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Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

opera house from the ferry

I’ve been in Sydney for a couple days now, staying in Kings Cross in a hotel above an Irish pub which I haven’t been able to go to yet due to it being over flowing with people every night.  The whole city is packed with people, I’m guessing a large portion of them are here for New Years (either that or this city has the most happening Monday nights I’ve ever seen).  Kings Cross is an interesting mix of takeaway restaurants, strip clubs, trendy bars, clubs, sleazy hostels and some really nice restaurants and hotels.  I read things before I got here about it being a place to avoid being in Sydney, can’t see why to be honest.  I’ve walked all over it in the past 2 days and haven’t felt unsafe once.  All that being said, most of the drinking establishments in the area aren’t really my kind of place.  For that I like The Rocks.  The first settlement in sydney, right on the harbour.  It’s full of old buildings, pubs, restaurants and shops with a great atmosphere.

harbour bridge from the rocks

I’ve taken a couple ferries across Sydney harbour to the North shore, walked back across the harbour bridge one time.  The view of the Opera house from there is fantastic.  My favourite view of the harbour so far was from the North shore, not far from the harbour bridge.  You can see the Opera house, the city and the bridge.

Dowtown sydney, opera house from the North shore

As far as the New Year celebrations go, there’s banners up everywhere saying “NYE 2008” etc.  They close almost all the roads in downtown Sydney on New Years Eve as the masses pour in.  This is gonna be one hell of a party, can’t wait for it!

Now I’m off to Bondi beach for the day!


Sunday, December 28th, 2008

The time I spent in Newcastle was largely due to Christmas and the lack of being able to travel on it.  So Christmas eve, we went out to the Blackbutt wildlife reserve which has Koalas, Kangaroos and other native wildlife.


After Christmas day on the beach, Boxing day followed suit, with the weather being perfect again.  This time we explored some different beaches.  Many to choose from in Newcastle!

nobbys beach

hidden beach

The next morning I took a surfing lesson.  Been wanting to do this all week but because of the holiday this was the first lesson time available.  It was brilliant, loads of fun, by the end of the 1 1/2 lesson I was getting the hang of it and managed to successfully stand up a few times.  More surfing to come while I’m in Oz.  I was totally shattered afterwards, the cumulative effects of 2 days of swimming and the surfing when I haven’t done much of anything in the water for a long time but it was still awesome and I’ll be doing it again as soon as possible.

Now I’m in Sydney, will be here discovering it for a week including the New Years extravaganza.  When we arrived yesterday evening it was very warm and humid, very quickly changed by a cooling thunderstorm that rolled in.  Today is sunny and beautiful.  This Decembers weather is by far the best I’ve ever had!  I like the contrast of deciding how few clothes to wear instead of how many.

Christmas in Oz

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

Christmas in Australia.  Specifically Newcastle, NSW. Quite different than Christmas has ever been for me.

25 and sunny was the weather, could not have been better and one of Newcastle’s beaches was the destination.  No vendors around, just the option of laying on the beach, or getting in the ocean.
First we built an sand igloo on the beach.  Anyone reading this from Iowa may (or may not) appreciate the humour.

We ate lunch on the beach while the ocean destroyed the igloo, then it was on to swimming.



Happy Christmas from down under!  I hope everyone has a great Christmas and New Years!


The Blue Mountains

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

4th day in the blue mountains, we decided to do another hike, a little farther a field this time outside of Katoomba near the neighboring town of Blackheath.  Called the Grand Canyon hike and it lived up to it’s name.

Down through rain-forest and waterfalls to begin with into a narrow, deep canyon, walking on a ledge about halfway up the canyon.  Then descending into the bottom of the canyon, along the stream.  This stream gets much larger after rainfall.

in the canyon

After hiking in the base of the canyon for a while the trail veers off and goes up to the top of the canyon wall and then opens out with views of a huge canyon.  Different than the one by Katoomba but equally impressive.

view across govetts gorge

The rest of the hike was mostly straight forward along the top of the cliff with numerous overlooks, quite a few kinds of butterflies and some lizards, ending with a 750 meter dash attempting catch the last bus of the day back to Katoomba. This attempt was successful with not a second to spare.

Bridal viel falls

I’m very impressed with the Blue Mountains, I don’t think I’ve ever done this much hiking in one place before.  Usually I end up only being somewhere a couple days and doing 1 hike.  Here I’ve done 3 hikes, in consecutive days all of which were different, interesting with stunning views.  Very good.

view across govetts gorge

I’m also starting to get ideas about the rest of my stay in Australia, where I want to work, where I want to go etc.  The more I hear/read/see the more places I want to go here.  Right now about as far as my plan goes is Newcastle for Christmas, Sydney for New Years and then down to Melbourne to look for a job, maybe for a month or 2, maybe longer.  I really want to get to Perth and the West coast, Tasmania as well as the obvious destinations on the East coast.  Maybe I’ll even get up top here too….  I can’t believe there’s only 11 days left in 2008, what a year it’s been!

