Sean Mc on Skynet

A week in Samoa

The stress(yeah right) of life in NZ was beginning to wear us out so what more could we ask for than a week chilling out and relaxing on a pacific island, we chose Samoa.

This update has been a long time coming so it's going to be brief.
If you want to get away from it all and relax in a beach hut with no internet for a while then Samoa is the place to go. Samoa is made up of two main islands, Upolu and Savaii. Upolu is where the capital Apia is so it's much busier, still really quiet though, just for when you want to get away from it all. We spent the first few days on Upolu. We did a full island tour with a local company so we really got to see all of the island. It's a place where you can swim in the water at pristine white sandy beaches, then go get some coconuts for a drink after lunch and feed leftovers to turtles. All the while enjoying the rainforest scenery and magnificent waterfalls. As well as doing all that we went snorkelling too. How tough life is on a pacific island. The problem with all this acticvity was that the pace was a little rushed :) That's when we decided to drop down another gear, we went to Savaii(other island) for a few days. We thoguh Upolu was slow and easy going, but in comparison to Savaii it's frentic. What did we do on Savaii, more looking at waterfalls but to slow it down we went swimming in the pools at the base, only because we were too lazy to move too far at a time. There's some really cool sea blowholes too, formed over thousands of years as the sea eroded little caves in the ground, at high tide you get something resembling a geyser as the water rushes into the sea cave. Of course we only looked on at this because anything else would be too active for us. Last thing we did on our tour was go swimming with turtles, we had to do something semi active for the day. Swimming with the turtles was amazing, I'd never seen so many turtles up close, it was definately an experience of a lifetime.
Our full island tour of Savaii was so tiring that the next day we slept in and nearly missed breakfast. After breakfast we went for a swim and then back to bed until lunchtime, got up for more food and then back to bed... what a life.

After our day recovering from the tour we felt that we were ready for the hustle and bustle of the main island, Upolu. We got the ferry back but made sure to get a hostel with a swimming pool to laze by. It was nearly dark by time we got to our accomodation so apart from getting dinner we didn't do much.
The next day was a Sunday so we went in search of Papasea. Papasea is a local swimming spot with waterfalls/rocks that you can slide down and into the pool below. Sounds fun... the rocks weren't as smooth as they appeared though and I hurt for quite a while afterwards...ouch. All this swimming and sliding made us very hungry so back into Apia for lunch. Problem, it was Whitesunday and nowhere was open for lunch. We eventually found McDonalds, it turned out to be the only restaurant open on the whole island. After that it was back to our hostel to laze by the pool until our bus collected us and took us to the airport. Back to hectic NZ.

I know there's stuff that I've omitted to mention but I'll tell you about it over a few pints sometime. The picture here shows the view from our beach hut on Savaii, absolute paradise

Here's some more photo's from the week, Clickity click

posted by SeanMc @ 3:05 AM, ,

Aniwhenua River Weekend

Another great weekend with free campsite at the Aniwhenua powerstation with a few paddling runs on the Rangatiki (?), it was doubling up as Nics birthday party and our going away party. Not a whole pile to say except plenty of paddling and plenty of alcohol too. The sad part was that it meant saying our goodbyes to a lot of people who we wouldn't get another chance to see before leaving New Zealand :(

There a few pictures if you click here

posted by SeanMc @ 3:04 AM, ,

Wairoa Weekend

This was the 2nd release of the season on the Wairoa river so off we went, there was Paul, Clare, Dave I, Sam and myself. Some of the pictures from the day's paddling are in the gallery at click here

