Surprise!!!

Endless markets bustling with people competing for space. An army of food carts offering an incredible variety of the strangest and most wonderful foods. All manner of freshly butchered animals out on display. The rancid smell of fish guts mixed with the fragrant smell of infused lemongrass creating a rare pong. Hiding in their air conditioned cars from the blaring sun, the taxi drivers joining the chaos of traffic before them, horns blaring from all sides. The polluted air making breathing seem more a laboured task than a god-given right. This is Bangkok. 

All gold at Doi Suthep temple

We arrived in Bangkok a little over 3 weeks ago and spent 3 nights in the city. Upon arrival we went through the usual process of immigration, grabbed our bags from the carousel and took a taxi to ‘Hide Bangkok’ hostel in the Sukhumvit district. We spent the next few days wandering from temple to temple, staring in awe at the sheer size of the shopping centres in Siam square, visiting the famous Khao San road and pushing our way through the crowded Chinese and Thai markets. All in all we weren’t overly impressed. Walking around the city, inhaling the stale city air, we grew tired of wandering aimlessly. The noise of the city was deafening. Posters and TV advertisements of the newest facial botox therapies, selfie expert smartphones and whitening creams were everywhere. Some of the evening markets were interesting for sure and the Buddhist temples were much more impressive than what we had seen in Indonesia, but overall… it was just complete mayhem. Just like many of the other big cities mind you. I guess I am just completely over the idea of visiting large metropolises such as Bangkok. There are clearly too many people and not enough space to allow one to think clearly. I know I am coming off as sounding like a sour old git, but one thing I have learned from the past few years is that I would not wish to live in a city anywhere near this size when it eventually comes to the time for me to settle down somewhere. After spending 3 nights in the city that never slows down, we booked second-class seats for a northbound sleeper train to Chang Mai, excited at the prospect of getting out of the city and into the lush mountainous regions of sprawling jungle.

Driving down the pier, north Koh Chang

Rubbing the sleep out of our eyes, we disembarked the modern vessel after 13 hours of travel time and a few hours sleep. The city we stepped into bore no resemblance to the city we had just escaped. Chiang Mai is an ancient city bursting with artefacts of a by-gone era. The city itself is supposedly the second largest in Thailand. The old-town, located west of the main city is where we stayed. Surrounded by a moat and what remains of the old city wall, the old town forms almost a perfect square, spanning a few square kilometres. The sounds of angry drivers, streets infested with pedestrians, oxygen starved air and hideous smells were now a distant memory. Chiang Mai is a tranquil place of beauty. Monks wander the streets clad in their traditional orange robes. Motorised transport and pedestrians alike navigate their way through pristinely kept streets in a civilised fashion. The smell of roasting coffee beans and freshly prepared Thai food drift through the clean air. The city, being several hundred kilometres further from the equator, has a much more tolerable climate than the capital. We loaded our bags into the open-air taxis, idiosyncratic to many parts of Thailand and looked for a place to stay. 

Mangrove exploring

After booking into Dee Marc hostel, we hired a scooter for a few days and began exploring the city. Wandering around some of the beautifully adorned temples prepared us for the usual pig-out on the glorious Thai ‘fud’. Feeling like royalty we indulged in foot massages. A few hours of downtime later we headed over to the night bazaar where Chiang Mai came to life when darkness fell. I managed to pick up a pair of Bluetooth Sony replica headphones for next to nothing. 

Val Halla hike, Pai

We got up late the next day and went to a nearby cafe that served great breakfast. We sat down beside a Kiwi guy who we quickly engaged in deep conversation. He told us of how he has been training in Muay Thai in the nearby town of Pai for the past few weeks and how he was heading onto Indonesia next. He gave us all of the necessary insight we needed into where we might want to venture to next and we did the same for him in regards to Indonesia. In light of recently making the decision that I would be returning to New Zealand in the new year with the hope of obtaining a work visa, he was helpful in providing both Robyn and I with sound advice and the prospect of introducing us to some of his contacts. Later that evening we enrolled in a cooking course which was one of the most fun experiences I had in Thailand. We learned how to whip up many of the famous Thai dishes from scratch such as the various curries, pad Thai, papaya salad, mango sticky rice and tom yum soup. We arrived with empty bellies as instructed and left on the brink of bursting. 
We started the following day with another touristy yet worthwhile experience. A taxi came to pick us up bright and early which took us to an elephant sanctuary around 30km outside of Chiang Mai. Fully aware of the cruelty that animals are subjected to in this day and age, we opted for the most animal friendly program that we could find which was inherently against the idea of the unethical elephant riding. This group in fact claimed to have been a sanctuary for previously broken elephants that had been trained to do tricks and be ridden by humans, similar to the practices of many travelling circuses. It was amazing to get the opportunity to be so close to the elephants. Feeding them bananas and sugar cane and bathing them in the mud. At the end of the day we were on a high from our time spent with the happy animals which are worshipped by Thai people. We were, however, not entirely convinced that even this crowd were entirely ethical in their dealings. 
We spent the first of our last two days in Chiang Mai hiking up to the breathtaking golden Doi Suthep temple at the top of a mountain just outside the city. The hike was long and difficult due to the humidity of the forest, and also the fact that we had only half a litre of water between us. We also made a trip out to the Mai caves north of the city the next day. The cave was enormous, eclipsing anything else I had ever seen and was surprisingly not packed with tourists.

Weird swing we came across while driving through the Thai countryside

Ready to explore other parts of the north, we headed ever closer to the Burmese border to Pai. Pai is surrounded on all sides by thick jungle. It is a small town with a low-key chilled out vibe. There were a lot of British and European backpackers as well as expats in the town but, surprisingly, not a whole lot of Thai people. Pai is renowned for the hippie crowd that it attracts, possibly due to the fact that it is so close to the border where opium amongst other things are regularly smuggled. We couldn’t help but laugh at so many of the wannabe hippies who arrived into town, decking themselves out in the complete hippie attire before committing themselves to a head full of dreadlocks or a large hippie stick, which we saw one man so proudly carry. The surrounding area was packed with things to do. There were amazing jungle treks, such as the 6 hour return trip “Val Halla” waterfall hike that we did. The lot caves which were a 2 hour drive were, incredibly, even more enormous than the Mai caves near Chiang Mai . They were so huge that it was necessary to be transported by bamboo raft to see the full extent of them. With the help of a guide and her massive gas lantern, we explored the fascinating caves. Among other things to do were sitting in the nearby hot springs or watching the sunset from the Pai canyon or at the massive white Buddha statue overlooking the city. We met a Turkish and Dutch couple that we had a great time hanging out with, drinking far too many Changs. In all honestly, best part of Pai was the food. It was just so good yet so cheap. The long market on walking street spoiled everyone for choice and catered for all tastes. Including my favourite dessert, mango sticky rice. Thai food has so much variety. Considering that most dishes are distinguished from each other only by one or two ingredients, they can taste surprisingly different. Out of the four main Thai curries – red, green, massaman & penang – the main difference is colour, due to the different chillies being used as well as the addition or subtraction of a spice or two. Kao Soi, which is the local food to the region, could be found everywhere. It is a soup made with a curry paste topped with meat, herbs, crispy noodles and vegetables. Some of my other favourites were pad ka prow (a spicy dish consisting of minced pork with holy basil), tom yum (a hot and spicy broth made with lemongrass, kefir lime leaves and galangal and usually served with prawns) and spicy papaya salad. I realise travelling is turning me into one of those obsessed food bloggers. Not quite, but perhaps I should start trying to make money from it so that I can fund my road to obesity. I know I’m definitely too lazy for that, but I’m not too lazy to keep eating that good fud!

