A Travellerspoint blog

Buying bargains in bustling Bolivia!

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20th August 2010- Arriving into Bolivia, the scenery instantly became more baron and rocky and as we made our way through the rugged terrain, occasionally glimpsing the odd alpaca farm, the lower poverty levels were obvious.

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Arriving to the very outskirts of La Paz (one of the two capital cities in Bolivia) it was fairly obvious that the locals hadn’t seen anything quite like our truck and were very intrigued. Unfortunately they were less pleased to see us when we took our cameras out and tried to photograph them. At 3,660m above sea level, it is the worlds’ highest capital city and contained within a steep valley.

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Its richest inhabitants reside in the lower parts where there is less altitude and the poorest residents live at the highest levels of altitude.

Making our way through the upper levels we caught a glimpse of the sheer size of the city as we overlooked the valley- it was simply breathtaking!

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With shacks and houses perched and crammed into every inch of the valley, it was like no place we had ever seen. As we made our way into the City centre jostling with the hundreds of minivans and down numerous narrow streets, we eventually came to the Truck park where we would leave our trusty truck for the 5 days we had in La Paz.

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Gathering all our belongings for the stay, we met outside the truck ready to walk into the frantic city. Sadly, Fiona fell from the truck and twisted her ankle badly, so had to be carried to a taxi and taken to the hotel. The rest of us made our way through the winding, bustling streets in close single file, boy, girl, boy, girl; so as to keep an eye on not only our belongings but each other. Recently there have been a growing number of scams used to extract tourist dollars or passports, and even some cases of kidnapping.

Reaching ‘The Continental’ hostel, we checked in and were given our keys to shared apartments. In our case; a three bedroom apartment to be shared with Jimmy and Fiona, Tom and Cecilia.

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Unfortunately it was on the 3rd floor, which at altitude meant having to stop on the second floor to catch our breath!! Opening the front door we were delighted to be met by a huge lounge/diner, a kitchen and the three big bedrooms.

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With Fi unable to venture out due to her ankle, most of the group headed out to get some Bolivianos from the cash point, then upon spotting a local pizzeria, ordered in our best Spanish and took them back to our apartment for a feast and a moan about our increasingly bossy and ‘mumsy’ tour leader Kristy.

21st August 2010 - Up and looking to shower we were met by a traditional Bolivian shower- with electricity wires hanging loose out of every crevice.

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Told by Kristy to make sure we wore flip-flops to act as the ‘earth’ conductor just in case, we were a little nervous the first time the water flowed!! Clean and unscathed, we decided to check out what La Paz had to offer and we made our way through the back streets to first tackle the ‘Black market’- a bustling and narrow maze of local markets selling everything from clothes to bootleg DVDs.

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Notorious for pickpockets we kept our eyes peeled! Next up we visited the Witches market. Here a variety of witches products are sold, including baby llama foetuses which are supposed to be buried under the porches of new homes to provide good luck!

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There were also stuffed Armadillos on display as well as other strange products.

Finding a cosy local restaurant, we ordered some delicious and very cheap local food, unfortunately the service side of Bolivia is still pretty sluggish! Back out on the streets, we headed through some more markets and started to gauge a few prices for various souvenirs and Llama and Alpaca wear! With the local women dressed in long dresses, platted hair and small bowler hats, La Paz had a really strong identity and unlike a lot of Chile, with the bustling colourful streets; it really felt like we were in South Americas’ heart.

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The bowler hats we came to discover have become tradition ever since a local business man returned from Spain with a suitcase of hats and upon realising he had bought children’s sizes, convinced the local women that small ones were all the rage in Madrid!

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Meeting back at the apartment for 6pm, we caught up with some of the group before heading out to a Thai restaurant with our temporary flat mates, again surprised by how cheap and high quality the food was.

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22nd August 2010 – Woken by Alex jumping up and down on our bed at 9am before diving on us (we’re not joking!!) she was after Si’s safe key for the truck! Awake now, we made our way out to the markets for a day of shopping! In bargaining mode, we spent the day stocking up on local souvenirs and great value Alpaca clothes!

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Back to the hostel for 3:30pm and we grabbed a taxi 40 minutes across town to the outskirts of La Paz, to visit the ‘Cholitas Wrestling’. This is a popular past time for locals who all gather around a wrestling ring to watch men and women fight it out on the canvas. After being told that we had to buy the ‘tourist’ ticket (50 bolivianos instead of 15 for the locals) we were a little annoyed but upon receiving our inclusive popcorn, drink and ring-side seats we were more than happy to spend the £5 for the evening. Getting into the spirit we bought some traditional South American wrestling masks and cheered on the local favourites! In the style of WWF wrestling, at times it was very cheesy although we did wince occasionally when the women were thrown face down and dragged around by their platted hair, it was amusing all the same!

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Deciding we had seen enough wrestling for the day, we bargained down a taxi home and did our best to explain the directions in Spanish.

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Eventually finding the right area for the pub we were meeting the others in, we walked the last 5 minutes on foot. Meeting in Olivier’s Pub (a traditional British pub as we were all craving a bit of 'home cooking'), we ordered food and drinks – favourites such as steak and ale pie (but a fraction of the cost!). Meeting two new members of the group – ready to join us from tomorrow until Lima – Paige and Julie both from Canada, we got stuck into the cheap cocktails and sat drinking and chatting until the bar closed at 1am. Zig-zagging our way home, we helped the even more drunk Benny stagger back with us.

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23rd August 2010 – Venturing out for some well-needed breakfast, we grabbed a delicious pork roll concoction from one of the street stalls. Refuelled, it was time to make the most of our last day in La Paz. Firstly, we made our way to the main church and climbed to the Bell Tower for sweeping views across the city, we then had a look around the huge church and into the Crypt, where many famous Bolivians ashes are kept in urns.

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Making our way back out of the front door, we noticed there were a row of balaclava-wearing shoeshine men.

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We soon found out this was the lowest paid job in Bolivia and the men who do it are so ashamed, they would cover their faces to hide their identities. After walking around the city centre, we made our way to another of the many market areas for some more bargaining and shopped ‘til we dropped!

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As we made our way back to the apartment for the evening, we noticed at the zebra crossings, there were men dressed in full ‘Zebra’ outfits (obviously!), escorting people across and directing oncoming traffic. It was bizarre considering it was common practice in La Paz.

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On our way back to the apartment, we decided to book a table at Colonial Pot – a lovely looking restaurant with local food served at local prices (less than £3 for 3 courses!). Meeting the rest of the group at 8.30pm, we strolled down to the restaurant and were seated in a large, medieval style dining room where we tucked into all varieties of dishes including delicious alpaca steaks.

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24th August 2010 – Up early, we checked out of our lovely room and walked, single file again back through the town to the Truck Park. Once on board with everything stowed away, we made our way back up the steep valley roads and headed on to our new destination – Peru and the little lakeside town of Puno via the border crossing and of course more stalls selling produce!

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As we left Bolivia, we were disappointed we hadn't had more time to explore the country. We had really enjoyed its vibrant feel, friendly people and of course cheap prices(!) but sadly due to the road blocks and protests it was out of our control. Another country to be revisited.....

Posted by siandrach 02.12.2010 11:59 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

South American Overlanding Part 1

Chile to Argentina then backtracking to Chile

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8th August 2010 – Meeting in the Casa Roja for 9am, we were introduced to our fellow travellers and given a de-briefing by our leaders from Oasis Overland Tours, Kristy and driver Benny; both full on Aussie’s. After much debate throughout our travels, we had decided to book a tour through South America instead of making our own way (as we had done everywhere else). The main reason was that particularly after Australia and New Zealand, we wanted someone else to plan our days so we could take a backseat and enjoy the country’s best bits in the months we had left. We also had severe lack of Spanish vocabulary (a real hindrance in South America, particularly with border crossings), the trip also included the Inca Trail which was a must for us, and at £1,200 for 35 days including all accommodation and 50% of food, it seemed very good value!

Payments made and form filling done, it was time to meet our home for the next 35 days! Pulling up across the street this massive, yellow, beast of a truck certainly looked impressive and like nothing we had ever seen!

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Clambering aboard, we loaded our bags into the huge under-seat lockers and took one of the 23 seats available. Luckily with only 10 people in the group, there was plenty of space to laze about. Hitting the road for 10am, after negotiating our way out of Santiago, we continued on up the coastline whilst chatting and getting to know our new travel mates.

