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90 Mile Beach – Cape Reinga

12 Feb

9th February 2013

Obviously you can do this loop yourself in your own vehicle if you don’t mind flushing it with salt water and risking getting it stuck in the sand. The bus driver told us lots of stories of people getting their hire cars stuck in the sand and then getting overtaken by the tide …. not funny! Either that or you can just drive up the sealed road both ways.


Cape Reinga Tour


We drove up to Cape Reinga on the sealed road, making various stops on the way. The first one is an ice cream parlour  that does fantastic Hoki Poki. It is a creamy vanilla with honeycomb chunks ….. try it! The second stop was a beautiful bay called Tapotupotu Bay, where we had lunch and the opportunity to look around the DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite. It is an amazing beach with a small river flowing in and costs only $10 per person. A great place to stay if you drive up to Cape Reinga yourself. It is very quiet at night as there is no power this far north.

Cape Reinga has some great tide races as the currents of the Pacific and the Tasman sea meet.


North from Cape Reinga



There are beautiful views in every direction.


View west from Cape Reinga



On the way to the beach the coach stops at the dunes for some body boarding! Of course we both had a go, thinking that it would be a slow slither down the sand. It’s not, the dunes are steep and the body boards go really fast!!


Stop at the dunes


Looks higher from the top



Dune surfing



The bus then drove down the river bed and onto the beach for the return journey.


Driving on 90 mile beach


Not sure why, but there is a postbox part way along the beach.

Strangely 90 mile beach is only 55 miles long. Still it’s not the length that matters, it’s what you do on it that counts!


90 Mile beach post box


The final excitement is when the driver has to negotiate the soft sand to get on the ramp that leads to the road. It all went well and before we knew it we were back in Kaitaia picking our car up again. We waved goodbye to Tom and left him to his fruit picking.

We decided to start heading south again and found a small picnic area where camping was allowed. It was the head of some walking trails and also had some nice swimming holes.


Waipapa swimming holes




It was a nice place to free camp …. Tomorrow we are going to the Bay of Islands.









The far North – in a new car!

10 Feb

6th February 2013

Like most people arriving in New Zealand, we were eager to get on our way. With only around four weeks for our trip we wanted to make sure that we did not spend too long looking for a car. We set ourselves a goal of finding one and agreeing a deal within the day. First we also needed a local sim so that we could call dealers or owners about the cars and also pick up any e mails from home.

It only really made sense to buy a vehicle on such a short trip for two reasons. Firstly we had contacts who said that they would store it for us and possibly even sell it once we had finished with it, and secondly because our two boys would both be travelling through New Zealand. It would also give us an excellent excuse to come back before it is sold!!

Buying a car in a different country is a mine field as you don’t really know the values, the models and the way dealers operate. So many backpackers get less than they pay for. They often know little about cars, and for some it is the first vehicle that they have ever bought. There are lots of stories about people who spend thousands getting cars repaired a few hundred km’s after they pick up the vehicle.

Our first stop was the Backpacker car market, but it was full of very tired battered looking vehicles with 20 plus owners and 250,000 plus on the clock. We decided to try and find a private vehicle or one from a dealer that we felt comfortable with. In the end we bought a Mitsubishi Chariot, which is a stationwagon / estate car imported from Japan. This one had been imported after a few years in Japan. The mileage can be checked as the WOF (like an MOT test) is done twice  each year and the mileage recorded on a central system. You can request a print out from the dealer. Our car showed 153,000 km and had a new WOF and so was valid until July. It could turn out to be a dud, but we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best!

Mitsubishi Chariot

We can pick up the car tomorrow morning ready to head up to the far north. You can buy 3rd party insurance for a year for any driver over 22 years old  for the bargain price of $300 NZ . We will do it online when we pick up the car.

Once we are as far North as we can get we can work our way south over the next few weeks.

We also bought  a Vodafone sim for data and phone. All set!

7th February 2013

Everything went smoothly with the pickup and we headed out of Auckland with our 1996 Misubishi Chariot. It does not take long to leave the city behind and for the quiet pretty roads to start. There is so little traffic!

North of Auckland - empty roads


We made our way all the way up to Kaitaia (about 450kms from Auckland) and found a camspsite right on the beach. Lovely spot.


Camping at Shipwreck Bay Ahipara near Kaitaia


Strange ….. our little two man tent seems to get smaller each time we use it …. the carry mats also seem a little thinner ….

8th February 2013

Arranged to meet up with Tom in Kaitaia and go to a beach somewhere for the day before we head off. Tom is starting work at the pumpkin farm on Monday! His first job using the work permit for New Zealand.


