Posts tagged: travel

Bondi ‘caveman’ moved on

We visited Sydney in August and on our last day in that great city we walked under overcast skies around the cliffs of Bondi Beach.

One of the highlights of that stroll was coming across the belongings and ‘dwelling’ of the Bondi Caveman, Jhyimy “Two Hats” Mhiyles. My boys were intrigued that this man lived in a cave next to and nearby some of the priciest houses in Sydney. His ramshackle belongings spilled out across the grey rock. He had views to die for and he didn’t pay a cent.

The Bondi Caveman's cliff top paradise

The Bondi Caveman's cliff top paradise (Photo by Skinny)

Like the Blanket Man in Wellington Jhyimy had become a local icon. A self styled poet, a harmless and intriguing tourist attraction.

It’s all gone.

Yesterday the Waverley Council demolished his hut, and disposed of anything that looked like rubbish, while keeping in storage anything that looked like a ‘normal’ belonging.

Jhyimy had recently been accused of sexual assault after luring a young woman to his cliff top home. So, now that he’s locked up and awaiting a trial the council has taken the opportunity to pounce and remove all trace of his presence.

Waverley Council mayor Sally Betts denied the sexual assault allegations had anything to do with the eviction, though she admitted the case had probably made it easier to obtain the eviction order.

It seems way too convenient to me. Check out the full story here on the Sydney Morning Herald website.

United breaks guitars

While I’m in the mood for revealing bad customer service here’s a doozy that slipped by me. (Thanks G forpointing it out.)

Dave Carroll, a musician from Halifax flew United Airlines to Nebraska where his band, Sons of Maxwell were playing gigs all week.

After the plane landed Dave looked out his window to see the baggage handlers tossing their instruments round like confetti. When Dave collected his guitar off the carousel his worst fears were realised – his handmade Taylor guitar (worth US$3,500) was broken.

To cut a long story short – he complained, and complained – for nine months until finally he had had enough. United Airlines were not going to play ball. So, Dave told United that he would write three songs about his experience and release them one after the other as a warning to others not to fly United.

The ensuing video has gone viral. According to Visible Measures (a company that is in the business of measuring the impact of viral campaigns) the YouTube video has amassed more than 3 million hits in ten days, and over 14,000 comments across various blogs and news outlets. A previously little-known country band from Halifax, Nova Scotia now has a world-wide audience.

United Airlines has also had amazing press coverage, far more air time than they could ever have possibly bought for $3,500 – unfortunately it’s all bad press.

As Dave Carroll puts it on his blog:

I should thank United. They’ve given me a creative outlet that has brought people together from around the world…So, thanks United! If my guitar had to be smashed due to extreme negligence I’m glad it was you that did it. Now sit back and enjoy the show.

Indeed. Here’s the first video.

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Hot air ballooning in Hawkes Bay

I bought Sugar a voucher for a hot air balloon ride – it was for a significant birthday (21?) and so it seemed appropriate that I spend up large. Hot air ballooning is not cheap.

And so it came to pass that eighteen months after purchasing said gift we finally organised the trip on a cold, still, crisp and beautiful Hawkes Bay morning.

We left Waipukurau (where the children stayed with Nanna) at 5.40 am for a 6.20 am pickup in Hastings. On the way I ran over a rabbit. There was a time when I would have cheered and congratulated myself for ridding the country of one more member of the pestilent breed. But it was Easter, and so I felt a bit mean.

Anyway, I digress. We met the very agreeable Andrew Livingston, who was going to be our pilot, and his assistant Colin, who was in the chase vehicle and who no doubt would have reported a disaster if any such thing befell us. The fact that I am writing this post gives some indication we all survived to tell the tale.

There were two other couples waiting in the carpark – that meant that seven people would be climbing into a balloon basket not much bigger than the square footage of two toilets. It looked like it would be a tight squeeze.

The wind was blowing westerly and a little from the south. Andrew knew then that we needed to head inland so that the journey in the balloon, lasting an hour, would take us past Havelock North but not as far as the Tuki Tuki River. And so we filled the balloon in a park in Flaxmere surrounded on all sides by suburban houses, none of which probably knew what was transpiring so close to their backyards.

Inside the balloon

Inside the balloon

The balloon inflated in no time at all. We were given a safety instruction on how to land. Basically the men act as the ‘cushion’ for the women should the basket tip over on landing.

