Published: August 7th 2007April 19th 2007
Wow, I can’t believe it has been a month and a half here in Australia already. I’ve covered a lot of ground and it is time to get you all up to date on things here in the land down under.
Things started off in Melbourne in Victoria. I flew in on the 1st of March and got set up in this monstrosity of a hostel. It is supposed to be the biggest hostel in Australia and was not the best place, but it was close to town and had a free transfer from the airport so I stayed. I set out right away looking for a car (again!) and found that it wasn’t quite as easy as in New Zealand. It ended up taking me a while to finally line up a car but it all worked out in the end.
So, in between running around looking at different cars I checked out the town and some of the events going on while I was there. My first chance to get out and see things was a visit down to St. Kilda with Harry, a friend of a friend from work. He showed me around the area which was like
a funkier version of Pacific Beach to me and then we had some great Vietnamese food. The next day I walked over to the Italian district on Ligon St. where the city was sponsoring an anniversary celebration for Ferrari as a build up to the Formula 1 Grand Prix later that month. They had over 60 Ferraris ranging across all the years there and also set up a small track where they ran one of the Ferrari Grand Prix cars. The city police put a limit of 60km/h on the car which was a joke so it was funny watching the driver trying to keep a car that normally goes 200+ mph at somewhere around 40mph. The rest of my time in the city I checked out the Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton Gardens, Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Museum, Federation Square and around the Yarra River, the Ian Potter Center which was a great art gallery, the Shrine of Remembrance, the Royal Botanical Gardens, the casino, and many other sights within the city. I went to a couple different festivals around the Yarra River and other areas while I was there also.
By my second weekend in Australia I had still not
managed to line up a car so I rented a car with two Germans and drove west along the coast along the Great Ocean Road. Our first stop was Bells Beach which is the home of one of the great surf competitions on the pro tour. The waves were small that day so there wasn’t too much to check out so we continued on. Next we stopped at a place called Kennett River where we saw koalas in the trees just off the road. We also saw an echidna crossing the road. Seeing these animals around really makes you realize you are in a completely different world down here. From here we headed over to the 12 Apostles rock formations where we enjoyed a great sunset. We camped close by that night.
The next day we headed up to the Grampians State Park. On the way up we dropped off one of the two traveling with us and then drove up to the park. The Grampians is a really cool park with some great rock formations, views, waterfalls and wildlife. We spent the day driving through the park stopping at several of the lookouts and waterfalls
along the way as
well as an Aboriginal cultural center inside the park. After leaving the park we drove the five or so hours to Adelaide in South Australia. The drive takes you through the southern tip of the outback and gives you and idea of what lies north of you. There were not too many towns and some amazing but desolate landscape.
Because I needed to get back to Melbourne so that I could finish up getting a car and get over to Sydney I was only able to spend 2 days in Adelaide and Southern Australia which is really a shame. I wanted to get over to Kangaroo Island to look around and to see the area where my brother Sean had studied Australia Sea lions but it was too expensive and not something I could do in the short period of time there. So, I ended up looking around Adelaide and really enjoyed my time there. On the first day I headed up to the Mt. Lofty Summit lookout above the city and also to the Cleland Wildlife Park. I spent most of the afternoon walking around and right up to the wildlife they had at this little park. I was
able to get right up to wallabies, kangaroos, emus, and bandicoots and see koalas, wombats, Tasmanian devils, dingoes and several types of the tropical birds they have here in Australia. It was a great little park and was set up really well. After the park I headed down to the beach area of Glenelg which is just outside of downtown. It was a great beach area with everything from shops to food to camels (yup, camel rides on the beach). On my second day I walked around the city and saw the Adelaide Botanical Gardens, Adelaide University, South Australian Museum which had some great Aboriginal exhibits, the Parliament houses, Victoria Square, and many other sites. That evening I did something I swore I would never do again and got on a bus for a 15 hour overnight ride back to Melbourne.
