An insight into the world of travel

Glacier Hike Anyone? December 4, 2009

Filed under: New Zealand,Old Journal entries,Travel — backpackerbird @ 11:23 pm
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On the road again. We were only a mile from Barry Town when it happened. We crashed the bus. Stretch (the driver) collided with a clearly visible road sign. The side front window shattered on impact. It did however stay in the frame…. for about 100 yards! It feel straight through, the bitter outside air came gushing in. Brrrr. A quick stop at a rundown service station that looked like it had stood unchanged since the 60’s and we had patched the window up with clinging and duck tape.

Soon after the accident Stretch was feeling guilty for the sub-zero temperatures in the bus so stopped to buy us a hearty breakfast. We stopped at the Pancake Rocks, these were rock formations jutting out from the sea. They get their name from the layers or stone they are made from, pretty spectacular really. I got snap happy.

A few hours down the road and many a game of I spy we arrived at a beautiful powder blue glacier fed river. Ice cold and running furiously. The beach was made up of enormous stones and gigantic drift wood. The snow-capped mountains as a backdrop. Perfect for a photo.

Arriving at Franz Josef by nightfall gave me just enough time to whip up a tasty feast or myself and the others. We had become accustomed to cooking in a group. Much more economic and social. A quick shower and down to the bar for a night of travel bingo and poker. Im getting good, play dumb, and hope for the best. I dont have a clue what I’m doing but I find this helps. I have a killer poker face. It’s a look of confusion that wins me the game. Im sure my winning streak wont last long.

The beer was flowing and the company was 1st class.

Up early with a slightly hazy head but this wasnt going to hold me back. I had decided to treat myself and booked onto a Heli Hike up the Franz Josef glacier. There were actually 3 ways to ascend the glacier, the Half Day Hike (for the seriously unfit and the skint), the Full Day Hike (for the seriously fit and the adventurous) and the Heli Hike ( for the lazy and rich) I was not rich but didn’t fancy a half-hearted half day and definitely didn’t think I was fit enough for the Full Day. 9 months into a travellers lifestyle of boozing nearly every night and not hitting the gym once had started to take its toll. So $300 bought me a ticket to ride.

Kitted out in boots and spikes and equipped with a pick axe I border the helicopter. This was to be the first of many heli flights. I made sure I got a good seat by the window. Lift off, vertical at 1st the swooping towards the glacier. sowing meters away from the ice, dropping in altitude down sheer cliff faces and waterfalls. It was an awesome feeling. nothing like a plane more like free falling and hovering in mid air.

Once we had landed on the ice I attached my spikes to my boots and started the exploration of the glacier. I was not easy, ice is slippy. There we massive crevasse’s, huge blue formations of ice to navigate around. We squeezed into an ice cave. It was surprisingly tight and I panicked. Not like me at all. The girl in front of me calmed me down and I was soon a natural on the ice. We had to lay down and slide on our stomaches for some parts, the cracks were that small. Not good if you are claustrophobic.

Our guide Tim was a bit of a dish. He would walk in front and hack chunks out of the ice to form steps for us to follow. This was ment to ease our journey, I still lost my footing often.

The 3 hours we had on the ice seemed to fly, just not long enough. The helicopter was eagerly waiting ur return. The flight back to base was as equally exhilarating as the outward journey. One of my favourite days so far. Highly recommended even if your purse strings are tight.


Rio: Fully Loaded. Part 3 December 3, 2009

Filed under: Old Journal entries,Rio,Travel — backpackerbird @ 9:59 pm
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The big game: That night it was the Brazilian cup final. Flamengos v’s Vasco. What was so special about this game is the finalists were both teams from Rio, it would divide the city.We had tickets. We had purchased them earlier in the week through the hostel in Copacabana. The owner was an avid Flamengo fan so we said we would go and cheer on his team.

2 hours before the game we were picked up from the hostel and escorted to the Maracana Studium across town by our body guards. They carried guns. They did not joke about, they were there to protect us. As we drove to the stadium we passed hundreds of street vendors selling flags, beer and horns. I bought a beer and a huge flamengo flag. On arrival we were ushered out of the mini busses and congregated around a statue outside the Maracana stadium. The scene was awesome, thousands of fans gathered in the streets, some with flares and most with flags. Some even had fire crackers which when let off sounded rather like bombs, quite scary really. Everyone was wearing a Flamengo shirt. We were definitely on the right side of the ground. It was all heating up.

