Santorini

I just spent a few days on the beautiful Greek island of Santorini. Santorini’s history dates back to roughly 5000 BC.

Accommodation was at Villa Danezis. This luxury villa was rather affordable at $70 CDN per night and is managed by the owners who live on site. The villa has ten beautiful appointed rooms with nice art work, a sizeable outdoor pool, a beautiful patio area, and morning coffee with delicious home made muffins.

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During my stay I rented a car as it was a lot easier than trying to take the local transit, despite it being a more expensive choice. When I was on the island I did the famous Fira to Oia hike in reverse, which took about 3 hours to complete and is rated moderate. The hike takes you through both the ancient districts, and along the mountainous terrain between the two districts, with many beautiful old churches painted in blue and white. All of the “towns” on the islands are now just referred to as districts of Thera (Thira), since 2011 when the government decided to do so.

I explored Oia and Fira in detail, visited the old Akrotiri Lighthouse on the south side, and the ancient towns of Akrotiri and Ancient Thera.

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The ancient town of Akrotiri date’s back to as early as 5000 BC, when it was a small fishing and farming village. By about 3000 BC the community had developed and expanded significantly. Akrotiri continued to prosper over the years with the introduction of paves streets, an extensive drainage system, and high quality pottery and craftsmanship. This all came to an end in 1627 when the volcanic eruption of Thera buried the entire community in volcanic ash. The community wasn’t found again until 1867 when some locals found some old artifacts in a quarry. Extensive modern excavations of the site occurred in 1967 by Professor Spyridon Marinatos. Excavations are still ongoing to this day.

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The ancient town of Ancient Thera date’s back to 9th century BC until 726 AD when it was buried after a small eruption of the volcano of Santorini covered it in pumice stone. The ancient city was re-discovered in 1895 by Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen and excavations started to occur between 1961 and 1982, and 1990 and 1994.

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I also ate some of the most amazing food I’ve had in my life. The meat and vegetables are so fresh and the Greek meals are delicious; whether it was traditional Greek coffee, Greek salad, fresh sea food, or vegetarian dishes. Yes you read that correctly, vegetarian dishes! Santorini has vegetarian only restaurants and they serve incredible food; my personal favorite being Tranquilo where I had Greek salad and goat cheese filled hot peppers.

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Another fantastic restaurant that you must visit is To Briki. I had traditional Greek coffee served with old wine grapes soaked in honey, deep fried Greek cheese, and amazing smoked salmon and avocado bruschetta.

Check back shortly for my next blog post where I explore the beautiful city of Zurich!

Japan – Hiroshima & Miyajima

The last stop on my trip to Japan was the city of Hiroshima. This city was absolutely amazing. The city and the people are amazing. The friendliest people i met on my trip to Japan were in this city, and I love the vibe and feel from this city. The food was amazing, and the architecture is so beautiful here. One important part of visiting this city was visiting the epicenter for the Hiroshima bombing site. It really was an eye opener and had a very somber feeling around the site. I visited the museum and explored the site.

During my visit to Hiroshima I took a side excursion to Miyajima, known for the great Torii gate, and the extensive deer population. This island was so fantastic that I visited it twice, the second time to relax on the beach for the day.

On my way back to Canada I stopped over again in Japan to visit my friend Taiju that I met in Australia! We had some Ramen together before my flight home.

Thank you for joining me on this journey to Japan. See you on my next trip!

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August 31st 2016 – New Zealand Day 11

Today I woke up at 7:00am, and prepared an egg skillet for breakfast. I then went and explored Wellington.

