Feel the fear… and do it anyway

Black Water Rafting in glowworm caves

New Zealand is home to many adrenalin-fuelled activities, so I couldn’t very well leave without doing something. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m not the sporty type, something usually goes wrong and I end up hurting or embarrassing myself in some way, shape or form – I have scars to prove it!

Anyway, we were planning on visiting the glowworm caves in Waitomo (seeing glowworms – basically anything to do with animals and nature is much more my thing than extreme sports). You can take a leisurely boat ride through the caves and marvel at the glowworms shining above you, like stars in the night sky. Beautiful.

My husband, however, much more of a daredevil than me, decides he would rather do Black Water Rafting instead – basically sitting in a wet suit on a rubber ring and then climbing through the caves and jumping off waterfalls. Fun, right? I guess we could have gone our separate ways here, no one pressured me into saying yes, but either way I felt like I would be missing out on something so I just did it.

We were booked in for the 8.15am tour – on a non-work day I’m not even dressed at 8.15am let alone pulling myself into a cold and wet wetsuit at that time of the morning! Anyway, we had to fill out some liability forms. I was alright on the physical health side but when asked – do you have any difficulties swimming? I had to tick yes. I am a weak swimmer. I blame my school. And do you have any phobias? Actually I’m a bit claustrophobic to be honest with you, I like to know where my nearest exits are and I’m pretty sure I would never go pot holing (crawling through a cave where you can’t stand or turn around). When the guide read through my form she must have wondered what the hell I was doing there, but in my defence, if they didn’t want phobic people on the tours, they should say from the off.

They packed us up in a little bus and took us to a creek to do a practice jump for jumping off of the waterfalls. We met our second guide who explained we needed to jump backwards with the tube held at our backsides to ensure a correct landing. That jump was at least 2-3 metres high! I didn’t think I was scared of heights but maybe I am? Just as I was ready to wimp out completely, the guide moved to the next much lower platform, he was only joking about that tall one!

Ha. Ha. Hilarious.

So I did the jump. I didn’t die. However, when disembarking my tube I lost grip and it went floating down the creek.

Injuries = none
Embarrassments = one

Luckily, my hero hubby jumped in and got my tube for me to save further embarrassment.

Black water rafting cave entrance
Cave entrance

Then it was cave time, climbing and floating, at the deepest point we were 65 metres underground. There were 2 waterfall jumps – not as scary as I had anticipated. And we saw glowworms! The best part was when we were in a chain (what the guides refer to as the ‘eel’) each person holding on to the person behind’s feet as they rested either side of your tube. We then floated along in the darkness gazing up at the glowworms above.

Glowworms
Glowworms

Soon our cave adventure was drawing to an end and I was feeling quite proud that I hadn’t fallen off my tube, slipped over on a rock or got myself wedged in a stalactite or anything. Our last part of the cave tour was to turn off the torches on our helmets and then find our way out in the dark. Fortunately, even though our head torches were off, there were little red lights at the back of each helmet so I could follow the red lights of the rest of the group to find my way out. Of course the glowworms are meant to guide the way but I was too busy trying to keep up with the group to remember to look at the glowworms.

I started somewhere in the middle of the pack yet I somehow ended up at the back and when I lost all those red lights, panic set in. I was in pitch black, in a cave, floating in water, no idea of my surrounding or how much further the exit was. I almost had a full-on panic attack.

Cave eel
I’m glad I didn’t know about this before going in there!!!

Almost.

I then saw the light at the end of the tunnel, quite literally. I slowly made my way out of the cave to the light of day. I made it! And I didn’t knock myself out on the massive stalactite hanging down as low as my head right before the exit of the cave – who put that there?!

Waitomo caves - black water rafting
The light at the end of the tunnel

I then realised that my knuckle was bleeding but for me, that’s pretty good going.

Injuries = one (minor)
Embarrassments = one (pre-cave)

Afterwards my husband said that Black Water Rafting was alot more challenging than he had expected, whereas I had found the opposite to be true, I feared the worst and surprised myself.

And believe it or not, that wasn’t our only cold, wet, glowworm cave adventure. When we arrived in Franz Josef, the manager at the hostel we were staying at told us about a few different walks we could take, one being the Tatare Tunnels Walk – a 40 minute walk to a narrow cave where you walk ankle deep through freezing cold water to see the glowworms inside.

Tatare Tunnels Walk, Franz Josef New Zealand
The hike to the cave

So after a mostly uphill hike, we arrived at the cave entrance, removed our socks and trainers, and donned the only waterproof footwear we had – flipflops (or thongs/jandals if you’re Aussie/Kiwi). The cave was fairly narrow but tall enough to walk through. I’m not sure how far we walked but after seeing only 5 glowworms and only 3 other people in the cave, we decided it was mad going caving in flipflops with tiny torches that looked like they came out of a Christmas cracker! So we exited as fast as our frozen feet would take us.

