A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about theme parks

Backpacking down South Island's West Coast

All aboard the party bus!

semi-overcast 17 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

Travelling alone with everything on my back and a lot of distance to cover, joining a backpacking tour felt the best way to get the essential NZ South Island experience. Having settled into my hostel in Greymouth I wandered down for a tour of the local Monteith's Brewery whose Amber Ale I had developed a taste for. The tour itself made me sad with the brewing now done in a large plant elsewhere with the micro brewery that remained only used for researching new beers. However at the beer tasting afterwards I met and joined for dinner 4 lovely ladies already on the Magic Bus I was joining who gave me the lowdown on what life on the bus with our driver "Soap" was like; the next 9 days were going to be fun!

YHA Queenstown Lakefront - typical of the hostels I stayed in

YHA Queenstown Lakefront - typical of the hostels I stayed in


Example of a small hostel dormitory (from YHA Taronga on North Island)

Example of a small hostel dormitory (from YHA Taronga on North Island)


Inside Monteith's Brewery in Greymouth

Inside Monteith's Brewery in Greymouth


Our Magic Bus and crew outside the Haast Visitor Centre (I am kneeling at the front, 3rd from the left)

Our Magic Bus and crew outside the Haast Visitor Centre (I am kneeling at the front, 3rd from the left)

After a boisterous welcome aboard the bus the following morning we stopped at the Bushman Centre at Pukekara. Not a lot to see per se in the small museum but they did screen a humourous macho 20 minute video about deer hunting - NZ South Island West Coast style! Basically deer are an introduced species and with no predators bred like rabbits destroying everything. At first they were ruthlessly hunted but then it was realised profit could be made by capturing and farming them. Then the video gets fun because ultimately the way they are caught is by flying low in a helicopter and leaping on them with a net - maniacs!

The Bushman Centre at Pukekura

The Bushman Centre at Pukekura


Deer in the paddock by the Bushman's Centre

Deer in the paddock by the Bushman's Centre

The highlight of the day though was the afternoon heli-hike on the Franz Josef Glacier, we were given coats, boots & crampons and flown on a short but spectacular helicopter flight to the start of the glacier. We were then taken on 2 hour hike across the ice, crossing & climbing crevasses and descending through ice tunnels. It was brilliant and very different from my previous glacial experience during my trip at Jungfraujoch in Switzerland.

The view from the helicopter flying on to the Franz Josef Glacier

The view from the helicopter flying on to the Franz Josef Glacier

Hikers disembarking onto the ice from the helicopter

Hikers disembarking onto the ice from the helicopter


We wait while our guide makes sure the ice screws holding the safety line are still secure

We wait while our guide makes sure the ice screws holding the safety line are still secure


We make our down a crevasse on the Franz Josef Glacier

We make our down a crevasse on the Franz Josef Glacier


Me emerging from an ice tunnel on the Franz Josef Glacier

Me emerging from an ice tunnel on the Franz Josef Glacier


A helicopter taking off from the glacier returning hikers back to the village

A helicopter taking off from the glacier returning hikers back to the village

Early the next morning we reached Lake Matheson and after a short walk across a deliberately wobbly bridge reached the viewpoint where Mount Cook, Mount Tasman (the 2 highest mountains in NZ) and the Fox Glacier are famously reflected in the lake like a mirror. It turns out the connection between the glacier and the top UK selling Fox's Glacier Mints is a myth - one is named after an 1870s NZ prime minister while other is named after their Leicester based inventor in 1918!

I didn't know it at the time but the new data card I inserted into my camera after Franz Josef turned out to be a dud and I lost all the photos I took for the next couple of days. Fortunately I was with friends trying to take very similar photos to myself and they have helped out so these are "borrowed" photos until Milford Sound. Thanks again guys for helping out - you know who you are!

The wobbly bridge on the track down to Lake Matheson, every step and the whole bridge seems  to move to the left or right!

The wobbly bridge on the track down to Lake Matheson, every step and the whole bridge seems to move to the left or right!


