New Zealand: Sunnier adventures on the “mainland”!

Kia Ora, friends! That means hello in Maori!

After a rainy stay on the North Island of New Zealand, I made my way to the South Island via the Interislander ferry across the Cook Straight. The ferry itself was as nice as some cruise ships, complete with lounges, a food court, and a pub. The trip itself took about three and a half hours, but the approach into Picton made the entire trip worth the wait. The rains on the North Island left me with low expectations, but my hopes were still high. We got close to the South Island and saw the sun was shining, the dolphins were jumping (so I was told – I didn’t see them!), and I was filled with excitement at what some have called the most beautiful island on Earth.

We didn’t spend much time hanging about in Picton and jumped right on to a bus headed for Nelson. After a quick stop in Blenheim for some wine tasting, we drive into Nelson. There I said goodbye to the group I had been traveling with on the North Island. Our driver kept referring to the South Island as the “mainland”, explained that the North Island is just a side show and welcomed us to the REAL New Zealand.

In Nelson I was greeted by a good friend I had made while traveling in India earlier this year, Jackie. On that trip, one of my most challenging, I was accompanied by Jackie and her mother Christine. We all muddled our way through the culture shock together and created a bond solidified by shared adventures. I was happy to see her! We caught up as she drove out of the city and towards her home in Mahana where I was planning on staying for the weekend. We passed fields of happy sheep grazing on the lush green grasses and vineyards with their vines trimmed back for the winter.

We arrived at a nice home nestled in the rolling hills above Mahana covered with vineyards and various other crops. There I met her lovely daughter Hannah, partner Nigel, and son Jock. Jackie told me about the plans for the weekend as we had a cup of tea and sat around the fire. I realized how nice it felt to be in an actual home for the first time in a couple of months. Jackie asked if I had been eating lots of fish and chips, a New Zealand staple, and I told her that regrettably I hadn’t because I had been cooking dinner every night to save money.

So we made our way to a cute take-away “chippery” right on the water, placed our order, and walked around for about 10 minutes while it was being prepared. When we returned to the restaurant and they called our number, I walked up to the counter just as the guy behind the counter viciously stabbed the paper wrapped packet repeatedly before handing it over the counter. Hmm…why would he stab it? Wasn’t the fish already dead? Was he just making sure? I must have looked confused, because Jackie and Hannah were laughing as we walked to the car. Apparently the stabbing is necessary to ensure the food stays crispy long enough to get it home. Ha, I was relieved my fish was dead! The fish and chips were delicious as promised and after a long travel day, we made it an early night. The full belly and soft, warm bed was like a slice of heaven and I fell asleep smiling.

The next morning we jumped in the car and drive up to Abel Tasman National Park where we would be spending most of our day. Jackie shared stories of when she had visited the area as a child and we talked about the effects if tourism on the area as well as the huge influx of Brits in the area. We decide to take a walk along the shore to see one of the golden sand covered beaches for which the park is famous.

Our walk started out through a tidal area covered in water and grasses. After a short way I found myself in brush and what felt like a forest in Colorado. Jackie explained that most of the vegetation in that area was not native. We continued on and the trail got a little muddy as we walked past streams and small waterfalls. The trees changed and it started to look a lot like the rainforests I saw in Tasmania.

After a couple of hours of walking we found ourselves on a long stretch of golden sand called Apple Tree Bay. We took off our shoes and socks to feel the sand between our toes and listened to the surf breaking against the shore as the seagulls hung around checking us out. After a short break we climbed a steep embankment on the far side of the beach to get back on the trail and make our way back to the car. Since we had left the tide had gone out and what was covered with water before was now home to thousands of little crabs scurrying back and forth on the sand.

We stopped for an afternoon snack and went back to Jackie’s house for dinner. We were joined for dinner by Christine, or Nana as her grandchildren call her. It was great to catch up with her and hear about her new home. We had a lovely dinner and watched a movie called “Before the Rain” after dinner which took place in India in honor of our time together there.

The next morning we stopped by Chris’ house where I got to play with her two cute dogs and a few dozen sheep before making our way into Nelson to catch my bus back to Picton that afternoon.

We stopped at a local museum featuring The World of Wearable Art (WOW) and several classic cars. Oh. My. Gosh. So cool!!! The WOW exhibit blew my mind and got my creative side jumping up and down in excitement! Each year, thousands of individuals create some if the most amazing costumes representing ideas from around the world. The costumes would made Lady Gaga jealous! Some were exotic, some were just strange, but all of them were remarkable. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed, but I did buy the DVD of the show. I may try to recruit a few friends to create an entry with me….

A mention should also be made of their classic car display of beautiful specimens throughout the years. From Caddilacs to Jaguars, there was no shortage of beautiful cars to see!

I was sad to say goodbye to Jackie, Chris, Hannah, Nigel, and Jock, but the road travels on and I go with it! We said our goodbyes and I got on a bus back to Picton where I would be spending the night before catching a train the next day.

The KiwiRail Coastal Pacific train left Picton mid-day and took me through gently rolling hills covered with grazing sheep until it makes it’s way closer to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

I watched the rocky shoreline go past as I thought about the fact that next landmass east of here is Chile! We travelled through dark tunnels and over lush hilly passes to arrive into Christchurch that evening. As many of you know, Christchurch was ravaged by a series of large earthquakes and aftershocks starting in 2010 leaving its Central Business District a no-go Red Zone. So while I will be returning to the city at the end of my trip, it is no longer much of a tourist destination.

I stayed at the Y-M-C-A!! Literally!! It’s one of the only hostels still standing in Christchurch. I’d like to tell you it was fabulous, but I would be lying. It was actually grungy and strange. No worries though, I was only there about 12 hours before I got on the next train. I did try to recruit some people to do the famous pose in front of the sign though…no takers unfortunately…language barrier.

The next morning, I enjoyed the ride on the Tranz-Alpine train through deep gorges, over creaky wooden bridges, and into long, dark tunnels. I fought for a vantage spot along with about 100 Japanese tourists as we travelled through the majestic mountains. After dealing with the rest of the passengers without any idea what “personal space” means, stepping off into the quiet village of Arthur’s Pass was a very welcome feeling. It’s a very, very small community at one of the highest mountain passes in the Southern Alps where I was spending a couple of nights. I got off the train, checked into the hostel, and made my way to the trailhead just outside of town.

After much debate on which trail to take on, I decided on a hike to the base of a waterfall. I made my way up the hills to a platform overlooking a beautiful waterfall framed by snow capped mountains and lush green forest. In a town known for its high levels of rainfall, I was treated to bright sunlight and blue skies. I sat and ate my lunch and thought about how similar it looked to home. As I was thinking about home (Utah), a family showed up on the platform. I immediately heard the American accent and asked where they were from. They were from Provo, about an hour south of where I live! Strange place to meet a neighbor! We talked about how much it looked like home and had a nice chat. I see so few Americans abroad, it was nice to chat with some!

I made my way back down to the city, grabbed my Kindle, and did some serious relaxing. After a few hours and a nice hot shower, I made my way to the pub across the street for a lively discussion about American politics with a Canadian and an Aussie before retiring for the evening.

Bright and early the following morning I wasted no time getting back onto the trails. There was a five hour trail that I wanted to hit while it was still sunny, so I got on the trail around 9:00. I made my way through dripping wet rain forest, dry alpine scrub, and tall pines along the trail. The track wound up and over gorges and past gushing waterfalls while surrounded by the happiest bird songs you’ve ever heard! I stopped a few times for photo opportunities and lunch before making my way back to town for more mundane tasks like laundry and planning the next leg of my trip.

I reluctantly boarded the train out of Arthur’s Pass the next morning, keeping my chin up only by reflecting on all the great things I was able to see during my two days there. I wish I could have stayed longer, there were so many more trails to follow! I got off the train a few short hours later in Greymouth where I stayed for the night. I will leave you there for this post, but don’t worry, there is much more to see of the South Island…pardon me…Mainland!

Happy trails my friends!


P.S. I’m trying something new and posting a test video on YouTube to get back to using videos in my blog again! The video below is of Abel Tasman National Park. Please let me know how it works for you!




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New Zealand!! North Island…it’s sweet as.

I landed in Auckland so excited I could burst. Coming to New Zealand has been on my list for a very long time. I knew that seeing the Maori culture, beautiful scenery, and gracious locals would be a life changing experience. I was right! I did not plan much time in Auckland simply because I am not in New Zealand for the city sights. I only planned for one full day in the city before hitting the road.

