Well, Sharon and I have returned home and begun the process of reintergrating back in to the community. The weather isn't helping – I think I've worked out where my warm clothing is, but it's not accessable right now… We've been a bit slack with the blog updates recently and have posted no photos since New Zealand. I'll get photos and blogs up asap, and for those facebook friends, I'll post some on there too. I'll also let you know what exciting stuff you can expect from this site in the next few months too.
We're now in India – last country before we head home. We've joined a tour run by a company called Intrepid and things aren't quite going as advertised – the group is great, but the leader isn't and it doesn't feel like we're able to see the best of the places we're visiting. Still we've seen some cool things and are having fun.
We're in Varanassi at the moment, having spent 24hrs travelling down the Ganges and we're about to head out and see some temples. The we're off to Orcha, then Agra and finally to Delhi.
We're spending our last few days this trip in Nepal. We'll be sad to leave & have already planned for our return. It's been amazing, the people have been so friendly, the countryside beautiful and Kathmandu was unique…
We've spent the last two days in Chitwan national park – one of the best parks in Asia, apparently. We've ridden elephants, had an amazing opportunity to wash them and have seen loads of wild animals, including almost a dozen Rhinos!
We're off to Buddha's birthplace, Lumbini, tomorrow, and then we're across the border into India – we're expecting the craziness to increase exponentially between here and Delhi, but have a great group we're travelling with so it should be cool.
We'll we've arrived in Nepal finally. Today's the first time I thought we'd miss a flight – we had a bit of a problem with our kayaks. We arrived to check in 3 hours before our flight and Thia Air point blank refused to take them, they didn't want excess baggage money – they said that there wasn't room on the plane. Rapidly assessing our options – we could delay our flight by a few more days, or we could send them cargo. If we delayed our flight, we'd have to pay excess baggage on them anyway, so we decided to send them cargo. Apparently it was a Saturday and the Cargo shipment wouldn't arrive in Kathmandu until Tuesday – that wasn't really a problem, since we'd have to delay our paddling a few days to allow Sharon to recover from her throat infection anyway.
The problem was getting us and the boats to the Cargo centre and ourselves back again before the flight let. The (now) helpful staff at Thai Airways checked our bags in on 'stand by' incase we didn't return in time. It wasn't hard to find a taxi driver willing to take us to the cargo centre with our kayaks. We didn't know where it was, so had to get him to call them up and get given directions in Thai. The driver was really helpful and even waited while we filled out the paperwork and then went on a mission to pay them – the cashier counter is in a completely different building again. To get to the cashier counter I had to head into a secure area accompanied by the Thai Airways driver (our taxi driver and Sharon had to stay in the main office) and then I needed to show the poor girls staffing the counter how to use their card payment machine. Chip and PIN is a pain to use abroad, most places don't understand it – this time it almost caused us to miss the flight as it took me ages to explain about the pin number to people who don't speak English.
At 10:10 (with our gate closing at 10:35) we had a 10 minute tax ride back to the airport terminal (where the driver expected extra money for having to wait so long) and luckily we were able to let the staff know to load our rucksacks and sprinted through security. We had to massively jump the queue at Passport control, but everyone in the line was understanding and allowed us to without too much complaining. The gate was one of the furthest away from check in, so we had to sprint and arrive just after the gate was due to close. We were the last people to board the plane and were out of breath and very surprised that we were actually on the plane.
The flight was amazing – we were above cloud level as we came into Kathmandu and saw the Himilaya sticking out above the clouds too – we were flying level with Everest, looking across the peaks of the highest mountains in the world.
Kathmandu brought us back down to ground, the airport was a strangely relaxed affair with no-one manning the walk through metal detectors and the staff seeming more intent on playing hangman on the computer than issuing visas. But we got through and found Ultimate Descents who are helping us with the logistics of this part of the trip. The theory is that if they organise it all, we end up paying a little extra, but end up getting to do much more and don't have to worry about putting 9 days worth of food in the back of the boats. The plan is to wait for a few days in Kathmandu, then head to the Seti for a 3 day trip, then 3 days on the Kali Gandaki and then 9 on the Sun Kosi, with one in Pokhara to relax and then we'll hook up with Intrepid for our overland trip to Delhi.
