Saturday, July 30, 2005

mongolia.day01

mongolia.day01
ulaanbaatar

Just arrived safely in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, this afternoon. Flight was quite an eye-opener, to be honest. First time taking Air China, and I never witnessed so much chaos going on in the cabin before. And also the very first time I had porridge on a plane. Weird.

Anyhow, we were picked up at the airport and taken to our hotel to drop off our stuff. Mongolia is a rather interesting place; a mish-mash of Soviet and Chinese cultures. Many buildings still bear evidence of Soviet architecture, and shanty towns are abundant even in the city.

We were taken to the church (where we'll be doing most of our social work) for a quick lunch, then started the afternoon session of the medical screening. A healthy number of people turned up, and they varied widely from poor folks in traditional costumes to their more affluent counterparts with swanky watches seeking a second opinion.

I was tasking the blood glucose station, where I had to draw a drop of blood and use a handheld reader to monitor the amount of sugar in their blood, as a form of diabetic detection. We were kept busy till about half past seven, after which we headed out to a restaurant for dinner.

Sitting in a net cafe as I'm typing this; it's 20 minutes to nine in the evening but the sun hasn't set yet. A drastic change from my one month in NZ where the sun would sink behind the horizon promptly at 5pm.

Ok, gotta scram. Will post photos when I get more time at a computer!

Friday, July 29, 2005

Last one before Mongolia

This'll probably be my last post before I fly off to the land of Genghis Khan. Just gonna wrap up my packing (haha yes it's still not done), hopefully get my hair cut, and meet Lingna & Fara for dinner.

Did some toying around with my blog last night; updated the ME section, changed the sketch in the lower-right hand corner and added a webband. Please give it a visit! And to my dearest BV students, I can't wait to see you folks. Hurry up and set the date for BBQ! Miss you all.

::Harry Potter Spoilers Ahead!::

Has anyone finished the latest Harry Potter book? I thought the ending was good, though rather unexpected. Well, at least it's something different for a change. I was hoping for Snape to get his guts blasted inside out by Harry, though. That would have been a nice sight.

It'll be interesting to see how JK Rowling ties down the end of the entire series in the next and final installment. Meanwhile, they should work on not making the movies suck as bad as the ones that have already come to pass.

Something interesting that I stumbled upon Maddox's website. Enjoy! (Click to enlarge.)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Wet Dreams 2

Caught my second movie for the day -- tsk tsk, no good. Need to be doing something healthier. Like exercise. Haha! Met Aik Wee this afternoon for coffee, then we decided to go catch a movie. The original idea was to go for The Island, but we missed it by five minutes and the next available one was Wet Dreams 2.

Anyone who's caught the original Wet Dreams will undoubtedly find it unbearably hilarious. The casting was great, the acting was absolutely hilarious (three boys wrapping their legs around chin-up poles... Classic!), and the teacher in question was hot.

Unfortunately the magic did not work twice. Wet Dreams 2 was trying too hard to be funny, and I found some of the characters to be on the borderline of irrtating. The main character, Sung-eun, was rather cute. Quite my type. Hehe.


Ooh, don't we look seductively yummy in our excessive makeup?

There, Sung-eun is the one in the lower right hand corner. But she looks much better in the movie. Trust me. Ok, it's gonna be finish-up-packing-or-else-you-can-forget-about-sleeping night for me tonight, so wish me luck. Wong, I need you again. Haha...

Packing for Mongolia...

Oooh. I just caught Stealth alone at my house downstairs. Very exciting, to say the least. Good script, and Rob Cohen has managed to redeem himself with a wham-bang kickass pure-action movie!

Highly recommended. Jessica Biel is good eye-candy, without a doubt. Left the theatre with a feel-good, wow factor, which is something most action movies have been missing out lately (espeically the flop known is XXX2).

Vroom! The silver one's up for auction, contact me.


Let's see what happens when I press this button...

Have commenced the ardous task of packing for Mongolia. Ugh, I hate packing. Well at least it isn't going to be as bad as packing for my NZ trip. Yesterday my family celebrated my mom's birthday, so that means yummy fattening cake again. We get six from the household every year, which is more than what most people can say. Happy birthday mom!

Will be heading out to meet Aik Wee in a bit, so I better scram. Later!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

F4 (The Movie)

Watched Fantastic 4 last night. Jessica Alba is hot! Especially in glasses. Otherwise... The script was quite lousy at times. Also, had sushi for dinner with Lingna yesterday. Mmm... It was so good. I really missed it alot.

We also managed to take this $1.90 plate with two big pieces of tempura-ed stuff on it, but we had no idea what was it actually. I guessed it was potato, but it turned out to be grilled salmon! We both got a pleasant shock... And figured that the chef must have put it on the $1.90 plate mistakenly, instead of the $6.50 plate. Or either that he was feeling generous. Haha!

Nothing on planned for the day, so I'll probably bum around and get some re-packing done and acquaint myself with my video games before I leave again. Hehe.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

nz.day26 + 27

nz.day26
paihia

nz.day27
paihia - auckland

All the drinks the previous day proved to be a very effective concoction of sleeping potion, so I did just that. Slept in till nearly midday, before begrudgingly dragging myself out of bed to answer the call of lunch.