After a few blasts of flaming air into the cavity of the balloon we lifted gracefully, and silently into the air. It was so calm.

At about 300 feet I began to have a slight feeling of vertigo. I had been led to believe the basket was at chest height, but near the middle the basket barely came up to your waist. So, if you leaned forward energetically then it was entirely possible that you could fall out. For that reason I had managed to secrete myself in the corner where I flung an arm around one of the four main supports that rose to meet the balloon.

The backyards of Hastings

The backyards of Hastings

The view was stupendous. How could it be anything but. We could see all the way north up the coast of Hawkes Bay. Bluff Hill in Napier looked like a pimple. Te Mata Peak in Havelock North didn’t appear to be much bigger.

We had a perfect view down into the backyards of Hastings as we floated with the wind towards the coast. Because we are carried with and by the wind there is no sensation of wind in your face – none whatsoever. It’s very strange. Later when we reviewed the statistics from the GPS it revealed that we had reached a top speed of 27 knots – who would have known?

The view

The view

The only sound, other than the intermittent blast of gas to keep the balloon inflated was the barking of dogs as we floated overhead. Apparently there’s a high pitched scream as we release gas that sends the dogs into a frenzy.

We landed, as gracefully as we could, on the riverbank of the Tuki Tuki River. We drifted about 5 metres above the stop bank – at that point it became clear that we were travelling at a reasonable speed , but Andrew managed to drop us right on the spot, missing power lines by a good 500 metres. For a split second the basket leaned at 45 degrees with the seven passengers all heaving their weight in the opposite direction to right the lean. It was, by all accounts, a perfect landing.

A champagne breakfast served by Andrew and Colin topped the morning off. And here’s a tip. If you make warm muffins and you want them to stay warm, then pack them with a hot water bottle. It worked a treat.

For bookings see www.early-am-balloons.co.nz – they also have a balloon in the Wairarapa.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Saturday 14 March

I have had a very active March.

No sooner had I returned from my motorcycle adventure around the South Island than I found myself in the car with Sugar heading for National Park. We were hoping to do the Tongariro Crossing, in fact we had been thinking about it for over a year.

We arrived at the Chateau around 11.00pm and were tucked up in bed anticipating an early wakeup call to get the 7.00am shuttle that would take us to the start of the track.

Saturday morning arrived, crisp and clear, with a light breeze. I knew the track was popular but wasn’t prepared for the hoardes of people getting off buses and out of cars and 4WD’s at the end of the Mangatepopo Road.

Sugar and I headed off. The brochure said the track was ‘challenging’. It wasn’t lying. The first part of the track crossed a volcanic plateau to the first toilet stop at Soda Springs. Then it was a steep climb up the Devil’s Staircase – aptly named. Very steep with magnificent views all the way to Mount Taranaki on the West Coast of the North Island.

We’d been walking in shade for over an hour. Every few hundred metres the track would be bathed in sunlight and we would find other trampers resting there to warm up.

At the top of the Devil’s Staircase the track levels off and enters this surreal landscape known as the South Crater. I swear this was where NASA filmed the lunar landing.

The whole while the slopes of Ngauruhoe loomed over the track. There is a side track that trampers can take which adds 2.0 hours to the journey – it takes you to the top of Ngauruhoe, and is not for the faint hearted or for those suffering from vertigo. It’s considered ‘very challenging’. I could see why. The hike up takes 1.5 hours – the scramble down takes 30 minutes. We stayed on the main track.

The climb up to the Red Crater, an area of anatomical-looking fissures and what looked like recent volcanic activity, was slippery and required sure-footedness.  There was ice under the volcanic gravel. But the view at the top of this steep section was spectacular and allowed a great vantage point down to the three small blue-green crater lakes. At one point steam rose up and the ground was warm to the touch.

The track down to the Emerald Lakes

The track down to the Emerald Lakes

We stopped for a while near the Emerald Lakes. The whole area swarmed with other trampers. There was no need to be concerned about being left behind. I reckon 80-100 people were with us at that point with more arriving every few minutes.

Further on the Blue Lake gave us an opportunity to have lunch and there was more room to spread out and be more ‘alone’. The track headed north from this point towards and down to the Ketetahi Hut, the first toilet stop since Soda Stream nearly 4.5 hours before.

