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Detour via South Korea

in a Gangnam Style...


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Not originally in my list of places to visit, but after hearing a lot of positive things about South Korea, I decided to make a short detour to Seoul in order to join a few friends I had met along the way and discover the Korean culture. And indeed it was quite a nice surprise, at the exception of the weather with temperatures oscillating between a chilly 5 degrees Celsius during the day and a freezing -5 degrees at night... But with some good gloves and scarf, nothing is impossible.... :)

Although I did not spend too much time there (about two weeks more or less), I absolutely loved the Korean food, was pleasantly surprised about the kindness of Korean people (although their average English level is really not that good, even worse than France if I may say so...) and was really astonished by their culture in general. It would be too long to detail all the little things which made me like this country but I would definitely recommend a visit (maybe more during spring or autumn though, when the temperatures are more mild). I had very little time to visit the countryside but I heard there is lots of hiking to be done in the high season so I will definitely come back one day to explore the back-country.

Therefore here are a few pictures taken during these two weeks, between Seoul, the capital, and Jeonju, a smaller town in the South.

The Gyeongbok Palace, the former king's residency

The Gyeongbok Palace, the former king's residency


Another house from the Gyeongbok Palace's complex

Another house from the Gyeongbok Palace's complex


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The National Folk Museum, near the Gyeongbok Palace

The National Folk Museum, near the Gyeongbok Palace


Little detour via the fish market, near Noryangjin

Little detour via the fish market, near Noryangjin


Inside the Hanok (traditional) village in Jeonju

Inside the Hanok (traditional) village in Jeonju


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The traditional dish of Jeonju: Bibimbap. Rice, meat, vegetables, all mixed in a big bowl... Really good!

The traditional dish of Jeonju: Bibimbap. Rice, meat, vegetables, all mixed in a big bowl... Really good!


Having someone who can translate Korean definitely helps! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Having someone who can translate Korean definitely helps! ;)


Totems protecting the village (in ancient times)

Totems protecting the village (in ancient times)


In the Korean Folk Village, just outside Seoul

In the Korean Folk Village, just outside Seoul


My friend Bo-ok trying to fit into a Korean gama (litter vehicle)... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

My friend Bo-ok trying to fit into a Korean gama (litter vehicle)... :)


Horse show

Horse show


Seoul too has its tower with the Namsan Tower, overlooking the city

Seoul too has its tower with the Namsan Tower, overlooking the city


View from Namsan Tower

View from Namsan Tower


The toilets inside Namsan Tower, not bad... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

The toilets inside Namsan Tower, not bad... ;)


That's what I call some a nice restaurant BBQ!

That's what I call some a nice restaurant BBQ!


The side dish...

The side dish...


Seoul by night

Seoul by night


Obviously I couldn't come to Seoul without having a glance at that famous area from the Song! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Obviously I couldn't come to Seoul without having a glance at that famous area from the Song! :)


Seoul by night, near the canal

Seoul by night, near the canal


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Seoul by night

Seoul by night


A few month ago, my Korean friend had made me discover an amazing Korean pianist, quite famous here and maybe in the world, Yiruma. And by pure coincidence, I could assist to one of his "concerts" live in the subway, which was part of a promotional event organised by Sony Music. Definitely unexpected!

A few month ago, my Korean friend had made me discover an amazing Korean pianist, quite famous here and maybe in the world, Yiruma. And by pure coincidence, I could assist to one of his "concerts" live in the subway, which was part of a promotional event organised by Sony Music. Definitely unexpected!