The famous mirror reflection of the mountains on Lake Matheson; unfortunately it was not at its best while we there but still impressive none the less

The famous mirror reflection of the mountains on Lake Matheson; unfortunately it was not at its best while we there but still impressive none the less

We then had to cover a lot of miles from the relative flat of the West Coast snaking up through the mountains and dense forest of the Haast Pass to our next overnight stop at Wanaka. On the way up we stopped at the Thunder Creek Falls which Soap our driver said were "magic" and that if we stared at them for 30 seconds and then looked slightly away we'd know why. I'm not entirely sure I saw what was intended but as I stared I did see what looked like a warp in my vision in the trees next to the top of the falls which was pretty eerie!

Thunder Creek Falls (aka the Magic Waterfall)

Thunder Creek Falls (aka the Magic Waterfall)

Once we reached the summit it was relatively flat driving alongside Lakes Wanaka (26 miles - 43 kilometres, 70 square miles in size & 4th largest in NZ) and Hawea (21 miles - 35 kilometres long, 54 square miles in size). Our final stop before overnighting in Wanaka was at Puzzling World, a tourist attraction built around optical illusions and puzzles. It had a maze but it's signature attraction was its leaning tower outside, the idea was you took a photograph from an angle such that it looked like you were holding it up!

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka


The Leaning Tower at Puzzling World just outside Wanaka

The Leaning Tower at Puzzling World just outside Wanaka


Einstein is always watching you! Another optical illusion at Puzzling World

Einstein is always watching you! Another optical illusion at Puzzling World

The next day began with "Soap" our driver playing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" full blast, we were approaching Queenstown, "the adrenalin capital of the world". First stop was at the historic AJ Hacket Bridge over the Kawarau River, the home of the original bungy jump and nearly a quarter of the bus had signed up to have a go! Needless for me to say but with my fear of heights I wasn't one of them... although there was something gnawing away inside of me saying if I could just get enough courage (or madness) to do it for the couple of minutes it takes I'd love to be able to say I'd done it!

The historic AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge over the Kawarau River

The historic AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge over the Kawarau River


Bungy Jumper eye view of the river

Bungy Jumper eye view of the river


We have take-off... only 142 feet (43 metres) to the river below!

We have take-off... only 142 feet (43 metres) to the river below!


Ignoring the bungy jumping for a minute, it is actually quite a pretty gorge!

Ignoring the bungy jumping for a minute, it is actually quite a pretty gorge!

All fired up we had a lunch stop in Arrowtown and went in search of the meat pies from the local bakery. Hand-sized meat pies baked fresh daily from the local bakery in every small town are considered the national dish in New Zealand and although similar, invariably taste a lot better than the steak pies back home in the UK. Arrowtown itself is a quaint small town which has managed to retain more than 60 of its original wooden and stone buildings from its gold rush days of the 1860s.

Arrowtown

Arrowtown


The Arrowtown Bakery

The Arrowtown Bakery

It was then onwards to Queenstown - where most towns have chemists and supermarkets, Queenstown instead has agents for bungy jumping, jetboating and skydiving and a host of bars and clubs! Our Bus was in a party mood having won the "Battle of the Buses" bar games tournament against the rival tour bus companies the night before in Wanaka and we now enjoyed a few nights in the pubs, clubs and restaurants of Queenstown (and off course the meat pies from the world famous Fergbakery in Shotover Street).

Party time in Queenstown with my Magic Bus crew (I'm first on the left)

Party time in Queenstown with my Magic Bus crew (I'm first on the left)


All you can eat Pizza Night with my Magic Bus crew in Queenstown (I'm first on the left)

All you can eat Pizza Night with my Magic Bus crew in Queenstown (I'm first on the left)

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged waterfalls lakes bridges animals snow museums food beer party glaciers tour theme_parks videos hostelling magic_bus helicopters breweries light_aircraft nz_south_island outdoor_pursuits frontier_towns Comments (0)

Day Trip to the Blue Mountains

Visiting the Three Sisters, Scenic World and the Featherdale Wildlife Park

semi-overcast 19 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

The one place outside the city that seems to be on everyone's bucket list when they visit Sydney is the stunning Three Sisters sandstone rock formation in the Blue Mountains about 40 miles (60 kilometres) inland at Katoomba on the Great Western Highway.

