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Islands of the Pacific
Last and final update: 15/9/2001

Easter Island or Rapa Nui
15/7 We were greeted at the tiny airport with flower rings (only when we booked the hotel). We are staying in a pretty hotel with a wonderfull ocean view and we can even see some Moai statues in the distance. In the hotel there are colourful weird paintings everywhere made by the owners son. The people here are very different to South America. They are of Polynesian origin and speak Rapa Nui. They are mostly large sturdy people with attractive faces and lovely long black hair.

16/7 The only town on the island is a tiny village. The total population of the island is less then 3000 plus tourists. We walked along the coast to the nearest Moai site: Ahu Tahai. There are five Moai standing in a line with their backs to the ocean. One has white coral eyes, very creepy to think he is staring at you. A big red stone is balanced on one of the statues, it is a topknot representing the hair of Polynesian kings. We arrived before the tourist bus and had the site to ourselves.

17/7 Yesterday we found ourselves sitting on a fallen Moai without realising what it was so today we decided to take an official tour in the hope of learning something. Most Moai around the island are lying face down onto the ground. They were pushed, either during tribal wars or by missionaries hoping to convert the islanders by destroying their culture. At one site they were knocked down by a tsunami and were found washed further inland.
We were then taken to the most impressive site of the island: 15 Moai stood in a line on a platform along the coast, some up to 10 meters tall weighing up to 70 tonnes. An imposing sight. Even more interesting was the crater where Moais were quarried. Many were deserted in situ during wars - so we could still see the Maois lying, partly carved, in the rock. Inside the crater is a lake surrounded by partly buried statues, buried so there faces could be carved. There eyes remained uncarved until they were standing in position. Many Moais broke during transport. The number of statues at this site is amazing - literally hundreds.
Late afternoon we visited Anakena beach, a tiny white sanded bay with warm water to swim in. Protecting the beach are 6 well preserved Moais with eyes and topknots, although by now Hilary was more interested in sun bathing.

18/7 Wonderfull day, so much nicer when we are on our own and not being herded round in a tour group. The island itself is beautifull, no huge mountains but instead gentle green hills perfect for walking. Everywhere is deserted. We walked up to Rano Kau, one of the three extinct volcanoes that formed the island. On our way we expored case with red cave paintings. At the top is the ceromonial village remains of Orongo. From here started the competition to find the first egg from sea birds that nest on a tiny islet just off the coast. The Polynesian competitors had to climb down the cliff, swim accross the ocean find the egg and get it back intact to be crowned as Birdman for that year. The competition stopped in the 19th century. We sunbathed on the side of the crater enjoying the peacefullness of the island. The impressive crater contains a lake with natural reed islands amongst the water.

19/7 We planned a very interesting walk today but only got one mile along the coast when it absolutely tipped down with rain. So we visited the museum instead, then went home and read our books and Luk cooked delicious pancakes.

20/7 Didn't risk another walk today so instead hired a car. We drove to all the sites we had yet to see, including the red stone topknot quarry, caves and some inland Moai. We had most places to ourselves and it was good fun driving the small Suzuki jeep through the muddy tracks. Even Hilary didn't mind driving, nothing to crash into apart from a few cows. We found a more secluded beach but unfortunately it was too cold to go swimming today.

21/7 Another long walk up to the highest point in the middle of the island. Luk had fun using the GPS all the way, he knew exactly where to go because someone in the hotel who also had a GPS gave him all the coordinates of the sites. From the highest point we had 360 degree view of the ocean encircling the island.

22/7 Flight to Tahiti.
Tahiti and Huahine
Tahiti brings up images of beautifull beaches but none of these exist on the island of Tahiti itself. Instead you have to one of the many other French Polynesian islands spread around Tahiti in a region as big as Europe. Most people stay in the Society Archipelago, the richest go to Bora Bora, we chose Huahine.
23/7 Five hour flight to Tahiti meant four hours time difference. As soon as we got off the plane our names were called out over the pa system 5 times in quick succession causing us to panic and jump the passport control queue. We went to the information desk wondering what was happening. It turned out they didn't think we'd paid airport tax in Santiago but the girl believed us when we said we had.
We arrived at midnight and decided to sleep on the floor in the airport and get the first Air Tahiti plane to Huahine at 7:30 am. The expensive prices here a shock to the system after 3 months in South America, the cheapest hotel room costs about 30 GBP compared to about 5 GBP.
After a short rest in the hotel we spent a day on the beach playing with a Polynesian boy who collected shells for us.
The island is very beautiful, huge green hills and clear warm blue water of the lagoons formed by the barrier coral reef.

