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Rotorua & Lake Taupo - Day 61

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park, Rapids Jet, Huka Falls & Aratiatia Dam

24 °C

This morning we went to Wai-O-Tapu thermal park in Rotorua. Walking around the park we got to see craters, boiling mud pools, unnaturally (although of course they were) colourful lakes and steaming vents. I had never seen anything like it before, it was amazing! I'm not the best at geography, but Andrew tells me it's all to do with magma being closer to the earths surface here. I didn't even mind the continuing stench of sulphur too much because it was so interesting! We spent a an hour or two walking around the area...
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In between, we watched a geyser blow, as they stimulate it at 10.15am every day to show you one erupting. The story goes that it was discovered by prisoners many, many years ago who were planting forests in the area. They found this hot water and decided, as they didn't have hot water in the prison, to bring their clothes down to wash them. They put the clothes in the water - all fine - they put soap on the clothes and put it in the water, and the geyser blew water in every direction sending the clothes and the prisoners flying! This is how they discovered soap can stimulate a reaction and apparently they did it often afterwards for entertain. Now the people at the park use some Eco friendly stuff that's similar to soap. (NB We'll upload a video of this, and other videos, when we get home and post, post-trip)
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After the park we drove to Lake Taupo, which isn't very far from Rotorua. We had lunch at a lookout point over the town - apparently LakeTaupo (the lake itself) is the size of Singapore?! Singapore must be small! I'll let you know in a couple of months. We booked ourselves onto a jet boat ride this afternoon, as we needed to move on tomorrow - we have a very tight schedule here in New Zealand as Andrew's mum will be here soon and we want to meet her in the Bay of Islands on 1st March (today is 24th March) then get on the ferry at Wellington on 3rd April.
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Before the boat, we stopped off to see Huka Falls on the way. It was a nice waterfall, with crystal clear blue water.
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The rapids jet took us down Aratiatia River, which is now controlled by the dam there. I think the flood gates open twice a day normally but the amount of water let through and the time of day can be changed, which is why Peter Jackson used this river for The Hobbit. Apparently there is a scene in the film with barrels tumbling down a river and it was here! Unfortunately we couldn't take our camera with us as the company wouldn't allow it due to water damage or loss and, of course, they sold pictures on the way out. We didn't get them though because they were just of us in the boat, not of the scenery around, so it seemed a waste. Check it out here though - http://www.rapidsjet.com/

The jet boat was awesome though. There's only 12 people inside the tiny boat including the driver, whose girlfriend was on the boat with us so he was totally showing off. We did 360 spins, jumped the rapids and, as it only needs 4 inches of water to sail on, the driver whizzed us so close to the bank of river underneath a bent tree! It was so quick. The river is beautiful too, very 'Yogi Bear', if that's makes any sense to anyone else? The water was so clear you could see right to the bottom, the trees lined the bank and rocks and boulders were scattered down it. There was a section of the river bank where you could see old, dead trees in the mud that had been covered in ash from the last volcano, which was thousands of years ago. The clear water was also thanks to the volcano, as it was being filtered through volcanic rock from the eruption.

Exhilarated, we left and Andrew wanted to see the Aratiatia Dam in action. Sounds a little boring - I definitely thought it was going to be - but it was actually cool as it replenished the river to what it used to be. We stood (with lots of other people) on one side of the bridge to watch the flood gates open, ran across the road to see the river start to fill and then ran down a track to see it from another angle further down the river. We must have had lots of energy from the rapid boat!
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We stayed close to Lake Taupo on a free campsite called Riley's Farm. The long drop toilets weren't the best kept but it was next to a river so after dinner we went and fed the ducks.
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Posted by staceywaugh 05:47 Archived in New Zealand Tagged waterfalls lakes birds rivers geothermal geysers Comments (2)

Coromandel to Rotorua - Day 60

Cool cars & Thermal Parks, Views, Luge & Lakes!

21 °C

It rained last night and the awning pooled with water. Andrew pushed it up to get rid of the water and it went everywhere, including some inside the van! We managed to get a hot shower using the coin machine, which wasn't bad at all except having to shower in flip flops and get dressed straight away inside the cubicle.

