Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Japin' round the world: Back to the future, and then back to reality.

It's odd as after spending several weeks back in the 1990s (seriously at times in NZ; despite them keeping up with several modern developments, I felt like it was 1995 there), I have now been accelerated into the future as I arrive in Tokyo Japan. The final stop on the trip.

Tokyo is quite a shock to the senses when you first arrive, and this certainly wasn't helped by the long haul flight overnight, and the watching of two rather discombobulating films under these circumstances. These films were The Lovely Bones, which is both depressing and trippy in equal measure; like watching Silent Hill on acid, and The Road, which is drab and depressing; to the point that a night spent listening to Leonard Cohen reading the dictionary would seem an enthralling high by comparison. And then there was the usual immigration to be done with, and bag collection, which I will not miss once this is all finished.

As soon as I got out of the airport I could tell I was very much back in Asia again.
There's that usual feel of overcrowdedness, I saw in my other Asian travels, although this time I felt a little more overwhelmed by the industriousness of this country. Also, much like in Hong Kong, I was back in the scenario of not knowing where to eat, as despite the fact there were pictures of the food on offer, I knew neither what they were, nor how to ask for them. Saying that though you can't go too far wrong with the Sushi here, which is noticeably fresher and nicer than the stuff at home. Still on the plus side, compared to my other Asian adventures, you get hassled a lot less, in fact you aren't hassled at all. It's also not as expensive here as you would imagine. Sure the prices are on a par with London, but you get such better service for that cost. Also the prices are nowhere near as high as the Australian ones and once you get a grip on what food is and how to ask for it, it is really very tasty.

One thing is though, you do feel slightly disappointed - despite logically knowing they're impossible - when you don't see certain Japanese stereotypes around the city, such as Godzilla, people battling Pokemon (which lets face it is just an imagined; legalized version of cock fighting. On that note, even a grim attempt by an obsessed fan to manually construct a Pokemon, say by adding electrodes to the cheeks of a mouse and painting it yellow, would have made me feel this is more like the Japan I knew from TV) people in Gundam robot suits or even Power Ranger-like crime fighters. This is the way the Japanese world is often portrayed to the world at large. When instead the reality is that Tokyo it is a normal city on the surface.

So what is there to see? First of all I went to see the Sony building, where you can try out some of the new technological innovations. One of which was the new 3D TV, and whilst I might accept the offering was very cool, I did feel a bit disorientated after trying it for a few minutes. Perhaps they may want to sort that matter out before releasing it. Still on the plus side I didn't suffer a seizure, which is the ailment stereotypically, linked with Japanese visual stimulation (aside from explosive nosebleeds in anime cartoons; when a male is aroused by female nudity). Also I had a look at some very impressive HD hand-held cameras, and all sorts of other HD wonderment.

Another excursion I made was to the Pokemon center, which is a store which sells everything Pokemon, although unlike in the game they don't heal your fainted Pokemon which left me a little disappointed (although to be fair, I think my home made Pikachu abomination would need more serious medical attention then they could offer at a Pokemon center). All in all it was a surreal experience, as inside they play the theme music for the Pokemon center from the video game itself. Only in Japan.

Another oddity I've noticed here is that at the station; when disembarking from the train, there seems to be this chiming music, which sounds very similar to the sort of music you'd hear when completing a level of a video game, and your final score is added up. I keep wondering if I'm playing some sort of game called 'Tokyo Commuter' and am in fact beating a level as I leave the train. If that's the case I wonder what my score is and how much XP I need before I level up.

As per the normal expectations of Japan, Tokyo is full of shrines and well tended gardens. It's a bit of a city of contradictions in this sense as on one hand you are surrounded by the buzz of the city and modern stresses, whereas you can still find some tranquility and tradition within the streets of this modern metropolis. The gardens are really quite amazing, and are well kept to the point of obsession. The one thing to take from this is that if you want a garden well kept, ask the Japanese to do it, you won't find a leaf or branch out of place. The temples are also quite interesting to see. Sure I've seen loads of temples around Asia, but here they seem a little humbler at times than the Chinese inspired variants. They tend to be less colourful and more conservative in design.