I started my day in the city by taking a walk over to Sky City. It is a tower known for bungy jumping and a casino. Didn’t feel much like gambling with money or my life, so I continued my walking tour over to the tourist information office. I asked the question, “If you only had one day in Auckland, what would you go see?” The answer from all three of the counter clerks was a resounding, “The Auckland Museum – go to the cultural Maori show!” So I got directions to the bus depot and spent about 20 minutes planning my route. I walked over to the counter to buy my ticket just as the window slid shut. I looked at my watch, it was 11:01 AM. Huh, do they close for lunch? I was made aware of a big sign stating that none of the buses would be running from 11:00 to 4:30 for a Union meeting.

Change of plans – the trains! Great plan, except the nearest station was about a 30 minute walk from the museum. Oh well, sunny day and comfortable shoes, I finally made my way there in about 45 minutes. Either I’m a slow walker or I didn’t take the most direct route. Probably a combination of the two…

The museum did not disappoint. They had an exhibit of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012 photos that were absolutely amazing, but that was just the icing on the cake. The could boast an exhibit explaining how New Zealand was formed, including a live volcano simulation. It was pretty freaky when you consider there are many volcanos on the islands that could go at any minute!! After a while of cruising the exhibits I made my way to the meeting area for the show. I was greeted by a mostly naked man covered in tribal tattoos and blowing on a conch shell. He told me to follow him and I did!

They took us through the history of how the Maori people migrated to New Zealand from Polynesia and established themselves. After a rough period during european settlement, they have come full circle and have regained the pride and cultural stronghold in New Zealand. Maori is recognized as one of New Zealand’s national languages and the Maori culture is felt everywhere I go.

I made my way back to my hostel and stopped by the Wintergardens on the way. The Wintergardens are a couple of greenhouses with some of the most amazing examples if lilies and orchids I have seen! I walked through the gardens for a bit and then kept on rolling back to the city center.

The next morning I got up and got my first bus to Rotorua. After stopping at a roadside attraction of the Kiwi icon L&P bottle, We made a quick stop for lunch at the Shire’s Rest, a cafe positioned right in the heart of where Peter Jackson filmed some of the Shire scenes from Lord of the Rings. You could see why he chose the area filled with rolling hills and grazing sheep. It was neat to see the area and I was looking forward to seeing even more of the landscapes that captured his imagination and made New Zealand a Hollywood darling.

Rotorua is known for three things: Geothermal activity, Maori culture, and Zorbing. I will start with Zorbing. Thats where you climb inside a giant inflatable ball filled with water and roll down a hill. A few of my bus-mates tried it, but I stayed warm. The prices were pretty steep for a 6 second roll down a hill, but I enjoyed watching them at least!

The geothermal activity around Rotorua means that the entire town is riddled with steaming hot thermal bodies of water. Where there is geothermal activity, there is usually a good amount of sulfur, and Rotorua is no exception. It smells like sulfur. Everywhere. Ugh. But thats okay, you get used to it!

As for the Maori culture, they have rebuilt a traditional village on one of the original sites where there was a village and did a full reenactment of the rituals surrounding entering the village. After much yelling and posturing, we were allowed in where we learned about the games they played, the music they love, and the food they eat.

The crown jewel of the evening was the feast at the end of the night. Maori people cook their food underground using the thermal energy from the ground, burning wood, and hot rocks. They presented us with a feast of lamb, chicken, and vegetables that was to die for! We all ate way too much, but it was worth every calorie! They showed us the traditional Haka dance that is used to show the prowess of their warriors and get them psyched up to go into battle. It was a lot of body slapping, tongue jutting, and chanting. Great fun!! Overall it was a very memorable evening!

I spent some time the next day exploring the nearby park that featured many thermal pools open to the public. While the smell was overwhelming at times, it was neat to see the area and get to know the town a bit.

I boarded the next bus to Taupo on a rainy day and we make a quick stop at the beautiful Huka Falls. The rapidly flowing water made me want to go rafting!! The river rapidly goes from 28 meters wide to 8 meters wide, causing a huge acceleration, much like how a jet boat engine works. I watched an actual jet boat approach the base of the falls and he just about had the engine flat out just to stay in place long enough for his passenger to take pictures.

We stopped to take a look at Lake Taupo, a volcano that has collapsed in upon itself about 26 thousand years ago. The most recent known eruption was in 181 AD. It was the largest eruption in modern history planet earth and left a dust cloud as far as Russia. Three volcanos have erupted in New Zealand in New Zealand…in the last week. Yikes! It is a very active volcanic area and has the history of earthquakes and volcanos to prove it!

We stopped for the night in a small town called Taupo on the shores of Lake Taupo. I’m sure it is a very picturesque town, but most of what I saw was rain, lots and lots of rain. I tried to make the best of it and walked down to the lake and around town. I returned to the hostel to seek shelter and talked with a few of my travel mates about going to a pub quiz in town that night. After dinner about 10 of us made our way there and while the trivia was good, I enjoyed the camaraderie more!

After a late night, getting up to catch the early bus to National Park was not easy, but we all did it anyway. Normally the highlight of the north island is a full day walk called the Tongariro Alpine Crossing that takes you across snow fields to “Mount Doom” from the Lord of the Rings films. Unfortunately, there has been quite a bit of volcanic activity in the area, so they closed it. Poo! So without that to look forward to, it was a long travel day. When we finally approached the lodge, the bus started making some very sad noises before giving up the ghost right outside the hostel. We were supposed to go up to the National Park to do some walking, but the bus was not going anywhere. Just as well, it was still pouring rain. The rain is really starting to piss me off.

The next morning we walked out to find a new bus to take us to Wellington. Wellington is the port city to catch the ferry to the South Island. That’s when it hit me. I was leaving the North Island and I hadn’t seen much at all. It dampened my mood and made the six hour drive a little sad. I stared out the windows at the first day without a constant rain and was frustrated that I was spending it in a bus. Such is life. I have been traveling for almost 8 months and I have had very few days of bad weather, at least not when it mattered. So I decided to count my blessings and not dwell on what I didn’t get to see. All I can do is look forward to all the beauty and magic that the South Island has to offer. I will just have to come back to New Zealand again some day!

We arrived in Wellington late in the afternoon and one of my new friends, Donna, said she would go to the museum with me, so we dropped our stuff and went out the door to the museum. Te Papa is an incredible museum that shouldn’t be missed while in Wellington! They even had an earthquake simulator and a 3D exhibit highlighting the Colossal Squid found off the shores in 2007. I was a little sad to be leaving Wellington after only a few hours, but I will add it to places I will have to visit again someday!

My first stop on the South Island is Nelson to visit my friends Jackie and Chris. Loyal blog readers may remember them from my travels in India. They offered to host me while I was in New Zealand, and unfortunately for them, I took them up on it! I will blog again next week and let you know what we got up to!




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Adelaide: Home of Kangaroo Island, great wine, and a whining tour guide!\

Adelaide is not the first city that comes to mind when people think of Australia, nor probably the second. However, it is a place I heard many great things about and I deemed it worth a short stay! The city itself is quite picturesque because if what happened when it was first founded. Unlike most of the large cities in Australia, it was not founded by convicts. I will give you a brief history of the area before I jump into what I got up to while I was in town!

A group in Britain led by Edward Gibbon Wakefield were looking to start a colony based on free settlement rather than convict labor. After problems in other Australian colonies arising from existing settlement methods, the time was right to form a more methodical approach to establishing a colony. A surveyor, Colonel William Light, was sent to South Australia to find a suitable site for the colonization. He was required to find a site with a harbor, arable land, fresh water, ready access for internal and external communications, building materials and drainage. He decided on the site and after much discussion, it was agreed upon. The new colony was named Adelaide after King Williams IV’s wife, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen.

Because it was a planned city and not subject to the usual colony sprawl you are welcomed into the city on wide streets even by today’s standards. Surely Light didn’t anticipate the population growth and future use of cars, but the street widths were based on being able to turn a horse drawn cart around in the street. In modern day Adelaide, you can enjoy stylish architecture, boutique shopping, sandy beaches, fabulous art events, nightlife, fine dining, and some of Australia’s best cafe strips. It’s population is slightly over 1 million, which makes it Australia’s fifth largest city, and by far the largest city in the otherwise sparsely populated South Australia. It is also known for having the conveniences of a large city, while at the same time being far less cosmopolitan than the “Big Four”.

I started my trip with a city orientation tour that turned out to be interesting, not because of the tour itself, but because of the driver/tour guide. The tour only had two other people besides myself, and I was picked up first. When I got in the van we drove past the casino and I made a comment about heading there later to try my hand at poker. The guide proceeded to tell me how he had developed a gambling problem and was all but run out of town in Perth. He came to Adelaide thinking there wasn’t a casino, but alas, there it was, right in the center of town. He gambled until he won about $6000, took the money and started a tour company and hasn’t gambled since. I didn’t mind the story but thought it was an awful lot of disclosure from a tour guide.