Today we had a long drive down to Rotorua, but we thought we'd have a look at the Beach Hop while we were here. There were so many cool cars there and we both said we'd love to have an old car like that to drive around in on weekends.
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We saw lots of similar cars on the drive too and eventually we got to Rotorua. It was another lovely sunny day, which was only slightly tainted by the smell of sulphur (if you're not sure what this smells like, think sour,rotten eggs). Rotorua is a town based on top of an old erupted volcano and is an area of geothermal activity. We we walked around the town, looking at the lovely museum and lake, then of all a sudden the smell became stronger and we saw the 'thermal area' signs. There were bubbling mud pools and steaming vents on the side of the lake, which were like nothing I'd seen before in such a residential area. We're going to the big geothermal park tomorrow so we'll see much more like this then.
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Late afternoon we took the Skyline gondola up to the top of a hill - hanging from a string up high is always my favourite place to spend my time! - to see the view and also have a go on the luge. Rotorua looked really pretty from up there (plus the smell didn't reach here!). The town itself is a bit industrial and not much to write home about. So I won't.
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We had an delicious ice cream (hokey pokey is honeycomb/cinder toffee out here and boysenberry is pretty much blackberry), watched two girls go on the swing ride off the mountain and then went on the luge. It was fun going down the track in the little kart, but a bit like on Death Road I took it steady and Andrew had time to get to the bottom and take a picture of me before I got there.
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Andrew had said we could get out of the park at the bottom of the luge, but that wasn't true. I had to get on a ski lift chair all the way back to the top!! I've never liked this things since I was a child and they used to have one at Frontierland going across the promenade in Morecambe. Needless to say though, I survived! Check out the helmets too ;)
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It was time to head to tonights campsite, but we saw some steam rising from a park and decided to have a look. More mud pools and steaming lakes in a public area! The weird thing about this area was that it had park benches, like you'd want to stop and have your lunch here with the smell?!
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As you might have gathered from previous posts, I like street art, and I saw my first (nice) piece in New Zealand on the way out of town.
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We camped by Lake Rerewhakaaitu (try and pronounce that!) tonight, a peaceful place with only three other campers on there. We cooked in the dark for the first time and ate by torchlight, which isn't the easiest thing to do. We plan to try and get places before dark as often as possible.
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Posted by staceywaugh 05:45 Archived in New Zealand Tagged lakes art birds views geothermal luge Comments (0)

Valparaiso - Day 50

Pablo Neruda's house, Art & Sea Wolves!

25 °C

It was so hot today! And typically we started the day with a walk uphill! We went to see where the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda lived when he stayed in Valparaiso. Nice house with a great view!
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His house was just up the road from our hostel and on the way back down we saw lots morel art. It really is on every corner here.
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We walked down to the harbour and had dinner at a seafood place tha was recommended. We had the set lunch menu, which was an empanada and then you could choose from three seafood dishes that sounded almost the same - language barrier again. We went for a seafood 'paila', which is a fish soup, and I expected it to have some tomatoes in there like a fish stew, but no. It was pretty much a ton of mussels, few prawns and pieces of squid, couple of pieces of fish and then a load of unrecognisable bits of seafood that was stringy and undesirable all served in salty hot water. Definitely not the best meal of the trip!
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This afternoon we went on a boat trip in the harbour, which took us out on the water to see Valparaiso from a different angle, see the big ships up close and also have the chance to see some sea lions. This was on the recommendation of our eccentric hostel owner Patricia, who called the sea lions 'sea wolves'. Good job we knew what she meant, as sea wolves would be quite scary!

Anyway, we did see the 'sea wolves'! They were on a platform in the sea and also sat on the front of the boats too. We also saw some great views of Valparaiso and the navy ships in the dock too.
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Posted by staceywaugh 05:54 Archived in Chile Tagged art birds boats sea_lions cargo_ships Comments (0)

Uyuni - Day 42

Tour Day 2

20 °C

It was a 7am start for an awesome day ahead. After a quick breakfast we set off to the first stop, which was some quinoa fields. Along the way we saw the snow capped mountains ahead and lots of Llamas. The quinoa plants are in beautiful colours and made for some lovely pictures. Unfortunately the old lady who owns the crop wasn't too please that we were taking pictures for free, so we all ran straight back into the car!
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We then drove to an area called Valle de Rocas, the result of a volcanic eruption. It was vast. You could climb around them and Andrew decided to go up to the other side on top of the large rocks. He got up there ok but ended up with a few grazes up his arms :(
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While he was climbing, I was chasing one of the only animals that live there, to try and get a picture. I got one! It's like a rabbit but with a long tail:
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A bit like cloud spotting, see if you can see the faces or creatures in the rocks:
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Moving on, on the journey we saw a volcano, which I think is called Ollague, with steam coming out of it!
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The day was really about all the different landscapes here in Bolivia, and the colours in the rocks, mountains, hills, fields and waters around here are unbelievable.

