A Travellerspoint blog

Blue Mountains, Blue Skies, and G-bye!

Katoomba

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View 2007 travels on travellen's travel map.

Sniff sniff.... today is my last day in Australia. This leg is officially over. Its been quite a journey, but alas, a fun and exciting one. Its crazy to think that I have been here for just about 5 weeks... I feel as if I've done and seen soooooooooooooooo much. Well, I have I guess! Being the short amount of time in each place, just about 3 weeks in Australia and just about 2 weeks in New Zealand, we packed it in as much as we could. And I'm leaving with a thirst for more. Both Aus and NZ are absolutely amazing countries and next time I will try to see more than the 2% I just saw. Sydney is an amazing city and I would love to live here one day (except its SUPER expensive to live). We'll see!

To back track a little, after being in Sydney for a couple of days, we were already itching to go back to mountains and fresh air (hmm... especially that we are leaving for Beijing in 2 days, so we need to maximize our fresh air time!). So here we are in Katoomba, or the Blue Mountains, just a 2 hour train ride from the city central.
We are staying here the night to give us some time to do the hikes that we wanted and to not rush back home again. So we opted to do the 3 Sisters Walk, which is a 4-hour "moderate" hike and the most beautiful. Here is me, "I feel alive!!"

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We had a good hike! It was beautiful and peaceful. But alas, lets just say after a little over 3 hours we were already headed back home on a paved road. I've caught a slight cold... okay, fine, I'm a little out of shape, so it was a little more strenuous than "moderate." The 3 Sisters view is famous for its Aboriginal spiritual significance, and yet, no where was it written what this was. Hmm.... a google search later I guess. But it really is amazing and awesome to see. Another part of our hike was to descend 900 VERY steep steps, and that eccentric loading left us quite shaky! So then we got lazy and took the Scenic Railway ("The Steepest Railway in the World") up the mountain versus climbing up 1200 steps. So yes, it was nice to be amongst nature again and smell (well, kinda. I'm a little congested) fresh air. The nicest part was it was a BEAUTIFUL sunny day, ahhh... gotta love the sunny skies! And of course the mountains are amazingly vast and gorgeous.

Since I'm leaving, here are a few final thoughts:

Highlights o Australia:
-THE OCEAN
-seeing the opera house en vivo
-the Sydney Aquarium
-scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef
-the Daintree rainforest and learning about unique flora and fauna
-seeing a dingo
-seeing whales and dolphines hanging out in the wild
-going to the pristine and beautiful Whitsunday islands
-Having a "no Worries" and "take it easy" attitude
-THE AMAZING people! Soooo nice and friendly!

  • Here is a link to my picts (no need to sign up or anything. Just click on "view photos):"

http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=15yjygum.7fuodyq2&x=0&y=55ojg5

Highlights o NZ:
-The amazing clouds. I know it sounds silly but they lay very low, and its no coincidence that New Zealand is also known as the "Land of the Long White Cloud." Its almost like the whip cream on an ice cream sundae with more cherries and sprinkles on top. But the cherries and sprinkles are snow-capped mountains and the sky.
-The pristine lakes and rivers. Yes, I said rivers. From those of you from Chicago, no, there are no dead bodies in the lakes or gross stuff like bandades and diapers, and yes you can see more than .002 inches in front of you!
-Learning about maori traditions
-Going BUNGYYYYY jumping! What a thrill and e-drenaline rush!
-Going skiing... in Sept... in NZ!!!!
-The diverse and ever-changing scenery. We were just in the South island and we saw everything from large mountains, lakes, the sea, glaciers, fiords, plainfields, to the ocean! Everything!
-Here is a link to my picts of NZ (same as before, just click on "view photos"):
http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=15yjygum.c2jmqbze&x=0&y=-vkb1xv

And finally, both countries:
1st, here's a not-so-exact map of where we were traveling:


2nd, getting into rugby! Especially the World Cup championship going on in Paris, France right now. New Zealand is the best team (called the All Blacks. They do this cool Haka dance before each game), however the Australian Wallabies are a close 2nd, followed by England and South Africa. We'll see what happens in Oct (if we can find a sports bar in China, that is! Wish us luck).

Speaking of, its that time - off to China!

p.s. And as always, here is the links to my travel partners for other perspectives:
Lauren (who has been with me around Australia and New Zealand. She has good pictures!): http://lauren.travellerspoint.com
Char (who is meeting us in China): http://thelasthurrah.travellerspoint.com

Posted by travellen 00:52 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Piopiotahi what?