The Three Sisters Rock Formation in the Blue Mountains

The Three Sisters Rock Formation in the Blue Mountains


Me by the Three Sisters Rock Formation at the Echo Point Lookout

Me by the Three Sisters Rock Formation at the Echo Point Lookout


The Jamison Valley and Blue Mountains

The Jamison Valley and Blue Mountains

According to legend (and immortalised by statues outside neighbouring Scenic World) the three rocks are three sisters from the local Katoomba Tribe who were turned to stone by their tribe's sorcerer to protect them from the unwanted advances of three young men from a neighbouring tribe but that the sorcerer himself was killed in battle before he could turn them back to life again.

Statues of the Sorcerer and the Three Sisters outside Scenic World

Statues of the Sorcerer and the Three Sisters outside Scenic World


Me beside the statue of the Sorcerer outside Scenic World

Me beside the statue of the Sorcerer outside Scenic World

Scenic World itself began life as a coal mine in the 1880s. In 1928 a funicular railway was built to transport miners down the Jamison Valley side to the mine in the rainforest below which turned out to be the steepest passenger railway in the world (52 degrees contained within a total incline distance of 1,316 feet - 415 metres). When the mine closed in 1945 the funicular railway remained as a tourist attraction which became the Scenic World Railway we see today.

The Scenic World Railway about to leave its Top Station for the Rainforest floor

The Scenic World Railway about to leave its Top Station for the Rainforest floor


On our way down to the Rainforest floor aboard the Scenic World Railway

On our way down to the Rainforest floor aboard the Scenic World Railway

Coal Mine entrance on the rainforest floor at Scenic World

Coal Mine entrance on the rainforest floor at Scenic World


The walkway through the Rainforest on the valley floor at Scenic World

The walkway through the Rainforest on the valley floor at Scenic World

Since then the railway has been upgraded (including quite recently in early 2013) and the Scenic Skyway across the valley and Scenic Cableway back up from the rainforest floor added. The Skyway passes across the Katoomba Falls and includes a glass floor that defrosts as you set of so you can look down on the tree tops of the rainforest below.

The Scenic World Skyway making its way across the Rain Forest

The Scenic World Skyway making its way across the Rain Forest


The Katoomba Falls from the Scenic World Skyway

The Katoomba Falls from the Scenic World Skyway


The floor of the Scenic World Skyway defrosts to reveal the Rain Forest beneath us

The floor of the Scenic World Skyway defrosts to reveal the Rain Forest beneath us


Looking back at the Rainforest on the way up to the Top Station on the Scenic World Cableway

Looking back at the Rainforest on the way up to the Top Station on the Scenic World Cableway

On the way back to Sydney we stopped at the Featherdale Wildlife Park, an award winning zoo that opened in 1972 containing the world's largest collection of Australian native animals. Many of them such as Quokkas, Kangaroos, Emus and New Zealand Blue Penguins I had already encountered earlier during my round the world trip.

A pair of Quokkas at Featherdale Wildlife Park

A pair of Quokkas at Featherdale Wildlife Park


An inquisitive Kangaroo at Featherdale Wildlife Park

An inquisitive Kangaroo at Featherdale Wildlife Park


An Emu on the prowl at Featherdale Wildlife Park

An Emu on the prowl at Featherdale Wildlife Park

The Penguin enclosure at Featherdale Wildlife Park

The Penguin enclosure at Featherdale Wildlife Park

However there were plenty of other types of Australian animals at the Wildlife Park I had not yet encountered including the ever adorable Koala, Swamp Wallabies, Dingoes and the Tasmanian Devil (and a lot more besides).

Koala at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Koala at Featherdale Wildlife Park


Swamp Wallabies at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Swamp Wallabies at Featherdale Wildlife Park


Dingoes at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Dingoes at Featherdale Wildlife Park


Tasmanian Devil running around his enclosure at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Tasmanian Devil running around his enclosure at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Of course this time the animals were up close and personal so you were often also able to pet and feed them; although like my previous encounter with one outside Perth I still did not trust the Emu!