There's also this little video of some of us playing in the whirlpool

Uploaded by seanmconline

posted by SeanMc @ 3:03 AM, ,

Cambridge to Hamilton Kayak Race

The weekend of the 14 September was the date for this years Cambridge to Hamilton kayak race. This is the North Islands premier kayaking race covering 23km and open to all craft. Although I knew for months that this race was coming up I still didn't do much training for it, the most I'd done was 2 laps of lake Pupuke, about 9km, quite a bit short of the 23km required. That considered I was more than pleased with my finishing time of 1hour 42 minutes. At the start the lack of training showed and it took me about 20minutes to settle into a rhythm. I started at the same time as the multisport boats and had it in my head that I should keep pace with them, no chance. It never really registered with me how much fast a 6.5 or 7m long multisport boat is that a 4.5m downriver/wildwater racer. Putting all of that in context I was very pleased with my placing but have to wonder how I'd have done in a multisport boat. I was the only paddler in a wwr so I don't really have anything to compare to, but people told me I had a good time so I just have to believe them. Someday I might get back to do the race again and put in some proper training just to see how fast I could go.
Still a great race though, and by coincidence it was on the same weekend as Irelands Liffey Descent so I'd have been paddling even if I was at home.

More info about the race at this link

posted by SeanMc @ 3:01 AM, ,

3 days Skiing

After the fun I had last time learning to ski I was really looking forward to the chance to ski again. The opportunity arose sooner than we expected, we had planned on going skiing in a few weeks time but work was quiet so we got the go ahead(great employer) to take the week off. That was on the Sunday, so Monday afternoon we left Auckland to go to Taupo. On Tuesday we left early to go to Whakapapa ski field on Mt Ruapehu, its about 2 hours to the mountain but it was a really early start.
We got a 3-day midweek deal that included a 2 hour lesson, ski rental and passes. Since the last time my confidence was sky high, I could ski now so the 2 hour lesson was going to be a big help. It might have been a bigger help if I could remember anything from the last time. I spent the first few minutes falling in a heap everytime I tried to turn, but by the end I was getting the hang of it again. With my new found knowledge I spent the rest of the day on the blue slopes getting more and more confident, unfortuntely much of the mountain closed as there were some schools champs being held.

Back to Taupo that night and I'd got a parcel in the post, my new ski pants, now I could style it on the slopes. On Wednesday we met up with 2 Irish friends of Clares who were touring the world and spent the day skiing with them, unfortunately visibily was down to about 10m so again much of the mountain was closed and nobody got to see me styling it. We stayed at a hut by the mountain that night, we had a whole bunkhouse to ourselves and there was a woodfire stove, class!
The next day(our last) on the mountain was a bit overcast to begin with but the cloud burned off quickly and the sun shone for the rest of the day, it was brilliant. All the slopes were open and it wasn't as busy as the previous 2 days. Yesterday afternoon I'd felt things starting to come together with my skiing so today was all about getting as many runs in as possible on as many slopes as possible. The snow was good after some fresh falls overnight and the visibility was unlimited, I couldn't ask for more.

After 3 days and an improved ability I'm all set for another week of snow sometime.

posted by SeanMc @ 3:00 AM, ,

Jet Boating in Auckland Harbour

How many people get the chance to let rip around Auckland harbour in a jetboat, some locals maybe but definately not many tourists get the chance. It's super cool to get a chance to see the city skyline and surrounds from the water not just from the road like most tourists, and to be driving the boat yourself is the best of all. Now we didn't spend all our time looking around, we had a jet boat capable of over 65km/h and we just had to see what it could do. Conclusion: it can go very very fast and scare the life out of you, and that's only when you're driving. It's worse as a passenger when you don't know what the driver will do next. If truth be told we probably broke one or 2 speed limits but it was an empty section of water and we had a fast boat to play with. When I win then lotto I want a jet boat, or maybe just for next Christmas :)

posted by SeanMc @ 2:58 AM, ,

Underwater Rugby

Yep, you've read that one right. Some of our friends here play underwater hockey (not that it's normal either) and heard about underwater rugby so started playing.
It's like most ball games, 2 teams, 2 goals and a ball. The ball is filled with salt water so that it doesn't continually float to the surface and you can pass it in any direction. It's played in 5m deep water so you need to be able to hold your breath for a while. At least you get a snorkel and fins to make it easier.

