A Travellerspoint blog


Some reflections from home base.

rain 12 °C


It is difficult, on looking back, not to make some comparison between the main holiday in New Zealand and our stops before and after in Brunei. However, let me first put across some of my pertinent thoughts on New Zealand:
• A country slightly larger than the UK but with a population of roughly 4 million people; it is therefore sparsely populated when compared to that of the UK with roughly 65 million. While driving on some routes we often went for miles without seeing a car. The extremities of the country - north of the North Island and south of the South Island - are very sparsely populated. Being composed of two elongated islands which stretch between the parallels 35 and 47 it has a more temperate climate than Australia with parts subtropical and some of it closer to that of the UK. Having said that there are areas of it much drier and others much wetter.
• Physically the country has some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen – high jagged snow-peaked mountains, vast tracts of rolling pasture land, manicured vineyards as far as the eye could see, hills clothed in variegated forests lush and green to where they met the sea, and, of course, the beaches – some with the dark volcanic sand, others with pure white sand washed with breakers that are magnets for the keen surfers.
• The prime income for New Zealand was agriculture but this has now been overtaken by tourism. People from all over the world visit but most tourists come from the U.K. France & Germany, Malaysia, China, Australia and Japan.
• The availability of space and the sparse population has led to a tendency to build bungalow-styled houses (apart from city centres). There are few brick buildings and, because of the easy access to wood, most are weatherboard or a composite. I’m led to believe that one of the other reasons for this low-style housing is the treat of earthquakes; the western side of the country is on a major fault line.
• With such attractive and varied scenery throughout the islands there is no wonder that the people love outdoor sports and life. Many take every advantage in their spare time to take part in some of the great range of outdoor activities and lead a healthy lifestyle. Because of the physical layout of the islands one is never far from a beach or from hills and mountains. With the abundance of water, mountains, rolling hills, wildlife and breathtaking scenery it is a paradise for those interested in any aspect of outdoor sports. General sports facilities are of a high standard throughout the country. On the few occasions we played tennis or golf we were surprised at what was available and their easy access. For example we played a round of golf in the park in the centre of Christchurch where the fairways and greens were well maintained and also of a good standard for an inner city public course; on two occasions we played tennis, again in Christchurch, where there were 16 courts (grass, hard-court and astro turf – some floodlit). One evening we were playing tennis when it was just getting dark; a couple of members put on the floodlights for us and waited around until we were finished to turn them off again. I also found it very easy to cycle round the town and cities; cycling is encouraged and there are ample cycle lanes and tracks. It is compulsory to wear a helmet while cycling.
• The people and cultures: N. Zealand is a multicultural society combining old and new cultures. The Maori are fiercely proud of their origins and culture; there is much greater recognition of it now than in previous years. The national museums provide an illustrious and graphic account of their history accompanied with a great variety of artefacts. With immigration over recent years there is a growing influence of Chinese and Malaysian cultures making an impact on the population.
• The people are friendly, polite, warm and welcoming; they are very easy to talk to and helpful, often going out of their way to be so. They generally have an open, optimistic attitude towards life and seem to enjoy it to the full. I saw little evidence of crime or violence and litter and graffiti were rare. This seemed indicative of a sense of national pride in their country. Everything pointed to it being an ideal country to start a new life and one which provides opportunities and a safe environment for bringing up a family.
• As you can see from the above I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in New Zealand but would have loved more time to visit and explore all the places I didn’t get to. Maybe a further trip needs to be arranged.......