He picked up the only other passengers, a nice elderly couple from Brisbane. As we made our way out of the city he drove in the designated bus lane. He was driving quite slow as he was telling us about the things we passed and one of the city buses understandably passed him and tried to get back into the bus lane. He sped up and honked at the bus, not allowing him back in the lane. He then proceeded to pull up next to the full city bus, roll down his window and start screaming profanities at the bus driver. Wow…how professional! After another couple of miles he started telling us a story about how much he disliked tourists from certain countries, people from certain states in Australia, and some of the tour desk people at hotels. In between his rants, the elderly couple just politely nodded. He was also taking and making phone calls the entire time!

Needless to say, I was happy to get out of the car when we stopped in Hahndorf. Hahndorf is a cute little town famous as being the oldest German settlement in the area. The streets were lined with Bavarian pubs, cafes, and shops highlighting the local wares. He dropped us off there for a few hours to wander about and get lunch before meeting up with him for a ride back into the city. We came across him at the designated time and place as he was screaming at the Australian equivalent of the DMV about having to be present to get his van inspected. He got in the van and drove us back in the car while we listened to him bitching at one person after another as he asked to speak to each person’s manager, receiving the same answer each time. After about 30 minutes he resigned himself to his fate and hung up on them and then proceeded to complain about them the rest of the way home. Ugh, a good tour ruined by a miserable person.

The lesson I learned is how much of a waste of his energy it was to get so upset over something so silly. It was draining to him and the people around him! I decided then and there to continue my laid back attitude once I get back into the daily grind at home. Life is way too short to waste on anger and frustration!! That afternoon I had a nice walk around town and tried to shake the guide’s negativity off of me. One of the things that I noticed was the beautiful stone and ironwork on many of the buildings. In between his rants the guide had told us that all of the buildings were built out of stone because there was a wood shortage when the settlers first arrived. I am sure it was a lot of extra work at the time, but it was great to see all the old buildings still standing with their original facades.

Having walked most of the city and seen many of the sights I wanted to take some time out to see a movie I had been wanting to see the next day. I had noticed the marquee the day before saying that there was an 11:00 showing of “The Best Marigold Hotel” so I walked over there to buy my ticket. They happily sold me the ticket and I waited in the lobby for the doors to open. As I waited about 50 other people filed in, but I noticed something strange, all of them were in their 60s and 70s. Turns out the movie was part of a seniors group movie club. I was the only person there under 60! Ha!

The movie was great and I finished my day by walking around another area of the city where there were designated graffitti areas. I watched fascinated as these talented young men and women made murals out of a blank wall. I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the museum and adjacent art museum, both free to visit and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the exhibits and artwork displays.

The highlight of my trip started the following morning. I had an early pickup to take a bus down to the ferry station to head over to Kangaroo Island. It is an island known for it’s wildlife and I was excited to see it over the next couple of days. After disembarking from the ferry we all piled on the small bus and got to know each other for a bit. We made our way up the hill a bit for a Sheep Shearing demo, of which the sheep dogs were the highlight for me! We watched as he told the dogs to “Go get da sheeps.” and they obeyed by running out to bring the herd in to the barn. He grabbed one and showed us how the shearing is done. All of the wool comes off in one piece when done correctly! It was actually pretty impressive. After shearing the sheep he grabbed a clump of the fleece and spun it into yarn using a traditional spinner.

We made a couple of short stops as we made our way across the island including a eucalyptus oil farm and a few other picturesque overlooks. Our big destination of the day was a trip to Seal Bay. There we were met by a local ranger and he walked us down to the beach to meet a colony of Australian Sea Lions resting on the beach before returning to sea to hunt. I felt like I was in a National Geographic movie! There were hundreds of them lying about in groups, pups playing in the water, and adolescent males harassing females. It was a really great feeling to be that close to wild animals and I felt lucky to be there! I must having taken over a hundred pictures and videos.

We made our way over to Vivonne Bay where we were staying for the night. The area is riddled with walking tracks where you can see lots of wildlife and beaches. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around, but only came across a couple of local kangaroos. I was dying to see an Echidna, a funky little porcupine looking monotreme, but no luck so far! Dinner was being cooked as I returned to the lodge and I could smell it! The air was full of the delicious smell of cooking steaks and chicken on the grill. After eating cheap food for a long while, the red meat was a welcome meal. We all just about ate ourselves into a food coma it was so delicious!

The next morning started out with a short walk through “Koala Park”. Koalas were introduced to Kangaroo Island in the 80s to help with repopulation of the species. There were a series of brushfires causing a lot of damage to trees in the area so they are slowly being relocated to the mainland to help the trees recover. They can do some serious damage to a forest of eucalyptus because they prefer the baby leaves. In fact an easy way to tell if there is a colony in the area is by looking at the trees and if many of them are bare and dead looking, chances are good that koalas have been nearby. We saw several koalas and hopped back on the bus. I don’t care how many times I see them, I never get sick of their cute little fuzzy faces!! On our way back to the bus I saw a kangaroo with a joey poking his head out of her pouch! So cute!! But no echidnas…

Our next stop was at the “Remarkable Rocks”. Okay, I have to say, Australians are not very creative when it comes to naming things. Oh, it’s an island with lots of kangaroos? Let’s call it Kangaroo Island. That mountain is lumpy, let’s call it Mount Lumpy! Seriously, I had to laugh everytime someone would ask how something got it’s name. It was never an exciting story! Back to the rocks…true to their name, the rocks have remarkable formations. You can climb under them, over them and around them, and they really are interesting. We were warned about being careful around the edges of the formation as it is on the edge of a lichen covered cliff, which gets steep deceptively quickly.

On our walk down I looked at the side of the pathway and saw an ECHIDNA!!! Yay!! I just about jumped out of my skin I was so excited!! I leaned my camera as close as I could and if you look close you can see his little snout that he uses to eat ants. As a group we piled on to the rocks and were quite excited by all the cool formations. We took turned taking silly pictures in, on, and under the rocks. We were able to talk a nice lady passing by into taking a group photo for us as well. Good times!

We stopped by another area where we could see Australian Fur Seals on shore. They were lazing about the rocks, but were so cute and fuzzy! I grabbed a couple of photos of some of the babies as the waves crashed against the rocks. The wind was starting to blow and it began to rain so we all quickly retreated to the van.

We made one last stop at Kingscote and exhausted from a long day we got back on the ferry to the mainland and took a bus back into town for a late arrival.

I got up and met up with my last tour while I was in Adelaide, surprise surprise, it was a wine tour! The Barossa Valley just outside of Adelaide is one of the largest and internationally known wine growing regions in Australia. It is home to several of the names you already know like Penfold’s, but we were making our stops at several of the smaller wineries. We stopped at two in the morning and then lunch was made up of a cheese, fruit, and bread platter to pair with the wines. I was very impressed with the quality of the wine and the beautiful surrounding scenery! In the afternoon we made stops at two more wineries before returning to the city. That night I got packed up and ready for my next adventure…New Zealand!

I am so excited to share the next part of my trip as New Zealand has been on my bucket list longer than most of the places I have visited. It is known for it’s beautiful scenery, nice locals, and, of course, the Lord of the Rings! I will keep you posted!





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Melbourne: Coffee, Culture, and My Favorite Aussie!

I was very happy when I arrived in Melbourne. I spent about a month traveling in Southeast Asia with my friend Craig, a native Melbournian, and he had told me on many occasions how proud he was of this great city. He did not lead me astray! One of the first things you notice about the city is the scarcity of chain coffee and fast food restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, they are there, but are much less abundant than many other cities I have visited.

My first evening in town Craig offered to meet me for dinner to give me some tips on seeing the city. We walked along rows of restaurants until we came across an italian place where we were lured in with a free bottle of the house wine and garlic bread. I commented about the lack of chains and he told me about some of the cultural nuances of Melbourne. They pride themselves on their coffee and when the big bad Starbucks showed up en masse like it does in most cities, they were all but run out of town. I only saw one Starbucks on my visit and it was filled with an obvious group of tourists.

There are many local cafes that feature fair trade single source coffee beans rom all over the world. I liked hearing about a city that takes pride in itself and values the small local restauranteur over the large chains. While I sat an enjoyed a great meal with fresh pasta and good wine, I was excited to get started with my explorations the next morning.

