Monday, December 14, 2009

On Australia - Les

Australia was a very different trip than the New Zealand Portion. In New Zealand we were moving around every few days in our rental car. We chose our own schedule and even modified it a bit. In Australia, we were pretty set on our timeline since we were flying every where. We did have a car in Tasmania and for a day in Cairns, but we were day tripping out of a central location each time. I think that this made it feel a bit more touristy to me, not that there was anything wrong with that. It was awesome seeing the beaches, coral reefs and tropical rain forests on the north coast immediately followed by sub-alpine rain forests in Tasmania. Throw in huge tracks of eucalyptus forests just west of Sydney and we had a pretty spectacular time tramping around the outback. Partying in the cities was too bad either. :o) Now I just have to figure out what to do when I go back. Shouldn't be too hard...

On Getting Home and More Time Travel

We are home.

We slept through the first two of three alarms that I set, but we made the flights and are now home in San Francisco. It was a long flight even though it took us negative 45 minutes to do it. Lots of reading, movie watching, sudoku, sleeping and wearing the neck pillow got us here. Phil watched a bunch of movies and slept mostly. Maybe did some sudoku as well. Oh and you should ask him about the awesome book he was reading. Jaguars that are 5 feet tall at the shoulder. Exciting! I watched part of a movie, slept about an hour and read those ridiculously expensive books I bought in Australia.

Luckily, the jet lag hasn't been too bad, so Sunday wasn't too bad. We're getting close to wrapping things up here on the blog. Just a few more posts to wrap things up!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On Beer

Mmmmmm... Beeeeeerrrrrrr... I must say that I quite enjoyed the beer I sampled while I was Down Under. All the New Zealand beer I had was very tasty and easy drinking. Some of the Australian beer was so so, but the Tasmania beer was fantastic. James Boag and Cascade in particular. VB was a good beach day beer. Maybe my taste buds are getting numbed by the stuff that Jason, Garvie and Ted force on me, but I honestly didn't think that it was very bitter.

I repeat, Mmmmmmmmmmmmm... Beeeeeeeeeerrrrrrr...

On Serving Them Up Fresh

Roadkill. Mmmmmmm... Seeing roadkill in another country on another continent was very interesting. Wallabies are the most common roadkill in Australia, at least as far as I could tell. Not gonna lie, some of the fine specimens were hard to distinguish. Luckily for your stomaches, I don't have an appropriate photo to share with this.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

On Rediscovering Lost Loves

I haven't had one of these in a long time...

Here in Australia, McDonald's soft serve is only 50 cents. That is about as good of a deal as you can get. I have had more than one and that is all I'll say...

On Kangaroo, Closure and Being Manly

Today we had one goal, make it to Manly Beach. Goal was accomplished, but it was a little annoying to get it done. Turns out the subway has a citywide closure for this weekend. They have buses replacing the train lines (no idea where they got all of the extra buses from), but it was kind of a pain dealing with them. We ended up walking much of the way that we were planning on taking the train. Oh well. We made it to the wharf, so that we could grab the ferry over to the beach, and stopped and did a bit of gift shopping at the local farmers market. Some really awesome stuff being sold down there.

The ferry ride was pretty cool. It took about half an hour, and we just cruised just about the entire harbor. There was a good wind on the water so the sail boats were out in force.

We grabbed some lunch once we go there, and I finally got to have some kangaroo!

We spent a few hours on the beach, fully protected from the sun, but not the wind and sand. Manly Beach is a very windy beach. We covered with a fine layer of sand rather quickly, but what ever. It was a great day and we were hanging out on a pretty sweet beach. Game on!

Friday, December 11, 2009

On Feeling Blue

Ugh, the trip is almost over, and neither of us really wants to go back. Sure, we miss all you guys (I guuuueeeeessss), but there are still way too many things to do and see. Since we're feeling a little blue about having to come home, we thought we'd take a trip to the Blue Mountains to see if it would have a crazy reverse effect on our mood. You can probably tell from the pictures that it did, and our spirits have been lifted.