Back in Melbourne I spent a few days finally getting a car set up and walking around to some of the few remaining places I hadn’t seen such as the Queen Victory Market. Once the car was finally set up I drove down south east of Melbourne to Wilsons Promontory National Park and spent a day driving and hiking
around there. There were some great beaches to go swimming at and some cool lookouts. I camped in the park that night and got up early the next morning to start the very long drive on the South Gippsland and Princes Highways up to Sydney where I got set up in a nice little hostel in Glebe.
The next day Brittany flew in to join me for a month. On our first day we headed to the Sydney Aquarium and around the Queen Victory Building area in town. The next day we walked to the Sydney Fish Market on our way into the city to meet a friend of mine that I had met in New Zealand, Sam. We walked around Hyde Park and over to the Australian Museum which was not too interesting but had a great photo exhibit they were showing. After some great sushi and Sam’s favorite place we headed down to Circular Quay. On this day they were celebrating the 75th anniversary of the bay bridge so we took in some of the events and checked out the Sydney Opera House and Bay Bridge. That night we joined a “ghost” tour of the Rocks area. The
tour was a mix of history and information on the region which was the area where Sydney was first started and also spoke of several buildings where hauntings happened. We saw a lot of the back streets and some digs of historical areas that were going on and got some great history on the start of Sydney but did not see any ghosts. It was a very interesting tour none the less. The next day we checked out the Museum of Contemporary Arts and more of the Rocks area. On our fourth day we took the ferry out to Manly Beach. The ferry ride gives you a great view of the harbor as you head out past the Opera House and away from the Bay Bridge. We hung out on the beach and did a little swimming where I got a nice introduction to the Blue-bottle jelly fish when one stung me across the neck. It was only a mild burn for a half hour or so and I’ll take that over some of the “killer” jelly fish they have further north any day.
The next two days we spent out in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The Blue
Mountains are just an hour outside of Sydney but seem much further away. The Gum Trees in the area have oil in them that creates a blue haze over the area that gives the area the name. We stopped at Glenbrook on our way out to the mountains where we stopped at a park and saw some Eastern Gray Kangaroos and a goanna. From there we continued on to Wentworth Falls and then on to Katoomba. In Katoomba we went to a place called Scenic World. For some reason the Australians have this thing with calling everything “so and so” world and this place falls into that category. Although cool to check it is really only a collection of trails, lookouts and some gondolas and rail cars. It does boast the steepest ride in the world which of coarse we had to go on. The track is part of the old mine system that was set up there and was used to haul personnel and supplies. We rode this down to the bottom of the valley and walked around the forest there. We saw the Three Sisters rock formation which is very popular as well as the Katoomba Falls and
then road back up in the gondola. Our last stop of the day was the lookout above the Three Sisters which gives you a good idea of the amazing scenery and beauty of the area. We camped in the car that night and then got up early in the morning and headed out to the Jenolan Caves. The caves are a group of amazing limestone caves that are up to 360 million years old which makes them the oldest in the world (at least that is what they told us). The prices were steep for just walking through a cave so we only went into one, but the rooms and rock formations that were in this cave were absolutely amazing. After the caves we headed back to Sydney stopping at Katoomba again on our way back.
After the Blue Mountains we spent another day hanging out in Sydney. We went back over to Circular Quay and saw the Sydney Opera House on a guided tour. The architecture of the place both inside and out is rather amazing. After this we walked over to Bay Bridge and went up into one of the towers. From here we had a great view
of the whole bay and got some great pictures of Sydney. From here we headed out to Bondi Beach and enjoyed some time on the beach and even a little (and I mean little) surf.
We had finally seen enough of Sydney so we started heading north. On our way out of town the first day we stopped at a koala park where they had, you guessed it, koalas as well as other animals. We were able to pet the kangaroos and wallabies and got to pet a koala. Yes, they are as soft as they look. We also saw some dingoes, several types of birds including the large, flightless Cassowary, and wombats. After this we moved on up the coast to the town of Newcastle and then on to Nelson Bay. We had an interesting night in Nelson Bay when a storm with heavy rains and winds came through right after we had booked ourselves into a cool little campsite with large tents for rooms. Our tent withstood the rain with only minor leaking and we had a good night.