Milford Sound fiords

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Yes, that is an example of the many names that I can barely spell, nevertheless pronounce. Ah... those Maori, always keeping us on our toes. Legend has it that Tu-te-raki-raki whanoa (try saying that 3 times fast), was an atua (or godly figure) and was given the task of shaping the Fiordland coast. He sang the powerful karakia (chant) and began attacking the towering rock walls with his adze (toki) called Te Hamo. As he moved further north, he perfected his work, creating long winding inlets where the waters would provide refuge from the stormy seas outside. Milford Sound (aka Piopiotahi) is said to be his finest sculpture. This is one of the many many examples we here on a daily basis about Maori legends. Its really interesting, but hard to spell and remember all these things (hence, reference to brochures helps)! :)

And yes, they spell fiords like that, not fjords how we spell it. :)

Lauren and I took our car through the Roads to Milford from Te Anau and saw absolutely stunning landscape before we even got to the fiords. You're probably bored of hearing me talk about the gorgeous scenery all the time, but really, it never ceases to amaze me.

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Appropriately called, Mirror Lakes! Isn't it gorgeous?!

So the fiordland was basically formed by a crack in the Australian and Pacific plates, and the Pacific plates is what is forming the Southern Alps. The reason I say "forming' in the present tense is because it is growing at a rate of 1 inch a year. Which at that rate will surpass the Himalayas (really!) but because of natural conditions like wind and rain, it kind of is hindering this process. At least this is something I think we heard. Anyway, millions of years ago ice formed glaciers and with time and warm climate, the glaciers kept on retreating and retreating till they advanced enough to form these sculpted rocks, or 'fiords.' So, I'm not a geologist so this was all news to me, but basically, fiord is an ice-carved valley and 'sound' (aka. 'Milford Sound') means something like a river valley flooded by the sea following a rise and/or fall of the land. The rocks were sooooooooo steep and Mitre Peak, the tallest fiord, is something like 1000+ meters!! And it is seriously straight-up vertical. We took a cruise ship up to the point where the sea merges with the Tasman Sea (we didn't get quite there, but close) and then back down again. Once again, its difficult to describe the beauty of it, it was absolutely majestic and amazing. Not just the fiords themselves, but also these cool waterfalls. They were many! Supposedly, depending on season, we could see everything from New Zealand fur seals (which we saw one), Fiordland Crested Penguins (one of the worlds rarest species, of course during the months between Oct and Dec), Blue penguins (the smallest penguins and only found in NZ and Australia), and bottlenose dolphins.

Here are some picts:

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See the tiny boat? That'll give you an idea on how HUGE they are!

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SUCH an amazing waterfall!!

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After this adventure, we drove the 4 hours back to Queenstown and today we took our 8-hour bus back to Christchurch, where I am now. Sniff sniff... we are leaving NZ tomorrow to go back to Sydney. The 12 days (which I can hardly believe) was AWESOME! We not only saw amazing landscape (here I go again), but we met REALLY cool travellers. I don't even know whats best about traveling, seeing all these amazing things, or the people you meet. Hmm...

Well, next entry will be back in Sydney! We have about 4 full days to do laundry, re-pack, and most importanly, rest and revamp before China! Eek!

Posted by travellen 22:58 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Skiing, glowworms, and more spectacular NZ!

Mt Cardrona (skiing), Te Anau (glowworms) and more!

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View 2007 travels on travellen's travel map.

I went skiing! Its September and I went skiing!! I loooooove it! After our bungy adventure, we were pooped the whole day (seriously!), BUT I was NOT going to let that stop me from going skiing the next day! Queenstown has 4 ski mountains around it and Mt Cardrona was supposedly one of the better ones! Besides Whistler-Blackcomb, Canada like 15 years ago, I have only skiied Colorado and Utah. So I was curious and excited to ski in New Zealand. Unfortunately, everyone and their moms were saying that the snow conditions were bad, it was too "spring," its a tiny mountain, blah blah. So I had SUPER SUPER low expectations going (was it going to be like Wilmont, WI?), and of course, it was nothing like what I heard. The mountain was actually fairly big (4 lifts, 30ish runs?), plenty of terrain, and pretty good snow conditions. Yes, it was a little hard-packed in the morning and a little slushy in the pm, but I was actually impressed with the mountain. It was sooooooooooooo beautiful though with the sunny skies!! The mountains are awesome and pretty with Lake Wanaka in the background. Lauren doesn't ski, so I was on my own. Me and mountain, ahhhhh. But actually, it was pretty peaceful because I needed some me time to soak everything in and digest all that I've done these last few weeks. You know how when you are just going and going and don't stop to think? Hellooo? I'm in NEW ZEALAND?!?! Everything has happened soooo quickly and its crazy for me to think that I've been gone just about 3 weeks! I've seen and done soooo much in both Australia and NZ. Its hard for me to even think that I will be gone for another 3 months!

