Tag Archives: National park

From north to south: Wellington to Nelson, New Zealand

If I had a magic wand, I would have made every day we spent in New Zealand a Saturday or Sunday.

Every day is a holiday for food lovers in this country but weekends are particularly special, with many famers’ markets and specialist food stalls opening all over.

Appetites whetted and hangovers cured courtesy of Napier’s Saturday market, we started the journey down to Wellington, already looking forward to a repeat performance the following day.

Wellington’s food market is every Sunday on the waterfront. Not a bad setting for all the hustle and bustle!

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Repurposed Morgan, now with a charcoal barbecue feature.

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Delicious dumplings:

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Packaging porn:

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Before we arrived in Wellington I pumped Beth from Eat and Greet for top tips and was led to a craft beer and hot dog matching event at a local bar, Golding’s Free Dive. Such a fun idea, would love to see something like this in London.

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Once our bellies were full we spent a couple of hours browsing the excellent Te Papa museum, complete with an earthquake simulation room.

Central Wellington:

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Mark and I stayed with some cousins on my father’s side of the family who were so welcoming and generous, even though I was a little girl the last time we met.

Margaret is a great cook and we ate like kings at her home, which made it hard to leave…next time I will have to stay longer to explore more (both Wellington and her recipes). Thank you Margaret, Peter and family!

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But with time ticking on and a date with the ski slopes down in
Queenstown, we had to push on. The crossing on the ferry from the north to the south island was beautiful – even dolphins came to play.

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Feeling very fortunate to be related to such lovely people down under, we received an equally warm welcome from the Dukes faction on the South Island.

Paul & Nic, thank you for having us, we loved spending time with you and your boys. And what a view you have every morning!

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One of the highlights of the Nelson area is the Abel Tasman national park. We drove there for a day of hiking through the pretty scenery.

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Native bellbirds could be heard overhead (listen here). They sound strangely electronic; the first time I heard them I thought someone’s phone was bleeping.

Split apple rock:

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Even with long walks, not to mention the adrenalin sports and skiing in New Zealand, the country’s fantastic food has definitely had its inevitable effect on our waistlines…

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Easter Island aka Rapa Nui

Easter Island, or Rapa Nui as it is known locally, is a peculiar place.

It is one of the most isolated places in the world; the nearest inhabited land is the tiny island of Pitcairn, around 2000km away. It is 4100km to the more populated, but still small island of Tahiti and 3700km to mainland Chile.

Locals call it “Te Pito o Te Henua” – the navel of the world. The English expression “the middle of nowhere” may be more apt, and certainly explains why the place feels strangely otherworldly.

Just to be clear, the people are not strange at all, but lovely and welcoming – here I am in the fresh flower garland given to everyone at airport arrivals.

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Behind me are the spectacular crashing waves we could see from our campsite. Mark became a bit addicted to taking pictures of waves (NB: the gnarly surf and paddleboard dudes are, sadly, not either of us)

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While Rapa Nui is officially part of Chile, it really belongs to Polynesia, a geographical area defined by an imaginary triangle between New Zealand, Hawaii and Rapa Nui itself. All of these places share common cultural traditions, such as similar traditional dances. We went along to a show one night. There were plenty of hunky men on stage…

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…and beautiful ladies…

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…and at one point, a scared looking Englishman…

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I cannot foresee a time when this photo will fail to crack me up.

Rapa Nui culture reached its peak between 800 AD -17th century, when the famous large basalt statues of anthropomorphous figures known as moai were constructed.

We got up before dawn one morning to see the moai at Ahu Tongariki gradually revealed by the rising sun.

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Perhaps more famous than the moai statues themselves is the mystery they represent; nobody knows exactly why or how they were made.

Saying that, it is widely accepted that the statues symbolise neither gods nor demons, but ancestors of the island’s different clans who really lived here.

The silent, watchful faces are not scary or menacing in the slightest despite their imposing size. They almost always face inland as if keeping a protective eye over the island’s inhabitants, as an elder would seek to look out for their young. Only one site of moai face the sea but they still watch over a village area.

These pictures were taken at Rano Raraku, the quarry site where the statues were prepared.

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The statues’ facial expressions are mild, solemn and placid – I felt an overwhelming sense of warmth and comfort when near them and couldn’t help but smile. Perhaps the joyful spirit exuded by the statues is the reason why we couldn’t resist trying a few jokey impressions…

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Other cultures commemorate their culture and ward off enemies with fierce, warlike imagery but the Rapa Nui way was to instil a sense of security via pride in the spirits of the island’s elders.

So the ancestral significance of the statues is agreed – the real enigma is the precise way that the moai statues were transported and erected. Experts debate theories involving levers, pulleys and sledges but no conclusions can be drawn.