I cannot finish with saying a few words about Brunei, our stopover visits before and after New Zealand:
• Brunei is a small country on the island of Borneo. It is surrounded by and split in two by Sarawak (part of Malaysia).
• Just situated north of the equator, it has an equatorial climate with temperatures of 32 – 40 degrees Celsius. The best time of the day to do any energetic activity is early morning or late evening; avoiding direct sunlight from 10:00am to about 4:00pm is preferable. Most homes, all shops, offices and commercial buildings have air conditioning. When we were out and about during the day we tended to shop-hop in an attempt to keep cool.
• The country is oil and gas rich, making it the richest country in the world per capita, bearing in mind the population of the whole country is less than 500,000. Every family has, at least, one car and there are no personal or land taxes. The health care system is of a high standard and is free to all nationals.
• The Sultan is the ruler of the country and the government is formed by him. He is looked upon with respect and seems to be a popular ruler. Though his own palace and accessories are luxurious, there are many examples of his philanthropy and generosity. Education and sport are well provided for within the country. The standard of education is high and there are financial incentives for students to achieve high grades; high achievers complete their university education in the U.K. The sports facilities we saw, particularly on the outskirts of BSB (the capital) catered for a wide range of sports and were all of a high standard throughout.
• Brunei is a strong Muslim country where mosques are plentiful throughout. Alcohol is illegal, though it is accessible in some hotels; gambling is also against the law. Crime is rare and people seem to be generally honest. On one occasion when Catherine left her handbag (with her passport and purse in it) in a taxi, the taxi driver phoned the hotel at which we were staying and they in turn contacted us to let us know that the handbag was found and in safe keeping at our hotel. Would that happen in London?
• I found Brunei a very interesting country to visit and one which made clear to me the influence financial resources have on the standard of living of its population. It’s a country I would like to visit again in about five year’s time to see if the continued thirst for materialism will have any impact on the culture and religion of its people.

Posted by JShevlin 15:37 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Final Days in Brunei

Our last fling before the long haul home.

semi-overcast 34 °C

Wednesday 17.3
St Patrick’s Day and not an Irish pub in sight! We’d booked a trip to the rain forest for today so we were up and on the road by 7:20 and headed to the jetty where we caught a water taxi up the river to Temburong. We were back in another minibus from there for a short journey to river point where we embarked a longboat – so called because it is like an elongated canoe with an outboard motor; it is specifically suited to shallow waters. We went up river against the flow but at speed; when we came to rapids he cut the engine and raised the motor. After about two and a half hours of the different modes of transport we finally arrived at our destination – Ulu Ulu – deep in the jungle. Where we stopped was a resource centre for tourists; it was well facilitated since it was so far from the nearest village. There was over a kilometre of covered walkway between the different buildings. After a brief refreshment we were on our way again; this time trekking upwards – 385 metres to be precise towards the base of the scaffolding structure leading to the walkway overlooking the jungle canopy. We were exhausted when we reached the base due both to the steepness of the climb and the slippery roots we had to clamber over. A quick rest, then we climbed up the 45 metre scaffolding on to the walkway; the views that awaited us were fantastic. However it wasn’t a climb for anyone with any fear of heights! We had the same journey back down; this time the slippery slopes and tree roots proved even more hazardous and my feet went from under me a few times. On reaching the resource centre there was a welcome hot meal and drinks waiting for us; before we ate Thomas and I were so hot that we had a refreshing dip in the river. After a leisurely meal we completed the rest of our journey and were thoroughly exhausted and stiff by the time we reached BSB. We were all ready for a massage which we had, followed by an early night. However Thomas was intrigued by the alcohol room on the second floor of the hotel so we went there to check it out – same scene as the previous night with a few different customers!