The Armageddon video was playing on TV, so I lurked around to catch abit of it. Perhaps I woke up with a bit of mood swing (must be Marie), but I was actually close to tears halfway through. Pulling my jumper hood close to my face, I forced myself to get out of there and take a hike. Heh heh.

Walked to the wharf, and decided to sign up for one of the cruises on a whim. It was too pricey, and since I was in the Bay of Islands, I thought it would be wise to actually go see some proper islands.

The cruise also offered the opportunity to swim with dolphins (pay an extra $20, of course), and we did see some dolphins, but swimming with them was a no-go as there were juvenile dolphins in the herd. Bummer. I was quite looking forward to that actually.

I swear, these little buggers are damn elusive. So hard to take a proper picture of them, and the rocking boat doesn't help!

We also managed to catch the "world-famous" Hole In The Rock (which I never even heard of until I arrived at Paihia), which looks something like this. And of course, part of the "highlight" of the cruise is that they'll sail through the hole.

And here's how it looks like from the other side of the hole.

Also, we visited the Cathedral Cove, which is just round the corner. Boy, the sure love to give swanky names for rock features, don't they.

Yup, that's it! And a few more shots from the Bay of Islands...

I ended off the day with more video watching at the hostel, and by the end I was through and through ready for bed. Next morning, I pulled myself up at daybreak and caught the 8am bus back to Auckland.

Harry Potter proved to be good distraction on the way back, but by the time Amanda picked me up from the bus terminal I was already dreading taking the plane back. Nevertheless, I got my stuff packed, and five hours later I was on the plane, homeward bound...

Monday, July 25, 2005

nz.day25

nz.day25
auckland - paihia/russell

Took myself an early morning bus (8:15am... *yawn*) headed for Paihia, four hours north of Auckland. Just about the northernmost main town in the whole of NZ. Reached there at about midday, but it was raining and all, pretty depressing weather.

Checked myself in, put my gear down and prepped some lunch. There, I met Andy, this bloke from Liverpool who was kind enough to give me a free return ticket to Russell. Russell is a more laid-back town across the bay, situated along a peninsula. Takes about 10 minutes for the slow ferry, 2 for the fast one.

When I set back out, the sun was out so it was good. Stopped by the cruise centre to check out some interesting cruises around the Bay of Islands.

The beach along Paihia.

Hopped on the ferry to Russell, which was really, really quiet. First stop was the oldest church in NZ, which has a pretty big cemetery and bullet holes along the walls. Quite cool, eh.

Nice cemetery, eh?

Also went to the Russell museum, pretty small but mordern. Had a very nice 1:5 scale of The Endeavour, the ship which Captain James Cook first sailed to NZ.

Following that I took a hour-long trek up to Flagstaff Hill, just about the highest point in Russell. I won't bore with you the historical details of that place, but basically it's about how the Europeans planted a flag at the top but this Maori guy kept chopping the flagstaff down (four times, in fact) in defiance. (You see the same pattern emerging now? Haha...)

The path up the hill. Extremely good way to get your shoes muddy. Apparently kiwis are also spotted in this vicinity but of course I didn't get that lucky.

The views from the top. I managed to catch the sunset (alone) too, that was beautiful. Had a bloody hard time trying to get back down in the dark, though. That wasn't too smart.

The flagstaff in question. They're getting smarter now; the entire flagstaff is now made out of steel.

At the wharf, I was abit worried that I missed the last ferry back to Paihia, but thankfully the last one arrived at 7pm. Spent the rest of the night pub-hopping with Andy (yes, thankfully there are still pubs in Paihia that don't close at 5pm), and met up with some crazy (as in good crazy) Canadian folks, one of which did a very good imitation of Robbie Williams. Sweet-as!

nz.day23 + 24

nz.day23
auckland

nz.day24
auckland

Days 23 & 24 proved to be just loitering around Auckland, taking in the city pace and mostly just sitting around missing Marie. : p

I did, however, managed to actually do some entertainment-ish stuff, like going up the Sky Tower (finally! YES!!), catching a movie (The Longest Yard), buying my Harry Potter book, and walking Nelly, Amanda's labby.

Standing on the glass floor at the Observation Deck of the Sky Tower. Now, if only I could bungy off from there... Oooh.

Amanda and her sis, Dana, and me at the Observation Deck.

And here we see the dog walking the owner.

Sigh... Romantic Princes Wharf by night.

And just for you, an emo pic of me on the Sky Tower. Haha...

Of course, all the city life was enough for me to call it a day, and since I was still unwilling to leave I extended my flight again, and decided to head down to the Bay of Islands the next day.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

nz.day21 + 22

nz.day21
rotorua - auckland

nz.day22
auckland

Our plans to take a 3am bus to auckland (and save us one night) were thwarted as we couldn't get a place on it. No choice, we had to take the 8am one instead. Today was my original departure date for going back to Singapore, but of course unwillingness to leave was a good reason enough to change my departure date to the 20th of Jul instead.

As if making us a catch a five-hour-later bus wasn't good enough for Mr. Fate, he decided to play us again by making the 8am bus full, forcing us to go for the 10am one. Haha, ok, I know, this is getting lame. Well yeah, no surprises there, we did get on the 10am one to Auckland via Hamilton.

Upon reaching Auckland, Marie & I checked into our hostel and Faizal was already there, chatting up enthusiastically with another bloke from KL, Ah Chong. Haha, KL-ians really stick together don't they.