After having played the game, it's fun but I still don't understand it, why would you??
Here's a youtube vid if you want to know more, or else go google it
Underwater Rugby Video

posted by SeanMc @ 9:12 AM, ,

Karangahake Gorge

It was Susan's last few days in NZ as we left Taupo to begin the journey back to Auckland airport but there was still time for more stuff to do. Between Tauranga and Paeroa on SH2 is the Karangahake gorge. In times past this was a famous goldmining area of New Zealand but now with much of the gold long gone the rail and factory areas have been converted to walking trails of varying lengths. As the weather was good when we were passing we thought it apt that we stop and have a look around. Clare and I had been here before but didn't spend much time here so we were eager to walk some of the trails. We chose the railway tunnel loop, a walk of only about 3.5km but it takes you through the old railway tunnel. Although a short walk it was lunchtime when we finished and thought it a good idea to reheat the leftovers of the previous evenings dinner. I got the camping stove out, lit it and put on the food to heat, then I got a bit of a fright, the local fire service had pulled up beside us. I knew there was a fire ban in the park but I thought this was a bit excessive. As it turned out someone had fallen further up the gorge and the fire service were called, phew! the relief!

After that we were happy to continue on to Auckland airport without further mishap or adventure. It was a bit different having 3 of us in the van for the last 2 weeks but it was good to see parts of the country again, and see some parts for the first time. Back to work again :(

posted by SeanMc @ 8:45 AM, ,

Mount Tauhara again

We'd previously walked up Mount Tauhara and had gotten magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. After yesterdays parachute jump we thought it would be good for the 3 of us to walk up Mount Tauhara and have a more relaxed(for some people) view of the area. Unfortunately the weather gods didn't appease and as we got closed to the top more and more cloud started to close in. Whilst the views were still ok, we didn't see as much as we did on the cloudless day of the parachute jump. The picture highlight to some extent how much cloud there was. Still it was a good walk just to get out and do something.

posted by SeanMc @ 4:33 AM, ,

Jumping out a plane?

We're back in Taupo again with a chance to do a parachute jump. This is something that we had certainly intended doing before going home so with 3 of us here now it was a good time.
There are 2 options available a 12000ft or a 15000ft tandem skydive. The difference between the 2 is the freefall time that you have. We chose the higher one with a freefall time of a little over a minute.

The parachute jump is something worth doing but it didn't give me the buzz that I expected, in fact I spent most of the time calmly chatting to my instructor on the way down.

Why do it? The views you get on a clear day are magnificent and it affords you an unhindered view of the countryside that you couldn't get any other way.

Would I do it again? I probably wouldn't do a tandem jump again, but I'd like to do a solo jump sometime, then I'd probably be a lot more nervous.

posted by SeanMc @ 2:43 AM, ,

Learning to Ski

A days skiing on Mt Ruapehu sounded like a great idea at the time, small problem... I couldn't ski. Some people may remember my last attempt at skiing, I was more like a wayward missile falling down the mountain. This time was going to be different I could learn to ski.
On the day I got my rental kit and booked myself onto a 2 hour beginners ski lesson. At least the place was busy enough that there were separate adults and kids lessons being run so I didn't have to suffer the humiliation of being outdone by some 4 year old.
I spent the next 2 hours learning the basics, snow plough, how to stop, turn etc. As we were there for a full day I tried to practice everything I'd been taught in the lesson for the rest of the day. Problem is that it was during the school holidays so the place was crowded like a city centre, no obstacles in my way though, only targets to hit, the less 4 four year olds that were there to make me look bad the better so I made it my mission to eliminate them one by one (well not really, cos I wasn't good enough go where I wanted).
Like a lot of beginners I did struggle to stop gracefully so when I saw one kid of about 10 zipping down the mountain I decided to see what way he might stop. What he did was so graceful, he used a queue of about 25 people to stop him and then looked at them as if it was their fault, he completely wiped out about 6 of them and then joined the queue as if nothing happened.

