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Seattle – end of the line

In the not too distant past, my mum met an American girl travelling in London. Fast forward a few years (and a few kids), and for our final few days we’ve stayed with the Gangwish family in Seattle, keeping the link going! After getting back into America after the ferry from Victoria, Byron met us outside the terminal building and we headed out to Renton. We’ve stayed at Byron and his wife Jen’s place, and considering we hadn’t seen each other since we were about 11, we got on pretty well! Not much has changed in that time, South Park is still funny, but nowadays we can drink beer as well.

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier

The Frasier skyline

The Frasier skyline

After catching up with Sharon and reminiscing about her and my mom’s adventures in the 70’s, we spent our first full day in Seattle being proper tourists. We took the monorail, posed in front of the Space Needle (but were too cheap to go up it), and went to the EMP Museum. This is an amazing place, originally a Pacific Northwest music museum, it now has some excellent other exhibitions too. As well as the Nirvana and Hendrix features, including clothes, music, fan letters and more, there was a Sci-fi area, Fantasy exhibits and a horror movie hall. Being funded by Microsoft’s other guy, Paul Allen, it was full of cool interactive technology with crazy geeky memorabilia. Awesome.

Lego or real?

Lego or real?

Real or Lego?

Real or Lego?

Da da da daaaa da

Da da da daaaa da

My name is Inigo Montoya...

My name is Inigo Montoya…

In the afternoon we checked out the world famous Pike Place Market, complete with fish-throwing, the original Starbucks (stupidly big queue), the gum wall and the waterfront. Completing the all-American day of fun, we met up with the Gangwish crew outside of Safeco Field and went to watch the baseball! The Seattle Mariners vs. the Chicago Whitesox, and it was brilliant. Baseball is a sport you can zone in and out of, and there was a really nice chilled atmosphere, with lots of families and it was a very pleasant way to enjoy a couple of beers and take in the views from the stadium, designed to allow a clear view of the Seattle skyline. The Mariners won 4-1, and I’m pretty sure I understand most of the rules now.

The postcard shot

The postcard shot

Must be joke here somewhere...

Must be joke here somewhere…

Take me out to the ball game!

Take me out to the ball game!

Best seats and view in the house

Best seats and view in the house

Swing, batter batter batter

Swing, batter batter batter

The second day we did more of the same, exploring Seattle on foot and doing some shopping for a couple of presents and souvenirs, much against my wishes. I feel like everyone should just be happy to see us, but Mrs H insisted. We also visited the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center, the tallest building and indeed tallest views in the PNW. Panoramic views over the city, sound, lakes and mountain, and cheaper than the Space Needle!

Attempted arty shot

Attempted arty shot

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Nosebleed territory

Nosebleed territory

A $12 view

A $12 view

The homes of sport

The homes of sport

Sum bleddy tall

Sum bleddy tall

That night, Sharon cooked us some amazing Alaskan salmon, before we got the Byron and Jen’ college experience by playing a few rounds of beer pong. My accuracy was not good towards the end, but Laura was a bit of a shark and managed to avoid too much beer.

Learning from a pro

Learning from a pro

MR and Mrs G

MR and Mrs G

Falling behind on the drinks

Falling behind on the drinks

Illegal leaning

Illegal leaning

For the last full day of our entire trip, Byron and Jen took us on a bit of tour of more Seattle highlights. Jimi Hendrix’s grave, complete with multiple half smoked joints left in tribute, the crazy looking Fremont Troll and a couple of beers in the Gasworks Park, overlooking Lake Union. Our final night, and we eased ourselves back into English culture with a trip to see the Seattle Sounders play ’soccer’! The atmosphere was incredible! We thought that the Americans weren’t too fussed about proper football but I haven’t never experienced an atmosphere like this in England.

The Hendrix shrine

The Hendrix shrine

The Fremont Troll

The Fremont Troll

Lake Union

Lake Union

After a few beers, we joined up with a big crowd in Pioneer Square, and then with chants and a brass band, marched down to the stadium. Our seats were amazing, right in the hardcore superfan section behind the goal. Guys stood at the front directing the chants, flags and scarves were everywhere the sound was phenomenal. We didn’t sit down for 90 minutes, it was so intense! The ground is also used by the Seahawks and is the loudest in the NFL, and the 50,000 soccer fans made the earth shake. We got all the action at our end too, with the Sounders saving a penalty, scoring two goals in the second half and having a guy sent off. And, this being America, the whole thing was a gigantic spectacle, with fireworks, flags and flames shooting up to celebrate the goals. As Mitchell eloquently put it, “this is insane dude!”.

