Sunday, 2 October 2011

Meze

Yesterday we went to a waterpark, then out for tea. I won't bore you with the details of the water slides (most of them went something along the lines of: weeeeee-splash), but I will describe to you exactly what a Cyprus meze involves.


Meze is short for mezedes, which means 'little delicacies', and was brought to Cyprus by the invading Ottomans. I have already had meze a few times at Greek restaurants in the UK, but nothing could have prepared me for this experience. Our waiter, Kivros, brought out each dish one at a time, and refused to bring the next one until we'd finished the plate in front of us.


So, here are the dishes, in the order we were brought them:


  • Olives
  • Salad
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Tzatziki, tahini and yogurt
  • Toasted bread
  • Halloumi in pitta
  • Lountza (smoked loin of port) and loukaniko (a type of sausage)
  • Saganaki (a method of cooking with one frying pan) with feta, tomato and oregano
  • Lamb kebab
  • Chicken kebab
  • Sheftalia (another type of sausage)
  • Fresh ravioli
  • Pork ribs
  • Potatoes fried with eggs, halloumi and pork loin
  • Courgette fried with eggs and onions
  • Pork fillet with oregano
  • Aubergine in batter
  • 'Marrow' – according to Kivros, but it was like a falafel made with courgette instead of chick peas
  • Honey-soaked dough balls


After this feast we were served Greek Cypriot coffee and coffee liqueur. If Turkish coffee is like being punched in the face, this is like being lightly tickled on the cheek with a feather. Which is good as it was bedtime by this point! Again, you have to specify how much sugar you would like: glykos (very sweet), metrios (medium-sweet) or sketos (unsweetened).


After this it was time to go home and lie down in a cold room.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Optimistic attempt at uploading photos...

Ancient Salamis: The columned courtyard



Ancient Salamis: a fresco over one of the baths



Ancient Salamis: the amphitheatre



Famagusta: Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque



Famagusta: Turkish coffee and baklava



Famagusta: Turkish delight



Home: Nelson, the one eyed cat


Naked Romans dripping in oil...

Yesterday we went back across the border to visit Salamis and Famagusta again.


The road to Famagusta is an interesting one. It runs along the Green Line, and so most of the journey was spent staring at the no-mans land on our left. The line itself is not demarcated by fences or walls, which seems unusual as no one crossed it for 29 years. This is because after the ceasefire line was drawn both the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots laid down extensive landmines along its length, as this is cheaper and more practical than building a giant fence and manning it every few metres. Thus Cypriots were discouraged from crossing.


Along its length you can see Turkish outposts, which are painted completely in patches of red, green, yellow and black paint. But they don't look as comical as the UN outposts, which are basically just one-man huts on top of giant sticks!


We crossed over the border again, and I got my first experience of driving in North Cyprus. It's...interesting, lets say. It's like driving through Rusholme on a Friday evening. Road traffic rules do not seem to apply at all, so it was a little stressful!


We made it in one piece to Salamis, however, and parked up by the sea.


The ancient city-kingdom of Salamis was founded around 1100 BC by the Homeric hero Teucer, who fought in the Trojan War. He was exiled from his homeland by his father, the king of the Greek island Salamis, for not avenging the death of his brother, Ajax. Instead, he came to Cyprus, and set up the city of Salamis.


Over the years, despite being ruled by many different parties, same as the rest of the island, Salamis grew wealthy, due to its prime position for sea trading. But it was in the Roman era that Salamis really prospered, and it was during this time that much of the building work was done.


In 674 AD, however, Arab raids brought about destruction of the city, and the residents fled to what is now Famagusta. There then must have been an impressive change in climate, as the whole area was flooded with sand, until only the tops of the columns peeped above. This did stop some of the destruction by natural forces, but unfortunately did not stop the looters. The area was extensively looted until 1952, when the Department of Antiquities began excavations. These stopped between 1974 and 1998, when international sanctions prevented excavation parties going into Northern Cyprus.


So, what is there left to see in Salamis? Lots! The ruins we see today are from the Roman period, some of which were rebuilt by the Byzantines after the earthquake of 331 AD.


The first area we saw was the latrines, which catered for 44 people at a time! Imagine the smell... Then we walked out into the columned courtyard, a spectacular gymnasium surrounded by huge columns. This was built in 76 AD, but was largely destroyed by the 331 AD earthquake. When the Byzantines rebuilt it, they dragged columns from other areas of Salamis, not caring if they matched or not, so the columns we saw were all different sizes and styles.


Around this area are many headless statues. They are headless because when Christianity was adopted as the official religion, these Roman symbols were abhorrent to them, and they broke off all their heads.


Of course, this prompted many photos of me and Bernie pretending to be headless statues.


Around the courtyard the Roman's obsession with baths became apparent. There were hot baths, mild baths, and cold baths, some with elaborate multicoloured sides and complicated under-floor heating systems. This was where the Roman warriors went to relax after a hard day wrestling each other naked covered in olive oil.


