After only one hot sticky day of trying to avoid being scammed in Bangkok we were ready to leave. We had booked ourselves on a day trip to Kanchanaburi today, home of the bridge over the river Kwai. Since we have not seen the film (we’re too young… 😉 ) we thought we’d better do a little homework by reading the guidebook. We learned that the famous bridge over the river Kwai is part of a railway built by PoWs under the Japanese during World War II (but you probably knew that already). Our first stop was at the PoW cemetery, with almost 7,000 graves (mainly British, Australians and Dutch) laid out in very neat rows it was quite a moving experience. And it certainly set the scene for our next stop; the World War II museum which gave us a little more insight into the Japanese atrocities at the time (one more heartening tale told of how the PoWs, when building the original wooden bridge, selected the worst timber they could find so that the bridge rotted after a few months).
The museum also gave us our first view of the bridge itself. Which meant there was only thing left to do; walk across it, no easy task when so many other people are trying to do the same thing.
A brief visit to possibly the most boring waterfall ever and we were ready for the highlight of our day out; the Tiger Temple, a monastery turned tiger sanctuary. Our first tiger encounters were with the huge adults at tiger canyon. Even though they were sleeping heavily it was still a little disconcerting to be sat so close to and to be touching real live tigers. The tiger cubs weren’t so scary, they were just unbelievably cute. They were only two months old and still had blue eyes, I was seriously tempted to slip one into my bag to take home. The teenage tiger looked the most unpredictable and possibly the most likely to turn round and have a swipe at you, neither Si nor I were in a hurry to have our photo taken with him, after all we already had photos with us in front of the huge adults anyway.

Return to KL

When we move, it does seem to take most of the day. Today’s transport involved a boat ride back to the mainland then a few hours in a sparse airport (gave us plenty time to catch up on guidebook studies though!) before boarding Asia’s answer to Easyjet to get us to KL. We’d pre-booked the bus into KL for 9 sen (1.5p!), even though there was a queue for the tickets, it felt good to save money! Opting for a cheaper bed, we stopped at a hostel instead of a swish hotel. Costing only a tenner, but friendly staff, free internet, travel advice and book swapping made the Hostel Cosmopolitan priceless.
We explored the local area with Brad, a Kiwi on a 3 week trip, and eventually found La Cuisine – a 24 hour local food joint that had nothing to do with France (the “western food” stall was deserted bar a couple of rice cookers). I’m not sure what I ordered, but it was essentially some shellfish and other stuff scraped out of the bottom of a fishermans net along with a sauce so hot and spicy that I’m surprised the spoon didn’t melt on contact.


Considering that it’s meant to be the wet season around these parts, we’ve been doing quite well, although most people you talk to seem to say it’s the dry season. Either way, today was meant to be a visit to the Blue Mosque, one of the largest in Asia, and from the photos it looks a little like the Taj Mahal. However, as we stepped off the train, the heavens opened. We tried walking in the rain but gave up, mosques are much nicer from the outside, so we headed back to KL to wander around some more markets. Unusual food for the day was courtesy of a chinese restaurant that cooks your meal before your eyes, now that is fresh! Seeing as it’s our last day in KL, here’s a photo of the Petronas Towers we didn’t manage to get up…

The day of almosts

We nearly did a lot of things today, but it just wasn’t meant to be, nevertheless it was still a great day. Kayaking in the morning almost happened, but the wind and rain put a stop to that. We almost went quad biking along a beach that would almost have had us sitting in a (different) hot water beach, but as we didn’t actually pay attention to the “road closed” sign, so we couldn’t get there.
Enough of what we didn’t do, we did find impressive waterfalls leaping down a 50 metre cliff. Sound hauntingly familiar? The viewing platform was unusually positioned right at the top and out over the cliff so you get to look down the falls to the bottom. It allowed us to relive that canyon swing leap from a few weeks ago, and let the butterflies flutter one more time.
P.S. We’ve been slack at keeping up with our blogging homework and we’re sorry, get ready for about a weeks supply soon!