Australia and the Blue Mountains

Friday, December 19th, 2008

My flight over the Tasman was straightforward and uneventful, (and wow was the havana club rum cheap in duty free) weather upon arrival in Sydney was perfect, 25 and sunny. After checking in and dumping bags at the hostel we went out, walked around for a while and had dinner and a beer at a local brewery. First impressions of Sydney, very good.

The next morning we got a train out of Sydney into the not too distant blue mountains and the town of Katoomba. The weather was the same as the previous day, summer has truly started for me now, thank you Australia. The blue mountains get their name from the blueish haze you can see on the horizon here. I haven’t seen a large mountain yet, it’s actually a canyon, a really cool one at that.

the 3 sisters

Just being in Katoomba for over 24 hours,was enough to wow me, hiking along the edge of the canyon. Standing on the top of the cliff with a sheer dropoff of several hundred meters and looking out into a vast ocean of trees stretching throughout the entire area. The rocks are really strange and cool looking, the trees are different from anything I’ve ever seen before and I saw two greatly coloured wild birds and one lizard on the 1km hike.

wild parrot


2nd full day here we hiked down into the canyon, through part of it and then back out farther along. Great views of waterfalls along the way with a few rainbows caused by the mist at them!

rainbow from a waterfall


katoomba falls rainbow

The small town (18k) of Katoomba is even pretty cool. Loads of hip cafes, restaurants and even a belgian waffle shop on the main street! So far: 4 days in Australia, 4 days of summer sunshine and no rain. I like it here.

blue mountains

Christchurch, and the end of my stay in New Zealand

Monday, December 15th, 2008


I’ve been in Christchurch for 3 days now, returned my rental car and tomorrow morning I’m flying to Sydney.  Christchurch is full of old buildings, parks, restaurants and bars or all kinds imaginable.  Also (big bonus here) it’s flat, unlike all the other major cities in the country, making it much more enjoyable to walk around.  I’ve eaten at several of the seemingly endless supply of Japanese places here and went to a Burmese place last night that was excellent.  In the 3 days I’ve been here I’ve eaten Japanese, Swiss, Burmese, Indian and Belgian, all of which were good.  The nightlife here seems to be pretty good too, stumbled upon good live music twice over the weekend.  


I’ve been in New Zealand for about 7 weeks now and explored a large portion of both islands.  Seen some of the most amazing scenery I’ve ever seen, and the most diverse scenery of any country I’ve been in.  Here’s what I’d call the highlights of my time here.


Fiordland is simply stunning, I’ve never just stared at mountains like I did there before.  

Hiking on and around the Franz Josef Glacier was a great experience, glaciers kick ass.  

The Abel Tasman park is a collection of the nicest, most un populated beaches with hills going right down to the sea.  It looks like paradise and swimming in bark bay there it felt like it too.

The Tongarirro Alpine crossing is the best day hike I’ve ever done, between two volcanoes and an astounding amount of radically different environments along the way.


The wild life here is also fantastic (no, not the sheep, which are tasty!), I’ve seen 3 kinds of penguins (here’s a couple videos I took)

(unfortunately I wasn’t able to taste any penguin), seals, seal lions, albatross, sperm whales and quite a few kinds of birds that I have no idea the names of.  And I didn’t go to a zoo to see them.


Of the extreme sports associated with New Zealand, Sky Diving at lake Taupo was an amazing experience and I’d love to do it other places in the future.  I also had a fantastic time white water rafting the Shotover river by Queenstown and I’m already thinking about other places I can go rafting on this trip.



New Zealand is the best place to see the great outdoors of anywhere I’ve been or can imagine, diverse enough to include just about any kind of scenery you can think of.  The only failing here in my opinion is the towns in general just aren’t that interesting and the roads are insanely and too much of the time, unnecessarily curvy with far too many one lane bridges.  Oh, and someone needs to clue this place in on what good beer is.

Minor quips on the country are all I have though, it’s probably about the easiest country to travel around in that I’ve ever been in and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here.  I even discovered a wine that I like!  I’m happy with the amount of time I had here too, less would’ve been ridiculous to see both islands properly and though I could’ve spent more time here and there’s plenty I didn’t see, 7 weeks is a long time traveling in one country and I’m ready to fly to Australia tomorrow and some real summer weather, no more crowded house weather with four seasons in one day! 



One other travel note, the longer I’ve been here the more I find myself increasingly excited about the places I am yet to go to on this trip.  I’ve been on the road for more than 4 months of my 13 now and I know some of the people reading this are wondering about this, but I’m not sick of traveling in the slightest, the more I travel the more I want to travel and the few (very few) tedious things that I’ve found about long term travel are far outweighed by the positives.