On Sticking Things in Your Nose

Well, at least it's just eucalyptus leaves...

In his defense, they did smell really good and so did the tea leaf tree leaves.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Handeling It

Sydney's Opera House

We had the opportunity to see Handel's Messiah in the main concert hall and the Opera House. Needless to say, it was pretty spectacular. The Opera House is an amazing piece of work by itself without having an amazing philharmonic orchestra and a choir consisting of a few hundred people performing a great work music. The Hallelujah Chorus was chills inducing. A great way to spend an evening.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

On Tipping

The States have an interesting custom in restaurants that upon finishing your meal you give the waiter 10-20% of the value of your meal. It's called tipping. From regal to the hole in the wall, you pay your waiter based on the value of the meal, not the value of their service. A good waiter working at dump make a lot less than a bad waiter working in a 5 star restaurant. Granted, he might not be working there for much longer, but that is besides the point. In many part of the world, tipping isn't a custom. Sometimes the touristy places will try and get the Americans to do it since we are used to it, but usually it isn't done. The wait staff are paid by their employers, thus indirectly by the customers, instead of the direct compensation of tipping. I have know a lot of people that have worked in the food industry and they have informed that they live off their tips. The $2.71 they make an hour from their employers doesn't really cut it. It's just easier on the consumer here. Anyways, I just wanted to make a brief note about this.

Question: In countries that have no one dollar bills, how does one go about tipping a stripper?

On Books and Three Year Waits

Dear Australia,

    Is it really necessary for you to price your paperback books at $20 AUD? Is paper that much harder to come by here? Is ink that much more expensive? (Note: I am leaving the quality of the content out of this as I have seen some crap books that are also more expensive.) I'll buy it anyways because I like reading books, but I was just wondering...



P.S. - Thanks for have books seven, eight and nine of one of the series I am reading in paper back here. The US only just release book 6 in hardback not too long ago. The only problem is now I'll have to wait three years for book 10 to come out in the States... sigh...

On How There is a Mathematical Equation to Explain Everything

Sydney = (San Francisco + NYC) / 2.

That pretty much sums it up, no pun intended. Sydney is a gorgeous city that has a lot of NYC and San Francisco blended together. We're staying in Kings Cross which is like a little baby Times Square, Sydney has great public transportation, it's right on the water, and has a nice skyline.

I'd say the only distinguishing factor Sydney has to offer is that they don't allow "birds" like Les and I to stay in their city. So, that is why we'll be leaving on Sunday.

Oh yeah, and we're going to the Opera House tonight to see a concert. So BOOM!

On Reliving Childhood Breakfasts

It has been about 20 years since I have had pancakes with ice cream. The last place I had it was in Vernon Hills, IL prepared by none other than my mom. And it was tough to beat. Unfortunately, I have not seen it offered anywhere else since then... until today. When strolling around in Sydney to get the day started, we came across a place that had pancakes with bananas and vanilla ice cream. Even if we already had eaten, I would have forced us to stop here just so I could get it. It definitely goes down in the books as the SECOND best pancakes with ice cream that I've ever had. There was just one flaw, and I'll let you figure out what it was:

OK, fine I'll tell you. Not enough ice cream. Duh.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On Wineglasses

Today we drove out to Freycinet National Park today, on the recommendation of one of our previous hostel's staff. It was a good 2-3 hour drive from Hobart, but it was well worth it. We had a bit of a lazy start to the day and didn't really get on the road till around 11. The drive out was a nice drive, as are most all drives in Australia (and New Zealand for that matter) that we have done so far. The first walk we did was the Wineglass Bay Lookout/Beach walk. You basically walk up and over a small mountain pass to get to the bay. There is a pretty sweet lookout half way there that game an amazing view of the bay.

But the view from down on the beach was pretty good too...