24/7 Hired snorkels and flippers. We saw perhaps 15 species of tropical fish ranging from tiny electric blue to ones with large yellow stripes and many beautiful varieties in between. The lagoons are very calm as the ocean breaks over the barrier reef a few hundred meters off the coast. The bravest surfers swim out to the waves the rest take a small motorboat. Luk tried to swim out but was stopped by a strong current.

25/7 The best day of our travels so far - a posh boat tour around the island. We snorkelled over coral reef and saw even more fish. From the boat we saw about 12 stingrays and a couple of leopard rays shooting past. We couldn't swim with them because they had their tails up in an aggressive gesture. A jumping fish managed to keep up with the boat.
We stopped at a white sand beach for picnic lunch: 'poisson cru' raw fish washed in the ocean, covered with lime juice, mixed with salad and milk of coconut squeezed onto it. Luk ate some but unfortunately neither of us like fish so we stuck to the chicken and beer.
The highlight of the day was the shark feeding. We were able to get into the water only about 250m from the coast and watch underwater using our snorkels. Only a couple of meters away from us an expert fed 9 black tipped sharks up to 1.7m long. Swarms of tropical fish were also interested in the free food. Sometimes a shark seemed to stare at us before turning back to the food.

26/7 Far cheaper today, we looked at renting bikes or motor cycles but decided to hitchhike instead. There is no real bus service on the island so locals are used to hitchhikers. We quickly got a lift to the archelogical site of Maeva. Lots of stones and not very inspiring after Easter Island. We walked further up the coast to the posh hotel and the coral reef garden where we did more snorkelling. Got a lift even faster back.

27/7 Rain in the morning and long boat journey back to Tahiti in the afternoon on which we both felt seasick.

28-29/7 Rain, rain and more rain. Stayed in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia. Not a great deal to do apart from the black pearl museum, the market and walk along the waterfront admiring the huge cruise ships.
New Zealand
31/7 Could have sworn yesterday was Sunday but today is definately Tuesday in New Zealand. Quite what happened to Monday the 30th...
Narrowly escaped a fine at the airport for trying to 'smuggle' a bulb of garlic into the country. They let us off with a stern talking to. We had already declared powdered milk and rice and they believed we just forgot about the garlic. They cleaned all our shoes for us in case we transported foot and mouth.
There is a far better network of backpacker hostals and transport here. Auckland is a modern clean capital city with surprisingly little traffic and low prices although still more expensive then South America.
Luk was saddened to hear his granddad had died although it was expected.

1-2/8 Spent most of the time planning and organizing the next leg of our trip. We start the Kiwi Experience on 3rd August - a six week bus tour of most of NZ, we can hop on and off the bus any time and spend as long as we like anywhere. We plan to go skiing 3 days in the South Island.

3/8 First day of the Kiwi Experience. It is far more organised then we thought, basically we don't have to think just hand over the money. Consequently the bus is full of 18 year old English kids on a year out before Uni. One of them even managed to put a six pack of beer bottles on the luggage rack above the bus seats. First corner they came crashing down, fortunately missing everyone.
We were taken to a beautiful beach near Waitianga, with a stunning archway splitting the beach into two. The bus dropped us off right in front of our the hostel where the driver had pre-booked a room for us. The hostel is notable for two things: firstly a jacuzzi! secondly the fattest cat we have ever seen! The owner said the cat was as big as a baby but we think she meant to say toddler. In the evening everyone got together for a BBQ followed by cardgames and lots of drink.