As we walked up the steps to the stadium past all the chanting crowds I felt a rush of adrenaline. The Pitch appeared, lit by flood lights, it was colossal. I have been to many football grounds but not anything like this one. The Maracana has 2 huge tiers that circle the pitch. It holds 17o,ooo people. Massive. The fans were going crazy, chanting, singing banging their feet. All 50 of us joined in. The atmosphere was electric. I waved my fag along with everybody else. There was one flag the size of the whole stand we were in, we helped it along its way by passing it over our heads. Flares were still being let off and the singing didn’t stop. Flamengos 2, Vasco 0. Super.

We waited a while after the game had finished before we headed out of the stand. Our body guards were concerned for our safety as the crowds had started to brawl. As soon as we left our seats and walked down to the outskirts of the stadium we were pushed flat against the wall by our guards. They had heard something over their radios. Riot. Suddenly out of nowhere a herd of hooligans chanting and swearing ran past us. Hot on their heal were the police, battons at the ready. Then back again, police still behind until one guy, slower than the rest was caught. Battered, The police were brutal. Blood splattered up the walls. All we could do is watch.

After such a packed day we all decided to say in the hostel bar, The Majito was flowing and the singing carried on. A truly awesome day in Rio de Janeiro.


Rio: Fully Loaded. Part 2.

Filed under: Old Journal entries,Rio,Travel — backpackerbird @ 6:44 pm
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Paragliding…. We arrived at the beach and met a sporty looking well tanned guy who was to be our instructor. We hopped into an air-conditioned leather seated saloon and driven to the top of what seemed like a mountain by a guy who clearly loved driving. He weaved in and out of traffic at 60-70 miles an hour throwing us round corners we would be on 2 wheels at times. He was clearly an adrenaline junky. Before long we had reached the top. We walked up a few steps and to the top of the mountain. The views were breathtaking. The whole of Rio could be seen. All that was up there was a wooden slope. It soon dawned on me what it was. The runway! This is when I got a little nervous.

1 practice run and we were ready. Harnessed in and ready to leap. I was told to run, fast. The faster the better. Gulp. 1,2,3, and I was running. What happens if we just fall. Faster faster. 10 steps across the wooden runway and the wind took the wings. We were flying. The sensation was out of this world, I felt like a bird. We soared across thick forests and over an expensive looking part of town, all the houses had swimming pools and tennis courts. I could see The Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ Redeemer in the distance. Magical.

It wasnt long before I found myself preparing for touch down on the beach. We hit the sand running. Perfect. 10 minutes just isn’t long enough.


Whale watching in Kaikoura, New Zealand.

Filed under: New Zealand,Old Journal entries,Travel — backpackerbird @ 6:16 pm
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Starting in Christchurch, along with Liz and Chris was picked up from the hostel by what was going to be my transport for the near future, the stray bus. Kerry was to be our guide. He had a dry sense of humour and made practical jokes. He was a Jack the lad type of bloke, extremely likeable. I made sure I sat within the main crowd that was forming on the bus so as to ensure I was sure to get to know more people.
1st stop Kaikoura. The weather was pretty miserable but we didn’t let that stop us having a blast. There were snow-capped mountains behind the town, not that they were anywhere to be seen for the thick cloud that lingered. Once we had checked into the lovely quaint and cosy hostel that had traditional fire places in each room, ornate wallpaper and plenty of old photos or Maori culture hanging in the many corridors, we walked down to the sea front. We were heading for the whale watching depot. $120 bought me a ticket to jet out to one of the deepest underwater canyons in the world. The ideal place to spot a sperm whale. A short wait in the gift shop ( a ploy to get us to purchase) and out to the boat.
I was truly expecting a boat rather like a sea trawler , the kind you see in fishing programmes in the north sea. An old battered tin can. I couldn’t believe how wrong I was. We were escorted onto a swanky Catamaran with large comfortable leather seats and foot rests to match. I was suitably impressed. Off we went, out to see in search of the giant sperm whale. It took about half an hour to reach the canyon, which I am told is as deep as 5 Auckland sky towers are tall. The Maori skipper has a whale tracking device so was positive we would see a whale. Whilst we were on the hunt an other guy gave us some useful information about the sperm whale and the area we were in. It wasn’t long before we were hot on the tail of our first whale. Once it surfaced we all sped out to catch a glimpse. This whale was apparently called Big Nick…He remained on the surface for about five minutes, blowing air from his hole giving us all a good view, before arching his back and plunging deep down into the depths of the canyon flicking his tail as he subsided. He cave us a classic whale pose. Perfect photo opportunity.
There were five whales out that day, the skipper said we were extremely lucky. On the way back to the marina we saw a seal having a fight with an octopus. Clearly lunch.
Fish and chips was on the menu when we got back on dry land. I opted for sweet potato chips, an interesting flavour, an acquired taste.
The rugby was on that night so we headed to the local bar. I sat drinking with the guys, We played cards which soon turned into drinking games. Bates were placed and money was lost. That’s what I call a day in the life of a traveller.


