Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

January 2009

PoliticalTuesday, January 20th, 2009, (11:48 pm)

“You never know what you’re history is going to be like until long after you’re gone.”

Former president Bush said that back in 2006, and doesn’t it feel great to call him former President Bush. You kind of get the feeling that the entire world has breathed a collective sigh of relief now that Bush is gone. Lets just hope that the damage he has done is repairable.

I watched President Obama’s Inauguration along with millions across the world. He’s got a tough road ahead of him. His country, and indeed the world is in something of a shambles at the moment. I’m not suggesting he can fix it all, but you would have to admit that the President of the United States is uniquely placed to exert a great deal of influence. I for one feel better that there is now a man of considerable intellect in charge of the USA, rather than some trigger happy pseudo Texan.

So as we say goodbye to George ‘Dubya’ Bush, it seems only fitting that we send him off by looking back on some of the wisdom he shared with us.

“Will the highways on the internets become more few?”

“It’s important for us to explain to our nation that life is important. It’s not only life of babies, but it’s life of children living in, you know, the dark dungeons of the Internet.”

“Most imports are from outside of the country”

“Security is the essential roadblock to achieving the road map to peace.”

“Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?”

“They want the federal government controlling Social Security like it’s some kind of federal program.”

“One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures.”

“It’s clearly a budget. It’s got a lot of numbers in it.”

And finally, showing what a true Statesman he was, I especially love the question he put to the Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso in November, 2001. “Do you have blacks too?”

Oh how we’ll miss insightful gems like that.

[Video] The best of the Bushisms
[Video] President Bush on his regrets and mistakes
[Video] 8 years in 8 minutes
[Video] Playboy TV launch ‘No More Bush’ month
The Complete Bushisms compiled by Jacob Weisberg
Shoe thrown at President Bush
Hair removal company say “Goodbye Bush” in cheeky ad
Veet say Goodbye Bush

Photography and TravelSaturday, January 10th, 2009, (9:54 pm)

I’ve been trying to get to Australia for years, but for one reason or another I’ve never actually managed to find my way to the land of down under. Now though, at long last, I was finally in the country that many have told me I would fall in love with, I was at last in Australia.

Sydney, Australia.

My time in Australia was to be a lot shorter than I would have liked. A country that most travelers spend months in, I was visiting for just one week. With such limited time the choice of where to spend my time was an obvious one. It had to be Sydney.

As one of the most illustrious cities in the world Sydney has to be on your list of places you simply must see. It seems to lie back and bask in the sun in a way that only an Australian city could. Unruffled by the throng of the business that is done within it’s towering office blocks, Sydney stands among its peers with it’s top button undone and hair stylishly messy.

The view from the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylon lookout


I was ‘couch surfing‘ while in Australia, that’s to say I didn’t stay in some forgettable budget hotel or hostel, but instead I was a guest in the homes of people who were kind enough to lend a traveller their couch and maybe a little of their time too.

It was the first time I’d ever ‘couch surfed’ anywhere after I joined the couch surfing website back in November. After making a few requests to stay on various couches (or spare rooms) just a few days before, three people offered to open their homes to me. I accepted two of these invitations.

I arrived at my first host’s apartment around 6pm. She welcomed me by saying she already had the kettle on for a cup of tea. “You’re an Englishman after all.” She told me, and a nice cup of tea is indeed a warm welcome for an Englishman on his travels. It didn’t take long before Kate’s welcome made me feel right at home in her apartment in Sydney, and “Wow!” I thought to myself, “I’m in Sydney!”

The couch surfing community in Sydney is quite extensive, so I was very quickly introduced to other hosts and surfers, an instant social group where travel is our commonality. Before long friendships were forming and plans to do stuff together were being hatched. Despite traveling alone, it soon became clear that there was no way I would be lonely.

The couch surfers I met while in Sydney.


Heading into the city for the first time I made my way to Circular Quay and Sydney’s iconic Opera House, one of the worlds most recognizable buildings. The place was thick with tourists slowly wandering around, posing for happy vacation pictures, looking at maps, and watching street performers. The sound of techno-enhanced didgeridoo music filled the air along with the constant drone of voices and footsteps.