Tokerau Beach Doubtess Bay


There are so many beaches to choose from and it is unusual to find anyone on them! Nice place to be lazy!


Worst places to read


Tomorrow we have booked to do the tour up 90 mile beach. Drive on the road either there and  then return on sand …..  or the other way around depending on the tide. Tom is taking the car for the day with some friends from the hostel.




Auckland – Buying a car

10 Feb

5th February 2013

Most of the day was taken up flying. We arrived at around 5.00pm and then took the super shuttle (pre booked online) to the hostel in Mt Eden. It was called Pentlands and the suburb is nice and green and quiet and only a short bus ride or 40 min walk into the centre of Auckland.


Pentlands Hostel - Mount Eden Auckland


Much nicer than staying right in the city, and you even get to see some wildlife!


Pentlands butterfly



Tomorrow we look for a car!

Bangkok – last days in Asia

6 Feb

3rd February 2013

We decided to go to another weekend market (Mo Chit station on skytrain). This one is huge with over 2000 stalls. We used the water taxi to get to a point on the river where we could pick up the skytrain.

Water taxi

The train was busy as it seems that everyone wants to shop at the weekend … the market is used by locals and tourists alike, but mainly locals.

Sky train

A few pictures from the market …

Very busy at the market

Lots of bargains

Hmmm … not sure about the style, but hard to find better value …. 30 bht is about $1.00 US. Not only that, but the sellers are saying things like … “cheap cheap mister I give you discount” !

The street food in Thailand is very good value and for 40 or 50 bht you can get a good main course or soup. We had Tom Yum soup which, with chicken, was delicious. In a small restaurant in a tourist area you will pay 120 to 140 bht.

Noodle bar

Tom Yam soup

And fruit for pudding.

Road side fruit stall

We decided to take a taxi back to the Koh San Rd area as it works out only a few baht more for two people and is quicker than the boat taxi/train route.

4 th February 2013

Repacked all the baggage, checked out of the Villa Cha Cha guest house and stored the bags so that we could spend the rest of the time wandering around the streets. As it was the last day in Asia we decided to have another foot massage ….. so relaxing!!

Foot massage

The Thai lady who looked after Marjool was so sweet, she said ” no one marry me, I not beautiful …. “. We thought she was lovely! She is only 27 but thinks she is now too old.

Neck massage

We’ll miss Thailand and South East Asia. Lovely gentle people, cheap and great weather. We’ll even miss the Tuk Tuk drivers, who are always looking to whizz you around in one of these.


New Zealand tomorrow!

Seam Reap – B T N Thailand

2 Feb

31 st January 2113

We had arranged for a shared taxi to pick us up from the guest house at 9.00 am to take us up to the Thai border at Choam, which is a small but international border post. Before we left the hotel we decided to check out the pool …. nobody mentioned it before it was time to leave!

Actually, when we saw it we  realised why ….

Didn't swim in hotel pool

There were  no tanned tourists down there, just a mass of crocs!

Crocs in the pool

If the guest house is on fire don’t escape out the back windows!

It worked out well with the taxi as there were only three passengers. Normally four in the back and two in the front passenger seat. At only $13 each for the 2 to 3 hour journey, a real bargain. We did stop at one point to tow one of the driver’s friends 2okm to Anlong Veng, but that did not slow us down too much, even with the improvised towing bar, cut from a nearby tree!

Timber tow bar

The border was as promised small and easy to manage.

Choam Border

Leaving Cambodia

Filling in arrival forms Thai border

Although we had to wait about 30 mins in case a bigger group could be found, we got a taxi to drop us right into the town where we had friends to stay with for the night. The family made us very welcome!

Austin and Cambodian gecko

Austin and his cousin

Our friend’s dad offered us his motorbike, so we took their son off down the road to get a cold drink and then backtracked into the farmland and the local canal, where the last water of the dry season was be netted for fish.

Final catch of the season

The locals were really friendly and offered us some fish and a shot of a local spirit …. boys only!

Catch of the day

Thai fishermen

We then went back to the house to cook some fish, vegetables and rice.

Meal in the village

We set up our mosquito nets over the mattress and settled down for the night.

1 st February 2013

When we got up in the morning our friends mum was already working hard, making charcoal. She used the rice stems and ash to build up a layer to starve the wood of air as it burned. The condition you need to form charcoal.

Making charcoal

A friend’s car was picking us up to take us to the bus station for a ride to Bangkok, but first our friends son showed us a picture of his old play mate in our village.