That summer holiday feeling

Last night we arrived in the Coromandel Peninsula on the east coast and lucked out by finding THE best campsite. To paint a picture it was right on the beach (imagine being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves and morning strolls / jogs by the shore), the facilities were uber clean, but best of all there was an awesome TV room where Cat and I enjoyed CSI on a large flat screen TV whilst lounging on a leather sofa each. Ah bliss! (and I had peace to geek out with the Wi-Fi, check the map page! – Si)
After a morning beach walk we made our way further up the peninsula and found ourselves another idyllic beach for lunch. The sun was shining, the sea was beckoning, we had that summer holiday feeling and frolicked around like kids (check out Si on the rope swing).
Eventually, when we were able to drag ourselves away from the fun and frolics we hiked to Cathedral Cove, a beach with spectacularly eroded cliffs and a huge rock archway. We ran through the arch and dodged the waves to get to yet another beautiful beach. It has been a bit of a beach-tastic day! This particular beach boasted views of several stranded arches not that dissimilar to the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean road in Australia.
The guidebook informed us that there was only one thing round these parts that could top Cathedral Cove and that was Hot Water beach. We had been waiting all day for the appropriate low tide time of 6pm to enjoy this little treat. Apparently there is a hot spring under the sand so the idea is that you dig yourself a little pond to sit in and enjoy the hot bubbling water with the occasional sea wave to cool it down. Sounded easy enough. Our first path to the designated area was unfortunately blocked by some rather unsurmountable rocks with ferocious waves crashing on to them, after a bit of a soaking we gave up on that path and drove round the corner to the much easier more direct route. All we had to do from here was walk along the beach to the correct spot and dig. Finding the exact spot proved a little difficult however. In one spot Cat and I were pretty sure that the sea lapping at our feet wasn’t as cold as it should be but a little digging with our toes proved fruitless and we had to admit defeat, especially since the tide did not seem low as promised. We later questioned the lady at the campsite who informed us that this natural phenomenon was not working at the moment. Right!

Shearing capital of the World

I’m sure the Aussies might have something to say about Te Kuiti’s self-prolaimed title of sheep shearing capital of the world. However, we’ve learnt that the Kiwis are good at forgetting other parts of the world, the “most easterly point” and “see the sunrise first” claims of East Cape conveniently forget about Fiji and Siberia that straddle the international date line. Te Kuiti does have a quite impressive 7 metre tall statue of a sheap shearer, which must be hard to match.
Our journey today took us to a remnant forest of kahikatea, New Zealands tallest tree. Most have been chopped down to make butter boxes which is a shame as their moss covered buttress roots make for an enchanted forest feel. There was also a stop at Karangahake, an old gold mining town, topped off by the 1km disused railway tunnel walk, that’s a long way to go in the dark!

Going nowhere, fast.

After the jetboat taster a couple of days back, we were back for more at the Whanganui River today. The air was cold and a mist hung over the river gorge, meaning that it was a bit nippy as we zoomed about 50km up the river in the jetboat. Where we were going? Nowhere, or to be precise the bridge to nowhere, built when the Kiwis were trying to convert the land to farms, and the bridge was completed just as the farmers were leaving. So since the 1930’s the bridge has been sitting there not being used, and without a road at either end – literally the bridge to nowhere.
With the farms long gone, the forest is returning to nature, mostly fern trees with their big umbrella leaves filling the steep hillside (not sure why anyone thought it would be a good idea to farm there!). Just as we returned to the boat the rain set in, not too bad on shore, but with the jetboat hurtling down the river each drop was like a needle to the face – good job we had raincoats!

Lady Knox is a geyser!