The Fairy Tree in Fitzroy Gardens

Eager to try the local coffee, I started my day with a cappuccino and a muffin at a cafe down the street from my hostel. I was not disappointed! My favorite cappuccino was my first one – I had it on a side street in Rome when I could only read one word on the menu. It was delicious and having never enjoyed coffee prior to then, I have looked for a cappuccino that rivals that and reminds me of what good coffee tastes like. I found it in a small cafe in Melbourne!

The coffee gave me a good buzz and when combined with my eagerness to explore I had to just start walking. I passed cafe after cafe and wondered if they all make equally good coffees. It would take me twenty years to try each one to find out, so I just made my way to Federation Square. It is a big square surrounded by a tram station, a river, a museum and convention center. Controversial since the demolition of the industrial buildings that preceded it, Federation Square is also globally famous for its alleged ugliness. I didn’t find it ugly, but definitely unique! I popped into the world class tourism office and booked a couple of tours to keep me out of trouble for at least a couple of days.

I then took the free city circle tram over to Fitzroy Gardens. Conveniently as I walked into the park there was a sign saying that there was a free guided tour of the Gardens starting in about 20 minutes. So I sat and waited for the tour to start. My guide took me around and showed me the highlights of the Gardens including the beautiful rows of Dutch Elms. It’s very rare to see a large group of healthy Dutch Elms because of the Dutch Elm disease that has killed most of the beautiful trees throughout the world. They are very strict about protecting them from the disease and spray them often. Also within the gardens I found a model Tudor village and an intricately carved tree called “The Fairy Tree.” The history of the gardens is very rich and dates back to 1848 when the property was designated as gardens.

That night I had decide to treat myself to a show at the nearby Princess Theatre. They were showing a musical called “Moonshadow” that featured the music of Cat Stevens. Cat Stevens reminds me of my childhood and I thought it would at least be entertaining. I was very impressed by the theatre itself, it was another very historical sight within Melbourne, having been built in 1854. It is reportedly haunted and I thought I would share one story I learned while I was there.

On the evening of 3 March 1888, the baritone Frederick Baker, known under the stage name “Frederick Federici”, was performing the role of Mephistopheles in Gounod’s opera Faust. This production ended with Mephistopheles sinking dramatically through a trapdoor returning to the fires of hell with his prize, the unfortunate Dr Faustus. The audience was spellbound. As the audience held its collective breath and Federici was lowered down through the stage into this basement, he had a heart attack and died immediately. They laid him on the floor, lifeless, in his crimson vestments. He never came back onstage, never took the bows. When the company was gathered together to be told that Federici had died, they asked, “When?”. Being told of what had happened at the end of the opera, they said, “He’s just been onstage and taken the bows with us.” Since then, many people who have never heard of the Federici story have claimed to see a ghostly figure in evening dress at the theatre. For many years, the third-row seat in the dress circle was kept vacant in his honor.

The performance itself, while the acting was fine, was fairly mediocre. They took serious liberties with Cat Steven’s music in order to make the story work and at times it felt forced. It was entertaining and I enjoyed the night out, but it shouldn’t be on your “must see” list if it comes to your city. I doubt it will.

The next morning I took a stroll over to the Melbourne Museum and was blown away by the extensive collection of displays. They ranged from the beautiful to the macabre. There was a display on mental illness including isolation chambers and in depth descriptions of the treatment many of the patients received. It is the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere, so I spent about four hours and still didn’t see everything! I was dying to see the new Batman and conveniently it was showing at the museum IMAX. It was a great movie to see on the IMAX. The action scenes were great and while I didn’t think the movie was as good as the last one, I was still very entertained!

That night Craig met up with me to go to an event at the museum called Smart Bar. It is only done one night a year and it was a fun event. They had a DJ, drinks, and lectures from several of the reseachers working in the museum. We saw a talk on how the strain of Syphillis found in the colonies caused insanity and many of the patients at the local asylum were thought to be sufferring from syphillus and not actually mentally ill! There was another talk right up my alley about tracing our genes back to the original “Eve” through mitochondrial DNA matching and to “Adam” through Y-chromosome linkage. It made me miss graduate school a bit and I am going to have to seek out some lectures when I get home. Never stop learning!

The next day I had signed up for a tour of the Great Ocean Road, one of Australia’s most famous coastal drives. We started our day driving out of town and passed fields filled with wild Kangaroos grazing. Our fisrt stop for the day was at Bell’s Beach. It is a picturesque beach known for surfing and I am sure it would be better appreciated when it isn’t the dead of winter, but it was still a sight to be seen.

Pictures can’t capture the beauty of the cliffs rising up around the beach. We stopped to check out the views from the Split Point lighthouse and had morning tea where I was able to try Vegemite for the first time. I was the only one who liked it, it’s very salty, but tasty!

We pulled off the road a bit to stop at Koala Cove where the wild Koalas were snoozing away in the trees while the wild birds were flocking to people with bird feed. We took some time off from driving at Mait’s Rest Rainforest Walk. We walked through the anciant trees and got a lesson on how the trees recycle themselves and the local flora and fauna. We continued on to Port Campbell National Park to see the famous Twelve Apostles. The Twelve Apostles are huge rock formations that majestically rise out of the coastline.

We weren’t done yet! We stopped by Loch Ard Gorge where there was a very famous ship wreck and made a few other photo stops before heading back into the city for a late arrival. It was a long, but very fun day. I would have liked to have a few more days to explore the little towns and sights along the Great Ocean Road, but hey, I did pretty good for a limited schedule!

The next day I popped out of bed and made my way over to the Queen Victoria Market. The Queen Victoria Market is a major landmark in Melbourne, Australia, and at around seven 17 acres is the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere. The Market is significant to Melbourne’s culture and heritage and has been listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. The Market is named after Queen Victoria who ruled the British Empire, from 1837 to 1901.

There were rows and rows of vendors with all kinds of meats, produce, leather goods, souvenirs, and even live chickens! The market is also known for the hot doughnut van which has operated for over half a century and become part of local tradition, being known for its jam “American Style” doughnuts. They were delicious!

I walked around this corner of the city for a few more hours and then made my way back to my hostel to get bundled up for the night’s event. I walked over to Melbourne’s iconic football stadium, the MCG. It is the tenth largest stadium in the world, the largest in Australia, and holds the world record for the highest light towers at any sporting venue. Despite being called the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the stadium has been and continues to be used much more often for Australian rules football. Spectator numbers for football are larger than for any other sport in Australia, and it makes more money for the MCG than any of the other sports played there.

I started my night with a couple of hours spent the adjacent Sports Museum and then made my way to the stands to watch a Australian rules football (Footy as it’s called here) game between two local teams – the Richmond Tigers and the Carlton Blues.

I had NO idea what was going on during the game, but it was about three hours of some of the best sports entertainment i have witnessed! The man seated next to me adopted me and tried his best to explain the game, but I was enthralled by the tough players (no pads) and constant action (no time outs). The game is made up of four thirty minute quarters, but most of them went for 35+ minutes. I could enjoy this game. I love American Football, but I do have to admit this sport was much more fun to watch! I walked out of the stadium after the close game (Carlton won in the last 25 seconds) and made my way back to the hostel.

I had another tour scheduled, but this one was a wine tasting in the Yarra Valley. We drove from winery to winery throughout the day and enjoyed the great scenery along the way. We tasted wines from four different wineries and there wasn’t a bad egg in the bunch! It was a very enjoyable day out, but since it’s hard to translate wine tastings to text, I can’t tell you too much about it!

My last day in the city was a great one. I met up with Craig to head over to St. Kilda. St. Kilda is an area south of the Central Business District of Melbourne that, in the summer time, is popular with backpackers and other tourists. It is a collection of restaurants, boutique stores, and cafes adjacent to a boardwalk on the water where you could see the ships coming into the harbour. It is home to Luna Park, an amusement park that shares it’s name and look with the amusement park in Sydney.

We grabbed a bite to eat and then hopped back on the tram to stop at the Shrine of Remembrance. The shrine was built as a memorial to the men and women of Victoria who served in World War I and is now a memorial to all Australians who have served in war. It is a site of annual observances of ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day (11 November) and is one of the largest war memorials in Australia. The design of the Shrine is based on the ancient Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and the Parthenon in Athens. We climbed to the top of the shrine where we were rewarded with some beautiful views of the city as the sun was starting to set. We walked back up the road to Federation Square where we grabbed a pint and said our farewells. Craig was a great ambassador to both Melbourne and Australia and I was very grateful for his hospitality and company! Thank you, Craig!

I have one more stop in Australia before I make my way over to New Zealand. You may not have heard of Adelaide, but it is Australia’s fifth largest city and located near too many attractions to miss! I will keep you posted!