Rio: Fully Loaded. Part 1.

Filed under: Old Journal entries,Rio — backpackerbird @ 5:58 pm
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So many people ask me to tell them tails of my travels. I could spend hours on end recalling my experiences. There really isn’t enough time for all the colourful stories so I have decided to recite some of my old journal entries from past travels.

I will however be writing current journal entries once I am on the road again but here is a little to wet your whistle.

 Nicole and I woke early, excited for our day ahead. We had an awesome 3 part, fully loaded 24hrs planned. It was just the two of today as the rest of the guys had had a rather large night previous and couldnt face getting up early. More fool them!

Part 1: We thought we would go and experience the other side to Rio. We had been staying in Copacabana a fully developed part of town. Mc Donalds on the corner and a shopping Mall down the road. We thought we should visit a favelas and learn a bit about the drug scene.

We arranged a tour through the hostel we we re staying in, Mellow Yellow ( a great place to stay, well recommended). 65 R, pretty expensive but later proved to be well worth it. We were picked up at 10am and were driven by our guide Daniella to the foot of Hasianda, the largest favelas in South America. And possibly the biggest in the world. As we drew near the surroundings changed drastically from plush tree lines boulevards to run down shack lines dusty, over populated streets.

We were met buy a motorbike and a driver each. No helmets provided, we hopped onto the back of our bikes and sped up the hillside dodging dogs and kid as we went. A few minutes later we arrived at the entrance to the favelas. A quick head count and we were passing the checkpoint into a different world. The checkpoint was guarded by an intimidating man who was sporting possibly the buffest muscles I have seen in a long time. Everyone who enters Hasianda is monitored and checked. If Mr Muscle didnt like the look of you, you were not permitted to enter. Simple as that.

We walked deep in to the favelas, down winding, dusty un-named streets, too narrow for cars. Houses were piled on top of each other and sewerage was running the pathways. At 1st I thought this was a truly terrible way to exist, but as I looked closer and learnt more my perceptions changed.

Every house hold seemed to have a huge TV bigger than mine, a Hi-Fi which was often heard blasting out music from the Brazilian rap and R & B scene, and everyone was dressed in the latest gear. All the kids had football shirts.There were many shops, even a Mc Donalds (they get everywhere).

The adults all have regular jobs, granted not professional but a job never the less. Many of them earn a decent wage in the city sweeping roads, driving taxi’s and cleaning. The average wage is 700R ( £175) per month.  This doesnt sound like much to live on. However: they all cheat the system… All electricity cables are plugged straight into the pylon, bypassing the meters and water is stolen from nearby systems and piped into huge blue tankers. The only money anyone in a favelas needs to spend is on food. They pay no rent or tax. If you can find a space, build on it and it’s yours.

Daniella was very informative and told us about the hierarchy of Hasianda. It was under the management of ADA (a drug mafia). Their tag was sprayed on every available wall throughout the favelas. These managers can earn millions or Reals a week on drug trafficking. They sell their drugs at the foot of the favela to people living in Rio, often to professional, well suited and booted people. The police are around but there is an unwritten agreement… The police turn a blind eye and receive coke as payment. Everyone is corrupt. Little is done about it.