Tatare Tunnels cave entrance in Franz Josef, NZ
Tatare Tunnels cave entrance

Clearly we have both seen one too many scary movies, as we admitted to each other on the walk back (another 40 minutes in the rain!) that we had overactive imaginations about what might be lurking in that cave (besides glowworms) and what if we got trapped. That’s the creative mind for ya!

AAAND I think that’s enough cave-related activities for one trip!

Tatare Tunnels Cave, New Zealand
Exit silhouette

I’m glad I did it but never again. How about you? What crazy things have you done that you would never repeat?

Black water rafting photos: Our guides at The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co.
Tatare Tunnels photos: my own

My Australia Highlights

As I am counting down the weeks until I am back in The Land Down Under (and yes I must confess that I secretly love that song!) I thought I would offer up a #ThrowbackThursday post or two about my visit there before. It’s no secret that I love Australia, so I thought I would start with a brief round-up of my top Australia highlights from my previous visit…

1. Photographing Sydney Opera House at sunrise and sunset 

It wasn’t easy tearing myself out of bed at 5am for but I am so glad I did. Our hotel was just a short walk from Circular Quay so we headed down there at dawn and photographed the iconic Opera House against the backdrop of burning orange fading out into a vibrant blue.

Sydney Opera House at sunrise by Quirky Little Planet

Photographing that famous silhouette at sunset was a much easier feat and I just love how photogenic this landmark is! Every angle offers something different. My favourite thing about this photo is the way I caught the sun glare through the shapes of the building.

Sydney Opera House at sunset by Quirky Little Planet

2. Cuddling a koala

This was on my Australia bucket list and was something I got the chance to do in Queensland. The little guy was called Cobber (how very Australian!) and he smelt like eucalyptus, probably because that’s pretty much all koalas eat. This was a great day at a wildlife habitat in Port Douglas where I also got to hand feed birds, wallabies and kangaroos!

Cuddling a koala

3.  Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef

If you’re in Queensland then this is a must-do – one of the planet’s greatest natural wonders and the largest reef in the world, the Great Barrier Reef features on many a bucket list. Not gonna lie, being in the middle of that big vast ocean did panic me at first but as soon as you dip your face into the water for the first time, your anxieties drift away and you are mesmerised at the magic below.

Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef

4. Seeing the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island

Every night at dusk, after a day’s fishing, the Little Penguins come ashore to their burrows on Summerland Beach. This is one of the very few places in the world where you can see the Little Penguins in their natural habitat. Visitors are sat on viewing platforms and photography is prohibited, to allow for minimal disruption to the penguins activities. Another highlight of my day on Phillip Island was seeing my Australian family who took us there for the day.

In the car park at the Penguin Parade
Wrapped up in my aunt’s coat in the car park at the Penguin Parade!

5. Spotting a cassowary in the wild

When we were in Queensland we took a trip into the Daintree Rainforest. We weren’t going solely to spot a cassowary but seeing one was the icing on the cake. In all honesty, I didn’t quite realise how lucky we were until our guide got really excited about seeing one. Apparently they are quite rare and an endangered species so we were incredibly fortunate to spot one of these brilliant birds!

Cassowary in the Daintree Rainforest Australia

So there you have my top five recommendations from my first visit to Oz, if you would like to keep up with more of my Down Under adventures, then you can follow me on Bloglovin, Twitter or Instagram!

Cherry Blossoms in Japan

In my previous post, I mentioned that I had ticked something off my bucket list – Cherry Blossom viewing in Japan. So I thought it only right to give a little low down on the cherry blossom viewing spots I visited.

In Japan, it is referred to as ‘Hanami’ (flower viewing) and the Sakura (cherry blossom) season is celebrated all over the country, every spring. We were visiting Japan at the beginning of April so were pretty hopeful to catch some of the best blossoms in Tokyo and Kyoto.

On our first day in Tokyo, we hopped on the train to Naka-Meguro to see the blossoms surrounding the canal. It was pouring down with rain but hey – we’re British! We’re used to it! We weren’t about to let the weather dampen our spirits.

japanese-cherry-blossom-1-quirkylittleplanet

Blossoms and brollies!
Blossoms and brollies!

The canal itself was very pretty although shame about the amount of surrounding concrete!

The next day we decided to visit Ueno Zoo, and to get to the entrance of the zoo we needed to walk through the famous Ueno Park – a highly rated hanami hotspot. The park itself was very crowded (more so than the zoo!) and people had already started laying out the blue tarpaulin for hanami parties later that day (the Japanese ‘reserve’ their spaces under the blossom trees with blue tarpaulin, where they will later enjoy a picnic. And amazingly, everyone respects this).

cherry-blossom-at-ueno-park-tokyo

Our next location for sakura spotting was Inokashira Park – a short walk from Kichijoji train station. We’d purchased ourselves some pretty little bento boxes and were planning on having ourselves a lovely little lunch under a canopy of pink but when we arrived at the park we realised that half of Tokyo had descended! If we thought Ueno Park was busy then Inokashira Park was just a sea of people and blue tarp!

inokashira-park-1

inokashira-park-2

Turns out it was far too cold for a picnic anyway!

