A Travellerspoint blog

The Marvellous Maldives

8 days in Paradise

sunny 31 °C

We arrived at the gorgeous Finolhu resort after a 40 minute sea plane ride from Male International Airport. The short flight over found us unable to tear our eyes away from the scenery below as we flew over dark turquoise waters covered in a multitude of lighter turquoise rings, many of them also home to other luxury resorts. It was so exciting when we spotted our little piece of Paradise below us!
We were greeted with a cold face towel and drink to refresh us before being driven in a little golf buggy to our overwater bungalow - our home for the next 7 nights. Finolhu is a new resort having only been open for a year, they have done an amazing job of styling the resort. Everything is cool, funky and retro, being on Baa Atoll they have capitalised on the name and have little sheep ornaments dotted all over the place.
Our villa was pure luxury with His and Hers wardrobes and sinks, a huge comfortable bed, 3 showers (indoor, outdoor and one on the deck to rinse off after swimming in the sea), a huge deck with chairs, loungers and a sofa - all beautifully styled and with the most amazing view of the turquoise lagoon.
We had left Male just before 11am but landed at 1.30pm as Finolhu operates on it's own time zone, 2 hours ahead of Male making sunrise around 8am and sunset at 8pm.
Finolhu is a place where you can do as much or as little as you wish. We took up the offer of many activities but still had plenty of relaxation time. As part of the 'package' that we got through Luxury Escapes (highly recommended) we had all our meals included and could visit any of the restaurants on offer. Fish and Crab Shack & Kanusan became firm favourites of ours. The Crab Shack is at the end of the sand spit and we made several journeys there for lunch. The king crab spaghetti in truffle cream sauce was divine as was the view.
We also received 2 complimentary sessions at the spa, our first was a whole body 'jet lag' massage that we had on our second day and then just before we left we each had a rejuvenating facial, utter bliss! The spa area is made up of lots of little luxury spas each named after a musical diva, all very fitting with the general decor of Finolhu.
Each day different complimentary activities are put on for guests ranging from yoga to TRX Training. Over the week we took part in Sunrise Yoga on the sand spit and a Romantic Stretch session which had us in fits of giggles for a lot of it! I tried Stand Up Paddleboarding for the first time and quite enjoyed it.
Gerald took part in the Feel The Sand Island Jog which had him run almost 5km along the sand spit in the 30 degree heat, I am not sure how much he enjoyed that!
Guests are also invited to have a one hour photo shoot done around the island and receive one complimentary print, we ended up buying a further 5 photos as we wanted to have a nice memento of our time in the Maldives.
We also did a couple of paid excursions, the first was a trip to snorkel with Manta Rays and although expensive it really was a fantastic experience swimming alongside these magnificent, gentle, graceful giants. I will let the photos tell the story....
Our second trip was a morning dive at a coral reef nearby to our island. We hadn't been diving for 2 1/2 years so we were both feeling a little anxious and had to do some refresher exercises before leaving on the boat to the dive site. As we arrived at the dive site a pod of dolphins swam past leaping out of the water but by the time we got in they were long gone.
We did a 50 minute dive along a wall full of coral and colourful fish (which never photograph very well with our amateur equipment!). We also saw a moray eel, puffer fish and a turtle that swam off before we had chance to take a photo.
Finolhu put on entertainment each afternoon and night with silks, fire shows and they even have a resident mermaid that frequents the pool!
We had a few wildlife encounters on the island, each day as we walked along the boardwalk to our villa we would keep our eyes on the water. We saw little sharks, a variety of rays and many different fish. In other parts of the island we saw hermit crabs in abundance, the odd lizard and every evening the bats would fly above our heads.
Much of the time we chose to relax at the beach swimming, sunbathing and reading. Being 'off season' we were often the only guests there and could have our pick of sun loungers! We never tired of the view.
We really enjoyed our stay at Finolhu with it's laid back feel despite being a luxury resort. Our only regret is that we couldn't stay for another week!