First was the infamous Wellington sign, a quirky take on Hollywood.
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I then drove up Mount Victoria and had a beautiful view of the entire city, and watched planes take off from the airport for an hour or so. Wellington International Airport is pretty unique because it has over 5 million passengers a year, but is only services by a single short runway less than 7000 feet long. This combined with its very primitive terminal for its passenger volume limits its ability to really complete internationally. Overseas destinations are limited to the east coast of Australia and the South Pacific. Interestingly Singapore Airlines now flies to Wellington from Singapore with a Boeing 777-200 via Canberra because it can’t fly there directly due to the high takeoff weight associated with loading on that much fuel; therefore must load on a shorter amount of fuel to make the hop over to Canberra.
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After visiting Mount Victoria I walked around the central business district and visited the old government building, the second largest wooden structure in the world, behind Todai-ji in Japan. It was built to house New Zealand’s civil service, and now houses the law school of Victoria University of Wellington. The beautiful is bold and beautiful, as well as well-maintained. The building became the first building in the world to have a smoke-free policy over concerns about the threat of fire, due to the fact the building is entirely constructed of wood.
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Close-by the next stop was the beehive government building.
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After that I was walking towards the Wellington Cable Car when I smelled and saw delicious cookies being baked at Mrs Higgins Cookies, so I stopped and had a white macadamia nut cookie. I should have bought two!
The ride up on the Wellington Cable Car was great, and the price was right, only $7.50 return. I entered the free museum at the top and learned a lot about the cable cars history. The original cable car system opened in 1902 and ran until 1978 when it was replaced by the current system. The old system was built to imperial standards and had double track the entire way up. The new system was built to metric standards, was fully automated, and only has double track in the middle. There were and still are five stations equally space so that when the cable cars are stopped at one station, there will be a cable car at another station. It’s aim was to increase safety and passenger throughput. The original tram had over a million passengers per year in 1912, with its peak nearly two million passengers in one year, but I forget the year. The cable car averages about a million passengers per year now. I was actually lucky I was able to ride on the cable cars because the cable cars had been out of service for nearly three months until August 18th 2016 for upgrades.
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After taking the cable car back down to the central business district I decided to search out some food for lunch. I didn’t have anything in mind so I just walked along until a restaurant’s smell caught my attention; Fishermans Plate Seafood. It was an odd combination of meal choices, fish and chips, and Vietnamese. I had some sate beef soup, and it was the best I’ve ever had in my life. It’s a good thing because it was rated one of the best ten restaurants in Wellington this year.
After enjoying my delicious lunch I walked around for a few more hours enjoying the beautiful architecture, and making sure to visit the infamous Cuba street, before heading back to my camper.
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The next stop was Trucks and Trailers Ltd., located in Lower Hull, a subdivision of Wellington. I picked up two replacement parts for my camper for $26 to repair the damage from my accident a few days before. This way I don’t have to go through insurance.
I then browsed through my GPS for spots to visit around Waikanae, where I wanted to be for the night, because tomorrow I’m going to visit a car museum there I found a scenic outlook, up one of the most terrifying roads I’ve been on in my life. A sheer drop to your death on one side, and a steep vertical cliff on the other to scrap up the camper really good if you’re not careful. I annoyed a few people by driving slow and steady, but I made it. The scenic point was called Paekakariki Hill Lookout.
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After viewing at the lookout I input into the GPS Waikanae Beach to stay for the night. When I arrived I sat on the beach and enjoyed a sandwich while watching the sun set.
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When I went back to my camper a German couple with two children parked next to me. We ended up talking for about an hour and a half. During the middle of us talking a young cat came up to my camper and jumped inside. It ended up hanging out with my for most of the evening and then left on its own terms towards midnight.
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August 30th 2016 – New Zealand Day 10

Today I had a lazy start to my day. I woke up at around 8:00am. I made myself a home made egg McMuffin style sandwich, and a coffee before hitting the road. My first stop was Pukaha Mount Bruce, a wildlife and bird sanctuary that help to reintroduce and repopulate endangered species, such as the Kiwi, into a protected environment. I saw over two dozen birds, as well as Kiwi’s, including a rare white Kiwi. Their day’s are reversed so that we can see them (sort of), but my camera was unable to capture them very well. They are under an infrared light so I had to convert the images to black and white, and it was nearly pitch black and flash photography was not allowed.

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I spent a few hours walking around the wildlife sanctuary before heading on to my next stop, Castlepoint Lighthouse. The cast iron lighthouse was built in 1913, and originally used oil and a wick and needed to be manned continuously. As technology evolved the lighthouse was converted to run a 1000 watt bulb off of a diesel generator in 1954, and subsequently converted to run off mains in 1961, with the diesel generator as a backup. The facility was fully automated in 1988. The views at Castlepoint were amazing!

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I was pretty hungry after climbing up to Castlepoint so I decided to have some lunch, some leftover spaghetti and meat sauce from last night. It was now about a two and a half hour drive towards Wellington, but I decided to break it up by stopping in Carleton to see more Art Deco, and Greytown to admire Victorian style architecture, as well as some Art Deco.

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I arrived in Wellington during rush hour, but surprisingly traffic wasn’t that bad. That’s thanks to their proper planning and use of public transportation. They have the highest usage rates of public transportation in all of New Zealand. I visited a camper dump station to drain and refill my water before finding a parking spot overlooking the beautiful southern coast. The night sky was perfectly clear so I even had the opportunity to do a long exposure shot of the milky way!

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August 22nd 2016 – New Zealand Day 2

Today I woke up at 6:00am. I decided to set an alarm clock because today was a fair amount of driving. I made myself a skillet of vegetables and eggs, and then hit the road. The first stop, only a few kilometres away, was Whangarei Falls. The view was absolutely spectacular! There was a 1.5km circular loop to view the falls from beneath, which I took. I tried to get some good photo’s from below, but the sun wasn’t angled properly and it was fairly misty.

