Movement outdoors in New Zealand is limited to immediate neighbourhood, supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations.
We are in the village of Rangataua in the Central North Island – famous for carrots, hiking and skiing when the snow obliges.
This is a chance to get to know this small place that normally looks unoccupied but now, as we are all similarly confined within a small area, looks a lot busier – well now we do actually meet other people (at a safe distance) when out for a walk, unlike any other time I have been here.
In addition, this is a chance to explore an area within a radius of about 5km of Rangataua in all weather and during all hours of the day.
During NZ’s Level 3 & 4 lockdowns there is simply no other option.
Interesting to note that the local dogs have now stopped barking at us, we could be almost ‘local’ ourselves now.
Now that I have retired my schedule is clear for explorations beyond travel photos on vacations.
Despite living in Hong Kong for 20 years I have struggled to produce work that interests me – incredible as that may seem in such a dynamic city.
Initially I explored the shore at Cape D’aguilar(see further below) to see what I could find – interesting but a bit of a hike there and back.
Lei Yue Mun
I have been curious for a while about a place called ‘Junk Bay’. I had no idea what I would see other than shoreline – the walk part turned out to be quite manageable – through Lei Yue Mun, past a temple and revealed a popular undeveloped spot(hopefully it will remain so) near a long abandoned quarry that is linked to some important buildings in Hong Kong(including the original Bank of China and Legco and probably many more).
The site overlooks the eastern entry into Victoria Harbour.
It’s a favourite for people who enjoy fishing, watching ships, flying drones, romantic walks and taking selfies.
I can wander around for hours, take photos, watch passing ships and fishermen trying their luck(or just sitting holding a rod, who can tell) and be almost totally ignored while I explore the remains of the quarry.
Our route was Beijing to Moscow, however, we used local trains all the way with 2 deviations – on Lake Baikal we took the Circum Baikal train(local not tourist), visited Listvyanka, Olkhon Island and later Tomsk which required a small deviation from the main line.
In all 11 train ‘legs’ with a couple of nights at each stop.
Total trip from Hong Kong to Helsinki was 52 days and entirely by train between Beijing and Tallin with a few buses where unavoidable around Lake Baikal area.
From Beijing for a considerable discount compared to the ‘Trans Siberian Train’ route we took 2 local trains – first stop Jining, then to Erenhot/Erlian where we crossed the border to Outer Mongolia.
A short stop for a rest in a hotel at Jining resulted in the hotel losing a China Id card which had to be either replaced or retrieved before we could leave China. Luckily the manager found it in the photo-copier the next day!
Then delivered by scheduled bus driver to us and delay was limited to 24 hours. Otherwise 4+ days to replace.
Our journey essentially followed the Trans Siberian train route but instead of the actual Trans Siberian we used local trains from Beijing to Moscow. The East-West route is busy so no issues booking a train.
If you book these directly yourself on PRD website you will save money, avoiding the numerous agents who claim to simplify the process – latter is unclear but they sure charge a lot more.
First stop in Russia was Sludyanka on Lake Baikal.
Another tip – this is typically the beginning of the circum baikal train – now don’t get the idea it goes all round the Lake, this is a small circum only. From Sludyanka to Port Baikal and then by bus/boat to Irkutsk or Listvyanka.
You have a choice here – paying a lot for the tourist train or taking the local train at a fraction of the cost. We took the latter, it has to be booked at the station which we did the day before departure. We scored a lake side window seat without any issues when boarding.
This is complicated by the fact that the various trains do not run daily so some advance checking is required(hotels can confirm). The tourist train is occasionally pulled by a steam engine – if you like soot with your sandwiches – see below.
Not one of THE tourist spots but it has it’s charms and definite character. Lifestyle harks back to earlier times and simpler pleasures from before the smartphone invasion.
It pays to carefully check the location of accommodation to ensure you are on lake side of the station, if not you have to lug bags over an overpass that crosses the rails. OK if bags are not heavy.
Circum Baikal Train
On the local train we did pass the tourist train heading in the other direction, there is more tourist guiding in Russian on the tourist train but we did not miss it.
The lake freezes in winter, a peak visitor period, leaving across lake driving or skating as the only way to travel on the surface between towns – to assist during the winter period road signs are actually installed on the ice.
When the ice is still partly frozen the only method available is by hovercraft.
We were here in the summer so no problems.
After the train and the speedboat across the lake we enjoyed a stay in Listvyanka before catching bus to Irkutsk.
This is Siberia and not a high end tourist location. Just Russians enjoying time on Lake Baikal with a few Chinese tourists thrown in. Russians, however, have a lingering concern that China may eventually try to take Lake Baikal for themselves.
The lake is formed by a rift in the earth surface which is still moving – result is many earthquakes per year. If you are on the ice and a little unlucky an earthquake may fracture the ice you are on and send you to the bottom, up to 1,600 metres down, along with any vehicles.