Great day out and I'm already looking forward to going again, whenever that may be.

posted by SeanMc @ 1:04 AM, ,

Wanganui River Road

We're back on the North Island and with plenty of time to make the short journey from Wanganui to Mt Ruapehu we thought we'd take the scenic route along the old Wanganui River Road.
The tourist books make it sound idylic, see this link but it didn't really turn out like that.
What followed invovled us being pulled out of the mud where we'd ended up after choosing between a 150m cliff down on one side and a 150m cliff up on the other, tough choice, to avoid a recent rockfall. What happened was that we came around a corner and saw two small boulders in the middle of the road with no room for us to fit through, so we took the safer option of steering for the cliff going up from us. Thankfully there was a lot of mud at the base of the cliff but it meant we weren't going anywhere quickly. Before anyone else might come around the corner and choose us instead of the cliff we moved the two boulders. This left us stuck in the mud at the side of the road with nothing on the road that had ever need to be avoided, in short if made us all look stupid! A few mintues later though a local came along in a pickup truck adn towed us out, but only after he had stopped laughing at us. Undeterred we continued.

What we encountered was numerous falled trees, with the only way around them being close to a big drop on one side of the road. Many of them we had to get out and break limbs off the fallen trees just to get by. Just when we thought we were over the worst of it we came across a mudslide that had closed the road. Turning back wasn't really an option at this point after having taken several hours to travel the previous 60km and only about 20km left, but we weren't sure if we'd get through. AS we came around the bend what we saw was a huge excavator in the middle of where we thought the road should be, but it was under a few feet of mud instead. We really didn't think that there was a way through. Eventually one of the road workers came to us and told us that there was still a sealed road underneath the mudslide. We started through it with a lot of wheelspin and slipping and sliding, still not sure I'd get through but hoping at least that we could be pulled out this one quickly. We did get through it, but I'm sure if our van could talk it wouldn't be very happy! Onward to Mt Ruapehu for a days skiing.

posted by SeanMc @ 1:39 AM, ,

Arthurs Pass Scenic Rail Journey

From Hawkes we continued on to Wellington en route to Christchurch. During our time on the South Island over the summer Arthurs pass was the only alpine pass which we hadn't travelled over. At that stage we had decided it would be a good idea to wiat until winter and see what the mountains look like cover in snow. The weather didn't let us down. We flew from Wellington to Christchurch and wow! It was so cold! The three of us were up before dawn for this train journey but it was well worth it just to see the glow of the morning sunshine on the mountains as we trundled through the canturbury plains. We stopped just before the foothills for our first photo opportunity. It was so cold that the train stopped several times going up through the mountains due to the points on the tracks being frozen in place. The pass itself was spectacular, there was about 200mm of snow on the ground and it was pristine in the bright winter sunshine on a clear day. From there the train journeyed on towards Greymouth. There's not a lot to see in Greymouth(we'd been there during the summer anyway), in fact we struggled to find somewhere still open for lunch. We'd arrived at 2pm and most places were shut! Thankfully we'd only an hour to waste in Greymouth before the journey back to Christchurch. When we were at Arthurs pass on the way back it was dusk so we got some great moonlight views just as it got dark.
Later that night we met up with Mike Nooney, another paddler friend of our from Ireland. Mike and his wife Alice had just moved back to NZ from Canada so we had a night of beer and travel stories, great to catch up with him again.
The next day we had a look around Christchurch with Susan before catching a flight back to Wellington, this turned out to be yet another delayed flight, only an hour late thankfully.

posted by SeanMc @ 8:46 AM, ,

Taupo to Hawkes Bay

We didn't spend much time in Taupo on this occasion just one night before driving on to the Hawkes bay area. Although we only stayed one night in Taupo we still had time have a look around the area and visit the usual haunts, including Aratitia rapids, huka falls and Spa Park.
Our main reason for going to Hawkes bay was to go hunting with the Hawkes Bay Hunt again. This was a huge meet with many people up from the South Island on a tour joining the hunt for the day. I'm told that it was a good day for a hunt but all I know is that it was absolutely freezing with a bitterly cold Southerly gale blowing cold air in from the Antartic region. I was so cold that we had to defrost the windscreen later that night.
The next day was our other reason for visiting the area, a wine tour. The region is well known for producing top quality wines and there are many vineyards and wineries in the area. We visited 4 wineries on our tour
Mission Estate vineyard
Church road vineyards
Te Mata Vineyard
Black Barn Vineyard

I had a good day, even though I had the pleasure of driving the two wine drinkers around for the day :)

posted by SeanMc @ 7:44 AM, ,

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