A Travellerspoint blog

Palawan

sunny 33 °C
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With our time in Australia at an end, we flew from Sydney to Manila with Cebu Pacific Air, the Philippines equivalent of Easyjet. The staff wear yellow T-shirts with denim skirts for the women or jeans and boat shoes for the men, topped off with straw hats! We weren’t surprised to find there were no backseat TVs for the nine-hour flight. Instead, the cabin crew tried to entertain everyone by holding a mid-flight quiz! We only stayed one night in Manila, a bustling, sprawling city of over 12 million people. We didn’t get to see much of the city as we stayed pretty close to the airport, but from what we did sample it appeared very chaotic! The next morning we were up early to fly to Puerto Princesa, on the island of Palawan. There are around 7500 islands in the archipelago which makes up the Philippines, home to a population of over 100 million people. Even despite all these islands there are an additional 10 million Filipinos who live overseas, so they certainly make a fairly sizeable chunk of the world’s population.

Arriving in Puerto Princesa, the small airport was a pleasant change from Manila. From there we got a shared minibus to El Nido in the northwest of the island. El Nido seems to be experiencing a boom in tourism, with new hotels being built left, right and centre. It is a bustling little place and we were happy to be staying slightly outside the town, with brilliant views over the town and out to sea. The main attraction of El Nido is its proximity to some amazingly beautiful islands and beaches. These can be explored by a variety of daytrips which depart from El Nido beach every morning. There are four main tours, creatively named A, B, C and D. Someone in the local tourism industry is obviously gifted with some serious marketing skills! On our first full day in El Nido we went on tour A. This included trips to big lagoon, small lagoon and hidden lagoon (each of which are exactly as it says on the tin), as well as some fantastic snorkelling. The highlight was small lagoon which we were able to explore on kayak. The next day we did tour C, which visited helicopter island, hidden beach and secret beach, as well doing some more amazing snorkelling. The scenery in the region is truly stunning, with loads of islands of all shapes and sizes, brilliant beaches and snorkelling almost as good as on the Great Barrier Reef. The only drawback is that there are so many people, us included, doing the same itinerary each day, which makes the different sites very crowded. Secret beach and secret lagoon don’t feel quite so secret when there are hordes of boats pulled up all around, unloading all of their customers. The locally made bangkas are interesting wooden boats, with the engines and steering wheels taken from cars. Tourists from all over the world visit El Nido, but it was great to see plenty of Filipinos on holiday. Filipinos really are fun-loving people who always seem to be having plenty of craic. They never seem to be far away from breaking out into a smile or a laugh, which make them very enjoyable to be around. Most of the foreign tourists seemed to be European, with plenty of French, Spanish and British visitors.

On our final full day in El Nido we hired a scooter to take the trip to Nacpan Beach, recently awarded as being one of the top 10 beaches in the world according to Tripadviser. It is undoubtedly a lovely beach, but we have been spoiled by being in Australia where there were some beaches that I personally preferred. It was still worth the trip and it was good fun to be independent and get out and about on a scooter!

From El Nido we got the minibus back down to Puerto Princesa, the main city on the island of Palawan. On our first evening in Puerto Princesa we went on a firefly watching river tour. This was a really cool experience. With almost no moon and no light pollution we were lucky to see the fireflies clearly. Apparently they are actually a type of beetle that live in trees throughout the Philippines. They emit a glowing yellow light every time they inhale, which is every few seconds. The purpose of the glow is to fool predators such as bats into thinking they are bigger than they actually are. The clear night sky also allowed for excellent stargazing, with our knowledgeable tour guide pointing out the different constellations.

The next day we were up bright and early for a trip to the underground river, one of the main attractions in Palawan. Along with the rest of our minibus we had the dubious pleasure of being accompanied by a local tour guide called Ricky. He was almost as broad as he was tall, and talked a lot about very little in particular. We ended up having to wait for a very long time before our trip on the river actually started. It was poorly organised, with far too much standing around, but eventually we got onto the boat on the river and into the limestone cave system which the river passes through for over 100 kilometres. Despite travelling just a fraction of the overall length in the 45 minute trip, it still felt like we got deep into the caves which have an impressive array of stalactites and stalagmites. Interestingly the shapes of the stalactites and mites all seemed to be compared to Bible characters and types of food – both of which are very important in the Philippines!