At 1.30pm we stopped for lunch and our first glimpse at the huge variety of utensils and food available on board. Kitted up with tables, chairs, cookers and more appliances than Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen, it was an impressive setup! Kristy prepared the lunch of rolls, salad and fruit and before we knew it we were back on the truck, heading for our first stop – the costal resort of La Serena. At this point we must mention that there is no toilet on board and therefore, the protocol was two pushes on the internal buzzer, which would prompt Benny to pull over, where we would scarper to find a roadside spot- there were also three shovels in one of the many compartments on the truck – for those needing a hole!

Pulling into the campsite just before dark, we were given a crash course by Benny on how to put up our tents – each individually named so as not to be confused over the Tour. These 3 man tents would be our homes for half of the trip, with the other half being in hotels and hostels. Tents up, we decided to walk to the beach and take in the amazing sunset over the sea.

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Back at the camp, Kristy had prepared and amazing risotto and we all tucked into the veggie dish – one of the many by our vegetarian tour leader! Deciding to go for a drink in the local bar, we all headed out and chatted over a few locals beers, before finding our tents in the freezing cold and slipping into our sleeping bags.

9th August 2010 – Awake after a restless night, we quickly realised that the tiny 2mm roll mats that we had, didn’t do much to soften the uneven ground and Rach’s Season 3 sleeping bag was definitely not warm enough in the sub zero temperatures! With the tents packed up, hot chocolate and cereal eaten and cold showers had, we hit the road for 8.30am, driving to the nearest supermarket. The group was then divided into cook groups, 2 groups of 3 and 1 of 4. It was Si’s group to cook first and given a budget of 15,000 pesos (about £18 to feed 12 people) it was down to the group to buy ingredients and make a dinner for all. Whilst Katherine, Emma and Si bought the necessaries for their chosen dish, Rach stocked up on badly needed blankets, pillows and some essential road trip necessities; beer, wine and crisps!

Back in the truck Benny drove solidly until we entered the Atacama Desert. Originally belonging to Bolivia, much of it was claimed by Chile in the 17th Century in a war, due to its vast copper content. Known as the driest desert in the world, the scenery was an unchanging expanse of cacti and sand!

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With the sun setting over the desert, we pulled off the main road onto a long sandy dirt track, eventually stopping in a clearing big enough for the truck and our tents.

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This was going to be 'home' for the night. With camping as 50% of our trip and some of these ‘bush camping’ such as tonight, we soon got used to the lack of toilets and running water! Quickly setting up our tents before the night and cold drew in, Si and his group started on dinner while Rach and the others cracked open the newly bought alcohol!

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After a much needed warming dinner of sausage, mash and onion gravy washed down with some equally warming local rum, we sat chatting beneath the clear skies until our cold bodies could take no more and we retreated to our tents.

10th August 2010 – After Si’s group had prepared breakfast, we were on the road by 8am to much more of the same sandy scenery. With another driving day scheduled, we knew we would be spending most of the day in the truck. Our first stop en route to San Pedro was the ‘Hand in the Desert’; a giant hand carved from rock which stood prominent in the clear desert.

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With the sun slowly setting after a day’s driving, we pulled over to the dramatic scenery of the Valley of the Moon. This crater-filled landscape seemed to never end and looked spectacular with the light fading behind it.

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Arriving to our campsite in San Pedro just after dark, tents were erected and dinner prepared and cooked by Cook Group 2. With temperatures dropping dramatically to well below freezing, we quickly built a fire and huddled around it, grilling marshmallows on sticks and listening to one of the group; Jimmy, on a guitar.

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As the fire embers died out, we headed to our sleeping bags with our ‘beer jackets’ well and truly on (the best defence against a rocky floor and freezing night temperatures!).

11th August 2010 – Awake early with the sun filtering through our tents, we awoke to banging headaches and decided to blame the high altitude – 2,440m, instead of the copious amounts of alcohol consumed the night before!

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With a day of exploring in San Pedro scheduled, and left to our own devices we headed into town to wander the cobbled and narrow streets of this quaint desert town, which felt like a wild west town of old.... apart from the locals were armed with menus and activity lists instead of guns and knives!

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First up, we visited the San Pedro church in the market square with its doors and ceiling made from cardon cacti.

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Next we headed to the indoor market and finally the Museum, showcasing the origins of the Atacama desert and its people.

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After grabbing a quick churrasco for lunch, we headed back to the campsite to find our tents had been blown upside-down in the strong winds and everything inside covered in sand! Si and the lads spent the afternoon on the camps' climbing wall, whilst Rach and her Cook Group 3 prepared a warming stew for dinner.

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With the majority of the group off for a star gazing tour due to the incredibly clear (and cold) desert nights skies, we decided after our great experiences in New Zealand, we would give it a miss and nurse our hangovers with an early night.

12 August 2010 – Waking up and shivering in our ice covered tents, we devoured some warming tea and toast; smothered in Dolce de leche (Si’s new found friend – a caramel spread very popular in South America). Soon we were making our way East into Argentina and after an hour were at the border where our Truck was meticulously inspected, while we filled in forms and got our passports stamped. Leaving the Chilean border, we then had three hours of driving through a barren ‘No Man’s Land’ before reaching the Argentinean border and through security.

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lunch shetering from the desert sandstorms

lunch shetering from the desert sandstorms

It wasn’t long before the scenery started to change and we were soon driving through deep canyons and huge cacti fields.

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Pulling off the road, we drove down onto a dry riverbed and after 5 minutes we reached our bush camp stop for the night.

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Feeling like we were in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by cacti, it was becoming a real adventure!

With no fresh ingredients on the truck due to the border crossing restrictions, we did the best we could and Si’s group cooked up a delicious pesto pasta followed by toffee popcorn.

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With another cold night, we begged Kristy and Benny to let us eat in the truck and play some cards. Sadly at only 8.10pm we were sent outside to our cold tents so they could sleep.

In our tent, we laughed at Alex’s screams nearby; after thinking her walking boot was a wild animal, before dozing off to the sound of Frankie’s loud snoring! (ha ha Sorry Frankie!).

13th August 2010 – After breakfast and a few juvenile photos with the cacti, we were back on the road heading for the City of Salta, passing through many more large red Canyons and various Alpaca and Llama farms.

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with cacti growing 1cm a year, we worked out this boy was over 500 yrs old!

with cacti growing 1cm a year, we worked out this boy was over 500 yrs old!

Arriving into our campsite at 11am we were allocated pitches around the enormous but sadly empty swimming pool – the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

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After some luke warm showers (at best!) shared with the stray dogs trying to get warm under the bathroom heaters, we spent the afternoon relaxing in the van and playing cards over a few beers. Taking taxis into town, Kristy had booked us into an Argentinean steakhouse for the evening. Spotting the 750gm ribeye steak, there was only one option for the boys, with the girls opting to share one of the beasts!

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After managing to devour the best steak we had ever eaten and slurped back some delicious Merlot (all for well under £10), we walked to the main plaza and found ourselves a bar to continue the evenings consumption!

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Finding a karaoke bar nearby, Alex sneakily put our names down and along with the rest of the bar singing a dodgy 'Spanglish' backing, we performed a very bad rendition of Queen; I want to break free.

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Feeling it was time to move on, we headed to Salta's nightlife strip full of pumping clubs and bars checking some out, before finding ourselves on the dance floor, eventually staggering home just after 4am.

14th August 2010 - Awake in time for lunch, we were given some bad news – due to the political protesting and subsequent road blocks in Bolivia, our route to Southern Bolivia (scheduled for tomorrow) was no longer possible. Instead, we would have to either go back into Chile or wait in Argentina to see if they stopped. Bitterly disappointed at the prospect of missing out the Salt Flats of Uyuni, the Potosi Silver Mines and Tupiza – the setting of the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Kristy quickly organised some additional activities for Argentina including horse riding whilst we waited on the outcome.

Knowing that we may be unable to do the scheduled horse riding in Bolivia, we signed up with some of the group for a mornings' ride in the countryside. We then got a taxi into town with Jimmy and Fi and explored the Old Town and its picturesque Main Plaza.

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Back to the campsite, we were just in time for a meaty feast BBQ, cooked by Benny.