The next looked around the Nelson Bay area in the rain and started up north again. On our way
up the coast we took a detour to see Ellenborough Falls which is Australia’s tallest single drop waterfall at 160m. The road to get out to the falls was a rough one and we had our first up close (and almost too close) experience with kangaroos on the road but the falls were really amazing and worth the drive. Once we made it back to paved roads we headed to Port Macquarie to look around a bit and check the surf. The surf wasn’t too good so we headed up to Coffs Harbor for the evening.
I surfed at Coffs Harbor the next morning and enjoyed some fun clean waves with one other guy out. After the surf we started up the coast again. We didn’t make it very far before we ran into our first of many “big” things. The Australians have a thing for making “the Big _____”. In this case it was the Big Banana on the way out of Coffs Harbor. Here you can get a ride through a banana grove, have banana whatever, go on banana rides, etc. We did get some really cheap bananas that were really good and a good smoothie.
fun at the Big Banana we headed up to Byron Bay and checked into our rather interesting home for the next few days in the Arts Factory Lodge. I wouldn’t be the first person to say that it isn’t really a lodge. It’s more like a hippy commune gone amuck but it was fun to stay in. I’m glad we weren’t camping there though because, as my friend Dave described it, it looked like a refugee camp with tents on top of tents. We found ourselves in a very interesting canvass hut that sat on stilts just above a pond. The bush turkeys, magpies, and other birds got a little annoying when they would wake you up at 6am going nuts in the trees but all in all it was fun.
The main reason for our stop in Byron was so that I could surf as it is well known for its surfing. I met up with Dave whom I had met at Raglan in New Zealand. Dave showed me around the different places to surf and we had a great time surfing 2-3 times a day at Belongil, The Wreck, Tallows, Broken Head, and Ballina. The water was warm,
the surf was never below chest high, and the winds were always offshore somewhere. It was some of the most enjoyable surf I’ve had in a long time and I wish I could have stayed there a lot longer. Outside of surfing we checked out the city, enjoyed the beach and took a great walk up to the light house and to the most eastern point on the Australian main land. After 5 days it was time to head though and so we continued up north.
On our drive north from Byron we left New South Wales and headed into Queensland. Our first stop was Coolangatta and more specifically Snapper Rocks for more surf. The surf beaches along Coolangatta have some of the best surf in Australia when the conditions are right. There are days when the swell connects through two or three breaks to make what they call the Superbank where guys get 1 km long and longer waves. It wasn’t anything like this when I went out at Snapper but was still good. On top of this I saw the most amazing level of surfing I had ever seen. There were several amazing surfers in the water and
it was great just to watch them. I managed to get a few waves myself but had more fun just watching. After some time on the beach and in the water we headed up to madness that is Surfers Paradise. This is Australia’s answer to Miami I think. We walked around the town for a little bit before continuing on to Brisbane for the evening.
We only spent one night and Brisbane and would have liked to have more time there but we had to continue on north because of tours we had booked. We headed out of Brisbane and drove up to Noosa. Noosa is another great little town that we wished we could have stayed in longer. The town is somewhat posh but it also has a nice quite feel to it. The beaches were really nice and the surf can be good although it was small the day we were there. We enjoyed the beach and walked around the town for a few hours and then headed up north to Hervey Bay. We would leave from here to spend the next two days just off the coast on Fraser Island which is the world’s largest sand island.
The island contains more sand than the Sahara and stands approx. 800m high with a little over the top 200m standing above the water.
We started our trip by ferrying over to the island after being picked up in our 4x4 bus. We had somewhat of an interesting start to the trip when, about halfway over to the island on the ferry, they came over the intercom and told us that there had been an earthquake in the Salomon Islands and that the whole east coast of Australia was under a tsunami warning. If it were to form the tsunami would hit within the hour so we were given about 5 minutes to make a decision if we wanted to stay on the trip or go back with the returning ferry. With visions of the 2004 tsunami in everybody’s head things got a little crazy and several people were a scared. Figuring that we were just as safe 150m or so high on a sand island as we were about 10m high inland on the mainland Brittany and I decided to stay with the trip. Once we got on the island we quickly made our way away from the beach
and up into the forest covered hills of the middle island having left 8 or 9 people from our group back on the ferry. We found an hour or so later that no tsunami had come towards Australia and that we were in the clear.