Posted by manolo84 17:26 Archived in South Korea Tagged villages food cities palaces music english Comments (0)

Tramping in the Huxley Valley

Last post about New-Zealand....

sunny 20 °C
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Here we are, my last post about New-Zealand, which covers the last big trek I did with my friends. I think I pretty much went through all the major activities and events which occurred during these amazing 7 weeks spent in Kiwiland, and I could have stayed easily longer, if it wasn't for my bank account which was definitely crying by the time I left... New Zealand is amazing but definitely expensive when you are on a budget! :)

So that last week, I actually caught up with Thomi and his girlfriend Deborah, who I used to work with in London, but who had moved back to their home country a few years ago, in Dunedin. My other mate Seumas who was also back in NZ for some holidays joined us a day later after flying from London and Auckland, and soon enough we had our backpacks in Thomi's 4WD and were heading to the Huxley Valley to spend a few days tramping in that remote area. Having a local with you (and a car) is actually the best way to go off the beaten track, as we would see no tourists during the 3 days we spent hiking... Definitely like it should be!

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After leaving Dunedin early in the morning, we finally reached Monument Hut, our starting point by mid-afternoon, saving some time by driving with the 4WD as much as we could through some rough paths. From there, it took us at least 3 more hours walking along the valley to reach Huxley Forks Hut where we spent our first night. We were lucky to be the only ones in that hut as it could only accommodate 6 people max, so with another party we would have definitely packed.

In the early morning, during our breakfast time, we actually saw a helicopter flying low in the valley and coming right for our hut. The whole scene was a bit surreal and it felt like in a movie with the FBI agents going down and starting to run away from the helicopter. Fortunately the reality didn't really match my imagination and instead of FBI agents, it was simply some people who had been contracted by the Department of Conservation to clear the paths ahead of us. Still it was still an impressive scene for 8am!

That second day, we took off early morning, leaving our big bags in the hut as we were planning to come back later to spend a second night, and started to head off towards another hut, Brodrick Hut. It was a very steady climb, and unfortunately for us some landslides and floods had washed away the path, meaning that the quickest way was to follow the bed of the river, jumping from rocks to other rocks. Not that difficult but very unpleasant after a few hours as you need to remain concentrated to avoid twisting an ankle or just falling down. After having lunch at the hut and admiring the view of the surrounding mountains, we went back the same way, and spent our second night in Huxley Forks Hut. The weather was perfect and we would have loved spending the rest of the afternoon chilling out near the river or near the hut, if it weren't for all the sandflies which were definitely considering us like their dinner. I love New-Zealand but come on guys, do something about these bloody sandflies! They are definitely worse than mosquitoes in my opinion.

Finally the third day we started going back to where we had left the car, following the river and even crossing it quite a few times. Fun and refreshing experience! A few hours and a fish and chips later, we would find ourselves back in Dunedin, enjoying a well-deserved sleep. It was definitely the perfect way to end up my Kiwi experience, thanks a lot Thomi and Deborah for hosting and showing us around!

The next day would see me flying back to Auckland with Seumas and spending a few days at his parent's, enjoying the Auckland sunshine, before flying out to the final destination of my trip: Asia. Thanks a lot New Zealand, I really had an awesome time! And as would say my dear friend Arnold, "I'll be back" ! ;)

Thomi driving us to new adventures!

Thomi driving us to new adventures!


More waterfalls, can't get enough!

More waterfalls, can't get enough!


Amazing scenery...

Amazing scenery...


Seumas showing off on the swing bridge <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Seumas showing off on the swing bridge ;)


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That's what happens when you spend too much time in London, Seumas is so happy to be back in NZ that he's now making love to the trees... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

That's what happens when you spend too much time in London, Seumas is so happy to be back in NZ that he's now making love to the trees... ;)


Thomi wondering why he bothered taking his riffle :p

Thomi wondering why he bothered taking his riffle :p


The view from the hut, where we came from. Not bad hey!?

The view from the hut, where we came from. Not bad hey!?


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Couldn't do a trek without taking at least one shot from the stars!

Couldn't do a trek without taking at least one shot from the stars!


Stream crossing

Stream crossing


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The view from Brodrick hut

The view from Brodrick hut


Our amazing group

Our amazing group


Our hiking path that day...

Our hiking path that day...


And we're back to Huxley Forks hut

And we're back to Huxley Forks hut


Deborah enjoying some sunshine (and sandflies) near the river...