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15th August 2010 – Up at 7am, we were whisked off in a dodgy, rickety 4x4 jeep and taken an hour outside of Salta into the countryside and to the Estancia. After tucking into our second breakfast (it was far too good to turn down!) we were being paired up with our horses for the day.

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The next 3 hours was spent riding through fields and small villages taking in Argentinean life.

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Rodrigo riding his horse standing up!

Rodrigo riding his horse standing up!

Awaiting for us back at the ranch was an amazing Argentinean BBQ and bottles of delicious red wine; produced by the local monks.

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With the wine slipping down, the sun shinning and our return to Salta booked for 3pm, we asked if we could stay longer at the ranch - at £4 for 4 hours it was a no brainer!!

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Sadly the extra drink time was too much for some of the group and it wasn’t long before Alex had her head buried in a bucket!!

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7:30pm and our amazing day had come to an end and we were whisked back to our campsite in a considerably worse state than when we had left 12 hours earlier!

16th August 2010 – With the road blocks still in place and therefore no way into Bolivia, Kristy took the decision to pack up and head back through the desert of Chile and travel north to the border at the top of the country. Immensely disappointed to have missed out on this part of the trip and in particular the Salt flats, we hit the road trying to make up the lost time. Coming across a smaller salt flat in the ‘no mans land’ between Argentina and Chile, we took the chance to explore and try some trick photography.

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Reaching San Pedro by dusk, none of us were in the mood to cook, so we went out en mass and found a lovely, if expensive, open air courtyard restaurant and tucked into gourmet pizzas whilst being entertained into the night, by a traditional Chilean folk band.

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17th August 2010 – Back on the road early, we had to make up for lost time to get as far north as possible. With a limit on the driving games we had to play we amused ourselves with games of Pictionary and charades.

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The driving was broken up with a couple of stops, including a deserted run down town with a church used by thousands every year for a pilgrimage. As darkness started to set in, we pulled off the road and drove into the sparse desert to set up our tents.

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Si and his group cooked up some well needed warming Chilean chilli con carne as the desert temperatures plummeted.

18th August 2010 – With an early start, it wasn’t long before the desert costal town of Iquque came into view, sprawled around the dramatic Cerro Dragon sand dune dominating the town.

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The purpose of our visit was for one reason - some of the best paragliding in the world! After driving along the impressive seafront with modern boardwalk, we made our way through the more rundown parts of town to find the paragliding school.

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With 6 of us wanting to jump, we made our way with the instructors to the summit overlooking the city and got kitted up.

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With the lightest jumping first, Rach, Fi and Jimmy were the guinea pigs, which was much to the embarrassment of Kristy who would be jumping in the second round with Tom and myself! The procedure would be the same for both groups - once paired with your instructor and strapped in, you waited for the right gust of wind and ran straight off the edge of the mountain where you would be instantly whisked upwards by the strong thermal currents.

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Climbing higher and higher as your instructor rode the thermals, we soared over the city for almost 30 minutes, taking in the spectacular sweeping views over the coastline and eventually landing down on the beach.

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Although it was nowhere near the rush we had from skydiving and bungeeing, it was great fun and we all came away buzzing with adrenaline!

Meeting back with the others at the truck, we drove back out into the desert and stopped at the ghost town of Humberstone. This deserted nitrate town built in 1872 was a long way from its former glory and was a very eerie place to visit.

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Hummm, these cold be useful for the truck!

Hummm, these cold be useful for the truck!

After a couple of hours exploring this shell of a town, we continued on our way until we reached the Giant of Atacama - an 83m high geoglyph of a shamen, carved into the side of a mountain; the largest of its kind in the world.

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Arriving to the coastal town of Pisagua, we carefully made our way down the steep and winding Cliffside track to the shabby town that lay below it. Entering into this sleepy town, we were instantly met by the (probably bored) local police who escorted us to the ‘camping area’, which in effect was a deserted building site on the sea front.

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Spotting another truck similar to our own, we realised that Dragoman a rival overland company, had also been forced to take the road less travelled to get into Bolivia. Setting up camp amongst the rubble, we scoured the area for firewood and built ourselves a campfire to provide much needed heat. Inviting over the Dragomen passengers, we spent the night huddled around the fire swapping stories and adventures over several drinks!

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18th August 2010 – 7am wake up call and after the heavy night, we were all feeling it. Deciding to take a closer look at the town, we ventured through the empty streets.

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Pisagua was once a lively Port in the nitrate boom, but dwindled when the boom ended and at this time it became a detention centre for political prisoners. It was here that General Pinochet, early in his brutal dictatorship, murdered many prisoners and left mass graves strewn around the village outskirts. With plenty of vultures sniffing around on every corner, there was a strange undertone thought the place.

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After being shown into the old theatre by the caretaker, we made our way as far as we could down the desert road to the site of the graves.

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Finishing the last 30 mins on foot, we arrived to the isolated and morbid site of the cemetery and mass graves, created in Pinochets' dictatorship.

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Scattered with crosses and broken coffins (some with limbs prevalent and hanging out), we walked around in silence.

Back on the road, we continued our way north through the desert, arriving to Azapa, where we stopped to see some of the worlds oldest mummies.

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At 7,000 years old, they predate the Egyptians by some 2,000 years!

Arriving into the large coastal town of Arica, we checked into our hostal and with it screams of delight rang out as it was our first proper bed for 12 days!!

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Finding a local place for dinner, we tucked into the biggest churrasco we had ever seen and back at the hostel, we used the internet to send some well overdue emails home, before retiring to our comfy beds.

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With a real mattress beneath us it wasn’t long before we had drifted off for our best nights' sleep in a long time!

20th August 2010 – 6am alarm and we peeled ourselves out of the snug comfort and into the truck. We had another long driving day so were back on the road and climbing steadily from sea level to around 4,500 meters above.

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Driving through the Lauca National Park, we were stunned by its beautiful and dramatic volcanic and lake scenery.

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With the endangered Viscunas (a relative of the llama), alpacas, llamas and flamingos roaming the lands, we pulled over for some photos, instantly feeling the effects of altitude on our bodies and becoming almost instantly breathless.

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Llama greeting at the border

Continuing through the National Park, we arrived to the Chile - Bolivia border and after a brief pause to eat up all the forbidden fresh fruit (oh what a shame!), we finally; 8 days later than planned, made our way into the poorest South American country, Bolivia!

Posted by siandrach 18.11.2010 07:43 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

Easter Island's Moai Madness to Santiago's Smoggy Views!

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26th July 2010 – Arriving into South America and touching down in Santiago at 1.30pm, as we walked through the arrivals gate we were immediately accosted by ‘airport information staff’. Quickly realising they were trying to hustle us into an expensive waiting taxi, we 'politely' declined and due to our early flight to Easter Island in the morning, had splashed out on an expensive airport hotel (the only one around) and proceeded to find the free Shuttle. Checking into our luxurious, mountain view room, feeling the effects of the jet lag we had a few hours snooze before a late dinner in the hotel restaurant.

27th July 2010 – With the wakeup call at 4.30am and after ploughing our way through the buffet breakfast, we made our way to the airport for our 8.20am flight to Easter Island. 5.5 hours later we touched down on the most remote inhabited island in the world, known to the locals as Rapa Nui. Stepping out onto the tarmac, it was strange to see cows and horses running free next to the runway and with only one flight a day, the rest of the airport was deserted. With no immigration, we walked straight into the arrival ‘hut’ where we then bartered with various eager hotel and hostel owners before bagging ourselves a cheap room for a week. At 20,000 pesos (25 pounds a night!) it was much more than we were used too, but we knew Easter Island was renowned for being expensive and this was by far the cheapest room we could find.

After unpacking into our rustic room in the Hotel Alpine (don’t be fooled by the name, it was far from a ‘hotel’ as you or we would know it!). With no curtains and paper thin walls, every time the neighbouring room closed their door, the large, surrealist painting fell crashing to the floor.

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Still it was close to town, had a communal kitchen we could use and a great breakfast!

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Deciding to take a wander into Hanga Roa centre, being the one town on the entire island, we made it to the main stretch in 5 minutes and had walked around the ‘town centre’ in 10.

Again taken back by the cost of food, we eventually sat down to a cheaper alternative and ordered a couple of local seafood empanadas. Back to the hostel after a little more exploring, we joined fellow guests in the lounge area to discover more about the island.