Marie still had tons of souvenir shopping to do, so we hit Queen St and did some serious spending. No good. I pampered myself with a NZ$29.99 Breaking Benjamin CD (what was I thinking!), and we walked around Sky Tower abit.

Someone base-jumping off Auckland's Sky Tower.

Evening plans consisted of dinner at this horrible Chinese food court and coffee at Gloria Jeans, and walking around streets in the depressing rain. And romantic strolls (before the rain started pouring) around Princes Wharf and Viaduct Harbour. Hehe. Really bittersweet. Marie would be hopping on to a flight tomorrow to Quebec via Nadi, LA & Toronto.

Mmm... Yummy Tim Tam Chocolate. Seriously, it's so good. Tim Tams blended with chocolate milk. Ingenious!

The next morning, Marie, myself, Ah Chong & Faizal went to have some good ol' McDonalds breakfast before going back to wait for our airport transfer. I decided to follow Marie to the airport and meet up with Amanda there for my ride back to her place. Ah Chong was also flying off today.

Oh, you know airports. Exciting if you're going somewhere off alone, but most of the time depressing when sending someone off. I won't bore you with the intricate details, but it wasn't nice. Well, as they say, Que Sera Sera. And she was off.

Marie, me and Faizal.

After saying goodbye over Ah Chong over a much-appreciated fag, Amanda picked me up and we headed off for lunch along Ponsonby Rd. Despite not being in one of my most cheerful moods, I managed to get some shopping done for my sis ($15 for a beautiful Esprit bag, that was a real steal!), and a $20 jumper for myself. There's this place called DressSmart in Auckland, which is something like a Factory Outlet Store where they still stuff at rock-bottom prices because they are either out of season or have some sort of minor defect.

We also managed to head up to One-Tree Hill, this hill near the city centre. There used to a be a big tree at the top, but clashes between the Maoris and the European government caused it to be replanted and chopped down numerous times over again. So in the end they just decided to put an obelisk there and call it a day.

The view from One-Tree Hill.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

nz.day19 + 20

nz.day19
taupo - rotorua

nz.day20
rotorua

- post-trip journal-

::sidenote::
Now that I'm posting my blogs from back home, I can now put... photos! Enjoy folks.


The platform extending over the gorge at Taupo Bungy. Jump off, my boy. It's a piece of cake. Heh!


Craters of the Moon. Ooh, check out the steam... It's about 5 kms north of Taupo.

Day 19 would mark the start of another "cycle-till-your-bum-hurts-before-it-becomes-absolutely-numb" day. Marie & I figured out that the easiest (and cheapest) way to get around the sights was to get a bike and cycle around.

We started off from town, and went along the banks of Waikato River till we reached the spectacular (but somewhat small) Huka Falls.

Yep, that's the one. We then crossed Waikato, took a mountain bike trail up north till we reached the Craters of the Moon. Pretty damn cool place, COTM is a thermal area which is pretty unexploited, and that means fewer tourists. Mud pools and steam vents dot around the area, rising from the ground just like that.

We wandered through them on a plank-walk, and had to cringe our noses at times 'cos the smell of sulpher got too overpowering. After we were done with that, we tried out a few surrounding bike trails. Bike trails and graded from 2 to 5, with 2 being the easiest and 5 being, quote for quote, "safer to walk at some places instead. insane climbs and drops, extreme caution needed".

Trust me, we did a Grade 3 track and I was pretty flat out. Haha! Had a good time getting lost a couple times, before rain started to set in and we decided to head back. We had booked a 5 o'clock bus to Rotorua, and no way were we missing that.

Went back to the hostel, had a quick shower, then met up with Amanda to wait for our transport to Rotorua. Faizal, who wanted to skydive over the past two days but unable to do so because of weather, decided to stay for one more night to try his luck the next day.

Unfortunately, when we reached Roturua in the evening, Amanda got really homesick so she decided to head up to Auckland first the next day. Day 20, Marie & I decided to try some really signature Roturua stuff: Zorbing!!

In case you have no idea, or missed it on The Amazing Race dunno how many seasons ago, Zorbing is one unique kiwi invention. The rule is simple: climb into an inflated sphere (the two spheres are held together with shock chords), try to hang on then roll downhill for about 150m. To put it simpler, it's like being chucked into a washing machine.

Yeah, you get the idea. Here's the hole which you clamour into. It isn't exactly very big, huh. Hee hee.

Oh, yeah, they also pour in a couple buckets of water in to keep everything "smooth". It was absolutely hilarious fun, I tell you. I never laughed so much in my life. Marie & I both squeezed into one ball (uh, that didn't sound right), which seems more fun that rolling inside by yourself and laughing away alone. Duh.


We like getting our hair wet in winter. Cos it numbs our brain so we don't have to think. Haha!

After that we walked a short bit away (everything is within this "theme park" called Agrodome) to something abit more extreme: Swoop! This system-shocking experience involves being strapped up in a sleeping-bag like device, hoisted 40m into the air, then released (I had to pull the release rip cord myself) to reach speeds of up to 130km/h (G-force 3). You don't look very glamourous when you're in the sleeping bag, but at least it's good fun.

Please don't laugh. Or giggle.

After that, we walked back 2kms back to the main road to catch our bus back, 'cos we weren't smart enough to figure out where the bus would stop, and because we wanted to save $2 by taking the public bus instead of the shuttle.