Mark and I have no truck whatsoever with the belief some (crazy) people have that there must have been alien intervention. Puh-lease! If the monumental structures like Machu Picchu we visited earlier in our travels taught us anything, it’s that ancient peoples had ways of getting things done with manpower and hard graft that we modern softies just can’t comprehend. Anyway, like the tricks of a master conjurer, the puzzle adds to the powerful aura of the moai.

Although they vary considerably (after all, each moai echoes the characteristic features of a real person and the size relates to their clan’s perceived prestige), the average moai is 4m and 12.5 metric tons.

There are 887 moai in total, but only 288 are erected on an ahu (stone platform). 397 remain scattered around in various stages of completeness in the Rano Raraku quarry and 92 can be found outside of the quarry, forever en route to their ahu. The remainder are in fragments or part of museum collections.

The several moai that are in fragments were damaged largely as a result of the conflicts between different lineages (mainly over resources), which led to toppling of rival clans’ statues.

These conflicts from the 17th century also brought about the Tangata Manu or birdman rituals. Each year, men would compete to be the first to find the first egg of the season laid by the sooty tern aquatic bird. This was a tough challenge which involved swimming out through strong currents to the place where these birds nested, living in the wilderness for days and tracking birds before a final race back. The winner would be considered sacred for the next year.

Much of the artwork around the island shows symbols relating to the birdman rituals.

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We hiked up to the volcanic crater of Rano Kau to check out the ceremonial village of Orongo, through gorgeous fields of wildflowers.

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A friendly stray dog followed us all the way from town, waiting patiently while we puffed up steeper bits. We managed to hitch a lift in the back of a pickup truck on the way down and abandoned the poor pooch – he sprinted after the car as far as he could.

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The volcanic crater of Rano Kau:

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These are the rocks where the sooty terns lay their eggs, and where the contestants would swim as quickly as possible.

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Orongo, an important ceremonial village during the birdman rituals.

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Rapa Nui was very expensive: everything cost at least three times as much as on the mainland. We made do with meals cooked at our campsite, using provisions carried over from Santiago. One exception was the sublime ice cream from Mikafé, made with local island fruits such as goiaba, kiwi, coconut, sweet potato. The flavours changed each day so we made sure to make a daily visit!

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We happened to be in Rapa Nui during the annual marathon race. There were also half marathon, iron man and 10k races. Mark was briefly tempted to sign up for one of them but decided that running with zero training, dodgy shoes and in searing heat would not be a good idea (the marathon had to start after church, at 10.30am, so it continued during the hottest part of the day).

While we did the sensible thing of chilling with a beer near the crashing waves on race day, our new campsite pals Alistair and Kate not only ran, but both won their respective age categories.

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26.2 miles in the midday sun = madness. Told you this was a peculiar place!

Trekking the “W” in Torres del Paine national park, Chilean Patagonia

This is what trekking food for five people, for five days looks like:

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Pretty dismal. But of course the trekking mentality is that food is simply fuel to get you to the most remote, wild and beautiful areas.

Torres del Paine national park is world famous; as well as the mountains, lakes, glaciers and streams which abound in Patagonia, there are the distinctive granite towers which inspired its name.

Extremely hardcore folk trek the full circuit (also known as the “Q”), which takes around nine days. As a born and raised city girl I suspected my love for nature would seriously wane after that long, plus Mark and I were conscious that we wanted to have as much time as possible in Peru and Ecuador.

So we settled for the more manageable, but still challenging, W trek, named after the shape of the route, plus a bit extra (which we dubbed the “Q tip”, geddit?). This trail navigates up and down out of the mountain valleys, via the park’s must-see attractions: Los Torres, Los Cuernos, Valle Frances, Paine Grande, and Glacier Grey.

We hooked up with an English couple we had met in El Calafate, Jack & Jenna and Derek, an American from San Francisco who had been travelling for five months already. We made a good team – the combination of Jack’s impressive supply of games, Jenna’s organisation and feminine solidarity, and Derek’s Spanish speaking skills was a winner. (I’m not sure what Mark and I brought to the group; Mark was an excellent packhorse and his melodic farts were an endless source of amusement. My role was pacesetter for steep uphills thanks to my geeky walking sticks or “power poles”)

The self-styled "Team Salami", named after the supersized sausage that was the cornerstone of every meal we prepared at camp.

The self-styled “Team Salami”, named after the supersized sausage that was the cornerstone of almost every meal we prepared at camp.

Our French pal Cyrille joined us for the first couple of days before peeling off to complete the full circuit on his own in search of spiritual discovery. (He had the world’s heaviest pack and a pair of self-whittled walking sticks; the rest of us joked that his discovery may be that actually, he hates camping and should have stayed home.)

We took in some amazing views:

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The glacial water was so fresh and delicious, you could literally lap it up like a dog:

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As a special end to our trip, we woke up in the early hours of the last day to start trekking in the dark, under a full moon and a canopy of stars. The goal was to arrive at the main Torres viewpoint before sunrise, after an hour long uphill slog.

