December 21, 2009

Our Time In New Zealand

We are currently hanging out in Santiago, Chile, where we are staying with our friends. Not only is it very nice to arrive in a city as large as Santiago and have friends to visit and stay with, but sometimes it is nice to arrive in a city that you´ve visited before. This is because sometimes it is great to just relax instead of hurrying around a city to see all of the sights. Also, we are going to be in Santiago for about a week, so we have more time. We´ll stay with our friends for Christmas and New Years, down in the south in a little town called Loncoche, near Temuco. There, we´ll get back to our exploring.

Anyhow, we had a really enjoyable time in New Zealand, though eight days were far too short to see much, and we were a bit lazy, as we didn´t cover as much territory as we might have. On the other hand, fuel cost even more than in Australia, often soaring towards $5 US or more per gallon, so we weren´t too sad to take more time seeing only a smaller area of New Zealand. As it was, we still put nearly 2000 km on the car.

We had issues getting into and out of New Zealand. When we were leaving Sydney, I had wrapped my fishing pole in plastic wrap and was carrying it with me, because I thought with good reason that the pole might be destroyed by the baggage handlers if I checked it in (we´ve had numerous objects broken on our flights during this trip, and en route to Poland, my bag was soaked either beer, or urine, or both). Passing through security, I was pulled aside and told that Jetstar didn´t allow fishing poles to be carried onboard their planes, a new rule that was a mere week old (they are also the only airline to do this). I´m not sure it they were afraid I´d use it to poke out someone´s eye, or how they saw it as a great risk than the bulky reel, but nonetheless I lost the pole. I kept the reel, thinking that perhaps I will be able to use it further in this trip. It was a tragedy, though.

Arriving in New Zealand wasn´t any easier either. Passing through customs was a real chore, taking over two hours. I can understand that as a small two-island nation, they don´t want a bunch of introduced species of any kind; still, it was the most thorough customs I´ve seen. Normally, it is very wise to check "no" for any questions lest you be subjected to a lengthy customs exam, but when I saw how rigorous they were searching the bags ahead, I admitted that we had a tent (but not that we´d just camped three weeks in Oz with it) to the lady at the start of the customs. She excoriated us for such an offense, but didn´t charge us the $200 NZD fine since we hadn´t officially  entered the customs area. They took my tent and sterilized it; I was a bit worried about the various camping gear I had stowed in my bag, but they didn´t seem to mind it, even though I guarantee it showed up on their xray. To illustrate the point of how stringent these folks are about their searching, I later watched a TV show modelled after the US show "Cops" that showed some poor Asians being fined $200 NZD for every piece of salted pork they brought from China (they brought a lot of it). At any rate, we didn´t get to our hotel that night until nearly 2 am, though we arrived in the airport at 11 pm.

To momentarily jump ahead, when we tried to leave the country via the Argentinean government-run airline Aerolinas Argentinea, we were first accousted by the steward for our itinerary, which in these days of e-tickets we have never before needed. After I managed to find a way to print one off in the airport, they told us that without an exiting ticket from Chile, we wouldn´t be allowed in. Having been to Chile twice before, I didn´t believe this at all, nor did I believe that the Chilean government would pay for me to be deported back to the US; they wouldn´t let us on the plane, though, until we paid for a ticket out of Chile. First they sent us to Qantas, who told us we needed a ticket back to the US, and offered one for $4600 each; Aerolinas then took a bit of mercy on us and sold us a ticket from Buenos Aires across the river into Uruguay (maybe 100 miles) for $375 each. Fortunately, the tickets are fully refundable, except for the fees I incurred by paying for them abroad. Naturally, upon arrival in Chile, we weren´t asked anything about exit tickets, and I´m sure the customs man would have been very confused if we´d produced them for his approval.