Afternoon consisted of shopping around town and visiting the park, which also had loads of those hole in the ground things with boiling mud and sulphuric steam. Faizal was to join us in the evening; the programme was a cultural show and dinner at a Maori village. We headed back to our hostel, had a quick dip in the boiling hostel spa then got ready to set off.

Faizal met us at the hostel, whereby we were picked up by bus to our destination. The guide and the driver said our bus was called the "waka", which means war canoes. The Maoris first sailed to NZ on such wakas. I didn't know whether to take him seriously or not, but he looked serious so I decided not to think otherwise. On the way there he explained the traditional protocol involved in visiting a marae (which means village in Maori).

When we reached, there was quite alot of people; at least 6 busloads (oops, sorry, I mean waka-loads) of people. We were greeted with a traditional warrior's greeting, before we were ushered in to see live demonstrations of everyday Maori activities. The concert afterwards was put on by locals, and we witnessed plenty of poi dances (a women's dance where balls of woven flax and twirled) and action songs.

The night ended off with my favourite part: the hangi. Which of course, means, feast. Dinner is cooked over a hangi oven, in which food is placed in a earthen oven dug into the ground and roasted. Yes, they even manage to cook pudding using the hangi. Beats me, but it tasted really good. It was a terrific experience, and we all gained plenty of insight into proper Maori culture that thrived during the pre-European days.

A must-see should you ever stop by in Rotorua. And by the way, Faizal never did his skydive in Taupo. Weather was bad the next day. Sucks huh! Haha!

Back in SG!

Just arrived back in Singapore this morning at 2:15am. First thing was to get mee pok at the 24hr coffeeshop near my house. Eeugh, weather's so hot! Haha...

Wish I could stay longer in NZ, but that was all the time I could afford. Will be leaving for Mongolia on the 30th, so I guess I'd better enjoy the warm weather while I still can. Miss my Perky Nanas... :(

I'm only through Day 18 of my trip journal, but don't worry I'll finish all 27 days over the next few days. Hope you guys are having as much fun reading them as I have writing them! :)

Beautiful landscapes, amazing sunsets, winter romances... Heh. If only those could last forever, huh. Thanks Amanda for hosting me again in Auckland. Marie, I'll see you soon. Hopefully. Someday...

3, 2, 1... BUNGY!

Awesome. :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

nz.day17 + 18

nz.day17
wellington - taupo

nz.day18
taupo

- post-trip journal -

Alas, it was time to leave metropolitan Wellington and head down to the adventure capital of the North Island: Taupo! Have heard alot of good things of Taupo, so was kinda looking forward to it. We hopped on a morning inter-city shuttle and by 4pm we were there.

Taupo is situated beside, of course, Lake Taupo. Incidentally, Lake Taupo is actually a little bigger than the entire size of Singapore. Makes you think there, doesn't it. On the way there on the bus we met this dude from KL, Faizal.

Upon checking in, we did our laundry then headed down to the nearby Pak 'n Save to get groceries. On our way there we bumped into Faizal and another girl who were coming back from grocery-shopping, and Manda and myself thought, hmm... This guy not bad eh! Just reach only then can snag some girl to go grocery-shopping with him. Haha!

Later during dinner we were introduced to that girl, Marie-Eve, a French Canadian, who was actually in the same dorm as Faizal. We had a good chat about bungy-jumping, along with another girl Ona, who was currently in Taupo to do her medical attachment. Ona even mentioned that yesterday someone was brought to the hospital after bungy-jumping 'cos he suffered a stroke after bursting an artery in his neck. Not good! Not good at all!

So we all went to bed feeling abit freaked out, especially Faizal, Marie & myself as we had decided to take the plunge -- first thing tomorrow morning!

The next day we set off bright and early to Taupo Bungy, which was only about 15 minutes walk away. Upon reaching there, we were just about the only people there with exception of the staff. We did abit of walking around, and were awed at the beautiful cliffs and the river below. There was a platform sticking out of the cliff, and the abyss down below where one would take the leap of faith with nothing but a cord attached to their legs.

Faizal wasted no time in setting himself up, and soon he was being hooked up and prepped for the jump. We decided to move to a different spot where we might have a better view of Faizal, and just as we were anticipating his jump, we suddenly heard a loud scream and before we knew it Faizal was on his way down just like that, without warning. It was absolutely hilarious! He couldn't stop screaming and yelling, and his voice echoed through the entire valley.

Unfortunately, this freaked Marie out quite abit and she decided against doing the jump. Bummer! So it was my turn next. Got myself signed up, and soon I was sitting on a bench by the very edge of the platform getting strapped up.

Let me tell you, I was soooo damn nervous. This is actually worse than skydiving! The video of my jump that we watched afterwards was a testimony to how freaked out I was. But I definitely couldn't back out now, not after paying NZ$99 to do it! The jump crewman went through some quick instructions, then guided me to the edge of the platform. Ohhhh dear.

I smiled to the camera just before leaping, and tried to myself look good and calm. Then... 3, 2, 1, BUNGY! I stopped thinking. I stretched my arms out, leaned forward with my body weight, then let gravity do the rest. The sensation was awesome. 2 seconds of freefall, then I felt the reassuring cord stretch against my legs and soon I was springing up & down, feeling the adrenalin surge through my body. Awesome!