From the Cascades, to the Sea!

From the Cascades, to the Sea!

The Emerald Army

The Emerald Army

Byron confused by soccer

Byron confused by soccer

Superfan!

Superfan!

And now, we are sat in SeaTac aiport, spending the last few dollars and waiting to board the plane home (via a quick stop in Iceland). Rest assured dear reader, there will be more blogs on this year for all kinds of top tens, costs and future plans. For now though, we’ve had an excellent final few days of our trip in Seattle, and will definitely be back.

Half time calm

Half time calm

2-0

2-0

America! F&@k Yeah!

America! F&@k Yeah!

More goals should shoot fire

More goals should shoot fire

SOUNDERS TILL I DIE! SOUNDERS, SOUNDERS, BORN IN ’74!

The last supper

The last supper

Goodnight Seattle, we love you

Goodnight Seattle, we love you

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Are we winding down?

After leaving Mangamahu, with all the animals still alive, we drove west towards the small town of Stratford. It was a cute, slightly odd little place – all the streets are named after Shakespeare characters, and the centrepiece is New Zealand’s only glockenspiel clock tower. A few times a day, the clock tower puts on a show as wooden puppets emerge and a voiceover reads out some lines from Romeo and Juliet. We were the only audience for the 7pm. Cultural?

Two households, both in the Stratford glockenspiel

Two households, both in the Stratford glockenspiel

Why we were there...

Why we were there…

The reason we were there though was to see Mount Taranaki, an amazing dome shaped volcano that dominates the horizon… When it decides to emerge from the clouds. It shoots up from the flat land all around it and looks amazing, even gracing the cover of our Lonely Planet, but it attracts some wild weather too. We didn’t see it the first couple of days, and instead made do with some tramping around the forest at its base to see some waterfalls. In the afternoon we checked out a nearby nature reserve, a “mainland island” where the area has been cleared of pests to give the bush a chance to thrive. It was a very lush area with a nice loop around a lake, and the Jurassic Park style security gates were cool too.

There should be a mountain in this picture

There should be a mountain in this picture

Dawson's Falls, the Creek is just out of shot

Dawson’s Falls, the Creek is just out of shot

Heading into Isla Nublar?

Heading into Isla Nublar?

On the day we left, it was obviously a glorious sunny day and the mountain was standing out in all it’s snow capped glory, so we took a lot of photos and then headed east. Following some excellent advice from our Wellington helpx hosts, we took a circuitous rather then straight route up to Auckland and headed off on the Forgotten World Highway.

The view on our last morning

The view on our last morning

There he is!

There he is!

Bye bye Taranaki

Bye bye Taranaki

A crazy detour

A crazy detour

Basically, it’s a winding and occasionally unsealed road from Stratford going northeast, through some spectacular farming country and ridges with 360 views from Taranaki to Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. It was an awesome drive, and on the way we stopped in the tiny town of Whangamomona. There was a pub, and whilst we were having a cup of tea a man rode up on his horse, without a saddle, for drink. And in the late 80s, the town declared itself a republic and you can get a passport stamp and t-shirts. Bizarre. Just after the town, you drive through a single lane tunnel of around 100 metres, that looks exactly like it must have done when the pioneers first cut through it with pick axes.

The Republic of Whangamomona

The Republic of Whangamomona

One lane tunnel

One lane tunnel

For our last night of freedom we stayed in the town of Huntly, that reminded us a lot of Kawerau. You can see why some places aren’t really on the tourist trail – however the $6 banquet of fish, sausage, burger and chips wasn’t too bad.

With our last few days on the North Island we spent them helpxing in west Auckland. We lived with Karen and another helpxer, Paul, and worked on the Ranui community garden for a few days. It was a nice and chilled out place to work, with great food too! Karen’s grandson Darius nicknamed me Fireman Sam, so I was pretty pleased with the impression I made! It was also good chatting with Paul, who has only just arrived in New Zealand with a whole year ahead of him. He’s planning to do the Te Arorea Walkway, from the Cape to Bluff which will take about 5 months. Bon chance, froggyhiker! It does make us feel like our time here is winding down though.