The city unsurprisingly is a haven for shops, especially if - like me - you want to get your hands on anime merchandise, which is unavailable in Europe or America. For this I took a walk round Akihabara where you can find, Tokyo 'electric town'. Here, you can get pretty much anything electrical you desire; Cameras; TVs; video games; you name it. I personally was in the market for a Dragonball Scouter (because of a You Tube meme, look here for why), which I was able to find in one of the toy sections of a department store in the area. Aside from this, there is all manner of memorabilia and toy items available to satisfy the inner geek. One of the strangest things on sale however, was a large Tony the Tiger stuffed toy. I know old Tony is a popular mascot, but really?

One of the more unique experiences I had in Tokyo however, was in my trip to the Studio Ghibli Museum. The ethos of the museum, according to the brochure, is: "Let's lose our way together," and from the off you are sucked into the free spirited world of the studio. The design inside, gives a pretty good idea of what it must be like to walk around inside the head of legendary director Hayao Miyazaki. It's delightfully quirky and eccentric, with it's spiral staircases and stained glass windows of beloved Ghibli creations. With the admission you also get a celluloid cell from one of the movies and you get to watch a specially made (for the museum) film which is unavailable anywhere else. The movie itself had a simple story, and was made quite amusing by the fact all the sound effects were performed by a vocal cast, rather than using standard sound effects. A cute feature to the museum is a soft play area featuring a large soft 'Cat bus,' from the movie My Neighbour Toroto, and there is also a very interesting display on moving image and how the films are produced. It was surely one wacky day out.

Another wacky day was my trip to Harajuku station and Yoyogi Park. Harajuku is well known for its quirky crows of Cosplayers, who gather on weekends. The park however is a sight also as it attracts crowds of bequiffed rockabilly dancers, who gather in sort of gangs and dance to music from the 1950s and 60s. It's the sort of thing you'd only see here, although I would liken the practice to the Elvis impersonators you can find in Las Vegas and dotted around the place. Here at least it's treated with some respect by other locals, and at worst mild amusment from tourists and locals alike.

While in Japan I attempted a day trip to Kyoto. Now Kyoto is certainly a beautiful city, with lots to see. Unfortunately when only there for a few hours this can make the entire experience into one massive rush, as was my experience. This was quite a frustrating fact as in the few hours I enjoyed in the city, and I was quite taken with how nice some parts of it are. Still looking to the positives, this was much chance to take the bullet take the super-fast Nozomi train (which the JR Railpass doesn't cover) as these rocket along the tracks at a frightning speed, and also make fewer stops.

Another must for the Tokyo tourist is a trip to Shibuya, where the famous street crossing, where several hundred people pile across the road at once, lies. This is good to see up close, but reminds you of how crowded Tokyo is as a city. It's even worse if you go into the station from here. But seeing it is certainly a must if you do come here. Also there is a statue on the station side commemorated to a dog called Hachiko; who would loyally come to the station everyday to wait for his master, even after his master's death. The resultant statue is a kind of physical reminder of his loyalty and the affection of the community for their local legend, of sorts.

I also popped over to Ueno park, and visited the Zoo there. Sadly, much to my disappointment, they didn't have a giant panda there, as the last one - Ling Ling - had died of heart failure in 2008 (someone should have told him all that bamboo wasn't too good for his health), so I had to make do with the funny, but not as giant, red panda. Still on the plus side the Zoo had all manner of other interesting beasts on display. Such as gorillas, elephants, hippopotamus, and rhinos.