Posted by bumblebum 17:36 Archived in Maldives Republic Tagged diving sea_plane paradise maldives finolhu luxury_escapes manta-rays Comments (0)

Antarctica - The Great White Continent

all seasons in one day 0 °C

Day 1-3
An entire plane load waited with baited breath as they peeked out of the tiny windows. There was nothing to see but a thick white fog. After the two hour flight from Punta Arenas, Chile, we were keeping everything crossed that the plane was not about to make an about turn and head straight back...
We started to make the descent and then the plane erupted into celebratory clapping as the wheels touched down on the gravel runway. We had made it to the Great White Continent. Antarctica.
After booking this trip 15 months prior and saving hard for a whole year we had finally made it to the number one destination on my Bucket List. I almost had to pinch myself to believe it really was happening!

The previous night, at our briefing (otherwise known, in my opinion, as 'A million and one ways to die in Antarctica'), we had been informed that it didn't look promising for our flight making it the next day. A collective groan had made its way around the room, if this happened 4 days in a row the entire trip got cancelled.
At the end of the briefing, where I now feared I may die from falling down a crevasse, get attacked by an elephant seal, get stuck on land in a blizzard lasting for days with no food or shelter, be hit by giant chunks of ice flying through the air from a calving iceberg (you get the picture...), we got told that there was a very small window of time that looked good for landing but that the flight would be much earlier than originally planned. Breakfast would be at 5am and the airport buses would leave at 5.45. Cue the cheers!

After landing we were escorted along the runway to the waiting zodiacs. As we walked the 1.5km journey to the coastline we were greeted by a glimpse of what Antarctica had to offer, a pale blue iceberg floated just off shore and a lone penguin hopped onto the beach for a quick greeting before diving back into the icy waters.

We clambered onto the zodiacs to reach our home for the next 10 days - Quark's 'Sea Adventurer'.

The rest of that first day continued to be foggy and we saw very little of the white beauty that we knew was out there. Instead we got to meet our expedition guides and boat crew and continued to be warned of ways we could die if we didn't follow the rules! And we ate - a lot (all trip). Big buffet lunches, afternoon tea, 3 course dinners, buffet breakfasts every day. As long as we were on the boat, no one was going hungry! We also started to get to know some of the other passengers before heading to bed after a long day.

As I pulled the curtains back the next morning I was greeted with a much clearer sky and views of Enterprise Island. We had sailed a considerable distance through the night.

As soon as breakfast was done they started to load us onto the zodiacs to take us around the island.
Our group was last and when our turn finally came around our long wait was rewarded with a visit from a group of humpback whales. A mother and calf repeatedly swam around our zodiac constantly showing their flukes. Another lifelong wish had been granted. That day we probably saw in the region of 200 flukes, each whale proudly showing their unique markings under tail over and over again.
Entering Wilhelmina Bay gave a glimpse into the history of Antarctica with a sunken whaling ship sitting, rusting in the shallow waters, we could see harpoon heads through the jagged holes.
The whole area was beautiful with tall snow covered mountains and little icebergs floating by.

During lunch we set sail again,this time towards the Lemaire Channel.
I don't believe that any words can truly describe this experience.
The channel is about 7 miles long, 300m deep and not very wide. At the far end are two 'gatekeepers', enormous icebergs that drift back and forth. Our captain decided to attempt passage as the waters were calm and the wind was gentle. As we sailed along there was barely a word spoken as we all admired the breath taking beauty of the majestic volcanic mountains either side of us, with their snowy tops and valleys full of glaciers, reflecting in the calm waters. Seals basked in the sunshine on small icebergs. Tiny penguins leapt through the water speeding along. Icebergs of different shapes and sizes floated by, each with little hints of blue.
As we rounded the bend we caught sight of the gatekeepers. They were enormous. Huge chunks of crisp white ice just a mere 10m from the side of our vessel. Our captain and his crew did an amazing job of navigating us through the narrow channel that became increasingly filled with icebergs much, much bigger than the ones that had impressed us so much earlier that morning.

It was hard to tear ourselves away from such beauty but dinner was called and we reluctantly left. By the time dinner was over we were in open water and needed our sea legs to move about. Walking in a straight line was no longer an option! Thank goodness for sea sickness prevention medications.