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The next stop roughly an hour away was Pahia, where I parked my campervan and walked around for about an hour. There was a really pretty church called St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

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The next stop, which I came across by accident, was Haruru Falls. These falls were fairly short, but quite wide.

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After visiting Haruru Falls i put Cape Reinga in my GPS, and started heading towards there. It was going to take roughly about 2.5 hours, but I knew I would come across other things along the way. The first place I stopped at was Coopers Beach, where I made myself some coffee and Thai curry soup, which was absolutely delicious. I have quite the love for Thai food, so this hit the spot!

The next unscheduled stop was 90 mile beach. My sister had told me about this, and lets just say words can’t even describe this beach. The beach is spectacular! Each entrance to the beach is very different. The south is miles and miles of beautiful white sandy beach, and the north is lots of massive sand dunes.

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After visiting 90 mile beach I visited Houhora, and Rarawa Beach. Houhora had a nice view, and Rarawa Beach had some of the most beautiful white sand I have ever seen.

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The next stop, which I came across was the sand dunes on Te Paki stream road. I’m exceptionally glad that I visited this because I saw a beautiful bee hive collection along the way, and the sand dunes were even bigger than the ones I have seen in Nevada. The views from the top were spectacular. I even rode a sand board down a steep one! Sand boarding is a lot of fun, but a bit scary, because you have no control over the speed!

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The last and final stop of today was Cape Reinga to watch the sunset. The sunset was quite beautiful, and the pictures don’t quite do it justice. It was raining out at sea, so it was blocking a fair amount of the sun, but some was still shining through.

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It was 6:30 now so I had to find somewhere to stay for the night. The GPS in my campervan has all the camp sites in New Zealand listed, so I looked on the GPS and found one close by that was actually right on the beach near Cape Reinga for only $6. Tapotupotu camp site is on the honour system, but I was honest and paid (well I was 10 cents short…). I made myself a salad for dinner, and had some leftover pasta.

I figured out a few things about my campervan that didn’t quite make sense earlier on. I was wondering why my waste water tank wasn’t registering anything so I went outside and looked, and it appears that Britz forgot to close the waste water valve. Don’t worry because it is only grey water; the toilet is separate! I closed the valve and now everything is functioning properly. I also figured out why my hot water heater wasn’t working, and fixed that. I had an air bubble in the system. I had a nice hot shower, and then settled into bed.

Tomorrow I’m going to head back towards Auckland, and I will need to find somewhere to fill up with water as I’m down to less than 25 percent. Britz recommends every 2-3 days that I visit an actual full service camp site. These camp sites typically cost $15-20 so I will try and stretch to 3 days whenever possible.

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August 14th 2016 – Outback Tour Day 5 of 10

Today we woke up at 530. Someone’s alarm was going off at 5. Nobody turned it off for over a half hour so I went and turned it off. I had toast and coffee for breakfast. We packed up and left at 6:30pm. We stopped in Katherine to fuel up, and I purchased Simon and I a coffee.

The next stop, an hour away, was bitter springs. Bitter springs is a naturally occurring hot spring, with a temperature of around 32-33 degrees. It’s cooler than the hot springs I’m used to back in Canada. The hot springs had almost no sulphur smell. We originally were supposed to stop in Mataranka Hot Springs, but decided to stop at Bitter Springs instead because it’s less commercialized. Mataranka is busier and the springs are enclosed in concrete instead of being naturally occurring. Bitter Springs is located in Never Never Land, which revived its name from a train that was always late, which ran from Darwin to Alice Springs.

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We then drove about two hours to Daly’s Water’s Pub, where we had hot dogs and salad for lunch. It’s a very historic pub and the small town is literally located in the middle of nowhere. 

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We then drove to Dunmarra, about a half hour away. We got to hold and touch a few snakes. Dunmarra got its name from a telegraph lineman named Dan O’Mara. He vanished without a trace in this area, and his skeleton was found in the 1930’s with the help of the local Jingili Aboriginal people. Their attempts to say his name sounded like Dunmarra.

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We then had a two hour drive to Banka Banka, where we were staying tonight. Banka Banka is an old cattle station that was used during the Second World War. There was a baby cow there named Fugly. The poor guy had one of his ears bitten off by a dingo. There was also some cute family of three frogs that lived in the back of the toilet in the building that the kitchen was located in. We had delicious pasta and white sauce with chicken for dinner. After dinner we all sat around the fire and played some games and were told some scary stories from the area. The site at Banka Banka that we were staying at was a school that had a mass murder occur at it. A teacher and three students were killed. It’s been said that some people can hear and see children at night occasionally. I don’t believe in any of that stuff, but that’s what we were told.

