Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand

Yesterday we took the train from Kaikoura back to Christchurch. According to the maps it seems like our bed and breakfast is in walking distance to the train station. We set off with our luggage but unfortunately it seems in the wrong direction. We hike over an overpass and seemingly going out of our way. We walk past some office buildings and then finally we see our lodging, Addington Bed and Breakfast.

We booked the cheapest room, the twin room. It is tight for the two of us with all our luggage but the home is nice. The breakfast is quite good and the house is clean. I am happy there is a washer and dryer available so I can do some laundry while I am here. Space is tight but we don’t plan on spending too much time in the room; besides I’ll have the whole room to myself for the third night anyway.

Today we visit Arthurs Pass National Park and seemingly the best way to visit is by train, a couple hours from Christchurch. Accommodation and amenities are limited at the national park so we visit as most do as a day trip by train. There is also an option to rent a car and drive to the pass; in the interest of time we didn’t take this option.

The weather is quite uncertain as it often is. We hope to get some time to look around before the rain sets in.

We start off with a walking tour provided by a park ranger. We meet at the temporary visitor center.

Learn about animals introduced that became pests. New Zealand is very strict about people bringing in foreign plants and animals, even checking our hiking boots on the way into the country. Unfortunately they weren’t always as strict and now they are paying the price with foreign introduced animals wreaking havoc on their ecosystem.

Our guide takes us past a waterfall, a church with a great view and some other notable landmarks.

Only about 30 people actually live at Arthur’s Pass. As far as visitors go I think many who stay the night do tramping (similar to backpacking, the recreational activity of going for long-distance walks in rough country).

After our tour ends we take the hike up to view some waterfalls.

Devil’s Punchbowl Falls (Māori name is Hinekakai) is up and down a good amount of stairs (2.2 mile hike). I may have cursed and whined a little on the stairs but it is worth it.

After the water fall hike I’m hungry so we head to lunch at one the two restaurants at Arthur’s Pass.

Even with no competition, The Wobbly Kea isn’t bad.

I love my halloumi and pear salad.

After lunch we go for a short nature hike. At this point I am focused on seeing a live kiwi but from what we’ve been told it is more likely to see them at dusk. My ears are actively listening but we are unsuccessful in the quest. However we do happen upon some beautiful lichen lined paths that are other worldly.

Wide open spaces

After our hike we head over to the general store and watch a very naughty Kea bird try to steal everything.

We walk back to the station to await the train. It starts raining but fortunately the rain was not able to ruin our day.

While we wait for the train we start chatting with the guys next to us. We find out they are in Christchurch for a quick stop back home (California I believe). They are scientists that work in Antarctica. They are responsible for fixing and setting up important scientific equipment. They are fascinating to speak with.

Our ride back to Christchurch begins and the rain stops to open up some beautiful views.

Once we are back in Christchurch we head to dinner before walking back to our bed and breakfast. My aunt leaves me tomorrow and I am once again alone for at least another month. It is nice to have a companion while it lasts.

Kaikoura, there she (doesn’t) blow

Train to Kaikoura

We take the train to Kaikoura today. We arrive at the station in Kaikoura and there is no uber and no regular taxis. There is only one guy with a passenger van who will give rides from the train station. He has a business card but doesn’t seem to be always available for rides. I arrange a ride in the morning to the dock for my whale watching boat (at the time I didn’t realize it is in walking distance from my hotel). Anyway, it is hard to get around here without a car unless you don’t mind walking a while.

The ride to Kaikoura is beautiful with an open air observation car at the back of the train (think cattle car).

Train station and whale watch office

Hotel in Kaikoura – Lobster Inn Motor Lodge

My aunt has a sunset kayak tour scheduled for the evening. We originally thought I would be joining her but I have done some damage to my shoulders while traveling. I am pretty sure ocean kayaking is not in the cards for me at this time. Unfortunately due to rough seas her tour gets cancelled for the evening. She hopes to do a paddle tomorrow sometime during the day instead.

We arrive early enough for lunch. We visit the cafe across the street where I get to try green-lipped mussels. They are large and quite tasty.

I go to bed early because I have an early morning boat ticket for whale watching tomorrow. Kaikoura is supposed to be a magnificent place to see whales and other sea animals.

