Caption Competition Winners

R: It’s the moment everyone’s been waiting for – the announcement of the caption competition winners.

It’s been an agonising process for the judges, sifting through thousands upon thousands of entries, and trying to agree on the winners. Sometimes it has been wit, sometimes intelligence, sometimes lateral thinking which has won through. But whatever the reason, the stamp of genius has been the common factor. Mostly.

Due to issues surrounding security, and following advice by Royal Mail, we are unable to announce details concerning the actual prizes. We would, however, advise against making any rash career decisions or large impulsive purchases until you have received your prize. Please allow up to 28 days for delivery.

Thank you all for your entries, and a special congratulation to all the winners.

Brazil

‘Richard prayed that his bushtucker trial did not include rats bottoms, cobras bowels or monkeys weeners.’

– Barry Peebles

Peru

‘I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in, to stop my mind from wandering… where it will go.’

– Peter Restall

Bolivia

‘The food was so bad that I lost 8 stone…’

– Alison Jones

Argentina

‘We can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind, cause if your friends don’t, and if they don’t dance, then there no friends of mine.’

– Daniel England

Chile

‘You get a good view of your house from here!’

– Campbell Scott

New Zealand

‘Gary Glitter’s new disguise wasn’t fooling anyone, especially the children…’

– Mike Stewart

Fiji

‘Richard makes an early return to Shandwick Place.’

– George England

Australia

‘Strictly Come Dancing kicks-off new season on board the QE2.’

– Kevin Rooney

Indonesia

‘Does my bum look big in this.’

– John Shields

Malaysia

‘Bear England.’

– Shona Galletly

Thailand

‘Richie longs for a Mr Whippy back in the UK.’

– Darran Flowers

Laos

‘The annual oxen prostate exam’s a two-man job…’

– Tom Muir

Cambodia

‘Has the bell gone?’

– Linda Livingstone

Vietnam

‘Spot the dummy.’

– Linda Livingstone

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Photo Gallery: The Rest Of The Best

R: We’ve only a few days left, so we thought it would be good to share a few of the photographs that haven’t made it onto the blog.

For the DSLR-owners out there, don’t get too excited – we’ve been using a humble Casio Exilim, which offers only 10.1 megapixels in resolution. But despite its technical limitations it’s done a pretty decent job.

This gallery also means that you will be spared having to sit through hundreds of photographs upon our return. Sighs of relief all round, I think. It will also be something of a boon to those who have only looked at the pictures anyway (you know who you are!).

Happy viewing.

Reflections On The South Pacific

The South Pacific. The phrase often evokes blissful images for cold souls in the Northern Hemisphere. Limitless vistas of azure skies, verdant vegetation and bone-white beaches dominate the mind. Tales of shipwrecks, mutinies and cannibalism excite the imagination and only add to pull of the place.

Our three months in the region, like our time in South America, was not spent mapping every inch, traversing every mountain range nor combing every beach. It consisted, in the end, of four weeks on New Zealand’s North Island, three and a half weeks in Fiji, and four and a half weeks heading north from Melbourne up Australia’s east coast. But our time there was long enough and varied enough to forge strong impressions of the area, an area which for many in colder climes has become something of a modern day Promised Land.

We will start with what made the greatest impact upon us: New Zealand. In its favour was certainly the fact that South America had preceded it, that what had been a tough and challenging adventure dissolved quickly into an easy-going English-speaking home from home. But even if we had gone straight from London to Auckland the overall effect would have been the same. Quite simply, New Zealand was amazing.

That New Zealand was amazing came as a surprise to us. So much is spoken about Australia that New Zealand is invariably and unfairly overlooked. To us, it seems to be a land constructed by a Deity who, upon scrutinising the Earth cradled in the palm of his hand, has plucked from its crust his favourite parts, fusing them together to form New Zealand’s unrivalled topography. The effect is incaptivating: massy mountains soar, glassy rivers roar and beaches and coastlines glitter with the incandescent light of the southern sun.

It is also a land which appears to have been created solely as a playground for backpacking, camper vanning adventurers. Its size – not as small as you perhaps would first surmise – is perfectly suited to the rhythms and syncopated beats of the nomadic spirit; and its towns and cities are of such a size that they neither overwhelm nor dull the greedy senses of the traveller. Its people, too, seem to exhibit just the right balance of character: an air of relaxed openness, easy approachability and steady guidance. Never before had we met a friendlier bunch.