Our final excursion in Palawan was to Honda Bay (which is apparently not sponsored by the Japanese motor firm). This was another island-hopping trip, where although the snorkelling wasn’t as good as around El Nido, the atmosphere was a bit more relaxed as there were less sights to cram in. Charlotte managed to repay the random good deed done to her by a stranger in New Zealand, who handed her bag in to the police, when we found a purse floating in the water at starfish island. Thankfully Charlotte managed to find the owner and return it. When we explained what had happened to some of the other foreign tourists on our boat, we were regaled with a couple of stories of lost items being returned by trustworthy Filipinos. Reassuring as this is, hopefully we will hold on to all our valuables so that we won’t be in need of any similar kindness while we are here!

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Posted by Honeymayning 05:22 Archived in Philippines Comments (1)

Port Macquarie to Sydney

sunny 23 °C
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Before leaving Port Macquarie we made an early morning stop off at the Koala Hospital, just in time for breakfast! They house koalas in need of some TLC, for in-patient stays to nurse them back to health. They had several different sections, including an ICU and geriatric/rehab unit, just like a real hospital! Most of the patients were suffering from complications from chlamydia (apparently more prevalent in built-up areas) and trauma (caused by dogs, cars and trains). We loved seeing so many koalas, and even joined one chap called Xavier (who was blind as a result of chlamydia) for his breakfast of warm milk. We learned that their diet of eucalyptus leaves is so lacking in nutrients that they sleep for around 18 hours a day!

Back on the road we headed on down the coast, stopping off in Forster-Tuncurry, two towns joined by a bridge at the point where one of the Great Lakes, Wallis Lake, meets the sea. It was a nice spot for lunch and, given that it was Easter, for Richard to indulge in a hot cross bun with ice-cream,
something we’d be a bit too chilly to choose at home at Easter!

Our next stop was at our home for the next 2 nights, Smiths Lake. The Great Lakes are made up of 3 lakes, Wallis Lake, Smiths Lake and Myall Lake. Our accommodation had a beautiful view right down over the lake so it was an amazing spot for a couple of days of relaxation. There are lots of beautiful walking opportunities around the area, the first we sampled being through Booti Booti National Park, which had a beautiful conclusion that finished just in time for us to see the sun setting over Myall Lake. The next morning we hired a two-person kayak to venture out on the lake. Our hosts advised us of a few route options for our 2-hour trip, but typically for us we headed for the furthest away destination of all, a sandbar separating the lake from the sea further up the lake. It was a beautiful sight, but did make for an energetic pace back in order to make it within 2 hours! I was careful not to do anything that might risk falling in though as we’d noticed there were lots of jellyfish in the lake, something we’re very happy aren’t present back home in Lough Erne! We spent the rest of our time in Smiths Lake exploring on foot, venturing to Sugarloaf Lighthouse and Whoota Whoota Lookout which provided us with 2 beautiful viewpoints, one of Treachery Beach and the other of all 3 lakes and the coastline.

The next morning we set out down through the Hunter Valley wine region. Richard pulled the short straw as allocated driver for the day, which meant I was able to partake in one of my new favourite hobbies, wine tasting! We visited three different wineries; McGuigan, Tempus Two and Drayton Family Wines, all of whom offered up quite the selection of alcoholic treats! We settled on buying a bottle of vintage merlot from McGuigans (easily the most delicious wine I’ve ever tried) – it was probably a good thing that we were leaving Australia in a few days or else we could’ve been leaving with a cellar full!

Our final stop before arriving in Sydney was north of the city in Avalon Beach. We used our most interesting method of transport so far, an ‘inclinator’ (who knew there was such a thing!) which was a winch style escalator up through the trees to the house which was totally hidden away! It made for some stunning views down over the beach, not a bad spot to spend one of our last nights in Australia. After being cooped up in the car all day (even with regular wine stops), we decided to make the most of the last of the sunlight with a run along the beach and up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse. It was a beautiful spot and a lovely time to see it when the sun was setting and it was so quiet, and it also made for a good workout running up the hill!