We also saw an impressive amphitheatre, which has been partially restored to 18 rows of seats (originally it had 50 rows). It was here that we pretended to be headless. We also saw: sweating rooms, stoking rooms, an aqueduct, Byzantine walls, and a (very straight) Roman road.


Sadly, we didn't get to see the mighty Temple of Zeus, as it was too warm to walk the 3km down there. The thermometer in the car said it was 38º, but I don't know how reliable that is. Much more reliable, however, is the Ashlea-ometer, which measured the temperature as 'Too Frickin' Hot'.


After a quick cold-drink-and-factor-50-suncream stop, we headed back down the road to Famagusta. We had a picnic in the shade of a tree, then wandered around the walls of Famagusta.


Under Venetian rule Famagusta had great wealth, and impressive churches and walls were built. The city is surrounded by these walls, which are up to 8m thick in places. Unfortunately these great walls did not keep the Ottomans out, and much of the walls, bastions and churches were blasted with cannonballs. They have never been rebuilt, so ruins are just scattered about the modern day city.


The most interesting thing about Famagusta, however, is that it is supposedly the city in which Shakespeare's Othello is set. This is based on the stage instruction from the play 'a seaport in Cyprus'. Also, the description of Othello as being a moor may be a misunderstanding on Shakespeare's part, as he never went to Famagusta. The Venetian ruler of Cyprus in 1506-08 was called Christoforo Moro, whose surname means 'Moor', though he himself wasn't a moor.


The second most interesting thing about Famagusta is Petek's Patisserie. I said in the previous blog I would talk about the treats today, and here we go.



Turkish Coffee

Taking a sip of Turkish coffee is like being punched in the face. Its rather extreme potency comes from the preparation process. First, one teaspoon of coffee is boiled in one cup of water in a small long-handed pot called a 'cezve' until it froths up. A small amount of the froth is then poured off into the cup, and the cezve is returned to the heat. It is boiled again, and then served.


When you order your coffee you have to specify how much sugar you would like: çok şekerli (with sugar - 'sweet as love'), orta (medium-sweet), or şekersiz (unsweetened - 'bitter as poison'). As it is so intense it is served with a carton of water, to prevent the inevitable dehydration.



Baklava

Just one word – amazing! I don't even like honey, and I gobbled my portion down pretty damn swiftly, and returned to buy more to take back to the UK (fortunately everywhere in Famagusta accepts Euros as payment, performing a rather informal 2:1 conversion from Turkish Lira for us).



Turkish Delight

I do not like the Turkish delight I've had in England. Especially the rose flavoured stuff, its pretty revolting. However, the counter at Peteks is a smorgasbord of brightly-coloured, coconut-covered cubes, and I couldn't resist. They have pieces containing hazelnuts, pistachios, even carrots! And it tastes nothing like that gelatinous rubbish we have at home.



I wish I could show you pictures of all the exciting things I've seen/eaten, but sadly it is not to be :(



In other news, North Cyprus is the only country I've been where homosexuality is illegal. Attempted to look straight for the visit but probably failed miserably.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Famagusta, and a nice history lesson for you all.

I arrived in Cyprus just after a big thunderstorm, so the air was hot but not heavy. My first impression was that Cyprus is very beige. Everything is beige – the dirt, the buildings, the roads...


Actually, I tell a lie. My first impression was that Cyprus is so very Anglicised. The first advert I saw upon leaving the aeroplane was for TGI Fridays, and it detailed all the different branches in Larnaca. Helpful information for the majority of Brits on my plane, but the likelihood of me ending up in TGI Fridays in Manchester is minimal, let alone on foreign lands.


Anyways, I soon got over the Englishness and the beigeness, and we went to Bernie's house. I shall talk about that in a later blog.


Yesterday we had a nice relaxed day – we got up reasonably early as we had to pick up Bernie's friends from the port in Larnaca. This involved me driving Bernie's mums car.


Automatics really are the way forward. Just a stop pedal and a go pedal – it's like go-karting! Fortunately in Cyprus everyone drives on the left like in Britain, but all the speed limits are in kilometres. Helpfully Bernie's mum has written a conversion chart on the dashboard in tippex to avoid confusion.


After collecting Bernie's friends, we went back home and caught up on their travels. They had recently cycled from London to the Middle East, over a period of about six months, and are now making their way back home. They have spent the majority of this time camping or sleeping rough, so we spent most of the day providing food, running water, washing facilities and tobacco. We did go for a nice swim in the Mediterranean, but due to my true Anglo-Saxon heritage (i.e. a ginger mother) I had to dodge the carcinogenic rays with a UV top, and probably looked quite ridiculous to the two olive-skinned Cypriots we were sharing the beach with.


I tell myself I'm an 'English rose', rather than just pasty.