Day 4
Thankfully we woke to calm, mirrored waters again. After breakfast we wrapped up warmly and headed back up to the deck. I'm fairly sure it's impossible to get fed up of this scenery. Pretty soon the entire expedition crew and all guests were gathered together in anticipation of the ship crossing the Antarctic Circle. As we watched the GPS creep towards its' target the crew handed out champagne. The captain signalled the event with a long, loud blast of the foghorn and the celebratory cheers began.

After crossing the circle we sailed through Crystal Sound. We saw small, flat pieces of broken sea ice floating past us, reminding me of lily pads on a pond. Before long the pieces grew both in size and number and we could hear them crashing against the hull of the boat as we sailed by. Many of the larger pieces had seals basking in the sun. They looked at us grumpily as we passed, creating little waves, disturbing their peace.
After a while the ice pieces became too big and numerous the captain turned the ship around. This was as far south as we were going to go.

Once the waters became freer of ice the ship came to a stop. The time had come for all the brave (or stupid!) people to do the Polar Plunge. Just under half of the ships' passengers got changed into their swimming gear and one by one they were attached to a rope and leapt off the gangplank into the 2 degree water.
There were plenty of gasps and declarations of 'it's cold!'
Gerald decided that as he was here he should take the plunge so he got in line and enthusiastically jumped in.He confirmed that it was extremely cold and that it momentarily took his breath away. Thankfully he lived to tell the tale!

After lunch we spent over an hour in the zodiac zooming around Crystal Sound, getting much closer to the seals. We saw plenty of Crabeaters and one Weddell. Being in the zodiac also meant we could get much closer to the icebergs. The last one before returning to the ship was gigantic, full of caves and deep blue crevasses.
We were supposed to do a landing on Detaille Island but the ice was too thick for us to approach safely.

After dinner we listened to one of the crew tell hilarious anecdotes about his working years that ultimately led him to work each winter in Antarctica. Each day a different staff member leads a talk. They all have such interesting backgrounds and stories to tell.

Just as we were getting ready for bed we sailed past a tabular iceberg which was at least a kilometre long and between 30 & 40m high. I took a photo through our porthole but photos really don't give any idea of the sheer enormity of these icebergs as there is nothing else nearby to give it perspective. Some have been as big as a car, others as big as a giant multi storey car park. They really are incredible.

Day 5
We had sailed through the night towards Petermann Island. As we approached the island by zodiac we could see small, vertical black lines covering every rock - penguins! There was much excitement aboard as this was our first landing and our first close up penguin encounter. The smell of guano, penguin poo, hit us as we got closer. It really is quite pungent in the otherwise crisp air of Antarctica.
Two types of penguin were breeding, originally the island had been full of Adelie penguins but now it is predominantly the Gentoo penguin. The Gentoos were there to greet us as we stepped ashore, waddling along side us, curious. Many others were sitting on their grey pebbled nests with their fluffy grey chicks. We watched in amusement as one cheeky penguin continually stole pebbles from other nests to build his own, despite the fact that egg laying season was most definitely over.
The guides had mapped out two routes for us to walk safely whilst also ensuring we didn't disturb any nesting sites. The first route led up to the Adelie nesting site. The Adelie penguin is deep black with a stark white tummy and eyes. Their chicks were much larger than the Gentoo chicks, dark grey and very fluffy.
The Gentoos have a bright orange bill and a white patch on their head so they were quite easy to tell apart.
The other track led to an amazing viewpoint of the area we had just sailed through, full of icebergs glinting in the sunshine.

After lunch we had a zodiac cruise around the Yalour Islands. We saw lots more Adelie penguins leaping in and out of the water, sliding down the snowy slopes on their stomachs and generally having fun.
We also saw some amazing icebergs, one had a melt lake in the centre causing a bright green reflection on the ice above it.
This cruise also gave us our first leopard seal sighting. Another fabulous day with breathtaking scenery in every direction.