Back to New Zealand, though, we thoroughly enjoyed the softness of a bed for the first time in nearly three weeks at the hotel. The next morning, we left Auckland without stopping and headed north, taking a winding route that had us pass by both coasts of the north island that first day. We noticed several things in our first few hours of being in New Zealand. First, there is little wildlife in New Zealand compared to the zoo that is Australia. There are lots of birds, but they tend to be much more subtle than their counterparts in Oz, not as showy and colorful. Next, the landscape, at least what we saw in the section of NZ north of Auckland that we fairly thoroughly explored, is frequently more scenic than much of Oz. Driving around in Oz, we frequently passed along fairly monotonous highways, through forests and up and down hills, to reach the more beautiful areas. North of Auckland, huge rolling hills with large fields and lush trees, all tinged a deep green, are the norm, and many of the beaches are nothing short of gorgeous. The people of NZ (at least north of Auckland) tend to be different from Aussies as well. They are much more reserved and a bit stiff where Aussies are so gregarious and friendly. Kiwis will open up and be more talkative, but not usually as immediate as Aussies; in this they seem much more British than Aussie do.

Of course the pre-Euro inhabitants are different. In Oz, there are the Aborginials, with whom we had almost no contact with but seemed very mysterious and deeply involved in their traditions and past. In NZ there are the Maoris, who I have read about a bit. They were warlike and cannabilistic when first encountered, but they seemed to have meshed with the Brit interlopers much easier, having hung onto their lands and rights longer and more successfully than the Aboriginals. They have much more of a voice, it seems, though these days they have a bit of a rough reputation, which isn´t helped by their sometimes rough appearance and demeanor (we were shouted at twice while driving, with plenty of obscenities mixed in, both by young guys and by a toothless old lady).

We headed straight up to the biggest center of population of Whangarei, staying our first night at a caravan park in the city. We had difficulty asking people about the place until we later found out that the city is pronounced "Fangaray," per the Maori language. The next day we headed just north of Whangarei to a tiny little village called Whananaki, taking a route that turned the 25 minute trip into a 3.5 hour journey by finding the most windy dirt roads in the area. Doing so allowed us to see several very nice beaches, including Whale Bay and Woolleys Bay, where we swam in the waves and discovered for the first time that contrary to common belief that any beach so beautiful as these should have bath-tub warm water, the oceans of NZ are freezing. This didn´t stop us (much) from swimming, and we even bought a cheap body board (which I snapped in half) to avoid all the skin loss that body surfing without a board entails. We ended up camping a night in Whananaki, at a little farm that bordered the beach; the owners had created a campground complete with water and toilets, and the place was nearly deserted. You can see from the pictures that I posted that it was a wonderful place to camp, very relaxing and quiet. We built a couple of sandcastles doomed by the oncoming high tides, and my appearance has drawn the comparison of another Tom Hanks character, the fellow in Cast Away, after four years on the island.

A little side-note here: Upon arrival to Santiago, I finally paid attention to the insults about my beard (which has had me labeled as a schizophrenic hobo, Forest Gump, and several other snide names) and I finally trimmed it. But, importantly, I only trimmed it after seeing how shocked my friends here in Santiago were, and realized that their mother would not approve once we arrived in Loncoche. So there!

Anyhow, we probably would have spent more time in Whananaki, but we were invited to visit the farm of the mother of a Kiwi we met in Poland, Jenna. She and her husband Nick had entertained us with stories of the farm and its resident pet pig, Eugene, so as we had the opportunity to meet the famous porker, we called up Jenna´s mom Joanne, and soon we found ourselves at the farm. The encounter turned out to be a highlight of our time in New Zealand, because we not only enjoyed two nights sleeping on a bed (a luxury, since we camped the rest of our time in NZ), good meals, and the relaxation that comes from being on a quiet farm, but we had great company as well. We spent a good deal of time chatting with Joanne, her partner Patrick (an explorer like us who has circumnavigated the globe on his boat), and a friend visiting from Victoria, BC, Elizabeth. Of course there was Eugene, who was a bit jealous of having me visit and had me on the lookout for an unexpected charge, but was charming nonetheless; he lived up to his international reputation.

We spent the rest of the week exploring the north coast of the island, camping a rainy day in Kawakawa (where by the afternoon we were driven indoors by the weather and spent an evening watching Kiwi TV). We spent two night in Tauranga Bay, which was not only beautiful but a good center to explore the area from. We drove along the coast to the Kerikeri Peninsula, as well as inland to the Puketi Forest Reserve, where we found a grove of massive kaori trees (comparable to California´s great redwoods). We went as far west as the Ninety-Mile Beach, which isn´t actually 90 miles long but makes up for its distance issue by having wild waves that discouraged any thoughts of body surfing (especially with a broken board). We got ourselves lost in some Maori territory and in several nature reserves, the best way to find great, remote locations. It was a great week.

