

The next is a bigger jump. Who is scared of heights? The English guy tries a reverse flip and gets it spectacularly right. Let me do the dive properly first. I lose my over-sized shoe in the process. Our guide goes to the bottom of the pool and comes up with my shoe after a few tries. This jump is about 15feet high and surely is one of the best of the trip. Our first slide comes up shortly. A slide is just like the one we find in a children’s park except that here it is all nature’s play. Most of us choose to slide backwards, which is cool. We can also choose to jump into the same pool. Our guide also tells us of the Matrix style jump, where you walk off the rocks for a mini-arc before diving into the waters. Jumps and slides are not enough, we are craving for more.

The next thing is abseiling. We have to descend down a thin waterfall about 50ft high. I have been a decent abseiler at Waikato. But the wet abseil is a different experience, as the water hits your face in the descent. All the same, the thrill of climbing down the falls with the water is hard to match. Neil gives me his shoes as my ill-fitting ones seem to like the water more than my feet. There are a few controlled jumps where we have to jump in a particular spot to avoid rocks and the shallow waters. More jumps and slides later, I feel this is the best day long adventure out of Auckland. We have our lunch soon after an abseil. A picnic lunch in a picteresque setting! Some chocolate bars, buns and rolls make up our lunch. How I wish we had some fruits. We fed a few eels that were present in the streams. Our adventure continues.

We walk for some time in the streams. I like the last waterfall very much and end up standing under it for 15 minutes. Luckily I was the first to abseil that time. Our last abseil and jump are a fitting climax to the whole trip. We walk beside the stream to go back. More than 5 hours of adventure leaves me tired as I walk up to our shuttle. Back in Auckland, I grab a few keychains as souvenirs. This day is my last adventure here and has been a very fulfilling one. Except for the raft, most of my other adventures are quite short ones. This being a day long activity has completely overwhelmed one. I cannot wait to do it in Dandeli now.

Categories: NZ

Sweet as Godzone

12 December 2006 5 comments

My flight leaves tonight at 23.59(how did they manage that?). Thanks for the

  • geography awakening
  • marvels of nature
  • good friendly nature of your people
  • wonderful wildlife
  • international experience
  • backpacking discovery
  • terrific travelmates
  • adrenaline thrills
  • charming bus rides
  • adorable bus drivers
  • magical ferry trips
  • short breaks to Kangaroo land and the beautiful Fijian islands
  • little learning
  • everything

Just as the cute Pacific Blue ads promise you happiness in their flights, I have found 106 days of happiness in Kiwi country. I enjoyed my time. May you delight many more, you unspoilt beauty!

Cheers, brother.

PS: ‘Sweet as’ means good here. ‘Cheers, bro’ is quite common too.

PPS: On my way back, I will stop for half a day at Victoria Peak (where is it?) and rest overnight at the place which used to have Victoria Terminus, before reaching my destination which has a statue of Queen Victoria in its biggest park.

Categories: NZ

Souvenir time

8 December 2006 4 comments

As I enter my last week in Kiwi country, I am in the market for cheap, light and good (in that order) souvenirs. It would be nice if they remind me of NZ too. I am almost finished  unless I get some final great bargains. My sis asks for a key chain. A few of my friends have asked for All Blacks stuff, which is quite expensive given that they are all made in China. Here’s a list of things I am taking back home (saving one), unless Air NZ decides to impose the 20kg baggage limit!