Sadly, I've now come to the end of my travels, which is rather worrying, as I haven't a clue what to do now. Still the last three and a bit months have been spectacular, and I hope that this isn't the last trip of this kind I undergo. It wasn't exactly as I planned it but then they do say, 'the way to make god laugh is to tell him your plans'. Also chosing Japan as a finale was a pretty good way to round things off, as it's a country which somehow has a grasp on both it's inner child and adult simultaneously, and makes it a hugely enjoyable place to visit.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Japin' round the world: Inner City Pressure

Right, so to finish off with New Zealand I arrived in Auckland. I don't know whether it's because I know the end is nigh, or that this place really is just another - albeit slightly bigger than Wellington - city I'm not all that in love with it.

It's distinctly average on first impressions, and in some ways it's quite a wannabe city. For example it's got a Harbour bridge and Sky tower like Sydney. Both of which are slightly less impressive from the monuments they seem to be ripping off, despite the latter being the tallest structure in the Southern hemisphere, although I wonder if that's to do with the fact it has a very high spire, whilst the viewing deck is lower down on the structure. Besides which it's a difference of only a few meters compared between this and Sydney's attempt. I did however go up the tower, and the views are pretty good though saying that.

Despite being a bit unimpressed with Auckland on the surface of it, I don't hate the place. It's a bit of an inoffensive city, and in it does seem to have quite a lot going on in it. Think of it as a George Lamb sort of city, it's pretty harmless but you have trouble warming to it. Also it's worth mentioning it, like Rotorua, is sitting on a heap of volcanos. Thankfully these ones, unlike the ones in Iceland (seriously why is Iceland such a problem-maker these days? First they play a part in ruining our economy, and then mess up our airspace? what did we ever do to them), are behaving themselves and staying quiet. Still I hope that continues in the future as otherwise Auckland would simply be wiped off the map. You can see small caldera around the city in places, and as a result this means the place is quite hilly, and also means it is surrounded by water on all sides. They do say, "you're never far from water in Auckland," and this is precisely why.

Also, as per usual for me in cities, I wandered around the parks and gardens of Auckland. I also checked out the Museum of Auckland which is all well and good; containing the usual museumy sort of things. I also went to MOTAT (Museum of transport and technology), which was also fairly interesting, and the highlight of which was a ride in a tank.

I was really just kicking around until my flight to Japan on Monday in a lot of ways. Auckland is a good enough place, but it pales in comparison to the rest of New Zealand. Interestingly a few kiwis I've spoken to on the matter seem to agree with me.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Japin' round the world: Trapsing past Mordor (on the bus), and hot stuff coming through.

I've now made my way from Wellington and into the sulperous smelling Volcano town of Rotorua, which is in the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island.

The journey from Wellington was long and, for the first hour or so, it was pretty dull as the landscape between Wellington and Palmerston North is a little underwhelming - at least compared to some of the sights I'd seen thus far on my travels in New Zealand. After leaving Palmerston it started getting better as I was able to see hills and valleys which reminded me a little of my years spent in Cardiff and South Wales. I suppose the abundance of sheep on said hills added to this.

Then after a while some huge mountains rolled into view. These were different to the ones I'd seen in the Southern Alps, as they sat on their own rather than in huge ranges as I'd seen on the South Island. Amongst them was a small range of mountains which stood out immediately as the ones that were used as Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (including Mount Doom). What also made this a little more interesting was that the Maori chap sitting next to me explained that the Maori legend claims the (male) mountains in this range were vying for the attention of a smaller (female) mount nearby and during this time they faced off against each other to become the tallest, whilst in the process sending Mount Taranaki (which could be seen in the far distance) packing, although they also believe he'll be back for his revenge one day (similar in a way to the second coming of Christ, but with a more soap operaish twist). This added a bit of colour to the trip anyway. We also decided between us that the reason the mountains hadn't got closer to the lady mount (heh!) was that she hadn't been impressed with this showoff behaviour. A wise decision I suppose.