Day 6
An early zodiac cruise to Pleneau Bay was first on the agenda. The sky was very overcast which meant that the variation in colours of each iceberg was very noticeable. Some of them were incredibly blue. Although it was 5 degrees today the wind was blowing at 25 knots making it feel much colder. We also had a snow flurry whilst we were zipping about the icebergs.
As we approached the island you could smell guano, it was clear we were close to a penguin colony and as we approached, sure enough, Gentoos were everywhere.
We watched them leaping in and out of the water whilst others huddled over their tiny chicks keeping them protected from the icy winds. We got close to the iceberg graveyard, full of decaying icebergs, growlers and bergy bits, but with such strong winds it wasn't safe to actually enter as we could have easily got trapped.

As soon as all the zodiacs were back on board we set sail for the Lemaire Channel again. A completely different sight this time with an overcast sky, strong winds and snow. The first voyage saw every passenger standing on deck, this time it was just a handful braving the cold and wind.

As the day progressed the winds were averaging between 30 & 35 knots with gusts up to 59 knots. Instead of the planned landing on Damoy Point we listened to 3 of the crew in their specialist areas. Adrian talked about penguins, Michael talked about climate change and the global consequences if Antarctica continues to melt at the rate it is and Ariane discussed sea ice ecology and how vital it is to the food chain. All three talks were very informative and interesting.

Day 7
The weather did not improve overnight and as well as the gusting wind it was also raining hard. We weren't sure if we were going to get to Port Lockroy. The original plan was half the passengers would go to Port Lockroy for an hour whilst the other half visited Jouglar Point then we would swap over. Eventually the guides decided it would be more comfortable to just visit Port Lockroy and for only half an hour to avoid getting soaked and cold. We were one of the first groups to head over, we bumped our way over the waves and kept our heads ducked as the rain pelted down. Once we arrived on the tiny island, the size of a football pitch, we were greeted by lots of Gentoo penguins and their chicks. One of the adults strolled right past me no more than a metre away, stopped to observe me a while, then carried on his way.
We headed inside Base A to have a look around the historic site which has been turned into a shop and museum. It was a great insight as to how the British men stationed there would have lived all those decades ago.
The main reason we had been so keen to get here was because it was also the location of a geocache. We signed the log, left a trackable penguin that wanted to live with the penguins of Antarctica and felt pleased that we had now cached on all seven continents.

After lunch we relocated to Paradise Harbour to make our first landing on the actual mainland of the continent rather than just the islands. The base here was Argentinian and was staffed by a friendly Argentinian who insisted that I sign the visitor book.
Once again there was a small colony of Gentoo penguins that were feeding their chicks and improving their nests with newly found stones.
As we had 90 minutes to explore I made my way up a steep incline to a viewpoint. It was hard work climbing up the snow covered mountain but the views were worth it. It was even harder coming back down as the compacted snow was quite slippery in places.

After the landing we had just over an hour in the zodiac exploring the harbour. The mountain side was free of snow in places and had beautiful colours all over where moss and lichens were growing on it.
Antarctic cormorants were nesting on the cliff face and their chicks were flapping their wings madly getting in practise for their first ever flight. The whole harbour had glaciers running down the valleys to the water and being an overcast day the blues were very noticeable in the ice. Much of the ice looked like it would calve off at any time but we didn't get to witness such a sight.
We came across a couple of crabeater seals resting on an iceberg and watched them for a while before heading back to the ship for a BBQ dinner on the deck with views of Paradise Harbour. It was 6 degrees!