Aside from New Zealand stealing the show, one theme which dominated our time in the Pacific has to be that of internet access. This may strike the reader as a mere trifle. But free and easy access to the World Wide Web is quickly become something of an inalienable right in the 21st century. And it is a right which is defended with passion by the travelling masses. Fiji can be excused at this point from any further scrutiny. Even on some of the most remote islands the internet was made available – via satellite – for a small nominal fee. In the Yasawas, where mains electricity and a fresh water supply still remains an ambition, the Fijians should even be applauded. But in Australia and New Zealand the situation is no less than scandalous.

In both these countries the situation was very often the same. Access to the internet came at a price, and even then surfing was slow, patchy, unreliable, and often limited in terms of time or data. It is rather embarrassing that only an oversized clown with orange hair and yellow dungarees had the wherewithal to provide ‘free Wi-Fi’ to much of the antipodean population. We are ashamed to admit that never before had we dined on so many Fish Fillets, Chicken Burgers and Cheese Quarter Pounders. These were the sacrifices that were made in order to keep the blog running.

To put Australia and New Zealand’s crime into perspective, we had free Wi-Fi access in the middle of San Pedro de Atacama. Yes, that’s the small town in Chile situated in the driest desert in the world. We have also had free and easy internet usage in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Bali, Java, Singapore, Borneo, Malaysia and Thailand. What’s going on? This is surely a case for the investigative powers of John Pilger.

Once again, food was a theme which left a big impression on us. Fiji was a touch disappointing, proffering rather bland root vegetables and tasteless fish and meats; even the home-cooking of the more rustic retreats failed to provide in freshness what they lacked in variety. It was strange that, on islands which had fruit literally falling from the trees, life-affirming juices were in scant supply. Still, between us there was only a single episode of food poisoning. Happy days.

Australia had promised much with its legendary fusion of Western and Asian flavours, but it was probably undone by the crushing relationship between the British pound and the Aussie dollar. Although we gave ourselves double the budget of South America and triple the budget of Southeast Asia, many of the more salubrious eateries were simply out of our reach. And even when we could have invoked our Emergency Treats Fund (ETF), we simply refused to pay 25GBP for fish and chips. We may not have jobs, but we’ve still got principles.

But perhaps most tellingly, Australia was undone by New Zealand. In almost every conceivable example of gastronomy New Zealand excelled. It wasn’t just in the fabulous Michelen-starred style meal we had in Martinborough, accompanied by fabulous wine and surrounded by sun-soaked vineyards; it wasn’t just in twice or thrice weekly restaurant treats where we experienced the best-ever nachos, the greatest gourmet burgers, the most fabulous calamari and the world’s finest example of apple pie and ice cream; and it wasn’t just in the frankly phenomenal cafes – particularly in Wellington – where we devoured unparalleled pumpkin pie, sublime chocolate and cherry cake, marvellous muffins and first-rate flat whites. What brought home to us the glory of New Zealand’s larder was in the everyday sweets and snacks that punctuated our travel. Take a bow Pam’s Burger Hoops, soak up the applause Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana Chocolate, and start your lap of honour RJ’s Chocolate & Raspberry Licorice Bullets.

On a more serious note the South Pacific, like South America, is a region where the echoes of indigenous cultures still reverberate. We are no experts on this subject, and visitors can often be blind to what is clearly visible to residents; but we can only comment on what we witnessed. And we can only apologise if other people’s experiences are different and our remarks unwittingly cause offence.

Of the three countries Fiji has the largest proportion of indigenous people, especially in the Yasawa Islands where a great deal is being done to preserve Fijian traditions and culture. On the mainland there is a greater presence of Indo-Fijians, which is a legacy of Britain’s policy at the end of the nineteenth century of sending indentured labourers from India. There has been and there still exists tensions between these two groups but some sort of fragile harmony seems to have been established.