Deborah enjoying some sunshine (and sandflies) near the river...


A trekking trip wouldn't be complete without a bonfire

A trekking trip wouldn't be complete without a bonfire


On our way back the last day. I found myself trying to take a "shortcut"...

On our way back the last day. I found myself trying to take a "shortcut"...


New-Zealand rocks!

New-Zealand rocks!


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We decided to cross the rivers to save time

We decided to cross the rivers to save time


What a beard! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

What a beard! ;)


Another swing bridge

Another swing bridge


Freedom! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Freedom! :)


A young couple crossing the river, hand in hand, how lovely! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

A young couple crossing the river, hand in hand, how lovely! ;)


Weird shaped cloud

Weird shaped cloud


The team enjoying a well-deserved beer!

The team enjoying a well-deserved beer!


Back to Dunedin

Back to Dunedin

Posted by manolo84 09:04 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains rivers nature english treks Comments (3)

Scuba diving in Milford Sound


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I already mentioned it briefly in the last post, but today I am going to talk a bit more about Milford Sound, one of the most beautiful and famous fjords in New Zealand. Milford Sound (Māori: Piopiotahi) is a fjord in the south west of New Zealand's South Island, within Fiordland National Park (see last post's map). Some people even called it the eighth Wonder of the World...

Most of the tourists who come to this majestic place take a boat tour or a kayak trip, but this time I wanted to do things a bit differently and contacted a scuba diving school which offers a combination of the boat tour (to admire the fjord and waterfalls) and 2 x 40 minutes dives. The specificity of Milford Sound when diving is that you dive through a layer of blurry ice-cold fresh water, which is stained with tannins from the forest trees, and when you reach the clear salt water huge trees of rarely seen black coral greet you. When you exit the water, giant waterfalls surround the boat. I also wanted to experience diving in cold waters and Milford Sound didn't disappoint as the water was ranging between 13 degrees Celsius at the surface, with a minimum of 10 degrees around 26 meters, which was the maximum depth we reached that day. I can say that even with the two-piece 7mm wetsuit they provide you, you really start feeling cold after 20 minutes! But overall it was a truly a great experience.

Milford Sound... Truly majestic

Milford Sound... Truly majestic


View of the "harbour"

View of the "harbour"


When suddenly dolphins appear! Everyone on the boat got excited!

When suddenly dolphins appear! Everyone on the boat got excited!


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Nico jumping in the water to catch the dolphins <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Nico jumping in the water to catch the dolphins :)

Check at 0:25, the dolphins were really quick and hard to get on video!

Myself in the water, a few minutes later. © Descend Scubadiving

Myself in the water, a few minutes later. © Descend Scubadiving


Here are the legendary black corals. Milford Sound is one of the rare places in the world where we can admire them, because of the layer of fresh water which blocks the sun. Otherwise black corals are usually found at about 100m below the surface, too deep for recreational diving. © Descend Scubadiving

Here are the legendary black corals. Milford Sound is one of the rare places in the world where we can admire them, because of the layer of fresh water which blocks the sun. Otherwise black corals are usually found at about 100m below the surface, too deep for recreational diving. © Descend Scubadiving


Hello! - © N. Martens

Hello! - © N. Martens


© N. Martens

© N. Martens


© N. Martens

© N. Martens


A fish, can't remember the name... © N. Martens

A fish, can't remember the name... © N. Martens


Back on the boat, the captain gets really close to the waterfall. © Descend Scubadiving

Back on the boat, the captain gets really close to the waterfall. © Descend Scubadiving


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A colony of seals enjoying the rare sunshine

A colony of seals enjoying the rare sunshine


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Back to the harbour

Back to the harbour


On the way back, a Kea was playing on our car...

On the way back, a Kea was playing on our car...