Today we took our cycling friends to Famagusta, where they intended to get a ferry to Turkey. To make sure everyone understands the events of the day, first I shall give a brief (and probably incorrect and naive) recap of recent Cypriot history.


The Ancient Greeks invaded Cyprus around 1200 BC, and the island prospered. Since then, Cyprus has been ruled by: Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Egyptians (again), Romans, Egyptians (again again), Romans (again), Byzantines, Arabs, Byzantines (again), the English, the French, Italians, the French (again), Italians (again), Ottomans, and the British in 1914. The British had been responsible for the administration of the island since 1878, with the Turks maintaining ownership, but as Britain and Turkey found themselves on opposing sides with the outbreak of the First World War, the British assumed sovereignty of the island.


The Greek Cypriots originally welcomed British rule, as it was generally assumed they would promote enosis, union with mainland Greece. Indeed they did try to do this in 1915, but Greece rejected the terms.


In 1960 Cyprus gained indepence from Britain. Under this agreement, Cyprus was prohibited from attemping to unite with either Greece or Turkey, and the British retained control of several areas for military purposes, due to Cyprus's strategic position near the Middle East. However, the Turkish Cypriots, an ethnic minority, became increasingly uncomfortable with the threat of being forced into enosis with Greece, and the early 1960's were marred by violence and political difficulties. In 1964 the violence was such that the UN had to deploy troops to help the British forces maintain peace. The Major General used a green pencil to draw a ceasefire line across the capital city (and later the rest of the island), and 'The Green Line' was born.


The state of affairs in Cyprus continues to deteriorate over the next few years, until the Turkish army arrived in 1974 to take control over North Cyprus. The Greek Cypriots who lived in the north third of the island fled to the south, and similarly the Turkish Cypriots in the south fled northwards. Many were caught up in battle and died. After that, the ceasefire line divided the island wholly, and no one crossed from one side to the other in 29 years. South Cyprus (the Republic of Cyprus) became more Hellenised, and North Cyprus became almost completely Turkish.


In 2003, however, the first step towards a more unified Cyprus occurred. The president of North Cyprus (known by the Turkish as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus(TRNC), and by everyone else as the occupied territories) opened the ceasefire line to travel, allowing people from both sides of the divided capital to cross to the other, as long as they were back to the own side by the end of the day. The Greek government were taken completely by surprise by this amendment, and no one knew how the Cypriots would react. After all, many still had family and homes on the other side of the line that they had not seen in 29 years.


The answer was: the Cypriots did not react. Thousands upon thousands crossed the border in the next few weeks, visiting their old houses and walking around the places that were so familiar to them. The two populations were friendly, exchanged gifts and tears, and since then there has been no major incident. The border is now open to crossing in six places, and Cypriots can now cross for three months at a time. The UN still maintain a presence along the line, and will until reunification is achieved.


And so...back to the events of today.


Famagusta is in North Cyprus, so we had to cross the Green Line to get there. On the way we saw the ruins of Marąs, a deserted town on the border. Pre-1974 this was a prosperous town inhabited by many Greek Cypriots who worked in Famagusta. However, when the Turkish army landed, they had to flee the area in such a hurry that there are still plates on the tables with breakfast foods on them, light bulbs still switched on, curtains blowing in the wind. Since then, no one has been back, and Marąs remains a ghost town.


After Marąs came several Turkish outposts, with the red and white Turkish flag and the white and red TRNC flag flying proudly. Then came the Agios Nikolaos Crossing.


Manned by Greek soldiers on the South side, followed by a small stretch of road then Turkish soldiers as it goes North, the area is studded with customs officers and signs warning of crossing without the correct documentation. We had to purchase additional insurance to allow us to drive in the North, and then we got our Turkish visas. The border guards stamp a piece of paper that is not included in your passport. This is because if you tried to enter South Cyprus through another way, e.g. flying into Larnaca airport, you would be detained and heavily questioned if you had a Turkish stamp in your passport.


After having your passports and visa checked by both Greek and Turkish border guards, we were in North Cyprus.


Since the division in 1974, the South prospered from tourism and entering the EU, but the North trailed behind significantly. However, the Turkish economy is picking up, and the GDP of the TRNC is now around 50% of that of the Republic of Cyprus. As such, Famagusta is still a tourist attraction but does not have that 'Brits On Tour' feel that Larnaca does, and the tourists we saw were mainly American or other nationalities.


I, however, looked touristy enough to represent the whole of Britain, with my white, white skin and my giant camera.


Under Italian rule Famagusta prospered, but invading Ottomans laid waste to the city. Much of the crumbling Venetian walls still remain, however, and we wandered around the remnants of the fort for a bit. We also saw the Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque, a very impressive building that was built as a church in the 1200's but during the Ottoman seige the two towers were destroyed. It was then converted into a mosque, and they added their own minaret.


Unfortunately the internet connection here doesn't seem up to loading photos, and it just gets stuck on 13%.