28th July 2010 – After a nice leisurely breakfast, we joined a couple staying at our hostel, Sue (Italian) and Ian (Irish), for a trek up to the volcano crater and onwards to Orongo; a ceremonial village now in ruins.

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After an hours’ solid uphill trek, we reached the craters edge and were left speechless by the sheer size and depth of the crater and lake formed within.

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With an 1800m diameter and at 300m deep, it was very unexpected but an amazing sight to behold.

Walking around to Orongo, we wandered through ancient ruins of the former tribal leaders and talked to the local Ranger about the history of the area. Luckily Sue spoke enough Spanish to translate for us as we were quickly realising that Spanish was a necessity in South America.

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Just off shore, is a small island (Moto Nui) which in ancient times was used in a contest to become the Chief of the Island. This ‘Birdman’ competition held every year, required the competitors to scramble down a steep rocky face, swim to Moto Nui, avoid being eaten by the man-eating sharks, retrieve a rare birds egg (sometimes waiting for weeks for it to be laid) and bring it back to Orongo safely and intact. The winner would then be crowned Chief of the Island and be given a Virgin girl as his prize, who herself had been kept in a cave for 6 months prior to ensure pure white skin!

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The guide also told us many other tales including how the rival tribes would also perform cannibalism on each other when they fell upon hard times. Feeling a bit peckish after that, we made our way back down the volcano to the village, after a quick empanada, we walked along the rocky coastline, spotting numerous volcanic carvings and eventually settled on the grass infront of 5 standing Moai, where we relaxed to see the sunset.

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Looking for a cheaper dinner, we came across a green ‘hut’ serving cheap local food. Opting for a Churassco; a huge steak sandwich we left very satisfied and wandered around some of the local craft and souvenir shops. Heading home we sat and chatted in the communal area until the early hours.

29th July 2010 – After breakfast, we decided to again spend the day with Sue and Ian, exploring more of the island. Stocking up with some essentials in our backpacks, we made our way firstly to some underground caves, 2.5 hours walk away. Passing various Moai en route, we reached Ana Kakenga and made our way with our torches below ground until we reached the exit, which led out over the sea.

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Back on the surface, we basked in the beautiful sunshine before Ana Te Pahu where two more, larger caves awaited. After squeezing down a very tight entrance, we entered the huge lava chamber and explored the long, dark tunnels before finally finding a rocky exit tunnel through the ceiling.

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Next up on our exploration of the island, was Ahu Akivi – the only seven Moai to be built inland and facing the sea.

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These volcanic stone figures were carved on the island to represent dead ancestors and were normally placed overlooking and thus guarding the village. However, these particular seven are believed to represent the seven founders of the island and were placed so that they face the sunset at solstice.

With the afternoon setting in, we knew we had a lot more walking to go to make it back before dark so looped our way back through the rugged landscape to Hanga Roa; where we were staying and the only village on the island.

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Feeling tired and having worked out we had walked 20km, we went and rested while eating some local seafood.

30th July 2010 – Deciding to have a leisurely day, we spent our time browsing the market stalls and local gift shops, after which we sat by the pier watching the huge green turtles, floating in and out with the tide.

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We then decided to sort out some plans for the rest of the week including a scuba dive and an organised tour for part of the Island we hadn’t yet visited. On our way around town we passed the villagers going about their daily chores, many of which used horses as their preferred mode of transport and with more wild horses than people on the island, it was understandable why. With dinner again in the ‘green hut’ with the usual Churassco meal, we then stopped to star gaze along the front with little sound around us apart from the sea.

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31st July 2010 – Down to the Pier for 9am, we got kitted up with our diving gear and boarded a small motorboat along with Pierre and our Dive Master; Christian.

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After a short boat ride, we rolled in backwards and made our descent. With Rach having problems with her mask and tank, she decided to give the dive a miss and headed back to shore with Pierre’s wife Alice. An hour later, the divers returned to shore, sharing their dive experience with the girls. Diving to 21m, Si and Pierre came across a sunken Moai, sadly just a replica of a real Moai which unfortunately is inaccessible at 83m deep! Back on land we watched some more turtles before heading for lunch at one of the shacks overlooking the only football pitch on the island – luckily there was a match!

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Surprised they had kits and enough members to make up two teams we relaxed into the evening before heading to find a restaurant with Wi-Fi and met up with Pierre and Alice for dinner. Ordering up the local specialty of Ceviche – raw fish marinated in lemon juice and spices as well as ‘lomo’ – beef, we washed it down with some pisco sours and headed home after a very enjoyable evening.

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1st August 2010 – With our tour leaving at 9.30am, we made our way to the office and met our guide. First stop was the Ahu Akalanga where there were three fallen Moai’s, lying face down having been pushed over by warring tribes many centuries ago.

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This was done to break the ‘necks’ of the Moai and in doing so - kill the spirit. They then removed coral; set in the eye sockets to represent the soul of each ancestor. This happened to many of the Moai on the island, but fortunately a lot have now been erected back to their original standing positions. Nearby Ahu Akalanga, we wandered around the remains of a house, pointed to the outlines of the kitchen and living area – both of which were very small.

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With the rain upon us, we made our way to a cave and waited until it passed before heading back in the minivan. We then continued on to Ahu Tongariki, a site with fifteen Moai lined up alongside each other, the tallest of which measures 10m.

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Next we drove up to volcano Rano Raraku – the quarry where the Moai were carved from the volcanic rock. With 394 Moai still scattered around the quarry both in the crater and on its outside slopes, we walked amongst them, many of which, over time have been buried up to their necks.

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Although no one is 100% positive on the reasons for the Moai, walking amongst them was still fascinating along with the theories we had been told. Amongst the theories of how these 75 tonne statues were transported, most believe they were ‘walked’ upright by a rocking motion using ropes and man power. Once in place, the eyes were carved and coral inserted and only then would the statue have a soul and therefore able to watch over the island.

After walking around the crater both inside and out, we drove to Ahu Te Pito Kuri to see the largest standing Moai.

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Here we were also shown to a large round rock with a magnetic force which causes compasses to spin in circles when placed on its centre. It is also believed by the Rapa Nui people to have mystical powers, including the ability to get pregnant just by putting your forehead on it.... placing our hands on it was quite enough for us!

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Finishing the trip at Ana Kena, we walked amongst a collection of Moai set on the banks of a golden palm tree beach.

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Some of these Moai are the best preserved on the island due to being buried by sand over time.

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After a sun bathe on the beach, we were dropped back into Hanga Roa in time to grab some late dinner.

2nd August 2010 – With the tropical rain lashing down on us on and off throughout the day, we spent a lazy day around town ducking in and out of shops souvenir hunting!

3rd August 2010 – Loading our large (and ever increasing!) rucksacks on our backs, we walked the 30 minutes to the airport, accompanied by some of the familiar local, wild dogs which populate much of the island.

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At the tiny airport, we checked in and to our surprise and delight, we had been upgraded to Business Class!

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Taking our luxury, fully reclining, flat bed seats, we were immediately served Pisco Sours and Champagne. Over the next 5 hours we enjoyed the leg room, food, drink and general pampering we were not used too.

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Touching down at 7.30pm we really didn’t want to leave! Unfortunately, we had no choice and so collected our bags, fought our way through the taxi touts and grabbed a local bus into the City centre where we checked into Hotel Londres – a cheap backpackers which had been recommended to us by Danny, another guest in Easter Island.

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4th August 2010 – After an awful night’s sleep due to the lack of heating in the hotel and the freezing outside temperatures coupled with a group of pigeons cooing all night long, we only managed to crawl out of bed just before 10am to make it in time for our free breakfast. Requesting to move rooms, we were allocated another breezy room however away from the pigeons this time! Heading out to explore, we walked up to the Plaza de Armas before visiting the pre-Columbian art museum which housed a massive collection of various statues and carvings.

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Next up we walked to the Santa Lucia Hill to take in the great views across the city, stretching as far as the surrounding Andes. Unfortunately, the thick layer of smog which hung over the city was like a white blanket, covering everything below it.

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Stopping to view the Bellas Artes Museum and its impressive collection of Chilean Art we then took a bridge across the river to the Bella Vista district where we wandered the streets all afternoon.