Day 8
When we woke in Neko Harbour it was a balmy 7 degrees outside and the wind had dropped. This was another continent landing and this time we had about 2 hours to explore. Once again the guides marked out safe pathways as previous ships had warned of a new crevasse that had suddenly appeared on the usual route.
Gerald spent the whole time watching for calvings as this is a well known bay for activity. I decided to follow the route to the top viewpoint again, along the way we got very close to a penguin colony as this area has 250 breeding pairs of Gentoos. I had my photo taken with the Antarctica flag, penguins and snowy ice caps in the background.
I watched the penguins for ages, the little chicks just a couple of weeks old feeding from their mothers throats.
I made my way back down and watched the penguins playing in the shallow waters. Suddenly they all hopped out, huddled together and faced the same direction. Then a Weddell seal popped its' head out of the water. The penguins never stopped watching it. The seal then hauled himself out of the water onto the rocky beach, every time he moved we could hear the pebbles scraping along underneath his weight. As soon as he came onto the land all the penguins jumped back in the water and continued playing.
We then got the call to return to the zodiac, life jackets went on and cameras got packed up. About 5 of us had climbed onto the zodiac and I was admiring the valley glaciers when there was an almighty crack and then a deep rumble, like thunder, as a huge piece of the glacier fell into the sea. Our guide Mike started repeatedly yelling at everyone waiting to get onto the zodiac to run up the beach. Then he started the engine and we zoomed off further away as we observed a huge wave rush towards the beach. All the icebergs started rocking back and forth and we got bounced about in the zodiac. It was an impressive sight but sadly not one that we caught on camera! This was definitely the best landing of the trip so far. Not long after we got back on the ship three humpback whales spent some time around us, spouting their water up in the air and showing their dorsal fins. Then one by one they dove down deeper each showing their tails before disappearing.

After lunch we landed on Cuverville Island.
The temperature had risen to ten degrees and many of the penguins were lying on their tummies in the snow trying to cool down. Cuverville has over 4800 breeding pairs of Gentoos and they were everywhere. I did a lot more standing and observing rather than taking photographs over our two and a half hour visit. It was great watching the penguins waddle past us. Because of the warm weather the snow was rapidly melting and we saw little waterfalls forming over the rocks and streams were heading down to the sea.
As we walked along the beach we noticed some large pieces lying on the ground, we assumed the pieces were driftwood but as we walked further we realised they were bones, most probably from a blue whale as several enormous vertebrate lay beside the jawbone which was a few metres long.
Several seals were swimming between the icebergs and as we watched them a large iceberg suddenly calved, again creating that thunderous sound and sending waves towards the shore.

Day 9
Our first landing of the day was at Whalers Bay on Deception Island. We had an earlier wake up call than usual as we were entering the caldera through Neptune's Bellows which was narrow and craggy and it was suggested we should stand on deck to see the entrance.
Upon landing we headed along the black, volcanic beach to Neptune's Window for views out to sea between a gap in the dramatic walls of the caldera.
In 1967 there was lots of volcanic activity and the area was evacuated, the glaciers became full of volcanic ash and matter. When the glaciers melted in 1968 the volcanic matter inside the glaciers created a dam which eventually burst and destroyed all the buildings in the area, knocking them off their foundations and semi burying them. Now they sit there decaying and rusting providing shelter for the many birds and fur seals that live in the area.
There is evidence of the whaling activity that went on with huge vats that held the blubber and many whale bones laying on the black sand.
As the area is still active the sand was hot in places and it created steam where it made contact with the water.

For the driest continent in the world we sure had a lot of rain! Our afternoon landing almost didn't happen as it was coming down so hard along with 20 knot winds. We did eventually end up on Half Moon Island and we finally got to see chinstrap penguins up close. There was a penguin highway over the rocks that they all waddled over back and forth. Many of them were just lying on the beach with their wings out trying to cool down on this very mild day.
After spending a long while watching the penguins we headed to the other side of the island to see the fur seals. They were mostly just lazing on the beach but some were a little feisty with each other.
This was by far the wettest it had been and we decided to head back to the ship a little earlier than we needed to to get dry and warm again.

Our final night on the ship had arrived. As usual we had a lovely dinner including a chocoholic buffet for dessert. After dinner it was the Captains cocktail party followed by a slideshow of photos from our trip.
Nine amazing, unforgettable days in the great, white continent had come to an end.

Day 10
Not all went as it should have! The next morning we could not see land in any direction and the plane coming to get us was not safe to land. We waited all day for a break in the weather but it never came. Late afternoon we were told that we would definitely be spending another night on the boat. The staff entertained us with movies, lectures, anecdotes and an Antarctic quiz night. Passengers frantically contacted insurance companies and travel agents to reschedule flights. We were warm, comfortable, well fed but definitely stranded.