We made it with enough time to spread out our roll mats and get comfortable with our sleeping bags and thermos flask, ready to watch the moon drop and the towers glow pink and orange as the morning sun came up.

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Totally worth the shockingly early start.

Of course, trekking isn’t all photogenic vistas, perfect weather and happy camping – there were some truly miserable moments which had me swearing never to put myself through this ordeal again. And swearing like a fishwife in general (sorry Mum). Over the five days we hiked over 100km (70 miles) and most days were at least eight hours of solid trekking. By the end, most of us had shattered muscles, knackered joints, bruises, scrapes, blisters, mosquito bites and numerous other painful niggles. And we stank.

Look at our hangdog expressions on the last day.

Look at our hangdog expressions on the last day.

Towards the end of the trek, the main thing keeping us going was thinking of the celebratory feast back in civilisation, with all the heavy, unnecessary treats we had to leave behind (and BOOZE!). Team Salami headed straight for a local brewery for pitchers of beer and this kilo of chips smothered in cheese, bacon and fried chicken – definitely deserved.

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Personally, I was hallucinating visions of fresh fruit, salad and veggies after nearly a week of cereal bars, dried noodles and salami. I very nearly climbed into this trough of apples in excitement.

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Perhaps this is easy to say from the comfort of a warm, cosy room, but having to walk miles through crazy weather magnified the beauty of the landscapes. Seeing the Torres light up at sunrise would not have been as special if we had been dropped off by a tour bus (obviously this isn’t possible anyway!). The sense of achievement after all that hard work made the whole experience more profound and utterly unforgettable.

Iguassu/Iguaçu/Iguazu Falls

Mark posts again!

Like the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China, pictures of the Iguacu falls just don’t do it justice. So you might as well just ignore the photos below. You have to go yourself I’m afraid in order to get the slightest idea how impressive they are. The falls stretch for 3.5 km of roaring, frothing foam, and they are set in a beautiful national park with toucans, butterflies of all colours and fresh water turtles.

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We spent a couple of days in the area. The Brazilian side gives the grand vista, but it’s the Argentinian side where you really get up close and personal by strolling the walkways that take you over, under and around the falls (getting thoroughly soaked in the process). The highlight was the boat ride that takes you virtually underneath the falls themselves. Sorry, no pictures of that.

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Coatís, or Brazilian aardvarks, are everywhere.

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There is a fantastic bird park on the Brazilian side, that contains vast cages with macaws, parakeets, hummingbirds, toucans, flamingos and many others besides.

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This is not a bird

This is not a bird

Some of the toucans were really quite friendly!

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Certainly one of the highlights of the trip so far.

Chapada Diamantina treks

Mark’s first blog post!

Besides the food at Alcino’s, Chapada Diamantina national park is also renowned for some rewarding treks. The park has steep gorges, wide valleys, towering cliffs, extensive caves and around 300 waterfalls. As with everything in this country, the park is big, so we were only able to touch the sides of this beautiful place.

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We ‘warmed up’ with a day long minibus tour of some highlights of the park. Our companions were a British and Australian group doing a seven month overland tour of the whole of South America. It wouldn’t be our choice to spend so long on a bus with 20-odd complete strangers but they seemed to be getting along. Highlights were some stunning caves, with monsters lurking in the shadows…

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…and the sunset.

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Leila almost missed it as she was taking flying lessons and had to climb back up.

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We then found a local guide, Yuri, to take us on a three day trek: hard enough to test our stamina, and yet not break our uninitiated muscles. After a bumpy and sometimes fairly hairy ride on the back of a motorbike, the trek began with a 2 hour steep climb in the midday sun. Our water quickly finished and we were glad to reach the river on the other side of the ridge. All the water in the park is drinkable, despite its seeming muddy brown hue. In fact, the colour is derived from the tannins in the plant matter in the soil, so the water is rich in minerals. Good for anaemics and pregnant ladies apparently, though why they’d put themselves through a tough climb to get at it I don’t know.

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The jungle that we trekked through was a gardener’s dream; there seemed to be every type of fern and cacti. And there were butterflies in their millions, all flying the same direction – where were they all going?

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But the highlight was the waterfalls. There is something quite magical about a tumbling waterfall in a secluded gorge with just the three of us to admire it. Unfortunately we have no photos of the most spectacular one as it required leaping over boulders, climbing up slippery rock faces and swimming through deep pools to reach, so the camera got left behind.

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Whilst the distances were not long, the terrain (near vertical gorges and boulder strewn river beds), the heat and sleeping on the rocks took it out of us.

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So we were delighted by the finale to the trek, a stunning pool with a natural waterside and a friendly rasta selling ice cool beer under the shade of a tree.

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Ta-da!

Ta-da!

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Mark and our guide Yuri