Finally reaching the Klong Nung waterfall after an adventurous day

After spending a week in Pai we made the super long twenty something hour journey to Koh Chang. Here we would be spending the remainder of our time in Thailand. This time we did it by bus…..which was surprisingly comfortable given that we got first class seats which even came in at almost half the price of the train tickets AND arrived in better time. Koh Chang, located in close proximity to the Cambodian border, is one of Thailands largest islands. From what I have gathered it is a lot less touristy than some of the more southern Thai islands such as Phuket, Koh Phi Pho and Koh Pah Nang (famous for the full moon parties). We stayed at the southern end of the island in a homestay built off the side of a long pier. The once thriving fishing village, known as Bang Bao. We spent our days lounging on the beach, reading our books, or stationed at one of the fine local ‘Changeries’. Apart from one day, when we got up early for an epic adventure! We decided to drive around to the other side of the island and explore the lesser worn roads, so to speak. The figure of speech did not hold true in our case unfortunately. Most of Koh Chang is covered in thick rainforest therefore the road tends to follow the coast, detouring briefly inland to cater for large resorts and the like. The road starts at the southern end of the eastern side of the island, looping around the top to make its way down the west coast where it ends abruptly. A couple of kilometres past Bang Bao, just short of where it started. This meant that we would need to drive all the way around to make it to the eastern side, and Koh Chang is a big island. We took our time driving, stopping intermittently. One of the waterfalls that we stopped at was home to an absolute monster of a spider with a pretty impressive web. We made our way to the mangrove forest where we rented out a kayak and slowly explored the little network of inlets. We also happened to stumble upon a floating platform decked out with bamboo tables and chairs. After some lunch we decided to track down the Klong Nung waterfall. After searching in vain for almost an hour, coming across no obvious signs pointing us in the right direction, we turned down a gravel road that looked like it might lead somewhere interesting. That it did. We lumbered along the windy road for several kilometers, stopping often for Robyn to disembark while I did my best to motion the scooter up the steep corners that looked like they had been subject to years of seismic activity. Unsure of where the road was leading us, we were surprised to bump into another guy who had had the same bright idea as us. He told us that he had gone a couple of kilometres ahead but the road had become increasingly more deteriorated so he decided to turn around. I couldn’t imagine how it could be worse than what we had already gone through so we kept going full steam ahead. A few more kilometres of steep torn up roads led us to a dead end. I glanced down at the fuel tank and had a sudden panicky feeling that we might run out of petrol in this back arse of nowhere just an hour short of sunset. With this in mind we mutually agreed that I would be best to head back and not continue further into the jungle, down the small side roads that we had passed by on the way down. Minutes later I felt a sudden loss of power in the vehicle as I tried to urge it up one of the steep roads we had come down earlier. Of course I knew immediately that my fears had come to light. We both got off, laughing at our stupidity, and began pushing the damned scooter up the hills. The fact that we were in flip flops which were fighting for grip on the unsealed road didn’t help. After a valiant effort from both of us, we made it to the top where the ground began to level off. We thanked our lucky stars when the bike kicked back into life which we freewheeled most of the way down, eventually coming to the main road. A small shop selling petrol appeared in the nick of time and hallelujah, we were back in business. There was still the matter of finding the waterfall though. With the daylight rapidly fading, we took a chance and turned onto a small road running parallel to a river and followed it to where it terminated close to the water. We decided to follow the stream up into the jungle in the hope that it would lead us to where we waned to go. Wading through streams, climbing over huge boulders and almost breaking my neck when I slipped backwards on a slimy rock. 30 minutes later we heard the sounds of gushing water and knew that we had stumbled upon what we had been searching for. A fitting end to a great day. 

Elephant!!!

Cooking course we did in Chiang Mai

We left Koh Chang after having mostly good experiences. That is, apart from a dodgy fish that Robyn had been served on our last night in a restaurant by a dishonest and rude owner who almost caused an all out street brawl. The police were even called after we argued that we wouldn’t pay for bad food that hadn’t been eaten. We headed for Bangkok where we would both be going in our separate directions for the time being.

Sunset at lonely beach, Koh Chang

Robyn is going back to New Zealand where she will continue her two year working visa and hopefully find a job in her field of Volcanology. I will join her in just over 3 weeks. For now I am going to the other side of the world. I have been planning it for months. I am going to surprise my parents by arriving unannounced at the front door of my house back in Galway, just a few days before Christmas. Writing this on the plane from Helsinki to Dublin airport, just hours away from arriving home, I am beyond excited at the thought of surprising my family by my sudden return after having been away from home for over a year. Seeing my brother and sisters, relations and friends who I have been so distant from for long will bring me so much happiness. I will be spending the holidays back home before eventually returning to New Zealand in mid January with the hope of getting a work visa so that I can spend some more time in that amazing country. 

White Buddha in Pai, great spot to watch the sunset

A temple we passed through on the Doi Suthep hike

An informative poster detailing the rules and regulations of visit lot cave :-p

Padang, Rendang and Nasi Goreng

Robyn looking less than impressed while guarding our ridiculous amount of luggage on the slow boat to Lombok

One of the things that I like most about travelling is getting the chance to try all of the different foods in each of the countries you visit. The food in New Zealand was generally similar to what is consumed in the Western world. The Maori liked their Hangii (meat and vegetables slow cooked underground) as well as a basic broth, the name of which I cannot recall, consisting of meat, potatoes and leafy greens. While the Kiwis had their famous meat pies, also a common staple food in Britain, not exactly something to write home about. It was only when I arrived in Bali, Indonesia that I got the opportunity to sample some of the exotic Asian foods that people at home pay good money for at expensive restaurants. 

Great food at the Gili T night market

Indonesian food is extremely simple, yet incredibly tasty, depending on where you go to eat of course. I have had some of my best and worst meals here since leaving Ireland. Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) & Mie Goreng (Fried Noodles) are the two staple meals of Indonesia and are generally eaten any time of the day and can cost as little as a euro. They are often served with a fried egg, Ayam Goreng (Fried Chicken) and a generous dollop of sambal (spicy chilli sauce). A lot of other Indonesian dishes are only slight variations of Nasi and Mie Goreng. Beef Rendang, slow cooked beef in a dry fragrant sauce, is another common dish that can be found on menus throughout Indonesia. Much of the food is pre-cooked and displayed in the glass windows of Warungs, left to the mercy of the flies. Consequently the food is often eaten quite cold. Restaurant’s known as Padang’s specialise in this system of catering and provide a buffet-style service. We generally ate at these establishments, where you could fill your belly on delicious food such as chicken and beef Rendang curry, fried prawns, tempeh, spicy & crispy omelettes, Indonesian potato cakes, vegetable medleys and loads of other strange dishes. All for less than the equivalent of around 3 euros. Food is served spicy as standard and can be served as spicy as the most chilli-tolerant Indian man can handle. I found that the food usually tasted hundreds of times better than it actually looked. Most Indonesians don’t bother spending time on presentation, but rather on the flavours. Bali belly is a comment ailment that many travellers happen to fall victim to due to the widely varying food safety standards put in place nationwide. Thankfully I survived my time here without having to go through that pain.

Hanging out with a couple of the locals in Gili T on a hilarious night

Of course, Bali, being the tourist capital of Indonesia has an endless number of restaurants geared towards Westerners at prices significantly higher than what would be charged at a local Warung. Admittedly, a burger or a burrito is a welcomed sight after having consumed a couple of kilos of rice over the past few days. Food prices are akin to the attitudes that the locals share for the white westerners, changing drastically from place to place. There are 3 prices; The local price, the haggled tourist price and the idiot tourist price. The local price obviously being the lowest. The Indonesian people are quite small compared to Westerners, therefore their portion size reflects this. Some places just take the piss though. A plate of fries in Indonesia is more often than not equivalent to an American handful of fries. We once went to a little place in Canggu called chicken on fire in a “hangry” state. Our bellies completely empty. We ordered a beef burger each with some wedges. A few minutes later we were presented with what looked like an undercooked slice of salami, cut slightly thicker than a normal and slapped between two pieces of bread, drowned in an ocean of strange smelling mayonnaise. Our bowl of potato wedges was also a sorry sight for even the smallest of bellies. Suffice to say I scoffed down both mine and Robyn’s food in my delirious state. 