After making the trek back to the car, we drove on over to a lighthouse that was just a few klicks up the road. There was a nice little boardwalk that circled the lighthouse on the cliff and it provided some amazing views. This a shot looking in to Wineglass Bay. It's the little white sand beach way back there on the right.

We also had a pretty killer sunset on the way home...

All in all it was a much better day than I had expected. I love it when that happens.

Monday, December 7, 2009

On Being Vertically Challenged

One of the walks in Mount Fields National Park is called the Tall Trees Walk. To be sure the swamp gum trees are tall. In fact, they are the tallest hardwood trees and flowering plants on Earth (Redwoods are softwood trees), the tallest being around 300 feet tall. Don't get me wrong, they were pretty cool, I just think that someone that doesn't live so close to Redwoods might be in a little bit more awe from them...

On Fields and Pouches

It was a pretty good day today. We took off out of Hobart this morning and set our sights on Mount Fields National Park. I had read about this on Boots 'n All and it was on my initial plan for our time in Tasmania, so I am glad that we ended up doing it. We did a few of the shorter return walks, a number of which are lists on Tasmania's Top Short Walks List. One of them was the Russell Falls walk which is a very short one right behind the visitors center. Ten minutes in you run into a beautify terraced waterfall which we were debating might have been one of the cooler waterfalls we've seen.

We also did part of an alpine hike, but it started raining and that forced us to turn back sooner than we would have liked. Got some pretty cool views of the valley though.

After Mount Fields we wandered just down the road to an animal sanctuary and saw a ton of the cool Australian animals. We saw Tasmanian devils, wombats, a couple of different types of wallabies, some more koalas and kangaroos, a few others that were awesome but escape my memory and a wild platypus swimming and diving in a stream. How was your day?

On Nutrition Facts

I'm not sure about other countries, but I've noticed that in Australia, instead of putting the amount of Calories on the back of a food product, they show the amount of Energy in kilojoules. Maybe that is what we should start doing in America. So many Americans treat Calories as a negative, and they're too concerned with how much they're intaking. Energy, on the otherhand, has a positive ring to it. Take this box of Tim Tams for example. Each chocolate biscuit has 400 kJ of "energy". I made sure I ate 2 just in case I started running low towards the end of the afternoon.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

On Ghost Towns and Slow Internet

If you want to know what a modern ghost town looks like, try downtown Hobart on a Sunday evening. It is a quaint little city, but it's pretty dead. Tasmania is our play it by ear section of the trip. We have one out of three nights here booked and nothing planned. There were thoughts of rolling up to Craddle Mountain, but it doesn't look like that is going to fit into our timeline here. Instead we'll probably be day triping out of Hobart each day and seeing a few more things instead of just Craddle Mountain. We'll let you know what it ends up being.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

On Incredibly Unhelpful Information People

When we got up this morning and checked with the tour desk at the hostel about renting a car and heading out to Daintree his was response was pretty much, "Good luck." He also was not overly helpful with suggesting things to to do. He told us we should have left over 2 hours earlier if wanted to actually see anything.

Not only did we beat all of his time estimates for driving we saw most everything worth seeing between Cairns and Cape Trib. Don't believe me? Check out some of these shots.

On Logs That Aren't Logs

Crocs are a very real problem here. The animal, not the shoe. Most bodies of water, streams and rivers have signs up that warn against going in the water.

Some joke signs even say that you shouldn't into water that is past your eyebrows... when you're standing on your head. We only saw crocs in the zoo we went to, but he was a big boy 4+ meters in length.

On Cuteness Overload

So yeah... I got to hold a koala today...

and feed some wallabies...

I hope that didn't just blow your mind because it's pretty much the most adorable thing ever. The koala... not me. I mean, I am pretty adorable, but come on, who can compete with a freakin' koala. Adorable. And soft. Did I mention soft? Interesting fact, Koalas sleep around 20 hours a day because they poison themselves with their diet all the time.