Right I’m thinking about Australia, and I feel myself turning into an ocean worshiper very quickly…


Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Kaikoura, due to the continental shelf drop off in depth near the coast here, is home to all sorts of marine life including what most people come here to see, whales. There’s several Great Sperm Whales living off the coast here year round, we decided to see them via light aircraft tour. The weather was perfect for it, clear skies making the ocean look irresistible, especially from above. We saw 4 of the whales, one near a sight seeing boat giving some perspective of the massive size of them (18 meters long).

great sperm whale

great sperm whale

After seeing the whales, we hiked around the peninsula here, home to the largest colony of red billed gulls in New Zealand, one of which stole part of my fish and chips from lunch right out of my hand. A despicable offense. Other than the lowly gulls, there’s other birds and the biggest seal colony I’ve ever seen, at least 200 fur seals there!

seal colony

fur seal colony

Lake Tekapo

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

On our journey North along the East coast of the South Island we decided take a detour inland to lake Tekapo.  The weather was great, even summer-like! A nice change from the South and West coast weather tendencies.  Perfect blue skies with amazing panoramic views of the Southern Alps.

Lake Tekapo

On one side of you there’s brown mountains with dry grass on them, then a couple lakes with incredibly vivid colours.

Lake Tekapo

And in the opposite direction are the mostly still snowcapped alps.

The Alps

Being surrounded by mountains creates lots of photo opportunities…

Mt cook with sheep

lupin meadow, lake tekapo and the alps

Continuing North heading to Kaikoura we arrived there right at sunset…

sunset from lupin meadow

Otago Peninsula

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Next stop after the Catlins was the town of Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula just outside of town, home to all kinds of wildlife including penguines, seals and a royal albatross colony. Dunedin is full of steep hills (normal for all the major towns I’ve been to in this country) and quite a few cool old buildings. We got in town in the evening, stopped at the first hostel with beds available and headed out on the town. Civilization looks nice when you haven’t been around much for a week. Ate at one of the many Japanese restaurants in town (very large number for a town this size) where I got my fix of okonomiyaki, tempura and maguro sashimi. Delicious. After that we walked across the street to a pub with real cask ale and stayed there a while. As first impressions of a city go, this was a good evening.

The next morning the good weather had stayed so we headed off to explore the Otago peninsula. First stop was the Royal Albatross breeding colony at the tip of the peninsula, the only place these birds breed that isn’t an offshore island anywhere on earth. Saw adult birds incubating the eggs in the nests and quite a few juvenile birds who are returning looking for mates flying around. The wingspan on these birds is 3 meters, and they rarely flap them. Watching them soar effortlessly in the blustery wind by the cliffs is amazing, some came within a few meters of us in the air.

royal albatross

The Peninsula is also home to both yellow eyed and blue penguins. Since we’d since the yellow eyed penguins several times now (including having one cross the road in front of the car!) we went to the Blue penguin colony at dusk when they come back from their day of fishing. Blue penguins are the smallest penguin in the world at only just over 12 inches. Unfortunately since it was half an hour after sunset when they started returning it was too dark for any photography (flash scares them and is not allowed) but it was awesome to watch. While we were waiting, the seals entertained us…

seal pup

They came ashore in groups of 10-20, slowly waddled up on the rocks stopping along the way as a group. Then up the embankment and into the hillside where their burrows are. We were only a meter or two away from them at one point and we probably saw around 100 penguins before we left when we couldn’t see anything anymore. Hilarious viewing as they hop from rock to rock and waddle up the hills!

The Catlins

Monday, December 8th, 2008

After finding some excellent beer (long overdue over my stay in NZ!) in Invercargill, we headed East from there along the South coast.  Stopped at Slope Point, the farthest Southerly point on the South island.

slope point

Then on to Curio bay, home of a Yellow Eyed penguin colony, various other wildlife and a jurassic petrified forest.  Penguins are hilarious to watch, just walking over the rocks.

yellow eyed penguin
yellow eyed penguin

Got fully soaked in the afternoon watching a couple of them when out of nowhere it started pouring rain.  After that we found a hostel, overlooking a neighboring bay and dried off.

porpose bay

Went back to the cove in the evening when we saw 10 or so of the penguins and a sea lion.  While watching the penguins a rainbow appeared out over the cove…

rainbow over curio bay with penguins

The best thing about all this is there are hardly any tourists here at all, this isn’t on any of the main bus routes so far fewer travelers come here.  This leads to less facilities but remote destinations, while watching the penguins and sea lion we the only people at the beach.

Next morning we drove through the rest of the Catlins and on to Dunedin.

Mcleans falls

Then on to Cathedral caves, where we waded through the bay at low tide and explored the two inter connected caves there. Really high caves, I guess that’s why they are called cathedral…

looking out of the caves

The last stop in the Catlins was Nugget point, with incredibly inviting looking water which the seals were taking full advantage of.
seal swimming


All in all the South coast is great, only downside is the seemingly constant strong wind and ever changing weather. It’s off the tourist track, full of great wildlife, rocky coastline and beaches like this…