4/8 It is so tempting to spend all our money on activities that we wouldn't do if it wasn't so convenient to do them. We are now in Rotorua and we visited the geysers and boiling mud pools. The whole town smells of rotten eggs. Our hostel has two thermal spa pools both far too hot to get into and very smelly, so we stuck to the outdoor swimming pool which is heated using thermal water.
In the evening we went to a Maori concert and meal, we were treated to a traditional Maori peace offering and welcome with much excellent dancing and singing. The meal consisted of food cooked in a Hangi, a Maori oven using hot stones. On the bus back a representative from each of the countries present had to sing a song in their language. Hilary was lucky, there were at least 15 English people. Luk was the only Belgian present and ended up singing a flemish song at the front of the bus to avoid walking home.

5/8 Stayed another night in Rotorua so that Luk could go white water rafting. This involved going over a 7m waterfall! Hilary was very thankful she didn't go. The raft managed to stay upright after going down the waterfall (about 50% end up upside down) therefore the guide told Luk to jump off the raft to swim over a smaller waterfall. Photo on top and bottom of the waterfall.

6/8 The kiwi bus took us to Waitomo caves where we went tubing. This involved climbing, swimming and floating on huge rubber tires through the caves. The water in the caves was about 6 degrees and although we wore wetsuits our feet went numb. The cave itself was amazing, stalagtites, stalagmites and columns. The best bit was turning out our torches and staring up at the glowworms that lit up the cave like stars in the night sky.

7/8 Arrived in Taupo last night and everyone congregated in the bar at the top of our hostel. Decided not to go on any activities today to save money although Luk was tempted to go skydiving. Instead we walked around town and the lake.

8/8 The bus took us to various places of interest today including a spectacular dam release and a geothermal power station, the area is crisscrossed with huge metal pipes, 15% of New Zealands power comes from this site. We continued the drive through Tongariro National Park and had a pleasant walk in the bush.

9/8 Luk is now limping after rafting for a second time this week. The rafting was through a grade 5 river and Luk's raft flipped over throwing him out into the most dangerous rapids of the river. He bashed his leg against a rock while trying to keep above water. Another raft came to the rescue. He described it afterwards as being 'scary'.

10/8 We stayed in the capital Wellington last night but didn't see much of it as we had a 9:30 ferry crossing to the South Island. The crossing was through the beautiful fiords of the Marlborough Sounds.

11/8 Day to ourselves in Nelson. Couldn't do too much walking because of Luk's leg but he managed to limp up to geographical centre of New Zealand, conveniently situated on top of a hill with a fine view.

12/8 Took a boat trip along the coast of the Abel Tasman National Park, very pretty scenery: golden beaches and interesting rock formations. The weather is beautiful with crystal clear light and blue skies, perfect for the 4 hour walk through the park. We walked partly along the beaches and mostly through dense sub tropical jungle with palmtrees and ferntrees, we saw a few native birds including the Pukeko. The sea is clear and clean we would love to be here in the summer and swim in it.

13/8 A short walk through Nelson Lakes National Park, nearly every day the Kiwi bus drops us off for an hour walk somewhere to break up the journey between towns. The lakes are framed by huge snow capped mountains. Rain this afternoon when we arrived at the small town of Westport.

14/8 First thing a lovely walk along the coast where we were able to look over the cliffs to see 20-30 fur seals lazing on the rocks with their puppies. Another part of the coast had stacks of 'pancake' rocks so called because their thin layers can be clearly seen. The blow hole was spectacular. Tonight we are staying in a hostel in the middle of nowhere. As there is nothing else to do everybody was forced to attend a cross dressing night at the hostel's pub. Hilary had great fun dressing Luk up in her short black dress, tights, high heels and sequined head scarf. The best bit was the make up, red lipstick and black beauty spot.
The look was completed with handbag, necklace and nail varnish. Hilary was far more boring just dressed in jeans, shirt, waistcoat and tie although she was embarassed about the moustache. The reward for all this was a chance to win a bungy jump through a prize draw. Hilary won the free bungy video pack which she generously (cowardly) donated to Luk.

15/8 Stopped off at a peaceful river valley where everyone had a chance to go goldpanning, paintballing or, like us, just strolling along the river trying to take the postcard photos of sheep with their lambs framed by snow capped mountains. The others actually found some gold crumbs, this area was once very rich.