Watching the sunset @ sunset paradise bar Gili T

The party culture of Bali has exploded in the last few decades, what with the constant influx of Aussies, Europeans and Americans. Considering this, the choice of beers leaves for something to be desired. Bintang, the most common beer is a pilsner that tastes similar to any cheap beer back home and is served almost everywhere at 20,000 rupiah for a small bottle or 35,000 rupiah for a big one, which is roughly twice the size. Some places also serve San Miguel beer, apparently due to a historic Spanish influence on the country. Spirits are the same as anywhere, although one should take care not be served the local version of Irish “putcheen” or “moonshine” known as arak. This spirit has supposedly been responsible for killing a number of tourists over the years due to it’s unregulated alcohol content, which can at times be so high that it is poisonous to the system and fatal. 
The Indonesian coffee is some of the worlds best. Grown in the optimum environment of nutrient rich volcanic soil. Unlike most western counties, the locals simply mix the coffee directly with the boiling water and wait for the particles to settle before drinking. I found it odd at first not using a filter of some sort. However the coffee tastes great and I will definitely continue to do this myself when a plunger isn’t close at hand. The world’s most expensive “Luwak coffee” is also produced in Indonesia. The Luwak is a small tree-dwelling animal that is part of the cat family. The animal supposedly ingests the berries containing the coffee beans, where they undergo a chemical reaction, reducing the caffeine content and making the bean less bitter and having a smoother taste. The beans are then collected from the animal’s excrement and cleaned, roasted and ground. Unfortunately some have exploited this money making opportunity over the years and the Luwak’s are often caged and fed an unsuitable diet of solely coffee berries.
Since Ubud we have been to Gili Trawangan where we spent 3 days and 3 nights. The islands are amazing for snorkelling. We managed to swim with several turtles over the live coral reef and were constantly surrounded by schools of colourful fish. There are no cars or motorbikes allowed on the island so transport is either by foot, push bike or cimodo (horse and cart). We also cycled around the island and took in some of the huge party scene that the island is most famous for. Our favourite place was the night market where locals sell freshly caught seafood, babeque’d on skewers, such as tuna steak, red snapper and calamari. 

Refuelling after a few hours of snorkelling over the Gili reefs

After Gili T we made our way to the southern most part of Lombok, Bali’s neighbouring island, where we spent our final 8 nights. The town was called Kuta, a similar title to the party capital of Bali, but that is where the similarities end. Kuta is a small seaside town and a popular destination for surfers looking for good waves without the crowds of Bali. The constant beeping of taxis, rubbish littered streets and yelling voices of street vendors of Bali is replaced with pristine white sand beaches, friendly locals and a tranquil environment. We fell in love with the place almost immediately on arrival. Much of our time was spent surfing the sparsely populated Mawi beach, a 40 minute drive from our Homestay, Tri Putri. The journey to the beach was an arduous one on a scooter. We had to navigate our way down to the beach on a partly paved, rocky, bumpy, uneven and chaotic path. It was great fun, falling off the scooter was a common occurrence. One evening I went for a surf during a big tropical thunderstorm. Lightening illuminated the sky above me while the thunder drummed. I sat on my board looking out to sea at the large bumps approaching me in a rhythmic fashion, the waves smoothed out by the huge droplets of relentless rain. I held an incredibly special feeling while surfing that evening. Post surf, the bad weather lumbered on and the road leading to the beach was almost unrecognisable. A complete quagmire where the ditches that were easily recognisable only a few hours beforehand were now completely submerged in murky water. We slipped and slided our way up the road while a shroud of hungry mosquitoes converged on us, stalling on occasion when our engine was enveloped in water. To our great relief we eventually made it off the path and back to our homestay out of the monsoon shower. We also surfed grupuk bay a few times, where it is necessary to take a boat with one of the locals to access the breaks for a modest sum of money. We spent our last 2 days in Kuta surfing and hanging out with our friends Joe and Helen, whom we had originally met in Bali, laughing over a few bintang, recalling the abundance of funny stories we each had since we had last met. 

The 6’4″ board that I had loads of fun surfing in Indonesia

The famous A-frame break going off at Mawi

Kuta was definitely our favourite place out of everywhere that we had visited in Indonesia. It was a breath of fresh air to spend such a long time in such a naturally beautiful setting, away from the crowds of tourists. We are now headed to Thailand and, although I will miss the surfing terribly, I am really excited at the prospect of visiting the country that is home to some of the most delicious food, dramatic beaches and friendly people in the world. We are spending a few nights in Bangkok before venturing into north Thailand to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Pai before hopefully spending a few days at some of the southern islands and getting a bit of rock climbing in. “Thrima Casi” Indonesia. An incredible country with equally as incredible people. Without doubt we will be returning for a visit. Next time exploring some of the other islands with our surfboards.

A farmer accompanying his water buffalo

Sunset at Selong Banak beach, Lombok

One of the many beautiful bays we stumbled upon while exploring the area around Kuta Lombok

Bali Bagus!

Bagus, one of the few Balinese words that I have picked up while in Indonesia. It means fantastic or cool. Many locals utter it often in a range of circumstances. I myself blurt it out at times when I genuinely don’t know what else to say.

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Me standing in awe of the rice paddies wearing a stylish sarong!

Bali is a mesmerisingly frantic and absolutely fantastic island from what I have seen up to now. We landed roughly 2 weeks ago into the hazy, humid heat of Denpasar. Famished and parched upon landing, we stumbled into the commotion. We got off to a shaky start when I was informed that my guitar had been left behind in Kuala Lumpur airport. The same thing happened to me in that airport en route to New Zealand. We collected what remained of our baggage and proceeded towards immigration and the arrivals area. Without warning, we were set upon by a mob of unnerving dark men yelling what sounded like obscenities and “I give you cheap price”. Tired and confused we were ushered by a small friendly local man, claiming to be a legitimate taxi driver, towards the multi story car park nearby. Agitated by the whole situation, we were overcome by paranoia that we were being lured into a sinister trap and that we were about to be the victims of an unmerciful mugging. It turned out that he was actually a really nice guy and drove us to our guest house, only slightly ripping us off in the process. The taxi drive to the hostel was rather interesting, our first glimpse of the manic Bali roads that we had been forewarned about. Helmetless scooter drivers, some as young as 10 years old, weave around cars at excessive speeds on tiny roads that are jam packed with taxis, daily commuters and tourists. Drivers communicate by consutantly beeping their horns which is deafening at times. The pavements are lined with hundreds of souvenir shops, much like those seen in France, Greece or any other European city that hosts tourists by their thousands, but only worse. Their proud owners never ceasing to harass the stand-out milk-bottle legged westerners, peddling off their counterfeit merchandise, much of which is complete junk. The musky smell of incense and smoke from the gridlocked Kuta traffic pollutes the air while the local offerings and plastic rubbish litters the street floor. A sight to behold, not the paradise one conjures up when the word Bali comes to mind. Weary and dehydrated from the 30+ degree heat, we clambered out of the taxi as we had arrived at our guest house. 
We spent our first 3 nights in the bustling suburb of Seminyak. We rose early on the first morning and rented out scooters for roughly $7NZ/per day (We base everything off NZ currency, where all of our money is). After a frantic drive down one-way streets in Kuta we arrived at Poppies II street, where we both picked up second hand surf boards off a local dude who seemed pretty genuine. We had been warned by many about buying boards that had been previously snapped and expertly re-painted to hide the real story. The boards that we got had been locally shaped and seemed to be of a high quality, coming in much cheaper than what you would pick the same board up for back home. We headed straight for Kuta beach and raced to the sea for a surf. It seemed like there were decent waves everywhere, and I knew that these were on the lower end of what Bali had to offer. We returned to our home stay that evening, Omink House, bumping into our neighbour Jimmy as he was leaving his room. Jimmy was a complete nutter, but a real good dude, and we hung out with him quite a bit for the few days we spent in Seminyak. He was originally from Florida and was now living the life in Bali. Apparently working towards opening a surf school on some tropical island that I cannot recall. He gave me some great tips on the best surfing spots in Bali, mainly in Bukit, the southern peninsula. He even went out with us for a paddle at Ku De Ta which was absolutely hilarious. He talked to himself while paddling through the waves, repeating worrying lines such as “Paddle harder or I’ll blow your head off Obama” or murmuring numerous curses and one-liners under his breath. Not the encouragement I would recommend for a novice surfer, but then again we all have our funny ways. He told us how he had had some board shorts and rash vests tailored for him by the locals, using a special microfibre material that he had bought. He also shared tonnes of surfing stories from Bali which got me filled with excitement, as well as some of the tales from his younger, party days, in Bangkok. Perhaps his torrets-like behaviour could be attributed to the excessive amount of drugs that he indulged in during that time, who knows.