After a bit of wandering we settled down in Petek's cafe and had some treats, but I will not disclose too much about this today. Tomorrow we are going to drop in to Famagusta on our way slightly further north, and I will talk about the treats then. For now, I shall go to bed, as the heat is rather exhausting.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Εγώ θα Κύπρος σήμερα / Ben bugün Kıbrıs'a gidiyorum

Today I go to Cyprus, yay! Hence the Greek and Turkish blog title (not taking sides is key to personal safety, according to my guide book).

Due to the resounding success of the New Zealand blog (i.e. praise from my grandma) I have decided to resurrect it for my holidays in Cyprus. This means you will all be forced to learn facts and read my inane ramblings once more.

I am currently sat in the Burger King at Manchester Airport. This is not my usual habitat, but I have a bad mouth ulcer over my wisdom tooth, and have to apply Bonjela at regular intervals (other anaesthetic gels are available). I fear the more upmarket places might frown on my sticking my finger into my mouth and dribbling everywhere. So Burger King it is.

It's like an episode of Benidorm in here.

Soon I shall board the plane and five hours later I will be picked up from Larnaca Airport by my good friend Bernie and her mum. Then my Cyprus adventures shall begin!

I know you are all desperate for my next update...

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The final FINAL post...

I know I said the last post was the end of the blog, but this was recently pointed out to me, and I think it so perfectly encapsulates the New Zealand way of life:


Enjoy! And for the final time -

THE END


Thursday, 26 May 2011

Final Film Review

Since being back in the UK I have been mainly drinking tea and trying to sleep at normal times, so haven't yet reviewed the 13 films I watched on the plane home. However, as some people appeared a little distressed at the lack of reviews, here they are:

(DISCLAIMER: It is possible sleep deprivation was responsible for my initial wittiness. Sorry.)


1) The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian : ****
I quite enjoyed this one as the very first scene is set in the Coromandel Peninsula, which I went to in the first road trip of the holiday.


As you can probably tell, the Pevensie children are in the first picture, in casual clothes, and we are in the second, in our school uniform.

Morals of the story:
  • Jesus is omniscient, omnipresent and has a lovely golden mane.
  • Prince Caspian is hawt. Yum.


2) Megamind: ***
Child with big head just wants some friends but keeps accidentally causing mischief so no one likes him. Surprise surprise, children who are bullied, friendless and have no parents grow up to be crazy murderers. Bit of a downer for a kids film really.

Morals of the story:
  • Always plot your baby's head circumference on their growth chart. Hydrocephalus is not to be taken lightly.
  • Nurture, not nature.


3) Gulliver's Travels
Jack Black takes his usual character (stuck in dead end job with no prospects but really it's okay because he can do silly voices) to the land of the mini-people to impress a girl. He tells them he is a king and a magnificent person, and makes them act out Star Wars. When they find out he is not a king or Luke Skywalker they cast him out, and he ends up in a giant girl's doll house. But then the mini-people need his help to kill a robot, and it ends up all right in the end. He even gets the girl, who is way out of his league because he is quite chunky and a girl like that would never go out with a guy like him. Ptsch. Just makes the whole storyline unbelievable.

Morals of the story:
  • You don't need qualifications or transferable skills to make it in this world, as long as you have a beard and can play air guitar.
  • There must be something about Jack Black's body that lets him get the pretty girls in all these films, but it's probably best we don't know what it is.


4) Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole : *
Owl civil war. The owls wear metal claws and helmets and fight with fire. I get the sneaking suspicion it is not based on a true story.

Morals of the story:
  • Not all heroes are easy on the eye.
  • If your brother turns against you and joins the Nazi-Owls don't panic: just push him into a burning pit.


5) Avatar: ***
Blue-man meets Blue-woman and they make the beast with two backs in a pretty forest. There is some plot somewhere about war or some such thing, but that's not important. I only watched half of this film, but as it is so long that's about the same length as a normal film so I'm adding it to the tally.

Morals of the story:
  • Best not to try to kill and enslave your lover's people. Leads to tension in the bedroom.
  • Science can be exploited to fight wars. Gosh, who knew?


6) No Strings Attached: ****
Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman decide to have a friends-with-benefits style relationship, but in a quirky twist the man falls for the woman and the woman is all like 'NO I JUST WANT CASUAL FUN'. I dislike this film as it does not stick to stereotypical gender norms and I disagree with that. I mean come on, only men are allowed to have casual relationships. If women do they must have loose morals and we should shun them. But if they then fall in love too and they become a very cute couple it's okay.

Morals of the story:
  • Men can have emotions, and the world doesn't implode.
  • Women can have casual relationships, and the world does't implode.


7) Morning Glory: ****
Perky, chipper woman manages to persuade a surly, arrogant journalist to be an anchor on her breakfast show. There is some strife, and he is mean, and she is frustrated, and then he makes her some eggs and all is forgiven.

Morals of the story:
  • Eggs make everything better.
  • No seriously, I have a cold and I'd love some eggs right now. Eggs, anyone? Guys? Anyone?!


8) Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps : <*
Money money blah blah blah.

Morals of the story:
  • Blah.
  • Blah blah.


9) The Tourist: ***
Angelina Jolie runs around Venice pouting and setting up Johnny Depp in an attempt to draw the police away from her lover and major-league criminal. Except it turns out that...no, I won't ruin the twist. But you'll see it coming a mile off.

Morals of the story:
  • As long as you pout and wear expensive jewellery you can do pretty much anything in Italy.
  • Never send a woman to do a man's job. They just fall in love and mess things up (compare and contrast: No Strings Attached).


10) The Green Hornet: ****
Billionaire dies and leaves entire fortune and business to his waster son. Big Mistake. Waster son makes friends with a Chinese genius-cum-barista and they use mad engineering skillz and truckloads of money to rid the city of criminals, while trying to look like they are criminals too.

Now that, in my opinion, is the first mistake in their plan. If you're going to be chased by all the criminals whose meth dens you're blowing up, then why deliberately have the police coming after you too? Idiots.

Morals of the story:
  • Don't leave your media empire to your waster son. He'll just use it to put rocket torpedoes in his car.
  • However, rocket torpedoes do make any car much cooler, so maybe you should leave your media empire to your waster son.


11) Little Fockers: **
Predictable jokes about unfortunate surnames and troublesome father-in-laws. Bit dull, not sure why I watched it. Oh yeah, I remember, I was on a 36 hour flight.

Morals of the story:
  • Pulse rates are accurate predictors of whether someone is lying or not. Y'know, someone should use that and make like, a machine that detects lying or something. I'm sure it would be foolproof. Then they could use it on high-end entertainment shows on daytime telly to greatly enrich and stabilise the lives of those in the lower socio-economic classes. I'm sure all these poor people's problems could be alleviated if they knew the truth.
  • Sometimes doctors are horrible and nurses are lovely. Who'da thunk it?


12) Tamara Drewe: ***
Young woman returns to the village she grew up in to wear tiny shorts and wreck marriages. Not much of a plot, but the teenage girls 'in love' with the pop star are hilarious.

Morals of the story:
  • Avoid breaking in to people's houses and stealing t-shirts, as through a complicated set of events this will lead to adultery, head injury, and death by cow-trampling.
  • Tiny shorts are not suitable attire for small villages, as through a complicated set of events this will lead to adultery, head injury, and death by cow-trampling.


13) TRON: Legacy : ***
Right, there is this underground world for computer programs. Except it's not really underground, it's all around us. But it's in the digital world. And in it people are computer programs. Or computer programs are people, I'm not sure. It's all a bit confusing, but there are lots of flashing lights and magic motorbikes and things, so it's quite fun.

Morals of the story:
  • If your father ever disappears, it's not that he's run out on you - he has entered a digital world called The Grid and is trapped. Honest.
  • Don't make people into computer programs. Or computer programs into people. Or whatever.



So, this is actually the final final post of the blog. I have had a lovely time in New Zealand, and would like to thank my family for supporting me through the last six years of university, my friend T for giving me a job so I could save up for the trip, and to the other just-about-doctors for helping me make some amazing memories.

And now, to finish how I started, with a picture of a monkey I met in Auckland Zoo two weekends ago:


The one on the right has clearly just broken wind and the one on the left is all 'WTF DUDE?!'

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The End

Today is my last day in New Zealand. I am quite sad to be leaving, as I have had a great time here. But I am looking forward to coming back to England because the money has run out because I miss my family, my friends, and having some familiarity.

What are the things I will miss?
  • The coffee
  • The sushi
  • The super-cheap meals out (as long as you go for Asian food and not European)
  • The relaxed lifestyle
  • The scenery
  • The really cool things that result from tectonic activity (hot springs etc)


What are the things I won't miss?
  • A pint of milk costing a million pounds
  • Having to wait for the green man for ages because I can't work out the traffic light sequences
  • Hills
  • The very small shorts that men have a habit of wearing
  • The phrase 'Sweet as, bro'
  • The really rubbish things that result from tectonic activity (earthquakes etc)

I fly out tomorrow at 5pm, and arrive on Sunday at 12:30pm, so expect film reviews soon. I can't guarantee if they'll be witty or bumbling - sleep deprivation has the potential to go either way really. Half of me wants to see if I can beat my personal best of 10 films from the way over here, but the other half wants to take advantage of the free gin to induce sleep during the flight.

To finish up, here is a picture of me with a bowl of coffee:



And yes, that is God in the background. He popped in for a cuppa, because the coffee there is...heavenly (see what I did there?).

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Dolphin Video

As promised, here is the video of dolphins I took:










Okay, okay, that's not the right video. I don't know how you guessed! But here is the video of the dolphins racing the boat.