On 25th October 2005 ( the previous year to my visit), the main man about town was killed by an undercover police man who had been living and breathing the favelas life for 3 months undetected. The man who rented the house out to the policeman was quickly seen hanged. He had been butchered by the boss men. (He was unaware of the policeman’s identity)

We visited a daycare centre for young children. teetering on the hill-side it looked rather like any nursery you would find in england. A diningroom was set out with tiny places ready for dinner, bedrooms were tastefully decorated but the playroom had very few toys. The children were sleeping so we didnt stay long.

Further down the sewer lines paths after passing a guy with a pistol strapped to his leg, we stumbles across a cake shop. The smell of home cooked,fresh cakes was an inviting one. We stopped for a while and got chatting to the local teenagers who were all looking forward to tonight’s football game Flamengo’s v’s Vasco.

Soon we were at the foot of the favelas and passing the notorious drug exchange. Over weight police men were sat basking in the sun playing checkers, not battering an eyelash at what was going on right under their noses. Very surreal.


Getting the right backpack. (a follow up on what to take) December 1, 2009

Filed under: Travel — backpackerbird @ 11:21 pm
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So you have a rough idea as to what to take with you on your epic trip around the world, but what do you put it all in? From experience it is vitally important that you are totally comfortable with your choice of rucksack. Don’t rush into buying the 1st one you see just because it looks pretty or it has an appealing price tag. Do your research.

Wise words: I ditched my 1st backpack in Australia because I fancied an updated model. I decided I was going to be a surf bum and sack off the backpack I had bought back home and opted for an all singing, all dancing Roxy soft surf bag on wheels. Ideal for the streets of Byron bay and Airlie Beach, all I needed to do is lug it on and off  busses. Simple. It wasnt untill I reached the rough terrain of South America that my mistake was realised. Wheels don’t fair well on dusty dirt tracks and the size of my new  (100 l, as a posed to my previous 65 l) bag only tempted me to fill it and it got almost too heavey to hurl onto a taxi roof. Not very practical.

So a few things to consider…

Size does matter: In the past I have used a 65 l top loading bag. This I found was a little too big for my frame. (I am only 5ft 3.5”, dont forget the .5!) The bag was almost as big as me and with my sleeping bag stung to the bottom and the roll mat tied to the top from behind I looked like a backpack on legs. This time I have chosen to only take a 55l backpack. 10 l doesnt sound like much but it most definitely makes a whole world of difference. Firstly weight. Less of a strain on your back. dont forget you will be hauling your bag around with you everywhere you go. You can edit what you take, less is quite often more. You dont really need to take all those shoes do you? Top Tip: if you have a top loading bag you often dont see the things you have lurking at the bottom for months. You tend to wear the same things over and over until they have so many holes in you have to get rid!

Comfort control: Think about the quality of the straps on the backpack. look at the material they are made from. You want to go for a breathable fabric, you will be sweating quite a lot. Go for adjustable back, great for a unique fit. The hip strap is essential. you will carry the bulk of the weight on your hips do as not to pull on your shoulders. We dont all want to look like hunchbacks now do we?

Pocket it: You want to be looking for a rucksack with plenty of pockets. Pockets mean organisation, a well oiled traveller is always organised. It is imperative that you know exactly where everything is at all times. I have a pocket for toiletries, separate from everything else for ease of reach and to minimise mess in the event of leakages (trust me it happens often). A pocket for documents, usually down the back of the main compartment hidden away. Pockets for easy to reach things that you will use daily like guide book, sarong, sunglasses, suncream etc. And a compartment for all things dirty, I use the bit at the bottom to separate the grime from the clean. You want to minimise contamination of sweaty smells as much as possible.

Brand and look: The rest us up to personal preference. Some find top loading bags a hassle and opt for fold out larger bags rather like a suitcase on your back. A benefit of this style is that they usually come with a day pack attached. But purchasing a smaller everyday pack isnt a bother.