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Paddling out to Uluwatu

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Navigating the crazy traffic of Bali

Keen to start hitting the real surf, the next place we stayed was Uluwatu. Uluwatu is a much quieter, more chilled out side of Bali in comparison to Kuta & Seminyak. It also has several world-famous surf spots such as Padang Padang, Balanggan, Impossibles and of course Uluwatu itself. To access the Uluwatu break, one must climb down a few hundred steps before paddling out to the break through a cave. A really unique experience. The south-westernly swell, originating in the Indian Ocean, hits the western coast of the peninsula head on, making many of the waves in the area extremely powerful. Almost all of the waves on western side of Bali are what are known as left-hander waves. These waves peel from right to left, due to the angle that the swell interacts with the coastline. There are two different ways to surf, regular or goofy. Similar to skating or snowboarding, regular means left foot forward on the board while the other foot is behind, and vice versa for goofy. Given the fact that I am a goofy surfer, left-hander waves suit me best as my chest is facing the wave as I ride down the line, giving me a better view of the wave. It also allows me to use the inside of my good, front foot, as I apply pressure to the board to pump up and down the wave. This is slightly more difficult for me when riding on my back side. The opposite can be said for a regular surfer. Obviously the better you get at surfing the more proficient you become on your naturally weaker side. End of basic surf lesson :-). My Irish friend Jack Buckley had messaged me the night I moved to Uluwatu, mentioning that he had coincidentally just arrived in Bali too and was keen for a surf with me. I hadn’t surfed over coral reef before and hadn’t been on a board much in the past 6 months so I was slightly nervous about the thought of surfing Uluwatu on my own. For me, I find surfing big swell a bit easier when I have somebody out there with me that I know. It gives me more confidence knowing that we are in it together and also that we can have a good chat about the session when it is over. We paddled out to Uluwatu together and, although quite crowded, we had a really enjoyable session. Robyn and I spent the next few days eating Nasi Goreng from the local Warungs (home/cafe), drinking a few Bintang (The local beer) and doing a bit of sightseeing. We visited the Pura Uluwatu temple, built on a cliff and home to some cheeky monkeys who stole Robyn’s camera and piddled on it . We orchestrated a counter offensive to reclaim it, shoving a backpack in the monkey’s face while Robyn grabbed the camera. During that time we surfed some of the other breaks such as Dreamland and Padang Padang before moving to a Villa-style home stay in Balangan. This was one of the nicest places we had stayed in up to now and also one of the cheapest. A huge 2-3 metre swell was on the radar to hit Bali the next day and there was a violent thunderstorm that night. I woke up early the next day and went out to surf “The Impossibles” with Joe, a Scottish guy we had met a few days before. The waves were huge and powerful, bigger than anything that I had surfed in a very long time. It took me a while to get into it, but by the end of the session I was oozing with confidence and gleaming. The biggest of the swell was due to hit the next day so me and Jack arranged to meet each other on Balangan beach in the morning. We arrived at around 10am, which was close to high tide. Huge waves were rolling in over the coral reef and peeling very quickly. Every now and then an absolute monster set would come in and surprise everyone. They were the biggest waves I had ever seen. We walked down the beach, away from the peak of the wave and begun our paddle out. It looked like it was going to be an easy paddle until all of a sudden a massive set came in. We got hit hard onto the shallow reef by a multitude of waves but dug deep and fought past them, eventually making it out to the lineup. We only caught a couple of waves each but they were insane. There weren’t as many people in the water as usual due to the wave size, meaning it was a more manageable feat to catch some breathtaking waves. There were a few hairy moments of getting caught inside, when a super set would roll in and land on my head. I was held under for what seemed like an eternity. Duck diving waves this size were near impossible. After getting caught inside once too many I struggled to the shore for safety. Jack had snapped 3 leashes during the session, testament to the ferocity of the ocean. Jack was also on the receiving end of a flurry of verbal abuse from the woman he rented the board from when she learned of the leash breaking for a third time. The woman screamed Balinese vulgarities at Jack while he tried to calm her down and assure her that the leash could be easily fixed. Eventually we had to leave as the woman was becoming hysterical, throwing a plastic bottle down the steps at the three of us as we hurried away in disgust. In fairness to Jack it wasn’t really his fault and the woman lost her shit for no reason. Balangan was an incredibly humbling experience and a great lesson in surfing.

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Robyn and I exploring Nusa Dua

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An abandoned plane that we stumbled upon

The next morning we packed our bags once again to spend a few days surfing at Echo Beach in Canggu. The place we stayed in was built right in front of a big field of rice paddies. Women worked in small huts around the field, tugging at ropes line with flags that extended the length of the field to ward off the greedy birds. They added terrifying sounds while tugging, for effect more than anything else. This went on around the clock and was both intriguing and incredibly annoying. Canggu was quite busy and dirty and reminded us of our first few days in Seminyak. We were excited to move onto somewhere new again. We booked a place to stay in Ubud and after several attempts at ordering an Uber we were on our way.

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A night out in Canggu, having Jack around for a few days was great

Ubud is famous for it’s unique art, serenity and the monkey sanctuary situated in the heart of the village. Apparently it was made famous by the movie Eat, Pray, Love, starring Julia Roberts, but I was none the wiser. Nestled among patched rainforest with banana trees, palm trees, terraced rice paddies, coffee plantations and Hindu temples, it was definitely more like the vibe that we had been hoping to experience in Bali. We visited the famous Ubud market the evening we arrived, after knocking back a couple of extra strong cocktails to ease the pain of our stressful journey from Canggu. The guys at this market wouldn’t take no for an answer and I somehow left with a new pair of flip flops and a t-shirt and Robyn left with a lot of her piercings holes filled with new shiny jewellery. The next morning we went to the monkey temple. There were hundreds of them. I had nothing on me as I had been told that there little guys were trained thieves and would rob you blind given the opportunity. It was a fantastic experience walking among them and watching them mess-play and throw each other around. Feeding time was chaotic. Hundreds of monkeys dashed towards a cage full of sweet potatoes as the man charged with feeding them approached it with a basketful of sweet corn and a machete. He diced it up and the monkeys went ape-shit.

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Chilling with this little guy after a hectic surf in Balangan

I We had a terrible experience the next day. We had decided to make the hour and a half long scooter trip up north to see the Besakih temple, one of the biggest and most famous Hindu temples in Bali. We arrived to a checkpoint roughly 2 miles from the temple and were asked to pay a few dollars each for entry and parking. We coughed up the cash and excitedly made our way to the temple entrance. As soon as we arrived we were surrounded by several men and women demanding money for sarongs, offerings and temple guides. Usually a sarong is provided free of charge for the temples, although technically not a necessary requirement to enter. We declined to pay the extortionate amount these guys were trying to charge us and brushed them aside, heading in the direction of the temple. A few steps later we came to a halt as a group of men waving sticks at us blocked the way and told us that it was forbidden for us to enter without a temple guide. Once again we kindly declined and tried to continue, but they were having none of us and begun to act rather aggressive. Fed up and outraged at this scam in the name of their religion, we left without visiting any temple. We later found out that the locals in the area were notoriously aggressive to foreigners and that guides were not necessary at all. The so called guides would gladly take your money and desert you after 20 metres of accompanying you inside the temple. Locals also sold beers and souvenirs in the temple which really says it all. I’m just glad that we managed to get our money back and didn’t foolishly give it to these scam artists.