It was a bit windy, so to prevent you guys having to put your hands over your ears when listening to noise, I have selected a complementary, mood-setting soundtrack to go with it:


video

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Lake Tekapo - Big Adventure Day 9 & 10

I'm going to put the remaining two days into the same post because we didn't do much except travel and eat fast food.

In fact, I'll just finish up with a picture of Lake Tekapo that I didn't even take myself because my camera was at the bottom of my bag:






THE END

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Milford Sound - Big Adventure Day 7 & 8

To my extreme annoyance, I had written the majority of this blog post (taking about an hour and saving every few minutes) when unfortunately the site went down. Now it's back up but all text from the post has lost into the internet ether.

Grrr.

So, if this post is rubbish and boring, blame the internet and not my dazzling wit.

When we woke up on Day 7 of our trip, the clouds had mostly gone, and it was blue sky and sunlight. Here is the view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu from our hostel:



We enjoyed a relatively relaxed morning (leaving at 10:30am) and set off for Milford Sound.

Milford Sound is a fjord found in the Fiordland National Park (NZ spell fjord wrong) in the southwest part of the South Island. It quickly became apparent that none of us were actually sure what a fjord was (it is an inlet of water in a valley created by glacial activity).

Thousands of years ago, glaciers covered large parts of the South Island. As they flowed down the mountains they gouged great valleys into the rock. Depending on the type of rock they were moving over, you get different types of valleys - low rolling hills if the rock is soft (as in Doubtful Sound) and steep dramatic cliffs if the rock is hard (as in Milford Sound). There are no remaining glaciers in Fiordland, despite the large mountains and extremely heavy rainfall. Milford Sound is one of the wettest inhabited place in the world, and while there are only two permanent waterfalls there, during the rain hundreds of temporary waterfalls appear. If the wind is also blowing, some of these waterfalls can blow horizontally or upwards.

When Captain James Cook was first sailing round the South Island, he completely missed Milford Sound, thinking the narrow entrance didn't lead to anything. He didn't sail too close to the entrance in case wind conditions prevented him from getting out (this refers to Doubtful Sound, as Cook thought it was doubtful he would ever escape). Milford Sound was omitted from maps for several years, until a seal hunter called John Grono found it on his seal hunting escapades. He named it Milford Haven, after his favourite place in Wales, and it was later renamed Milford Sound.

However, Milford Sound is in fact, not a sound. A sound is a sea-flooded valley created by running water i.e. rivers. The word fjord didn't exist in the English language at the time, but now the name has stuck.

Of course, the Maori have their own legends about Milford Sound. Many years ago a demi-god called Tu-te-raki-whanoa was given the task of shaping the southwest part of the South Island. Singing an ancient karakia (chant) he used his adze (a tool used in woodwork) to carve out the southernmost fjords. However, he wasn't very good at it at first, resulting in the low hills of the southern fjords. As he moved up the island he got better with more practice, and by the time he got to Milford Sound he perfected his work, creating the steep cliffs of Piopiotahi (Milford Sound).

Piopiotahi means 'one piopio', a now extinct bird. This harks back to the legend of Maui, who tried to win immortality for mankind. When he died in the attempt, a piopio was said to have flown to the fjord in mourning.

The drive to Milford Sound is, unfortunately, very long. This is because there is no road to Milford Sound from Queenstown due to mountains, so we had to do a big 'U' shape:



However, this meant we got to see some beautiful scenery, including Lake Te Anau, where we stopped for lunch. Here are a selection:







And here are some ducks:



After approximately five hours of driving (with occasional photo stops), we arrived and got our first look at Milford Sound.



Immediately we could see why it has been judged the world's top travel destination, and been described as the eighth wonder of the world. If you ever want to be reminded how small and insignificant the human race is, I would recommend Milford Sound. The word beautiful is not right; awe-inspiring, breath-taking, phenomenal, the most visually stunning thing you will ever see in your entire life - these are all far more appropriate descriptions.

I can kinda understand how it may lead to some people finding God (though obviously I was more 'this is so cool!' than 'we thank you Lord').

Because it was such a long journey from Queenstown, we had booked an overnight cruise. It was a pretty good deal - $168 (£84) for a nice, clean cabin (with fresh towels, which we were overjoyed to find after seven days of packing wet towels in our suitcases), three course evening meal (with 10 desserts!), enormous breakfast, unlimited refreshments, nature commentary and slideshow, and kayaking at dawn.

This is our boat:



The first part of our trip was a two hour leisurely cruise through the sound, out to the Tasmanian Sea. Throughout this our skipper gave a very informative commentary about the things we were seeing and the history of Milford Sound. We arrived at the Tasmanian Sea in time for the sunset:






Then we went back through the Sound and moored for the night in a place called Harrison's Cove. We had the enormous dinner, had the slideshow, and then were left to our own devices. We couldn't get enough of the sight of the Sound (even though it was dark) so went back out on the deck. We were rewarded by seeing a fur seal (we named him Frank) hunting for food. The fish like the lights of the boat, so the seals like the boat too. We probably watched him chasing fish for over an hour.