Backpacks on the market:

Vango Deluxe 70 Litre Rucksack

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Vango Deluxe 70 Litre Rucksack
Vango Deluxe 70 Litre Rucksack Adjustable Back System


Vango Deluxe 70 Litre Rucksack endorsed by Duke of Edinburgh Awards
lightweight and abrasion resistant
advanced multi-adjust back system
ergonomic & reinforced padded hip belt

This rucksack from Vango has been built to last and is officially recommended by the Duke of Edinburgh awards. The construction is a combination of 600D textured dense weave polyester and lightweight 200D diamond ripstop polyester. This gives strength and abrasion resistance as well as keeping the bag lightweight.

Karrimor 65L Rucksack

Karrimor 65L Rucksack


Weight: 1750g
Karrimor 65L RucksackThis 65 litre capacity rucksack from Karrimor is a great value bag for those on a budget but who still want something that is built to last. It has a size tolerant back system that will comfortably fit the majority of people and the padded shoulder and waist straps will keep it in place! It has 2 main compartments with a top loading main section and a zip access bottom compartment. These can be combined by opening the drawstring divider.

The rucksack is constructed from 600D ripstop polyester which is both robust and lightweight. It uses bartacks and rotproof thread to ensure it will last! It has 2 large fixed side pockets and a pocket in the hood. Also has a front zipped pocket for documents and bungee cords on the lid for attaching additional items such as a sleeping mat.

Gelert 55 Litre Rucksack

Gelert 55 Litre Rucksack


Gelert 55 Litre Rucksack fully adjustable back system
expandable side pockets
 built in rain cover
reinforced & adjustable waist belt
multiple attachment points

This pack is perfect for people who aren’t thinking of taking too much stuff or for smaller folk who would be flattened by a bigger pack! Part of Gelert’s core range, this is a high quality rucksack that would be as home in Australia as it would on the hillside.

Vango 70+20L Travel Backpack

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Vango 70+20L Travel Backpack
Vango 70+20L Travel Backpack Back System 3 way rucksack cover


Weight: 3.25kg

Vango 70+20L Travel Backpack

  • advanced adjustable back system
  • 3 in 1 rucksack cover
  • extremely durable design
  • lifetime guarantee
  • air mesh on body contact points
  • internal organiser pockets
  • side opening like suitcase
  • removable 20 litre daysack

This backpack from Vango is at the top of their travel range. If you are looking for a bag that you will hand down to your kids then this is the one for you! Fully featured travel backpack with unique features such as an advanced anatomical adjustable back system and 3 way backpack cover.

Gelert 60+15L Travel Backpack

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Gelert 60+15L Travel Backpack
Gelert 60+15L Travel Backpack Back view unzipped Back view zipped


Material: 600D Ripstop Polyester Size: W30 x D23 x H65 cm Weight: 2.5kg Daysack Size: W27 x D12 x H37 cm

Gelert 60+15L Travel Backpack Padded adjustable back system
Zip out expanding section
Inter locking security zips
High visibility rain cover
 15L Removable Daysack

This 2009 bestselling backpack from Gelert is loaded with features and are ideal for backpacking and gap years. Best of all they come with a lifetime guarantee! 60 litre main pack with 15 litre daysack. Very limited stocks from Gelert so don’t miss out!

Gelert Ladies 55 Litre Rucksack

Gelert Ladies 55 Litre Rucksack
Gelert Ladies 55 Litre Rucksack  


Gelert Ladies 55 Litre Rucksack front and top loading
integral dry bag
security pocket on waist strap
dual section padded waist strap
fully adjustable back system

This top quality rucksack has been designed especially for a womens fit. The shorter torso back system is fully adjustable and the padded waist belt is made in two sections which can be adjusted and then locked down for the optimum fit around the hip. There is also extra padding at the lower back for increased lumbar support. You can even move the chest strap so it doesn’t get in the way of you know what!


Whale watching, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand.

Filed under: New Zealand,Old Journal entries,Travel — backpackerbird @ 10:02 pm
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    Big Nick showing off. Kaikoura whale watching.

Beautiful Kaikoura on a bitterly cold winters morning.

Go to ‘Get Involved’ to read accounts of experience.