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Oh, sweet Tasmania, how I love thee and thine little devils!

I really am in love with Tassie (as the Aussies call it…). There are many reasons why my love for this beautiful island could have developed so quickly. It could be the animals, the untouched wilderness, the incredibly friendly locals, or a capital city smaller than some suburbs. After I tell you abut the time I spent there, I think you just might fall in love with it too!

I arrived into Hobart and immediately noticed the chill in the air. I had been warned! My favorite Aussie Craig had warned me, “Don’t go to Tassie in winter…it’s really cold there.” I have never listened to good advice in the past, so why start now? I did my best to shrug off my concern and got settled into a charming hostel called The Pickled Frog. The lobby smelled of mulled wine and fire was crackling away in the fireplaces. After my time in Sydney, a small comfortable hostel was just what I needed. I threw my stuff down in my room and went back to the lobby for a couple glasses of the delicious mulled wine and conversation. I immediately discovered how much friendlier it was here in Tassie as I chatted with a couple of locals and a few visitors about what there was to do around the island.

The next morning I set out on the town to get my bearings. After walking around the city for a couple hours and working out the bus system I made my way up to the famous Cascade brewery. In 1824 Charles Degreaves established the Cascade Brewery near the Cascade Falls in the foothills of Mount Wellington. By 1832, the brewery outgrew its original building. Degreaves relocated the brewery to the site of an old sawmill, slightly further upstream along the Hobart Rivulet, and a further three storeys were added to the main building in 1927, creating the iconic structure that survives to this day. The Brewery is still in operation and remains Australia’s longest continually operating brewery.

I had lunch and a few beers before meeting up with a small group for a very different kind of tour where I got my first dose of Tasmanian history. Many of you know, but some of you may not, about Tassie’s convict history. I will take a minute to give you the basics of it to help you understand a lot of the touring I did around Hobart.

The first European settlement in the Hobart area began in 1803 as a penal colony and defensive outpost at Risdon Cove on the eastern shores of the Derwent River, amid British concerns over the presence of French explorers in the South Pacific. The convicts just kept coming and like many of Australia’s cities, it became part penal colony that evolved into a regular colony when many of the convicts could not afford passage home the the UK once released.

The Cascade Female Factory

By 1817, an increasing number of female convicts were arriving in Hobart town, and there was not enough room to keep them in the first Hobart Town gaol. Permission was granted in 1821 by NSW Governor Lachlan Macquarie for the construction of a separate gaol for female convicts. The increase in female convicts was not by chance…it was pure design. The Brits knew that if it was going to be a successful colony they needed to balance out the ratios of women to men. At one point it was over a 100 men for 1 woman. The solution was to start sentencing young, healthy women in the UK to serve time in Van Diemens Land (the penal colony’s original name) for even minor crimes so they could help establish the colony. More on that in a minute!

By the 1820s, the expansion of European settlements throughout the island, and massive growth in pastoralism came at the expense of the Aborigines, who began to resist the intruders. Clashes became more frequent, and tit-for-tat killings became common. Although exact numbers for the death toll were not recorded, estimates vary between 5–9,000. Towards the end of the 1820s the conflict had become so bad that martial law was declared, and the conflict soon grew into the Black War.

By 1831, there were only 200 natives left. Governor George Arthur’s attempts to capture and resettle them failed with his disastrous “Black Line” policy. George Augustus Robinson’s efforts to resettle them at Flinders Island resulted in the extermination of all the full-blooded native peoples by introduced European diseases such as smallpox, influenza and pneumonia. By 1847 there were only 44 native Tasmanians left, and the last full-blooded Aborigine, Trugannini, died in 1876. Today their race primarily survives in mixed blood descendants of the women enslaved by Bass Strait whalers and sealers. A tragic history that remains a sensitive subject throughout Australia.


So the tour that afternoon was a live performance of “Louisa’s Story” which is based on an actual woman who found herself in the aforementioned female gaol. Louisa was an Irish woman living in London who was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread. When she stood before the magistrate, she was sentenced to 7 years in Tasmania (then called Van Dieman’s Land) at the newly constructed Cascade Female Factory. Two actors walked us through the area and told the story of her journey to Tasmania by ship, and her miserable imprisonment after being torn from her family thousands of miles away. As we walked around the ground and remaining walls of the Female Factory I got shivers up my spine thinking about the conditions. It’s a steep price to pay for a loaf of bread…

After that sobering lesson, I wanted to get out of the city and took a tour to Bruny Island. Bruny Island is a wilderness island abut an hour outside of Hobart. The tour started with a ferry over to Bruny Island where we were able to see the beautiful coastline. We then arrived on the island and took a drive over to a much smaller pier nearby. The only way to get to certain parts of the island is by boat, which is exactly what I jumped onto!

We were geared up with a long waterproof coat, warm gloves and a wool beanie before we climbed into a bright yellow boat. Bruny Island is better explained in pictures, but I was happy as a clam as we cruised around the island’s magnificent rock cliffs and structures. Our day concluded with a warm bus ride over to an area where a group of albino wallabies live. Okay…wallabies are cute, but albino wallabies are really cute! It was a very chilly but fulfilling day and I spent my evening back at the hostel with some new friends, mulled wine, and a seat by the fire.

The next day I took a day tour out to Port Arthur, one of the most intact penal colonies in Australia. Before we went over to Port Arthur we made a stop at an animal sanctuary where I met my first TASMANIAN DEVIL!!! I saw lots of Kangaroos and Wallabies, but the Tassie Devils were the highlight. They actually make that crazy sound when they argue! Crazy little beasts! I will try to post a good video of them, it was adorable!

After spending time with the wildlife, we made our way down the road to Port Arthur. Port Arthur became the site of a major penal colony for male convicts from 1833, a place of secondary punishment for re-offenders, in the 19th century era of convict transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. It very quickly gained a reputation as a “hell on earth”. At its peak in the late 1840s, Port Arthur became a near self-sufficient settlement, driven by the labour of its tormented inmates. Ultimately, after a couple of decades of decline in the 1850s and 1860s, Port Arthur finally ended its days as a penal settlement in 1877.

We took a self-guided tour around Port Arthur and learned about the horrible conditions and learned the stories behind several convicts. By today’s standards, the crimes many of the people committed were paltry, but yet they were given sentences of 7, 14, or 21 years. Shockingly horrible to think about these men (and women) living out their days in a strange and harsh land so far from home. I won’t bring you down with the gory details. To end on a high note…TASMANIAN DEVILS!!!!

The next day I started my road trip by walking over to the car rental place with all my gear to pick up my camper van. It was a minivan that had been converted with a pull out bed and cooking area out the back. I jumped right in and started up the coast for Freycinet National Park. I arrived in time to catch a quick hike up to a lighthouse lookout and then take the iconic trip to view Wineglass Bay. It was cold, but the hikes were pretty much straight up the hills, so the cool air made the hiking a bit easier.

I went over to my campground only to discover that I was the only person there. Okay, I will grant you that it is the middle of winter and camping isn’t common, but seriously, nobody there? I thought I would enjoy the privacy of it, but honestly it was a little creepy when the possums and other nocturnal creatures started to roam around the campground at dusk.

I woke up early and drove a little further up the coast to a small town called Bicheno. Bicheno is famous for penguins, so I booked myself on a tour, got a campsite arranged, and went on a mini road trip around the area for the day. I drove up over a winding but beautiful road called Elephant Pass to a small town called St. Marys. On the way through the pass I stopped at Elephant Pass Pancakes for a delicious crepe for lunch.

Not much was going on in the town so I made my way over to Ironhouse Brewery for a few beers. They had a honey porter that was heavenly! I had a couple beers and then went back to Bicheno to meet up at dusk for the penguin tour.

We drove out to the nesting areas of the penguins and sat quietly on the beach waiting for them to come out of the water to burrow for the night. They were Fairy Penguins, and really little and cute. It was great to see them in the wild and I was giddy with delight as they wove through the crowd to get to the burrows. No photography allowed because they don’t have eyelids, so the pictures I have were provided by the conservation company.

I got up early the next morning and made a stop at some nearby caves about which I overheard a few people talking and I was glad I made the detour! Not only did I see a beautiful rainbow on my way there, the tour of the caves was educational and very beautiful.

One thing I could not capture on film is what happened when she turned out the lights in the cave. It was pitch black. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. But once my eyes adjusted and I looked up at the ceiling of the cave I could start to make out small points of light. As my eyes adjusted further, it looked like the night sky unfolded above me with billions of stars. The phenomenon is caused by small insects that thrive in the dark cave environment. They are called glow worms by most people, though they are not worms, and are actually the larval stage of an insect. They develop in the darkness of caves so the glowing helps them to identify each other in the pitch black environment. Really worth a short detour!

