April 2017
  • Day1

    Signs & Omens

    April 27, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    A large meteor streaks across the sky trailing red and green sparks like a giant firework. Big, spectacular, so close I think, at first, that it's a firework. Streaking east to west above the pitch black Cook Strait: that's the first sign.

    The following morning I awake to a large double star hanging in the sky above the entrance to Wellington Harbour. A UFO? No its not moving. So a UO then, until I remember that NASA launched a giant very high altitude balloon from Otago on the South Island yesterday. That must be it, reflecting the rising sun. Sure looks spooky though and I can't help but keep going out and looking at it and pondering it's existence. What this interest does allow me to see though are all the Spook jets and military transports leaving Wellington airport early in the morning after thier 'secret' meeting down in Arrowtown, near Queenstown the weekend just gone. The CIA Director, the Head of the FBI and big chiefs from the other Intelligence Services of the 5Eyes alliance. A most unusual gathering: that's the second sign... or is it an Omen?

    All that distraction and I'm late for work on my last day at DIA. I've been working as a Solution Architect for the Department of Internal Affairs for almost two years now but today is my last day before I head off on my big overseas adventure for 4 months. Barrable Travels.

    First stop is Japan in a few days time after I relocate my belongings back to my place on the S Island and say my goodbyes to the wild west coast. Can't help but feel I'm heading into a potential war zone what with those two tinpot dictators screaming at each other over the Korean peninsula and rattling thier sabres.

    The next morning the UO is still hanging in the sky but this time it looks further south... can it really be that NASA balloon? It looks smaller today too so may be. The Cook Strait and Wellington Harbour are glass smooth but a Northerly is blowing strong and I just have this weird feeling something big is going to happen soon. Maybe it's just the anticipation and excitement building as I prepare to depart for the Northern Hemisphere, but it feels more like a premonition.

    New Zealand is a 'safe place' far from the madding crowd and the madness of just about everywhere else in the world. But it is not untouched by the winds of war blowing through global geopolitics. See you later Chief Spooks... I wonder what you were talking about all weekend; or maybe you were just in Queenstown to go bungee jumping :-)
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  • Day1

    Waihopai Wonderings

    April 27, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 14 °C

    What to call this blog?, Around the world in 120 days? Tim's big adventure? The Trip 2017 or just Barrable Travels...

    Day one dawns with a brisk Northerly and a a clear blue sky. I finish packing the van and leave my rented flat after 22 months. I'll miss the place on Wellingtons south west edge on its wild south coast overlooking Taputeranga Island and out to Pencarrow at the mouth of Wellington Harbour. It's a glorious rugged piece of coastline only 20 minutes from the centre of the capital city.

    The ferry sails out into a wide blue day with a few fluffy white clouds and that brisk ever present Wellington wind. I sit on the top deck outside watching the white caps and the stunning scenery.

    I sit proped against the bulkhead the 'helicopter pad' and the fluttering red ensign of New Zealand in front of me, the mountains of Wellington in the distance. My mind drifts to another ship, or ships; the US carrier fleet that was then wasn't but now is sailing towards the Korean peninsula. "We're sending a very big fleet, its very powerful" says Trump. "We will anihilate it in a massive preemptive strike" says Kim Jong Un. I'm not sure who is the biggest tinpot Dictator, the biggest blusterer but the "toys" they have to play with are anything but laughable.

    The ferry leaves the open water of the Strait and enters Tory Channel, the oddly named West Head to our left. It's actually the easternmost point of the South Island. The Marlborough Sounds are tranquil and green the turquoise waters glistening in the sun. Such an idillic setting with its little houses nestling among the green tree clad hills in little isolated pockets by the waterside; thier only access via boat.
    Such a peaceful place and such a peaceful lifestyle. That is both the beauty and the bane of New Zealand… nothing much happens here and its easy to forget the crazy things happening in the world. And with that thought my Seattle Seahawks cap catches a gust of wind and flies out to sea to join its bretheren… it was going to join me on my travels but I guess it had other ideas 😃