On our way to Sydney the next morning we made our final stop-off with Skippy (our hire car) in Manly, at a lookout called North Head. It was a great place to walk around and to look down to Manly Beach and across to the Sydney skyline. As soon as we started driving around Sydney we became very happy to be leaving Skippy off that morning, the road network is totally bamboozling, and after almost 4000km of driving down the East Coast, we’re quite looking forward to around 6 weeks without driving in The Philippines and Japan!

Just after arriving in Sydney we met up with Maggie Croucher, my Dad’s cousin, and her granddaughter Ruby. It was lovely to meet the Australian contingent of the family on their turf, as Maggie has visited Northern Ireland on a number of occasions! Next, Richard and I headed off for our fanciest evening in Australia so far, as Richard had given me tickets to see ‘Carmen’ the opera at Christmas, and it was finally time to use them. It was an absolutely amazing evening at the outdoor show, thankfully the weather was kind and we didn’t see a drop of rain. The stage sat out on Sydney Harbour, overlooking the Opera House, which made for an unforgettable experience. Everyone in the show was incredibly talented, and we loved every minute of it, especially the surprise firework display halfway through!

For our first full day in Sydney we had an action-packed itinerary as there was so much to do, and we were keen to squeeze it all in! We headed to the Fish Market bright and early to see it in full action as the fish was bought and sold. It’s the largest fish market in the Southern Hemisphere so it was pretty impressive, and we even sampled a few different types of sushi, not our usual mid-morning snack! Next we spent the rest of the morning on the Sydney free walking tour. It was a great way to get orientated around the city and visited lots of the local highlights including the Government Building, Rum Hospital and The Rocks area. We were glad our usual walking pace is fast as the guide set a cracking pace, there were a few people struggling to keep up!

From one evening of watching people dance and sing on stage, we spent the next evening watching people knock lumps out of each other at a rugby league game! We got the ferry out to the match from Circular Quay, which was a wonderful experience in itself as we passed the Opera House, and under Harbour Bridge just as the sun was setting. We’ve been following the ‘footy’ (as the Aussies call rugby league) during our time in Australia so we were really lucky to get to a game, and a pretty good one at that as the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Brisbane Broncos are fairly well matched! Rugby league is a bit like touch rugby so I’ve picked up the rules fairly easily (Richard on the other hand seems to have a baseline knowledge of the rules of every sport on earth so didn’t have much learning to do) and with a 24-25 finish with the Broncos just coming out on top, it was nail-biting even for us neutral spectators!

On our final day in Australia we visited The Rocks again to sample their Saturday market, trying a few local treats and picking up a few souvenirs! Next, we got the bus out to Bondi Beach which was a pretty cool lunch spot. We spent the afternoon doing the Bondi to Coogee beach coastal walk which was a beautiful way to explore the coastline, and to eat an ice-cream (or two).

We have loved the temperatures in Sydney as it’s like a really nice summers day at home, so we were keen to spend our final night eating outdoors admiring the city. For us there was no better way to do that than with a pizza perched down on Darling Harbour. The view over the city lit up at night along with the Saturday night atmosphere was the perfect way to finish our time in Australia. After 3 ½ weeks here we’re now very excited to see what The Philippines has to offer!

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Posted by Honeymayning 06:25 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Southern Queensland, Brisbane and Northern New South Wales

sunny 25 °C
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One of the major tourist stop-offs along the east coast of Australia is Fraser Island, which we visited on a daytrip from Hervey Bay. The main selling point of Fraser Island is that at over 120km in length it is the largest sand island in the world. It is made entirely of sand washed up over millennia, forming huge sand cliffs and sand dunes. In spite of this there is a remarkable amount of plant and animal life on the island. We spotted a goanna lizard and a kookaburra bird while eating lunch, but thankfully we avoided any deadly snakes or insects! The highlight of Fraser Island was Lake Mckenzie, a freshwater lake with beautifully clear water and the some of the purest, whitest sand we have ever seen.

From Hervey Bay we travelled to Noosa, which is a pleasant seaside resort north of Brisbane. It is obvious why Noosa is popular as it is built around the mouth of the River Noosa, where it enters the sea flanked by sandy beaches. The town was quite busy with the start of the Easter holidays, so we enjoyed a walk around Noosa Heads National Park to escape the crowds.