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Monkey Temple in Ubud

The best part of our trip to Ubud was the sunrise hike up Mt Batur, the active volcano north of Ubud, standing tall at 1717m. We got up at 1.30am and were shuttled to the base of the volcano with a few others. We were given little to no safety briefing before beginning our hike, much to the shock of my Volcanologist girlfriend. Thunderstorms were raging in the clouds around us as we made our way to the summit. There were hundreds of people who had the same idea as us, to our disappointment, making the going quite slow. However the path widened as we approached the crater of the volcano and we made a swift line for the summit just in time for sunrise. The views were incredible, the lake below crystal clear and the bed of clouds engulfing us from below. We got back at 11am and went for a long nap as we were shattered. We got up a few hours later to go for a traditional Balinese massage to relieve the tired muscles. We were off to Gili T island the next day so we booked a boat over, got our belongings together and hit the hay for an early night. Bali had been incredible, maybe not the paradise that is portrayed in magazines, but nonetheless an amazingly unique island with remarkably kind people. I’m excited to see the more rural side of Indonesia now, with less of the tackiness and more of the authenticity.

Credits to Robyn Edwards for some of these great photos 

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Selfie at the summit of Batur Volcano

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The view of the sunrise as we made our way to the summit of Batur Volcano

When will I learn????

I keep telling myself that I have bad luck. Bad things seem to follow me around. Since deciding to venture around the world, the universe has for some reason decided to conspire against me. Right on cue when arriving to New Zealand my bags were delayed for 24 hours. On the bright side I got 50 dollars for my troubles. Today leaving New Zealand I was charged an extra 30 dollars for forgetting to apply for my Australian tourist visa on top of a $130 dollar fee for not booking my guitar on the flight as additional baggage. Yes both my fault, but painful all the same. These unfortunate things seem to happen to me far too often for my liking. I reckon I could pick up a cheap car with the amount I have had to pay in fines & fees. I hate ranting on about it but want to see if anyone else out there has shared a similar experience. It’s a common understanding that negative events which have occurred in the past claim a higher priority in your long term memory than positive ones. I guess it is a trait that humans have inherited through evolution. A tool of survival. If we give more worth to negative events then perhaps we will learn from them, preventing a reoccurrence. I wonder..maybe I never inherited this “learning” part. Perhaps I am going through a phase of “bad luck” as this hasn’t always been the way with me. I’ve always considered myself to be a relatively lucky person. In reality I’m not actually that unlucky but rather incredibly naive. Overlooking small details, not planning, making silly assumptions, winging it too often and just being totally laid back about most things. As much as it can sometimes suck, I don’t think I’m going to change any time soon. Simply put, I like not giving a shit.

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I’ll give a few examples, some of which are rather hilarious looking back now. Others which cost me a lot of money and involved some pretty harsh verbal abuse directed at myself. When first arriving in Wanaka at the beginning of the winter, I decided to do some Wwoofing (working in exchange for accommodation) in Base hostel. Upon securing a job at Fitzpatricks Irish bar, I decided to discontinue the Wwoofing in order to free up some time during the day for activities. With my accommodation now gone I would be living in the Fargo indefinitely. Refusing to pay money for accommodation, I could work less and have more free time to enjoy. I had the option of either paying a small fee to stay at a campsite in Albert town nearby or alternatively parking/camping at a friends place for nothing. Instead I thought to myself that it would be a fantastic idea to freedom camp in a public park for my first night in the Fargo. Needless to say I woke up the next morning with a freedom camping infringement fine slapped on my camper windscreen to the sound of $200. Absolute bullshit I shouted in disbelief while furiously attempting to rip out my hair. I promised myself that I wouldn’t pay it. 10 minutes later I was sitting in the county council office filling out an infringement appeal form in vain, hoping to have my fine rescinded. I’ve paid the fine since of course and luckily haven’t gotten another. Freedom camping, or camping in a public area in NZ without a self-contained vehicle, is strictly enforced. In Wanaka/Queenstown there is a warden that patrols the area at night and usually shortly before dawn. In my head I was sure that I would get away with it. My naivety getting the better of me once again.

The Fargo in its prime! Taken at French Pass

Or the time in Gisborne when I had just bought a secondhand, near new Al Merrick quad fin, semi-gun surfboard 6’10”. A precious thing. It was a step up board for me and meant a great deal to me. I had to buy a new board because my last one had been dinged, banged, dropped and abused before ultimately being brutally destroyed after it had fallen out of a moving pickup truck for the second time. I had gotten to the stage where I was feeling incredibly comfortable and confident when surfing this new machine. A few weeks after buying the board I was out surfing with friends. Catching some amazing waves and having heaps of fun. After catching a wave and prematurely wiping out, I looked up to see Rob begin his paddle for the next wave that was rolling in. I began paddling out of the firing zone. He was approaching me at an alarming pace, much faster than I had originally thought. He somehow failed to see me paddling in his line. Before both of us could do anything, we had a massive collision. Thankfully nobody was badly hurt. That is, except for my board. A couple of surfless days later and a couple of hundred dollars poorer, I was grateful to have my board back and fully repaired. I took it out for a surf session and had a great one. I quickly forgot everything that had happened. We went to a party that night, rocking up in our campers. Playing music by the fire and having a bit of banter with the locals, we had a great night. That is, until the unspeakable happened. Ryan was exhausted, wanting to take shelter from the rain and quite rightly deciding to sleep in the back of the Fargo. To do this he first had to remove the surfboards, placing them behind the van so as to make adequate space for himself to rest. A short time later I hopped into the drivers seat after we had collectively decided to call it a night. Unbeknownst to me the surfboard were still sitting behind the van. Ryan was still asleep so he couldn’t warn me. Content with having had a great day up to that point I slowly reversed the Fargo. A sickening crunch was heard by everyone. Both the Fargo and our hearts came to a sudden halt. Something horrible had just happened and I somehow had a premonition that it involved my board. I got out of the car to assess the damage. All of the boards were fully intact apart from mine. It was bad. Real bad. It was a tragedy. The damage was worse than I thought. All four fins were broken. All of the fin plugs had been pulled out of the board. There were tire marks across the board and it was now oddly disfigured. It looked horrendous, something from a nightmare. I was on the verge of tears, barely able to contain my anguish. A few hundred dollars later and it was one again fixed. I reckon that board was cursed. Ryan took it out for a surf a couple of weeks after it had been repaired to give it a try. Almost as if a malicious spiteful act, the tip of the board directed itself at his face after he had finished on a wave. He walked back up to where we were all sitting while watching the waves. We were horrified when we saw what had happened. Blood was oozing from his face in several places. We had to bring him to the hospital to get multiple stitches. It turned out that the board had left its mark and had somehow lodged a couple of shards of fibre glass into his skull. Gnarly. Somehow my terrible luck had been absorbed by the board and subsequently transferred itself to Ryan’s face. I’ve since sold the board. I can only hope the next user has a tad more luck with it than I did.

Surfing the cursed Al Merrick at Waniui beach

The first board I got in NZ. A real beauty.