We were quite reluctant to leave NZ; like Australia, it feels like we have unfinished business there that will require at least one more visit. I´m glad that in both places we decided against the "see as much as possible" mentality and just enjoyed a smaller area. Doing so allowed us to explore in much greater detail, which I think is quite fulfilling.

Until next time, be safe.


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December 20, 2009

Pictures From New Zealand

Here are some photos from New Zealand.

Whale Bay

Another View Of Whale Bay

Our Campsite, Whananaki

View From Our Campsite, Whananaki

Our Beach, Whananaki

Aaron Building Sandcastles

Dawn, Whananaki Beach

Beautiful & Deserted, Whananaki

Eugene The Pig In Nest

View Of Matauri Bay

Valley Near Tauranga Bay

Dock At Whangaroa

Jess At Whangaroa

Countryside Near Whangaroa

Massive Kaori Trees

Beach At Rangiputa, Kerikeri Penisula

Shells From Rangiputa

The Mighty Dingo, Tauranga Bay

Exploring The North Island

New Zealand Countryside

Eugene The Pig Strolling

Our Friend Joanne´s Sheep

Joanne´s Farm

A Group Shot

Jess, Patrick, Joanne, & Eugene

A description of our time in New Zealand is coming soon, in the next few days.

Until next time, be safe.


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December 18, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Hello everyone!  It is so hard to believe that Christmas is almost here, and we are already in South America.  We are looking forward to spending the holidays with our Chilean friends.  There really is nothing better than quality company, delicious food, and pisco sours to drink!  This will be our first Christmas in the southern hemisphere, so it will be a hot and sweaty one for sure! 

I can´t say enough good things about our time spent in Australia and New Zealand over the past month. It was wonderful to break out the camping gear and put it to use.  I really had no idea that we would camp for almost the entire month, but it actually worked out quite well.  Living outdoors was a welcomed change after spending five weeks in marginal guesthouses throughout Southeast Asia.  I would much rather watch out for snakes and spiders in their natural settings than to be sleeping in a rat infested room.

We established a very normal routine during our days of camping.  We woke early in the mornings and breakfast ALWAYS consisted of sugarless oatmeal and black coffee.  Why we chose not to spend $1.50 on sugar I still do not know.  The morning/early afternoon was spent involved in some sort of outdoor activity.  When lunchtime rolled around, we had the option of powdered soup and rice or pasta with tomato sauce.  Sometimes this appetizing meal just didn´t manage to fill our bellies, so we might make a peanut butter sandwich or bring out the sardines and crackers.  (I have really grown to love sardines, a trait that would make my father a proud man!)  The afternoons were full of swimming and hiking until we had exhausted ourselves and managed to head back to the campground to wind down the day. Provided the weather was cooperative, evenings were always pleasant.  We usually dined around 8-9pm and ate whatever we chose not to eat for lunch.   Fortunately we always had plenty of boxed wine on hand to wash down our food, but more importantly to get us a bit tipsy for bedtime.  I have learned that it is most essential to get a wee bit tipsy to sleep adequately when camping without an air mattress.  It really is a must! 

The showering opportunities were most interesting along the way.  We usually tried to stay at a campground with proper amenities every 2-3 nights so that we could take nice hot showers.  Sometimes the local information centers provided outdoor showers, which I suppose was a good thing.  It was fun to bathe outside for everyone to watch as we battled the freezing cold water in quite frigid weather conditions.  You know you´re a budget traveler when this is how you roll, but it really does build character. 

All of these experiences have made us most thankful for things that we typically take for granted in our daily lives.  We did manage to meet up with friends along the way during the month, so it was nice to sleep in a bed, eat fresh foods, and spend time with quality people.

So this holiday season, I suppose we have a pretty basic wishlist.  We wish for hot showers, a big plate of fresh vegetables, a cozy bed, and wine that is not from a box.  It is all about the simple things in life!!  Merry Christmas!!!!