  1. My favourite happens to be the picture postcard. I have ended up sending more than 20, including 4 from Australia and even one from Fiji. The destinations have been equally varied too – Madras, Indore, Bangalore, New York and California. The maximum postcards are predictably to Thoothukudi. At 2-3NZD (1NZD=30INR), these are the cheapest since they are of zero weight to me!
  2. The next best things to postcards are the key chains. There’s a pack of 12 of them, with a kiwi toy and the letters NZ written. At 5.5NZD, I plan to get one before I leave. I’m saving money for that 😉
  3. At Dunedin, I had been on the Cadburys World factory tour, one of 3 such tours in the world (the others being Tasmania and Birmingham in the UK). I am not a big fan of chocolates, but I cannot resist having tasty Dairy Milk and a few samples after smelling chocolate so much in the hour-long trip. I also buy a pack of Cadburys Roses and Favourites at 23.5NZD for the consumption of my collegemates and my family because they are cheaper and they still remain the first choice of gifts from overseas (huh). The bag still is full of the pleasant chocolate smell, which I’ll probably release in Bangalore. All you chocolate lovers, you will adore this tour!
  4. All Blacks merchandise is another favourite souvenir item. For those who don’t know, the All Blacks are the BEST rugby team who play well most of the years but end up losing the World Cup every time! NZ is crazy about them as are rugby fans. The clothes are all China-made, but retail at atrocious prices (30$ or more) just because of the All Blacks logo or inscribed words. At a lucky sale on Queen Street, I get a girls Tshirt at 5NZD for my cousin and a few male undies at 10NZD for 3. Undies as souvenirs! I hope someone likes them. Foreign lingerie is hot in India, I am told.
  5. The west coast of NZ is famous for jade or greenstone (pounamu). On my ride down there, the bus stopped at Hokitika – the heartland of jade – so that we can make our way around the many carving factories and indulge ourselves. The prices of jade jewellery at Hokitika are much cheaper than anywhere else. Call it on-the-spot shopping, I end up buying a jade ear-ring, a paua ear-ring and a paua keychain at Westland Greenstone Ltd. Paua is a shell native to NZ. All this cost me 31.6NZD. Of course, the most expensive jade ring (at 20NZD) is a surprise for my sis!
  6. I have been looking for nice things that my niece Madhu can use. I got an Xmas teddy (China-made again) at 5NZD (at the same lucky sale), a set of 3 baby suits at 10NZD and a teddy socks at 3NZD at Warehouse, NZ’s discount store, all for her. Maybe, I shall get a kiwi stuffed toy too.
  7. I walk around the famous Victoria Park market in Auckland, looking for bargains. My price stops at 5NZD on the higher side. Unable to find any, I wander back to Queen Street’s 2-3-4 dollar shop, which unfortunately does not stock any souvenirs and is meant for the local shopper. On the way I chance upon a Norsewear sale. After finding the prices of merino wool stuff ( the finest, breathable) way above my budget (with sox above 30NZD), I had given up on buying them. And to think in the first place, they have all these sheep and you expect them to sell wool cheap! I had never heard of Norsewear before that. This sale had scarves, beanies and socks between 10 and 15 NZD, all of good quality Merino, possum fur and other wool. This has to be my best bargain and I feel so excited that I spend 47.5NZD on a merino scarf, a merino beanie, an alpaca beanie and a merino socks valued at 115NZD.
  8. I get a couple of Tshirts (no Kiwi association) at 5NZD=150INR each from the third-time lucky Queen Street sale. I am forever indebted to my friend who showed me the shop. Though it is cheap, it is still a FOREIGN thing. Now I know the trick of gift shopping abroad to take back to India. 😉 Shame on me! Here I happen to meet a few Tamil students (the cool Kovai yenungo accent) who also shop at Indian prices in the middle of Auckland’s CBD.
  9. As for me, I get a track suit at 150INR=5NZD at the lucky Queen Street shop and pinch an All Blacks undy from the pack of 3. Of course, I have a free Tshirt from Taupo Bungy and a free bottle from Skydive Wanaka, apart from all the priceless memories. Not to forget, my exchange coordinator gives me a Silver Fern keychain.