After leaving Noosa we headed to Brisbane, where we stayed with Paddy, Orla, Sherrie, Robin, Adam Gowdy and Adam Tweedie, all doctors and graduates from QUB. They are living in a mansion in Hawthorne, the most affluent part of the city. Adam Gowdy proudly pointed out the house down the road owned by the wealthiest woman in Australia! Their house is complete with billiards room, cinema room and swimming pool… doctors must be well paid in Australia! Our time in Brisbane allowed us to catch up with everyone as well as experience life in the very liveable city. Brisbane doesn’t offer a huge amount in the way of sightseeing, given that its history is quite recent, but it does feel like a nice place to live. This was maybe helped by the fact that the weather was bright and sunny with temperatures in the mid-twenties while we were there. Apparently it was a lot hotter and more humid over the past couple of months. We got about using rental bikes as well as the boats which zoom up and down the river, both of which were very enjoyable methods of transport! On our first night in Brisbane we played crazy golf in a city centre bar, which was lots of fun. Over the next couple of days we enjoyed spending time in the city centre and on Southbank, which is like a sunnier, more relaxed version of Southbank in London. On the walking tour we learned about a man named Patrick Mayne, who came to prominence in Brisbane in the middle of the 1800s, after moving to Australia from Cookstown in Northern Ireland. There is a story that he is rumoured to have murdered a man for a large sum of money, without being caught. He then invested the money in property and land, resulting in the Mayne family becoming very wealthy. It turns out that the University of Queensland is built on land donated by the Mayne family many years ago! When I told the tour guide that I am a Mayne she insisted on getting a photo with Charlotte and I, like we were some sort of infamous celebrities! After relaying this history to Sinclair Mayne, an authority on the Mayne family, I was informed that Patrick Mayne was no relation of our respectable line of the Mayne family.

Continuing from Brisbane we entered New South Wales, passing through Byron Bay, which was busy with a big music festival taking place. It is a lovely spot and we enjoyed a walk out to Cape Byron, the most easterly point in Australia, where there is a picturesque lighthouse. There was a great atmosphere in the town and we enjoyed watching a band called “Better Than The Wizards” playing an impromptu set by the beach, so much so that we bought their album! Charlotte and I debated whether we preferred Noosa or Byron Bay, but we weren’t able to come to a decision as they are both great in their own right.

South of Byron we went for a dip in Lake Ainsworth, a tea tree lake at Lennox Head, where the oil from tea trees infuses into the lake giving it a murky brown colour. Apparently this is meant to be very good for your skin! After spending the night in Ballina we travelled to Coffs Harbour, another nice coastal town with more lovely beaches. Here we visited the Big Banana theme park, where we spent the morning enjoying the thrills of the toboggan and the water slides. We also enjoyed the coastal and inland walks which provided some great views over the area.

After leaving Coffs Harbour we headed to Port Macquarie, where we hired a tandem bike for an afternoon. Neither of us had ridden a tandem before so it took us a bit of practice, but before long we were zooming along and exploring all the lovely beaches in the area. We cycled out to Tacking Point Lighthouse which had fantastic views over the coast. On our way back to town we stopped to have a look at a furry little creature munching at some leaves high up in one of the eucalyptus trees. After much optimistic searching earlier in the trip this was the first time we had sighted a koala in the wild! By now we have travelled approximately three quarters of the way from Cairns to Sydney, which has been thoroughly enjoyable the whole way.

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Lake Mackenzie on Fraser Island

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Goanna lizard on Fraser Island

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Kookaburra!

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Noosa scenery

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"Skippy" our Fiat Punto

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Our accommodation in Brisbane

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3 proud owners of 3 different white Toyota Camrys!

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Upcoming boyband out here in Australia!

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Brisbane City Hall - not a patch on the Belfast equivalent!

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Exploring Brisbane by bike

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Cape Byron Lighthouse

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Tea tree lake at Lennox Head

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The Big Banana!

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Tobogganing

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Tandem time!