I wandered slowly toward the Opera House, there was no hurry and I wanted to enjoy this introduction to such an unmistakable landmark. It was stunning, even more impressive up close than it was from afar. Covered in gleaming white and beige tiles I had to reach out and touch it, to claim the moment, like setting a flag in the ground after a voyage to an uncharted place. Millions of others have been here of course, but this was my first moment to stand beside this great building, this was my true arrival in Australia.

The iconic Sydney Opera House.


The next day I made my way back into the city. Without a map or an agenda I meandered along enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face and the carefree pace of my stroll. I took a bus across the Harbour Bridge then made my way back across it on foot, stopping at the Pylon to take in the view across the harbour on this beautiful day.

I jumped a water taxi just for the ride, then wandered over to the Royal Botanical Gardens where I sat on the grass and watched a small plane write the words “Call Mum” in smoke against a clear blue sky. Had it not been the middle of the night back in the UK I would have done just that.

As I sat there a man wandered past who looked very familiar to me. It looked like Fabian the Spaniard whom I had met back in Aitutaki. Surely this couldn’t be, I thought to myself, after all what would be the chances of such a meeting in a city of four and a half million people, not to mention the fact that we had previously met one another on a South Pacific lagoon island more than 3000 miles away! Sure enough though, it was indeed Fabian. We laughed about the coincidence then met up with my new couch surfing host, Lisa, for some dinner and a couple of beers.

A selection of the photographs I took while walking around Sydney.


After taking a helicopter flight over Wellington in New Zealand, I’d developed a taste for the rush of helicopter flying, so I couldn’t resist the chance to take to the skies over Sydney Harbour in another helicopter.

As a kid I used to watch the 1970’s Australian TV show ‘Chopper Squad,’ in which guys with funny accents flew around the Sydney beaches in a Surf Rescue helicopter rescuing girls in bikinis. Back then I was more interested in the helicopter than the girls in bikinis, though over time I developed a keen appreciation for the latter. I never lost my interest in helicopters though, and I couldn’t help but feel an echo of my wide eyed boyhood excitement as here I was – in Sydney, about to fly over those very beaches in a blue helicopter not unlike the one I watched on TV all those years ago.

My 9:30am tour flight took place in near perfect conditions. The sky was clear and the air was still, even the pilot himself said that we had chanced upon the best moment to take such a flight.

Sitting up front next to pilot as the noise of the rotor blades increased made me feel once more like I was the host of some TV travel show. These tours aren’t cheap but they’re worth every penny. Seeing the harbour, the Opera House, and the beaches from this unique perspective is priceless and the sheer thrill of the experience once again left me grinning from ear to ear.

A helicopter ride over Sydney, Australia.

Sydney, Australia.

Back on solid ground I met up with fellow couch surfer, Dirk, and a local whom we had met a couple of days before called Lisa. She was friends with my host, also called Lisa, and had kindly agreed to play tour guide for the day.

We jumped a ferry over to the Aquarium where we saw everything from crocodiles to dugongs, and anemones to sharks. Then we took another ferry over to Manly Beach where we felt decidedly over dressed as we watched surfers inexhaustibly ride the waves.

Rushing back into the city for sunset we made our way to the observation deck of the Sydney Tower just in time to see the sky turn red as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon. Then as darkness fell over the city it changed again like a chameleon adapting to its new surroundings.

Manly Beach, Sydney : Where men are men, and sharks are spoilt for choice!

Sydney at night from the Sydney Tower.


Away from Sydney I took off to the Sunshine Coast and a small beach town called Coolum, where I stayed with some friends of friends. Phil, Cathy, their kids and their friends were typically Australians, laid back and friendly, making me feel like one of the family within no time.

I spent much of my time there just relaxing and taking a few deep breathes after what had been a surprisingly tiring travel schedule. I did, however, visit the colorful Eumundi Market at Noosa which reminded me of London’s Camden Market, or Portland’s Saturday Market. I also trekked up Mount Coolum with Cathy and the gang of kids, walked along the beaches avoiding the long stinger threads of bluebottle jellyfish that had become stranded by the tide, and of course joined the family on a surfing trip.