After that I was reeled in by the boat crew on the river, and to my utmost surprise I actually forgot to totally empty my pockets before the jump -- my wallet was still with me! Utterly amazing. The guys on the boat told me that nearly everyone would drop their stuff in the river if they didn't empty their pockets, and it was extremely rare than something would remain inside. That could only mean two things: I was really lucky or my bums are getting so fat that my back pockets are really tight. Haha...

Anyway, after an anticlimactic climb up a path to the top of the cliff, I joined back with the rest and we had a good time laughing over the videos of our jumps.

Manda & myself decided to head back to the hostel and get some sleep, while Marie & Faizal decided to go do some horseback riding. When they returned back, we decided to head to AC Baths, a place with a few public heated swimming pools, both outdoor & indoor.

Manda decided not to get herself wet, so she stayed by the edge of the pool. The three of us had a good time soaking in and lazing around, and Marie thought me some techniques and movements of synchronized swimming (which she learnt previously), and I attempted those in the most ungraceful manner possible.

After dinner, we sat around and played cards; Faizal & me taught Marie & Manda how to play Big Two, and I taught Manda and Faizal how to play Bluff. You should've seen Faizal when he successfully made his first bluff... He was grinning like a kid. Haha! Fun! Later that night, Marie & I were comparing our own watches and we somehow came to the strange conclusion that we liked each others' better, so we decided to swap them for good. Neat.

Monday, July 18, 2005

nz.day16

nz.day16
wellington

- post-trip journal -

Slept in and woke up late today. Felt lazy so we we lazed around the dining table at the hostel till it was nearly lunchtime, when we decided to hit the gondola (which is the cable car) in the city which brings us up to the Botanic Gardens.

We had a bit of problem locating the cable car station due to the confusing layout of the city; as it is extremely hilly, the front entrance can be on the ground floor but the back entrance of the same building is on the eighth floor. Pretty weird, huh! The gondola ride runs on tracks, and was a quick five minute ride to the top.

Spectacular views as usual, and we visited the cable car museum at the top of the hill before heading through the Botanic Gardens for a 45-minute walk down to the city. We saw some weird sculptures on our way down, but the landscaping was gorgeous.

When we reached back to the city, we decided to head down the street and visit Katherine Mansfield's birthplace, which is sort of a museum in a house. Firstly, we had no idea who Katherine Mansfield was. And secondly, we thought it would be just a 10-minute stroll away.

Instead, it turned out to be a 45-minute walk away, and lo and behold, when we reached the house there was a big sign saying "OPEN DAILY" with three small words below, "Closed On Mondays". No prizes for guessing what day of the week it was, yep, it was Monday!

No words could describe our indignance and frustration, but closed means closed. We had no choice but to take a long, long walk back to our hostel, cutting through the city centre. The hilly roads in Wellington didn't help one bit.

After reaching back, Izelson & Adriana actually stopped by our hostel to say hi, which was a nice surprise. They were actually on their way to Tongariro, so they passed by Wellington after boarding the ferry at Picton.

After dinner, Manda & myself, Duncan & Tara as well as Amy & Lilly went for an open-mic karaoke session at a nearby pub called Blue Note. It wasn't crowded, so it was nice just sitting in a small group and going up to shame ourselves. Hehe... We did cheesy songs like Country Road & Heaven, as well as some impossible ones like Hotel California which we totally screwed up.

Me and Lilly did a duet, One Sweet Day. I had no idea what it was like, cos I never heard it before, but I puckered up and went along of it cos I was kinda into Lilly. Hee, guilty as charged. Well, it went fine in the end anyway so it was all good.

Johannes & Michael joined us afterwards, and you should've seen how Amanda's face lit up like a bright light bulb. Heh! It was pretty good & riotous fun. I got pretty hammered that night; cos I was trying all their exotic shots, but that just meant that I had a very good night's sleep. :)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

nz.day13 + 14 + 15

nz.day13
te anau - dunedin

nz.day14
dunedin - wellington

nz.day15
wellington

- post-trip journal -

Woke up early on Day 13, and took the bus from Te Anau to Dunedin. Finally leaving this sleepy, boring place! Arrived at Dunedin in the afternoon, and we set out to town straight away. First stop: Cadbury World! The only proper chocolate factory in New Zealand, Cadbury World is the home of all Cadbury chocolates that are eaten around the region.

We had an awesome time going through the different sections and departments of the factory, learning how chocolate is made, and sampling as well as collecting lots of goooood yummy chocolate. Perky Nanas rule! (For those who don't know what Perky Nanas are, go figure. Hehe.)

The tour concluded with a bang when we witnessed one whole tonne of chocolate pouring down like a giant chocolety waterfall! Or should I say chocolatefall? (Rolls eyes.)

After that we went for grocery shopping, made dinner and just chilled in the hostel.

Day 14, we got up bright and early and went to the Otago Museum for a quick look-see. After that it was time for yet another factory tour: the Speight's Brewery! Speight's is just about the most popular brand of beer in NZ, and I've had my very fair share of it since I arrived. The Speight's tour brought us to different sections of the factory where beer is brewed and processed, as well as being packaged. Pretty cool stuff, and we got to see more than usual as it was a weekend and production of the beer was not in progress.

The tour concluded with, of course, a beer sampling session in a bar setting. We could try all the six different brews of beer that Speight's makes.