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The Rest Of The Aussie Story

We´re now in Santiago, Chile, having spent eight days in New Zealand, and I´m just getting to finish writing about our time in Australia. Here in Chile, internet is less than 1USD an hour, versus 8USD in Oz and similarly priced in NZ, hence the delay.

As I mentioned in the short posting about Australia, we spent 19 of the 21 nights we had in Oz sleeping on the ground. It was a growing experience, to be sure. It´s kind of like how we have two pairs of underwear for the entire trip (i.e. wash one, wear one), the experience is worth the cost. We stayed in some excellent campgrounds, some very rustic and some with loads of amenities, and we stayed in a few campgrounds that we really didn´t like so much. Each had its own character and attraction, though, and we enjoyed the experience of being so close to Aussie nature immensely.  

We also saved a considerable amount of money by camping. Oz turned out to be incredibly expensive, as I´ve mentioned. Food was more expensive than in the US, possibly even in Europe. Gas in Oz and NZ both always topped $4.50US a gallon. Beer was too expensive to drink, and even Coke could cost $3 or $4 for a little bottle. It was a little disheartening at times; we wanted to do a lot of things in Oz, because it offers so much, but the cost of things were really prohibitive. Hence, the camping really came in handy. We were already spending much more than expected for our car rental (turns out US insurance companies don´t bother to cover Australia, so we ended up doubling the cost of our rental by purchasing insurance). Hostels were too expensive, at least $20 each in places like Melbourne. So camping was natural for us, with costs from $14-28 AUD for most campgrounds.  

Sleeping on the ground grew old, as one might expect, but we oddly became quite used to it and eventually the bruises on our hips from concrete-like soil conditions disappeared. We did very well on our food, which was almost entirely purchased at supermarkets and cooked on site at the campgrounds. We had a little stove which we used for cooking when there wasn´t a free barbie (Aussie for BBQ) in the campground. We purchased a little percolator in Vietnam that could make two cups of coffee, and faithfully served our caffeine addictions throughout the experience and on into NZ. We got a little tired of eating pasta and rice dishes, or soup from powder, which is unsurprisingly boring; the kangaroo meat was the only meat we could afford, though sometimes we´d splurge and pick up some eggs for a special breakfast (a welcome break from the daily routine of a porridge breakfast). By the time we spent our last night in Sydney in a caravan park, we´d used up all of the food except for a bit of rice, a couple cans of beans, and some fuel; we even polished off the coffee that morning.

One might think that three weeks worth of camping had us pretty dirty by the end. I wouldn´t say that we were as clean as we normally might be, and my beard (after four months of no trimming) caused comparisons (two of them) to the beard Forest Gump had after his coast-to-coast running saga. Still, most of the campgrounds besides the most rustic of them had showers, many quite nice, and we continued to wash our clothes as we have throughout the trip, in a sink. We even used the soiling caused by camping as an excuse to machine-wash our clothes a couple of times, when hand washing just wasn´t cutting throught the grime. Often our little Getz looked like a laundry hamper had exploded, as our clothes were strewn out on the seats and everywhere else possible for drying as we headed to the next destination.

Speaking of the Getz, we rode that little beast like it was an SUV, or as is very popular in Australia, a Ute (short for utility vehicle, these are for all essential purposes and appearances a modern-day El Camino, though Aussies don´t particularly care for that comparison). We took it out on back roads and dusty country lanes so riven with potholes and ruts that we certainly were outside the limitations of our expensive and not so comprehensive insurance (the Getz wasn´t made for bumps or backroads, as its nearly complete lack of shocks demonstrated). It was good to us, though, and we developed a reluctant appreciation for it, perhaps a grudging fondness by the end; in particular, the fact that it could go 35 miles per gallon was quite helpful in Oz. Plus, it had a little hatchback and a shelf behind the back seat where we could cook when it rained, getting shelter for all but our outer shoulders. I wouldn´t necessarily buy a Getz, nor wish one on somebody, but this guy served us as well as it could.