A day or two later we headed out of Tokyo towards Kyoto. We had planned a trip to Mt Fuji and a stay over in Hakone, but quite spontaneously, on the day we were headed for our first night in Kyoto, we caught the train to Odawara to visit the beautiful castle there. It was an excellent decision as the blossoms surrounding the castle were quite possibly my favourite. It was a gorgeous sunny day too!

cherry-blossoms-in-odawara-1

sakura-at-odawara-castle

The last notable stop on our cherry blossom trail was the Gion district of Kyoto. As a fan of ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, a stroll around Gion was high up on my Japan wishlist, something made all the more magical with the blossom petals gently blowing through the air.

cherry-blossoms-in-gion

The country is dotted with cherry blossom trees during this time of year, but the above were some of the more prominent spots for picnicking and picture taking. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get that Starbucks sakura frappucino I fancied, but I did try a weird McDonalds sakura drink concoction… let’s just say I won’t miss it! Sakura green tea kitkats, on the other hand, are actually pretty good!

Inspired by India

Time and again movies, books and television shows inspire us to visit the places in which they are set. Sex and the City sparked the imagination of thousands of fashion-forward fans who promptly followed in Carrie Bradshaw’s stiletto-clad footsteps on the pavements of New York. The Beach, set on a beautiful secluded beach in Thailand encouraged backpackers to hit the road in search their own private paradise. And after watching/reading Eat, Pray, Love, who didn’t want to begin their own journey of self-discovery from Italy to India to Indonesia?

So on a dreary, grey Sunday afternoon while in desperate need of some sunshine, I decided to watch The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a touching story of a group of British folk who travel to Jaipur, India to spend their retirement years at ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the elderly and beautiful’.

The hotel itself isn’t quite the luxury the characters had believed, but then none of them truly expected to be living out their golden years in cheap and cheerful India anyway, and so we watch them as they face new challenges and get a grasp on the frenetic pace of life in their new exotic climes. While the ever-glamorous Judi Dench and the rest of the fabulous cast are the main draw for the majority of people who will go to see this film, you can’t help but be enticed by the energy, colour and chaos of vibrant India.

I have never been to India but like many, it’s on my travel wishlist. I’d love to watch the sun rise over the Taj Mahal and would feel privileged to be present during the Holi Festival (known as the Festival of Colours because part of the celebrations involve people throwing coloured water and powder at each other). I would also love to visit Jaipur, where the film is set, which is known as ‘The Pink City’ due to its beautifully coloured architecture (and pink just happens to be my favourite colour!). I can imagine myself donning a sparkly sari and Bollywood dancing my way down a dusty street adorned with stalls selling pretty flowers, as Indian storybook princes riding elephants pass by – ok so I’m getting carried away and that last part might be a total clichéd load of nonsense but still, you get the picture.

The Holi Festival
Holi Festival. photo credit: On The Go Tours via photopin cc

Although the movie did give me a craving for chocolate biscuits and a cup of tea, rather than the goat curry and Delhi belly on offer, India couldn’t fail to charm me. I can imagine it could be quite a culture shock at first, as it was for the characters in the film, but you have to remember what Sonny, the optimistic manager of hotel says: “Everything will be alright in the end… if it’s not alright then it’s not the end”.

So the world didn’t end…

bucket list by cakeyhamburger
bucket list, a photo by cakeyhamburger on Flickr.

And thank goodness for that! So the Mayan calendar ended and many believed that 21st December 2012 would be the last day for our quirky little planet (aka Earth, not this blog). I know I’m a bit slow in talking about it but I must admit that I did find all the news reports regarding the apocalypse quite fascinating, particularly the idea of a village in France, named Bugarach, being named as a supposedly safe place to survive the end of the world. Rumours were circulating that the mountain in the village contained a UFO which would rise up during the apocalypse and rescue everyone in the village. Although this sounds crazy, who is to say what could happen when the world ends? We don’t know.

It’s a similar idea to that of the mysterious rock, Es Vedra in Ibiza. People believe that the rock too may contain UFOs and suchlike. I even read somewhere that some people believe it to be the tip of the sunken city of Atlantis. While I don’t necessarily believe these stories enough to travel to Bugarach or Ibiza when the world is “due” to end, I wouldn’t necessarily say that I don’t believe them, I am willing to keep an open mind. Mystery is intriguing.

In all this news about the world ending or not ending, it made me think about all the things I feel I am yet to do, my Bucket List. I haven’t written a Bucket List as such (and the image above is just an amusing illustration I found on Flickr – I have no desire to conquer Everest) but it inspired me to blog about things I want to do/see before I do indeed ‘kick the bucket’. Perhaps if I keep up with the blog for long enough I can also write about when I fulfil a bucket list wish too!