The next stop was a lagoon, that smelt of sulphur but had flamingos swimming on the surface. We must have been getting higher up as it was getting windy outside.
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A drive then took us through sandy desert like roads and the sand clouds blew so hard that you often couldn't see the car in front and the trail behind was like something out of a movie.
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We then had lunch by another lagoon, with ruins next to it that apparently used to be used for making cocaine. I guess in the middle of nowhere like this, you were unlikely to get caught?! Lunch was schnitzel, but the driver told me it was flamingo wing! After yesterday's Llama I almost believed him!! The thing about being in the middle of nowhere is that there are no toilets so the group are now accustomed to using Bolivia as our toilet. Here most of us went behind another set of ruining that must have been a building of some kind, but Barry decided to go inside this chimney ruin, which was possibly something important?! Anyway, looking out over the lagoon the reflections of the mountains in water were really beautiful and there were lots more flamingos too.
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Higher up still, we stopped at another lagoon with lots of piles of rocks in front of it. Everyone got out the car, the strength of wind hit us and Caroline's hat went flying in the air and was spinning through the desert. She started a run for it, but it was going further away. We thought she was going to stop but she didn't and Gonzalez went with her. It seemed like an impossible task to get it back but they carried and soon they were over the sand dune and out of sight.
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In the meantime we carried on and looked at the lagoon. The idea behind the piles of rocks is that it was an offering to Pachamama - Mother Earth - to say thank you. Now, people generally build them to get a cool picture, and that's what Andrew and George did. The built the biggest one then, and in the wind it was quite a feat.
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We'd all finished building and taking pictures, but still no sight on Caroline and Gonzalez. Eventually, two tiny stick figures came over the horizon, walking in completely the wrong direction it seemed, and it was them. This is a super zoomed in picture of them! The poor things had been walking in the heat and wind for about 45 minutes and didn't even get the hat!

Back in the cars, we drove to another lagoon with flamingos and the colours of the water, mountains and flamingos were almost surreal. We walked around the edge to get some good pictures of the flamingos and I managed to get one in flight.
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The next destination was to get a picture of a famous rock, the Arbol de Piedra. The rock looks like a tree in shape as the gusts of wind have shaped it that way.
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There are some other rocks there too and Andrew climbed to the top again, giving us some fantastic catalogue poses?!
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The final stop of day was at the red lagoon, which is this colour because of the algae and the sun. Apparently you have to get there by a certain time of day to see it this colour. It was much more red that it shows on the camera, but it still looks pretty cool.
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We headed to our hostel for the night, in the middle of nowhere, at about 5pm. Unfortunately, we didn't have a reservation and they were booked up! Luckily there was another next door (as there was really nothing else around for miles!) so it all worked out fine, but even the driver looked worried for a while. The hostels here had hot showers until 8pm but you had to pay, which was fine, and they only have electric from 6-8pm at night, so we had to get our beds ready before the lights went out. We all sat around having a drink and waiting for dinner. Roger got his guitar out and, in our most 'traveller-type' moment yet, everyone in the group started singing along to Oasis and Beatles songs.

We were told we were having lasagne and everyone was looking forward to it. Turns out it was vegetable lasagne, which sounded good too. What came was onion and tomato, but predominately onion lasagne. It was disgusting, which was a shame after the nice meals we'd had on the tour so far, and most people couldn't even finish one tiny piece.

After 'dinner' we were given hot water bottles - we already had sleeping bags and duvets so I wondered how cold it was really going to be?! - and then the lights went off. We all decided to get our coats and hats on and go outside, so we took benches, drinks and Roger's guitar and just hung out until it got too cold Roger and Ken couldn't strum the guitar anymore.
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This is when we first saw the stars properly in South America. It was absolutely breathtaking! The sky was lit up so bright with thousands of stars, you could see the Milky Way sweeping across it, it was incredible. George took out his camera and tripod to get a shot, but even with his amazing camera, it didn't show half of what was actually there in the sky (again, we're going to try and get a picture of this for you). This made us really excited about our Stargazing evening in Chile in a couple of days, where we get to see the stars through massive telescopes too.