Day 11
We woke to blue skies and sunshine and were told the flights would land at 11am. Then the fog rolled in again. The flights got postponed again. This time they were due to land at 3pm but didn't arrive until almost 4pm. By the time we finally took off it was 5pm. We missed our flight to Santiago and had to change our flights home. Thank goodness for insurance.

Posted by bumblebum 09:45 Archived in Antarctica Comments (3)

Adventures in Argentina

A trip to Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls

sunny 32 °C

We decided that if we were travelling all the way to South America for our Antartica trip that we should probably see some of South America beforehand. So we found ourselves renting a cute apartment in Palermo Hollywood, Buenos Aires for 5 days.
We explored the city in our usual way, by geocaching. On day one we covered a lot of ground, first walking around the beautiful botanical gardens. They are full of flora from all over the world, dotted in between are many sculptures and plenty of benches for you to sit and admire the views, although some were occupied by cats!
We wandered a little further to Recoleta to collect another cache before returning back to the apartment for an afternoon relaxing by the pool and then dinner with an ex colleague of Gerald's who also happened to be in BA.

On our second day we booked onto a free walking tour of the Recoleta area. This began in Recoleta cemetery which is full of incredible tombs. It was a fascinating place and the guide told us lots of anecdotes about some of the rich and famous people buried there, including Eva Peron. Her tomb was far simpler and smaller than the majority there.
The place is huge and it's easy to lose your way in the maze of pathways between the ornate tombs with their carvings and stained glass windows.
We were also shown some other important buildings in the area, most of which used to belong to the wealthy families but during tougher times had been sold on to become embassies, museums and theatres. As the heat of the day increased we headed back to the pool and then had drinks with an old neighbour of ours who was in BA on a cabin crew layover. Funny how you have to go half way round the world to catch up with friends these days!

The next day we used our subte cards to head into the city, an easy and economical way to get around. We visited many of the famous landmarks and headed over to the port area which is much newer, quite a contrast to the old ornate buildings of the city.

Our final full day was spent visiting La Boca. The subte doesn't go that far out of the city so we caught a taxi from the city for 75 pesos. La Boca is a vibrant, colourful but overpriced tourist trap however we thoroughly enjoyed our visit there.
The buildings are painted in bright contrasting colours and there are little markets selling paintings and souvenirs.
We wandered around the streets before settling down to eat some lunch as we watched tango dancers perform around us.
We decided to walk back to the city via the famous Football stadium.
As we had heard the area can be unsafe we stuck to the big main roads on our return.
Another afternoon was spent at the pool before packing ready to leave for Iguazu Falls the next morning.

When we arrived in Peurto Iguazu it was in the high 30's, we attempted to go and explore the town but it soon became apparent that being a Sunday afternoon very little was open and that walking in that heat was not at all fun so we headed back to our hotel and lazed in the pool on the hotel roof looking out onto the rainforest.

We woke up nice and early and caught the 7.30am bus (65 pesos per person, one way) from nearby our hotel. Within 20 minutes we were at the entrance to the falls.
The falls were another 330 pesos per person to enter so it makes for a pretty expensive excursion, especially when you factor food and drink into it. A 6" Subway was about double the price it is back home in New Zealand.
The gates opened at 8am and almost everybody jumped on the train, we decided to walk down one of the tracks and for the first 3 hours didn't see another soul. We had hoped to visit San Martin island which requires you to jump on a little boat to get across but the water was too high to do so safely so access was closed.
There are numerous walkways that take you to many viewpoints and different parts of the falls. The whole area is absolutely stunning. Some of the walkways take you close enough to the falls that you get covered in spray and the roar they make as they fall is incredible.
The sun was shining creating little rainbows and birds fluttered all around.
We spotted some wildlife as we explored the area, we saw crocodiles, turtles, capybara, masses of butterflies, huge catfish and plenty of coati which are raccoon like creatures that come incredibly close if they think they have a chance of taking food from you. They are known to scratch and bite so we kept a safe distance. I saw two toucans fly overhead with their colourful beaks shining in the sun but sadly they went by too fast to get a photo.
By the time we made our way to the Devils Throat, about 5 hours later, there were hundreds and hundreds of tourists and you could barely move.
It started to thunder and then rain so we decided to head back home as we had walked pretty much every path available to us. This time we caught the train back to the entrance to save a bit of time and keep us out of the rain. Back at the hotel we had a very late lunch and then, once the rain stopped, we walked through the city to a spot overlooking the river. It's a place full of tourists as three countries border the river, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. We watched the sun setting and then strolled back to the hotel to pack ready for our next adventure.