[Written 1st March 2008]
Addendum: a few days later, on attempting to pick up our boats, we had lots more hassle at the cargo centre. Luckily Ultimate Rivers sent a local guy with us. He didn't have a clue what was going on, but could at least ask people – their English wasn't great, although they knew well enough when it came to asking for money! The moral of the story is, don't ship a boat into Kathmandu. If you can't fly with one, hire one here.
From thunderstorms to glaring sun; that was the difference leaving the Aussie coast and heading into the centre made. We spent three very hot days seeing some very large and impressive rock formations with a cool tour group – we were up before dawn each day (and dawn is an early riser in the desert) to avoid having to walk in the midday sun. It was 31C before sunrise and only got hotter but this did mean we could sleep under the stars both nights, which is always great.
From Alice Springs we flew to Perth then on to Singapore for a night. We ate at a rather mediocre Chinese reestaurant and saw Pink Dolphins, but didn't have time for much else. We're now in Bangkok and are off to see Thailand.
(Our flight home is now confirmed for the 8th April – so it's not long 'til we'll be back in Blighty.)
We're just back from an over night trip on the Barrier reef where we did some awesome snorkelling and found Nemo's cousin (the real one they used for filming is in the Sydney aquarium, apparently). I got to see a turtle during my night dive, but they were elusive during the day. Early tomorrow morning we fly to the red hot centre of Oz to see a huge rock. In a few days time we're flying to Singapore (a new & surprising addition to our itinerary) and then on to Bangkok, for a week's lugging our backpacks around Thailand. Then we're off to Nepal and anything could happen!
It's still raining, but I expect that'll change tomorrow. We may not post many regular updates from now on, but keep the emails coming and letting us know how everythings going at home.
It's been raining here for ages… but we've done loads of cool stuff. Since we last blogged we've been to the Blue Mountains, the whitewater course in Penrith, then we headed up the coast to visit some of my rellies, Jean and Stan in Port Macquarie (their hospitality was great & we had proper home cooked food and a real bed!). We've continued up the coast, stopping in at a few places with cool beaches & beautiful views. We've been seeing more animals, Sharon got to cuddle a Koala & we've both held a baby crocodile – they're cuter than you'd imagine.
The last couple of days have been spent on the Gold Coast (near Brisbane) in theme/water parks – it's been great! The highlight for me was the flowrider – a static wave created by jets of water that you surf; the beaches around here have such big surf that they hold international professional competitions and scare me.
We're going to continue up the coast from Brisbane (we're in the city centre now) trying to avoid the monsoons.
The white clouds touched the horizon in every direction as Qantas flight 46 began its descent into Sydney's Kingford Smith airport. The roar of the jets were momentarily muffled as we passed into the layer of cloud that had been below us since Christchurch. Less than 3 hours earlier we had bee saying farewell to the country we'd called home for the last 3 and a half months. Soon we'd be arriving in a city larger than any we'd been to since leaving North America in September.
The engine roar returned and the pilot began banking as we emerged from the clouds. Below us lay Sydney, in all her glory. Underneath our left wing, the unmistakeable sails of the Opera house appeared, followed by the iconic bridge and then the skyscrapers that could denote any large city's CBD. We were in Australia, except the forecast was for rain and we couldn't see any kangaroos through the oval window…
Happy New Year one and all. We saw in the New Year in Murchison with a splash at the riverside campsite along with almost every other paddler in New Zealand.
We've been paddling with German Phil and a friend of his, Andre, for the last few days, notching up more runs on the Buller sections, Matakitaki and Glenroy. Phil and I paddled Maruia falls – a 30ft waterfall created by an earthquake in 1929. Good fun.
The plan at the moment is to leave Murchison today and head to the west coast where we can hopefully organise a helicopter to take us in to the Karamea for a multi-day trip.
We've been able to take more river photos now we've got a waterproof camera again, and some video too.