Following that, we headed back to the town center and visited the First Church of Otago. Pretty cool place and really beautiful architecture. There was a alcove cum gift shop behind the pulpit, and there was a piano there so I decided to tinker on it for a bit. The sound was lovely. Following that we headed back to our hostel, packed up, and headed to the airport for our flight to Wellington.

After the uneventful flight, we checked into our Wellington hostel, Rosemere, and stayed in for the rest of the night.

Day 17. We headed out to the Wellington town center for a walk, then hit the local museum which happens to be just about the most established museum in NZ. Te Papa! Yep, that's the name of the museum. It actually literally translates to "The Father" in Maori.

A pretty awesome place, we managed to take in some really impressive sights and get a very informative insight to the history and establishment of NZ, from pre-European times till today. After that, Manda went to grab some lunch, and since I wasn't hungry I headed down to the wharf where I visited a docked frigate that was being stripped for sinking. Called F69, it was a decommissioned frigate that served for quite awhile before the Navy decided to sink it so that recreational divers could do some wreck diving in Wellington. Smart move.

Following that, we headed to the Beehive, which is actually NZ's Parliament House. Apparently the architecture is made so that when there's an earthquake the politicians inside will be unharmed (damn!). Beside was the Government House and the Parliament Library, so we hung around the grounds and took some good shots.

Nearby was the Wellington train station, as we popped by for a look-see before taking the long walk back to our hostel. En route, we stopped by Countdown to get groceries for dinner over the next few days.

After dinner, we met a couple really nice people; a couple from South Africa and Sydney: Duncan & Tara; and two blokes from Germany: Johannes and Michael (of which the latter Mandy was totally crazy about). We also met two Kiwi girls, Amy and Lilly. Things got abit fun over a few beers, but soon it was bedtime. Aww.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

nz.day11 + 12

nz.day11
queenstown - te anau

nz.day12
te anau/milford sound

I'm broke. Seriously broke. S**t broke. Yesterday Michelle & Ryan pulled out on us for the Milford Sound trip (so much for waking up at 5am for nothing!), so we had to change our plans and take a bus down from Queenstown to Te Anau.

Reached Te Anau at about 1pm, checked-in and walked around the (extremely sleepy & boring) town centre. I was already broke by then, so we had to contend with window shopping and buy one set of fish & chips to share. No kidding. We then sat on a roadside bench behind a public toilet (I kid you not) and munched on our food (somewhat miserably).

Headed back and walked by the lake shore and took some decent shots. We also managed to book our Milford Sound scenic cruise, and outside we met this couple from Brazil, Izelson & Adriana. They were also heading down to Milford Sound the next day, so we managed to agree to hitch a ride from them and split the cost of petrol. They were the lovliest couple, let me tell you.

As such, we managed to save on getting on of those expensive coach & cruise packages. Upon heading back to the hostel, we found that Izelson & Adriana ended up becoming our roommates, so that was convenient. After dinner, Amanda & myself went to the video room to catch Angela's Ashes.

Next morning, Izelson & Adriana and ourselves set out bright and early (although it was drizziling) for the 2-hour drive to Milford Sound. On the way there we stopped at various very beautiful scenic points for photo opportunities. We reached the cruise centre with good time to spare, and boarded the Lady Of The Sounds for our 2 1/2 hour cruise.

The scenery along Milford Sound was awesome & stunning; cascading waterfalls with peaks reaching up to the clouds. We also spotted fur seals and dolphins. Many dolphins in fact! At least 20 of them. One of the crew even commented that it was the first time she was seeing so many dolphins together.

Halfway through we also stopped at a Underwater Observatory, a facility where people could descend steps to view the underwater marine life in an enclosed area. Thankfully there was lunch provided in the package, else I would be starving on the boat.

We managed to take some really beautiful photos, can't wait to share with you guys when I get back. Milford Sound is a definite must-see should you ever come to the South Island.

Ok, I'm now going to figure out how to feed my cold, hungry self and secure a room tonight in my lacklustre hostel with really poor atmosphere. In any case, I have a sleeping bag with me. Phew. I can still go to sleep with beautiful images of Milford Sound in my head... Heh heh.

I'm officially appealing for donations, please contact me on my NZ handphone (+64211826658) if you're feeling particularly rich! :p Love you guys. Heh.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

nz.day09 + 10

nz.day09
queenstown

nz.day10
queenstown/arrowtown

Whoo! The past two days have been quite packed and pretty fun! Yesterday morning we headed down for our jetboating excursion at the Shotover River. Whee!! Fast-paced and very good fun! It was a 10-min ride to the river, followed by half an hour of "thrill therapy", as what they called it.

The thing about Shotover Jets (which was where we did our jetboating) was the emphasis of 360 degree spins, also called the Hamilton. And they sure didn't disappoint! It was freezing, however, around minus 10 degrees. Apparently if it dips to minus 25 degrees (which happens), it gets so cold that when water splashes onto your face it turns into ice almost instantly!

It was quite an experience, and quite a good deal too! Choose Shotover Jets should you ever come to Queenstown. After that we went back to the hostel, and Amanda chose to stay in. I had nothing else to do so I went down to the cinema to catch... War Of The Worlds! It was better than I expected it to be, so it was all good. Dakota Fanning is a true talent, man. She can really act! Not bad, not bad!