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With the area being known for its nightlife it was a little quiet this early and fairly run down in places, so looking for more life we headed back across the river to grab some dinner in a small buzzing cafe. Luckily due to the eagle eyes of the waiter, Rach narrowly avoided her bag being stolen by a ‘customer’ who was chased out by the waiter after he was spotted making a move for it! After spending the last four months in Australasia, we had become a lot less aware of being targets of theft. Now in South America we realised we had better be much more vigilant.

Strolling back to the hotel, we used the Wi-Fi to research Santiago and its surrounding area which we had only 4 more days to discover!

5th August 2010 – Up and out by 10am, we made our way to Mercado Central Market – a massive fish market holding a variety of seafood restaurants in the middle, all under a roof designed by the same architect who designed Smithfield’s in London.

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After watching the fishmongers in action, we made our way through the fruit and veg market out the back and across the river, back to the Bella Vista area.

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Discovering a huge amount of colourful and eclectic buildings this time round, it didn’t feel quite as unsafe with the sunlight streaming down on us.

Taking the Funicular up the mountainside, we rode it to the top for amazing views across the City and the surrounding snow-capped peaks, again with the smog smothering the city.

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After a steep walk to the Virgin Mary statue perched high on the peak, we explored the park before taking the Funicular back down to street level.

Making our way through the streets of Bella Vista, we came across many outdoor bars and restaurants, all starting to fill up as it reached lunch time. Wanting just a cheap snack for lunch, we grabbed a Completo from a street vendor – these hot dogs are topped with avocado, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup and tomatoes and have become a national dish in Chile and at only 70p each, they were a bargain!

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Next up we walked to the Museum of Visual Arts which unfortunately was not to our taste; the ultramodern art contained in it didn’t live up to the amazing building which surrounded it. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the City on foot before grabbing a cheap Empanada for dinner (most restaurants we came across were fast food but this didn’t seem to bother the locals who all crammed into the many restaurants every day).

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Having felt we had seen most of what Santiago had to offer (we had been slightly disappointed by the lack South American flair and flavour), we decided we would take an 2 day trip to the coastal town of Valpariso tomorrow so headed back to pack.

6th August 2010 – Up early and after a quick breakfast, we left our large rucksacks with the hotel so we could take a small overnight bag on the Metro, across town to the University of Santiago stop. Here, we walked to the bus station and boarded the 10.15am luxury bus to Valpariso, arriving to the outskirts of the town at midday. With our Lonely Planet in hand, we walked to the end of town with the most accommodation and nicer area. After checking out some prices we bargaining ourselves a lovely room in the very homely La Maison de Filou – owned by a very friendly Frenchman.

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Perched on a hill and with sweeping views across the harbour, it was a great find! With the sun shining, we dumped our bags and went wandering through the old, cobbled streets, adorned with pastel coloured houses, stacked as far as the eye could see up the hillside.

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It was a lovely, colourful city and as we walked down to the Plaza Sotomayor we saw the impressive Naval Headquarters and grand buildings around it.

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Making our way to the Harbour, we tried to get ourselves onto a boat trip, but being the only tourists, we were quickly pounced upon and given only rip-off ‘tourist’ prices (20 pounds per head instead of the 2 pounds it should have been!). Annoyed at the blatant lying of the locals, we decided not to bother and after spotting an opportunist thief sneaking up to steal our bag whilst we window shopped, we soon left the harbour area and headed back into town. There was a definite undertone within the City of crime and after being told by a local to ‘keep cameras out of view’, we followed her instructions and made sure we were on the ball at all times.

Taking the stairs up to the Naval Museum, sadly it was closed but gave a brilliant viewpoint of the surrounding hills and city.

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After a cheap lunch and spotting a cheap hairdresser, we decided it was time for a well overdue trim! Sadly, the trim was more of a hack and with Si looking like a Marine and Rach in tears, we wished we hadn’t bothered!

Taking the ‘Ascensor’ (small Funicular lift) to Reina Victoria which with its colonial buildings and pleasant surroundings we stood and took in the sunset over the town.

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On the way back to our hostel we spotted a lovely looking pizza/pasta restaurant so decided to treat ourselves (and cheer ourselves up!) to make a change from the hot dogs and burgers!

7th August 2010 – After tucking into a French/Chilean breakfast and chatting to our host (with as much French as we could master!), we took a walk up the hill and to the vast cemetery, passing various colourful buildings and graffiti streets, we were really enjoying the city.

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Like every wander in the City, we were accompanied by some stray dogs, hoping for a feed or just some company. Having taken in the views of the City, we walked across to the ex-prison but were disappointed to find it was being gutted and flattened to make way for a 21st Century Cultural Park.

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With one of the ex-Prison Guards on site, he gave us a ‘Spanish Tour’ around the officer’s quarters which we did our best to try and understand. Back down at City level and now with just one of our furry friends in tow, we decided to try and get some lunch in the ‘fire station’ where everyday cheap food is served to both the firemen and the public.

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With four different fire stations within the tiny City, each one was of a different nationality and kitted out with that country’s uniform and fire engine. Sadly, the English fire station was closed and so was the nearby Italian, so we decided instead to sit out in the Plaza Sotomayor and eat lunch while relaxing in the sun.

Continuing to explore, we soon made our way back to the hotel via Ascensor El Peral to Paseo Yugoslavo and its incredible views for one last glimpse of the sprawling City.

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Making our way back to the bus station with our bags, we were back in Santiago and Hostel Londres just before dark.

With the only available rooms with bunk beds (despite having pre-booked a room previously) and with a 35 day overland Tour departing from the other side of town, we decided to grab our things and head to the other side of town ready for our early meeting. Checking in to Los Arcos, we were given a 7 bed room, en suite with satellite TV and breakfast at the same price as Hostel Londres! Exploring the new area with a nearby bustling square and streets, we settled in a restaurant serving Chillianous – another Chilean dish of chips covered with steak, onions and fried eggs.

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Like a heart attack on a plate, it wasn't exactly healthy but it was very filling and good value! Completely full, we headed back in readiness for our 35 day overland adventure through South America!

Posted by siandrach 19.10.2010 13:08 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Kiwi Campervaning Part 3!!

all seasons in one day 17 °C
View WORLD ADVENTURE on siandrach's travel map.

17th July 2010 – Waking up in the disused petrol station car park, we thought it best not to hang around and as we were already awake from the 6am bin-men collecting around us, we headed back to Wellington city centre. Finding a motor home park right in the centre we decided it would be worth paying the $50 to avoid paying city parking fees plus a separate campsite (and felt we deserved it after sluming it up in the carpark!). After the first shower in 3 days, we headed out in the drizzling rain, along the waterfront and spotted an indoor market. After a wander around trying and buying the local produce, we made our way to the Te Papa Museum, the amazing (and FREE!) museum focusing on Maori culture and New Zealand history.

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One of the highlights of the museum was the huge 4.5m long Colossus Squid, kept and preserved in formaldehyde since its discovery from the Antarctic. With eyes the size of footballs it was like a creature from another world!

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After exploring some Maori history, native animals and experiencing the earthquake simulation room, we headed down to the I-Site for a few more ideas for the next two days. One of which was to grab a tram to the top of the hill situated in the middle of the city, for sweeping views of the surroundings.

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With yet another wet and cloudy day, sadly we didn’t stay long. Back down to ground level, we had a stroll around the Beehive shaped Parliament building before finding a Sports bar showing the rugby.

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With the South African’s in town for the Tri-Nations and Wellington stadium just down the road, it was a great atmosphere and the home crowd went home very happy, thrashing the Springboks.

18th July 2010 – Preparing for a long drive North, we were up early and on our way to the Weta Caves across town. This animatronics and special effects company invites tourists to discover the secrets behind Box Office hits such as Lord of the Rings, Narnia and Avatar. With lots of models and props on display and a free film on how they are created, it was an interesting hour.

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Back in the van and heading North we drove solidly for the next 5 hours, admiring the changing scenery and arriving late afternoon to a DOC site in the Tongariro National Park.

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Another stunning sunset but this time over the volcanic snow-capped mountains and we embarked on a pre-dinner bush walk to check out our surroundings before settling in for the evening.

19th July 2010 – On the highway by 9.30am, we drove straight to Taupo via a few lakeside lookouts.

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After stopping for lunch, we continued through to Rotorua and then on to Opotiki, again checking the DOC brochure for campsites. Following the directions 10km out of town, we took the winding dirt road to the site.