 

I’ll never forget Lucie, our beloved motorhome. I don’t think I’ve ever loved and hated something so fiercely at the same time. A temperamental beast, she could turn on you any second. We spent hundreds on it, firefighting one problem after the next. I was driving it around Auckland one day, hoping to have it sold and wash my hands of it by the coming weekend. I had just fixed the indicators myself after they had spontaneously decided to stop working. While driving around town, somehow the exhaust had come loose and a frightening scraping sound could be heard from underneath the camper. I walked to the nearest hardware store and picked up the necessary materials to do a DIY Job on it. Later that day, me and Lucie were cruising down one of the many hilly Auckland streets when I noticed a peculiar pong. I looked back to investigate. The grey water from the camper had somehow escaped from the shower drain and was now seeping into the carpet and causing an ungodly mess. The grade of the road had obviously caused this disaster. A short time later the thermostat decided to fail and we had to have it towed to a mechanic for a $600 job. Surely that was the end of it. As a matter of fact, things were only getting started. Twice the camper ran out of petrol due to a faulty fuel gage. The first time on a long hilly climb in Auckland. The second time on an Auckland motorway en route to a storage facility where it would be kept until such time as we had it sold. The worst memory I have has to be when myself and Rob decided to drive Lucie to Auckland for a second attempt to sell it. A young couple had expressed great interest in buying it and convinced us to make the 7 hour trek from Gisborne for hopefully one last time. We agreed to have the camper looked at by a mechanic, which would apparently take the best part of the day. We spent the day hanging out with the couple sharing some of our more positive stories travelling with Lucie. We were all very excited. This was going to be it. We would finally have it sold. Although making a significant loss, we could wash our hands of it. Hours later, as the sun was beginning the final part of it’s descent for the day, we were told that the inspection had been completed. The couple reviewed the results of the inspection with the mechanic. In the meantime, Rob & I gave 2 other groups of viewers a tour of Lucie. One guy outright offered us the asking price, having looked at it for no longer than 5 brief minutes. Tempting as it was we would have felt terrible giving the camper to this guy after the young couple shelling out that money to pay for the inspection. We reviewed the results of the inspection with them. They offered us slightly less than the asking price in light of a few small issues that were noticed during the comprehensive 9 hour check. We informed them of the offer we were just given. After some reluctance they both decided that they would go ahead with the purchase and match the offer. We handed the keys over and agreed to have the money transferred the next day. I was sceptical of this and had a funny feeling but eventually agreed to it. The next morning I tried to contact them but was having no luck. I was starting to worry until I got a call from them at lunch time. “Sorry but we won’t be taking Lucie. My girlfriend doesn’t like how it drives”. I gave them a piece of my mind on the matter before telling Rob. As terrible as it was at least we had the other buyer still interested. Or not. He had apparently bought another van later that evening. He just wanted somebody to take his money and get a camper as fast as he could. We fucked up. We were miserable. As a cherry on top, I came home later that day to find a letter addressed to me. I had another bad feeling. I was getting good at this. A $120 fine for speeding the week before. Classic Steve. We drove back to Gisborne, mostly in silence and decided that we would never make the same mistake again.

Rob & I sorting out some Lucie problems

A familiar sight

 

I have lost more than a few of my belongings over here in NZ. There’s definitely a few lucky kids out there. Newly bought hiking boots falling out of the back of an open boot sucked. A bag of my dirty clothes stored in a bin bag thrown out accidentally by my camper mates was unfortunate. Leaving my expensive longboard leaning against Lucie before driving off, never to see it again, left me miserable. Mysteriously losing my mobile phone while camping out at Rere falls made me doubt my memory. There’s nothing I could do but shrug it off and accept it. They’re only material possessions I told myself countless times. At least I still have my  health.

Flashback to the picturesque sunsets of the East Cape

 

As a last hurrah, the Fargo decided to act up right before I had planned to sell her. The egine couldn’t cool itself down and was overheating after driving for only a few kilometres. I brought it to the mechanic to have the thermostat replaced and the fan speed looked at closely. To my dismay this didn’t solve the problem and it was back in the hands of the trusty mechanics at Action Automotives once again. I was told that I would to have the radiator removed and sent to Dunedin to be cleaned and unblocked. Funnily enough it somehow got lost with the courier on the way there which added a week to the lead time. Apparently the mechanic over there got it all unblocked and when he was putting it back together the whole thing fell apart in its heavily corroded state. There was no other option but to custom make a core for the radiator as this was a less common model of car in NZ and parts were not readily available. Another week and a half later, I breathed a sigh of relief to hear that the van had been fully repaired and would be back with me that night. The only problem was that it would cost me all of $1,000. I wasn’t in the mood to feel sorry for myself. I had my van back and I was ready to move on.

Rob Roy’s glacier in Mt Aspiring National Park


Unfortunately my time in NZ has come to an end. Today is the day that marks one year from when I left my home in Galway. I am currently on my way to Melbourne where Robyn & I will be spending the next 2 weeks before heading onto Indonesia and Thailand for 2 months. I’m sad to leave NZ but also bursting with excitement for what is to come. Here’s to better luck and one hell of an unforgettable adventure.

WANAKA!!!

As I approach the end of my working holiday in NZ, it dawns on me how time has passed by in the blink of an eye. This tends to happen when you’re enjoying every moment of it. New Zealand is fucking amazing! I clearly remember first setting foot here, touching down in Auckland International Airport. Apprehensive; I knew that soon I would be facing a horde of challenges. Mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness arose in me. Fast forwarding to the present, Wanaka is where you can find me. 3 months have passed since arriving in June, commemorating the start of winter. Choosing to spend the freezing Otago nights sleeping in my Fargo camper. Having a house available to use gave me the option of occasionally maintaining some level of mediocre hygiene and also the ability to cook decent meals. Also managing to wangle my way into a double bed situated in Lake Hawea some nights a week for those bitterly cold nights. Sharing the house with 4 really great people, Timmy, James, Albert and Nelly, I developed life-long friends. Wanaka has come to be my home. A place where I have grown tremendously and a place where I am truly comfortable in my own skin.

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Albert, Nelly, James, Timmy and I right before the start of an epic houseparty

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The one and only….. Fargo

When first deciding to do a snowboarding season in NZ, I was unsure as to where I would spend my winter; Queenstown or Wanaka. Queenstown is a gorgeous lakeside town surrounded by mountains. Famous for its lively night scene, although infested with verging alcoholic Brit and Irish travellers. Also well known for the copious amounts of adrenaline junky activities that it has to offer such as the Nevis bungee and canyon swing, among numerous others, you’ll be sure to leave with your wallet feeling as empty as a sparrow’s nest in December. There are an astonishing number of foreigners living in Queenstown that one would be lucky to stumble upon a Kiwi. In spite of all of this there is somehow a shockingly poor setup to accommodate all of these aliens. Wanaka is the smaller, laid back, but experienced older brother of Queenstown. With less people, more local kiwis and a real sense of a community, Wanaka has a picturesque lake setting with a low key chilled out vibe. Everyone knows everyone and people tend to be incredibly kind and helpful. This mentality seems to be infectious around the town. Maybe I’m being slightly biased towards Wanaka, having lived here for 3 months. Upon arriving after a long journey down the west coast, I immediately knew that this was the place that I wanted to spend my winter. I hadn’t even been to Queenstown yet, but somehow already knew that it couldn’t get any better than this. The town is located beside lake Wanaka with spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding snow capped mountains which never seem to grow old. The lakefront is dotted with lively bars, modern cafes and snowsport retail stores. There is a really special buzz about the place. Most bars have live music every night as well as happy hour which many indulge in after a day on the mountain. Wanaka is situated on the border of Mount Aspiring National Park. One of the most beautiful and untouched places I have ever visited. There are an endless number of hikes available in Aspiring as well as hundreds of massive rock faces for those bold enough to risk their lives dangling from a rope at ominous heights. For a small town Wanaka has a hell of a lot to offer. The 3 months that I have spent here so far are high contenders for the best months of my life. Upon my arrival to Wanaka, I luckily landed into a job almost immediately in base hostel, doing housekeeping for a couple of hours 5 days per week in exchange for accomodation. The work was piss easy and a bit of fun. I met heaps of other travellers doing the same thing as me and within a few days Wanaka started to feel like a familiar place. I picked up a second hand snowboard, a pair of snowboarding boots and my season pass for Cardrona alpine resort. After 2 weeks of working in the hostel I decided to leave as I had been hired for a kitchen hand job in an Irish bar called Fitzpatricks. I was more or less in charge of the kitchen; Prepping food, cooking, cleaning dishes, taking in the kegs, chopping firewood and whatever else there was that needed doing. Despite the repetition in the job, I enjoyed it a lot. The food was pretty basic and mostly fried so there was no real skill needed. There was a small team of 6 including me. It was super easy going in there. I could do my thing in the kitchen, blaring tunes through the speakers, a pint of Guinness in one hand while working the fryer with the other. Being the only Irish person actually working there, I played a solid performance as the token Irish guy drinking Guinness in the back.