A missing souvenir is the Kauri wood item. Though I had stopped by the Kauri Museum and the Ancient Kauri Kingdom, I was in my second trip only that time and was all about enjoying myself that I never shopped then. In any case, Kauri items are very expensive (pens at 30NZD). Never mind, all the shopping has made my trip complete 🙂

Categories: NZ

Adventure and adrenaline

27 November 2006 7 comments

NZ is famed for adventure so much so that Queenstown’s moniker is the adventure capital of the world. One primary reason for that is you cannot sue any of the adventure companies and claim crippling damages like you can in the US. If you are hurt (which you don’t or very RARELY do), the government just compensates for medical treatment and most of the financial burden is upon you. Saying that, the safety records of most of these companies are extremely good (like A J Hackett who boasts of more than a million bungy jumps with no casualties) and they cancel the activities if they find the weather slightly risky. I have gone with my instincts and have done a lot of safe adventures when I have been travelling. Here is a top 10 list of the scariest, wackiest, thrilling, adrenalin-pumping things I have done in the last 3 months!

  1. The scariest has got to be the bungee, born in Queenstown over the Kawarau river. A J Hackett(he’s even got a bio now) pioneered it. I did the one at Taupo over the Waikato river because it was priced lower than 100$ (all the Queenstown ones – same height or much higher – start above 140). It’s not the biggest, about 47m when the river is at its highest(?). You got to decide to do the bungy before you see the drop. Else you may never do it. As I walk to the edge, I cannot throw myself off. My mind argues about the harness and the safety record. But the heart has a reason… People who come back then get a “Almost did it” certificate! I ask quite a few questions before I take the plunge. The river comes rushing to me. For a second, I close my eyes but time just flies away and I hang upside down the cliff. It is an awkward position before I clutch the pole thrown by the boatmen. I would want to do it again now that I have done it. I must do it properly the next time.
  2. The second scariest is the Shotover Canyon Swing (nicknamed Not Your Average Backward Variety Swing), a reasonably new activity, available only in Queenstown. It is located precariously at 109m (more than double my bungy). I could describe it as half-bungee and half-swing. Here you free fall for 60m before the swing gently pulls you over the canyon – the views from here are just gorgeous – you are swinging at about 50m over the canyon. I had happily booked it and I was excited to jump, hoping to forget my not-so-good bungy and do a good swing. But the minute I peeped over the 109m edge, I stopped. I did the 5star (most scary) side jump, but I went all over it and ended up doing a tumble down the way. The people here are the most funny guides I have had and the jump guide later told me if you haven’t jumped in a while, it takes some effort to put yourself over the edge. Did he tell that to comfort me?
  3. The third on my list is the Tandem Sky Dive over Wanaka. Its byline is “Adrenalin is legal”. After a bungee, I could not possibly be scared when another person is ready to support me. The very idea of a person with you is so comforting that the fear factor reduces almost completely. For the bungee and the canyon swing, the machines should be equally trust-worthy, but it’s just a lot scarier. This time, I took the maximum height possible, 15000feet or 4572 m (thanks Google http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&q=15000feet+in+metres). This is half the height of Mt. Everest. As the flight circled the snow-tipped Southern Alps and the picturesque lakes for gorgeous views, I never felt so excited. As the altimeter slowly counted up and other jumpers at lower heights went away, the excitement got to me. Even before I could get scared, I had to JUMP out of the plane. The free fall feeling is incredible – no words to explain. Slowly as we fell for about a minute, my guide opened the parachute and after that the float back to the ground was quite normal. Sky diving on the Southern Alps helps you relive paradise. I have videoes of all these 3 scary jumps and my Amma will certainly faint on seeing this one because this is the sexiest of them all.
  4. Snorkelling in the brilliant blue coral reefs of the Fijian islands is indeed a thrilling experience. With two guys to help me get over my fear of the deep waters, I catch a glimpse of live corals and live out the fantasies of an under-water adventure.
  5. Rappelling or abseiling inside a small Waitomo canyon (home to the glorious glow-worm caves) is the next one. It remains my first adventure and so is very special. The safety procedures done, descending the canyon proves to be quite easy for me. I descend twice. In fact, I do it quite fast that I have time to visit the caves too. The “Lost World” adventure in Waitomo is very highly rated, but I don’t have time to do that.
  6. Sandboarding or duneboarding on the huge sand dunes of Te Puki on the Cape Reinga trip (the northernmost point) is exciting too. You walk up the dune with a boogie-board and slide all the way down to the bottom and the stream running there. My first two slides are just plain but on the third, I manage to slide all the way down to the bottom. Pros slide across the stream on the board, which is a thrilling sight.
  7. I try my hand at indoor rock climbing in Nelson because it has been raining so hard and my kayak/sail combo trip has been cancelled. It is quite tiring indeed. The owner is so nice to tell me that it is an all-day entry fee and I can come back any time. I learn the basics of climbing, like belaying and actually ascending up. Old ladies of Nelson belay me. I try the easy ones first and find that I am good at it. But the hard ones get me. Towards the end, I am not able to climb at all and give up half-way on the artificial climbs. There are just too many of them. This place also offers out-door rock climbing. If the weather had been good, I should have done one of them. Now I know how difficult mountaineering is. Having climbed trees and easy hillocks with bare feet, all this equipment (climbing shoes, harness) help me do it differently.Zorb
  8. Zorbing is another ‘Made in NZ’ activity in Rotorua, the second-most touristy place. It is by no means scary. I enjoy a wild wet ride and when I get out of the big ball, I feel fresh and funny. It provides me a huge amount of joy and transports me back to my kindergarten days!
  9. I include white water rafting here because it zapped me. Maybe that’s because I didn’t have a proper lunch before I rafted on the Shotover river. It had snowed a couple of days back in Queenstown and the waters were quite cold. It is not scary at all because there’s a team that will pull you out of the waters if you happened to fall. Our team is quite good over all the Grade 3-4 rapids and we have a dream time, managing to remain on the boat all through the trip. I didn’t even feel like buying pictures or videos because it is so ordinary. The bus trip through the Skippers’ Canyon road (where rental cars are not allowed) to the starting point of the raft is an equally thrilling one.
  10. Walking for almost 6 hours on the majestic Coastal track of the spectacular Abel Tasman National Park is bliss(!), I tell you. I hear that an area can become a national park in NZ if only it has a walking track around it. In fact, it rains quite heavily that day, I am soaked fully, my wet feet are begging me and I am happy to reach the park entrance. A Dutch IT girl called Ankie, an English software girl called Gills and an American couple called Caroline and ? (Oh, I don’t recall the husband’s name) talk to me through the trip. The more than 20km walk is not scary as my wild kiwi walk in Christchurch, which is another adventure by itself, because it is daytime and there are so many people who walk on the track. NZ is known for its great walks. In fact, Te Anau is fondly called the walking capital of the world. Without any walking gear, I manage quite well, doing a fair bit of walking in most places I went. Apart from that, I run barefoot to the charming Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel Coast.