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Almost turning back numerous times after encountering many deep streams and steep hills, after 20 minutes we finally arrived to the site. But before navigating our way to a spot, we had the obstacles of a 45° slope down to a boggy field presently occupied by horses. We decided it wasn’t worth the risk and instead turned around, cursing the DOC for its poor directions and site descriptions!

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Grudgingly, we parked up by a stream on the side of the road as it was now dark and we didn’t think we could navigate our way back through the deep streams safely; keeping our fingers crossed that the rivers wouldn't rise too much!

20th July 2010 – As soon as we woke up, we made our way back to the main road and drove straight to Ohope Beach, parking up for some breakfast.

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After a stroll on the beach, we continued onto Whakatane where we spotted a sign for town-wide free wi-fi, so parked up for a couple of hours and caught up with emails and blog (yes, we know we’re behind!).

With 40% of the town of Maori origin and the language still widely spoken, we decided to walk along the riverfront for a bit of a history tour and passed a Waka (Maori canoe) on display, a little further up a cave with Maori markings and finally a statue of a woman on a rock – dedicated to the first woman to have paddled a Waka, in order to save a sinking canoe.

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After a drive up to a steep lookout, we rejoined the coastal route, stopping briefly for lunch overlooking a sandy beach. With the afternoon setting in, we arrived at Mount Maunganui and after a little look around the town, decided it was so nice we had to stay for the night! (Besides the next DOC was a couple of hours drive away and we had had enough of the compost toilets for now!).

Parking up at a campsite at the foot of the mountain and overlooking the beach, we decided to take the winding hike up through the sheep fields and rocky paths.

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After huffing and puffing our way up the steep hill, we were rewarded with stunning views of the Bay and its beaches.

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Heading back down and still with energy, we headed over to an island lookout just in time for a scarlet sunset.

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Walking back through the quiet town, we sat in the van and slurped hot chocolate whilst our pasta dinner bubbled away.

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21st July 2010 – Lazing in our little campervan bed, we got up late and hit the road for 11am. Driving around the Bay to Tauranga, we stopped at 17th Street - an old cobbled lane with an array of rock carvers and general craft shops, unchanged for decades. After a little look round and a chat with some of the locals (with time for a bit of shopping of course!), we continued on our way up the 25 Pacific Coast, stopping briefly at Whangamata. Unfortunately, with torrential rain on our arrival we continued on past the Coromandel Peninsular, only catching glimpses of its beauty through the thick rain clouds around us. Disappointed by the poor weather conditions preventing us from exploring this natural splendour and with no improvement looking likely, we cut our losses and (after being followed by the Council whilst we tried to find a free spot to camp) decided to head back to Thames for the nearest DOC in the Kauaeranga Valley. Yet another gravel track and 14km in the hammering rain, we found our site and after a quick stir fry with (cheap 70%) frozen ‘beef’ (more like dog food!), we drifted off to the sound of the pelting rain.

22nd July 2010 – Woken to the sound of (still) drizzling rain on the roof, we drove solidly North, past Auckland and reached the town of Whangarei (‘the big smoke of the North’) for lunch. After visiting the ever helpful I-Site centre, we were pointed in the direction of some free caves and a waterfall. Arriving to a little wooden sign pointing to Abbey Caves, we parked up and waded through the waterlogged, muddy fields in search of them. Sadly after half an hour of walking in circles and Rach falling on her bum into the mud, we gave up our cave search but instead stumbled across an impressive rock forest which looked like a scene from The Lord of the Rings.

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After seeing the waterfall, we carried on until the town of Kawakawa and spotted a sign to the ‘famous toilet’.

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Wanting to see what the fuss was about, we visited the mirror/mosaic masterpiece created by a local artist and continued on our way.

Arriving to Paihai we booked onto a ‘Dolphin Swimming tour’ for tomorrow morning, keeping our fingers crossed for better luck than Kaikoura! After walking around the quaint little town, we found a cheap nearby campsite on the outskirts so parked up for the night and took a walk along the beachfront, getting an early night ready for the Dolphins!

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23rd July 2010 – Awake early, we walked into town and waited at Paihai Pier for the Crew to arrive. 8.45am and we were on board the Catamaran, on the lookout for dolphins!

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Within 2 minutes we had spotted a pod in the harbour and pulling alongside, we watched as they played infront of our eyes.

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Desperate to get in, we were disappointed when told it wasn’t possible as there were juveniles in the pod and any distraction may disrupt its feeding cycle (occurring every 3 minutes and essential for the first 18 months). Half an hour of photos, the Catamaran headed out amongst the Bay of Islands, then cruising out further to see the Hole in the Rock formation. But as we hit the open seas the rough waves began to take their toll and the Captain reluctantly turned the boat around.

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Safely away from the crashing waves, we anchored up at a nearby Island, where we were told we had an hour to walk around and explore.

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Annoyed at the lack of urgency to find more dolphins to swim with, we made our feelings known to the Crew who said there may be chances afterwards. As suspected, when back on board (although we did spot another pod of dolphins), we were again unable to swim with them.

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Back on dry land for 1pm, we felt we had been very misled by the tour operator as it was more of a sightseeing cruise than a ‘Dolphin Encounter’ as we were led to believe. Still, at least we got to see some close up!

With time against us, we decided we hadn’t enough days to make it to 90 Mile Beach at the very tip of the North Island. Cutting across from East to West instead, we arrived into Omapere to see the impressive Hokianga Harbour and sand dunes, before continuing on to the Waipoua Forest.

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Visiting the massive Tane Mahuta Kawri tree standing just under 52m high and with a girth of 74m, it was a giant!

Where's Wrenchie!?

Where's Wrenchie!?

Arriving into yet another DOC deserted campsite, we found a sheltered spot and parked up for the night.

24th July 2010 – Making a move early, we drove to the Kawa Iwi Lakes and parked up for some breakfast whilst taking in the picturesque views of the lake (filled throughout the year only by rainfall).

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Back on the road we put our foot down and headed for Auckland, passing cloud filled valleys beneath us and stopping briefly at Sand Spit for a look at the beach and marina.

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Arriving in to Auckland early afternoon, we found the closest campsite to the city in Rumera and grudgingly paid the hefty $38 for a powered site.

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Cooking up lunch with all of our leftover food as we were returning the van to Apollo tomorrow, we walked 30 minutes to Cornwall Park and up the steep hill to One Tree Hill; the place where there once was a famous Joshua Tree (sang about by U2). Unfortunately one year a Maori activist cut the tree down in protest and now, just a memorial stands in its place.

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With the sun beaming down, the 360° views from the top were impressive. Catching a bus into the town centre, we had a wander round Queen Street market and the shops before making our way down to the Harbourside for sunset.

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After a bus back to the campsite for the evening, we got cleaning the well used van; ready for inspection in the morning.

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25th July 2010 – Driving to our City hostel in K Road, we checked in and unloaded our belongings – wondering how we had managed to acquire quite so much! Back into the van we headed for the Apollo depot, nervous of the charges that may be incurred due to the twice chipped windscreen, burnt carpet and broken petrol cap (despite our best efforts with the superglue!). With the check finished and the papers signed on both behalves, we were out of there! They had let us off the petrol cap and luckily hadn’t spotted the rest! Back in our lovely double room with tv, wi-fi and breakfast for $60, it felt sooo spacious after the 5 weeks in a van. Being in the centre of town, we headed straight out to explore and first up another market; Victoria Park. Laden with souvenirs and cheap clothes, Rach was in heaven! After a walk around the Harbour and Dock area, we booked ourselves in for a Sky Walk around the domineering Sky Tower for 4.30pm.

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Kitted up, we took the high speed elevator 192m up and were hooked on to the external safety wire. After spending some time taking in the spectacular views of Auckland, braving the 30kmph winds and 0° wind chill temperatures, we did a few scary tricks including hanging over the edge without holding on (Rach wasn’t quite as brave!) and had some photos taken before touching down on solid ground again.

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Craving a traditional English roast dinner and having spotted a sign earlier in the day by the Dockside, we headed into a cosy pub and spoiled ourselves.

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After a night time wander around the shops in Queen Street, we headed back to our hostel (avoiding the Red Light advances!) and realised why this was the cheap, dodgy backpacking area.

26th July 2010 –

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Tucking into the free, rather processed breakfast, we walked down to the Harbour and jumped on a return ferry to take in some of Auckland’s view from the water. Known as the City of Sails it was the best way to appreciate the huge amount of boats and yachts in the harbour.