New Zealand’s attitude to the Maori people, its culture and its traditions, is without doubt the most progressive and enlightened that we’ve experienced on our travels. Everywhere we went in New Zealand we were exposed to the Maori way of life, its history, its people, its traditions and its culture. Whether of European or Maori descent, the vast majority of people seemed to take great pride in this vital element of the country’s history. The Te Papa Museum is probably the greatest example of this. A massive building covering four huge floors, Te Papa is the most modern and most interactive museum we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. It houses exhibits on New Zealand’s wildlife and natural habitat, recounts the migration of Europeans to its shores, and showcases Western art and Old World artefacts. But its main purpose is to preserve and promote the rich cultural history of the Maori people. And this is a history of which all New Zealanders seem to feel part. Granted, all is not perfect between Maori communities and other parts of the population; some feel that this minority is unfairly disenfranchised while others believe they have more rights than the majority. But if ever there was an encouraging example that historical enmity can be overcome then New Zealand is surely it.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for Australia. We saw very few aborigines during our time there, and virtually none in any meaningful jobs or positions within society; what little exposure we had to aboriginal museums, galleries or any other forms of cultural representation, we had to work hard to discover; and the Australians we met spoke fleetingly of the past and seemed embarrassed or awkward when discussing the subject. Australia’s was certainly a much more brutal history than that of New Zealand’s, and perhaps the latter has had an opportunity to learn from the former’s mistakes. Whatever the reasons, the difference between the two countries in this regard is glaring.

As way of an example, let us compare New Zealand’s Te Papa with Australia’s Museum of Sydney. On the day we visited the MoS, there hung in different parts of the first floor two paintings by indigenous artist Gordon Syron. Below each were comments by the artist which included stinging criticisms of what he described as the ‘British Invasion’ and the ‘denial’ and delusion’ that has followed ever since. On the very same floor, and occupying considerably more square metres than Syron’s work, was a large exhibition on the history of surfing. This stark and jarring juxtaposition perhaps told us more about Australia than a hundred documentaries ever could.

You may be thinking that we didn’t take to Australia. You are partly right. It had a lot to live up to after we had enjoyed New Zealand so much, and perhaps it would have fared better if we had gone straight from the rollercoaster that was South America. That said, Melbourne was something of a revelation – helped in no small part by the tennis – and without doubt it is a city that would be a joy to live in, especially if that life was in South Yarra. Sydney was sabotaged somewhat by the weather; but again, inhabiting a penthouse overlooking Manly Harbour would be a wonderful way to spend one’s evenings, and the ferry a delightful means of getting to and from the office. Brisbane, too, was of a sufficient size and – dare we say – sophistication to make it more than adequate spot to set up home.

And so we will remember the South Pacific with much fondness. Fiji will always be recollected for the dark times but warm hearts of the undeveloped islands; it will also be remembered as a place where we eventually reached paradise and fell helpless but happy into the ten days that followed. Australia will always be associated with Marvellous Melbourne and nearly-marvellous Murray, as well as a Sydney which eventually yielded and offered up some of its delights; we will also never be able separate the Land of Oz from memories of our road trip up its rough and tough northeast coast, a journey made in a haze of tarmac-melting and hothouse-humid temperatures.

But our hearts will forever remain in New Zealand. And it is a beautiful twist that one of our biggest regrets may well turn out to be one of our greatest joys. For now we have a great excuse to go back and visit the South Island.

Day 91: Nadi, Fiji

We write this from a very hot but very wet Fiji mainland.

In the interests of good blog-keeping Christmas was spent in Raglan, a small surf town on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Far too much food and drink was consumed and even two walks along the beach failed to stem the ill-effects. Still, it was a memorable day and a Christmas barbecue has much to recommend it.

On Boxing Day (Day 90) we travelled back up north to the outskirts of Auckland, just near the airport, where we were to spend our final night.

Geographically-minded readers might at this point realise that we haven’t ventured to New Zealand’s South Island. Some may throw their hands up in disgust, some may scream ‘tragedy’, ‘criminal’ or sit mute with shock. But hear us out.

We had a difficult decision to make. Do we spend most of our time behind the wheel and in petrol stations? Do we merely scratch the surface of the two islands? Or do we instead explore the North Island with at least a medium-sized toothcomb? In the end we decided we had too much respect for New Zealand to subject it to a wham-bam-thank-you-mam two-island tour. Besides, it gives us an excuse to come back!

And New Zealand being New Zealand, even our final night, in a campsite only a couple of miles from the airport, provided us with one last taste of the country’s natural beauty – a beautiful honey and blood-orange sunset.

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Today’s flight to Fiji was supposed to be with Air Pacific but New Zealand Airways had to step-in – seamlessly, one must add – at the last minute. It was our gain. Check out the safety information video that was provided. And play it loud. It received a deserved round of applause at the end. A classic!