On Tom Petty

I don't know how it happens, but Tom Petty has the unique ability to get his song on the airwaves every time somebody has an opportunity to be inspired while on the road. Just like Tom Cruise singing "Free Fallin'" in Jerry Maguire.

After a day of unbeatable productivity -- seeing just about everything we possibly could north of Cairns and up to Cape Tribulation -- Tom Petty popped on the radio just as the sun was setting on the beautiful drive back. We were graced with three songs in a row (Free Fallin', I Won't Back Down, and Runnin' Down a Dream), and that's why I'm going to leave you with three photos that captured the moment...IN A ROW!

On Expiration Dates

It turns out that my drivers license expired on my birthday this year (10/28/09). So, not only have I been driving in the States with an expired license, but I managed to escape the rental car agency in NZ and drive thousands of kilometers without getting caught. These Australians are a little bit more sharp, however, and the guy from Thrifty noticed it right away. Sorry Les. Looks like you're driving the rest of the trip. I'll just kick back and DJ. You can choose between Michelle Branch and Lady GaGa...

Friday, December 4, 2009


That's GBR, not PBR. Both are awesome, consist primarily of water and contain the byproducts of very tiny organisms, but only one comes from Australia. And believe it or not, I'd prefer not to go scuba diving in the a big body of PBR. As you may have gathered, Phil and I went scuba diving and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef today. Pretty Sweeeeeet! We spent about an hour snorkeling on the surface and probably an hour diving in total. I am now totally convinced for the need to get my diver's certification. Monterey Bay, here I come. Now some of you may know, that I not a huge fan open water. I can deal with it, but I don't like it overly much. It might have something to do with me not being a great swimmer.... to prove that, I used one of the floaty noodle things while snorkeling. I am awesome. Just no way to get around it. We did some snorkeling first. Not going to lie to you, I had some issues initially with the breathing because we were over deep open water, but as soon as the reefs appeared below us, I forgot about breathing (and the problems with doing it with my face under water) and just got lost in the beauty. I had no more problems from there on out. The scuba diving was a piece of cake. Took me about three breaths to get adjusted and then I was off. Now Phil has done this all before, so he was swimming and breathing laps around me. We did two dives at two different reef, Saxon Reef was one of them and the other was smaller and just a little to the south. Both sites were awesome and I have included some pictures from the waterproof camera we rented. Have a look...

Hey, it's Scuba Steve!

A pretty awesome coral formation

Amazing fan coral

Our very last photo taken, courtesy of Phil...

On Finding Nemo

Anyone who loves the movie Finding Nemo (Lindsey...) might want to stop reading this post right now...I'll wait while you come to your sense and skip to the next one. For the rest of you, I'll be telling you how the movie should have really gone. Pixar does a lot of research for their movies, but I am guessing that they just decided to omit this little factoid. In the movie Coral dies early on. this leaves Marlin without a mate and Nemo without a mom. A single tear rolls down my cheek. Now Pixar uses this to set up the relationship dynamic between Marlin and his son Nemo. In reality the relationship would be there... but very different. You remember in Jurassic Park when the dinasours switch genders and start breeding? Yeah, that's what would ahve happened to Marlin. Marlin would have become Marlina and would have started a new family with Nemo being the father to the next batch of eggs. Awesome, huh?

Pretty clown fish!


On Washing Away

Siiiiigh... You'd think that I'd have learned my lesson from Phuket. Well, I actually did, partly. Tropical sun is ridiculous. We went swimming up at Palm Cove just north of Cairns and did our duty and put on our sunscreen. Lots of it. Then proceeded to immediately get in the water. We got burned. Not horribly, but it's red and stings a bit. We should have waited for it to dry and set before getting in the water... even though it was waterproof... grumble... grumble... Whatever. Just remember, trust me on the sunscreen.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On the Las Vegas Hostels

Seriously, Phil... Good Job. I am just going to post a link to where Phil booked us for our time in Cairns. Gilligan's. Granted the ratings on HostelWorld were high (I wonder why...), which is where he booked it. In the future, Phil, check out the site before you book, I need be prepared and be sure to bring my muscle shirts and aviators. It's gonna be a good time regardless, just gonna have to drink more Red Bull. Just sayin'....