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Today we also learned a few more interesting facts. Australia has 254 different “countries” or language areas of indigenous people. Their history dates back over 60000 years, virtually unchanged. They still live virtually the same lifestyle as they did back in the days, some with a few modern luxuries. Ayers Rock is also known as Uluru. It is considered highly offensive to climb on Uluru and it’s said to cause bad luck if you do. People would climb it in the past and pee and poop at the top, which would run off into the water holes and make the animals sick in the area. In fact only about 10 percent of the local animals to the area are still left because of this. Another fact we learned was that it’s highly frowned upon to take rocks from the area. If you do they are called sorry rocks because they typically cause bad luck to the point where some people who have taken them have actually sent them back in the mail to the park. The last thing we learned was that Eucalyptus trees need smoke to germinate their seeds. 

We went to bed at about 10:00pm. Today we drove about 650km. Tomorrow we get to see the Devil’s Marbles!

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August 8th 2016 – The Great Ocean Road

Today I woke up early again so that I could get ready in time for my tour of The Great Ocean Road. I took the train into the CBD and waited at the Immigration Museum for pickup at 7:45am. The tour was a medium sized tour with 22 people. I deliberately picked a smaller tour, because I felt it would be a bit more personalized, and I’m glad I did because it was fantastic. Steve, the tour guide, was exceptionally knowledgeable about the grand history of Melbourne and told us all fascinating facts about Melbourne, and various things along the way.

As we were passing over West Gate bridge Steve pointed out that two years into the construction of the bridge that a portion of the bridge actually collapsed, killing 35 workers. It was the worst industrial accident in Australia’s history. He said the bridge has numerous problems and they are working on it nearly every day. The bridge was opened in 1978.

During our commute to our first stop steve pointed out that Melbourne is actually a fairly young town, around a 150 years old, and the gold rush caused expansive growth, with a lot of Italian and Greek immigrants. The gold was about 100km south of Melbourne. The settlers actually had an opportunity to settle closer in Geelong, but the British actually messed up drawing the map and made it seem as if Melbourne was closer, so most people settled there. Steve also pointed out that Avalon airport, the airport I landed at a few days ago, is owned by Lindsay Fox, who is a multi-billionaire. He started his first business (Linfox) as a truck driver delivering lemonade during the summer, and firewood during the winter.

We were almost at our first stop when Steve pointed out the famous Pole House, which stands many metres above the bush. It’s a posh place to stay if you want a romantic weekend for a few hundred dollars. This house survived the great bush fire on 1983 because it was so high above the bushes.

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Our first stop was for tea, coffee, and biscuits. Our second stop was the Archway commemorating the workers who built The Great Ocean Road. Originally there was a toll booth to collect toll fares for using The Great Ocean Road, but it is now free. Three archways have been built on this site. The first was knocked down in 1970 by a truck that was too tall, the second burned down in the 1983 bush fire. The road originally was started in 1919 after World War 1, and opened three years later in 1922. Picks, shovels, and Dynamite were used to clear the way for the road. The second phase of the road was built in the Great Depression, to stimulate the economy.

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On our way to the third stop we oversaw the Grand Pacific Hotel, which Steve pointed out was named incorrectly, as it should have been the Grand Atlantic Hotel. The third stop was Cumberland River. The Fourth stop was Kennett River, where we saw Koala’s and four types of birds. There was a red bird called Crimson Rosella, a green bird which is some kind of Parrot, a white bird called a Cockatoo, and a black bird which was some sort of raven.

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Our fifth stop was Apollo Bay, which was a whaling station. It received its name from a whaling ship that frequently ported there. Right before arriving in Apollo Bay we passed a waterfall on the right side of the bus that belonged to Wild Dog Creek. In Apollo bay a complimentary lunch of pizza was served. I had a Hawaiian pizza, which was actually quite delicious!

The sixth stop was a “cool” rain forest. Most rain forest that we are used to are the ones that we think of in South America which are “hot” rain forests, but this one is a “cool” rain forest. It doesn’t get too hot here all year round, but it does get fairly wet, and rains over 2 metres of rain per year. This rain forest has world’s tallest and oldest eucalyptus trees, with some reaching over 80 metres tall, and some are over 400 years old. There also was some beautiful ferns here!

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The seventh stop was Loch and Gorge, which was just amazing!

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The eight stop was the 12 Apostles, which Steve told us makes no sense because there was only ever 8, and now they are down to 7.

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The ninth and final stop before heading home was Gibson Steps, which we walked down to see two famous rocks called Gog and Magog.

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The tour ended at 8:45pm back where I was picked up in Melbourne. I thanked Steve for the great day, gave him a tip, and boarded the train back towards my hotel. I then went to bed at around 11:00pm.

Tomorrow I will be exploring more of Melbourne, before I board a 9:30pm flight to Darwin. Check back soon for my latest blog!

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