But no trip to Australia would be complete without seeing it’s world famous wildlife, and I was lucky enough to see just that starting with a fair few encounters of wild kangaroos, then a rare sighting of a koala in the trees.

Pictures from Coolum on the Sunshine Coast.

From Coolum I was scheduled to fly back to Sydney to catch a connection onto my next and final stop in Hong Kong. But Lisa, my second couch surfing host in Sydney, had suggested that I should join her for those last few hours in Australia rather than spend them in the airport terminal.


It turned out to be an inspired idea that gave me the opportunity to see the bright colors of Bondi Beach. Here the day was getting off to a slow beginning after what I’m quite sure had been a long night for all those who were now looking at the day through dark glasses and the haze of a late morning start.

Knowing that time would be limited Lisa had prepared a picnic and even made me a cake ahead of my birthday the following day. It was without a doubt a great way to spend my last few hours in Australia.

Bondi Beach.


Australia had been calling my name for years. People told me that I would fall in love with this country and that if I came here I would never leave. In another life that might well have been true, but as I sat there in the airport with my onward plane ticket in my hand, I was indeed leaving Australia.

It was a brief encounter, arresting like the striking smile of a passing stranger. Each of those moments felt like déjà vu, as if Australia and I had history we weren’t aware of, or maybe a history that’s yet to come.

So while this was the end of my time in Australia I couldn’t help but feel that maybe this was really just the beginning, and that while it is indeed on the other side of the world, Australia is not as far as it once was.

[Video] Sydney Skies- Circular Quay
Long Way Home : New Zealand
Long Way Home : The Cook Islands
Long Way Home : California USA
Long Way Home : The route

Photography and TravelSaturday, January 3rd, 2009, (4:12 pm)

After the tropical paradise of Aitutaki the ‘Long Way Home’ was set for a total change of pace. Greeted at the airport by the smiling faces of my great friends Phil and Kerry-anne, the feel of the trip changed in an instant. The Cook Islands quickly felt like ‘back then’ and America felt like a distant memory, now I was on the other side of the world and in New Zealand.

Wellington cable car, New Zealand

Phil and Kerry-anne moved from the UK to New Zealand in May, a bold life-changing decision less than a year after they were married. Phil was born in New Zealand but hadn’t returned to his mother country since he was a young child, and Kerry-anne had never even seen this side of the world until the day they arrived in Wellington on the North Island to begin their new life here! However, they quickly settled here and it didn’t take long to see why the pair of them spoke so highly of their new home.

Wellington, New Zealand


I spent the first couple of days hanging out with Phil and visiting various sites around Wellington. Dressed for the summer weather and drinking a fruit smoothie I kept forgetting that it was Christmas as we wandered into the city past sun-bathers on the sandy beaches that reach out into the crystal clear harbour. It felt bizarre to me to see carol singers in shorts and t-shirts, shops with Christmas themed windows, and decorated Christmas trees baking under the summer blue sky.

Expensive looking homes seemed to sit precariously close to one another on the impossibly steep hills that overlook the city, looking dangerously like they would all fall into the harbor if their was even the slightest earth tremor. However, New Zealand is no stranger to earthquakes and tremors here aren’t at all uncommon.

Not far from Phil and Kerry-anne’s apartment there are the beaches of Lyall Bay where we went looking for colorful Paua shells and where surfers were riding the waves. Just walking here made me realise that Phil and Kerry-anne were never likely to return to the UK for more than a visit, after all, why would they?

Flying over Wellington in a helicopter

Day two of the New Zealand trip featured a definite highlight in the form of a helicopter tour over Wellington. Neither Phil or I had been in a helicopter before and as the weather was clear we decided it was the ideal opportunity to give it a go.

It was a perfect ‘boys toys’ moment for the pair of us! I got such a rush of excitement as we left the ground and took to the skies over the city. The sound of the Robinson R44‘s engine was wonderfully loud and as we swept over the hills surrounding Wellington with the pilot pointing out the various sites, I felt like I was the host on one of those TV travel shows you watch with envious eyes. Long after we had landed I was still buzzing from the thrill of the ride.

