A Travellerspoint blog

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)

A fabulous fortnight of fun

Auckland to Melbourne & back again

sunny 21 °C

The school holidays have been jam packed this Easter!
We started with a long weekend in Melbourne catching up with family and friends over plenty of good food and drinks. One of our nicest meals was at a Polish restaurant where Kirsten and I got to eat a childhood favourite of ours, perogi. The place is famous for its 155 different types of vodka, just a few of which we sampled!
We stayed at the Hilton Doubletree, right in the city centre which was perfect for our needs. We explored the city in our usual way, through geocaching. This took us to some great lanes famous for their graffiti.
The Comedy Festival was on while we were there so we saw a couple of shows with my sister – James Acaster a very funny British comedian and the show Absinthe which was on tour from Vegas. Both well worth seeing.
On Easter Sunday we got up at some stupid hour of the morning but for good reason – we had a hot air balloon ride booked. We got picked up around 5am and driven to the launch site on the outskirts of the city. We helped with the set up and as the sun rose we gently floated over the city. It was a great experience, quietly floating over all the buildings and parks below looking like a toy town.
We got involved in packing up the balloon and then we all headed to the Hyatt for the most amazing champagne breakfast in our own private room. There was every breakfast food that you could imagine - full cooked breakfast, cereals, fruits, waffles, pancakes, muffins, French pastries and much, much more. The champagne came in extra handy as we were celebrating the fact that one of the couples got engaged during the adventure! Although he did wait until the landing fearful he might drop the ring out of nervousness!
Before we knew it, it was time to check out and after a lovely lazy afternoon catching up with friends over lunch it was time to head back home.
We then had a week of gigs seeing Paolo Nutini at the Powerstation, David Gray in the Aotea Centre and Ed Sheeran at Vector Arena. All three gigs were great and it is hard to say which was best!
Before seeing Ed Sheeran on the Saturday night we arranged to meet our good friends Cheryl & Darren for some fun at Escapade, a game where you get locked in a room for an hour and try to escape by solving the clues. We had such a laugh working out the puzzles to find codes to open locks which would reveal further clues or keys. We eventually got out after 48 minutes so well within the allocated hour.
The next adventure was at Auckland Zoo – we did a Behind the Scenes Tour with the squirrel monkeys. We got to hand feed ten squirrel monkeys which was so cool! One of the older monkeys, Romy, took a shine to me and spent ages sitting either on my shoulder or on my hand playing with my fingers. There were some little baby monkeys in the enclosure too, they were much shyer and would just quickly grab some raisins and then run!
After the feeding session we wandered around the zoo for a while checking out all the other animals. We always enjoy a trip to the zoo!
Monday saw the arrival of my good friend Nancy from Sydney. The next 5 days found me playing host and giving her a tourist view of Auckland. That involved visiting the museum and watching their cultural performance, a trip up the sky tower, lunch at Mission Bay and the highlight – Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari on the Hauraki Gulf. We saw hundreds of dolphins and a couple of whales whilst we sat on deck and enjoyed the one sunny, blue skied day of her stay. The boat trip was followed by a delicious dinner at the Viaduct as the sun set – a perfect end to a perfect day.
Nancy’s last morning was spent geocaching as she had wanted to discover what it was all about, we had taken her to find a few earlier in the week and she had decided to set up her own account and was keen to get more finds under her belt!
All too soon it was another trip to the airport and a farewell to Nancy.
Now it’s time to get ready for the new school term and start planning our next adeventures!

Posted by bumblebum 21:24 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Slice of Paradise

Marvellous Moorea

sunny 32 °C

Happy New Year!

This year we decided to spend Christmas and New Year elsewhere and our chosen destination was Moorea in French Polynesia. New Zealand may be a long way from anywhere else but jump on a plane for 4 or 5 hours and you can find yourself in some pretty spectacular places and French Polynesia definitely falls into that category.

Our flight to Tahiti landed in the afternoon so we spent the first night there. After checking in we headed out to find some local geocaches. One the way to the second one it began to rain heavily so we ducked under the nearest shelter. It soon became apparent that the rain was not going to stop anytime soon so we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to get wet and headed back in the rain stopping off for dinner at the food market.

We woke up to sunshine the next morning so decided to have another go (successfully) at finding the caches we had given up on before catching the ferry across to Moorea. It was a bumpy ride across the stretch of water between the two islands but we were then in under an hour. After an expensive taxi ride (xpf3500) we arrived at the Hilton and were driven in a golf buggy to our overwater bungalow once we were checked in. Waiting in our room was a bottle of champagne on ice and a box of delicious macaroons.
That night was the Christmas Eve dinner – an amazing buffet with foods such as steak in black truffle sauce and lobster. After the biggest selection of desserts I have ever seen, we were treated to a cultural show of singing and dancing and then headed down to the beach for a fire show.
When we arrived back at the room we were greeted with a Christmas card and box of chocolates on the bed.