    Later we dock in Picton and I head south west in my trusty Honda Elysion… through elyision fields and the long straight run down the Wairau Valley with miles upon miles of golden vines on every side stretching to the green forest clad mountains to the north and the the largely brown and barren mountains to the south. An idyllic setting with lots of famous vineyards and glorious sunshine. Spoilt only by the incongruous big domes of Waihopai Spy Base, one of the 5 Eyes eyes and ears intercepting global communications, a part of the ECHELON global spy network. Some have even taken advantage of its presence naming their vineyard Spy Valley 😃

    So there we have it again amidst this green and pleasant land the presence of the anglo-american empire. 5 Eyes or FVEY; the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. We may be a long way away geographically but we are very much part of the empire.

    https://www.privacyinternational.org/node/51

    Onwards and upwards to the alpine town of St Arnauds and beyond we wind into the mountains and start to follow the mighty Buller River as it winds its way 150km to the sea. As I’m winding my way through the Upper Buller Gorge a black breasted native Robin hops out onto a roadside post and watches me pass. Yes we have Robins with black breasts here, like we have Black Swans and the All Blacks, lol. The Robin is normally a shy retiring bird that hides in the bush; so thats the fifth sign.

    The deciduous trees are splendid in their Autumn colours and the native forests spread out in their multi been hued splendour on every side. Easy to see why they call it ‘the bush’ its like one big thick bush spread like a carpet across the mountains. As we approach the west coast it becomes even more primeval with so many Fern Trees and Nikau Palms poking out of the bush. Ive driven this road so many times its almost second nature now with its hairpin turns, one lane bridges and tight pathways blasted out of overhanging rock faces. All in all the Buller Gorge is a stunning place.

    Its a glorious day for a drive and 4 hours after departing the ferry the River opens out onto the alluvial plains and becomes wider and deeper and even more magnificent. It is NZs largest river by volume of water flow and after heavy rains it is like an unstoppable force with whole trees tumbling down to the sea in its fearsome flow. Today it ambles along, the sun glistening on its deep blueish green water.

    Finally to my home in Westport and I grab a sweet and sour chicken from the takeaway and kick back with my feet up to watch the news. The contents of the van and the unpacking can wait until tomorrow...
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  • Day3

    Westport Wanderings

    April 29, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    Wandering around Westport today enjoying the Autumn sunshine and a break from the heavy rain of yesterday. Last couple of days I have been sorting out my house and battening down the hatches prior to my departure. Also got out today to enjoy this small town on the wild west coast of New Zealand that I have called home for these last 3 years, and no doubt many more into the future.

    http://westport.nz/

    Its a mining town built on gold and coal and still has that affluent vibe, despite its recent decline as it’s coal becomes too uneconomic to mine in our globalised world. For me it’s ideally located on the stunning West Coast with magical Karamea to the North and Punakaiki and Greymouth to the South an easy 90 minute drive on one of the worlds most spectacular coast roads.

    It also has a small airport and Wellington is only a 45 minute flight away on a little 9 seater plane. The Pilatus PC12 is actually a pretty amazing plane which is flown by the Australian Flying Doctors and the US Special Forces because of its legendary reliability and its ability to take off and land just about anywhere and fly in any weather. It needs to here, doing the Westport to Wellington run, and its almost always a pretty bumpy ride. But, hey, I like roller coasters and I have always felt 100% safe in the hands of Sounds Air. Westport sits at the mouth of the mighty Buller River and has the river, beaches, lagoons and a busy fishing harbour.