There is a 6:45 arrival time for my tour, the first tour of the day. My driver drops me off on time at the office. Once I arrive I come to find out that both my cruise and the cruise scheduled immediately after is cancelled due to rough seas. There are people in line already to reschedule for a later time but most of the other times this morning are already booked. The only time I can reschedule is for the afternoon but doing so would make me miss our train ride that we have booked back to Christchurch. I am disappointed. I usually schedul multiple days in a location in case something like this happens but in this case I did not.

My aunt goes on her kayaking tour this morning as scheduled. I plan to meet up with her later in town. I decide to walk back to the motel from the whale office instead of trying to find the one taxi guy in town. It is a nice walk along the beach.

I spend a couple hours making some phone calls that are much needed to the USA. I have a short window to take care of business by phone since our days are their nights and vice-versa.

After I take care of things I walk down to town. It is a cute little town. I see signs for crayfish everywhere but I am too cheap to order it so instead I end up getting a huge fried flounder and chips at Strawberry Tree Kaikoura. While the fish below is quite tasty, I regret passing up the crayfish because later when I get serious about trying it before I leave New Zealand I end up paying even more for it and end up disappointed. It is probably much fresher in Kaikoura.

My aunt finally meets up with me and helps me finish the fish. She has a photo of the bones and asked if I wanted to post it but it isn’t pretty so I’ll forgo the photo.

We have a little more time to kill before we pick up our luggage so we visit the local museum Kaikōura Museum. It gives a little taste of the history of the area. There is a good exhibit that talks about the major earthquake that occurred in 2016. A great deal of damage had been done to the coast, roads and tunnels. It is said to have pushed the south island 5km closer to the north island.

We head back to get our luggage and then to the train. We are heading back to Christchurch to overnight before our day trip to Arthur’s Pass tomorrow.

Kaikoura is beautiful and I am very sad I didn’t get to see whales during my visit. If I ever make it back to New Zealand it is definitely on my list again – next time for more days.

Video of train ride to Kaikoura

Kuranda and Rainforests

Skyrail

Today I am going to see a little bit of rainforest in Australia. I am visiting the hill town of Kuranda via a historic trail ride and returning to Cairns via a skyrail over the rainforest.

Kuranda Scenic Railway

I start by taking a two hour old-timey train ride to the rainforest town of Kuranda (Freshwater station to Kuranda station).

My first seat assigned has me awkwardly seated with a large family. Luckily the ride is not full and I can switch to empty seats in another car.

With the train windows open I get the crisp smell of nature and a cool breeze from water before we start ascending into the mountain range.

The train narrator tells us the story of how the tracks and tunnels were built. There are settlement towns that existed around the tunnels to support them being built, even a brewery/distillery at one time.

There are two bends and one stop (Barron Falls).

We make our stop at Barron Falls where we view the falls off into the distance and stretch our legs. It starts raining during this stop so we run back in to our seats after some quick photos.

Barron Falls from the train.

When the train history commentary is complete they play fun train songs such as “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum.

We finally arrive at the station in Kuranda but it is pouring. I hang back to see if the rain lightens and order myself a ham toastie (grilled cheese toasted sandwich).

The town of Kuranda isn’t really a exciting destination for a couple hour trip. Kuranda has a hotel or two and mostly shopping and some kitschy sightseeing. I am able to purchase some souvenirs and clothing items that are much needed. Prices are not cheap by any means but hopefully they are good quality additions to my travel wardrobe.

There is a colorful area with cafes where people can purchase lunch. Unfortunately I had that very filling toastie so am not hungry.

There is a little nature path through a mini-rainforest. I spend a few minutes walking through there.

I’ve seen just about everything I want to see in Kuranda but I am early for my skyrail trip. The lines are short so they let me start my skyrail return trip early.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

View down below of the colorful train

Since the Kuranda village at the top was kind of boring and uneventful I had little hope for the skyrail. The skyrail is basically a gondola that takes you over a rainforest. I am pleasantly surprised when I get a private car and start moving. I immediately start hearing the sounds of birds in nature and have the most magnificent views of the rainforest. It’s been raining on and off all day but the cable way goes so long that I am able to escape the rain. The route is 7.5km long.

There are stops on the way down and one gives a vantage point of a beautiful waterfall. The waterfall Barron Falls is the same one I saw during my trail stop, this time I get a better view.