I earlier described our journey through our time in Wilsons Promontory, probably my overall favorite national park in Oz. From there we headed on to Croajingolong Nat'l Park, ending up in a little caravan park in the town of Mallacoota, which is completely surrounded by the park. At first, Mallacoota seemed to us to be quite a po'dunk joint, but it grew on us, as we stayed there three nights. The weather wasn´t so supportive, as it was windy with times of rain throughout those days, and Croajingolong is a wild and wooly place, better appreciated for its unmarred nature than for excellent hiking. I ended up spending most of the time feeding expensive bait to the local fish. Slowly the town became more interesting, especially in that for eleven months of the year it really is a remote, fairly deserted place, but because thousands of Aussies descend on it for a month starting mid-December, it has everything one might need, including a internet cafe/noodle shop/coffee bar/used book store/video rental shop. We spent more time in town, walking and relaxing, than we did wandering through the tangled bush of the surrounding park.

Next we headed north up the coast a bit to the tiny town of Tathra. It´s a great town, really, and completely ignored by any visitors except maybe Aussies. It has a beautiful bay, a historic wharf from which I had the most success fishing in Oz (I even pulled a big shark up to the wharf, though not out of the water), and best of all, Mimosa Rocks Nat´l Park is just up the road. We spent on night in a little caravan park in Tathra, exploring the park but returning to Tathra so that I could have a morning of fishing; the next night we spent in a very rustic campground in the park itself. We were in a surreal area of eucalypts trees and some kind of palms, and our only neighbor was some older Austrian couple who´d somehow gotten this enormous camper van that looked very much like a converted armoured Wells Fargo truck shipped over from Europe (complete with EU plates). We had a great time camping there, though the posting that some snake called the Death Adder was "not uncommon" in the area cut back on any night hiking (or visiting the outhouse for that matter) we might have planned.

We continued north after exploring the beautiful countryside around that area, up through several national parks to a little town called Potato Point. A great thing about Oz is that unlike the US, most of the national parks do not charge entry fees; in fact, most of the are barely noted by a sign as you pass through them, and there are tons of them, as a glance at a Google map of Oz demonstrates (look for the green areas, which seems to be most of Oz). We only paid to enter into Wilsons Prom, which was definitely worth the cost, though we decided not to visit the Royal Nat´l Park and Jergis Bay because of the high cost versus worthiness ratio. Anyhow, Potato Point is so small it doesn´t even have any businesses, though there is a caravan park in the nearby Eurobadalla Nat´l Park we stayed a night at. There was a whistling wind through the area while we were camping, which wasn´t much fun, and so many kangaroos on the campgrounds the ground was covered in their poo (not so great). 

So, we moved on from there to the Jervis Bay area. As I mentioned, we decided against paying $40 a night to visit Jervis Bay´s world-famous Boodaree Nat´l Park, because for free you can park in the nearby village of Hyams Beach, where if its picture-perfect white sands beach isn´t adequate, you can walk on into the park and its UN Heritage beach Green Patch (which looks the same as Hyams). We found this great little caravan park, quite aged and a bit run down, but the owners were tremendously helpful and nice, and we ended up staying two nights there, a welcome change from packing up on a nightly basis. It was this park where we enjoyed our Roo Dogs, surrounded by (living) kin of those unfortunate beasts, and where we had to slap a possum in the face with a spatula as it became a little too friendly during our dinner. The slap didn´t work, so we had to chuck water at it, which did the trick. That was a relaxing stop, especially given the long day´s drive to get up to the Blue Mountain Nat´l Park the next day.

The Blue Mt Nat´l Park is almost an obligatory visit when going through Sydney. It´s only a little over two hours from Sydney, and it has famous sights such as The Three Sisters, a rock formation seen from the town of Katoomba Falls. That town is so touristy that it´s a bit ridiculous, though the view from its lookouts are nothing compared to some of the scenery we saw in Arizona and Utah. Imagine our surprise when we found that there is free camping further along the highway in the little village of Blackheath, though it is very rustic and the bumpy road there tested the Getz´s ability to weather all conditions (yeah right). Blackheath itself has a fair amount of charm, as it´s far enough up the road that the tour buses don´t bother before heading back to Sydney, and just outside the campground was a trail that went along the beautiful gorge that is the highlight of the park. We had a nice hike there, and despite the oncoming summer holidays, we were nearly by ourselves that night in the park. It was a great last night in the bush of Oz, though hardly what might be considered the Outback.