Fortunately, Milford Sound is spared from a lot of the unsteadiness of the sea by a ridge of rocks at the mouth of the fjord. This is the remains of the terminal moraine created by the glacier. This meant the waters were very calm and everyone got good nights sleep.

After breakfast (about 8am) we went out on the fjord in kayaks. The sun was just coming up, so we got to paddle around while the Sound became gradually lighter. The water was so clear you could see the bottom despite it being 100m deep in the cove (it gets down to 300m in the main stretch). Because of the hardness of the rock the steep cliffs continue under water, so you can get your kayak right up to the sides and not run aground.

At one point some dolphins came over to see what we were all up to.

After the kayaking it was time for a much needed hot shower and drink as we cruised back to the dock. The journey back to Queenstown was much the same, though with fewer photo stops as the rain had started up a bit. Here is the other side of Lake Wakatipu:



So. This blog wasn't as good as the one I'd already written, which is annoying. To make up for it, here are a few more pics of Milford Sound for you:








The West Coast II - Big Adventure Day 6

The journey from Franz Josef to Queenstown was another stunning West Coast drive. However, the weather was less kind to us that day, and so we were unable to see a lot of it due to clouds:



As it was a winding mountain journey again, we were up very high, so we were actually above or inside the clouds at some points:



There was also a lot of rain, so we only got out once to take photos of 'The Gates of Haast'.




Well, with a name like that you have to, really.


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Franz Josef Glacier - Big Adventure Day 5

The Franz Josef Glacier was named by the German explorer Julius von Haast, who named it after the Austrian Emporer Franz Josef I. The Maori's call it Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere ('The tears of Hinehukatere'). Hinehukatere loved climbing mountains and persuaded her lover,
Wawe, to go with her. However, Wawe wasn't a very good climber, and an avalanche swept him to his death. Hinehuketere was broken-hearted and her many tears flowed down the mountain and formed the glacier.

While this is a lovely story, I find the actual reason for there being a glacier more interesting.

The South Island of New Zealand is actually formed from two techtonic plates; the Indo-Australian plate to the west and the Pacific plate to the east. Where these two plates are colliding, at the Alpine Fault, huge mountains have been thrown up. These are the Southern Alps. It explains why there is so much earthquake activity in New Zealand, and why New Zealand gets about 3cm closer to Australia every year (much to the New Zealander's distress).

When evaporated water in the air moves up and over mountains, it gets colder, condenses, and falls to the ground as snow. Because New Zealand lies in the Roaring Forties, as well as the El-Nino weather pattern, it gets a lot of warm air carrying an awful lot of water hitting the West Coast. As a result Franz Josef gets approximately three times as much snow as other glaciers worldwide.

When snow falls on the top of the mountain, the pressure and temperature causes it to freeze into blue ice, and hence creates a glacier. The glacier originally began in an ice age, and extended all the way out to the Tasmanian Sea on the coast 15,000 years ago. Nowadays the terminal face (end bit of the glacier) is about 19km away from the sea, though the glacier is advancing and retreating all the time. The movement of the glacier depends on the balance between the amount of snow falling on the neve (the top) and the amount of meltwater coming from the terminal face. At the moment Franz Joseph is advancing, at times up to 70cm a day - phenomenal speed in glacier terms. It also flows 10 times faster than most glaciers.

Another unusal aspect about Franz Josef is it is one of only three glaciers in the world to extend into a rainforest (one of the others, Fox Glacier, is just down the road, and the other is in South America).

Glaciers tend to be rather cold, funnily enough, so before we were allowed to set off on our day we were given lots of special clothes by the glacier guides. This included: rain jacket, waterproof trousers, hat, gloves, special boots, and a bumbag containing crampons (slip-on devices with big metal points to provide traction when walking on the ice).

After suiting up we got a bus to the rainforest, and walked half an hour through to the glacier. This is what our first look at it was like:



From where I was stood, the terminal face looked to be about 200-300m away. However, it is very difficult to appreciate any sense of scale when faced with something so massive, and it was actually a 2.3km walk from there to the start of the glacier.

However, the start of the glacier didn't mean the start of walking on ice. Oh no. First we had a half an hour climb up a massive pile of rocks called the terminal moraine.

Moraine is an accumulation of rocks created by glacier activity. As a glacier flows through a valley it chips off rocks and boulders from the bottom and sides of the valley and, like a big conveyor belt, some of these rocks end up at the front of the glacier, being pushed down the valley. This is called terminal moraine. It can be used to see where a glacier has been in the past - indeed we saw some giant piles of rocks some kilometres away from the current terminal face.