So, with that out of the way we were able to enjoy our tour. Our first stop was to the rainforest in the middle of the island. It is amazing to walk through a rainforest with huge trees knowing that it is all based only on sand. We saw several different types of trees and some rather large spiders. After a stop for some lunch we pulled our 4x4 bus onto the beach, which doubles as the highway and landing strip on the island, and on to Lake Wabby for a little swim. We had to hike up a huge sand blow (one huge sand dune) which made you feel like you were walking across a desert. After cooling off with a swim with the fish (how fish got in these lakes I have no clue) we had a nice walk through the bush back to our 4x4 and the beach. We drove back up
the beach to one of the fresh water creeks on the island and then on to our campsite for the night. We had excellent dinner and stayed in a very nice campsite. The next day we made our way back to the beach and to some great sand formations and Indian Head, the only bit of rock on the island. Indian Head rock formation just out into the ocean on the north east part of the island and from the top of this we could see sharks, turtles, fish, and even a whale (a Minke we think) in the water. After Indian Head we headed just up the beach to the Champagne Pools which are natural pools that sit just up from the breakers. After a quick swim there we headed down to the Maheno which is an old wreck on the beach. Our last stop before heading back to the ferry was Lake Allom which was a peaceful little lake with some great little turtles (again, how these things got to this island is beyond me). After the lake we make the long trek back down the sandy roads to the ferry pick up and back to the mainland
having had a great 2 days on Fraser Island.
The next day we were off up the coast again for our next adventure which was sailing in the Whitsunday Islands. It took us two days of driving and a stopover in Rockhampton to get up to Airlie Beach where we would meet our boat. We met the 3 crew and 20 other people we would be sailing with on that Friday morning and boarded the 80ft sailboat Siska that we would be spending the next 3 days on. The boat is a retired ocean Maxi sailboat that won the Sydney to Hobart race at one point so we were in for some good sailing in the 20-30 knot winds we were having. Being an old racing boat also made for tight quarters below deck too. We slept not so much in a bed but more of a shelf with very little space. We started off right away with some sailing and headed out to our first island, Hook Island, and some snorkeling at Maureen’s Bay. For the whole trip we had to snorkel in full wetsuits due to the presence of “deadly” Box and Irukandji jellyfish in the water. Somehow
wearing a thin wetsuit that doesn’t cover your head, feet, or hands is supposed to save you from death. I know I felt safe. The visibility wasn’t the best but the coral and fish were good. We made a second stop at Luncheon Bay for some more snorkeling before sailing to a quite pass for the night.
The second day we headed over to Whitsunday Island and Tongue Bay where we boated to the island and walked over to beautiful Whitehaven Beach. Our sail over to this point was quite interesting in the strong winds we had. We all had to make sure we were firmly holding on to something as the boat healed over and bounced around in the strong winds and big swell. We all got a little wet on our ride over. The area around Whitehaven Beach is part of an old volcano cone and the sand is bright white because it is silica based. We spent a nice, leisurely time swimming and enjoying the beach before heading back to the boat. As we enjoyed our lunch on the boat we saw several sea turtles swimming around in the bay. After lunch we headed over to the
small Dunbell Island for some more snorkeling and then to another inlet for the evening.
On our last day we picked up anchor and headed over to Black Island for our last snorkel and some more time on the beach in the sun. We saw more turtles in this area and some great reef fish. After lunch we all loaded up for a great sail back into Airlie Beach.
From Airlie Beach we headed up north again for our final destination on the east coast, Cairns. We made a stop in Mission Beach for the night on our way up and saw a Cassowary on the side of the road. The Cassowary is a rather odd looking bird and are supposed to be a little scary up close so we kept our distance. We did enjoy some of the road signs they had in the area though. We got to Cairns the next day and got settled into our hostel.