We drove into Sydney the next day, where we again camped. It was a bit of a shock to be immersed in a massive city again, and of course Sydney is really a world-class city. Melbourne was great, really a fun city, but Sydney has the harbor, a fact that really boosts its esteem in our minds (sorry, Doug and Monique). We spent our last couple of days in the city, trying to see as much of it as possible. We also visited a childhood friend of Jess´s, Elizabeth, who with her husband came to Sydney four years ago and still haven´t pried themselves free from Oz. We had dinner with them, and it was a particular treat not to eat out of a can or a box; Elizabeth even made a salad, which nearly brought tears to our eyes. Funny the little things that you cherish after three weeks of camping.

And so we ended our three week adventure in Oz. After spending five weeks in SE Asia, it was really a breath of fresh (familiar) air to be there, regardless of the high costs we incurred. The animals were something special, a reason to visit Oz on its own, though they had nothing on the people. Aussies are some of the nicest people I´ve ever met. They seem to always be willing to strike up a conversation (I´m surprised we´re not still talking to some of them, as it was hard to pry ourselves away). They are enthusiastic, cheerful, and generous. Naturally, we saw very little of Oz in three weeks, we just beat a little path from Melbourne to Sydney, so we will need to return for another trip to continue on north. As for myself, I´m definitely looking forward to that trip.

Until next time, be safe.


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December 17, 2009

Photos From Australia, Part II

OK, here are the rest of the Oz photos. I´ll have the NZ and entries about our adventures there up soon.

 Sunset At Wilsons Prom

 One Of Many Parrot Species

 Another Tiger Snake, Wilsons Prom

 Beach Of Mallacoota At Dusk

 Mallacoota Clouds

 Echidna, Ben Boyd Nat´l Park

 Echidna Again

 Massive Waves, Tathra

 Aaron Fishing, Tathra Wharf

 Heron, Mimosa Rocks Nat´l Park

 Swamp Wallaby, Mimosa Rocks

 Jess Exploring, Mimosa Rocks

 Tidal Pools, Hyams Beach (Jervis Bay)

 Hyams Beach Rocks

 Three Sisters, Blue Mt Nat´l Park

 Jess At Blue Mt Nat´l Park

 Gorge Hiking In Blue Mt Nat´l Park

 Jess & Elizabeth, Sydney

 Sydney Downtown

 Sydney Skyscraper

 Sydney Wharf Area

 Jess & The Opera House, Sydney

 Jess & Aaron, Harbor Bridge, Sydney

 Sydney Opera House

 Front Of Sydney Opera House

 Sweet Aussie Mullet

Until next time, be safe.

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December 15, 2009

Photos From Australia, Part I

Hold on, folks, there are going to be a lot of pictures up from Oz! It was just such a beautiful place, and we took a lot of pictures in our three weeks there. So, let's get started.

 Melbourne Night Lights

 Bay On The Great Ocean Road

 Jess On Great Ocean Road

 Scenery Along Great Ocean Road

 Green Valleys In South Country

 Campsite In Rustic Aire River Area

 Our Mighty Getz

 Twelve Apostles Nat'l Park

 Twelve Apostles Nat'l Park

 Jess At Twelve Apostles

 Aaron At Twelve Apostles

 Cove In Twelve Apostles

 Our Friends Doug & Monique, Apollo Bay

 Aire River Campground

 The Aire River Again

 Swamp Wallaby

 Koala Bear Climbing

 Treacherous Clouds, Apollo Bay

 Sunset, Waratah Bay

 The Waratah Bay Sunset Again

 One Last Waratah Bay Sunset Shot

 Possum, Waratah Bay

 Common Blue Tongue, Wilsons Prom

 View While Hiking, Wilsons Prom

 Jess & Aaron Hiking, Wilsons Prom

 View From Mt Bishop, Wilsons Prom

 Tidal River, Wilsons Prom

 Kangaroos & Joey, Wilsons Prom

 Wombat, Wilsons Prom

 Jess & The Tent, Wilsons Prom

 Tiger Snake, Wilsons Prom

 Squeaky Beach, Wilsons Prom

 Power Waves, Squeaky Beach

 Another Blue Tongue, Wilsons Prom

 Tidal River, Wilsons Prom

 Male Emu, Wilsons Prom

Coming soon will be part two, with just as many Oz photos. Also, I have loaded up several New Zealand shots, which I will post shortly. For now, our adventure Down Under is over, and we head on to Santiago, Chile, tonight. Chao!