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Anyhoo, so I had a wonderful, peaceful day on the mountain doing a sport I love. We chilled out that night because the last couple had been late nights! :)

Today we 'hired' a car, as they say here, to go to Te Anau and Milford Sound. For the 1st time in I don't even know how long, we could sleep in a little, and have a leisurely morning taking our time to drive up the BEAUTIFUL route to Te Anau, which in Maori means "caves with a current of swirling water." The actual town is pretty small but we took a catamaran through a tour group to go to Aurora Caves with the infamous Glowworms (which are only found in NZ and Australia), amongst the Fiordland National Park.

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It was pretty cool! We crouched and ducked our way through the cave, which was mysterious and amazing. The 'swirling water' as they called it, eroded the limestone and sandstone creating these awesome rock formations, waterfalls, and tunnels through which water was literally forcibly gushing out. But of course the highlight was the glowworms. Their 'tails,' or butts seriously do glow, and interestingly, when they are hungry they glow because the glow attracts insects and then they feast on them. We took this little boat and had to sit quiet (because the glow worms are sensitive to noise and would 'turn off' their glow) and in the pitch dark because they are also sensitive to light. That was REALLY cool... but also a little eerie and spooky. We seriously saw what looked like a sky full of stars (okay, butts of glowworms) less than a foot away from us. It was AWESOME! Lauren and I were reminded of our youthful days putting those glow-in-the dark stickers on our walls (QG, you still have them!). It was almost entrancing looking at them, and definitely ahh-mazing. Its too bad we couldn't take pictures because, yes, they flash would disturb them.

Oh, here's the cute cabin we stayed in Makarora (AMAZING starry night) and then our fellow Stray bus passengers:

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Soo.... NZ, if I hadn't said this sooo many times before, is jam packed with absolutely stunning and beautiful scenery. Everywhere you turn, there is something great to look at! Here are some example of the things you just "come across":

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Here's a funny quote to finish off...
"I wish I was a glowworm,
a glow worm's never glum.
'cos how can you be grumpy,
when the sun shines out of your bum!"

Haha! Cute, huh?

Posted by travellen 01:11 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

E-drenaline (BUNGYYYYY!!)

Nevis bungee jump (AJ Hackett), 134 m (440 ft) at Queenstown, NZ. 4th highest in the world!!

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Yes. Thats me. Yes, I too had to look at that pict again and again and realize that it is really me. Thanks to Lauren for the FANTAB photo! Okay, before I came to write this I had to sit and think of how to describe what I just did. Half of me is still speechless, the other half is awesomely excited... and still speechless!! Queenstown is known for its MANY MANY adrenaline activities. Going here, I knew I wanted to bungy. We talked to people and I was going back and forth between different 'jumps,' but alas, people said that Nevis, by AJ Hackett (pioneer of the bungy) was the BEST, the 4th largest jump IN THE WORLD (in case your curious this bridge in Colorado is the largest of 400 something meters, then Macau (near China and hmm... which we will happen to be at the end of Oct. Interested Char? :)), Nepal, and then here in NZ. So after our bus stopped at the Kamarora (sp) bridge (the first official bungy jump in the world)

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we were then shuttled into this room to see a video all about bungy. GREAT marketing ploy. I was already in, but they got Lauren too, who was adament that she was NOT going to do it. Next thing you know, with credit card in hand, we both purchased a jump for the next day. Eeek!! So we were nervous, but excited. That night we went to a pub to watch the All Blacks, New Zealand's MEGA rugby team (the reason I say MEGA is because they are expected to win the whole thing) play against Portugal. It was cool to finally get to see the Haka, the infamous dance they do before each tournament. The game was SUPER fun to watch, although I felt kinda bad for Portugal because they got crushed. And these NZ players are BEASTS if I ever saw anything. They make American footbal players look like ballerinas. Okay, thats a little farfetched, but you know what I mean.