NZ Airlines Safety Journey

From tomorrow morning and for the next two weeks we will be island-hopping across the Yasawa Islands. They are north-west of Fiji’s two major land masses and should hopefully be drier and sunnier than elsewhere in the region at this time of year. Here’s hoping anyway.

We’ve been told not to expect any banks, shops or Internet access, so the blog may well lie dormant for a while (I’m sure bloggers and blogees alike could do with a little rest).

So if you don’t hear from us we hope you all have a great Hogmanay. We’ll leave it to Barney and his friend to wish you a Happy New Year. Here’s to a fun-filled, healthy and prosperous 2012.

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Days 83-87: Wellington, Whanganui & Waitomo in Pictures

Little did we know how fantastic Wellington’s Te Papa museum would prove to be.

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Te Papa Museum’s Colossal Squid exhibit. The only one in the world, apparently.

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Yes, that’s a man-made beach in the middle of Wellington. And, yes, that’s Richard’s foot.

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A lady-like guide to windy Welly.

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The world’s greatest apple pie and ice cream. No contest. Don’t even bothering entering.

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A lost Pink Floyd album cover.

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But for the belated staging of this Wellington production we could have made the cast.

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A drink-in-progress Wellington Flat White. A work of art in itself.

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Windy times atop Welly’s Mount Victoria.

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Margarine, Whanganui’s friendly duck.

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Campervan serenades don’t quite cut it in Whanganui.

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Dinner at Barney’s.

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Rudolph, Whanganui’s tame (ish) goat.

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Starlight over Whanganui River.

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The much-hyped, over-priced Waitomo Caves. Magical? Yes. A tourist trap?Getting there.

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The Ruakuri Bush Walk. Five minutes from Waitomo Caves. Free and in splendid isolation. Don’t tell a soul.

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Days 69-74: Coromandel Peninsula

After our whirlwind tour of Northland, and faced with an unstable weather forecast, we had a decision to make: do we head down the west coast or do we head south-east to the Coromandel Peninsula? After consulting a very helpful woman in Whangarei’s i-Site, New Zealand’s answer to the UK’s tourist information board, with fingers crossed we headed south-east. Our decision was not to disappoint us.

Over the next five days we travelled around the peninsula, taking in Thames, Coromandel Town, Whitianga, Hahei, Hot Water Beach and Waihi. The weather turned in our favour and we were blessed for the most part with warm sunshine. No hurricanes here!

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Lunch at Barney’s

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Hanging out at Coromandel Town

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Sunset near Coromandel Town

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Bed-time at Barney’s

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A stroll along Hahei Beach

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Thistles over Cathedral Cove

According to Lonely Planet the Coromandel Peninsula has two must-see attractions: Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach. We attempted to do both in the same day.

Hot Water Beach is blessed with sizzling springs which lie just beneath the sand and can be accessed at low tide. At 10am, and with spade in hand, we headed down to the beach. As with most things worth doing, a couple of hundred others headed down too. 90 minutes and several sunken, flooded holes later we were no nearer uncovering those mythical waters. And we were not alone.

As far as we could see, the only group who had successfully managed to locate, dig and secure a thermal pool were a group of bushy, bushy-haired teenagers. There they sat smugly, beers in hands, as the steam smoked up from their sandy estate. We suspected they had done this before.

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Setting aside our disappointment, as well as our shovel, we sped off to Hahai Beach where our sea kayak tour of Cathedral Cove was due to start.

For those of you unfamiliar with tandem sea kayaks they require a bit of teamwork. The ‘kayaker’ at the back is in charge of steering the rudder – through the use of two pedals at their feet – while the paddler at the front sets the stroke and the pace, occasionally given guidance, where necessary, on matters concerning direction. Success on the high seas therefore requires teamwork, empathy, focus and almost telepathic communication. We were hopeless!

Poor kayaking aside, it was a fabulous way to explore the differing beaches and bays in the area, and the guide left us with a good understanding about the history and geology of the area. But we need to work on our coordination.

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Windsurfing opportunities continue to elude us, however. We had hoped to start the beginner in our group with a lesson in Whitianga, but we were told it was too windy and that they didn’t know the wind forecast for the following day. Two signs that hardly filled us with confidence. Further down the coast in Tiarua we were informed that they hadn’t yet started lessons or hiring out equipment. Busting out a forward loop may have to wait till Fiji. But we’ve still plenty of New Zealand to experience before then.