Posted by bumblebum 19:01 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

A search for the Aurora Borealis

snow -9 °C

We set off for Europe early on Boxing Day via South Korea. Our Korean Air flight had an enforced, overnight stopover in Incheon so all our transfers, meals and accommodation were included in the price of the ticket (which was still much cheaper than all the other airlines!).
Incheon was a very chilly -9 with a wind chill of -16 when we woke up the next morning. We wrapped up as well as we could (our suitcases had gone straight to their final destination) and headed out to have a little explore of the local area before going back to the airport. Opposite our hotel was the lovely Songdo Central Park so we wandered around there and collected some geocaches along the way whilst trying not to freeze!

Our next flight was to Heathrow, another very brief stopover in an airport hotel ready for our morning flight to Stockholm.

Once we landed in Stockholm we caught the Arlanda Express into the city centre. It only took about 20 minutes as we zoomed through the Swedish countryside as the sun set over the snowy fields. Accommodation in Stockholm is fairly pricey, we stayed at HTL Kungsgatan which was in a great location. The room was lovely and modern but compact is definitely the best word to describe it overall!
We explored Stockholm the next day going for a long walk around the city taking in the sights (and geocaching of course!) before heading back to the airport to fly further north to Lulea.
Lulea is small city on the coast of Northern Sweden and all our previous days of travel were in order to reach this destination. Being so far north, during the winter months the days are short and the nights are long making it an ideal location for observing the Aurora Borealis, better known as the Northern Lights. This was our primary reason for spending the next 5 nights there.

Gerald and I met up with the rest of our aurora hunters and were issued with our cold weather jump suits to keep us warm in the freezing temperatures. As soon as dinner was over we jumped into the minibuses for our first ‘hunt’. We drove into the dark wilderness and set up our cameras in anticipation of the Tricky Lady making an appearance. The moon was full and was giving out so much light that our photos could have passed for a sunny, winter’s day if it wasn’t for the stars. Despite being out for several hours under a crystal clear sky, sadly, there was no sign of the aurora.
The following morning we had a day trip to an Arctic Moose Farm. We got to feed carrots to the moose and then enjoyed a delicious lunch of reindeer stew. After visiting the farm we drove a little further down the road to cross the Arctic Circle.
That night the cloud cover was so dense we didn’t even attempt searching for the lights and we made the most of it by getting a decent night’s sleep for the first time in a long time after all our travel and time zone differences!

The next day we had another excursion, this time to Svedjekojan to go husky sledding. We were warmly greeted as we arrived and invited into a large, cosy, wooden building to have some warm, berry juice. We then went out to meet their 55 husky dogs and watch as some of them were prepared and harnessed up to the sleighs. It seemed that every dog was desperate to be chosen. Some of the harnessed dogs were literally jumping up and down in anticipation of being untied and able to head off on their run! Gerald and I had been a little apprehensive about whether we would enjoy this activity as we don’t like to ‘exploit’ animals but it was clear to see that these dogs LOVE what they do and are very well cared for. The dogs are rotated so they all get a go and are exercised but none are overworked. We were taken on a half hour ride on a huge frozen lake before heading back to the wooden building for a lunch of smoked reindeer and potato which was cooked in front of us on the fire.
That night we headed out on another aurora search, hoping that we were going to see in 2016 under a sky dancing with green and purple. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the aurora was hitting 8’s and 9’s on the scale, it was dense cloud over all of Sweden and we saw none of the amazing display that we knew was going on. Instead we had to make do with watching an abundance of fireworks lighting up the sky as the locals celebrated the start of the New Year.

Pretty much everything was shut on New Year’s Day so after a hearty breakfast at the hotel we decided to put on our ice grips and go for a long walk around the city of Lulea combining it with some more geocaching. We managed to find lots and they took us all over the city. After dinner we wrapped up warm for another hunt that turned out to be another cloudy and auroraless event! There was much disappointment as this was our last hunt of the trip.