Anyhoo, that was a little off track and random, but just to update you on our whereabouts. Back to the Bungy... we awoke and were ready to leave at 10am for the jump. They were super organized and after 15 min. of anxiously waiting to get onto the shuttle to take us there, we had another 45 minutes to anxiously get to the Bungy site. The bus was pretty quiet. Nerves were high. BUT as soon as we saw the High Wire station in between the canyons, everyone got all excited. We stepped off the bus and immediately got into the harness. Then we were weighed (cord strength). This High Wire was suspended in the middle of the canyon and there was this mini, 6 people, very mini 'gondola' that whisked you to the High Wire.

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This whole time it was definitely exciting, but it still was like, "okay, I can do this" with my heart pounding only slightly. See, I've done bungy before, but it was something like 14-15 years ago off a bridge in Costa Rica. QG... you know what I'm talking about. But although it was awesome I had a little snafu and somewhat embarassing experience, but I put that behind me! hehe! So I had to redeem myself with this MEGA jump.

Anyway, it probably wasn't until we got into the station and looked down into the canyon and river that I really thought "HOLY S***!!!!!! What the *** am I doing?!?!?!" Up until then, I think I was calm? So you are in this little space and get to watch people leap out and jump, which is kinda fun, but your blood pressure is slowly creeping up each time someone goes off and you know you can't be too far away. I was getting more and more anxious. You get started with these snug vest straps (umm... is it tight enough? "sure sure" says the person helping you. Hmm...)

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then they come to you and put on these ankle harnesses. Blood pressure goes up even more. They go by weight, and before I knew it I hear "Ellen! Its your turn!" Thats when my heart really starting pounding out of my chest. They sit you in this cushion seat while they strap your feet into these ankle harness and he is giving a whirlwind of instructions.

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Basically, its cooler (and looks better!) to swan dive off the bridge, and when you get to the bottom and on your 1st swing up, pull horizontal on this cord by your feet and that releases the ankle and you are sitting up. Much more comf, but the hanging from your feet is fine too... and blah blah. By then my head was cloudy and I could hardly breathe. Everything just happened sooo quickly! Soo then they are like, "okay, lets go!" So you literally have to shuffle your way to this little edge, and thats when I almost had a heart attack.

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That was probably the scariest part because then its really you... and nothing in front. As you can see from the pict, I was totally gripping the guy like "i'm going to fall out!" haha! Yes, even though I was just about to jump. So oh my gawwdd... i just can't describe the next feelings. It was just absolutely crazy. Almost shock-like. I was almost shaking, my heart was pounding, and next thing I hear is "3..... 2..... (oh my gaawwwddddd)..... 1!" Then everything just let go and I JUMPED! I did the swan dive (which, under the circumstances actually turned out okay!) and.... screamed like no tomorrow! Here is the pict again...

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AUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! The canyon surrounding me... seeing the river coming closer and closer...... AUUUUGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! I screamed some more. Then the bounce.... bounce up.... "WHHOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!" Back down again... a bit slower "AUUUUUGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!" Then back up again "WHHHOOOOOOOAAAA!!!!!!!!!" Then I tried to get the stupid thing off my ankle to release it into a sitting position. I was tugging and tugging, and alas, I couldn't get it. So then... and by the way, Lauren and I both strapped our camera's onto our wrists and video taped this. Lauren's is AWESOME and I know she will post it. She did a good job of getting herself. Mine is mostly scenary but I will still try to post it. So I'm hanging there hanging by my feet and then they start pullling me up. It was SOOOOO AMAZING to be literally in the middle of this canyon, by yourself, hanging from a rope. Nothing around you! But yes, it still felt good to be pulled up and get on my feet. When I got back up.... I literally almost couldn't stand my legs were shaking so bad.

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From being upside down I was teary and flushed, and just... shaking from excitement. As you see, I had to grip the handrail because I almost fell over my legs were shaking so bad. It was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO cool and AMAZING and SUCH an adrenaline rush. The fall itself isn't that crazy. Wait, who am I kidding? It is CRAZY, but honestly, the HARDEST and most SCARIEST part was scooting to the ledge, looking at nothing around you, and just jumping. There are even NO words to describe it! Even now thinking about it I am almost shaking. I can't believe I did it! Lauren was several people behind me and she was like "are you okay?!?!" after I "surfaced" because I was all red and barely cool stand up again.... and of course my face was mega still flushed and teary. And it continued like that for a little bit. Oh my gawwdd... WHAT AN EXPERIENCE!!!!!! I'm hooked now!! Maybe I'll go again DOUBLE the distance (SERIOUSLY, this was 134 meters, or 440 ft into NOTHING) and in Macau its double that! Although I almost had a heart attack, it was sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo worth it and I recommend it to ANYONE! It is an experience you will never forget, and just thinking about it I almost get the shakes... but from excitement!!!!!! And it was a TOTAL E-drenaline rush!! Hahahah!