I am back in my cablecar to finish my return journey. As I get closer to the station I am rewarded of great views of the coast.

Since I am back early I have a little while before my van arrives. I find a place to charge my phone inside the giftshop. With all the beautiful scenery I give my phone battery a large workout today.

After the van takes me back to my hostel I walk back toward town to get something to eat. I settle on this pizza from The Lush Pizza Co.

CHICK’N’PERI (chicken, onion, peppers with peri peri sauce)

I get a chance to wander around town after dark. Cairns is not a large and lively town but the peace and quiet suits me fine at this point in my travels.

Tomorrow I am off to my Great Barrier Reef cruise. Hopefully the weather is good.

Arrived in Hanoi

Train street in Hanoi

I am in Hanoi Vietnam and things are going great. To be honest I am tired but I am still trekking along in my travels.

My original plans had me going to Sapa for a hike and a homestay but instead I break up my Hanoi visit with a Halong Bay crise (actually Bai Tu Long Bay )

My Hanoi visit begins at a Hilton hotel that I booked with some leftover points. It is nice to splurge and stay in a western style comfort hotel every once in a while .

I have only been in Hanoi for a short while and I am already a fan. I mean it is busy and the roads are super crowded with cars and motorbikes but something about it is magical. I am anxious to get to know the city better.

But first I need to take care of the sensor on my “fancy” camera. It has many spots on it. I watch sensor cleaning videos and it seems like there is no way I can safely clean it with what I have with me. I google camera repair shops in the area and find one a couple blocks from my hotel. I arrive at the small shop and there are two men working. They don’t speak much English but I get them to understand that my sensor has spots. One of the men cleans the spots for me. When I ask how much to pay for he says no charge for the service. I never get anything free anymore! This must be a good sign.

I spend the next day or so wandering aimlessly around town. I visit the Ngoc Son temple at Hoàn Kiem Lake. By the lake they have the walking streets (Pedestrian-only hours start from Friday 6 p.m until Sunday 12 p.m.). It is here I first experience school kids wanting to interview me to practice english. It is a common theme as I noticeably stand out in southeast asia with my light colored hair and bigger build. I guess look like a good person to practice with. I oblige as much as possible to be helpful but at one point in my travels it becomes quite frustrating (I’ll talk about that another time).

Ngoc Son temple

The turtle is significant. There is a story about a sword carrying turtle at the lake.

During the walking streets kids get to “drive” these amazing vehicles all over the streets. It is fun to watch the excitement.

Upcoming boxing match near the lake

More shots from around Hanoi

And as part of my series “Instagram ruins everything” I arrive to the famous Hanoi train street to find it blocked off for traffic. It has been closed just weeks prior to my arrival for safety reasons. Apparently people couldn’t stop doing dangerous poses and the government had enough. It would have been cool to see when it was full of life. A guard yells at me while I am trying to to take the photos below, although security is not consistent, a guard on one side of the street is strict and guard on other side doesn’t care how long you stand there to take pictures.

After wandering by train street I go back to my hotel to rest up a bit before my night food tour.

Train from Cairo to Aswan

After a long day of sightseeing we rushed to the train station where we wait for a train that shows up whenever it decides to show up for our overnight to Aswan.

This is my first overnight train ride after many years. I have a private cabin as one of the perks of paying for the single supplement. My cabin during this route isn’t too terrible and I take a Benadryl at the beginning of the ride. People on my tour complained about the ride but I found it to be very peaceful and restful. I didn’t quite enjoy the bathroom or breakfast and dinner for that matter but things could have been worse. But the ride back to Cairo on the other hand was terrible (talk about that later).

It is on the train that I suspect I got my Egypt belly bug because a day after this is when I start to have really bad cramping and you know what. When I arrive in a country that has bacteria that is incompatible with my body is I early on tend to start brushing my teeth with the local water. The theory here is that it’s going to eventually get you in some form or another why not get it at the beginning and get it over with. However this time I think it backfired a bit because Egypt bacteria is a worthy opponent. When I was in India it didn’t take me too long to recover but my body really did not like Egypt bacteria.… Or it could’ve been just run-of-the-mill food poisoning. Luckily my worst day and night happened to coincide with a comfortable hotel night and a felucca ride that required very little physical activity and a very strong dose of Imodium A.D.

The dinner