It was about 11pm when we were all frozen and tired enough to come inside. We got our thermals and socks on and got into bed. I'd put everyone's hot water bottles in their beds for them and Andrew's had leaked - oops! but I was glad it wasn't someone elses - so his sleeping bag was a little wet!

Then to sleep, ahead of our 4.30am start tomorrow!!

Posted by staceywaugh 05:13 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes mountains animals birds desert volcanoes llamas flamingoes lagoons Comments (4)

Lima - Day 20

Foggy Lima Town

27 °C

After our 3am arrival we didn't get much sleep before having to get up for breakfast, so when we were given scrambled eggs and strawberry jam (not for eating together!), it made us feel better about being awake. We also had to start taking anti-sickness tablets this morning in preparation for being at altitude in Ollantaytambo and Cusco and throughout Peru and Bolivia...it should be interesting to see whether or how we react.

We only had one day in Lima so we got up and out, only to find that there was thick fog and mist rolling in from the sea, which meant you couldn't even see the top of a ten storey building.
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We walked towards the sea, but we have no idea what the view out was like?!The Miraflores area in Lima seems built for tourism, an area where visitors can feel safe in a city that doesn't have the best reputation. There were police and street cleaners everywhere, a nice promenade with sculptures, flowers and paved walkways.
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We walked down some steep steps in the cliff to get down to the sea. There were enormous birds in the water, alongside so many surfers, and we sat and watched for a while.
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A surfer guy told us it would be a good day for us to learn surf as we wouldn't burn our skin...obviously the Buenos Aires tan, if ever there was one, has faded! Down the opposite end was a pier, just like at the English seaside, but unfortunately they don't just take anyone on their Peruvian piers - Andrew was turned away for wearing shorts.
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So we tackled the long walk back up some more enormous steps in the cliff side and out of breath and sweaty, we headed to a shopping centre to cool down. Inside was a big supermarket, so we had a wander round and saw this, which made us giggle:
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We had lunch of falafel and chicken pittas and iced lemonade at a Turkish cafe called Tarboush and had a look in the shops. Around the square they have clothes shops that look like jumble sales, piles and piles of non-descript cheap clothing. Andrew was looking for another vest as it had been so hot, so he rummaged through the piles for ages pulling out women's vest after women's vest, to find nothing! I think he was a bit addicted in the end, trying to find a cheap deal.

Back at the hostel we had an email to say that in Ollantaytambo, the town we were supposed to be staying in when we flew into Cusco the next day, there had been a flood that had knocked out all the water to the hostel and some of the electric and communications. This was the first time we had to juggle our plans and we were worried we wouldn't be able to change our hostels around, but luckily it was a simple swap - we'd go to Cusco first and then Ollantaytambo to see Machu Picchu. I was concerned about the altitude as it would be worse for us starting off in Cusco, being higher than Ollantaytambo, and I was sad we couldn't go to Machu Picchu on Valentine's Day as planned, but obviously these were very minor things in comparison to the poor people of Ollantaytambo having their town and homes wrecked by floods!

That night we went for dinner at a Chifa restaurant in the square. This is a type of Chinese cooking in Peru that apparently uses Peruvian ingredients as substitute for those originally used in China that can't be found here. I didn't notice a great deal of difference taste-wise to be honest and I would have thought any traditional cuisine of another country in a new country would have to substitute some ingredients? So I assume I have oversimplified the description of Chifa! Anyway, we had steamed dumplings to start, I had an enormous three roast noodle dish and Andrew had a massive pork and rice dish. With drinks, the bill came to £15 - the start of the cheap food in our South American adventure.

We didn't make the most of Lima, mainly because we were tired, so after a walk around the tiny market in the square, we headed back to the hostel. On the way, we went down a street packed with bars and restaurants with people shouting and pestering for you to come in - it felt like being on the strip in touristy Spain or (closer to home for me, from my 'getting people into bars' days!) Ayia Napa, the only difference was instead of young men and women it was just old men. I think maybe they need a trip to Europe to see what works, or better, maybe just lose it altogether?

Posted by staceywaugh 13:43 Archived in Peru Tagged art birds fog funny mist pier seaside Comments (0)

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