Christmas day began with a delicious breakfast buffet. The rest of the day was spent sunbathing on the deck or by the pool with a bit of snorkelling thrown in too.
We enjoyed cocktails in the afternoon and dinner at the Crepe Bar watching the sharks, that visit each evening, swimming below.
We also had William Shatner (AKA Captain James T Kirk) sitting on a table right by us with his family. We got back to our bungalow just as it began to pour with rain – perfect timing!

Quite a few days were spent in a similar fashion of sleeping, eating, drinking, sunbathing, reading, snorkelling and watching sunsets.

We did have a few days of being more active. One morning we woke up and decided to hire a car to explore the island. Unfortunately we chose a day that a cruise ship was in and hiring a car was easier said than done! The lady on the activity desk finally tracked down what must have been the last available car on the whole island and we were soon off on our adventure. The island only has one main road that goes around the whole island – approximately 60km. Most of the middle of the island is completely uninhabited and much of it completely untouched by man as it is just too rugged. Our first port of call was to the Belvedere Lookout that gave gorgeous views over both Cooks Bay and Opunoho Bay.
We also attempted a cache hidden nearby but failed to find it – after reading the log from the only people to have found it, it became clear that the co-ordinates were not quite right so we emailed them to get a hint to help us find it. So it was onto cache number two, this one was by a waterfall. As we drove up the, far from sealed, road it began to rain heavily so we ate lunch in the car and waited for it to ease off. It took a good half an hour to get to the waterfall and entailed crossing the river several times, walking through thick mud and clambering over rocks so in hindsight flip flops were not the best footwear for us to tackle it in! The cache was hidden up a steep bank right by the waterfall and just as I found it a rock slipped under my foot and as a result I got a nasty cut but not serious enough to stop me signing the log and continuing our day’s adventure.
We enjoyed the scenery as we drove around and having the car meant that we could head out a bit further for dinner that night. We headed to a little restaurant called Te Honu Iti which was very cute. As we ate both sharks and rays swam in the shallow water right next to us.
The food was on the pricey side but utterly delicious and neither of us left a scrap on our plates.

The next morning we had received a helpful hint from the finders of the cache so headed back up to the lookout point to have a second attempt. This time after a bit of bushwhacking and doing my best to avoid any spiders I soon had the cache in hand and we set off to return the hire car. Gerald had a go at stand up paddle boarding in the afternoon as the water was nice and calm. Finding a good place to stand up was tricky as there are patches of reef everywhere that he didn’t want to fall onto if he lost his balance being a novice still.

We knew there was one more cache on the island that was still unfound despite being hidden for over a year. We also knew that the cache was fairly hard to get to being way up a mountain and the cache owner strongly suggested not to attempt it without a guide. We tried to hire a guide but with it being Christmas and New Year most were not working or already fully booked. One guide thought he knew where we needed to go and gave us clear instructions of how to get there saying that we would be fine on our own. It turned out to be a couple of km away from where we needed to be but after a 7.7km hike along the Three Coconut Pass we had another hot, sweaty but fun adventure.
The hike gave us more great views of the island but no cache. We had taken a taxi to the start of the trail, when we got back there we decided to hitchhike back to the hotel as we had heard it was a safe way to travel round the island. Within 5 minutes we had been picked up by a couple of locals and were soon back at our bungalow desperate to jump off the deck and into the ocean!
That night was New Year’s Eve and another buffet night at The Hilton.
Again there was a huge selection of seafood, oysters, lobster, prawns and this time even caviar (which we tried but didn’t particularly like). There was duck, beef, veal, turkey, cold meats, cheeses, breads, salads, potatoes, rice and much, much more. Once again a huge selection of desserts, even ones with real gold on top!
During dinner there was a live band playing and then afterwards more cultural dancing and singing, this time on the beach and with audience participation. Gerald got chosen to go up and learn a few moves!
The night finished with a fire show and then a few fireworks.

Our final full day on Moorea was spent doing a couple of scuba dives just on the other side of the reef. We were on the boat and heading out for our first dive by 8am. I was a little apprehensive, like I always am before diving, but despite the fact that we knew both our dives were going to be shark encounters as soon as I got in the water I was absolutely fine. I was the first one in and as soon as I looked down I could see sharks below me – very big lemon sharks. We watched them swim around for some time before setting off to explore the surrounding reef. We saw a big turtle, some black tip reef sharks and plenty of fish. The visibility was excellent and the water was a toasty 28, I think it was the first time I have ever been diving and not started to feel chilly by the end.
We moved locations for the second dive and ended up very near our bungalow. Once again we saw both lemon and black tip sharks, many many different types of fish and corals. We were both happy to get back to dry land afterwards as the open water was a bit choppy and neither Gerald nor I travel well on boats. Gerald got to visit his breakfast again whilst I kept my eyes firmly on the horizon!