Community garden selfie

Community garden selfie

Way back in Wanaka, we booked some tickets to see England play the All-Blacks in Dunedin. This always seemed like months away, but after leaving Karen’s place we said goodbye to the North Island (for now) and flew South to Dunedin. We’d had a wee panic with accommodation (apparently international rugby matches are fairly popular) but fortunately got contacted by a helpx host just north of the city. So, we picked up our final hire car and drove off into the wilds of Otago, to our final helpx with Duncan, Georgie and 16 month old Maggie. These guys bought their farm just a couple of months ago, so there were loads of jobs for us to get into!

Our last helpx cottage

Our last helpx cottage

After a full days work of breaking up a wall and moving rocks, which just felt wrong after the wall I built in Matakana, we had a day off for the rugby. There was a really nice atmosphere in the city, with fans in the black and the white hanging out and drinking together. We had a few beersies in the Octagon and then headed off to the stadium, and were seriously glad of the multiple layers we were wearing. Tis some bleddy cold compared to the north! Not sure how the shirtless England fans with the St George’s Cross body paint survived.

Chilling in the Forsyth Barr Stadium, cold!

Chilling in the Forsyth Barr Stadium, cold!

The Second Test

The Second Test

The game was brilliant, England were so unlucky to only lose by a point but the whole experience was just fantastic. I can’t decide what the highlight was – seeing the Haka, England’s first try going down right in front of us, or seeing a streaker get absolutely smashed by a flying steward. Seriously, search on YouTube for it – they were talking about the tackle on the news for days afterwards.

The Haka

The Haka

The streaker heads home

The streaker heads home

Richie pleased with the score

Richie pleased with the score

Since then we’ve done some more work on the farm, from making apple pie and crumble (Laura), to moving more rocks and gardening (me). But we have been having a really good time here, living it up and watching World Cup highlights and filling out my wall chart in our own cottage (all the games are very early morning here), and exploring the farm and playing with Maggie. I can now list quad bike and truck driving on my CV, but not yet reversing with a trailer. The landscape is amazing, and this has been a great final helpx.

Chilly on the farm

Chilly on the farm

My ride

My ride

Earning our keep

Earning our keep

Less than two months left of the gap yah now, and while it sort of feels like we’re winding down a bit, writing this has made me realise that we are still doing awesome stuff pretty much everyday. New Zealand is sweet as bro, sweet as.

World Cup wall chart!

World Cup wall chart!

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South of the North

Cruising out of the Marlborough Sounds, we were a bit sad to be leaving the South Island but really excited to get back to Wellington. We’d had a good time there back in February with Jon, experiencing the sights, wind and the Weta Cave (twice) in just a couple of days, and so were glad to have a sorted out a helpx there.

We had the best week with Tony and Lynnda. As soon as Tony picked us up from the ferry, we hit it off, and were happily chatting on the way back to their place. They live in Johnsonville, a suburb just outside Wellington, in an amazing house. It sits up the side of a hill, and has ceiling to floor windows with spectacular views across the valley, where we were able to see a few good sunsets and some pretty intense wind and rain!

Our lovely Wellington. Helpx hosts Tony and. Lynnda.

Our lovely Wellington Helpx hosts Tony and Lynnda.

Tony and Lynnda made us feel right at home, and we had a lot of great food which we’ll now need to walk off a bit! They made sure that we made the most of our time Wellington, and really emphasised the exchange part of the programme. We did a variety of odd jobs around the house and garden (which is also amazing), hopefully helping out enough to earn our excellent part of the bargain.

On the windy and rainy days they helped us out loads with planning the rest of our time on the North Island, giving us tips and hints on some great free things to do and see. They’ve also travelled extensively on the West Coast of the US, so we did a lot of planning for our time in the States in July and August. On the nicer days, we went out into Welly, walking around the harbours and visiting the museums. We also walked up Mount Kaukau, which we could see from their house, and from where we could see 360 degrees of Wellington, out to sea, across the Cook Strait all the way down to the Kaikoura mountains and north across the hills.

