Russia – first impressions

Cold like UK winter cold, so not so bad. Although after being in New Zealand this time last year just in time for winter, then returning to UK summer (which, let’s face it, means rain) followed by living in London Town over winter, and now just as the sun is starting to poke its head out of the clouds in the UK, I fly north!

Now I’m here, I’m glad I did, there’s still snow in certain areas and the cracked ice on the water looks like something out of ice age.

You ever get the feeling that you feel like your eyes have seen everything and nothing excites you?

Sounds awfully numb.

I didn’t realise I needed to see and experience something new and fresh until I saw these slabs of cracked ice.

Sounds crazy, but we had walked through this forest, which was beautiful in its own right.

We came to the lake, Lake Ladoga, which is huge.

There is this strange quiet that comes with snow.

You hold your breathe, listening, taking it all in.

Slowly approaching the bank of the expanse of water, can now hear the gentle ripples against the rocks and ice.

Then there is is, giant slabs of frozen water, cracked and melting under the clear, cloudless sky.

Neither my words or photos do this justice.

I don’t know why, but this was amazing to me.

I could have quite happily taken a deck chair and sat there for a good few hours, listening, reflecting and enjoying the view.

Like this guy:

Seeing this lake is just one example of how having a friend who is happy to take the time to show you their country is invaluable.

There is no way I would have ventured up here alone, for starters it was two hours away, two tubes and a bus ride into the middle of nowhere!

Secondly, I tend to rely heavily on tour guide books, as they usually cover the main sights that most tourists want to see, and this journey was not in the book!

Thirdly, as I have only just started learning basic Russian to see me through my journey, I have a personal translator and teacher! You learn more from a local than a language app!

After this epic walk it was time for some Russian food!

I love trying foods in other countries! Food and exploring, my favourite things!

The smell of fresh baked bread engulfs you as you walk through the door of this little cafe.

As it’s Easter this weekend, the locals kept coming in to buy easter cake to take away.

Pirashkí (пирожки) is a sort of stuffed bread roll, naturally, I ordered all the sweet ones.

But before stuffing my face with those, I tried buckwheat porridge, which isn’t like porridge at all, it’s more like giant cous cous!

I enjoyed, it’s supposed to be pretty good for you too! Winner!

Now for dessert!

I had the one stuffed with poppy seeds, I think I was picking black out of my teeth for the rest of the day but it was worth it!

Bus selfie!

I am swaddled in a million layers! I didn’t want to take a risk and catch cold, and even Oksana has let me borrow her coat on top!

I could barely move my arms!

Turns out my rip curl coat I bought in New Zealand is actually everything-proof like it says!



Only a short walk to see Whangarei falls, then a stroll around the town basin.

The local school kids had painted all the teams that will be taking part during the British Lion Tour.

I’d read about Mermaid pools in Matapouri bay. Bit of a climb to get there, especially in flip flops!

So worth it.

Crystal clear, lagoon-like pools were our reward for our trek.

The beach itself was alright too…

Had some fun playing with the slow-mo video.

This was mine and Laura’s last weekend together before I move onto my next travels, so naturally we had to have a drink to celebrate.

Didn’t take too many beers before we were subjected to unwanted male attention..

Naturally, not much sight seeing or even moving was done the day after.

Dunedin to the Catlins

There’s a Cadburys World in Dunedin, it didn’t escape us!

We weren’t allowed to take our phones in to take pictures-making chocolate is top secret! 
We were given a bar or chocolate in each room. New Zealander chocolate.

We were informed (by the Cadbury World guide) that the train station in Dunedin is the second most photographed landmark in the world. The first being Sydney Opera House. We dutifully had our picture taken with it…

It was then time to leave Dunedin, and head for the Catlins.

Didn’t take long until we found a scenic route and walk.

Everytime we stop somewhere I’m always glad we did. Everywhere is awesome and unique.

This is Tunnel beach, as the only way to get to the beach is through a tunnel! Ingenious.

We had been tipped off by a fellow traveler, Callum, who was driving around the country in the opposite direction, that Cannibal Bay was a good spot for getting pretty close to the sea lions.

We had planned to stay in a campsite on the other side of this beach point, Newhaven, but when we turned up it was closed. The closest place was Surat Bay Lodge.

We took a romantic walk on the beach as the sun went down…

Around Dunedin

Really childish, but I decided I wanted my navel re-pierced. The only place to get this done in Dunedin is Black Sheep.

Drove around Harrington Point to take in the scenery.

Dragged ourselves away from our sunkissed surroundings to make our budget lunch/dinner.

Then it was time for my first rugby game.
The Americans we met in the hostel were joining us too.

Was another awesome day/night!

Road trip

Car all packed up and ready to set off to explore the rest of New Zealand.

First stop was lake Tekapo.

The pictures don’t do it justice, it was spectacular.

The next stop was lake Pukaki.

The water was crystal clear. The sun shone off it like diamonds. It was a ‘yoga by the lake’ kind of moment!

I probably could have sat here all day, however we had more touring to do.
Our first camping site was in Twizel, a tiny village which seemed built for the sole purpose of providing land for campers to stay on. 

Our brand new (cheap as) tent pitched and ready, we went to find out what Twizel had to offer. A playground.

We stopped acting like kids long enough to go to the supermarket and stock up on budget food. Couscous, tuna and salad! Yum! 

I have discovered the wonders of New Zealand chocolate. After months in Asia where chocolate sucks, Whittaker’s is a god send, although not to good on the wallet or waist…

We were in our sleeping bags by 8pm, probably didn’t get to sleep until well after that, as we did do a bit of planning for the next few stages of the trip and that always gets me excited! 

Avatar Mountain-the descent.

Set our alarms for 6am to wake up to see the sunrise, it was really misty so there was no sunrise to be seen.
Paid for our bags to be sent down to the bus station and set off down the mountain.

Found some Avatars.

Tried to get in as many view points as possible today.

We walked across the world’s natural bridge.

Picked up by a bus to go to the Bailing Elevator.

I don’t need to say that these views are spectacular! 
Hanging over the edge to try and get shots without dropping my phone was entertaining.

There was so much to see and explore and so little time! 

Will rock climbing over the green algae covered rocks.

The monkeys started closing in on Will…

Found the Chinese lady we bumped into yesterday at the monastery, she kept talking really fast Chinese, I was trying to practice mine, it just all ended in giggles! 

By this point my feet were starting to give up…

Will could probably walk for days, and if my feet and legs had been willing, I would have too.

We made it back to the entrance and took the bumpy bus back to the town and attempted to recover our bags, we had been given no receipt, were just told to take photos of the tags, the information desk told us where they thought we should go, in the end we asked them to take us as neither of us were willing to wander around not having a clue where we were supposed to be going. Even the girl from the information desk didn’t know, but we found them eventually, and definitely would not have found it by ourselves.

Had some after-mountain beef noodles.

A short flight from Zhangjiajie to a 10 hour layover in Xi’an airport.
Will got some supplies in for our airport party.

We settled onto our free bed for the night, and attempted to get some sleep. Chinese men starting conversations loudly in the night and then my water bottle leaking all over my bag woke me, but not the worst nights sleep I’ve ever had!