    A stroll down to the harbour takes me to the newly built walkway out over the wetlands and lagoons, past the Lost Lagoon and to the Shingle Beach, which is actually inland somewhat from the river mouth. The river and the harbour has always accommodated some pretty large ships but the last of these, the big cement bulk carriers, recently departed after the nearby Cement Works closed. I noticed one of them - The Westport - was sold and renamed and now plies the North Sea and between Copenhagen and Malmo as the Fjordvik. Strange to think I watched it sail past my house not long ago and now its on the other side of the world.

    https://photos.marinetraffic.com/ais/showphoto.aspx?photoid=100758

    Soon I too will be on the other side of the world too; blogging from Japan, England, Scotland, Iceland, Morocco and Greece.... stay tuned :-)
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  • Day5

    Denniston Dreamings

    May 1, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Dreamy bright Autumn day with hardly a cloud in the sky and just a light cooling breeze. Took a trip up the hill to Denniston for stunning views of the Buller coast up to the Karamea Bight and beyond. Its amazing to think that they mined coal up here in the late 1800's and shipped it down to the coast on the Denniston Incline a stunning gravity fed railway running down the steep mountainside. They must have made them hardy in those days...

    "Described as "a place either loved or hated - but always with a passion", the people living and working on the 'hill' back in those early days were extremely isolated, with the perilous incline and steep windy tracks forming the only modes of access and transportation.” - http://www.denniston.co.nz/history

    Also headed up the coast to one of my favorite little coastal towns, Granity. Arty little place these days huddled on a thin strip of land between the steep bush clad hills and the ever encrouching coast. The beach has taken a further battering since I was last here and the constant work with diggers to shore up the eroding beach and keep the houses safe continues. Although the pounding surf and rocky shore has other ideas and had broken through in more than one location. Used to be a nice picnic tale on a layby by the road looking out over the ocean but thats gone now buried beneath the digger piled shingle.

    Long straight streches of road here, great for crusing down at speed... Cabbage Trees and Tree Palms sweep by either side with the pounding surf one side and the native bush clad mountains on the other.

    Just a magical place.
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  • Day7

    Tokyo: Here Be Dragons!

    May 3, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    Terrefic first day in Tokyo! Up bright and early after a good nights sleep at the Hotel in Asakusa and off to the Senso-ji Temple just down the road to beat the Golden Week crowds. Still a few people around but its an amazing green oasis of peace amidst the hussle and bustle of Tokyo. Beautiful architecture and nature and lots of temples and shrines.... here be Dragons! :-)

    Back to the hotel briefly to organise the on-shipping of my baggage. Its a great service and means I dont have to drag my suitcase around when I travel from place to place in Japan. It's very reasonably priced too.

    Then off to Akihabara to get measured up for a formal suit for my sons wedding in Scotland. Hey, the father of the groom has to look good :-) and a look around the bustling city streets famous for thier electronics and anime stores and Maid Cafes. Its dangerous letting me loose in a seven level electronics megastore, lol.

    So after all that excitement its off to Shinjuku Gyoen, beautiful and vey large gardens with lakes and forests and traditional Japanese gardens in the heart of the city. Another peaceful if very crowded place. Its Golden Week here in Japan which is one of the biggest holidays of the year so I'm going to need to get used to the crowds over the next few days. Certainly more people here than there are in NZ; in fact theres more than 3 times as many people in Tokyo alone than in the whole of New Zealand.

    Traveled the trains and the subway all day. the Japan Rail 'JR Pass' is a wonderful thing. You can travel on all trains, including the Shikansen, across Japan for the price of the pass, which is generally cheaper than just one return between Tokyo and Kyoto on the Shinkansen 'Bullet' Train. Once you get your pass you can make reservations and get seats on the trains of your choice. It makes travelling around Tokyo and Japan just so easy. The public transport here is just amazing!

    For a city of 14 Million Tokyo is incredibly clean, green, efficent and safe. In fact that observation applies across the whole country. If anything Japan reminds me of Switzerland. It never really feels crowded either and even though there are 120 million people here they all live crammed together on 20% of the land, leaving 80% of the country as stunning mountains, forests and wild nature.

    Lots more to explore; off to Kyoto tomorrow on the Shinkansen...
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  • Day8

    Tokyo to Kyoto by Shinkansen

    May 4, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Well here I am sitting on the floor on my futon in my Ryokan room, eating Chocolate Chou Creams and Green Tea Ice Cream... yum! Busy day today exploring Asakusa and the Skytree area of Tokyo on another hot sunny day before heading to Kyoto via the amazing Shinkansen train. I just love the train system here and public transport in general its just soooo good!