Each day is different in Wanaka. Every personality is catered for. There are endless hikes with unrivalled views as a result of Wanaka being surrounded by massive mountains. Kayaking across lake Wanaka to Ruby island is an excellent way to spend a sunny day. Lake Hawea, a short drive from Wanaka, is like stepping into the past when Lake Wanaka had not been developed a great deal. There is a frisbee golf course, free for public use only 100 metres from our house. There is a weekly futsal scrimmage in the recreational centre every Thursday as well as a winter league, with matches played every Sunday night. One of our friends, Maoz, hosted bi-weekly poetry nights in town up until recently when he left. (This was definitely a new experience for me. I was taken aback at the extraordinary talent some people had with writing. It was a comfortable environment for people to get out there and speak about their interests. What they believed in. Some chose to recite self-authored poetry. Some recited pieces from poets that caught their eye. Others shared memories and stories. One of my favourite was from my Californian friend Hoff who liked to freestyle rap). There’s a big skate park in the middle of town that entertains some pretty amazing skaters. The hills around town are perfect for a long boarder like me who enjoys speed. Lake Hawea has a river wave that me and Albert tried out a few months ago. It can get pretty gnarly looking when the river is in full flow. It’s a completely different sensation to surfing in the ocean but great fun nonetheless. We managed to make it to our feet a couple of times. We regularly hosted jamming sessions in our house. There has been some epic sessions; Complete with drums, several guitars, a saxophone and shakers. (I have been playing guitar on and off since my teenage years. Though I tend lose interest very easily. I lack the motivation and can’t seem to play for months at a time. I decided to buy a guitar when living in Gisborne as I had been lacking that musical part of my life. A beautiful Greg Bennett with a body designed with stained wood. I have been playing a lot since making the purchase. But my passion was truly reignited in Wanaka. I was in complete awe of the amazing musicians that play locally. Inspired by their talent, I promised myself that I would give guitar a proper go. I started to practice a lot more than usual. I began learning how to play solos and immersed myself into some musical theory. I even decided to try my hand at busking one day as well as playing at open mic). The best thing about Wanaka, in my opinion, are the people. They have made my time here unforgettable and definitely deserve a mention. My French mate Yvan who somehow knows how to speak 5 languages and is constantly a happy guy. Guillaum the super chill sax player. All of the staff in Base kitchen who make work very enjoyable. Two of my favourite people and climbing buddies, Eric and Hoff. Sam the Mexican kiwi. Mason the photographer and previous naked dating tv star. The 2 walking casualties; Alex the alcoholic & Parlie my Irish nordie bud. My fabulous housemates Albert, Nelly, Tim and James. And Robyn, a part time housemate, from Jersey in the Channel Islands. She’s weirdly wonderful and apparently claims to be a volcanologist. All of these people and many others , have made for me, the unforgettable experience that Wanaka has been.

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Robyn, Timmy and I in Fitzpatricks Irish bar

 

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Mount Cook

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Mason and I navigating our way through icebergs on the explorer 3000

Working 5-9 evening shifts, 5 days per week, meant that I had a lot of free time to kill during the day. Most of it was spent up at Cardrona, getting to grips with snowboarding. It took a week or two to ride confidently. By the third week, and after a lot of frustrating days I could shoot down slopes at top speed while trying some basic tricks and kickers. Cardrona isn’t a very big resort, comprising of only 4 chair lifts, so it can become very familiar in a short space of time. Half of the resort is a park, encompassing several kickers in a variety of sizes as well as an impressive collection of ever changing rails, boxes and half pipes that riders can use to showcase their repertoire of tricks. The other half, captains, is a large basin with some of the best on and off piste slopes in the resort. The snow on that side tends to be a little better as it is more exposed to the elements. Although a small resort compared to those in Europe and Canada, Cardies does a good job of keeping you interested and challenged enough so you don’t get bored too quickly. Treble cone is the other ski resort situated in close proximity to Wanaka. The terrain here is much steeper than Cardies, and has more of a backcountry feel to it. It even has some amazing naturally formed half pipes that are a lot of fun to ride. There are only 2 chair lifts operating which give access to a good variety of on and off piste riding. However some of the best riding is accessed by means of short hikes. Queenstown,which is less than an hours drive from Wanaka, has two ski resorts: The Remarkables and Coronet peak. Coronet has night skiing, which I did on a super foggy night in mid August. (Snowboarding in low light obviously means that the visibility is quite poor, making it somewhat of a challenge to navigate through moguls and steep terrain, especially with the presence of fog). Looking back on the season, my snowboarding has reached a level that has exceeded my initial expectations without a doubt. I pushed myself a lot at the beginning and toward the middle of the season. Hitting tricks like 180s & 360s, practicing some sharp carving and developing my switch stance riding skills. My progress slowed a lot towards the end of the season as the snow began to melt. I left my job at Fitzpatricks bar for a kitchen hand position in base cafe at Cardies. This meant that I had less time to ride as I worked 8-5 shifts. I did get an hour and a half ride break every day but I would generally end up boarding solo which meant that I wasn’t really trying anything new as there was nobody to push me on. My motivation to go riding slowly faded. There are certain challenging tricks that I regret not trying this season for sure. On the other hand I’m quite glad that I finished the season relatively unscathed apart from some minor tendon damage that put me out of action for a week or two. I think everyone knows at least one person who has been unlucky enough to suffer a fracture as a result of an accident on the mountain. I have developed a massive passion for snowboarding this winter. One of the most enjoyable sports out there in my opinion. It’s hard to beat snowboarding with a group of friends for the entire day. Getting an incredible workout in, while constantly having a brilliant time. Another season is definitely on the cards. Perhaps a bigger mountain and better gear next time around. Canada, Japan, Europe. They all appeal to me. For now it’s the beach and tropical weather that I’m craving. Melbourne is next on the list, followed by Indonesia and Thailand. Robyn will be leaving NZ in October also to join me for the next big adventure. With a bit of luck we won’t kill each other by the end of it. Honestly I’m thrilled to have someone else to travel with who I get on with so well and share similar interests.

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Hanging out on the lake front

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View from Treble Cone

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Snowboarding at Cardies

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View of the park at Cardies on a blue bird

My mind is full of ideas about what I want to do over the next few years. This first year of travelling has taught me so much about myself and others. It has instilled in me a self confidence that I did not know was there. My entire mindset on life has morphed drastically thanks to the many interesting people that I have had the pleasure of meeting. All of which have had their own unique and interesting stories to tell. There are so many paths in life to follow. So much to see and learn on this miraculous planet. It can be slightly overwhelming at times. At the moment I am content with sustaining my happiness and self growth. I have no firm plan as to what I will pursue as a long term career. It does worry me sometimes of my uncertainty. Nothing stands out for me so clearly that I am sure I want to devote all of my time to it. I want to try my hand at as many different things as I can. A time will come when I desire that stability and routine. However that’s not on the radar for me right now. Maybe I haven’t yet found that which will trigger in me such a response. For now I am young, healthy and full of energy. I only know one thing for sure…. there is a cascade of exciting adventures awaiting me on the horizon. Each day brings for me a new start with a multitude of possibilities.

“Not all those who wander are lost” – J.R.R Tolkein

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Paraglider enjoying the views of Lake Wanaka

Taking the first steps

Taking the first steps in the redirecting of your life’s path are undoubtedly the toughest and most daunting. This decision could be life changing, it could make or break you. A world of unknowns await you, good things, as well as bad things, will inevitably happen to you, you will be tested to your limits, you will find out more about yourself in these moments than in any other facet of life. A quote that ties in extremely well with this topic in my opinion is that of the Brazilian author Paolo Coelho from his masterpiece, The Alchemist…..”When you make a decision you are really diving into a strong current that will bring you to places you never dreamed of when you first made that decision”. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has not ready it. It is a short fable about a young shepherd who decides to travel the world in an attempt to fulfil his personal legend.