Our first adventure in the area was up to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Forest. We made our first stop of the day at the Daintree River where we did a river cruise looking for “Salties” or the big Saltwater
Crocodiles. We were fortunate to see several crocs ranging in size from 6-12” one year olds to 10-12’ full grown females. We missed seeing the 15’ male of the area. We also saw some great birds, tree frogs, and other lizards. We continued on north after crossing the river in the ferry and made Cape Tribulation our next stop. We made a quick stop in the Bat House to see a few fruit bats up close. We then made out way out to the point at Cape Tribulation and then back down to a nice walk through the rainforest and mangrove swamp. That evening we stopped into Port Douglas to have a great dinner with Ross who is a friend of my brother Sean.
Our next adventure in the area was a snorkeling and dive trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. Upon getting to the check in for the trip we were warned about the “rough” conditions on the way out. The “rough” conditions ended up being 3-5m swells and strong winds which made the ride more like a roller-coaster than a boat ride. There were more of a few people spending the ride out in the back of
the boat looking a little green. Britt and I made it out in one piece, but I sure was glad when we stopped for the first dive. Britt opted for snorkeling for the day while I decided to do 3 dives. In the end I think we both saw about the same things and there wasn’t really any definitive advantage to diving, but doing a dive is always a great feeling. The visibility that day wasn’t the best, but we still had a great time. The reef really is absolutely amazing and is the some of the bets diving I have ever done. For the most part the reef is in good to great shape and we saw tons of fish and invertebrates. Brittany saw two White-tipped Reef Sharks and a Humpheaded Parrotfish while I got a chance to see an Eagle Ray, some Lagoon Rays, a huge cuttlefish, and a Humpheaded Maori Wrasse. We had a great time and I hope to get out to the reef one more time before I leave here.
The last excursion we made before Brittany had to fly back to the states was a trip up to Kuranda and Barron Falls. We spent
the morning walking around Cairns and checking out the Lagoon on the Esplanade before we headed up to Kuranda. It was a little wet this day but we were able to see the falls from the lookout and walk around the town looking at some of the great Aboriginal artwork. The next day Brittany started her long journey back to the states. I have been staying here in Cairns since then working on getting all set up for a big drive into the center and the outback to see more sights. I hope to post about my adventures from there soon. I finally have time to catch you all up on my last month in New Zealand. In Maori legend the north island of New Zealand was formed when Maui, a demi-god, and his brothers pulled the island up from the ocean while fishing with Maui's magic fishing hook. This land is called Te Ika a Maui, the Fish of Maui, in Maori. This is where I spent my last month while in New Zealand.
I headed over to Wellington on the north island from Picton on the south island at the beginning of February. I spent a few days
checking out Wellington and really enjoyed the city as a whole. I walked around the public library, some of the galleries and museums and spent 6 hours walking around the expansive Te Papa Tongarewa which is the Museum of New Zealand. They had some great Maori artifacts and several other exhibits covering the natural history of the islands, the people, and some great art.
From Wellington I headed up to the towns of Hastings and Napier. These two towns are unique in that they both were hit by a larger earthquake in 1931 that destroyed about 90% of Napier and a good bit of Hastings. Most of the buildings that replaced those that were destroyed were designed in the Art Deco style. This style has been preserved very well in both of these towns. So, as the son of an architect I felt it was my duty to check these two places out. Actually both towns were really cool and the preserved art deco look of the towns made it a great place to hang out.
After spending a day checking out the towns I headed up the coast in search of some surf. I drove up the east coast
to Gisborne. Unfortunately my luck with surf in NZ wasn’t the best and there were no waves to be had. After two days of fruitless wave searches I drove across to Rotorua. I though the road that I was taking from Gisborne to Rotorua was somewhat of a short cut but it ended up being 200 or so km of gravel roads that were maybe 2 lanes wide and wound around the hills of several parks. It took me forever but I finally made it to Rotorua.