    Arrived at the station slightly early and watched as the pink clad cleaning crew appeared from a small door in the side of the stairs up to the platform and stood to attention by the doors to await the Shinkasen arriving. When it did and the passengers had duly departed the crew goes on board to clean it and turn all the chairs around so they are facing the right way - each two or three seat pair pivot so can be switched around - and then all pop out of the doors again as if on queue and do a little bow before inviting the new passengers to embark. Equally efficient at each stop, and always on time, the Shinkansen speeds through Japan at up to 320km/hr carving its way through the countryside through tunnels in mountains and hills and generally on raised rails. A marvel of engineering and organisation that makes long distance travel a breeze... every country should have them.

    More ancient traditional temples and shrines and ultra modern architecture and services today. From ancient Ushima Shrine to the 'Golden Turd' atop the Asahi building. Feels like it should be a total contrast but in reality the two sit side by side in almost perfect harmony. I'm sure the high tech workers on the way to thier skyscraper offices swing by the local temple or shrine on thier way and pay thier respects or make thier wishes at thier local shrine or temple.

    An ancient and highly civilised culture, the Japanese seem to take everything in thier stride and manage to be respectful, helpful and friendly as well. Even this week where the crowds are massive and the entire population seems to be on the move, the transport sytem and daily life proceed with a strange serenity and efficiency.

    Lots of Holy Cows today, well Bulls actually; from the Ushima Shrine in Tokyo to a smaller 'Bull' shrine in Kyoto both where you are supposed to stroke the part of the bull that corresponds to a problem area on your own body and it is said it will heal your ailments. I'm hoping it helps with my lower back... but losing wieght would probably help even better. :-)

    Got lots of exercise today especially as Expedia managed to take me to totally the wrong location when I was looking for my Ryokan (a small traditional Japanese hotel/guest house) but luckily I was rescued by some passing Americans who knew where it really was. It was always going to be a long walk from the nearest Metro but the wrong location on thier online map did not help at all. All good though as i got to see even more of Kyoto and down some residential streets I would never have seen otherwise. Kyoto is a beautiful city!

    Lots more exploring the next two days and I have a very busy schedule to try and fit it all in.

    Should be fun! :)
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  • Day9

    Kyoto Imperial Villas & Gardens - Part I

    May 5, 2017 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 21 °C

    Today was a day of beauty, stunningly beautiful Japanese gardens and Imperial villas with a Zen Temple thrown in for good measure. I feel blessed to have got see these places on what was a perfect day weather wise. Access to these gardens has to be booked months in advance and they require you to submit your passport and answer all sorts of questions. Kind of like the Japanese version of ‘extreme vetting’, lol

    I have my friend Fumi to thank for this and her wonderful organising skills came in handy to fit all four locations into one hectic day. Yes four, the day started with a visit to a water treatment plant... yes thats right but this one was no ordinary plant. Only open to the pubic 4 days every year the whole hillside and expansive gardens are covered in hundreds of immaculately manicured Azalea bushes in every colour you can imagine including some like yellow and deep red that I never knew existed.

    Next stop was the Katsura Imperial Villa, probably the highlight of the day. This place was just amazing. I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautiful Japanese garden. One thing I did notice immediately was that these gardens and their vistas are not designed for tall people. To see them as they were intended I had to crouch down, get on one knee or shoot from the hip. It s incredible to think how each view has been planned and composed to provide a sense of beauty and harmony in nature. So much so that even viewing from a slightly elevated angle changes the feel. I have always felt an affinity with the Japanese aesthetic - what they call wabi-sabi - and these gardens are a prime example. Katsura is very much a self contained garden; small but perfectly formed.

    Part II to follow...
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  • Day9

    Kyoto Imperial Villas & Gardens - Part 2

    May 5, 2017 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 20 °C

    Next it was back in the car and off to Shugakuin Imperial Villa, another stunning compound. Shugakuin is much larger than Katsura and contains three seperate villas with thier attendant gardens, linked together by walkways through paddy fields. Very much designed on the grand scale to incorporate the wider environment and blend harmoniously with the surrounding forested hills and mountains, chief among them Mt Hiei. This contrasting of multiple layers from distant mountains to the gardens is called shakkei and Shugakuin is considered magnificent in this regard. It consists of lower, middle and upper Villas each with their own garden and was built in 1655-59 for the retired Emperor Gomizuno’o.