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Koala spotting

Posted by Honeymayning 21:07 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

North and Central Queensland

sunny 31 °C
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After a very early 3am start in Christchurch we flew to Cairns via Sydney with Qantas. On arriving in Cairns we noticed a definite increase In heat and humidity from South Island, New Zealand. Our hire car for the trip to Sydney is a white Fiat Punto which we have named “Skippy.”

On our first full day in Cairns we headed out to the Great Barrier Reef on board a big catamaran called Reef Experience. We were lucky with the weather conditions; the calm sea made for excellent snorkelling and diving conditions at the famous reef. Amazingly, on the boat we bumped into Mark and Alex from QUB medicine year of 2014, who were stopping off in Australia on their way home after six weeks in New Zealand. They had also decided that taking time out of training to work as locums was worth it for the opportunity to do a bit of travelling. It was fun comparing notes on New Zealand since we were there at the same time. We stopped off at two different locations out on the reef, where everyone had the opportunity to do a spot of snorkelling and diving in the clear blue water. The snorkelling was an amazing experience. It is hard to believe such diverse and varied marine life of so many different shapes, sizes and colours is all natural. The vivid, fluorescent colours of fish and coral look like they must surely be manmade! Despite not being certified scuba divers (we plan to tick that box in The Philippines) we were able to do an introductory dive under supervision. This proved to be even better (and actually slightly easier) than snorkelling and has certainly whetted our appetite for more diving later in the trip.

The next day we were up bright and early to join in the Cairns Parkrun, which began at 7am. I was happy to finish in just under 20 minutes, as the heat and humidity was intense even at that time of day, but Charlotte powered round in a very impressive 23 and a half minutes which meant she was in the top five female finishers! After breakfast and a cold shower, we took a trip inland from Cairns to the Atherton Tablelands on a circuitous drive around the waterfalls and lakes in the region. The first stop-off was at Lake Eacham, a volcanic lake where the fish like to give swimmers a nibble, which Charlotte didn’t particularly enjoy! We also visited Millaa Millaa falls (a favourite of Peter Andre) and Josephine Falls, where there is a natural rock slide. I enjoyed it so much I went down it three times! Another highlight from Cairns was a frozen yoghurt shop where they sell waffle cones for 5 dollars, allowing customers to fill the cones with as many fillings and toppings as they want. I used my experience from pouring whipped ice creams in McDonald’s to squeeze on a ridiculous amount, so that it must have weighed several kilos by the time we came to carrying it carefully out of the shop!

From Cairns we began our long journey south. We stopped off for a night to relax at Mission Beach, before spending two nights in Townsville. Despite having a very boring sounding name, it is actually a lovely city. On our first afternoon in Townsville we joined some of the 2000 locals who climb up Castle Hill every day, which is a natural viewpoint over the city at 283m in height. It is amazing how the Aussies are so into their fitness. We worked out that around 1 percent of the city’s population climb up there each day! That evening we met up with Daryl, another alumnus of QUB medical school who is now living and working in Townsville. It was great to catch up over a couple of drinks in one of the local bars, as well as getting some tips for the rest of our trip. The next day we took a ferry across from Townsville to Magnetic Island. This turned out to be a fantastic day as the island boasts some fantastic beaches and scenery. The nicest beach of all is Balding Bay, which is a little off the beaten track but can rival the best beaches anywhere in the world.

After Townsville, we had to change our plans from the original itinerary planned in September 2016. This was due to the havoc caused by cyclone Debbie, which passed through Queensland just before we arrived in Australia. Originally, we had planned to stay a couple of nights in Airlie Beach, in order to visit the Whitsunday Islands before staying a night in Rockhampton. Unfortunately Airlie Beach was hit with the full force of the cyclone, and was still without power. Rockhampton, meanwhile, was due to have extensive flooding (up to 9m above the normal level of the Fitzroy River) on the day we had planned to stay. Luckily, we had free cancellation on the hotels and instead stayed in Mackay and Gladstone. On the way through the affected region there was plenty of evidence of the devastation caused by the cyclone. Countless numbers of trees, telegraph posts and road signs were toppled over, and a few houses even had their roofs blown off! It makes me think we can’t complain too much about the weather back home when at least we don’t have any serious natural disasters to worry about! Despite Gladstone having a fairly unfavourable review in our guidebook it actually turned out to be a lovely little city, once we drove past the power factory and coal exporting facilities on the outskirts. With three days in a row of 300 and 400km drives it has been nice to be able to split up the driving between the two of us. Charlotte has also managed to find which of the petrol stations does the best and cheapest latte coffees (Coles Express, for 80c if you’re interested) which has also helped to break up the journeys!