Edit: Christina Aguilera singing Dirty over the speakers in reception FTW!

On Missing iPhones

We've gone almost 2 weeks without our iPhones!!! Well, actually that's not true. They've been in airplane mode so we don't get reamed for international roaming charges. Les is always reading books on his phone, and I do occasionally enjoy a game of Sudoku or two. But, oh how we do miss the pinch and squeeze zoom options that comes with applications such as maps. I'm so used to that handy little tool, that, for a second, I thought I could use it on the car maps that were provided from Europcar. Silly me. Don't worry phone -- I will be back in the States soon enough...

On Drastic Weather Changes

New Zealand was warm, but it was San Francisco warm. Mid 60's, maybe 70. As you already know we finished New Zealand up in Christchurch where the weather was windy, rainy, and colder than everywhere else we had visited.

But, now we are in Australia, and instead of wasting our time transitioning into the heat, we jumped right in it. In CAIRNS! The weather is "sweat-after-you-shower" warm, the water is "make-your-body-melt" warm, and the sand is "I'm-walking-on-pillows" soft. Tomorrow is an all day scuba/snorkeling extravaganza in the Great Barrier Reef, and we even rented an underwater camera to take pictures. In the meantime, we'll leave you with this...

On Facebook

I walked up to this girl who was checking her Facebook photos, and I innocently asked, "What's Facebook?" She kindly started going off explaining that it was a site, blah blah blah. I felt bad letting her continue to embarrass herself, so I interrupted her and told her I was just kidding. Fortunately, I got a big laugh out of her about it and not a "Bloody Americans" remark.

But seriously, EVERYONE is on Facebook. Everywhere we go, there are multiple people on Facebook at the same time either writing messages, chatting, etc. Here is a picture to prove it. Every single person is on Facebook, and there was one more that didn't fit in the shot.

On New Zealand - Philip

New Zealand was cool,
New Zealand was great,
New Zealand was Sweet As*,
There's nothing to hate.


On New Zealand - Les

So I figured that it would be a good idea to throw together some final thoughts about New Zealand, so here you go. As you can probably imagine, New Zealand is pretty freaking awesome. It would be easy to spend weeks/months just hiking around the South Island, let alone the North. The West Coast was hands down my favorite part and incidentally was where we spent most of our time. I'm not saying that the East Coast wasn't cool, we saw sea lions up close in the wild (like they might eat you if you look at them funny close), some penguins coming ashore and a pretty awesome steampunk art exhibit. The West Coast just had so many amazing wonders to behold and well, I held... be held... was held by... them. So quick recap:

Flew into Christchurch Sunday morning early and immediately got in a car and drove to Dunedin stopping by Omarau on the way. Went gallivanting around the Sandfly Beach and the sand dunes trying not to anger the enormous sea lions 10 feet away while keeping a look out for penguins making their way to shore. Proceeded to spend the night in Dunedin so that we could make it Te Anau (and The wondrous Fiordland) the next day a bit easier. Drove over to Te Anau so that we could hit up Fiordland National Park. Did the Rainbow Reach part of the Kepler Track and the crashed like it was our job. Woke up early the next and had our plans up-ended because one of the walks we were planning on was going to cost $300 to charter a boat. Ended up doing the Luxmore hut portion of the Kepler Track and then crashing that night like we were getting paid time and a half. Next up... Milford Sound! It was a bit rainy, but that just made the water falls that much more awesome. Seriously, bloody brilliant. Packed it up that night and headed over to Queenstown the next day. Spent some time skipping rocks on Lake Wakatipu on the way, you know... just cause. Just putzed around a bit taking care of a few things that first day and night in QT. Next day was Canyon swinging and rain. Three jumps/falls/hand stands off a platform and some rain. Good combo? Well, it makes for a dodgy heart and an early night. But that was just a warm up. Sky diving from 15,000 ft AGL (16,200 ft ASL, highest commercial jump in the world). Shuuuuuut Up! Chatted with some Canadians girls that had just finished their jumps and ended up running into them latter that night at the World Bar. They must have had a Canadian posse because they had another 4+ with them at the bar. Oh, one word... teapot. Two more... bad idea. Learned that New Zealand bars close at 4:30. Rough drive on Sunday up to Franz Josef. Great drive, but rough. Go figure. Monday we were hiking on a freaking glacier. That's right. A GLACIER! What global warming? One more night in Franz Josef and then it was a five hour drive over Arthur's Pass (and through the clouds that prevented us from seeing anything cool) to Christchurch. Not much happening for us in Christchurch. Kind of crappy weather. Ended up running into one of the Canadian dudes from QT and met up with him and some of his group that night. Sadly, for all involved, there was a contest going on at the bar, some guy won a $400 tattoo for licking another guy's butt. Aaaaannnndddd... that was when we decided to call it a night and head to Australia.

Awesome times had. Great people met. Hope to see some of them around again sometime. Great wonders beheld. Just need to hold them again sometime in the future.

On Movies in Foreign Countries

There's nothing like a good old fashioned American made blockbuster thriller with absurd special effects and cheesy dialogue to make you feel right at home in a foreign country. Early mornings and long treks through the wilderness wears us out, and occasionally a mindless movie to round out the night is just what the doctor ordered. So far on our trip we have seen two movies in the theater, and they are movies that would suggest that we were desperate to not have to think or move:

1) 2012

2) Surrogates

I was mostly curious how crowds would respond to 2012. For example, would they laugh when the fake Arnold Schwarzjaenajaeieger (I don't think I spelled that right) appeared on television? The answer was yes. Would they laugh when the large Russian responds with "It's Russian..." to the kid's "That plane is huge" comment. The answer was yes. And would they chuckle when the stereotypical foreign leaders appeared on screen for the first time? The answer was no. All in all, I was a little disappointed that I didn't hear any boos. I was hoping that something would make them unsettled, but they stared through the screen just like all of us Americans do.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Us in New Zealand

Figured we could have a post that had a lot of picutres of both of us. You know... because you can't get enough of our ugly mugs...

At one of the lookout points on the Rainbow Reach section of the Kepler Track

Above the brushline on the Luxmore Hut portion of the Kepler Track

On the shore of Lake Wakatipu on our way from Te Anau to Queenstown

Going out in Queenstown

Here we are at the bottom of our Franz Josef Glacier Hike.

And here we are at the top of our hike on the Franz Josef Glacier. There are actaully people walking around the river bed down there. That's where the above picture was taken.

On Christchurch

It's lame. Well, I'm being a little harsh, but I haven't been impressed with it thus far. It reminds me of L.A. with crappier weather. There weren't any places worth eating last night, so we ended up eating at McDonalds. I never thought I'd eat there again, but it was between that and KFC. But, fortunately, Christchurch was just our entry and exit point to the south island. We leave today for Australia and warm sandy beaches. NZ has been amazing, and we're so grateful that we got a chance to visit this small paradise nestled in the southern corner of the globe. Now it's time to duct tape the car up, turn it in, hop on a plane, and move on.

Until next time...

On Dietary Needs

It was interesting to see that most resturaunts in New Zealand clearly noted on their menus which of their meals were gluten free or could be made gluten free. How considerate of them.

On Poo

Yup. Poo. They are selling it everywhere in New Zealand. What ever you want horse poo, sheep poo, cow poo, garden gnome poo... they are selling it on the side of the road. Oh, and fresh fruit and free range eggs, but those aren't as funny.

PS - Why don't they call it manure? Signs that say "poo" make me laugh like I'm in first grade again... Sorry, Mom.