Thursday 18.3
As we had golf booked for today at the Empire Golf and Country Club we were up early, packed and checked out, ready for Amy, our taxi driver, to take us there at 8:15. We had previously arranged to leave our luggage in the pro shop at the clubhouse. It was a real pleasure to play on the course as it was well maintained, watered and the surrounding scenery of water-lilly ponds, sea views and lush greenery. It was only golf course I have ever seen with floodlighting – including all the fairways. We hired all the golf equipment from the pro shop. The heat was not a major problem early in the morning but as the day progressed we got through quite a lot of water; temperatures reached 35 degrees combined with fairly high humidity. The layout of the second nine was particularly well planned with the backdrop of the sea and jungle foliage. I especially liked the 15th though I had a nasty fright on it: Catherine and Thomas had played good 2nd shots towards the green whilst mine went wayward right into the jungle. I was searching the edge of the thick undergrowth when Thomas let a yell; I stopped dead in my tracks as he quickly explained what he just saw – a snake slithered out of the undergrowth, grabbed a lizard and slithered back in with it in its mouth. Needless to say, I declared my ball lost ....and lost the hole! However I did redeem myself on the 18th (stroke index 1) with a par. The luxurious showers, Jacuzzi, sauna and plunge pools were relished after the round. We felt pampered in the clubhouse as there was many more staff than customers who were eager to see to all our needs. Following a leisurely snack lunch Amy’s husband - Winston (our taxi driver) - was waiting to take us to the airport. Winston had an opinion about everything and shared them with us all the way to the terminal; it was difficult to get a word in edgeways, apart from a sound of agreement or otherwise. Some redistribution of case contents, for weight reasons, and we were ready for our final check-in for our flight home. We were there in plenty of time and the check-in plus security only took minutes, as opposed to other airports, so we lots of time on our hands. We tried, in vain, to get into the VIP lounge; we applied on-line while waiting, and got accepted; however they wouldn’t accept our basic membership; apparently we needed a minimum silver membership before we were eligible for access. Instead we browsed the airport shops and spent the last of our Brunei dollars. We were ready to board when it was announced that the flight would be delayed for 45 minutes because of operational reasons. We finally got on board and managed to get seating by the emergency exit so we had extra leg-room. It was a long flight – 15 hours –plus a 40 minute refuelling stop in Dubai; there was only enough time to disembark, go through security and get back on again. I didn’t see the point of the whole security process again; it would have been more logical to just hold us in a secure room while the plane was refuelling. With the help of a sleeping tablet I slept for a couple of hours and dozed for a further two. The pilot managed to make p most of the lost time and we landed at Heathrow at 6:45, greeted by typical UK weather – grey skies and drizzle!

Posted by JShevlin 14:21 Archived in Brunei Comments (0)

Brunei Revisited

Four days, three nights stop-over on our return journey to UK

sunny 33 °C

Monday 15.3
Brunei was, as usual, hot (36 degrees C) and the only way to keep cool was to shop hop – dash from one air-conditioned place to another. BSB has plenty of shops; in fact for the population of the country (less than 500,000) it has so many that many seem to do very little business. There was lots of staff in the department stores and shops but virtually no customers; it was hard to see how they subsist. We had a buffet meal back at the hotel – an extensive range of Malaysian and Indonesian dishes. Walking round the area after the meal, we were surprised at the numerous sports stadiums catering for many different sports including football, baseball, hockey, athletics, swimming, diving and squash. All the facilities were well maintained but seemed underused.

Tuesday 16.3
‘Was awoken at 5:00 by prayer singing further down the hotel corridor; two rooms had been allocated (one for males and the other for females) for Surea (Muslim Prayer). I had noticed a row of shoes outside them the previous night. After a leisurely breakfast (chatting to other hotel guests) we got a shuttle to the city centre and browsed the shops. Catherine & I had Thai massages –really invigorating and felt refreshed after it. We took a taxi out to the Empire Hotel (about 15 km outside the city) for afternoon tea. The hotel is owned by the Sultan and is luxurious; it is self contained with its own shops, cinema, theatre, beach and floodlit golf course. The tea was well presented. We had a browse around the shops there and a look at the golf course. The latte was so inviting that we booked a round for Thursday (our last day in Brunei). Back at our own hotel, after a Chinese meal on the way, Catherine & Thomas had an early night while I went to the second floor where I heard from one of the other guests that alcohol was served there. I walked down the corridor of the second floor looking for this place in vain; then heard some loud laughter and many voices from behind one of the doors; I knocked and was invited in. It had all the appearance of a Speakeasy from the early US prohibition – lots of people smoking in a cloudy smoke-filled room, beer and whiskey on sale, a group playing cards and another playing pool. I had a can of beer but didn’t stay long as I didn’t find the atmosphere social and disliked the smoke.