Me with a Koala at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Me with a Koala at Featherdale Wildlife Park


Me with a friendly Swamp Wallaby at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Me with a friendly Swamp Wallaby at Featherdale Wildlife Park


This Emu was so enthusiastic pecking the food I gave I feared he would get my hand!

This Emu was so enthusiastic pecking the food I gave I feared he would get my hand!

In addition to the native Australian mammals there were also native Australian birds such as Pelicans standing still like statues, brightly coloured Macaws and impressive looking Sea Eagles.

Pelicans at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Pelicans at Featherdale Wildlife Park

A pair of Blue and Yellow Macaws at Featherdale Wildlife Park

A pair of Blue and Yellow Macaws at Featherdale Wildlife Park

White-bellied Sea-eagle eating a fish at Featherdale Wildlife Park

White-bellied Sea-eagle eating a fish at Featherdale Wildlife Park

When we left Featherdale Wildlife Park the Sydney road network was totally gridlocked. To avoid spending the evening stuck in traffic we managed to get on a ferry near the 2000 Olympic Stadium and travelled down the river for a hour and a half to Darling Harbour in the centre of Sydney. As it got dark, the views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Darling Harbour all lit up were amazing.

Approaching the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a ferry at night

Approaching the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a ferry at night


Sydney's Darling Harbour at night

Sydney's Darling Harbour at night

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in Australia Tagged waterfalls mountains bridges trees animals sydney boat harbours tour theme_parks mines cablecar rock_formations videos aborigine solo Comments (0)

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure

Time for me to be a kid again at the Disney California Resort Adventure Parks

sunny 22 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

Arriving in Los Angeles my first bit of sightseeing was a gentle stroll along the Venice Canals. Venice was founded by tobacco millionaire Abbott Kinney in 1905 with two miles of ocean front just south of Santa Monica and was meant to be based on its namesake in Italy. The pedestrian-only promenade along its beach is famous for its performers, fortune-tellers, artists, and vendors; less visited is the highly desireable canal side residential district behind it.

The Venice Canals in Los Angeles

The Venice Canals in Los Angeles

From the Venice Canals I moved on to Disneyland. A lot has changed since my previous visit to Disneyland more than 10 years ago so a return trip was high up on my bucket list for Southern California this time round. The first really big change is that Disney have opened up a whole new adventure park called Disney California Adventure directly opposite Disneyland itself. Like Disneyland it is divided up into themed districts and we began our day there with a stroll down the main street in Hollywood Land to our first ride - The Twilight Zone Hollywood Tower Hotel. This is a 183 feet (55.8 metre) high accelerated drop in darkness, I'm sure the straps are looser than comfortable to make it a bit more scary!

Strolling down the Hollywood Land Street in Disney California Adventure

Strolling down the Hollywood Land Street in Disney California Adventure


The Hollywood Tower Hotel

The Hollywood Tower Hotel


Reception Desk inside the Hollywood Tower Hotel - Welcome to the Twilight Zone!

Reception Desk inside the Hollywood Tower Hotel - Welcome to the Twilight Zone!


Hollywood Tower Hotel plunging elevator pic - I'm 2nd from the left on the back row

Hollywood Tower Hotel plunging elevator pic - I'm 2nd from the left on the back row

Next up was Radiator Springs Race Track in Cars Land next door which was probably my favourite ride in Disney California Adventure. Opened in June 2012 and inspired by the Pixar Cars Films, it consisted of a slot car ride through various scenes from the films before a thrilling race around the track against another car - our car we won!