Until next time, be safe.

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December 08, 2009

On To New Zealand

This will be a short entry, we're again in a Internet cafe that has inflated prices of $2 for 15 minutes. However, this time we are in New Zealand, having just arrived last night from Oz.

I'm planning on writing about the second half of our great experience in Australa in better detail soon, but for now I'll just sum it up with a few numbers. We spent 19 straight nights camping, meaning that we slept on the ground with nothing between but our sleeping bags. We camped in 12 different campgrounds for that time. We drank 15 liters of wine (almost entirely from boxed wine casks, the only economical way to drink in Oz) during those camping nights, perhaps as a pre-medication for sleeping on the ground. We put 3475 km (2160 miles) on our Hyundia Getz; I haven't tallied the number national parks that we visited, but it was impressive. I'll also come up with a list of wildlife that we saw, which included several species of kangaroos and wallabies, wombats, at least one species of snakes (maybe two), at least two species of possums, bandicoots, echidnas, lace monitor lizards, common blue tongues, numerous species of skinks, emus, more species of parrots and other birds than we could shake a stick at, and lots of other interesting animals. Australia is like a huge zoo.

We also ate three varieties of kangoroo meat choices: kanga wangas (roo hot dogs), steaks and kebabs. We offered some extra kanga wangas to a French couple camping next to us, as Jess was getting a little nauseous at the thought of plowing through kanga meat with a mob of them eating grass around us. That gave us a good laugh with the resulting conversation:

"Would you like some kanga wangas? You know, kangaroo food?"

"Food for kangaroos?"

"No, no, food of kangaroos."

(Look of disgust that only the French can muster up)

Until next time, be safe.

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November 26, 2009

Camping In The Outback Of Australia

We have been having quite a good time in Australia. Prior to taking this long trip, I think our favorite countries were arguably Chile and China; Australia is putting up a good competetive spirit.

We arrived in Melbourne from Singapore, a bit fatigued. For one thing, we stopped over in Darwin, at 4 am, and didn't board our flight for Melbourne until 7:30 am; also, there is a four hour time difference between Melbourne and most of SE Asia. Our trip was quite nice regardless, and a testament to how good Jetstar Airlines is, even though it is a low-fare airline. Our adventure of the day was only beginning, we had rented a car, and so we picked up our little Hyundai Getz from the terminal. I guess I'd been aware that people drive on the wrong (left) side of the road here in Oz, a practice taken from the Brits, who've spread their bad habits worldwide. I'd prepared myself for it, but there is nothing like the real thing, especially when the first couple of hours trying out something is on a very busy freeway. To make it all more interesting, of course the Getz had to be a manual, so I got to practice shifting with my left hand. It's a good thing that I knew how to drive a stick shift prior to this trip, otherwise it would have been too much.

We managed to figure it out fairly quickly, and as it turns out, driving on the freeway is actually easier than driving on city streets; at least on the freeway, everyone is driving in the same direction, even if they are on the left side of the road. We got a bit lost, heading west for about 40 km before realizing that we needed to be going east. Eventually, we arrived at the home of an Aussie couple we'd met in Granada, Spain, named Doug and Monique. They were really nice and welcoming, and there is nothing quite as grand as coming into a country and being met by local people. We stayed in their house for two nights, and both nights they took us out to tour different parts of Melbourne. Again, if you are exploring a city by yourself, there are many parts that will be missed compared to being in the company of locals who know the good neighborhoods, streets, restaurants and bars. Doug and Monique had just finished an 18-month world trip a few weeks before we arrived, so they were acutely aware of our needs - a laundry machine, cheap eats, those sorts of things, and they were very accomodating. I only hope they can visit us in the US so that we'll be able to return the (huge) favor.