16/8 We splashed out today on a Heli Hike. A helicopter ride to the middle of the Franz Jozef Glacier and a two hour hike through crevices and caves in the ice using cramp-ons and pick axes. The glacier itself descends to just 250 meters above sea level into sub tropical forest. Luk is now fully recovered from his leg.

17/8 Another walk around a lake to see the famous view of Mounts Tasman and Cook reflected in Lake Matheson. The reflection is almost perfect except for the ducks that swim across the lake.

18/8 The Kiwi bus took us straight to Puzzling World near Wanaka where we completed a two storey maze, apparently New Zealand is famous for its mazes. In the afternoon Luk jumped off the Kawarau bridge, 43 meters above a river, attached only by a towel and elastic bands. He has the photos and video to prove it. This is the world's first original bungy site.

19/8 Queenstown - adrenalin capital of the world. We went jet boating along the Shotover River swooping just inches away from jutting out rocks, terrifying Hilary.

20/8 Hilary's birthday! So Hilary insisted on taking the lazy option of climbing the mountain: the gondola. We walked further up to the snowline and couldn't go any further because of the ice on the path. We ate chocolate cake in the gondola cafe with a beautiful view over Queenstown. We dined at an indian restaurant, unfortunately not as nice as our local indian in Birmingham.

21-22/8 Back in Wanaka, so we can use our free skiing tickets that we got with the Kiwi Bus. We chose the right day as yesterday all the slopes were closed due to bad weather, but today has apparently the best snow of the season. We both had lessons included in the package, Luk advanced and Hilary intermediate. The slopes go right down to the snowline and are about 40 minutes by bus from Wanaka, very different to the French Alps. We could the lakes and snowless valley below. Luk got very tired going straight off piste with the instructor after only a warm up with Hilary on the beginners slope.

23/8 Back in Queenstown later then expected. The bus we had booked forgot to pick us up so Hilary shouted at them down the phone and managed to get a free ride to Queenstown! Most buses provide door to door service to central hostels which is very convenient unless they mess it up.

24/8 Got up early to catch the 'Bottom Bus' which takes us to the far south of the South Island. We arrived in Dunedin early enough to do a tour of the peninsula, first involving a visit to the Royal Albatros Centre. This is the only place where the albatros nests on the mainland and we saw three huge chicks waiting for their parents to feed them. After that we went to the penguin sanctuary, here we were able to walk along the coast past the fur seals and a couple of blue penguins to the beach where the rarest penguin in the world nests: the Yellow Eyed Penguin. Through specially made tunnels and hides we were able to observe about 12 penguins coming back from the sea after a days fishing. They really do have bright yellow eyes and yellow feathers around their heads. Through the hides we saw them up close, they know we are there but are not bothered by us.

25/8 The bus stopped off at a couple of interesting places today including a petrified forest, a prehistoric forest 180 milion years old destroyed by volcanic ash and subsequently fossilised. The stone tree trunks were strewn across the beach in amongst the fossilised tree stubs. The highlight of the day, possibly of New Zealand, had to be the sea lions. They were lazing on a narrow sandy beach and we saw at least 12 some absolutely huge. Our bus driver guided us past the sealions further down the beach, but when we turned to go back to the coach, two troublemakers had come out of the sea and started a fight with the other sealions. The beach being only 10 meters wide and filled by five angry sealions nobody wanted to risk passing them so we climed up the sand dunes to get back. That night everyone went to the pub and watched New Zealand All Blacks beat South Africa. We started talking to a couple of local men who tried to sell us a three bedroomed house for 40.000 NZ$, about 12.000 GBP and were convinced Hilary was actually 'Nigella Bites'.

26/8 Te Anau: A pleasant small town beside a lake with an interesting bird reserve. Huge confined areas hold various native New Zealand birds including the Takahe of which there are 200 left in the world. Most of the others we have already seen in the wild including the Kea, an alpine parrot that we saw during our day skiing.

27/8 Milford Sound is supposed to be the most beautiful part of NZ, huge fiords and mountains that rise straight out of the ocean. We took a boat trip through the fiords and saw a fur seal tormenting a school of fish diving in and out of the water and swimming round and round much like a sheepdog rounds up sheep, very entertaining.

28/8 Back in Queenstown where we spent the day skiing at Coronet Peak. The snow wasn't as good as at Treble Cone but the weather was far better.