Posing for a photograph beside 'Lightning McQueen' from the Disney Cars Film

Posing for a photograph beside 'Lightning McQueen' from the Disney Cars Film


The Radiator Springs Race Track in Cars Land at Disneyland California Adventure

The Radiator Springs Race Track in Cars Land at Disneyland California Adventure


On the Radiator Springs Ride in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure

On the Radiator Springs Ride in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure


Two cars racing on the track at Radiator Springs in Cars Land

Two cars racing on the track at Radiator Springs in Cars Land

After a brief stop in Pacific Wharf to pose for a picture of me caught in a fish net we moved on to the seaside fairground inspired rides around the lake in Paradise Pier. First up was a ride on Mickey's Fun Wheel, a large Ferris wheel with a choice between 'swinging' and 'non swinging' gondolas! Next we went for a ride on the California Screamin' high speed roller coaster - yes I must admit I screamed!

Me caught in a net of fish in Pacific Wharf

Me caught in a net of fish in Pacific Wharf


Mickey's Fun Ferris Wheel and California Screamin' Roller Coaster across the bay in Paradise Pier

Mickey's Fun Ferris Wheel and California Screamin' Roller Coaster across the bay in Paradise Pier


Do you want a 'Swinging' or 'Non-Swinging' Gondola on the Ferris Wheel?

Do you want a 'Swinging' or 'Non-Swinging' Gondola on the Ferris Wheel?


The view of California Screamin Roller Coaster from the top of Mickey's Fun Ferris Wheel

The view of California Screamin Roller Coaster from the top of Mickey's Fun Ferris Wheel


Riding the California Screamin' Roller Coaster - I'm sat in the front on the left

Riding the California Screamin' Roller Coaster - I'm sat in the front on the left

We then moved on to Grizzly Peak where we took a ride and got soaked whitewater rafting on the Grizzly River Run. Our final stop before moving over to Disneyland proper was Soarin' over California where your chair is raised up in the air and forward in a concave theatre to simulate a hang gliding trip over several of California's landmarks.

Queuing for a soaking whitewater rafting down the river in Grizzly Peak

Queuing for a soaking whitewater rafting down the river in Grizzly Peak


A raft gets soaked on the Grizzly River Whitewater Rafting Run

A raft gets soaked on the Grizzly River Whitewater Rafting Run


Posng in front of the waterfall in Grizzly Peak

Posng in front of the waterfall in Grizzly Peak

We then left Disney California Adventure and moved across the entry plaza and entered Disneyland proper where we began by having our picture taken beside several Disney characters. There was Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Pluto of course but also ended up posing beside a couple of Disney Princesses - Ariel (from the "Mermaid" film) and Snow White as well, which I am not sure was very good for my street cred back home! We then walked up Main Street USA and saw Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse's Statue before passing through Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

Disney Princess posing in front of the Main Street USA Railway Station in Disneyland

Disney Princess posing in front of the Main Street USA Railway Station in Disneyland


Me having my picture taken with Mickey Mouse

Me having my picture taken with Mickey Mouse


Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse's Statue in the plaza in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse's Statue in the plaza in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle


Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland

Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland

Having petted the goats in the petting zoo in Critter Country we got on the Indiana Jones Temple of the Forbidden Eye ride in Adventureland. Apparently the Mercedes-Benz truck on the way in was used in the Raiders of the Lost Ark film and on the ride itself we were on a similar truck as it raced around the temple bucking every way it can while things were thrown at or collapsed around us. Next door was the Jungle River Cruise which must be one of the oldest and corniest rides in the park as you sail past various vignettes of jungle action in a small river steamer.

A friendly goat on a barrel in the petting zoo in Critter Country

A friendly goat on a barrel in the petting zoo in Critter Country


Truck on the way into the Indiana Jones Adventure in Adventureland

Truck on the way into the Indiana Jones Adventure in Adventureland


View ashore from the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland - how old is this ride?

View ashore from the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland - how old is this ride?

We then moved into New Orleans Square and went into the Haunted House and took a ride on the Pirates of the Caribbean. By now it was getting dark and we had time for just one more adrenaline rush by climbing aboard the Splash Mountain log plume before the park closed.

Entering the Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square

Entering the Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square


Inside the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride in New Orleans Square

Inside the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride in New Orleans Square


The Splash Mountain log plume plunges  down towards the water - I'm the 2nd from the back

The Splash Mountain log plume plunges down towards the water - I'm the 2nd from the back

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in USA Tagged canals california theme_parks videos Comments (0)

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