Ocean Dream / Red Dirt Road

Humpback calf Vava'u

Gathering ammo for articles in Vava’u was spectacularly fruitful. Unlike in Tongatapu, the main island, people were very enthusiastic about the opportunity to promote the region. As a result I was hosted on a fantastic array of different activities. On day 3 I found myself in a go-cart whizzing around the mainland and on day 4 I was out on the waves of the open sea in a boat all day.

The carting was very novel – the very rough terrain in places really epitomised ‘off-roading’. There was also a surprising amount of variety in terms of the terrain/flora/fauna. Up on the north coast, the rich brown/red mud and luscious greens transformed to sweeping yellow fields dotted with pandan trees. I’ll do a ‘photo story’ to try and recreate the impression of the trip:

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First stop: beach at the north east of the main island

First stop: beach at the north east of the main island

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Flying fox den with a view

Flying fox den with a view

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Picked up a straggler in the cart

Picked up a straggler in the cart

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The following day, the excursion couldn’t have been a bigger contrast from that adrenaline filled mud-fest. A reasonably small motor boat, with me, the crew and three underwater photographers on, headed out of the bay, out through the islands to the open sea. We spent from 8am-4pm getting sea sick on the waves, spotting the odd breech or the odd fin but getting frustrated as all of the whales where moving. Tonga is renowned for providing perfect conditions for whales to hang around in. As a result you get many mothers with their calves sitting around in the warm water. If the whales are moving, however, there’s not much you can do about it as they’re far faster than you could ever be!

On our way back in we eventually saw an out spurt of water belonging to a resting mother and we jumped in the water with our snorkels on. The mother was very relaxed and sleepy and dozed away whilst her calf came to play with us near the surface – it was within a couple of metres of us! Every now and then the sleepy mother would rise up to breath and perhaps move along a little, still with her eyes shut! My favourite moment was swimming along side both of them, almost at arms length whilst they slowly moved along. We were in there for over an hour but it certainly eclipsed all of the morning’s sickness and frustration!

My pathetic little underwater camera did not fare well, particularly with the excitement of the situation, but I’ve fiddled around with a couple of the photos a little to try and reclaim a semblance of a whale from them! With any luck, the underwater photographer who got a shot of me with the whales with come through with his promise to send me the picture! I’ll include a low-quality version of his shot of the calf as well – Daniel Norwood photography, is where to go if anyone wants to look further into him.

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As usual, i've failed to get a full whale in but here you can get an idea of what it was like to swim along-side!

As usual, i’ve failed to get a full whale in but here you can get an idea of what it was like to swim along-side!

The mum with her eyes shut!

The mum with her eyes shut!

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Fantastic wooden whale at the crafts shop in town

Fantastic wooden whale at the crafts shop in town

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Such Great Heights

“Life is an adventure, dare it.”

 – Mother Teresa

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Bungee over the canopy at Monteverde cloud forest. Hard work trying to convince the company that I’d be fine barefoot (I left my hiking boots in San Jose!) but as you can see I managed to get through to them. The platform is 143m high. Check it out if you’re in the area – the company is ‘extremo bungee’.

Let’s Go Fly A Kite/ Watching And Waiting

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Making carnival masks!

“There is nothing safer than flying – it’s crashing that is dangerous”.
– Theo Cowan

After the usual, urine related, antics at the crèche this morning, things proceeded to go downhill. Very literally in one some cases.  The major time theft of the day was my hang-gliding expedition. I say expedition as I arrived at 11 and didn’t leave until past 5. Basically I was sat at the top of a mountain in my harness and helmet for six hours whilst crowds of gliders gathered, waiting for the cloud to leave a gap so that we could jump off the mountain. I think it would be fair to say that I’m not the most patient soul in the world, so after many false alarms, each involving rushing to the glider and buckling up only to see another swath of cloud roll in, I was getting increasingly pissed off. I was convinced that we were just going to end up having to drive back down. In the mean time my instructor shared some interesting stories. The two that come to mind are: him taking his dog hang-gliding and his ex-girlfriend turning out to be a man. Both stories accompanied by pictures.

                Of course, the actual flight was incredible. A particular highlight was flying alongside a native hawk! It really did make you feel ‘like a bird’.

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However the two hours which followed were occupied by sitting in solid traffic during my lift back to the hostel. I then rushed to Copocabana on the tube to pick up my costume and the centre was shut and I’m not sure if it will open again as the holiday season starts tomorrow – I paid a deposit. Yet another pointless waste of money it would seem. (Although not all hope’s lost yet –  I’m going to check whether it’s open in the morning – fingers crossed!)

I’m getting irritated by being constantly ripped off here. It’s actually an incredibly expensive city, particularly considering it’s apparent state of poverty.

The icing on the cake was coming back to ask around if anybody had a laptop with a cd drive for me to offload my gliding pictures from, of course nobody did, and then noticing an hour later that I had dark purple açai juice smeared over my face.

p.s. I apologise for this rant. I know that I shouldn’t be complaining but it’s hard not to have a little moan after sitting around for six hours in a heavy ‘bib’ and oversized helmet.

A Rush Of Blood To The Head

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Yesterday I woke up bright and early to do my bungy jump. I wanted to get dunked in the water at the bottom but annoyingly I wasn’t heavy enough 😦 After the skydive I strangely wasn’t even remotely phased by it – I was actually pretty keen to jump off! I definitely prefer the bungy to skydiving – It’s a lot more liberating just jumping off on your own terms and it also doesn’t make you feel ill! Bonus! 

I was also chatting to the parasailing guys in the pub last night and they offered me a free go if I could bring a couple of friends over. It wasn’t very difficult to persuade a couple of people, so I got another free parasail! 

A couple of us then walked up to this natural hot water stream. It wasn’t just hot – it was boiling! It must have been around 60 C or so. We followed it down to where it met the cold water river and that was just perfect. I can see where they got the idea for jacuzzis from! The hot water fell over into the river in waterfalls – free back massage from the hot mineral water. Ideal.

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Wow. Lots to fit in. Firstly we stopped off to see the kiwi birds at a sanctuary. They are the cutest little things I’ve ever seen. I want one! We quickly headed over to see the geisers which were, of course, incredible – we popped a bag full of eggs into one of them and they were boiled in 3 minutes!

After arriving in Taupo I had to sprint over to the marina to head off on my parasailing. It was incredibly relaxing bobbing about in the air above Lake Taupo with Mount Doom in the background. Absolutely incredible. Without having a moment to settle I whisked myself straight off to Taupo Tandem Skydiving. Yes, don’t worry Mum, It’s over now. A fall of 15000 feet – free fall for a minute. My heart was inevitably banging in protest against my ribcage and I felt pretty nausious. The fall itself felt a little like being slapped in the face by the wind. Pretty bloody terrifying. Once the shoot was up we spiralled down slowly, churning my stomach to the point that I thought I was embarassingly going to throw up mid-air – particularly as I was still pretty hung over from the night in Rotorua the night before. Skydiving: not a great thing to do hungover. We eventually bumped down, bums first onto solid ground, thank god.

I decided to check my email in the free wifi whilst waiting for my video to be edited and discovered that I’ve got an unconditional offer from UCL, despite my bizarre interview. Right now life is pretty damn good.

Better photos will follow but in the mean time here’s one I took whilst parasailing

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