Except for the walking, I am doing the above-mentioned activities for the first time in my life. Riverboarding is something I could not do in Queenstown because of the lack of time. Also, Harbour Bridge climbing is an exciting adventure which I will not do to save some money. Before I leave NZ in two weeks’ time (yeah, I can feel it is all over), I will do some canyoning (near Auckland to use up my budget), which I reckon, will be in the top 5!

Categories: NZ

Shadowland in Fiordland

22 November 2006 Leave a comment

Ata Whenua is a fantastic movie I saw in a Te Anau theatre 2-3 hours away from Queenstown. 32 minutes of incredible scenery from NZ’s first world-heritage area (the whole UNESCO list here) from the best movie-makers and fabulous music to accompany the visual treat! It screens only in that theatre and I got so lucky to stay in the small town overnight. For 10NZD, I could see everything (Milford Sound, some isolated rocks and a lot more) as if I were on scenic heli-flights through the park across the seasons. You can also order it online (52NZD=1500INR for shipping to the US, you have to mail them for shipping to India). A must for the arm-chair traveller!

Quote from the plain UNESCO brief description:

“The landscape in this park, situated in south-west New Zealand, has been shaped by successive glaciations into fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes and waterfalls.”

Categories: NZ

Queenstown Skyline View

14 November 2006 3 comments


Queenstown Skyline View

Originally uploaded by cool_spark.

Queenstown is the prettiest place I have seen ever. A sample for you here… More descriptions next week.

Categories: NZ, Travel