As for Rotorua itself, there is also a lot happening. On my first day I took a walk round the thermal areas of Kuirau Park. This is quite a weird place, as at first it looks like a normal grassy park, until you see steam is rising from the ground in some places. In the thermal area, there are many hot pools scattered around which in some cases are bubbling quite angrily. There are also some mud pools which are bubbling just as furiously, and all around there are vents of steam rising from the small holes which vent the volcanic heat. It's very sulpherous smelling round here, especially when the steam from the vents wafts into your face. What provided a nice addition to the park were the two smallish mineral baths you can use for free. Addmittively this is a better bet than diving into the bubbling spas around the park, as I'd assume they would probably boil you alive very quickly. Also they don't look that clean.

All in all though, it's still very impressive, and you can see this all for nothing as it just happens to be in a public park - and right next to a small suburb, although I can't see the appeal of living right next to volcanic activity. This area is also prone to small eruptions too, as happened a few years back when it coated the area in mud, according to some of the books I've read on the subject. You can also see where the activity is moving to, as there are some patches of land where there is no grass, so you have to assume that there is volcanic activity coming soon to that spot.

After seeing it all happening, I decided to literally take the plunge and experience sitting in one of the hot springs. For this I went to one of the Spas dotted around town for an hour or two. This was really relaxing, although it did smell a little at times. These springs were fed from the lake itself, which is pretty hot in places, and as a result some of the pools are like sitting in a very warm bath (of about 40 degrees or more). Still it was worth doing whilst I was here.

I decided also, as the area seems to be full of Maori related activities, to go to a Maori cultural site, which included a geyser, bubbling mud pools, a kiwi house and other such fun geothermal japes. While here I got to experience a Maori cultural performance, which was a bit of fun too. It's interesting as they do this whole 'friend or foe' welcoming cermony where a warrior comes out of the Marae (meeting house), wielding a big stick quite fiercly, and then lays a fern leaf on the ground. A 'chief' of the tourists is appointed and he has to accept the leaf as a friendly gesture. I must admit I was curious to see what would happen if he declined it, and whether it would have resulted in the warrior going on the rampage amongst the hapless tourists. Supposedly this actually happened when the first European settlers encountered the Maori, as instead of accepting the 'fern of friendship' they just shot the unfortunate Maori. Still there was no bloodshed today, although there were a few interesting Maori songs, and a haka for good measure.

For my final day I fulfilled a minor fantasy of mine by taking a ride in a Zorb. A Zorb, just to clarify, is a giant plastic bouncy ball in which the passenger is rolled down a steep hill in. I opted to do this with water - as you can either have it this way and bounce around freely, or be strapped in without water - which I feel was the better choice, not least because it felt what it must be like to travel around in a washing machine. It was really fun though, and it lasted longer than I was expecting too. In fact I enjoyed it so much I decided to do it twice. Still I'm very pleased to say I have now rolled down a hill in a giant ball, thats another thing off the list of things to do before I die. What next then? I must admit I've always wanted to throw something at Jeremy Kyle.

A small side note to my time in Rotorua, was that I got a chance to see the kiwi version of The Apprentice. This was totally different to the version we are used to in the UK. First of all there isn't the grumpy bulldogesque face of Sir Alan Sugar scowling at the contestants. Instead there's the grumpy face of a kiwi businessman I have never heard of. Also he's noticibly better tempered than old 'Surallan' (or is it Baron Sugar now?) as he actually acknowledged the losing team had, "done a superb job given the time frame." In that way it really lacks the twattish edge that our Apprentice has, as if someone had lost a task - ambitious task done on an unfairly contracted time frame or not - 'Surallan' would have comparitively treated the loss as a personal insult, and give them a supreme bollocking. I think I'll stick to the UK version. On the plus side, there's no anthropomorphic wig like on the US Apprentice, so it's got a bit of an edge there.

Still, when all's said and done. I've enjoyed my time in Rotorua, but it's now time for me to head to my final stop in New Zealand, Auckland where my flight to Japan awaits, which is my final stop on my trip sadly.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Japin' round the world: Putting two feet into Wellington

So here I was in the capital of New Zealand, which can only be described as a really small big city. Sure, Wellington is a lot larger than any other towns here in New Zealand, but it really isn't that big at all. Also this city sits atop a major fault line in the Pacific plate so a big earthquake could potentially be an issue here. It certainly makes you question the logic of building a capital city here.