After that I went back for dinner (Amanda cooked), then we went out for drinks with a couple of mates, Philipa & Jim and Michelle & Ryan. Philipa & Jim were our roommates for the past two nights. Had some good fun and chatted for quite a bit.

Next morning, I set off to Arrowtown on a rented mountain bike. And I'll admit, it was the most grilling ride in my entire life. It was almost 30km there, and 30km back. Arrowtown, however, is quite a pretty and quaint little town that was born from a gold rush (along with Macetown) that occurred along the Arrow River.

The cycle there took about a little Over 2 hours, and when I was there I visited the restored Chinese Settlement and the Lake Districts Museum. Apparently when the gold rush was reaching its end people started vacating Arrowtown, so the local district officials invited Chinese immigrants to settle down. However those poor folks faced plenty of discrimination (gee, why am I not surprised).

Lakes District Museum recreated scenes of Arrowtown a century ago, and it was pretty ok. After that I walked along the town centre and along the river (which was flowing so slowly I was amazed it hadn't dried up already). The cycle back was just as gruelling, but I took a different route that passed Mt Coronet so it passed through areas with higher altitude. It got really really foggy as well, and visibility was quite poor. I was quite afraid that I would get knocked down, but thank God everything went well.

I was nearly flat out by the time I reached Queenstown; I had never cycled so long before! But it was worth the while, and quite a good experience. On the way to Arrowtown I passed by Lake Hayes as well, so I managed to get in a couple of beautiful shots.

After dinner Amanda and me set off with Trevor and Delyth (our new roommates) to this local pub, Q Lounge, to catch the Test between the Lions and Auckland. Lions won, of course. Woo hoo! There we met up with Philipa & Jim and Michelle & Ryan as well. After that we headed out to the streets to catch the Mardi Gras, but it was pretty mild. No parades or anything of that sort, just a few stages showcasing some awful bands. Abit disappointing.

Amanda, myself & Delyth then decided to hit the minus 5 Bar, this place where it's sub-zero temperatures and everything is made out of ice, including the drink which you sip your (diluted) vodka from. There were some pretty cool ice sculptures, and we took some good photos. There were also seats made out of ice which you could sit on and chill out (pardon the pun!).

Amanda and myself headed back to the hostel (where I'm sitting now and typing this) after that cos my body's really aching. Guess I'm going to sleep really well tonight. Only thing is, I have to get up at 6am tomorrow as we are following Michelle & Ryan down to Milford Sound, which is about 5 hours away by car one-way. But it's going to be definitely worth the trip, Milford Sound is just about the most beautiful place in NZ.

Delyth said she actually saw dolphins while she was there! And they haven't been spotted for about 3 weeks. So hopefully we get lucky tomorrow, and hopefully the weather holds up!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

nz.day08

nz.day08
queenstown

Slept in today, and woke up at 11am. Was abit peeved; was hoping to use the day more fruitfully. Went up the gondola to the Sky Ledge today, and the view was pretty damn scenic! The weather was good, so we had a good time. Did two rounds of "luge" down the mountain (well it's about 5 minutes per round, so it's not that long), whereby you speed down a track in a go-kart like thing but with a more simplified mechanism. Pretty fun!

Went a couple rounds up the chair lift just for fun, took photos, and had lunch there before heading back down. Afterwards we went for a slow walk around lake Wakatipu, which is the main lake beside Queenstown. The weather was beautiful and I fed some ducks. Haha! The ducks were pretty cute.

The lakeside trail and really awesome views... man, it's everywhere in NZ! Was thinking that it would be really romantic if I could stroll down with someone particular in mind... Hehe, but I'm not telling who! Aww well. Who knows, it might just come through.

Went back to the hostel to eat-in for dinner; we self-catered to save money. After that we watched the first episode of the 2nd season of NZ Idol! Pretty cool. The judges are pretty lenient though, they did let through some horrible singers. And apparently they will be screening the season finale of Lost this week -- gosh, they're actually faster than Singapore! War Of The Worlds and Fantastic Four is opening this week too, so hopefully I can catch those when I'm back in Auckland.

Will be going jetboating first thing in the morning tomorrow, so that should be good. Will keep you guys posted!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

nz.day07

nz.day07
wanaka - queenstown

Wind rushing past you at 200 km/h, adrenalin pumping through your body and leaping out of a plane 12,000ft. in the air... That's pure exhilaration! Did my very first tandem skydive today, and it was just out of this world! Since I was taking the 4 o'clock bus from Wanaka to Queenstown, I decided to go for it, and let me tell you it was definitely worth it!

I reached the airfield at around 11:30am, signed myself up, went through an instructional video, then got myself strapped up, and I was ready to go! Went on the same flight with two other jumpers, a couple from Ireland. Irish guy was pretty nervous, so he was making me feel nervous as well! The view on the way up was spectacular, and I managed to snap in a couple of shots with my camera (yep! I jumped with my trusty Olympus u-mini!).

Was abit nervous, and prayed that my harness was securely attached to my tandem master! The Irish couple exited at 9,000ft., so they went first. It was pretty awesome, seeing them two launch out of the plane. Thank goodness there was no screaming or anything. The plane climbed up to 12,000ft., and it was my turn to go! The tandem master and I moved to the door of the plane, posed for a camera that's mounted on the wing, then off we went!!