YEAAAAA!!!! And QG, nothing happened to me this time and I TOTALLY thought of you and wish you were with me! :-)

Posted by travellen 21:09 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Wet n' Wild at the Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier hike

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Hikes, walks, why not climb a glacier? Lucky for us, there just happens to be a glacier right here in NZ. Unlucky for us, it was raining and wet the whole day, BUT it was still wildly beautiful!

New Zealand is a land o mystery because there is just sooo much diverse landscape and scenery in such a small space. I just can't get enough of it!! One day you are in the forest, the next amongst glaciers, the next amongst mountains and lakes - its soo amazing! Well, after our un-intended day in Greymouth we finally caught up with the Stray bus to head over to Franz Glacier. Stray bus is a hop-on, hop-off type thing (there are other companies such as Kiwi Experience, which is pretty popular, etc). So since its 'winter' here, its slow season so on the bus there are just about 11ish people. With this bus, there is a set route and you pretty much can come and go as you please to places. Since we are on a tight schedule, it worked out the best for us (although we have had some 'wasted' days) to do something like this. Plus, we are always up and ready to meet new people. They people on our bus did turn out to be pretty nice, which is cool. The bus ride to Franz Glacier was beautiful and we passed through many mountains and beautiful crystal clear lakes. Since we are such a small bus, our driver was pretty cool and relaxed with us taking our time to take picts, etc. So all was fine and dandy UNTIL we started approaching Franz G, it just started raining. And raining. And raining. Umm.. it pretty much rained 48 hours straight and all the time we were there. What a bummer! Anyway, we arrived safe and sound, headed to this local restaurant/bar convienently called "Monsoon" with the slogan, "when it rains, we pour." We had a nice dinner and met some nice people (Irish, which is becoming our theme here), and had a good time. We called it an early night because we were doing a 6 hour climb up the glacier that next day.

We awoke to... what else? Cloudy skies. Would it rain? Who knew? We went to the store and got climbing boots, ice spikes, wool socks and gloves, hat, and gortex pants and jackets. I guess that pretty much said what kind of day it would be, cold and rainy. They shuttled us to the glacier and the minute, seriously, the minute we stepped off the bus it started raining and didn't stop till the next day. Trying to keep spirits up, people were still staying positive ("its going to be beautiful!)." We had about a 1/2 hour walk to get to the base of the glacier, then we put on our spikes and off we went! Lauren and I went on the "slower" group... reason being that 1. We didn't want to rush and have the time to enjoy and take picts, and #2. We were already behind with the short 1/2 hour hike! So the glacier hike was a quite a hike, and quite rigorous. We climbed and climbed,

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and walked through these 'steps' made by the guides and/or 'glacier men,' as I liked to call them (Franz Josef employees) who were nicely perched at the top of a little climb looking down at us as we huffed and puffed up these steep steps. Early on we had decided to tough it out and do the full day hike because the 1/2 day you had a nice view, but as you climbed further, the glaciers were more pristine and you could see more scenery. And it was true! The coolest part was literally squeezing ourself through these tunnels that was probably just about a foot wide where you had to place one foot in front of the other and kind of shuffle your way through it.

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Then here's me ... are we there yet?
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If you tried to bring your other leg over, it wouldn't make it. With my broad shoulders, I really had to squeeze my way through (or was it the awesome meals I have been eating lately? ha ha!). That was pretty cool though. The ice blue was amazingly beautiful, as was the view from top. Since it was raining and cold, we literally scarfed down our lunches in about 5 minutes, and off we went again. Here is a pict of me at the top:

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And yes, the ice pick was a prop (he he!). All and all, I admit it was a damper with the rain and although the way back I thought would go by quickly, it dragged on. I was soaking wet. When I mean wet, I literally had to wring out my socks and my gloves when we got back. BUT, yes - it was REALLY cool to be climbing a glacier and it was really beautiful! Yes, I'm not going to lie, seeing all the brochures with the sunny sky and people hiking in their shorts was appealing, but still. It was an amazing experience and I loved the exercise (although I was sore the next couple of days. Too bad although I did a 1/2 ironman just 6ish weeks ago, I'm already out of shape!) :)

Later on that night we went to the same bar and had a REALLY great time because we kept on running into people that we knew, people from the hostel, people from the night before, our roommate, people from our bus. It was kinda fun that we brought all these people together!

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Posted by travellen 20:39 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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