Also it's noticeably less crowded than any other capital (perhaps due to the reason above) I've ever visited. When I arrived I put this down to it being a Sunday evening, so naturally no one would really be out and about. However, come Monday morning when I hit the town properly, it was not much busier. I guess this is a relief to the horrible crush that I see in London, but it doesn't feel like a capital city as a result.

Still, this was still a city and as a result it has your usual city-ish things to do, such as museums, botanical gardens and odd historical follies like cable cars and trams - here its a cable car up the hill. As you can imagine, I did all this stuff whilst I was here, because being a tourist I can!

What was a real highlight however, was the Te Papa museum of New Zealand. This free entry gem helped me kill quite a few hours, as it was full of all sorts of interesting befuddlement. For instance they have an earthquake house, which allows you to experience a tremor registering five on the Richter scale. Also, they have a real preserved colossal squid on display here. Now only one of these has ever been caught alive, and this is it. Sure it's been tampered with and stuck in preservative chemicals, but it really is weird to see for yourself. Obviously for one thing it is massive, but it also has remarkably large eyes - the size of footballs.

Squid geekary aside, there was all manner of 'kiwiana' to see here, such as a custom built; life sized Maori marae (or meeting place); some interesting displays about people who've migrated to New Zealand, as well as cool stuff about volcanoes and such. I also had my chance to (virtually) destroy the Kiwi ecosystem, which was an experience if nothing else.

Whilst at the museum I managed to notice something quite funny about New Zealand, and that is that Kiwi parents have a funny habit of giving their children unusual names. I shouldn't have been surprised by this, as there was a famous case a couple of years where the parents of a nine year old girl who had been named - and I am being serious here - Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii, lost custody of their daughter for giving her such an embarrassing name. However, today at the museum, I heard parents calling out for children with names such as, Bryson; Jeramiah; and Angus.

I have to say on reflection a day visit is enough for Wellington, which is a good thing as tommorow I head into New Zealands volcano land, for Rotorua.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Japin' round the world: The (almost) extreme adventures of Dave, featuring Dave on ice.

So for the tail-end of the Easter weekend I came to Wanaka; which is south of Twizel, and then went on to Queenstown; which is another 150km further south of Wanaka, before hitting the South Island's west coast in Franz Josef.

It was a real relief to get to Wanaka, after being in the middle of nowhere that is Twizel, as there actually seemed to be a lot more happening round here; not least because there was an airshow here over the weekend. As a result I got to see a few old planes lingering around the sky before they were shipped back to their respective locations.

So what to say about Wanaka? Basically it's beautiful. The town is situated on the lakes of Lake Wanaka, and has great views of Mount Aspiring, which sits across the water. I didn't have a great deal of time here, only about a day and a bit, but you don't need a great deal of time here though. It's very small, despite being bigger than Twizel, and you've pretty much exhausted the activities (unless you're into adventure sports in a big way and have very deep pockets to afford a lot of said activities).

What I did do whilst here was visit a strange attraction called Puzzling World. It's like a religious shrine to visual illusions and puzzles and includes all sorts of visually confuddling objects and displays like a room which is built at a 15 degree angle and one which appears normal sized and gets smaller as you walk across it. There's also a rather tricky maze outside. The Jesus, or L.Ron Hubbard of the place is a chap called Stuart Landsborough. Who in the 70s decided to build a maze on the site of the current Puzzling World, and expanded it over the years. One thing I do have to say about the place is that Landsborough should have made the actual place more puzzling to find, like for example leaving a trail of criptic clues more fiendish than the last as the only means of finding puzzling world. It would have been in keeping with the feel of the place after all.