29/8 Finally left Queenstown for good and got back on the Kiwi bus to Christchurch. It was a long drive made interesting by a few things. Firstly, 'sheep driving' hundreds of sheep being herded along the road, great fun to watch. We passed fires along side the road presumably controlled burning of the scrubland. Finally a small church where Captain Cook's dog is buried.

30/8 We were expecting Christchurch to be nicer but a vagabond decided to spend half the night trying to sleep in our hostel and helping himself to our food before being chucked out by the night manager. Not far from our hostel we saw about six glue sniffers. Apart from that we are staying in a lovely hostel.

31/8 Short bus journey to Kaikoura where we had the opportunity to swim with Dusky dolphins. The experience was amazing. We jumped off the boat about 20 minutes out to sea, immediately into a pod of 400-500 dolphins. We wore wetsuits and snorkels and swam with them for about 20 minutes, not even noticing the cold as we were totally absorbed in playing with the dolphins. They are very inquisitive animals and swam right up to us spinning us round and round in circles as we tried to turn with them. They look us right in the eye tempting us to follow them. They were particularly interested when we sang to them through our snorkels. They were close by but whenever we reached out to touch them they shot away.
The time went far to quickly and before we knew it we were back on the boat shivering. We then had some time to take photos of them sommersaulting and showing off to us.

1/9 Rainy day so we spent most of it playing scrabble with people in the hostel. We walked up to the local seal colony and admired the 3 or 4 seals lazing on the rocks.

2/9 Ferry journey back up to the North Island through the very picturesque Marlborough Sounds. In the evening we played giant Jenga making the bar shake as the blocks crashed to the floor.

3/9 Wellington, the capital of New Zealand has a very interesting free Musuem where we spent most of the day.

4/9 Spent half of Luk's birthday on the bus to Taupo where we celebrated in the pub.

5/9 We had planned to stay in Taupo to do some walking but as the weather is awful and there is nothing to do here when it rains, we decided to go straight up to Rotorua. At least here we have a hostel with a geothermally heated swimming pool that we can enjoy in any weather.

6/9 The weather had cleared enough for us to have a very pleasant walk through the beautiful Redwood Forest. That evening while swimming in the pool Luk started talking to some Belgian people who happened to be from Leuven as well. They started exchanging names of people they knew and found quite a few in common including someone Luk remembers from scouting who was also staying in our hostel! We met up with him in the pub afterwards where Luk and Joeri Behets reminised about Belgium and scouting etc. They travelled through South America as well and had one of their large backpacks stolen at a bus station in Bolivia despite being three guys together.

7/9 Back in Auckland which doesn't seem very nice compared to the rest of New Zealand, the rain doesn't help...

8/9 Saw various sites of Auckland today including the Skytower, a rather more inelegant version of the CN Tower in Toronto. We visited the interesting Memerial Museum where we gave a compulsory 'donation' of each. It was mostly about Maori and Pacific history, Easter Island only mentioned once.

9/9 Long drive with a mad camp Maori driver to the Bay of Islands and its beautiful weather. Unfortunately nobody warned us about the sandflies and we've been eaten alive. The Bay of Islands is exactly what it says and very pretty.

10/9 Day trip further up north, first stop at a kauri forest: huge tall trees. We drove along Ninety Mile Beach, officially a highway and actually 91 kilometers long. The driver had great fun driving through the surf. The bus was well adapted to the salt water made of aluminium and with the engine on the bus beside the driver. The tide regularly catches out drivers and a rusted buried car proved this. Just off the beach there were huge sand dunes where Luk finally got to do sandboarding. We continued further north to Cape Reinga, the northern most point of New Zealand, and very spiritual to the Maori people.

11/9 The weather really can't make up its mind and there is nothing to do in the Bay of Islands when it rains. At least the hostel was very comfortable with a jacuzzi.

12/9 Back in Auckland. Saw the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York. Can't believe we were at the top of that just a few months ago. Many people here are supposed to be flying to LA on the next part of their world trip but they don't know what to do now as their flights are cancelled.

13-14/9 Spent the days organising various things for our departure to Australia and exploring Auckland.

15/9 Flying to Sydney, continued on the Australia page...