Posted by manolo84 04:35 Archived in New Zealand Tagged diving fjords english Comments (1)

Whanganui River Trip


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In New Zealand, the DOC (Department of Conservation) which takes care of all the hiking trails, forests, huts, etc... have chosen 9 hiking trails and called them the 9 Great Walks of New Zealand. Most of these hikes take a few days to complete but however, one of them is not a hiking trail but a river trip, in the North island. Basically you pack in some waterproof bags whatever you need for 3 to 5 days, rent camping gear like tent and cooking tools, rent a canoe and you go down this amazing river called Whanganui, going through small rapids and very quiet sections.

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So when preparing my trip in New Zealand, I saw this "great walk" and decided that "yes, this sounds pretty awesome"!

Therefore just before New Years' Eve, my friend Daniela and myself took out on the river, with all our equipment in waterproof bags and barrels, on an indian canoe. The weather wasn't perfect as during the first two days we got washed out by the rain a few times but soon enough the sun came back to dry us out.

Instead of the 5 days circuit, we had opted for the 3 days option (you start lower down on the river) because of the timing and availabilities of the camping sites along the river, but still, this was an amazing and relaxing experience. We had really the feeling of becoming one with the nature...

The river is surrounded by some kind of cliffs, giving you the feeling of being in a small canyon. And the colours were so green... Simply surreal!

The river is surrounded by some kind of cliffs, giving you the feeling of being in a small canyon. And the colours were so green... Simply surreal!


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One of the several waterfalls we saw along the river

One of the several waterfalls we saw along the river


Stretching my legs...

Stretching my legs...


The Bridge To Nowhere

The Bridge To Nowhere


The last campsite, Tieke Kainga

The last campsite, Tieke Kainga


Our campsite the last day

Our campsite the last day


Preparing food

Preparing food


A possum (considered as a pest here in NZ) trying to steal our food...

A possum (considered as a pest here in NZ) trying to steal our food...


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Finally, here is a short video I took while on the river:

Posted by manolo84 23:50 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rivers english canoes Comments (0)

Looking for Bilbo and the Hobbits


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Being a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings (the books, the movies a bit less), I wasn't going to spend almost two months in New Zealand without seeing nothing of the movies stages, where some of the scenes were filmed, etc... And here in New Zealand, the Lord of the Rings and now the Hobbit trilogies are a big thing so throughout the country you will find countless tours to visit some of the movies location or buy the movies merchandising...
And probably one of the most impressive locations is where the hobbits village scenes were filmed, in a village called Hobbiton, near Rotorua, on the north island of New Zealand.

Actually after the first Lord of the Rings movies, most of the hobbits houses and other things which were part of the landscape got teared down and only rebuilt for the Hobbit movies a couple of years ago, in an agreement between Peter Jackson (the director of the movies) and the farmer's family who owned the property where the scenes were filmed.

Anyway now it has become a very successful attraction, with a LOT of tourists visiting every day, and a bit overpriced in my opinion (about 70$) for a couple of hours but it still allow me to take some great shots and to be honest, I was feeling a bit like a kid in Disneyland (though Disneyland never attracted me that much...).

The only disappointing thing was that I didn't get to see any real hobbits. And I swear I have looked everywhere! :)

Welcome to Hobbiton!

Welcome to Hobbiton!


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All the details have been thought about, even the very small hobbit clothes

All the details have been thought about, even the very small hobbit clothes


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Welcome to my humble house! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Welcome to my humble house! :)


The real Bilbo Baggins's hobbit hole!

The real Bilbo Baggins's hobbit hole!


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The massive oak tree in front of which Bilbo does his last speech before disappearing

The massive oak tree in front of which Bilbo does his last speech before disappearing


The Green Dragon's inn

The Green Dragon's inn


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Inside the Green Dragon's inn, some real ales...

Inside the Green Dragon's inn, some real ales...


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My friend Daniela and myself celebrating this rainy day with a hobbit ale <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

My friend Daniela and myself celebrating this rainy day with a hobbit ale :)


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Posted by manolo84 11:29 Archived in New Zealand Tagged english hobbits Comments (0)

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