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Back on land we had time to kill so wandered the shops and grabbed some lunch before checking out and taking a cab to Auckland airport. Checking onto our 4.40pm flight bound for Santiago, we boarded the plane and sat waiting on the tarmac for 2 hours whilst they fixed 'electrical faults'. Finally, we took off just before 7pm when we were definitely ready for some South American adventures!

We had absolutely loved New Zealand and the campervan was the perfect way to see it all. From the scenery and wildlife, to the people and available activities, it had surpassed every expectation we had and was the most picturesque country we had visited to date!

Posted by siandrach 05.10.2010 09:59 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Kiwi Campervaning Part 2!!

all seasons in one day 13 °C
View WORLD ADVENTURE on siandrach's travel map.

4th July 2010 – Waking up to thick fog surrounding the van, we had no choice but to wait it out until the visibility improved.

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Driving back into Wanaka, we checked the road conditions with the information centre and decided to take the shorter but more risky, winding mountain road to Queenstown. BIG MISTAKE!!! Not only was it VERY icy in our little van (with no grip), but due to the gravel and grit on the roads, we managed to acquire two large chips in our windscreen... oops there goes some excess then!

Arriving into Queenstown at 11.30am, we parked up and took a wander around the stunning lakeside town on the banks of Lake Wakatipu.

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With the sun shining we decided to take the gondola to the top of the hillside for sweeping views across the snowy picturesque town.

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Included in our Gondola ticket was a ‘run’ down the luge track.

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Kitted up with stupid, big helmets, we took the chair lift (Rach’s first!) to the start of the track and hurtled ourselves down the twisting tarmac, colliding several times!

Back in town for the evening, we drove 15 minutes out of town to a DOC campsite on the riverbank, cooked up some dinner and watched the sunset over the stunning Queenstown.

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5th July 2010 – Another freezing night in the van, we woke to more ice and fog, so cautiously drove back into Queenstown. With the sun burning off the mist and warming us (and the van) up, we spent the day in Queenstown amongst the snowboarders and skiers heading to the slopes and watched the locals play golf frisbee in the park, amongst our time perusing the many shops around the town.

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Unable to resist the wafting smells from a cookie shop, we sat and delved into a bucket of them!

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With a couple of hours left of daylight, we decided to make the most of the heat and light and made our way as far as we could towards Te Anua before nightfall. Disappointed to have left Queenstown (our favourite city in New Zealand so far, if not the entire trip!) but looking forward to seeing more, after 2.5 hours of driving, we managed to make it to Te Anua just after dark. Checking into a campsite, we again used the camp kitchen creating a couple of delicious Hawaiian Beef Burgers and wedges. We then sat in the cosy lounge by the open log fire and watched a couple of films before reluctantly returning to the freezing van just after midnight.

6th July 2010 – Clean again after 3 days, we hit the road and headed to Milford Sound. On the way, we first stopped at The Mirror Lakes and despite the best efforts of a roaming duck and its ripple effects, we captured as much of its beauty as we could!

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Heading back on the road to Milford Sound, we stopped at a few lookout points, one of which we made up a quick lunch at and as we climbed higher through the mountainous winding road, we started to come across black ice warnings.

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Forced to take a more leisurely pace we enjoyed the views before arriving to Homer Tunnel and some roadside snow caves which we explored before driving through the tunnel as it carved its way through the mountainside.

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We arrived to Milford Sound at 2.15pm and headed straight for the cruise booking offices, opting for the Southern Discovery boat. Managing to wangle ourselves a discount with a voucher we had found in one of the many brochures, we were soon boarding the Lady Bowen at 3.20pm.

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Holding 75 people, we were lucky that as it was out of season, with only 8 people joining us! With plenty of room to roam around the deck and take pictures, we watched as the scenery unfolded around us.

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Cruising through dramatic peaks, waterfalls, rainforest and lush mountains, we came across a pod of Southern Bottlenose Dolphins, (some up to 4.5m long!) which played at the bow of the boat.

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We soon came across seals swimming in the water and despite the icy temperatures, we stayed outside to capture as much as we could, whilst enjoying the free tea and coffee on board to help keep us warm.

Arriving back on dry land just after 5pm, we knew time was against us so we went in desperate search of a DOC campsite. One hour later we finally arrived to a DOC spot luckily, despite a couple of hairy moments sliding on the black ice in the dark.

After diner, we braved the cold night air for some star gazing in the clear night sky; one bonus to the cold days!

7th July 2010 – After some serious de-icing of the van (and ourselves!), we cautiously made our way back onto the icy road and back to Te Anua where we stopped at the Wildlife Sanctuary to see the once thought to be extinct Takake bird, a prehistoric looking, flightless bird with only a population of 200.

Making it as far as the Cliffden Extension Bridge for lunch, we then continued on to Tuatapere and to McCrackens Lookout, in search of the rare Hector Dolphin. Unfortunately to no avail.

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Instead we walked along a quiet beach nearby before driving onto Cosy Nook Village, a tiny three housed village set on the rocky coastline, with a rather amusing public toilet!

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Arriving into Invercargill at 3.30pm, we took a walk around Queens Gardens and visited the various animal enclosures, housing a variety of wildlife from kangaroos to wild pigs and deer. Walking into town, we visited the infamous Indian motorbike which starred in a film with Anthony Hopkins and which Burt Munro used to set the fastest land speed record (several times) with a maximum of 206mph!

After checking with the information centre, we were told we could park up in the nearby car park for a night of free camping. Cooking up a tasty beef and pumpkin teriyaki, we demolished the last of our bucket of cookies whilst watching a film on the laptop.

8th July – Deciding that Invercargill had little more to offer, we decided to hit the road early and choose the scenic route along the coastline. Heading for Dunedin we stopped at Curio Bay via yet more ‘unsealed’ roads and we were lucky enough to see a fossilised subtropical forest in front of us, which was more than 170 million years old.

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Heading for a paddle in the ocean, we spotted out of the corner of our eyes, two penguins huddled against the shoreline on a rock. Upon closer inspection, we realised that these were indeed the rarest species of penguin in the world, the Yellow Eyed Penguins! Sneaking in a little closer, we stood and watched them for a while.

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Back in the van, we drove onto Purakanui Falls; a multi-level cascading waterfall.

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Quick lunch in the sun then we were off to Nugget Point. Driving down the off-road track hugging the coastline, Rach spotted a basking Seal lion on the sand, so we pulled over for a look.

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Continuing up the dirt track for another 16km, we finally reached the lighthouse we had been searching for and the rock formations scattered in the sea, glistening like golden nuggets.

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On the way back to the van we detoured to the nearby viewing deck, where we spotted two more Yellow Eyed Penguins, hiding away amongst the vegetation.

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With the daylight fading fast, we put our foot down in search of Dunedin.

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Arriving into town after dark, we were unable to find anywhere to free camp, so we opted for a paying Campsite at St Kilda beach. Stumping up the $34 for the privilege we used the facilities and powered up the van whilst watching a bit of World Cup football.

9th July 2010 – Planning a busy day, we had alook around the historic town before hitting the Cadbury’s Factory for a 10.45am tour.

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Greeted with a goody bag and hair nets, we spent the next two hours learning about chocolate and its history and of course tucking into as much as we were given! We did learn some facts along the way, one being that on average, 10 cream eggs are sold per person in NZ each Easter and England are the 3rd biggest consumers of chocolate (we were certainly doing our bit)!

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Next on the agenda after a quick lunch was Speights Brewery Tour which Si had been looking forward to almost as much as Rach the Cadbury’s tour.

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We spent an hour being shown the innerworkings of the Brewery before culminating in the bar area where we stood and poured ourselves beers for the remaining time (Rach of course restraining being the ‘designated driver’!).

With the sun setting we drove up to Otago Peninsular where we spotted a few seals, cormorants and albatrosses.

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Reading that the Little Blue Penguins arrive on the beach every night to nest in season, we waited an hour in the freezing cold and rain but sadly they never appeared. Stopping briefly at the World’s Steepest Street, we decided not to risk driving it so instead made our way up on foot, puffing and panting as we went.

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With the night set in, we decided to get some miles under the belt so heading out of Dunedin, after an hour we pulled off the highway in search of a DOC site at Trotters Gorge. Having taken the wrong road twice, we eventually found the site, but sadly it had been closed for the Winter. With no other sites in the vicinity, we parked up outside the closed gate and with the eerie silence around us, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere!