Not forgotten old play mate

The bus ride to Bangkok was about 7.5 hours and very comfortable. Great value at just 350 baht (about 7 uk pounds).

2 nd February 2013

After a few hours wandering around the big malls we had arranged to meet our friend for lunch. It was lovely to see her!

Friend from home

We miss her on the village volleyball court!

Khmer Cooking Class – Siem Reap

30 Jan

I left Graham at the guesthouse catching up on some emails (same same working from home but different!) while I went to do something I have been meaning to do for ages …………. cooking lessons! I decided to go to the Tiger de Papier Cookery Restaurant in Pub Street, which does three daily cooking sessions each lasting 3 hours.  It is amazing value at $13 and you get to eat the food that you’ve cooked afterwards.

Le Tiger de Papier Restaurant

When you arrive they ask you to choose a starter and a main course from their menu. While I was looking at the menu two other people arrived for the cookery class, Vincent and Wendy from my home country The Netherlands, which was really nice. I choose a spicy shrimp salad and a Kmer chicken curry. We were told we would make a dessert together.

First it was off to the market to buy some ingredients and to show us the different vegetables, fruits and fish.

Off to market

Back to the restaurant for some serious work!

Looks very professional!

Cookery class

We were shown how to cut the ingredients and make some plate decorations using some of the vegetables.


Carrot flower

Plate decorations

Then some of the ingredients were ground into a paste and then off to the kitchen for the final stages.


Busy in the kitchen

Once the dishes were finished we carried them to a table outside the restaurant and ate our meal.

Time for lunch

We all had such a great time and the food tasted as good as it looks! It was a nice way to finish our time at Siem Reap. In the morning we are booked for a shared taxi up to the Thai border. Yet another form of Cambodian transport to try!

Koh Rong Samloem

29 Jan

25th, 26th and 27th January 2013

The boat was due to leave at 9.30 am for Koh Rong Samloem and would be stopping at a small island on the way for a bit of snorkling and jumping off the boat. It was called the Party Boat …

Loading up the boat to Koh Rong Samloem

The boat stopped about half way and one of the boat crew showed off his best tricks.

Diving off the party boat

The sea was a bit rough in the open sea but in the shelter of the island it was dead calm. The fishing boats were also sheltering there,  both the typical Cambodian style and some more modest ones!

Cambodian fishing boats

More modest fishing boat

This one was made of slabs of polystyrene tied together with rope, but the owner was just as proud of it!

About an hour later we arrived at the main beach. The water is pretty shallow and so you have to jump into the shallow water with your bags.

Dropping off at the beach

First impressions are great, white powder sand and turquoise sea. Immediately behind the narrow strip of beach is the jungle. Development has only happened in the last couple of years here. Before that, the only bungalows were on Lazy beach, a twenty minute walk across the island.

The arrival point is ‘The Beach’ which has a mixture of backpacker dorms and small bungalows.

'The Beach' where to party

'The Beach' dorm

We stayed at the end of the beach where it is a bit quieter. There is a new pier there built by the owner of the bungalows.

Jetty at Saracen Beach Bungalows

The view from our bungalow immediately made us decide to extend from two to three nights …. seven would have been nice!

Saracen beach bungalow

Nice view from our bungalow!

During the next few days we spent the time walking, swimming, eating and drinking. It was an easy walk to Lazy Beach which has a lovely beach side restaurant, with great fruit drinks and a mixture of western and cambodian food.

Lazy Beach Bungalows

The food is really tasty

Breakfast at Lazy Beach

Lunch at Lazy Beach

You have to remember that you are in the jungle, so you do get mosquitoes at night and the odd creature where you don’t expect one! This made Marjool jump when she went to wash her hands.

Made you jump!

Our final day was spent walking across the island to a third beach with bungalows, Robinson Beach. The path takes about 30 to 40 minutes to walk, but is steepish in places and it is quite warm in the jungle.

Track to Robinson Beach

It is a nice beach, but narrow and quite small.

Robinson Beach

The final night was pretty noisy on our side of the island as it was a full moon party. Not big by Thai standards but still over 150 people, mainly from the mainland.

Full moon

We were pretty boring and left well before the party got into full swing … more a young backpacker thing.

The following morning we reversed the process with the boats and arrived back at Serendipity pier, ready for a night (sleeping bus) back up to Siem Reap.