I also took a small hike up Mount Iron which is 250 meters high and offers amazing views of Lake Wanaka and surrounding landscapes. It takes about an hour to climb the mountain, and it is a bit steep, but the view is well worth it. After that I was pretty much done with place.

After my short stint in Wanaka I then headed to Queenstown, which is a pretty world renowned town, not least because the bungy jumping craze was invented there.

My first impressions of the town was that it was like an Aspen of the southern hemisphere. The town does function as ski resort in the winter months (our summer months), but for now there was no snow. Still you could have been forgiven for thinking there was some on the way, as here it was noticeably colder than anywhere I'd been in New Zealand so far. Still despite the chillier climbs, there's no getting over that Queenstown was one of the nicest towns I've stayed in so far, despite being a little bit too full of tourists of the extreme and day trip variety.

There is a hell of a lot to do here if you have the time and the money. Unfortunately there is a bit of a mark up, because it's Queenstown, for activities. Despite that I still had a go on the gondola up to the peak, where I enjoyed a spectacular panoramic view of the town and it's surrounding areas. I also had a try of the downhill luge they have at the top. Basically it's like riding a soap-box cart downhill, but it's pretty fun.

I also had a short cruise on Lake Wakatipu, which I discovered is the worlds second purest lake. It's so pure that you can drink it without any kind of treatment, it's supposed to be better than any bottled water. Also if you drop any electrical items in it they won't short circuit. I didn't want to carry out a test of that by dropping my camera in the water, so I just trusted the guide at his word.

I also got to see some people trying out the bungees and other extreme sports you can get up to here, such as paragliding; a giant swing; and jet boating. I must admit having seen people doing the bungee, I have no desire to have a go myself. I'm terrible around heights, and the idea of jumping off a very high platform doesn't sit very well as a result. I might have considered paragliding (you're attached to someone trained in that) but didn't have the time.

By now it was time to trade one Alpen cereal-box town for another, and I began the steady trek northwards, to the South Island's west coast and to the Franz Josef Glacier.

The West Coast is a bit of a culture-shock at first, because instead of alpine pines you are greeted with rain forest. This is because the west coast - or the wet coast as some locals refer to it - has quite a high level of rain fall, and is near the sea so doesn't get too frozen. Its weird to think also, that this is one of the Earths wettest regions and I enjoyed sunny weather the entire time I was there. Still it was still weird to be faced with a landscape which seemed quite familiar to Australia, although quite a lot more mountainous.

I was quite lucky on this journey, as we had some time to kill the bus driver took us to a Fox Glacier lookout, where we could see the Glacier from a distance. The easiest way to describe it, is that it looks like a frozen waterfall, but huge and flowing down a mountain. Admittively Fox Glacier wasn't a must see thing for me here, as I was going to do a walk on the Franz Josef glacier up the road, but I'm still glad I saw it.

Franz Josef town itself is really small. Therefore you're pretty much here for the glacier or nothing, as there isn't a lot here. For example there is only one ATM for the whole town, which I have yet to see anywhere. Also it would be an ATM that can't read my debit card. Stupid Murphy's law.

Well anyway, the real reason I was in Franz Josef was for the glacier. So anyway, Franz Josef glacier on a superficial level looks similar to Fox, I know glaciologists won't like me saying this but to me it does. Then again, appearances are deceptive when it comes to these giant ice lollies - which begs the question why hasn't Coke or Pepsi seen the PR opportunity of making their own glacier from their product. Imagine it if you will. A giant theme park type place called either the Coke or Pepsi glacier. All you need is several million cubic tons of cola, a small mountainous third world nation, which is looking for serious investment in tourism (I hear Nepal is interested), and a huge amount of geothermic force. Getting back onto the subject of real glaciers, and not made up PR stunt ones, appearances are deceptive, as even though they don't look big they are. It was hard to see it, but some points were in fact kilometers away, rather than maybe 500 meters as they looked to be.