Christmas day in New Zealand

On Christmas day, after unwrapping gifts at the apartment and making various phone calls to family back in the UK, we headed off to friends of Phil and Kerry-anne’s for a beautiful Christmas brunch complete with Christmas crackers and paper crowns! I could have stayed there all day but Phil had meticulously planned an incredible whirlwind tour of the North Island which we needed to get underway.

On open roads we made our way through the beautiful rolling countryside to Lake Taupo, the largest fresh water lake in Australasia. Our accommodation for most of the trip was going to be Phil’s new tent, but for this night he had booked a suite at a hotel next to the lake.


Kerry-anne, being a true Merseyside girl, was elated to find a complimentary bottle of local wine in the room. Unfortunately I will remember that wine as being without a doubt the foulest tasting nastiness that ever bore the name wine, but as we said at the time, it was a nice gesture on the part of the hotel.

Christmas day at Lake Tapau

On the evening of Christmas day the three of us went for a walk along the lakeside. The lady who ran the hotel had told us to wade a little way into the water on the shore of the lake then dig our feet down a little to feel warmth of underwater hydrothermal activity. The water was ice cold, but sure enough, as we dug our feet a little way into the pebbles we found hot water.

We stood there for ages, yelping like small children as we felt the hot water hit the soles of our feet. Then as the sun began to set and the three of us sat on the banks of the lake and watched as the sky as it turned the most amazing shades or red and orange.

A black swan on Lake Tapau at sunset

The next day we jumped back into the car and began another long day of driving, heading to Waitomo and so see the glowworm caves and our first night in the tent.


As a passenger in the car I was privy to witness how Kerry-anne assists Phil with his driving. She helps Phil find the optimum driving method by repeadetdly advising him to “slow down, slow down, slow down, slow down!!” She also dutifully assists Phil by pointing out each and every single speed limit sign and saying that limit out loud in a clear manner so as there can be no misunderstanding. This is then often followed quickly with another helpful “slow down, slow down” instruction. Sadly Kerry-anne’s assistance doesn’t include map reading or any useful navigational aid, but without her loving assistance Phil would surely be nothing short of a menace on the roads of New Zealand.

However, on this road-trip Kerry-anne was unable to fully assist Phil due to the fact that she was in the back seat of the vehicle. Because of this Phil was completely unable to read any and all road signs and therefore unfortunately drove a little to fast at one point which caught the attention of a nearby police officer who then pulled us over and issued Phil with his first New Zealand speeding ticket. Needless to say Kerry-anne was extremely sorry that she failed to prevent this from happening, but from that moment on she increased her helpful driving assistance from the back seat which I could tell Phil really appreciated.

Kerry-anne was pissed at Phil getting a speeding ticket


Upon arriving in Waitomo I’d like to say that I helped Phil put the tent up. However, that simply wouldn’t be true. I did offer to help, but as I stood there holding tent poles and pegs I felt a little bit like I do whenever I watch someone work on my car which works entirely by magic as far as I’m concerned.

It’s fair to say that I am not really a camping kind of guy, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the experience. I’m just waiting for the invention of the self erecting tent that comes complete with heating, a hot tub, wifi internet, maid service, a restaurant and a comfortable bed. But until that time the tent we had was great.

The glowworm caves were amazing, but there was no photography allowed and no point even trying as there was insufficient light. In near total darkness we we’re taken through the caves on a small boat. Looking up at the hundreds of thousands of glowworms was amazing because they looked exactly like a starry night sky.

Carved maori faces at Te Puia

The next stop was Rotarua, famous for it’s geothermal activity, erupting geysers, bubbling hot mud pools and thermal springs. The place is something of a tourist hotspot and has earned the rather cynical nickname of ‘RotaVegas’ as a result. Here the air is thick with the pungent smell of sulphur due to vast amount of thermal activity in the area.

The Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley is the thinnest point of the earths crust, and there we visited Te Puia, The New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. A guide told us about Maori history and culture as we walked through the cultural centre where people were weaving and carving traditional Maori art. We also saw bubbling mud pools and watched Pohutu, their most famous geyser, spectacularly erupt sending steaming hot water high into the air.