The view from Mount Kaukau over to Wellington city.

The view from Mount Kaukau over to Wellington city.

We got on really well with Tony and Lynnda, and are really thankful they picked us. The trip out in Lynnda’s Hot Rod was a definite highlight, but hanging out and chatting, as well as playing with the grand kids, was just as much fun!

Cruisin' in the Hot. Rod

Cruisin’ in the Hot Rod

After we said our goodbyes and struck out on our own again, the first thing was to pick up our new car. We got a super cheap deal, working out at around $15 per day, and for the first time all honeymoon we got upgraded so this car is actually quite nice. We drove all around the Wellington harbour peninsula, stopping for a quick sightsee up Mount Victoria (Kaukau’s view is better) as well as a third trip to the Weta Cave. Just as awesome as before.

The Wellywood sign

The Wellywood sign

We then left Welly, heading out and the looping South down toward Cape Palliser, the North Island’s most southerly point. Considering we’re so close to the capital, this area has a really wild and rugged feel. On the way, we detoured to Kaitoke Park and hung out where they built the sets for Rivendell. It felt quite geeky wandering around with our LOTR locations book, but it was a really nice and homely spot.

Hunting for Hobbits

Hunting for Hobbits

Rivendell in Kaitoke Park

Rivendell in Kaitoke Park

We stopped for the night at Lake Ferry, which has a real edge of the world feel to it. Whilst the few houses there seemed empty and we were the only people at the campsite, the hotel / pub’s open mic night was surprisingly busy! We left as they started the duelling banjos… The following morning we ventured all the way South, and to another great LOTR location – the Puturangi Pinnacles, which featured as the Dimholt Road. Amazingly weird geological features of rocky spires shooting up the valley along the riverbed.

The Pinnacles aka The Dimholt Road

The Pinnacles aka The Dimholt Road

The way is shut

The way is shut

We also enjoyed Martinborough, Masterton and a really nice walk through the Manawatu Gorge, and then head to another help-x for a few days to look after animals and pick kiwi fruit in Wanganui. Our CVs are getting better all the time!

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The awkward moment when your in-laws gate crash your honeymoon…

After our long weekend in Sydney, we flew to Auckland to spend just over 5 months in Middle- Earth itself, New Zealand. As our special guest blogger Mr B has explained, the Bowers met us at the airport with their excellent homemade sign, and we were hugely impressed that they didn’t vault the barriers and run towards us as soon as we got through immigration!

This guy was also waiting for us at the airport

This guy was also waiting for us at the airport

We’ve been here for 2 weeks now, and each week couldn’t have been more different! After being reunited, we drove out to the Coromandel Peninsula to spend a week in a Bach, a house overlooking the beach and the sea with spectacular views through the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling glass and balconies on every level. After 5 months backpacking and hostels, this place was heaven. We had a proper cup of tea, then some crisps and dip, and just like that, we didn’t miss the rice and noodles any more.

A nice change from rice

A nice change from rice

The week flew by too quickly, and we had a great time. The nearest beach was just a short walk down the cliff path, and the ‘busy’ days had about 20 people on it. On our second full day, I drove a car for the first time in months and we went from Tairua, where we were staying, up to Whitianga – before our wedding we bought Mr and Mrs B a voucher for a scenic flight over the peninsula from there.

Still better than AirAsia

Still better than AirAsia

After waiting about 20 minutes, a little plane landed and the pilot, who looked younger than me, hopped out, gave the Bowers a map and let them decide on their own route over the area. I think they were suitably impressed! That afternoon we drove over to Hot Water Beach, so-called because under a certain part of the beach at low tide, a thermal stream over the sand. People rent a spade, dig a pool, and in an area about 30 metres square, everyone sits in their own handmade hot spring!

Spot the bit with the hot water

Spot the bit with the hot water

Hail to the chef

Hail to the chef

During the week, we also went kayaking in the local estuary, visited the amazing Cathedral Cove (the walk there along the cliffs was spectacular, and the archway in the cliffs is awesome) and ate a lot of amazing food. One night, we went out for a meal and after we’d eaten went to watch a band, and the small audience of drunk oldies singing along turned out to be mainly from Cornwall as well – small world.

Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove

Amazing views

Amazing views

The only drawback was the wifi – there wasn’t any at the house we were staying in, so we had to go down and sit outside the local library to use it. Whilst this wasn’t a bad thing in itself, one morning that Law and I went down and left Mr and Mrs B at the house, around 5 minutes after we left a pod of dolphins swam past and essentially performed in the bay the whole time we were out. Bottle-nosed jerks.

Using the only wifi in the village

Using the only wifi in the village

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Vietnam to Cambodia – the comedy border crossing

After the Mekong home stay, we decided on going with a little (comparable) luxury in our next place. The lizards / bugs / mice ratio had affected our sleep a bit!

Hopping back on the bikes for the second time, we got to Can Tho bus station, and following the advice of Mr. Hung we bought tickets to Rach Gia on the ’nice bus’, which was a fine 3 hour journey, with the plan to buy tickets from there to Ha Tien. I think we were probably a bit screwed over, but we did managed to get seats on the local bus, which was a bit of an experience. I don’t think capacity was a factor in the driver’s thinking, who just bounced along with his hand on the horn, picking up in random places and filling up completely. At one point, a woman got on with a mattress, and at another they strapped a motorbike to the back. Anyway, we made it to Ha Tien, and with no maps had to go on some more motos to our hotel (we’re getting good at holding on now).

Oasis

Ha Tien is a sleepy little place, with which is usually skipped over by tourists. It was nice to walk around for a couple of days, and we achieved the main aim of having good showers and getting washing done. There is one English bar, the Oasis, where we did enjoy a cooked breakfast and PG tips! The town was a nice final stop in Vietnam, and with the nearest town in Cambodia (Kep) being so close, everything seemed like it would be nice and easy…

Instead of booking some moto drivers to the border, we decided the official looking bus service through our hotel would be a better bet. Paying the extra dollar, we arranged a 7am pick up the next day. The front desk guy later suggested coming down for 6ish, as apparently we’d need to get motos to the tourist office. Not ideal, but okay.

Easy rider

At 5.50am the next morning, our room phone went to tell us the bikes were here. Hopping on the back, we assumed it would be short trip. 6km later, we were at the border, and clearly there would be no bus. Only one guy spoke English, and as we were stamped out of Vietnam into no mans land, we both knew we weren’t getting quite what we paid the hotel for! Despite reading a lot of posts online saying the border crossing should be $20, our ’guide’ insisted on it being $25, and despite our polite protests, it was getting us nowhere. So, we paid the extra for the visas, and then came the fabled medical check.

Basically a shack next to the visa building (a slightly bigger shack), a surgical mask wearing border guard asked us to fill out some forms to show that we weren’t full of disease. He then took Law’s temperature, pointing a thermometer at her forehead, seeming to be happy, and then asked for a dollar. We knew this was just a con, so while I started to get a bit annoyed Law stayed calm and said “no, I don’t think that’s right is it.” Staying polite, asking for a receipt and then showing our vaccine booklets and marriage certificate(!), he was finally satisfied. The highlight was, after Law said no, he turned sheepishly to the side, with the final gamble being “you don’t pay, you don’t go in” – the fact we already had visas at this point seemed a bit too much for him.

Goodbye Nam... Nearly

With a parting shot of “you should get a cancer vaccination next time you come to Cambodia”, we were in. But not far. With our biker guide, we then stood around and waited, while he seemed to haggle with some locals, he handed over some money and then left us, saying “pay no more”. A guy opened his boot, we put our bags in, and we waited another half an hour for him to fill up his car. Finally, with 5 of us crammed in the back, we set off toward Kep…

And of course, didn’t get quite that far. Stopping around 6 or 7km outside the village, the driver gave some money to another couple of moto drivers and off we went. They stopped and flagged down a couple of English speakers at different points, until they finally got us to our ridiculously idyllic hotel.

Kep

It only took just over 2 hours door to door, and was pretty funny, but we still felt a little bit ripped off. For anyone looking at doing this crossing, we booked through Hai Phu’ong Hotel – so be warned! We’re in Cambodia though, in a private bungalow with a pool by the beach, and were there by 8.30am relaxing . Not a bad start to our time here.

Crab

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