At first you get pretty disoriented, 'cos when you first leap out you flip over to your back, but slowly as both the tandem master and the jumper assume the freefall position, we face downwards. The wind was rushing by at incredible speed, and it was difficult to breathe at first. Only managed to take in a few gulps of air. You don't really get the falling sensation, more of a floating on the air kind of feeling. I was so awed by the sight and experience, I didn't exactly have time to worry if the parachute would release properly or if I was securely attached to my tandem master! (Of course everything went smoothly in the end, otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here updating my blog.)

The view was fantastic!! It's like what you see out of a plane window, only that it's just you and nothing's surrounding you! Really cool. The freefall was about 45 seconds (though I didn't really count), and it went for 9000ft.! I paid extra for another camera jumper to jump with me and record a video as well as take photos of my jump, so now I have a video and 24 photos of that!! The camera jumper (Connie) maintained her freefall while my tandem master already activated the parachute, and the sight of Connie just continuing to plummet towards the ground was abit disturbing. I even asked my tandem master if she was going to be alright! Haha!

Well, the only reason Connie maintained her freefall was so that she could reach the ground first and record my landing. After releasing the parachute, we continued on a 6-minute descent towards the ground. My tandem master did quite a few spins on the parachute, which was really cool. The landing was good, and not bumpy at all.

The jump was really worth every buck! $245 for the jump, and an additional $180 to get it on video and pictures. I probably paid for Connie's jump!

Went back to my hostel, and bought some lunch at the nearby supermarket on the way back. After that, while killing time to catch the bus, I managed to catch a really good movie (at the hostel's video room) titled Once Were Warriors, a film about domestic violence among Maoris in NZ.

All the excitement tired me out quite abit, so I slept on the two-hour journey. Checked into our hostel at Queenstown, did some exploring, had dinner at KFC (whose chicken tastes nicer than Singapore's KFC) before heading down to one of the pubs to catch the second test between the All Blacks and the Lions.

Now, I've never been a fan of rugby; in fact, I've never watched a proper match until I came to NZ. But somehow I've grown to be a Lions supporter so I was rooting for the Lions during the match. They lost, as they did with their first test against the ABs last weekend. Ah well. Majority of the pubbers were Lions supporters (yay!), so Amanda, who was with me, was abit uncomfortable! Haha! Serve you right!

Well, still, Lions lost in the end. But it's alright, they have one last test with the ABs before they wrap up their tour, so I'll remain positive about that!

Well, today was a truly awesome day, considering I finally leapt out of a plane. I can now go home pretty contented! Would love to try out some bungy jumping while here in Queenstown, so I'm pretty excited about it! NZ's truly a place for these kind of adrenaline-pumping activities! The photo that was taking from the wing-mounted camera will be available on http://www.skydivenz.com/ so go do take a look ok! You can buy the photo (haha!) at NZ$20 if you're feeling particularly rich! :)

Friday, July 01, 2005

nz.day06

nz.day06
wanaka/albert town

Started out early today, got me bike and headed off along the shores of Lake Wanaka. There was some pretty slightly tough trails, and some well-hidden ones as well so it was pretty interesting. The scenery along the coast of the lake (and the river thereafter) was stunning! It's like cycling in Middle-Earth, no kidding.

Managed to get some really good scenery photos, and try out some bike trails with really beautiful views. I continued onto the river (can't recall the name right now, it's Maori) which leads away from Lake Wanaka, all the way until I reached Albert Town which is about three hours away.

Albert Town's a really sleepy place; there's rarely anyone on the street and no shops or pubs except for the local tavern which houses the watering hole, convenience store and post office. Quite quaint, actually. But what was pretty amazing was that most of the town had great views of the river and valley, and some houses could get this view right at their front door. It was pretty amazing.

Alas, I lost my light gloves (damn!) sometime I was there... I can't even recall the exact moment. Ah well. Headed back to Wanaka, then met up with Amanda for a really late lunch at Subway. I locked my bike along the street, but for some damn reason I couldn't get it open after we were done and Subway and I wanted to return my bike. Called the hostel, and they said to leave it there and they would send someone to pick it up. Really nice!

After that we went down to this local, somewhat touristy attraction called Puzzling World. It's sort of a "theme" park (but smaller) that houses a life-size maze which you can run around in (apparently it's pretty difficult, and takes up to 1 hour to get out!) and exhibitions and rooms that are pretty darn fun and out of this world!

We only had an hour before closing time, so we decided to skip the maze and just view the exhibits instead. There was this room where you could see how they create the "Hobbit" effect, in which things seem taller and smaller than they really are through the use of a camera trick effect. It was really informative! You could go in and get yourself filmed on camera, which you can then play back and see how big the height difference really is.

There was also a pretty big room where they screwed up the perspectives of balance by tilting the floor, but putting items in the room at horizontal level. It's hard to describe, but the experience was pretty out of this world! Golf balls seemed to roll up the table, and water flowed upwards. Quite a place to be indeed!

Tomorrow I should be heading down to Queenstown. Still debating as to whether I should do my skydiving here in Wanaka or do it in Queenstown instead where the cost is slightly more expensive. I'm also thinking of tramping all the way up this nearby mountain (Mt. Iron), but my legs are hurting like mad from today's biking and my shoes aren't that "quality"-type, if you know what I mean. But I must definitely do something, so we'll see about that!