That evening we went to the Mitai Maori Village where we ate a great feast and enjoyed a display of Maori culture. While there I was made a Chief of the ‘visiting tribe’ of tourists. I didn’t think this would involve anything much until our guide informed me that I must take this seriously because I was going to have to meet their tribal Chief and make a speech in front of everyone! Phil said that at this point I looked more nervous then than I did when I had to give my best man speech as his wedding!

In the end it was a fun experience and I thoroughly enjoyed being a visiting Chief. Once again I felt like the host on some TV travel show as I had to take part in the Powhiri (Maori welcome) ceremony. A Maori warrior did a Haka intimidation dance in front of me whereupon I had to accept a peace offering before meeting the Chief, giving my speech and doing the Hongi, a traditional greeting where you touch noses.

After that I just enjoyed the rest of the evenings events and lapped up all the attention of being ‘Chief Simon,’ a title which I think I shall keep, though I won’t require any further Hongi greetings!


Phil’s meticulously planned non-stop whirlwind tour allowed us the luxury of a hotel in Rotorua and after breakfast the next morning all three of us were booked in at the famous Polynesian Spa where we chilled out in their hot mineral spas and had treatments. I had a Rotorua Mud Detoxifying Body Wrap which involved being wrapped up like a Fajita in warm mud for a while – a pretty weird experience, but you know how it is… “When in Rome…”

The rain, which Kerry-anne doesn’t want to believe falls in New Zealand, caught up with us at Mt Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty. From there our next stop was a town called Whakatane which is rather comically pronounced “fuk-a-taane.’ Being a comical kind of fellow I made a few wise cracks about it sounding like a fun place, that was until I found out that Tanne is the Maori word for men! After that I made a few jokes about needing to find a place called Whakawahine, Wahini being the Maori word for women. However I’ve since discovered that whakawahine is a Maori male to female transgender, so I am no longer going to even try and make any Maori language jokes.


At Ohope Bay I cast a message in a bottle into the Bay of Plenty with the romantic notion that it might make a fantastic journey to somewhere exotic. However, against the rain and incoming tide the bottle had little chance of going anywhere, and sure enough 2 days later, almost exactly where I threw it into the bay, Andrea Deane found the bottle and reported its rather pitiful journey to me via email.

Leaving the rain behind us we took to the notoriously winding roads once more and threaded our way through misty forest roads and on to Napier, New Zealand’s wine country.

Road Trip

We spent New Years Eve in Napier and even visited the beach for the last evening of the year, a novel experience given that back in the UK this would almost certainly be a biting cold day.

After a particularly late night I wasn’t overly excited to hear the alarm go off at the crack of dawn, but Phil and I had agreed to get up at that time to watch the worlds first sunrise of 2009. It was worth it though, and something of a buzz to know we were greeting the first dawn of 2009 before anyone else in the world.

Later that day, as we drove back to Wellington I have to admit I felt a little blue. My time in New Zealand was drawing to a close as was my time with my friends whom I probably won’t see again for quite some time.


Our road-trip was amazing. Phil had single handedly organized the packed itinerary with his only demand on me being nothing more than my presence. He drove every mile of the journey and made sure that we were happy and entertained the entire time. Every day was exhaustively packed with things to do and places to see, much of which I haven’t touched on here.

The next day at the airport I was sad to be leaving. But as one chapter of the Long Way Home was ending so another was about to begin. Having travelled to the other side of the globe my next location on the trip would be a country I have dreamed of visiting for many many years. The next stop would be Australia.

[Video] The message in a bottle
[Video] Putting up the tent
Long Way Home : The Cook Islands
Long Way Home : California USA
Long Way Home : The route

GeneralThursday, January 1st, 2009, (10:00 am)

I was among the first people in the world to welcome the new year here in Napier, New Zealand’s wine country, thirteen hours ahead of the UK. It seems quite strange to be enjoying the hot summer sunshine while getting ready to see in the new year, but I could get used to this.
(Click the picture above to see a larger version.)

May you all enjoy a quite brilliant 2009!