At the time we did our Lake Baikal trip there was no direct method to get from Listvyanka to Olkhon Island, this may have changed. So we had to travel by bus from Listvyanka to Irtkutsk and from there to Olkhon Island.
There was a public bus, which looked quite rusty from the outside and multiple other buses which looked a lot more presentable. We took the latter.
Olkhon Island is unusual and fairly devoid of any obvious special attractions. You can take a Russian 4WD to the northern end of the island, have a simple picnic, explore a little on foot and return to Khuzhir where accommodation is OK though the town is quite basic, seems to be built on sand and lacks any paved roads and so on.
There are a few wrecks in the dock, reminiscent of Listvyanka.
The island is a centre of Shamanism and regarded as one of the polar centres for shamanic energy. This means there are many legends around the islands caves etc and more visibly people tie coloured cloth to trees and rocks. I imagine a bit of this is about ‘I was here’ but I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
Our restaurant exploration in Russia began quite unexpectedly here in Khuzhir on a very cold day while seeking a warm place for a break and a coffee close to the dock. The restaurant was ‘Kofeynya Port Ol’khon’. On checking the menu we were impressed – this led to a very nice meal, the first clue on our trip that Russians enjoy good restaurants in unexpected, even shabby, places.
The cape is a ride on the No. 9 bus from Shau Kei Wan then a 1 hour walk from the Cape D’Aguilar bus stop – it doesn’t stop here on every trip so it is important to check before boarding.
On weekends you can buy some local dessert part of the way but they usually run out of my favourite tofu by the time I get there.
The walk reaches the cape at the, now unoccupied, research station. Along side is the skeleton of a Killer Whale “Ho Wai” who performed at Ocean Park – there are other theories about this skeleton also.
Either way ‘she’ is a bit worse for wear, has had a few repairs by the look of her bones, and looks like she will crumble to nothing before too long.
You will likely have to put up with insta-grammer’s leaping around in front of things having their photos taken if you go on a weekend.
The sea breezes can make this a very pleasant spot even at the height of summer – you just need to get close to the cape to feel the benefit.
I love rocks and water, some wood thrown in is a bonus.
This month long trip took us from the high altitudes of Bolivia – Uyuni and its salt lakes across the Atacama Desert and then down to Chile, Buenos Aires and finally the ultimate goal – Patagonia for trekking, challenging weather and hopefully some photography.
I was not happy in Bolivia – a combination of long travel time from Hong Kong(54 hours), struggling with altitude(up to 5,000 metres), low temperatures, very average food and so on.
I picked up in time to enjoy the mountains of Patagonia from El Chalten, El Calafate to Torres Del Paine – see South America Part 2
(see featured image above – the Atacama desert squeezed into a 4X4)
I wasn’t going to include the dry Salt Lakes near Uyuni here as even HSBC Hong Kong has a large one on the Pacific Place branch wall. But – ah well – here goes another salt lake photo.
The tour guide livened it up a bit by doing silhouettes, setting up photos of plastic dinosaurs chasing the tour group into a Pringles container etc etc.
After a fascinating city walk, which on the day happened to focus on Political and Economic aspects of Argentine history, the mural below seemed to sum it all up for me.
And while the barricades around the Pink House (Casa Rosada) now have openings for visitors to stroll through the police vans and water cannon are parked obviously nearby – a reminder. The openings in the barriers were not that large and could clearly be closed off quickly at any time.
Something I had not previously realised about the Grandmothers of Plaza Mayo who regularly gather near Casa Rosada(water cannon against grannies?) is that the scarf they sometimes wear and their symbol is a baby’s nappy – the nappy worn by the missing child. A perfect symbol but the ‘disappeared’ sadly remain mostly missing.
Much is made of the Recoleta Cemetery and Evita’s tomb but what struck me instead was in the midst of impressive monuments to the formerly rich, powerful and famous were obvious signs of decay and neglect including exposed caskets, some monuments being used as rubbish receptacles and caved in roofs.
Maybe the later generations did not care for Grandad/Grandma, an old crumbling tomb, or maybe the family fortunes had taken a turn for the worse ….
Christmas Day in Ushuaia – most of the shops were closed for the day. We heard of a famous bakery in Tolhuin. We arrived to find they were doing a great trade – take a number and get in line …. it also seemed to be the social centre of town with photos of large fish from the lake proudly displayed. Our number is called – fresh bread, cakes and Churros to enjoy in the sun by the lake(with the inevitable Patagonian wind blasts of course).
Tolhuin Volunteer Fire Brigade – would hope their equipment was in better condition than the building. The bumpy pot holed road between their base and downtown Tolhuin indicated a rapid response was unlikely.
Back to Ushaia for Boxing Day and a chance to explore the Tierra del Fuego National Park close to the Chilean Border.
Ushaia with its snow, wind and grey white capped sea looked to me rather like the entrance to Hades and this was summer!
The park was a welcome change – sheltered and slightly warmer on the day. But a tough environment softened by flowers and grasses in the sun.