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View of the sky tower on my first day in Auckland

That decision for me was deciding to leave all of the things that I had been raised to accept. I handed in my notice for a full time engineering position in a highly esteemed medical device company that I had worked incredibly hard to get. I had worked for 3 years after college in 3 different engineering positions, including one for a year in San Francisco. I had been getting great experience, making more money than I had thought I would ever make at the age of 24 and I was living a very luxurious lifestyle for sure. Despite all of this, I couldn’t help but thinking, was this really what I was put on the earth to do, well at least right now. Surely there was more to life than watching my bank account grow, doing the 9-5 grind, leaving precious little time in the evenings and weekends to pursue what I was actually truly passionate about. It just seemed a bit backwards to me. Surely it should be the opposite, spend the majority of your time doing what you really want to do, and use the rest of it to fund that lifestyle that you actually want to live. Of course this is an idealistic way of thinking, but then again why accept the common agreement of the way things are and the system that you have been brought up to understand and live by. I look at people working in the same jobs for 20 years, fighting for promotions, chasing the banker who has cursed them with an ever-growing mortgage that has stunted their dreams and great plans and killed their independence, living for their next 2 week vacation to some tropical paradise, only to dream again of their next trip away once it has ended, a mere 50 weeks of day dreaming. Time for me is one of the most important things in my life, and I refuse to spend it doing something that I am not fully bought into. Upon making the decision to travel, leaving my girlfriend was one of the hardest consequences to accept. We had had a steady relationship for the past year and a half and my decision to travel the world obviously came as a massive shock to her. I had thought long and hard over the course of several months, battling the pros and cons floating through my head. I confided in my father as to what was eating me up inside as it had started to become extremely evident that something was amis. Funnily enough it didn’t surprise him one bit ,to my own amazement, and he thought that it was a great idea for me to get out and see the world. That was the night I promised myself that I would go through with this decision.

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Me & Rob at the top of Mt Ruapehu after a 4 day hike

I left Ireland on a warm night on October 14th. Saying goodbye to everyone at the bus stop was tough, I knew that I would not see them again for quite a long time which made me sad, but on the other hand I was anxious and excited for this new chapter of my life to begin and the many adventures that awaited me. I am definitely one of the lucky travellers as I had one of my best friends waiting to collect me in Auckland airport, New Zealand. Rob had spent the past year travelling around Canada living the sort of life he had always wanted to, surfing, snowboarding and venturing into the wilderness of northern Canada on mushroom picking excursions as an alternative way to make money quickly. Hearing of his travel experiences were undoubtedly one of the biggest contributing factors to solidifying my decision to travel. We had only been friends since 1st year college but I quickly realised we had a lot in common and shared similar views and passions. He had been studying biomedical engineering and me mechanical so we took a lot of the same classes. We had often talked about travelling the world together after college and vowed to never let ourselves get sucked into a job for years no matter how good the money or perks, so that we could actually make this dream a reality. When I landed in Auckland airport, Rob was waiting for me with a 1977, bad ass looking Bedford motorhome that he had recently bought. I had sent him some money a few weeks earlier after he saw the Bedford for sale and we both decided that we’d go for it, with the extra space we could have a bit more comfort, have room to invite some friends in to hang out and have plenty of storage space. Little did we know at that point in time the whirlwind of crazy adventures we would have in this thing. That Bedford camper has definitely shaped our trip in every sense of the word. From amazing highs to despairing lows. It was surreal arriving in a new world, so far away from home. It all felt so new, yet I felt surprisingly comfortable and self assured in what I was doing. Another of my best friends, Dave, had been living in Auckland for the past year and a half, working as a physiotherapist, so we spent a few weeks hanging out with him and his flat mates. It was an easy introduction into travelling and really helped me to adjust to everything that was happening. Me and rob spent the first couple of days catching up, having not seen each other for the best part of 2 years. We talked a lot about our plans for the year in NZ; surfing, hiking, climbing, snowboarding, all in places that I had only ever read about in books and online. Rob had a real essence of confidence and self-assuredness about him. He had always been this way, but something great had changed in him from when we had last met in person. No longer were we college kids with a strict schedule wrapped around us, we were truly free. Travel changes a man, makes him stronger, more open minded and often a better person. I had taken my first step on the path that I had always longed to follow. A new experience was waiting for me around every bend. Bring it on I revelled to myself.

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Night out with Dave, Rob  and Campbell in Tauranga

Before me and rob set off on our travels around NZ we spent a weekend away with Dave and a big group of his friends in a place called mount maunganui. Located on the east coast of the north island, “The Mount” is a bustling seaside town built around a stunning mountain. Surf Culture is huge and people from Auckland flock there to spend their vacations in an attempt to get away from the city life. We stayed in a big wooden batch (holiday home) for the weekend with plenty of space for the number of people that were with us. We hit up Tauranga, the big brother to the mount, on our first night. It was great being a part of such a great group of people so soon after arriving to a new country. The Rugby World Cup was in full swing at the time so all of the bars were plastered with televisions showing highlights of the all blacks demolishing every opponent that they had been set against. We drank many a pint of Guinness and danced the night away in a merry haze. The next morning I went into town to look for a surfboard that would be my most prized possession for the next few months. After much deliberating I came away with a 7’2″ minimal board that was a dark reddish glossy colour with a white top, I loved it. Later that day we took the boards out into some pathetic waves, which I got smashed in every time for all my efforts, but enjoyed in thoroughly none the less. I had always marvelled at the thought of getting to a level of surfing where I could ride green waves and really enjoy it, although I knew that it was going to take a long time, I was determined to get there. This was the start of something great. We went to the hot springs later that day with everyone, cooked up a lamb roast and went on the beer once more before we said our goodbyes and hit the road. I had met some amazing people in only my first week In New Zealand. I once again reminded myself about how extremely lucky I was to land into such a great situation.

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Lucie, our 1977 Bedford Camper in all its glory

One of the greatest aspects of traveling are the many incredible people that you meet along the way. I haven’t been travelling for that long, yet would say that some of the people I have met were some of the closest friends I have ever had in my life. One of the worst aspect of traveling is having to say goodbye to these people time and time again. I find it just as difficult every time I bid farewell to another great friend. I suppose that is the nature of living on the road. It’s another excuse to visit them, and discover the places they’ve told you so much about. I find that people that you meet on the road are in general very like minded individuals to you. Everyone has the same idea of just wanting to have a really great time and meet new people. People become close friends quickly because of the amount of time you spend together from the get go. All formalities are lost, nobody cares what you did before, what age you are, whether you went to university or not, it is a magical thing.

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Got upgraded to 1st class on my flight over, living the high life

The kindness of strangers is also something that continues to amaze me on my travels. I have had people help get me out of several tricky situations out of the absolute kindness of their hearts over here in NZ. Something about travelling seems to bring the best out in us all, generosity is infectious. I feel that I want to help people out whenever I can now. I always got a great kick out of helping others, but this trait has definitely been accentuated in me in recent times. People give what they can, and never expect anything in return. I have found that both offering and being offered a meal is one of the most simple universally understood acts of kindness and friendship there is. It’s a great way to meet people and to share with others.

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The surfboard I bought at the Mount and my pathetic job at waxing it. The start of something great!

I have been here in NZ for the past 10 months and have travelled around the north island surfing and am now currently based in Wanaka, a town nestled among the southern alps on the South Island. I have been doing a snowboarding season and am having the time of my life right now. Being surrounded by mountains humbles you somewhat. Their greatness reminds you everyday of the wonderfully great forces of nature. The winter here is cold, but it brings people even closer together. The fire is always lit and cups of tea and coffee are always in hand. I have been living in my camper van “The Fargo” for the majority of my time here, but use the facilities at a house with great people, so there’s always people around. I am currently working in a popular Irish bar called Fitzpatrick’s as a chef. The staff there are super people and it’s a great venue for live music and a few relaxing pints or games of pool. I couldn’t have imagined everything working out so well here, I nearly have to pinch myself sometimes at how amazing it all is.

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A view from Wainui beach in Gisborne of the sun setting behind Mahia

To finish I wanted to share this inspirational quote they I came across recently, hopefully it speaks to people in the same way that it has for me 🙂

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Just a casual day in Wanaka

“All men dream; but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” – T.E. Lawrence, The seven pillars of wisdom.