    If this grandeur and Katsura's intimacy was not enough for one day we rounded out the adventure with a visit to the Zen Buddhist Temple of Shisendo; classic zen gardens and small temple set on a mountain hillside.

    All in all a stunning day with sights I feel privileged to have seen and photographed. I was the only westerner at most of these places and the tour groups relatively small.

    We ended a perfect day in the perfect way with a meal at Kyoto's best Tempura restaurant.

    Just brilliant!
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  • Day10

    Temples of Kyoto

    May 6, 2017 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    Temple day today... and what a day it was. Starting again with the small and intimate, Gioji Temple in Arishiyama was the first stop. Famous for its moss gardens, peace and tranquility, it did not disappoint. Hardly any people there either which was an added bonus. As you will see from the photos the moss garden is backed by large stands of bamboo which add a great contrast of greeny blue to the deep green shades of the moss. I could have stayed there all day just contemplating.

    But as I'm travelling this is all about movement, so on to the next temple a pleasant 30 minute walk away through what are obviously very upmarket residential areas but also typically Japanese. Daikaku-ji Temple is a much more elaborate place in the Shingen Buddhist style. It was formerly an Imperial Villa and it shows. Situated next to a lively large lake it is a large and sprawling complex with stunning buildings and formal gardens. It was a wonderful place and was made even better by the rain that brought a refreshing coolness on what was a hot but overcast day.

    Nenbutsuji Temple is another amazing place with a stunningly beautiful bamboo pathway and lots of clearly ancient statues and temples some of which you are not allowed to photograph.

    Then off to lunch at a famous Soba Noodle restaurant overlooking the river at Arashiyama... Delicious!

    Rounded out the day with a visit to the Phoenix Hall at Byodoin on the other side of Kyoto. Now this is grandeur! It has an attached museum were all the original statues and artifacts are kept. All dating back to the 11th century!!! Superb craftsmanship in wood and bronze. Just amazing. Also some great ground's and hanging wisteria to photograph.

    Then off to the extreme of the 7 story Yodabashi Camera store in central Kyoto... 7 massive floors of every high tech thing you can imagine. I was very pleased with myself that I did not buy anything... All so tempting :-)

    Dinner was Okinimiyaki which is like a Japanese style omelet thing with cabbage and noodles cooked in front of you on a hot plate built into the table... double delicious!

    Just as well that today involved lots and lots of walking as I probably put it all back on with the great food.

    Warning! If you come to Japan plan lots of walks and exercise... because the food is really delicious :-)
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  • Day12

    Okayama Korakuen & U-jo Castle

    May 8, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Today was mainly a travel day. Met up with a friend at the station and went for lunch and then a coffee in a traditional coffee shop. It was great and I really enjoyed both the food and the company. All too soon though it was time to get back on the road.

    I intended to go back east to Hamamatsu and catch an overnight train to Matsue but I changed my plans at the last minute when I could not get a private berth on the sleeper. Instead I caught the Shinkansen to Okayama.

    My luck was in as on arrival I discovered it was the last evening that Okayama Castle and the Korakuen Gardens would be illuminated. There was also a free shuttle from my hotel which was great. Travel here in Japan is just so smooth and efficient; everything on time and working like clockwork and everything super convenient. I love it! :-)

    The illuminations where great but I'm not sure my photos do it justice. I'm still learning how to do good night photography and you really had to be there to appreciate it especially the 'projection mapping' on some of the buildings.

    Got the shuttle back to the hotel at 10pm and had a luxurious soak in the tub before getting a good night's sleep in a proper bed. I can cope with futon on tatami for a couple of nights but nothing beats a raised bed and chairs especially given my size. I often think the Japanese are so fit because they spend thier life getting up and down off the floor all day. :-)
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