My Franz Josef experience was pretty exciting as for the first time in my life it felt like I was a mountain climber of sorts. I was given some equipement like a jacket, boots and crampons and then we were taken up to the valley which leads to the glacier. So what is it like to walk on a glacier? Well imagine walking in an ice box which has leaked a bit, comes quite close. Because the guides you're with are always hacking into the ice so you can walk safely on the surface there is ice cube like debris everywhere. It did make me wish it was a hot day and I had a cold drink, as ice cubes were pretty plentiful there. It was very cold too - unsurprisingly as I was on ice - but this was mainly due to the windchill, and the fact the glacier is incredibly steep too. The landscape of the glacier is like something out of a dream (or for those struggling to imagine it, it's like the scene in Fight Club with the imaginary Penguin. Don't know that? Well then watch Fight Club, it's really a very good film). It really isn't like anything else in the world. It's like being parachuted to Antarctica, but with a more forgiving climate.

I was also very lucky on this trip, as I was able to go into an ice cave which had been hacked out of the ice only that morning. Supposedly this only happens every week out of a month on the half day trip which I was on, so it was very good timing.

Having done the Glacier I now had no reason to stay in Franz Josef, and it was really time to hit the North Island. What followed was a very long two days of travel, which I can only describe as 'the dash north' from Franz Josef to Nelson, and then Nelson to Wellington. Still this was a really scenic trip, and also the hostel in Nelson had a hot tub which was a happy bonus.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Japin' round the world: Here I am in Middle Earth and there's nary a hobbit in sight.

Because of Easter I found myself in a fairly small backwater town called Twizel. It's a nice enough place but there's not a lot going on here, not least because of Easter. But still after the mad rush I faced when I arrived in New Zealand, I was relieved to have somewhere to stay.

The place I was staying at was a little difference as it's a motel-cum-backpackers. What does this mean? Well firstly the rooms are smaller, and two are allocated to a room. Also it means that it's not exclusively backpackers here. I found this out when I walked into the shared kitchen and found that it had unexpectedly turned into a family living room during games night. I was a little taken aback by this but went about my business cooking anyway. Meanwhile family fun was well abound. This may be my only experience of Kiwi family dynamics, and wow, it's a world a way from my family. The whole family was there for a start. Mum; dad; the kids; and grandma and grandpa. It became amusing after a time, as they were really getting into the games in a way I wouldn't have anticipated in these days of computer entertainment. It was like they were Mormons. The family also seemed very close, they were cracking jokes; really getting excited about the game they were playing and I wondered if I'd wondered into a Bisto, or Axa Sun-Life funeral plan ad, I was really half expecting Grandad to pull a pained expression and a voice over telling you how you could save towards funeral costs would kick in. Especially when Grandpa joked about putting toothpaste on a comb and the family laughed like Alzheimers was the biggest gag this year. However, despite this amusement the family were very nice - although grandpa later made a racist comment, but I come to expect that unashamed un-PC attitude from older people.

Whilst, in Twizel I paid a visit to Mount Cook village. There I did some walking and took in some stunning views. The area is beautiful, and the weather was very good there too when I was there. Mount Cook is New Zealands biggest peak, and is just what you want from a Mountain. Gigantic and snowy on top. Also on the way back I got to view if from the shores of one of the many lakes in the area and view it reflected on the surface. New Zealand certainly is great for epic scenery.

I also took a quick-ish walk around Twizel - being limited on other things to do here - and also appreciated the sights and sounds of the wilderness here. It's quite easy to find places around where you can't hear any cars or people and can only hear nature. It's not often I've found place like that, but then considering Europe and Asia's overcrowding it's hardly surprising.

Now it's worth mentioning that New Zealand is an awkward place, to say the least, when it comes to Easter. The rules here are quite conservative as many shops aren't allowed to open on holy days by law. Alcohol selling is also a no-no. I knew in many ways the country was behind us in terms of some things, but it's weird seeing it for real. It's like stepping back to my early childhood. Also, on an unrelated note they have a habit of calling honeycomb hokey pokey for some reason. What's up with that?