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Joining in the locals on the way up Castle Hill in Townsville
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Balding Bay, Magnetic Island
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Kangaroo spotting at Cape Hillsborough, north of Mackay
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Extensive flooding in Rockhampton

Posted by Honeymayning 06:08 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Milford Track, Ashburton and Christchurch

sunny 21 °C
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After finishing up our time in Queenstown we set an early alarm to travel down to Te Anau to start the Milford Track. We parked Sonny up at Te Anau Downs where our adventure within an adventure began! We arrived with our bags all ready to go, complete with me sporting a rather hobbit-like look with our saucepan tied to the outside of my pack. We were pretty pushed for space given we were just using our hand-luggage backpacks. This gave us a laugh on the boat on the way to the start point on Lake Te Anau as we compared our little bags to the rucksacks belonging to everyone else. Most of the other rucksacks were almost twice the size of ours! The boat trip across Lake Te Anau to the start of the track felt like a proper cruise and we got a great view of some of the surrounding peaks. I had a cup (or 2) of tea which had me starting the trek in my optimally caffeinated state!

We got off to the start of the walk with great gusto, only to come to our accommodation for the night, Clinton Hut, within an hour of setting off! Unfortunately, Clinton Hut was the location for our first proper meeting with our new nemesis – sand flies. The Maori believed that sand flies were sent into the world to prevent humans from being idle, and I quickly learned why– as long as you’re moving the sand flies keep themselves to themselves, but the second you stop (I think they can smell fear) there’s 1, then 2, then a swarm of those nasty little guys and they love nothing more than to give you a bite or 2!

Cue me coaxing Richard into exploring with me so that we could keep moving. After wading through what turned out to be a (very, very) cold river (twice) we decided we’d had enough adventuring for one day and took refuge in the hut to get to know a few of our fellow walkers (or ‘trampers’ as we’re known in NZ!) There are 40 people who walk the Milford Track independently each day, then another 50 guided walkers. The guided walkers pay a lot of money but it means they get swanky accommodation and all their food provided so only have to carry clothes. We’re much too tough for that, of course, so we were carrying nearly everything, although the simple huts were kitted out with bunk beds and gas stoves for cooking.
We were in a great group with people from all over the world (although we were the only representatives from the Emerald Isle!). The main bulk of people who walk the track are Kiwis and Aussies. I think this is mostly down to knowledge, as you have to be seriously organised to nab a place (no prizes for guessing which half of this Mayne team had the foresight to book it back in June 2016, long before we even booked flights! Clue – it wasn’t me.)

Each hut has a ranger who stays there, and Clinton Hut provided us with ranger Ross. If I didn’t believe in the BFG prior to the track I now know he lives at Clinton Hut as Ross was the spitting image of the big friendly giant, and had a booming voice and friendly personality to match. Each night the ranger gave a little talk of their portion of the track and Ross even gave a little guided walk, who know the BFG was so at one with nature?!

After our first night on the track, Richard and I set off for our first proper day of walking. It was 16.5km of gradual ascent, gaining around 500m altitude on the way to our stop for night 2 at Mintaro Hut. It gave us our first sighting of the Mackinnon Pass as well as crossing the most open portion of the track caused by an avalanche. We passed beautiful waterfalls along the way, as well as some small lakes. It was amazing the see the surroundings change as we rose in altitude, and to listen to all the amazing birdsongs – a little more exotic sounding than back in N.I.!
We made it to Mintaro Hut in just under 4 hours, and as it was a suggested 6 hour walk we’d set a competitive pace! Being gluttons for punishment we had a quick lunch and then decided to take our first of 2 trips up Mackinnon Pass (about another 600m of climbing). It can often be cloudy in the morning so we wanted to make the most of the clear skies on our second day. The top of Mackinnon Pass provides the most amazing 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks, Lake Mintaro and the Clinton Valley, so it was well worth the effort! Our ranger for the evening was a friendly lady called Laura whose grandfather was from Ballymena!