The nice part about being on a solo road trip is that I could stop at all the small roadside attractions along the way. Thats how I found myself at a honey farm, a cheese factory, and a cherry plantation all in one afternoon. I just skipped lunch altogether after honey, cheese, and cherry tastings! It was getting late and I had to spend some time tracking down a campground that was open. A few in the area were closed for the winter. I finally found one in Devonport where I settled in, cooked dinner, and planned my path for the next day.

The next day I woke up excited to get back on the road because I was headed to Cradle Mountain National Park. The drive alone was beautiful and i made a quick stop at a waterfall not far off the highway. Another worthwhile detour!

When I arrived at the National Park I was sad to find a torrential downpour. Knowing I don’t actually melt when wet, I decided to tough it out and took a couple of short hikes near the entrance of the park. It was quite cold, so I decided that sleeping in the back of the van would not be my best option and got a cabin for the night. I was glad I did! It rained buckets and the wind howled through the trees all night. I woke up early and hesitated thinking about the storm the night before. I had planned to hike all day and rains Iike that are a bit of a deterrent.

I made my way to the park and right as I arrived at the trailhead parking lot, the rain stopped. The clouds cleared out and gave me my first glimpse of the gorgeous Cradle Mountain. I grabbed my jacket and made my way onto the trail – the first person of the day! It quickly became a beautiful day with clear skies, and bright sun. The animals shared my joy over the clearing skies as they ran across my pathway and the birds chirped and flitted about the tree tops. I had a bit of a Snow White moment when I stopped to take a picture and a bird landed gently on my arm. He just stared at me for a moment then flew off to join his other feathered friends.

The trail was just the right amount of challenge combined with the relaxation of nature as it flanked the shores of Dove Lake and then began to climb past beautiful waterfalls. I didn’t see another soul for hours and only when I got down to the lake again did I remember that I wasn’t the only person on the planet. I knew I had to get back on the road, but I was saddened to leave the little slice of the world that I owned, if only for a few hours.

I spent the rest of the day making my way to Strahan on the West coast of Tassie where I was spending the next couple of days. It was slightly more lively than many other towns I had passed through, so I went down to the pub in town for a pint and a quick lesson on Australian Rules football from a local. That will be important down the road… After my strenuous morning and a couple of pints, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

I had a relaxing and fun day planned the following morning. I was taking a ride on the famous West Coast Wilderness Railway that runs from Queenstown to Strahan. We loaded up on a bus to Queenstown and were directed over to a historic looking platform where we would be boarding the train for our four hour ride. When they refinished the train cars, they did a great job. The wood and metal work made it feel cosy for our ride through the chilly mountains. They provided us with wool lined flannel blankets for extra coziness!

Our first stop was in Lynchford where we were given a chance to pan for gold and visit a small museum at the station. The train originally served the mines in the area but was recommissioned as a tourist train after most of the mining ceased to utilize the train. We made another stop in a small town ( WAS a town, now it’s just a train station) by the name of Dubbil Barril. We took a quick walk through the surrounding rain forest and then hopped on the train for one last stop in Rinadena. Overall, it was a very relaxing and enjoyable day. I walked back into town and called it a night.

The next day was spent driving for the most part. Now that I had explored the east, north, and west of Tassie, I had to start heading back to Hobart in the southeast to conclude my road trip. I had to turn the camper in early the next morning, so I stayed in the outskirts of Hobart and took the afternoon exploring a museum called MONA (Museum of Old and New Art).

What was intriguing and unique about this art museum was what the curator had done with the individual works of art. Works were gathered together in small rooms or areas to create a theme of the room. There would be centuries old art adjacent to works created last year. The contrast of old and new styles was a nice way to highlight how themes in art have and haven’t evolved. There were statement pieces, beautiful paintings, bizarre displays, and ancient artifacts. I spent several hours wandering around until I decided to head back to the camper to get packed up.

I dropped off the camper the next morning and was a little saddened to be closing that chapter of my travels. However, I have yet to run out of enjoyment and appreciation for all the new things I am seeing, so I am sure there is more to come as I continue my journey. But I believe my love for Tassie will always remain. The animals that touched my heart and the stretch of wilderness I was able to call my own for a few hours made my trip memorable. So with an imaginary hug of the entire island, I made my way back to the mainland of Australia for my next city to explore – Melbourne!

Until next time…Cheers!



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Big city sights and small town friendliness, Sydney is an great place to land!

Some of you have been wondering if I fell off the face of the earth as I haven’t blogged in about 6 weeks. But alas, I’m still alive and well! The radio silence was because I went home to Utah for a few weeks to see my dearest friends and family. A big thanks goes out to all my friends that made my trip home special, and also my parents who let me live with them for the first time in nearly 20 years! The good news is that I am back on the road and I have a lot to share with you! I resumed my exodus by returning back to Australia. As of my trip home (vacation from my vacation?) I had only seen the Western portion of this vast country.

So I started my East coast adventures in Sydney. I checked into a nice hostel in the backpackers area of the city where I could walk to most of the major sights. The hostel had several events scheduled throughout the week and conveniently there was a city orientation walk scheduled my second day there. We started our walk by heading through nearby Chinatown and past the beautiful Chinese Gardens to find ourselves at Darling Harbor. It is surrounded with many of the typical tourist sites like an aquarium, IMAX Theater, and art museums. As this was a walking tour and not a sight-seeing tour, we just kept on truckin’. I made a mental note to return to a few places along the way.

We walked through the Victoria building which was a large shopping center filled with high end shops. While I am certainly not on a budget to where I could afford anything there, the mall itself was gorgeous and the crowning jewels were two large clocks hanging from the ceiling in two of the multi-level cutouts. We passed through and walked several blocks down. As we walked in between two very tall buildings I caught my first glimpse of the Sydney Opera House. Much like I felt when I first saw the Taj Mahal, it took my breath away. I took a few seconds to take stock of how fortunate I am to be here!

The sails of the Opera House glistened in the mid-day sunlight and I was giddy with excitement. It was then that I turned and saw the Harbor Bridge, locally known as the Coat Hanger because of it’s obvious shape. Sitting there with the Opera House to my right and the bridge to my right I can’t even put into words how excited I was. After a few pictures we walked over to the Opera House and ran up the iconic stairs at the front. I had to make a quick stop at the box office to pick up some tickets for a show the following night, more on that later!

Despite all of us staring at the Opera House in awe of it’s presence, we had to carry on with our tour. Directly adjacent to the Opera House lay the Royal Botanic Gardens. They are perfectly situated right on the water and consist of rolling hills and winding pathways through lush greenery. Our guide walked us over to a small pond and started throwing bread into the water without explanation. We were all expecting to see some fish and a few ducks go after the bread when we saw a long eel slither past and grab a piece. What?! An eel? In a pond!? Yup, turns out that they don’t know why, but eels have infested this pond for many years. They have tried to get rid of them by draining the pond, but once they fill it back up it is full of eels within weeks. Some claim to have seen the eels slithering across the grass at night, but I have my doubts…

We continued on our way to Hyde Park – another iconic site in Sydney. We spent a few minutes watching old men playing chess on an oversized chess set and had a good laugh envisioning treating it like a football game and cheering (or jeering) after each move. Our laughter was catching some scowls from the players, so we moved on and went back to the hostel for the afternoon. After grabbing a snack I went right back out the door for a night time tour of The Rocks. The Rocks is a section of Sydney where it’s convict history comes alive.

Our guide took us through a mostly remodeled area and shared stories of what life was like during the 1800s when Sydney was just getting settled. For those of you that don’t already know, Australia got it’s start into the modern era in the early 1800s when Britain was using it for a convict dumping ground for all of their unsavory characters. There were also people that came to settle here as free men, but they were mostly outnumbered by the convicts in the area where crime was running rampant. The tour was informative, but we were also able to get some great views of the cityscape at night. After nine hours of walking that day, I was ready to head home and get some sleep before I continued my touring the next day.

I started my morning off early and was the first person to visit the Chinese Gardens that day. Most of the tourists don’t seem to start their touring until 10:00 AM or so, so I was able to take in the serene gardens without another soul around. Being in this big bustling city it was nice to find an oasis focused on relaxation and relieving stress. I spent more time there than I probably should have, but I couldn’t help curling up in one of the many pagodas with my Kindle. I continued on my previous day’s path with the intention of going to the aquarium or the IMAX, but once I got there, saw the prices and the crowds, I decided that my time would be better spent elsewhere, so I walked back over to the Opera House to take a behind the scenes tour.