Posted by JShevlin 04:03 Archived in Brunei Comments (0)

Wellington, Ackland and back to Brunei

Farewell to N Zealand

semi-overcast 36 °C

Sunday 14.3
'Packed in preparation for my flight to Auckland where I planned to meet up again with Catherine and Thomas. As my flight was not until 2:00 pm I had time on my hands so took a stroll round the Botanic Gardens; it was ideal as the skies were clear blue and it was a lovely day for a walk. The 25 hectares of gardens are well planned out around a steep hill with many dells. It has developed a lot since it was first set up in the early 1800’s; it now boasts an observatory and planetarium (now closed for refurbishment), and observation tree house, ornamental rose garden an outdoor auditorium and the usual facilities (cafes, restaurants, and play areas for children. It also has a cable car from the top which takes you to the centre of the city; I decided to take the table car down –quite an historic one, or rather two. Although they both shared the same line they had a passing area half way down. I walked along the waterfront; lot of people out and about – running/jogging, skateboarding, strolling, having a coffee, fishing or just admiring the sea and waves. There was an art exhibition on in the Michael Fowler Building which I went to view – it was put on by the artist in residency who was there himself to talk about his paintings. They were abstract style and expensive. I made my way back to the cable car and caught it to the top. I strolled back through the Botanic Gardens but I realised I was running sort of time before getting picked up by the airport shuttle so had to rush and just reached the hotel in time where the shuttle was waiting for me. I caught the flight to Auckland and met up with Catherine & Thomas. We left our luggage in storage and got a bus into the city. The driver advised us to take the ferry from where he dropped us to Davenport, which we did. It was a twelve minute crossing giving us a great view of Auckland from the bay. Davenport is a sleepy colonial town on a peninsula in the bay. We had a walk around and a meal before we returned. With time on our hands before our check-in at 2:00am next morning, we went to see a film, made our way back to the airport and killed some time. It was a tedious process as security checks did not start until 3:30; we boarded at 4:40 and though we had a smooth flight I found it difficult to sleep on the plane. A shuttle was waiting to take us to our hotel where we showered and freshened up. Though tired we decided not to sleep and go into Bandar Seri Bagawan (BSB), the main city of Brunei on the hotel shuttle. We planned to stay over in Brunei for the next three days.

Posted by JShevlin 08:34 Archived in Brunei Comments (0)


The buzzing capital.

semi-overcast 18 °C

Saturday 13.3
Woke up to better weather than yesterday and after a late continental breakfast I walked down to the parliament buildings (the main one is called the beehive because of its architectural shape resembling a beehive) and was just in time for a free tour round them. Although parliament was not in session the tour was informative showing how similar the N Zealand system is to that in the UK; the main difference seemed to be their lack of the House of Representatives (like the UK’s House of Lords) which they abolished in 1951. It was interesting how they made the building earthquake-proof; it took a lot of expensive reconstruction but was necessary as they are so close to a major fault line. The reconstruction means that the whole of the foundations are now pliable when an earthquake occurs; each of the exterior and interior walls has been reinforced to strengthen them. I walked down to the harbour and along the waterfront, noticing the headlines on some of the newspapers in the early morning stands “Tornado Wreaks Havoc”. I did hear someone say that the storm had been that strong; on reading further I learned that the wind had increased to 130 km p/h, the temperature dropped 10 degrees in less than 15 minutes and many buildings had suffered damage. I hadn’t realized the storm had been that strong. I walked to the end of the bay and started to climb Mt Victoria with the aim of reaching the lookout point at the top. It was quite a steep climb - over 200 metres above sea level but I had planned to take the bus back down by the main road. When I reached the top it was well worth it as there were spectacular views in all directions. When I checked the bus timetable for my return trip down it showed that the weekend services were suspended. On the way back to the hotel through the city I noticed the popularity of people riding on skate boards – all ages. Many seem to just do it for the thrill, while others seem to use it as their normal mode of travel. I saw some people drive to the waterfront, park their cars, take their skateboards from the boots and skate away. Though tired after all the walking (about 8km) I had a brief glance at the front of the Botanic Gardens – colourful displays of varieties of begonias and impatiens. After a short nap and freshen up I went down the city to an Irish bar for a few drinks. I was chatting to a young mechanic from out of city who was with is girlfriend and a group of friends. The bartenders requested IDs of any looking under 25 whilst the majority of them paying for drinks did so by credit card – little cash was passed across the counter. As I found it difficult to converse over the noise of the live band, I moved on to a second Irish bar – even more crowded than the first and a real party atmosphere in it. I thought that drinks were expensive in the first bar but they were even more expensive here. Courtney Place is well renowned in Wellington for an area where the nightlife is buzzing and it certainly lived up to its reputation.

Posted by JShevlin 07:55 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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