From Melbourne, we set out west to the Great Ocean Road, which runs down along the coast southwest of Melbourne. It passes through little towns like Apollo Bay, and passes through several national parks like Otway National Park and the Twelve Apostles Nat'l Park. We spent our first night in a little campground just outside of Apollo Bay where koala bears made their distinct grunts above our tents, and several species of parrots flew around, tame enough to land on my shoulder. The drive there was really beautiful, the sun was shining brightly, and the waters were brilliantly turquoise along the rocky shoreline. There were many beaches along the road, most of them deserted, all of them with golden-white sand and very inviting. The next day we continued south to reach as far as the Twelve Apostles, which highlights rock outcroppings away from the high cliffs; it was rainy and foggy, which made the outcroppings very mysterious and beautiful. We found a free campsite in the national park, and we ended up staying there for three nights. A river ran next to the campground, and I fished a bit, though quite unsuccessfully. We had kangaroos and koala bears right next to our tent, and our little Getz served as a shelter on the days that it rained so that we could cook our meals on our little stove. It was very basic, but we enjoyed it thoroughly.

We spent the days there exploring the area around Apollo Bay. We found a winery, where we roused the owners from their home to give us a wine-tasting and ended up chatting with them for 45 minutes. We even found a brewery, with the best beer we've had since leaving Europe. We found a forest that looked as though it was from prehistoric time, its huge myrtle beech trees and low, green eucalypts trees very primeval in the mists and light rain. We hiked through beautiful hills to find a lake that had a healthy population of duck-billed platypus, the most primitive mammals on earth, and although we didn't see any, it was interesting to find a lake where they at least lived. We had koalas running across the road in front of us, and wallabies allowing us to get within ten feet for photos. It was a spectacular area, and I'm sure that few Americans bother to find it, a real shame.

From there, we passed again through Melbourne and came to Wilsons Promontory, one of the best national parks in Australia and a very wild place, even with the moderate crowd there. The wildlife there was simply astonishing. One beautiful evening we went out into a broad field where we were told that animals came out to feed; there we found huge mobs of kangaroos, many with little joeys running hopping about. Fat wombats waddled around, scratching themselves and scarfing down plantlife. Wallabies came out to peer at us, and birds of all sorts flew overhead - parrots, cockatoos, and many others. We even saw a flock of emus, ambling through the tall grasses. With the wildlife, it almost felt like being in Africa again. We ended up camping there in Wilsons for three nights, in a little grassy site with shore trees sheltering overhead and an occasional kangaroo or wombat skirting its periphery. We made several hikes in the surrounding park, especially to look for snakes, and found four of them, three of them being Tiger Snakes, the fourth most venomous snake in the world, and the last one lighter than the others but likely still a Tiger. We also spent a lot of time in the ocean, wading, walking the beach, and fishing (I even caught a fish, though very small). The water is freezing this far south, so being in the water long isn't really an option.

At any rate, we've had a great time so far in Australia. It's interesting being here, we feel like we learn something about Oz all the time. We've found Oz to be very expensive, especially for food and fuel, which was surprising. We have picked up some of the lingo and promptly forgotten it, though it obvious that Aussies love to cut of the ends of words and put a vowel there, and they have nicknames for literally everything. People in Oz love to stop and chat, and they are usually interested to find that we are Americans; they know more about our TV shows and our politics than Jess and I do. This is a fun country, and it seems as though people here do love to have fun.

Our next stop is the Croajingalong Nat'l Park, assuming we get out of this library in time to reach it today. We are getting quite used to sleeping on the hard ground, although I wish we hadn't chosen to leave behind our foam sleeping pads. Camping here is great, a real treat, and it's hard to believe that we are half-way through our three weeks in Australia; also of note is that as of today, we have been on the road for three months.

I can't say when the next update will be. Internet is scarce in these parts, we were fortunate to find a library with free net, though I've gotten a few hard looks for being on as long as I have. It's possible that the next entry I'm able to post will be in Sydney, in a week and a half. On the other hand, it's so beautiful and peaceful here, I'm not sure that I care. It just means we're having a great time here in the bush of Oz.

Until next time, be safe.

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November 20, 2009


I haven't updated in awhile. This isn't because we are lazy or have forgotten about the blog. It is because we are now in Australia, where prices for the net often are as high as $8 an hour. Plus, besides the two nights that we spent with friends we met on the road, we are planning on camping the majority of our stay in Australia, which makes updating the blog rather difficult.

We'll update as soon as possible. No worries, mate.

Until next time, be safe.

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