10th July 2010 – Waking up in the deserted campsite we realised how far away from anything we were and after an hour’s trek through the forest to a high lookout point, we then continued on to Moeraki Boulders. These strange and unexplained circular rocks line the beach and peak out from the water when at low tide.

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Just about avoiding getting soaked as the large waves rolled in, we headed onwards to Oamaru to visit the Little Blue Penguin Sanctuary. Built on the seas edge, we walked around the various man-made burrows; set up to encourage breeding. Inside, there were 8 penguins resting in numerous different burrows and a viewpoint was set up in a few for tourists to see.

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Aiming to be in Mount Cook for nightfall, we left the Penguins and drove solidly finally arriving at dusk. With a DOC site 2km from Mount Cook town and at the foot of New Zealand’s highest mountain (3,754m) and where Edmund Hillary honed his skills for Everest, we parked up and had a walk around the snowy surroundings.

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Again with a crystal clear nights’ sky, after dinner we sat in the front of the van and watched numerous shooting starts lighting up the sky. Unfortunately with little cloud cover, the night got very cold and in our little van, we huddled together to keep from shivering all night as the ice crept its way into the van.

11th July 2010 – With our coldest night yet, we scrapped off the thick layer of ice covering the inside windows of the van and saw that our water bottles were frozen solid as well as the van’s water tank!

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With the sun coming out, we left the van to thaw as we embarked on a 3 hour trek to Lake Hooker, situated at the base of Mount Cook. Over a large swing bridge, through some thick snow and icy ledges, we reached the Lake which had been completely frozen over with the glacier at the base of Mount Cook melting into it.

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Back to the defrosted van, we headed on to Twizel to stock up on supplies before stopping at Lake Tekapu. After visiting the information centre, we decided to book ourselves onto a star gazing tour later that evening before walking down to the Lakes edge to capture the shimmering turquoise waters, coloured so from the glacier particles.

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After walking back we grabbed a quick pasta dinner in the van, before being driven the 20 minutes out of town to Mount John Observatory. Thought to be the clearest night’s sky in the Southern Hemisphere it was stunning and luckily so clear!

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With 5 large telescopes for us to use, the Astronomer guide indicated the various constellations throughout the sky and we even got the chance to view Saturn through a very powerful telescope, showing every ring so clearly it was like we weren’t a million miles away. With the knowledge of the resident photographer, Si managed to get some great shots of the ‘Kiwi’, ‘Southern Cross’, ‘Milkyway’ and various other constellations.

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Dropped back into the town of Lake Tekapu, we went in search of another DOC campsite but with sketchy directions and no map, we ended up very lost and found our way onto a very icy bridge, asking directions at a nearby house. Finding we had gone 20km out of our way, we got proper directions and headed back on the right track, eventually finding the DOC campsite and parking up beside Lake McGregor for the night to relax and de-stress!

12th July 2010 –

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After a little walk around the campsite, we then drove back into Lake Tekapu to visit the Good Shepherd Church which overlooks the Lake.

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Back in the van, we drove onto the town of Geraldine and stopped in the famous ice cream parlour, despite the freezing temperatures! The next town was Ashburton where we stopped for lunch, before arriving into Christchurch at 3pm. After checking out the cheapest campsite in town, we opted to pay an extra couple of dollars for somewhere a little less run down!

Parking and powering up, we grabbed a bus into town and looked around the City centre, with punting on the river and lots of very British looking architecture, we could have easily been in England.

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Back to the campsite for the evening, we used the free BBQ before watching some TV in the warm common lounge.

13th July 2010 – Up early, we checked out and headed to the Antarctic Centre for 10am, just in time for the feeding of the Little Blue Penguins!

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Scoffing down a fish or two almost the same size as each penguin, we watched as these rescued penguins went about their daily life, now confined to the centre as due to their disabilities such as blindness and decapitated limbs, can no longer survive in the wild. We spent the next 3 hours wandering through the centre, including the Blizzard Room and its blizzard simulation with wind temperatures reaching -40°!

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Finishing the visit with a ride in the Hagglund, we were taken on a course to show how this Antarctic vehicle was used to manoeuvre through the challenging landscape. Luckily it had seatbelts as we were flung and bumped all over the place, with some passengers screaming, crying and feeling sick! Heading next for Hamner Springs, after two hours on the highway, we arrived to the small Alpine village notorious for its natural Hot Springs. With no free camping allowed and no DOC sites, the only option left was to pay so booked ourselves into the cheapest one. After a wander around town we headed back to the campsite and used the facilities to get our money’s worth.

14th July 2010 – At the hot springs by 10am, we paid the $14 and 15 minutes later were lowering our cold bodies into the 35° hot pools. With many to choose from, we hopped from temperature to temperature, the highest reaching 41°!

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Feeling relaxed we hit the road just after midday before taking the inland highway to Kaikoura, stopping occasionally for photos and food. Arriving into town late afternoon, we again headed straight to the I-Site centre for some activities and camping sites. Booking ourselves onto the Dolphin Encounter Tour for tomorrow morning, we hoped another 4 people would book on so the tour didn’t cancel! Driving up to Keane Point we immediately came face to face with the various fur seals lounging on the rocks and beach.

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Coming across 5 baby seals, we couldn’t help but stop and photograph them, but after getting growled at by one of the dominant males, we made sure we kept our distance! After sunset we headed in search of a free camping spot, 20 minutes out of town (10 of which were on a dirt track!), we arrived to the grassy cow-laden site. Whilst parking up in the boggy grass, we managed to find ourselves very stuck, at which point we decided this was a good enough spot and we would try to dig ourselves out in the morning when the ground was frozen!

15th July 2010 – Up in the misty and frosty morning, with our fingers crossed, we started the engine and slowly tried to pull away. Sadly, the ground had not frozen enough and the back wheels spun and dug us only deeper. The only solution now, was for Si to get out and push. 5 minutes of huffing and puffing, putting cereal box cardboard under the wheels to ‘help’, the van finally snaked its way free of the mud, leaving its leftovers all over Si’s jumper!

Arriving at the Dolphin Encounter office at 8am and eager to see some dolphins, we were disappointed to find out that the trip had been rescheduled due to the strong winds. With a few hours to kill, we drove to the high lookout and watched as the thick clouds parted to reveal the snow-capped mountains which surrounded the town. We then made our way back to Keane Point car park to again watch the fur seals playing and basking in the sun.

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Taking the coastal walk, we made our way to the high point on the Peninsular and we were rewarded with views over Kaikoura.
Back to the Dolphin Encounter office, we were again left disappointed as the weather had not improved. But with the weather report good for tomorrow, we decided to stick around for one more day. Chip buttys for lunch, although Rach’s was stolen mid-bite by a large, hungry seagull! Back to the lookout for sunset, followed by dinner; quick sausage pasta on the waters’ edge.

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With nothing to do in the evening, Rach suggested we visit the local cinema to see the only film showing; Sex in the City 2! With no alternative for the evening, Si reluctantly agreed and paid the $10 to watch 2.5 hours of one of the worst films we had ever seen!

Driving back to a deserted shower and toilet block we had passed on the waters’ edge, we parked up for the night.

16th July 2010 – Up early and to the Dolphin Encounter office once again, with the sun shining we had our fingers crossed, but with only one other swimmer scheduled for the tour so far, the Skipper cancelled the trip due to economical reasons; not enough people to pay for fuel! Knowing there was another group booked in for 12.30pm, we hung around in hope!

At midday the company sent a plane up to confirm Dolphin numbers. Unfortunately, the Skipper determined there wasn’t enough to make the trip viable, especially now with the deteriorating weather. Really upset, after 2 days of waiting, we decided to cut our losses and head for the North Island. On the way up (after a tip from a local), we stopped at a waterfall 10 minutes walk from the roadside and filled with about 25 baby seals, playing and splashing about.

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After a lot of photos, we decided to make a move and headed to Picton to catch our evening ferry back to Wellington and the North Island.

Arriving into Wellington, we headed back to the trusty disused BP garage which unfortunately had been blocked off for renovation, so we snuck into next door’s car park and parked up in the shadows for the night, ready for our last 10 days in the North Island.

Posted by siandrach 24.09.2010 11:26 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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