Our guide gave us the full story of how the Opera House came to be what it is today. I only have space to share a couple of things with you, but when Australia decided to build the Opera House, they held an international contest to determine the design. Entries from all over the world poured in from professionals and amateurs alike. It’s current design was actually thrown in the trash along with hundreds of others until it was retrieved by one of the judges late in the competition. Despite the fact that it violated several of the rules of the contest, he loved the concept of the sails and thought it would be a great addition to the harbor. Over budget and long overdue, it was opened in 1973.

Inside the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House

After the tour I was even more excited to go to the symphony that night! So I walked back over to the hostel to get dressed up for my night out. I put on my sensibly simple and wrinkle free little black dress and hailed a cab to the Opera House (I am not huffing it over there in heels…). I got dropped off right in front and just short of running I bounded up the stairs and found the entrance only to realize that I was about 30 minutes early. I grabbed a glass of bubbly and waited to be let into the glorious concert hall. Once I got in, I could barely contain myself, but luckily the symphony wasted no time in getting started. The first part was from Fantasia, always a favorite, but after that there was a contemporary violin piece that I didn’t care for at all. There was a short intermission and then we came back to enjoy a perfectly executed rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique. It was a beautiful experience and I was so thrilled when I walked out of the concert hall. What an incredible evening!

The next day I had decided to take a tour to get out of the city and do a little bit of hiking. I found myself headed for the Blue Mountains. If the bus ride there was any indication I knew this was going to be a gorgeous day! The mountains get their name from the blue haze that hangs over the heavily forested mountains. The haze comes from the fine mist of oil excreted by the abundant eucalyptus trees. Our day started out with a hike to a waterfall that was just breathtaking. You could not look in any direction without a beautiful view!

We stopped in a charming little town for morning tea and then continued our day with another short hike nearby. There we were treated to some glorious views of Australia’s version of the Grand Canyon. Our last stop for the day was at Scenic World with an 1880s railway decending down the 52 degree decline to the valley floor. After taking a scenic walk at the bottom the valley, I took a cable car back up and out of the canyon for some spectacular views. I was exhausted by the end of the day, but it was a very fun way to exhaust myself, so I didn’t mind!

The next day was scheduled to be another tour day, but a much different kind of tour! It started out with a trip to an animal sanctuary where I was able to make a few new furry friends. Kangaroos, Emus, and Wallabies were hopping everywhere and would eat out of your hand if you offered. They were happy to get a pat on the back and a hug once in a while too.

The coolest part was meeting a sweet Koala Bear. Like many of you I am sure, I had always heard they were mean! Not this one! She was snuggly and cute. One of the keepers grabbed her sleeping on a branch in a nearby tree and she clung to her like a baby while we cooed and felt her soft fur. After posing for a few pictures we hopped back on the bus for a fun day of wine tastings, chocolate tastings, and a brewery stop.

At the brewery I had some of the best beers I’ve tasted in a while, and sat and reflected on what was overall a great day. Our tour guide and I began chatting about eating Kangaroo. I had the misconception when I arrived that everybody here eats Kangaroo. Not true! It is eaten but apparently very easy to overcook because of it’s low fat content, so most people prefer to buy the more fool proof beef for grilling. However, he did give me a recommendation of a pub that does a great job cooking ‘roo. I made a note of it so I could grab some dinner there the next night.

The next day was a gloomy and rainy day, so I waited until about noon for it to clear up, but it never did. I decide to quit being such a princess, grabbed my umbrella and went over to Sydney Harbor to catch a ferry over to Cockatoo Island. It was an old penintentiary and has now been turned into a dual purpose museum of sorts. On one hand you are able to see the penintentiary grounds and look at it as a history museum, but on the other hand, Sydney Arts Council has been very creative and filled the open spaces and buildings with local and international contemporary artworks. Much like contemporary concertos, I prefer the classics, but it still made for an interesting afternoon.

On the ferry ride back to Sydney Harbor I was able to get a few great shots of the bridge and Opera House. After departing the ferry I made my way over to the Begian Beer Pub for my kangaroo steak. I was not dissappointed there! It was cooked medium rare with a savory sauce and served with brocolini and potatoes. Yum! It was paired with a Belgian beer that I am in love with called Leffe Brune. I may have to try to seek that out the next time I am in Arizona…

I left Sydney wanting more, but I know I will be back when I meet my friend Tracy there at the beginning of September. So if you are thinking that I missed some important sights, that’s by design! I want to wait and experience some of the sights when I have a good friend with whom to share the experiences.

My Australian adventure continues with a trip south to Tasmania where I will be staying in Hobart for a few days and then renting a campervan to take a trip around the island camping and catching all the Tassie has to offer! I will keep you posted!

Cheers! Lisa



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From under the sea to high in the skies, Australia is amazing!

Hiya everyone!!

My arrival in Australia was a very happy one! Not only did I find myself in a country where I was excited to be, but it was an english speaking one! I can’t even describe to you the euphoria I felt when I just walked over to a counter and asked how to get to the address of my hostel. I was graciously given directions on how to take the public bus and I walked away elated over the simplicity of it all. A city bus system with a map and a timetable…how like home this was so far!

I arrived at my hostel and was welcomed by a very friendly man named Charlie, the owner of Wickhams Retreat Backpackers hostel. He referred me over to his girlfriend Heidi to get checked in and I found myself on a lower bunk in a small four bunk room. While the thought of staying in a simple hostel was a little shocking after my birthday present to myself in Bali, I was happy to have other people to talk to and get to know.

I was staying in a room with two girls from Leeds and a young man from Ireland. They were all passing through like me, but they were in Perth to find a job for their work visas. In Australia, young people from all over the world come to do a working holiday where they work for a year in Australia. If they do “hard time” on a farm, they can qualify for a second year visa, but most only stay for a year after getting an entry level job serving coffee, waiting tables, or working in various other small shops around the city. Being the old lady that I am after my most recent birthday, I did not qualify for a working visa, so I had to stick to a good old fashioned tourist visa. It suits me fine, but prevents me from gaining any employment while I am here.

My travel buddy, Valerie

So let me give you a little bit (very little!) of the background information on Australia. I plan on spending a good bit of time here, it’s a big country! There are 6 states in Australia and each have their own culture and attractions.  I will tell you about them each as I explore them.

I am currently in Western Australia (WA) which is the biggest and least populated state of Australia. Sounds like a strange place to start my journey down under, however, I had a very good reason for being here. The highlight of my trip through WA is something that has been on my bucket list for a while. During the months of April and May there is a very consistent migration of the largest sharks in the world – whale sharks! Very little is known about their habitat and migration patterns, but just off the coast of WA in Exmouth is one place they have been consistently seen for many years. I will tell you more about their conservation and my experience meeting a few of these gentle giants a bit further down the blog.

Our trusty roller skate car

One thing that is really shaping how I travel and where I go while in Australia is money. Money is a factor throughout any vacation, but here in Australia you have to be very careful or you will quickly find your funds depleted. To give you a few examples, I went out to dinner and got a burger, fries, and a soda. It was $21. I went to the pub with a few new friends and bought a pint of beer. It was $14. Yup, $14 for a pint of beer. So the next time you are paying $4 for a pint somewhere, don’t complain. Aussies like to drink and they are incredibly generous. I met a group of local guys and they did not hesitate to buy rounds of beer. I can only imagine what their tab looked like, but they refused to let me pay for a round myself. It isn’t just when you are out that you have to watch the money, a case of beer at the grocery store is anywhere from $40-60. So it’s a major commitment to drink here. Doesn’t seem to be stopping any locals though!

Camping in Jurien Bay

The money issue does however change how I will be traveling. When a basic hotel room can run you $150, camping is a good alternative. I went to Kmart (yup…they are everywhere) and bought a cheap tent, sleeping bag, and a few other misc things needed for the most basic type of camping. Thinking of all my friends and family with their big RVs makes me a bit envious, but the weather is nice so it hasn’t been bad at all! I met a girl online that wanted to share the cost of a rental car from Perth to Broome and back at about the same time I did and so we met up and hit the road!

Look Ma, an Emu!

After a struggle to get out of town (got lost), we hit the road late in the day. It’s 2300 total kilometers (km) direct to Broome from Perth (but we aren’t taking a direct route) and our first leg of 1500 km had to be done by Tuesday the 8th so we could dive with the whale sharks. Once you leave Perth there is virtually nothing for hundreds of kilometers. You will see an occasional roadhouse, but they are few and far apart.