Back to Serendipity Beach

Double layer sleeping bus

Although it seemed like a good idea, it felt really unsafe laying flat, with only a small edge at the front to stop you sliding forward. The bus went incredibly fast for the road and all night we kept thinking that if the driver fell asleep or had a puncture we would crash off into the trees at the side of the road, shooting through the windscreen feet first……. (I wish I didn’t have such a vivid imagination). The lower bunks (which we had booked) would have felt much safer …… but the outcome would be the same! Oh well, we made it in one piece and put it down as an experience which we would not repeat. Strange how you see the danger more as you get older!!

So on the morning of 28th of January we are back in Siem Reap!

Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville

25 Jan

23 rd January 2013

The VIP minibus was very smart and comfortable, but they are driven very quickly with lots of scary overtaking. I’ m sure that the drivers are good, but they are young and enthusiastic! We are thinking that we may stick to the normal buses from now on.

VIP minibus

Even the minibuses have free wifi!

Wifi everywhere!

We arrived right on time and were picked up from where the bus stopped by the guest house tuk tuk. The guest house was a bit more expensive as it has a nice pool. It costs around $20 per night.

Orchidee Guest House

It is not right on the beach, but around 200 m away, so only a two minute walk to all the beach side restaurants and bars. As you walk to the left (east) as you are on Ochheuteal Beach.  If you turn right you hit Serendipity Beach. This is busier and more developed and very popular with backpackers.

Serendipity Beach

Tomorrow we are planning to walk along to Otres Beach, which is the next one along and less developed.

24 th January 2013

Very little done today other than a walk along to Otres Beach. As promised it gets less developed as you go in that direction. There are still groups of restaurants and bars there. These are slightly more expensive as I suppose less competition. Still cheap by western standards though. The land at the back of the beach is used for grazing cattle. They are really delicate looking Asian breed but not sure of the name.

Cows at the beach

The problem of plastic waste is still very apparent. Even a single bottle of water is passed to you in a plastic bag unless you refuse it. Refuge collection is pretty hit and miss. Cambodia is a beautiful place, and it is such a shame when you see piles of waste plastic in what otherwise would be a perfect spot to sit and look at the view. I am sure it will improve with time, but don’t expect a western approach to litter.

Same plastic problem

After a couple of hours sorting washing and booking the next bits of the trip, the beach BBQ’s were in full swing. Every restaurant in the strip competes hard for your custom, all doing the same thing at the same price …. tricky to choose!

Evening beach BBQ

Tomorrow we are booked on a boat to take us to the Islands to stay in a beach bungalow. There is probably no internet, so will be a couple of days before we update .

Choeung Ek – ‘Killing Fields’

23 Jan

22nd January 2013

Cost $5 including an excellent and moving audio presentation/tour.

The first thing you see when you arrive at the site is the memorial. It contains the remains of some of the victims of the genocide. Around 8000 bodies, mostly bound and blindfolded were exhumed in 1980 and housed in the tall glass structure inside the memorial. The remaining 43 mass graves have been left untouched. You can still see the hollows in the ground where each grave is sited.

Choeung Ek memorial

Skulls in the memorial

As you walk around the site you notice that there are human bones everywhere in the soil. Each time it rains more clothes and bones are exposed.

Bones in the paths

Mass graves

Clothing surfacing after rain

The most moving part of the visit and the most shocking is what they call the killing tree. It is where babies and young children were murdered by holding their feet and swinging them at the tree head first, often watched by their mother. The area is covered with bracelets left by the visitors to the site.

Killing tree

Always hope

On the way out of the site there is a museum which has a good display of background information. Shockingly Pol Pot hid himself away close to the Thai border, remarried and enjoyed another 20 years with his family and grandchildren. Something his victims could not do. Even more amazing is the fact that the west continued to  recognise the Khmer Rouge as the rightful leaders even though a new government had been formed with the help of the Vietnamese. They even had a representative on the UN. The others involved in the genocide have yet to be convicted. They are in their 80’s now and their lawyers seem able to delay and delay. Justice may never be served.

The road back to Phnom Penh city was hot and dusty. Lots of construction is going on in the city.

Hot in Phnom Penh

So dusty in fact that we had to get masks to avoid being choked by both dust and fumes!

Dusty roads

We then headed to the Russian Market, that is nothing to do with Russians other than the fact that during the 1980’s most of the foreign customers were Russians as nothing was available to them back home.

Grahams's favourite

Tiring work at the Russian market

After the market and lunch we headed off to the riverside area (north). In the evenings the locals and tourists tend to gather and play football, badminton and a sort of kick up game with something that looks like a long narrow shuttlecock made of cork and feather. Families are sitting around eating tasty snacks ….. ?