The next day we all headed off to cross the border into Finland. We drove to the Santa Claus Village in Lapland to visit Santa and his reindeer. We were amused to see that sunrise was at 11.49am and set at 12.46pm, so not quite an hour of actual daytime! Santa’s village is a little commercial, lots of little shops selling souvenirs and there was quite a long queue to meet the big man himself but we did enjoy having a chat with him!
It snowed a little bit while we were there which added to the magic of the place. We also got to stand on the Arctic Circle line again.
Once we got back to the hotel the clouds had started to clear and our aurora team decided to take us out one last time. Once again we drove out into the wilderness and set up our cameras under the starry sky. This time we did get to see an aurora albeit a weak one. The sky had a slight green glow which we did manage to capture on camera.
We went back to the hotel in the early hours pleased that we had seen something but I am not ready to tick the Tricky Lady off my bucket list just yet!

Posted by bumblebum 19:41 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

Mid-Winter Break in Brisbane

sunny 18 °C

Gerald and I decided to head away for a mid-winter break and escape the cold of Auckland for the slightly warmer Brisbane. We booked the Meriton Apartments right in the city centre which was a great choice as they were close to everything, we had great views from both the lounge and the bedroom and we had a fully equipped kitchen which meant we didn’t need to spend loads of money on eating out all the time.

Our first day was spent exploring the city in our usual way – with a bit of geocaching. We wandered around the city, along the Southbank and past the Maritime Museum before heading to the weekly Wednesday farmers market to meet our friends Leigh & Cindy. After a mooch around the market we headed out for dinner to have a proper catch up with Leigh & Cindy.

Day two was another day of caching around the city, this time we headed to the beautiful Roma St Parklands full of lakes, fountains, many varieties of plants and walkways that take you over different levels before heading back into the city laneways.

Friday was action packed! We got up early to do a two hour tour with Kangaroo Segway Tours. I can honestly say I didn’t stop grinning the whole 2 hours! I can’ t believe we have never been on a Segway before and we have vowed that whenever we go to a new city we will see if we can book a Segway tour as a way of exploring as it is just so much fun! After a couple of minutes tuition we were off – they are very intuitive to use. We were the only customers on the tour that morning which was a bonus for us because the guide let us change the usual route a bit to see some parts of Brisbane we hadn’t yet been to and was also happy to let us stop and collect some caches along the way!
After the tour finished we headed to the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) to meet up with one of my ex pupils – a family that immigrated to Australia the same time as we moved to New Zealand. It was lovely to see them and catch up as we strolled around the gallery.
The evening was spent at QPAC Concert Hall to see Ballet Revolucion – an entertaining evening of dance.

Gerald took part in the Brisbane Park Run on Saturday morning and enjoyed running in a new location. The weather was forecast to be rainy and cold but it turned out to be yet another blue skied, sunny day so we did a few more caches before Leigh and Cindy came to collect us. They drove us up Mt Coot-tha for amazing views over the city.
We then headed to Eat Street with them for dinner. Eat Street is an amazing place with food from every corner of the world, the place was absolutely packed and had a great vibe with live music in several areas.

Our last full day in Brisbane was spent on North Stradbroke Island. Leigh and Cindy picked us up from our apartment and we caught the ferry across to the island. The ferry took about 45 minutes and by 10am we were parked up at a lookout spot taking in the beautiful views.
We drove around stopping off at various look out points, strolling along beaches, caching (of course!) and watching out for wildlife. During our time on the island we saw kangaroos, pelicans, kookaburras, dolphins, a very cute, sleepy koala and many whales on their migration journey.
I got super excited when one of the whales did a few tail slaps and was amazed at the noise it made as it did so. I managed to get a photo but sadly it wasn’t in focus. We had a great day and it whizzed by, before we knew it, it was time to get back on the ferry.

Our last day arrived, after packing & checking out we did some more caching and then had lunch in the city before hitting the shops at Queen St and finally heading to the airport.

Posted by bumblebum 22:08 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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