From Ketetahi Hut the walk down was excrutiating, for me at least. I hate going downhill and this was incessant, and almost boring. It put tremendous strain on my long legs until by the time I emerged at the Ketetahi Carpark and pick-up point I was a hobbling cripple.

It took me days to recover – not in the sense of exhaustion but just in the pain in my legs. This is one of the most popular tramps in New Zealand. In summer months when the weather is good up to 800 people a day do the walk. That’s double what some tramping tracks do in a year!

On a side note: we stayed at the Chateau. It was an experience to say the least. Don’t expect good food – the restaurant does a great breakfast but the dinner was overblown cordon-bleu crap, and inedible. Sugar couldn’t eat her entree, and only ate half her main. I was too exhausted to complain about my lamb chop swimming in some creamy muck – I didn’t eat much of it, and my soup was luke warm.

And they charge $5 for a flat white.

But the Crossing is more than worth the price of a bad meal. Another wonderful domestic tourism experience.

Christchurch to Picton, then Wellington – Thursday 12 March

Lucky again with the weather. No rain, just a subdued Christchurch sky.

I’ve done Christchurch to Picton many times before and so wasn’t particularly excited at the prospect of the journey. And because I needed to be at Picton for a 5pm check-in there was a sense of just needing to get there, rather than enjoying the journey.

Fuel stop in Amberley. Lunch in Cheviot in a great café that had a gallery attached. A colleague from my previous life as a photographer, Doc Ross, had some large scale landscape prints for sale.

I rested my back and shoulders in Kaikoura. This incessant riding at 100kph just isn’t my idea of fun, and my bike revs quite high at that speed which contributes to my fatigue and results, ultimately, to a numb arse!

From Kaikoura I rode straight through to Picton. The only frustrations were campervans holding up traffic, and a stiff head wind.

My excitement for the day happened in Picton when I made use of the public toilets.

Instructions on the outside told me to push the green button. I did. The door slid open with a star-trekky whoosh.

I stepped inside a structure similar to The Tardis – much bigger inside than the outside indicated. Already disconvovulated (sp?) a chirpy American (male) welcomed me to the Exeloo. He spoke like he was introducing a boxer in the red corner. I looked around to see if he was in there with me. I was alone.

My new friend announced that I would have 10 minutes to ‘complete’. No indication was given of what might happen after 10 minutes of incompletion. Fortunately I wasn’t there for that type of visit.

Immediately after my riding instructions loud mu-sac (or loo-sac, or poo-sac) started playing – an accomplished instrumental version of Burt Bacharachs “What do you get when you fall in love…” A note above the toilet informed me that the toilet would flush only under two conditions. One, when I washed my hands, or two, when I opened the door.

There was a large cubbyhole in the wall – hands to the left squirted soap. Hands in the middle produced water. Hands to the right started the hand drier.

I pressed the button to unlock the door (after washing my hands) and as I left Brad/Scooter/Hank/my new best friend proudly thanked me for using Exeloo.

As I write this I’m imagining the countdown as the 10 minute limit drew near.

So, remember – if you have not been eating your bran, and are perhaps a little less than regular DON’T, whatever you do, use an Exeloo.

I’m about an hour out of Wellington now on the ghastly Aratere (the smaller of the ferries). The sailing is smooth but with a noticeable swell.

Since last Sunday lunchtime I have travelled just over 2000kms and ridden on roads I have never ridden before, including two rather exciting off-the-beaten-track experiences.

At the risk of sounding cliched New Zealand is an amazing place. And in these tough economic times it’s really time to explore our own country before heading offshore. This whole experience cost me less than $500 – I could have done it for a lot less if I hadn’t stayed in motels, or had to buy beer for the guys at Omakau Garage.

Bloody great adventure. Mission accomplished.

On a final, final note I would like to acknowledge my other (and better) half for allowing me leave of absence from family life. Thanks Sugar!

And one more from Qantas

A 747 was damaged while being towed along the tarmac at Avalon Airport in Melbourne yesterday. That’s not such a big concern – at least it wasn’t in the air and full of passengers.

Today though a Qantas Dash 8 aircraft was forced back to Brisbane Airport after smoke filled the cabin.

Are Qantas management looking into possible sabotage by ground-crew? The number of instances of malfunction or near disaster are too many to be a coincidence or just bad luck. Either that or the maintenance contract is missing something obvious, like trained personnel.

I’ll never fly Qantas again. Nor will many others.

Here’s a timeline courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald on Qantas mishaps.

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