Tasty snack

You can choose from snakes on a stick …. through to a sort of insect salad mix. It looks ok from a distance, but as you get closer, slightly less appealing!

IMmmm crickets!

If you are not hungry straight away and need to work up an appetite, there is a nightly street aerobic class (here and many other parks around the city). After that, you may want double helpings!!

Evening aerobics

The girls selling the snacks thought it was so funny that we would not try a snake. We eat every day, they said! Looking down at the murky river where they catch them, I was still happy to refuse. Maybe if they were caught in a countryside area I might give it a go.

Snack saleswomen

Tomorrow we take the VIP bus to Sihanoukville. This one costs $9 for the 3.5 hr journey. Nearly double the price of bus, but almost half the time.

Phnom Penh and S-21

22 Jan

21st January 2013

The bus to Phnom Penh from Battambang bus station was a pleasant surprise. At $5 for a five hour trip, your expectations are not that high, but the bus was smooth, quiet and the aircon worked. The driver was also reasonably careful and did not go for the mad overtaking that you sometimes see in Asia. We were actually the only westerners on the bus and the only ones who used the seatbelts! It seems that the hotels and guest houses tend to push another company that does the trip for $0.50 less. We booked the Capitol bus directly with the bus station (desk/table nearest the door). Really good.

Bus from Battambang to PP

The bus did stop quite a bit for drinks and food and to pick up the occasional extra person (dropping them off somewhere a bit further on), but it arrived on time.

As usual it was a bit of a scramble on arrival in Phnom Penh as the tuk tuk drivers push for your business. They all started at $5 to go to the hotel which was probably only ten minutes drive away. We finally settled at $2 which seemed expensive, but turned out to be the going rate for that sort of distance. We had them walk away when we said that we would only pay $2 for one trip. The city was busy and all the hotels were full and the pickings were rich.  We saw lots of people agreeing $5 and so the drivers are getting a bit spoiled. We want to be fair, but ‘don’t want our heads shaved’ as the locals say when you are ripped off.

Our plan was to visit the Tuoi Sleng ( S-21) which was a school that had been converted into a prison used to hold the Khmer Rouge prisoners  for torture, before being transferred to Choeung Ek  (one of the two or three hundred sites used to kill and dispose of the bodies of Pol Pot’s supposed enemies).

Pol Pot was educated in France, obviously from privileged background and his aim was to create his own twisted version of a perfect communist state. He banned currency, closed all borders to neighbouring countries with mine fields and expelled all urbanites to the countryside where they were forced to live off the land. Not only producing enough to live on, but he demanded an impossible threefold increase in rice production. This was sold/traded to the Chinese for weapons.  In order to achieve total control he set about exterminating anyone who he felt was a threat. That included anyone previously in power, educated people, people with soft hands and even people who wore glasses. These people were tortured until they signed confessions of crimes against the state, often implicating family and friends, who were in turn arrested. Although only really in control for around 3.5 years (1975 to 1978) up to 3 million of his own people were killed. This represented about 25% of the total population. He is quoted as saying that it is better to kill an innocent person than to let an enemy live ….

S-21 is a harrowing place to visit, but important as an introduction to the exhibits at the killing Fields.

We found a tuk tuk driver outside the hotel to take us to S-21. Phnom Penh is a busy place with motorbikes whizzing in every direction.

Tuk tuk Phnom Penh

The school building was a modern design, which brought home how recently this had happened to the poor Cambodians, barely recovered from the bombing that they suffered during the Vietnam war.

Tuol Sleng Museum

The first room we entered had a metal frame bed with leg irons to hold prisoners. These bigger rooms were used to hold and torture political prisoners from the previous regime. In this room there was still a body chained up when the liberation forces arrived.

Cell and torture room for senior politicians

Too late for this prisoner

The record keeping was meticulous, all prisoners were photographed on arrival and then photographed after torture. Signed confessions produced and filed.

Prisoners S-21

There were women, children and even babies. The photographs of the women included some with babies. The babies were killed in the most brutal manner.

Around 20,000 people came through this camp. Of them only 7 survived.

S-21 cells

After walking around S-21, two questions struck us. Firstly, how can humans treat each other so cruelly?  Secondly, how did the Cambodian people manage to pick themselves up after such a terrible series of events, and keep smiling?

The tuk tuk journey back was another opportunity to observe daily life. That was not so easy while driving Troopy! There are some advantages in not driving! This is something you don’t see in Exeter.

Monks shop too!

Tomorrow we visit the Killing Fields