For us day 3 was the highlight of the track. We reached the top of the pass for a second time and were pleased with the views once again, despite the reputation of it often being cloudy. It was amazing to see the cloud ‘bubbling’ (as one of our Aussie companions put it) up over the side of the mountain due to the effect of the wind. Day 3 was a 14km walk but the steepest walking by far, first up the pass, then down the other side. Despite our tendency to set a fast pace we were also keen not to break any ankles so slowed it down for the descent, although not too slow as I’d heard there was free tea and coffee in a hut at the bottom! From here we took an extra side trip to Sutherland Falls, at 580m the highest waterfall in NZ. It was absolutely amazing and a stunning spot for a break before heading on to Dumpling Hut, our final night on the track.
At Dumpling Hut everyone was in great spirits and we met our final ranger Ian, who was quite the character. I indulged myself in a cup of coffee, while Richard hit the hard stuff as he was offered some ‘Rum from Tahiti’ by a fellow tramper who described himself as a “French-Kiwi” – how could he refuse!?

Day 4 was an 18km walk to Sandfly point (given its name we weren’t keen to hang around there too long) and the end of the Milford Track. We represented N.I. well as we were the first to finish the track so the rest of the group agreed Ireland had won! It was a great chance to admire Milford Sound from such a quiet spot, while swiping away at the pesky sandflies.

A quick boat and bus trip and we were reunited with Sonny and on the road north to Cromwell. It felt surreal to be back to normality after our time on the track, I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a shower quite as much! Cromwell is a small town fairly typical of NZ so was a handy stop off on our trip back North. The next morning we stopped off in the local farmers market, purchasing a few crepes from a young French couple which was an unexpected NZ treat! Part of Cromwell was flooded to build a dam in 1990, so they conserved the historical buildings by relocating them up from the waterline. One shop was called ‘Belfast Store’ so we felt right at home!

Back on the road we headed further north again to Twizel. At this point our legs were starting to get walking withdrawal, so we headed for another walk around the local countryside, known as Mackenzie Country. On our journey onwards from Twizel we made stop offs in Fairlie and Geraldine, firstly for pie (our first and only of the trip!) and secondly for buns (not our first on the trip by a long shot...) on recommendations from Richard’s Auntie Noeleen, both of which were well worth a visit!

To finish an unforgettable first chunk of our trip our next stop was with Richard’s Uncle Raymond and Auntie Noeleen in Ashburton. It was great to call in with them, especially since they had flown over to our part of the world for our wedding in July last year. We had a wonderful couple of days being shown the sights of Ashburton and Christchurch. Christchurch is very different following the earthquake which struck at 12:51pm on 22nd February 2011, and work is still ongoing to repair things. We visited an interesting memorial to the 185 people who lost their lives in the earthquake, in the form of 185 different chairs of all shapes and sizes, all painted white, covering 185 square metres of ground. Debates rumble on regarding what to do with the cathedral which has suffered extensive damage - should it stay or should it go? We look forward to seeing the changes in the city if we are lucky enough to return some day. We had a wonderful meal in Ashburton (including me continuing my love affair with steak) and even got to catch up with Richard’s cousin Garry and his partner Samantha in their lovely house which Garry designed himself!

We spent our final day in NZ back in Christchurch in the sunshine exploring Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens. This part of Christchurch still looks fantastic, allowing a glimpse of what the city was like before the earthquake. After a month of kiwi adventures we are now very excited to head “across the ditch” to Australia for part two of our trip, Cairns here we come!

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Thirsty work!
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Some views of Mackinnon Pass
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Pointing back towards the Clinton River Valley, where we had climbed from
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Mintaro Hut, night 2 of the Milford Track
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Sutherland Falls
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We made it!
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Charlotte felt right at home in Cromwell
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Copying the poses of some other tourists at Tekapo
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Christchurch cathedral post-earthquake
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Catching up with the New Zealand Mayne contingent in Ashburton

Posted by Honeymayning 00:47 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

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