There are many other types of moraine. Medial moraine lies on top the glacier, like so (in the foreground):


Lateral moraine is found on either side of the glacier, and can result in huge boulders ending up at the tops of mountains and things, where they have no business being. It can also result in boulders impacted into the sides of the valley, like these two we saw during our time on the ice:



After finally clambering up the terminal moraine we fitted our crampons onto our boots and took our first tentative steps on the ice. Turns out, there is no need to be tentative - the crampons do their job quite effectively and as long as you put your feet down heavily you will not slip at all.

The climb up the glacier was at times quite hard. First thing in the morning (and it really is first thing - our day started at 8:30am and they had already done this) the glacier guides go out onto the ice with chainsaws and create the path for us to climb. They have to do this every day, because within the space of a few hours any steps or paths created will have either melted away or broken up into huge crevasses as the glacier flows down the valley (currently flowing at about 3m per day - super speedy). Even as we were climbing they had to revise the path constantly because it changed so fast. Here is our glacier guide creating a step with his pick-axe:



Here are some pictures of the glacier:





It was surprising how blue it was. It was also surprising how wet the glacier was. I know that sounds weird, but I had envisaged glaciers as just big blocks of solid ice. However the water is constantly melting, and all over the glacier there were little streams and waterfalls within the glacier itself, running in tunnels beneath our feet.

After a good few hours squeezing through tight crevasses and hauling ourselves up steep steps carved into the ice, we stopped for lunch. Here is a diagram of the glacier:



Yep, after four hours of climbing, that was how far we'd travelled. Not very far at all.

After lunch the guides took us to two features in the ice. The first was a big bridge of ice, that was unusual in that it had been around for a whole month. Normally something like that would only last a few days. Unfortunately, however, this meant we couldn't walk under it as at any moment it was going to collapse, and hundreds of tons of ice would fall down. Our guide said if it didn't fall within the next couple of days they may have to chop it down because it will only become more hazardous.



Unfortunately our guide took that picture, and while may be handy with a pick-axe, he's not very good at photography.

After the ice bridge we went to an ice cave that had appeared overnight, then set off back down the glacier. This took much less time than going up, and some of it felt a bit more like deliberate falling than walking. At one point DrE broke both her crampons, so I got to play around with the guide's pick-axe while he fixed them:



That was fun.

After climbing back down, re-clambering over the terminal moraine, and trekking back through the rainforest, we handed back all our equipment and went to the complementary hot springs.

Yep, I know. Glacier. Hot springs. In the same place. Mind-boggling.

New Zealand is weird.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The West Coast - Big Adventure Day 4

The morning of day 4 had been put aside for something to do in Greymouth, as it wasn't a long drive to our next stop. However, we had seriously overestimated Greymouth - there isn't anything to do. Instead we went to a local greenstone shop.

As I already mentioned greenstone (pounamu), is a type of jade found exclusively on the west coast of the South Island, and is highly prized by the Maori people, for many reasons. Firstly, greenstone has a natural 'grain'. This makes it extremely hard and durable it pressure is applied against the grain, but it can be broken and shaped if pressure is applied with the grain. As the Maori people did not have metal before the arrival of Europeans, greenstone was used to make their finest tools. To cut it a paste was made with crystals from sandstone, some of which are harder than greenstone, and rubbed into the stone using a piece of material.

Secondly, when polished greenstone is very beautiful, and can come in different shades and patterns. It was used to make jewelery, such as a figure called hei tiki, which is believed to hold the power (mana) of previous owners. It is believed that mana is absorbed into the stone and so the jewelery carries a piece of the wearer in them. Therefore it is customary for people to wear the jewelery for a period before giving it as a gift.

The greenstone shop we went to is owned by a guy called Garth, who when we arrived was being filmed for a French documentary. He was also wearing very small shorts.

Garth is the great great great grandson of the famous chief of the Ngati Mahaki tribe, Te Koeti Turanga. The Ngati Mahaki tribe are the only people in New Zealand who have the right to collect greenstone from the West Coast rivers and mountains. Because of this 90% of greenstone in New Zealand shops is imported, and so not actually pounamu. It is important, therefore, when buying greenstone, you only get buy it from a member of the Ngati Mahaki tribe.

Garth was very helpful and educated us all about the history of greenstone and what the meanings of each of the pieces of jewelery we were buying. As Maori tradition dictates, he rubbed each stone between his fingers, so warming the stone and putting some of his mana into the jewelery. So, all wearing very similar necklaces and looking super-touristy, we set back off on our escape from Greymouth.

We'd heard the drive down the West Coast was stunning, and boy, it was. The weather was cloudy and we had a few showers, but that didn't stop us from appreciating the scenery. We stopped for lunch at the very serene Lake Ianthe:



Unfortunately, we'd forgotten that West Coast lake/river = midgies/sandflies. So the rest of the journey mainly involved periodically swatting parts of the car or our anatomy to rid ourselves of our sudden fly infestation. We arrived only marginally bitten at Franz Josef Township mid-afternoon, and got ourselves ready for the next days activites: climbing a glacier.

Yep. An actual glacier.

More to come soon!