Our last day arrived all too soon, I managed a quick dip off the deck before packing and drinking complimentary cocktails by the beach whilst we waited for our transfer back to the ferry.
We stood on the deck of the ferry and watched Moorea fade into the distance…

Posted by bumblebum 01:05 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged moorea Comments (0)

Auckland, Rotorua & Bay of Islands

sunny 22 °C

It has been a long time since I last wrote a blog so this is somewhat overdue!

We have been keeping busy with visits to ‘The Arts’ – Cirque Du Soleil Totem, Bill Bailey, Sydney Dance Company and The Beatles Boys to name but a few. We also saw a couple of films at the New Zealand International Film Festival – we absolutely loved Housebound which I guess you would describe as a comedy horror. It is well worth a watch if you get a chance. And of course we have had several visits to our favourite theatre, The Basement

The annual kite festival was on again at Orakei Marae so we headed there to see all the amazing kites. Our favourite this year was Toothless the dragon, he was huge and was designed so that he appeared to be flapping his wings and really flying!

We had a long weekend in Rotorua which was lovely although we didn’t get to do all the activities we originally planned to do as I had had an emergency trip to hospital just a couple of weeks beforehand to have my perforated appendix removed. Instead of
zip-lining through the forest and luging down the hillside we had to go on gentle strolls as I was still in quite a lot of discomfort if I did anything too physical.
One morning was spent exploring the Waiotapu Thermal area which was great. I will let the photos speak for themselves!
We also walked one of the tracks through the Redwood Forest, some of the trees were huge – not anywhere as big as they can get but still very impressive.
The second day was spent driving around the enormous Lake Rotorua to collect all the geocaches placed there. It kept us busy and took a big chunk of the day as the lake covers 79.8km2!

Gerald ran the Auckland Marathon in November – his first one. I went along to cheer him on at the half way mark. He was doing great for the first half and then his reoccurring knee injury decided to make an appearance hampering his performance in the second half. He completed it in just over 5 hours but had wanted to do it under 4 and a half so he is determined to get injury free and give it another go next year!

Another annual visit of ours was to Art in the Dark. Unfortunately the event was only on for 4 nights and the first three were very wet so the final night was heaving! It was still worth a wander round Western Park though. This year we headed there with friends and began our night with a delicious dinner in a café on Ponsonby Rd.

Next up was another weekend away – this time to the Bay of Islands. The BOI is my favourite place in the whole of NZ. It is just so beautiful with its stunning coastlines of sandy beaches and turquoise waters. We took advantage of a GrabOne deal and stayed 2 nights in a gorgeous B&B in Opua called The Sanctuary. The views from the deck were gorgeous as we sat there eating our breakfast in the sunshine.
On our first day we headed to Rainbow Falls which was a pretty little spot and worth a visit. Next up was Kerikeri for the Saturday market which was a great place to buy hand crafted gifts, fresh fruit and veggies, hear live music and eat some delicious foods. After that we headed to the Waitangi treaty grounds. We wandered around the grounds and then got to see their cultural show inside the Marae. They sang, danced with poi and did a haka for us – all very impressive and entertaining. We had fish and chips for dinner in Paihia and watched the world go by. Just as we were heading home it started to rain which created a beautiful rainbow over the ocean.
The next day we got the ferry over to Russell. We had a lovely time exploring the area and collecting lots of caches along the way – the best one was placed on a chair with an interesting history behind it. It was built, from the power poles that held the old transformer, by the son of a school teacher at Russell School and placed outside the house she lived in for 64 years.
On our trip away we found our 1000th cache, each cache seemed to take us to another stunning view or amazing beach. We even saw a stingray swimming in the shallows!
We decided to go the long way home following the coastline – we picked up a young German hitchhiker along the way as he was in the middle of nowhere on a road that is not exactly busy trying to get to a DOC campsite in the forest. We took him a good part of the way there but didn’t fancy the unsealed, windy roads of the forest so continued with our original plan of following the coastline. The owners of the B&B had told us about The Gallery & Café in Helena Bay Hill so we decided to stop off there on the way home, there were so many beautiful works of art in there – some of them had hefty price tags to go with them but it was definitely worth stopping off at.
Before too long the weekend was over and we were back home.

Posted by bumblebum 22:02 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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