Rotorua is considered to be the center of Maori culture of New Zealand. The area surrounding the town is also very geologically active and so it smells like rotten eggs all throughout the town from the sulfur leaching out of the ground. I spent several days here checking out the sights and trying my hand at Zorbing. Picture a human-sized version of the little plastic ball you used to put your gerbil in, put some water in it, put you and some people you met at the hostel in it, and then push it down a hill and you have Zorbing. It was a blast to say the least. Unfortunately I didn’t have
my camera with me as it was a spur of the moment things, but if you get a chance go check out the website www.zorb.co.nz to see for yourself what it is all about. I also checked out the AgroDome which is everything to do with agriculture in New Zealand. This equates to mostly everything having to do with sheep. I watched a guy sheer a sheep while I was there and I have to say that I don’t think the sheep liked the experience very much.
Outside of Zorbing and the AgroDome I joined a small contingent of people from the states to watch the Superbowl at a local restaurant and pub. Sorry the Bears lost Jay. I also visited some the Maori things around the town and spent several hours at Te Puia Maori cultural center. I saw some Maori dancing and went on a tour of the area where they explained their culture and the significance of some of the surrounding geological features one of which was a great geyser.
From Rotorua I headed just down the road to Lake Taupo. This is the largest lake in the southern hemisphere and formed where a volcano erupted with
more force than Krakatoa and Mt. St. Helens combined. The lake is huge and the area was beautiful so I figured there was no better place to try out skydiving. What an experience! I did a tandem jump at 15,000 ft which gave us about 40-50 seconds of freefall. The feeling of freefall is amazing and then the view you get of the lake and it surrounding areas as you drift down with the chute open is amazing.
My next stop was to the Tongariro Crossing which is a great 17km hike through Tongariro Park. The walk crosses part of the park and goes by some of the 6 different volcanic cone areas in the park. After a grueling climb up an area called the devil’s staircase you come to the base of both Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe. This area was the area Peter Jackson used for Mordor and Mt. Mgauruhoe was used at Mount Doom. When you are up at the top you can see the resemblance. From here it was a long walk past the Emerald Lakes and on to Blue Lake. From here it was a long decent into a forest and out to the end
of the track. The walk made for a long day but it was really amazing to see all of the different areas from volcanic wasteland to grassy hillsides to forest. You can see why this walk is rated as one of the best in the world.
After the Crossing I headed down to Wonganui on the south west shore. I had come here hoping to get some surf but strong onshore winds and rain made sure that this didn’t happen around Wonganui. So with this in mind I headed over to New Plymouth where the weather was great. I found some great surf at Back Beach and enjoyed the best surf I had in NZ to date in nice warm water. After my surf I again hit the road and headed up to one of my final destinations, Raglan.
Raglan is a great little town on the west coast just a couple hours southwest of Auckland and home to one of the best if not the best left break in the world. I got myself set up at a great hostel in the area called Solscape and enjoyed spending a week surfing the different breaks and beaches of the area.
The group of people that I met at the hostel really made the experience even better. While the surf wasn’t the best while I was there I still got chance to surf Manu Bay, Wainui Beach, and the favorite of the week- Ruapuke Beach. I got some good head high to a little bigger surf at Ruapuke and some chest high waves at Manu. At the end of my week there I really didn’t want to leave but I needed to get up to Auckland so that I could sell my car so I headed out and
up to my final destination.
I spent a good bit of my time in Auckland running around putting fliers out so I could sell my car and taking care of different odds and ends, but I did still get a chance to see some of the city. I headed out to One Tree Hill (from U2 fame). There isn’t a tree there anymore after a Maori activist cut it down, but there is still a monument and the hill provides a great view of the city. I also walked around the museum and saw more great Maori artifacts as well as exhibit on
the origins of the different South Pacific peoples. On one of my last days I headed over to the Auckland Aquarium which was small but fun. I finally got the car sold and enjoyed hanging out with some new friends and walking around the city some on my last few days. After two and half months I finally left New Zealand and headed over to Melbourne Australia where the next step in my adventures started. I hope to have something up for Australia soon.
There are more photos below