Murchison probably has more river runs in close proximity to each other than anywhere else in New Zealand, so it didn't take much brainpower to workout where to go after we finished chilling in Christchurch. We were planning on camping at the paddler's campsite by the river in town, but before we got there we found the source of the Buller, flowing out of Lake Rotoiti; the lake is set amongst mountains near St Arnaud and make an idyllic camping spot. The Upper Buller was low, due to lack of rain, but was still a good, short warm up run. Talking to the staff at the NZ Kayak School in Murchison after finishing the run it seemed everything in the area was low, but most of it was still runnable. Mick Hopkinson, kayak legend and school director, offered Sharon a free 1/2hour of coaching and based on that she booked on to a 4 day training course. In the few days we had until the course started we headed down and met up with Simon and Cheryl and some of their friends on the west coast.
Some of the worlds best creeks are located here, but the area is so sparsely populated and the mountain valleys so tightly packed that there are no roads to the top of them. Unlike the UK where almost every river has a road running along side it, to get to the top of these you need a helicopter. As usual Simon had a plan for hitting some harder runs and luckily I was able to get a warm up with them on the Whitcombe before flying into the Upper Hokitika – I'd need it.
There's something surreal about jumping out of the helicopter, keeping your head low as you untie your boat from the skids and drag it out of the way before covering your eyes as Bruce flies his helicopter away, leaving you with only one way out – downstream. The Hokitika is a full on run, with numerous vertical walled canyons, house sized boulders littered everywhere and a lot of gradient. Simon brought had notes from the guide book, but after the first couple of rapids it was obvious they were useless – the river is always changing, with land slides and erosion constantly creating new and challenging rapids. The last few groups we'd heard about had attempted it a few weeks previously after heavy rain an had both been trapped on the river by nightfall after making slow progress when they needed to portage one of the blind gorges, we made sure we had much lower levels. The group was strong – one of Simon's friends from Vermont, Ed, was in town and we'd met up with a French Canadian raft guide, Mike, who joined us – but we were still feeling apprehensive as Bruce flew away.
The river starts with a pushy gr4 – 4+ 'warm up' before the lines narrow and the consequences increase. We made an early start and by lunch had made good progress through the first gorge and into the second, with minimal portaging and few hiccups. Just after lunch we had the first swim of the day and my first swim this trip. Within a few yards of the launching was a drop, the line was to boof off the middle and head right. That's not quite what I did – I started left to give myself momentum heading right, but failed to get far enough right and dropped off the rock just left of centre. I cleared the stopper at the bottom of the drop, but landed in a pot hole that feed back around into the stopper. I was alternately surfing the hole and then the cushion wave in the pot hole, taking a roll every few recirculations. Ed was doing his best to get close enough to pass me the bow of his boat, but couldn't. As I felt my self tire, I pulled my spraydeck's release cord and abandoned ship, while I still had the energy. Timing my exit for the outer most point of the recirc., I pushed off the bottom with my feet and came clear of the hole, straight into the eddy, a little shaken and out of breath but otherwise unhurt. Ed attached himself to the end of a throw line and jumped in to grab my boat once the others had successfully run the drop. The rest of the river was filled with more tight lines and sticky holes and interesting portages. The entrance to the third gorge was messy, there were two boulders each the size of a large car in the middle of the river with unrunnable drops on the left and right. With the sheer cliffs either side, the only portage option was to catch a micro eddy in the middle above the drops and seal launch off the second rock. The rock would have been under water with more rain, so this was where the previous groups had had to walk around.
It was a tiring day – the committing gorges pushed us mentally and physically more than any other river I've paddled and we were all glad to see the impressive gates of Argonath and the last rapid, Fat Lady, almost had us singing. From Fat Lady we were on the lower Hokitika and pleasant warm down for a few km and then after the confluence with the Whitcombe we were on a flat paddle out for an hour or so – glad to be exiting in the Sun light.
The following day called for a lie-in before we headed to Christchurch to return our broken waterproof camera – it turned out not to be so waterproof and then we headed up the coast. Sharon will write up the seal and dolphin swimming, along with Nelson and the winery, but we're now back in Murchison and she's on her course while I catch up with some work.