Today has been an action packed day, it must have been as we’ve all broken our daily photo taking record: Cat with 227, Caroline on 238, and me on a whopping 308, bringing my total to over 12,000. I pity the fool who contemplates a slide show of our trip!
We’d camped at the thermal pools of Waikite, lots of outdoor pools fed from the “boiling river”, although we didn’t think that was literal, a short walk put us straight. The spa is fed from a massive pool about 4 metres across of fiercely boiling water, at some points it boiled so hard it looked like it was going to erupt into a geyser, not something to stand near! Testimony to the fact that the earth’s crust is very thin round these parts.
That only whet our apetites for the thermal wonderland that is Wai-o-Tapo, and first treat was the Lady Knox geyser, promising to erupt at 10.15am. As we’d read our guide book, we knew that the ranger triggers the geyser, but I swear some people were standing with camera ready, checking their watches… The wait also gave me the time to come up with that gem of a blog title, ah, simple things!
The ranger dropped soap powder into the mouth of the geyser, and within seconds foam was billowing from the top. A few seconds later and water was spurting out, giving us our second shower of the day. The rest of the park was as a wonderland as advertised, craters, pools and rocks in a kaleidoscope of colours, all bubbling away and steaming. The champagne pool fizzed as it boiled, and the rim of the pool was bright orange, before dropping off deep to the bottom of the extinct volcano. The final pool was an odd luminescent yellow-green, like some big vat of lime shower gel. Suplhur is very smelly, but can make some crazy colours! At the exit, the mud pools plopped away merrily, occasionally a mini mud eruption would occur in the middle of the lake, and hats off to Caroline who snapped one of the bigger plops mid flow.
With all the thermal pools we’ve visited, it was time for a change to plain old water, and so we stopped for lunch at Aratiatia dam. Now, as you’ve come to expect, this is not an ordinary dam, at 2pm the sirens wailed and the floodgates opened, literally. 80,000 litres of water a second gushed out, and gradually the river level rose. The Aratiatia rapids downstream changed from a trickle to a raging torrent. Even more bizzarre is that the river is turned on just for the spectators to see what the rapids are like in full flow, no other reason. Compare that to Australia, or most other countries for that matter, I can’t imagine they’d use water quite like that! After half an hour the river is turned off again, until the next time.
Further upstream is the Huka Falls, a paltry 10 metre drop, but impressive due to the sheer amount of water flowing, varying depending on the amount of rain, but on the order of 1 tonne per second. It’s easy to see why they can turn the Aratiatia rapids on, the dam would probably overflow if they didn’t!
As dusk was fast approaching there was just enough time to fit in one more visit, this time to Craters of the Moon. The whole landscape was covered in steam rising from various vents, from impossibly small holes to ponds, all billowing white vapour. In many ways similar to what we’ve been looking at for the past two days, but concentrated into one area without trees, and the low light levels added to the atmospheric feeling.
All together it’s been a fine day, and we’ve managed to squeeze quite a lot in, no wonder so many photos were taken!


It was tempting to have another dip in the hot volcanic water this morning, but there was no time, we had a boat to catch! The Peejay IV cruised us out of Whakatane and to White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano. As we got closer, we could see the cone like shape of a volcano with one side of the crater missing (it had collapsed some years ago) which meant we could step ashore right into the crater of the volcano. As soon as we did the eggy, sulphurous smells assaulted our noses.
Before we could get up close and personal to the sulphur, our guide informed us that there had been a 5.4 earthquake a mere 140 km offshore the previous night. Nevermind any possible aftershocks, what we really had to worry about was a possible eruption from this volcano that we were standing on. You may, like me, imagine torrents of lava streaming towards you which would be scary enough, but no, this particular volcano emits boulders the size of cars flying towards you at the speed of bullets! She then told us that IF we were to survive, we would then come up with an escape plan!
With just a little trepidation we then followed her past the bellowing yellow vents, a good point to use the supplied gas masks! The magma chamber was only 3.5km below our feet, which would explain all the bubbling pools. 3.5km was less than the length of the island and so a little too close for comfort! Along with the multi-coloured rocks there was also a crater lake, with a pH of -1.5 – the most acidic lake in the world, and also at a temperature of 50C, not something to take a dip in!
On our way off the island we had a quick look at the remains of the sulphur factory, being rapidly eroded by the sulphur! Feeling very relieved to have made it back to the boat, having avoided an eruption we enjoyed our lunch and began to wonder just how close to danger we had come. A book on the boat told us about a violent eruption in 2000 and how the boat trips were operating up to just two days before! We felt more at home with the sight of common dolphins swimming and frolicking alongside the boat on the way home.

Seeing the sun first

Thanks to Cat’s little knock at 6am, we were up before the crack of dawn, and wandering across boggy fields, confusing cattle in search of the beach to watch the sunrise. As we are as far east as you can go, our aim was to be the first to see the sun come up. We weren’t disappointed either, with the rising sun’s orange rays radiating out from behind the cloud, just like the Japanese rising sun, or a childs drawing.
After a couple more hours extra kip we hit the road again for the final section of the East Cape road. Driving past Maori meeting houses (Marae) with their ornate wood carvings, cows giving us odd looks as they were herded past, and a little church with picket fence next to a beach. At the end of the day, what could be better than relaxing in a hot bath? Fortunately we’ve made it to volcano country, so the campsite had a nice hot spa to relax in!