Camping locations are equally hard to find, but we managed to find decent spots for the first couple of nights. I was struck by the amazing amount of stars once we were out of the cities. I was able to identify the Southern Cross and clearly see the band of the Milky Way across the sky. The Southern Cross is a constellation used for celestial navigation here in the Southern Hemisphere. We use the North Star, but it is only visible north of the equator.

Our first couple of days were spent just driving and camping, but we took some time to explore the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. The Pinnacles are a strange rock formation near the coast where large monoliths of stone rise out of the red sands. As the wind blows and changes the sandy landscape, the pinnacles change with it. It is estimated that there are around 1000 of these structures, but new stones are appearing daily.

It reminded me a little bit of Goblin Valley in southern Utah. In fact, now that I mentioned it, I have to say that the red sands and desert climate of WA reminds me a lot of Utah. One major difference though…the coast is nearby with some darn beautiful beaches. Most of the camping is near the beaches, so I took many strolls over to see the waves breaking against the shores in the morning hours. You can look both ways down many of the beaches and not see a person or animal anywhere.

Strange roadside sight – an underwear tree!

It is nice to see beaches that aren’t owned by anyone, unlike in the US. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but one of the guys I met here asked me with astonishment, “Is it really true that most of the beaches in the US are privately owned? Don’t you save any for the public to use?!” This was one rumor about the US that I had to confirm as true (unlike some other really bizarre misconceptions I have heard down here!)

After a few days we arrived in Exmouth. It is a small town primarily focused around tourism. It wasn’t always a tourist town. In fact, it was an American town a mere 50 years ago. What? An American town in Australia? True! Exmouth was officially created as a town in 1967 when the US Navy built $600 million naval communications station and base there complete with a bowling alley, baseball field, and a theater. The barracks have now become a hotel and the base belongs to the Australian government. However, the communications station still exists and it is home to 13 huge radio towers which monitor the movements of US warships in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific. The towers themselves are higher than the Empire State Building!

Bundegi Beach in Exmouth

Another relic from the Navy Base is the Pier. Because of its location in the rich waters near Ningaloo Reef it has become an artificial reef over the last 40 years and home to some of the most diverse marine life on the planet. It has consistently been ranked as one of the best dive spots in the world. So thats where we made our first dive! We saw an incredible array of life from a large manta ray to a moray eel coiled behind a large steel girder. It was a twilight dive so it was pitch black when we got out of the waters.  It was my first dive in a while and the first dive for me in Australia, so I came out of the water extra elated to be on this adventure.


Part of my elation came from knowing that the pièce de résistance was the next morning – swimming with whale sharks! We were picked up at 7:30 AM and took a short ride over to the pier to get on a beautifully painted boat. Our morning was spent taking a quick dive on the inner reef, which after the Navy Pier, was fun, but I was so excited about the whale sharks that I couldn’t really get too excited about it. We finally left the inner reef to wait for word from the spotter planes that they had found a whale shark for us to meet!

Before I get to the good stuff you should know a few things about whale sharks. They are the largest fish in the sea (real whales are mammals – not fish) and have been known to grow as large as 40 feet long. They are plankton eaters like whales which is why they are named whale sharks (besides their size!). They have the same filtration system where they open their large mouths to take in water and then flush it through their gills after having taken the food out of it. So don’t worry – they don’t eat people!

Relatively little is known about them because they can dive as deep as 1500 meters (4500 feet) and stay there for long periods of time. Makes them hard to study, but conservation and study efforts are in full effect!

Photo proudly stolen from the internet…because mine are grainy…

One cool thing they are doing is using tourist photos to help identify and track movements. Their unique spot patterns are like a finger print so all you have to do is send in a picture of the spots behind their head to this tracking company.  They use the same algorithms that NASA used to map the stars to create a unique finger print for each whale shark. Once you send your photo in they will tell you if you have spotted a new shark or one they already have in their database. Our guide told us that he had sent one in last year that had been spotted 15 years earlier in the same spot! They are using the database to track their migration patterns and numbers.

Enough Discovery Channel, lets get back to the action! The call came in after about an hour – a juvenile whale shark had been spotted. We zoomed over and were given a barrage of rules to follow once we were in the water. You had to keep a distance of 9 feet from the shark at all times and never swim in front of him or interfere with him in any way.

When we were dropped in the water I poked my mask into the water only to discover that he was coming right at me! I quickly swam to the left and looked for him again. He was coming straight for me again! Swim, swim, swim! I frantically tried to get out of his way and follow the rules for about 15 minutes before the boat popped back over for us to hop on.

Turned out that wasn’t normal. Good thing or I would be dead from exhaustion by the end of the day!  He was circling us because he was a curious juvenile. He was the smallest shark they had ever seen – about 15 feet. Not so small in my book. We got another call in a few minutes time so we zoomed over to the next spot and jumped in the water. Again I popped my head under to realize he was coming straight at me, but this one was huge! I would guess he was about 19-20 feet long and was gracefully cruising along. This time after I got out of his way he just stayed in straight line and I was able to swim alongside this gentle giant for about 20 minutes. What a feeling! I felt so humbled and lucky to be seeing this creature and will always relish the memories. We ended up spending about 80 total minutes swimming with the sharks and met 5 different whale sharks that day. Life is good.

We got up the next morning and got on the road early to head to Dampier on the Pilbara region. We stopped at the local tourism office and they referred us over to a caravan park. We pulled in and the park was across the street from the beach. The sun was just setting as we arrived so I was welcomed to this beautiful region by a stunning sunset and we immediately decided that what was supposed to be an overnight stay should be two nights so we would have some time to explore. After going down to the beach we called it a night.

The next morning I took a walk into town and went to the local library where I was given a run down of all of the local history and folklore. One of the coolest stories was about a nomadic dog named Red Dog.

Some of Red Dog’s red color comes from the red soil in the area (or Pindan as the Aboriginal people call it)

Red Dog was born in 1971 and was abandoned by his owner after having trouble getting him to behave. He soon was adopted by the entire city. When he wanted to go somewhere he would stand in the road and locals would pick him up. If he wanted to sleep someplace comfortable he would scratch at someones door. I won’t tell you the full story because I don’t want to ruin the ending for you. In 2010 the story caught the attention of Hollywood. They auditioned thousands of dogs to find the perfect canine actor and brought in all the crews. It was filmed on location in Dampier and surrounding regions and was released in 2011. I am dying to see it, but it wasn’t widely released since it was an Indie film. If anyone finds it, let me know!

After another breathtaking sunset we went to bed early to get an early start for a long driving day the next day. We made it nearly to Broome before stopping for the night at a 24 hour rest stop. We got there at dusk and were immediately attacked by hordes of mosquitos. We spent the rest of the night huddling in our respective tents. The next morning we woke up early and came out of the tents only to discover they were still there. I threw all of my gear into the car with zero regard to organization or breakfast and hurriedly we got out of dodge. We made the last 150 km drive into Broome and happily got settled into the slightly less buggy area. Slightly less buggy…I still slathered myself in DEET and got about 5 bites. Oh well – small price to pay to spend time in this beautiful region.

After setting up camp we made our way into town to the tourism office and I booked a few tours to get to know the area. That afternoon I found out there was live music at the local brewery and decided that eating out one meal and having a few beers wouldn’t break the bank so I got dropped off down there.  After a beer I was approached by another lone soul hanging out there for a chat. We chatted for a few hours and were joined by a few other strays, some from Australia, others from the UK and New Zealand. It turned into a really fun night filled with great conversation and good beer.

Sunset in Broome

I met up with a sightseeing tour the next morning and got the background on Broome. Broome was once the pearling capital of the world, until the mother of pearl industry was nearly wiped out by the invention of the plastic button. Cultured pearl farming from the 1970s onwards has revived the pearl industry here in addition to a booming tourism industry. Besides the rich pearling history, Broome is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world – Cable Beach. It is a 22 km stretch of pristine white sand with some of the biggest changes in tides in the world.

At low tide, you can see 120 million year old dinosaur footprints at Gantheaume Point where the red sands meet the blue ocean and white sands. The contrast was incredible to see in the morning light and we ventured into town for a historical talk about the pearling industry.

The room where we were being told the rich history of the shell and pearl industry was full of diving gear from the early 1900s that had actually been in use and has been safely stored in a store house long with the only two remaining Pearling ships called luggers. We got to try on a diving helmet and lead soled boots before making our way home for a few hours.

That evening we had signed up for an “Astro Tour” led by a gentleman by the name of Greg Quicke. When we arrived in the designated area a few kilometers out of town we found a dark pathway lit only by a few garden lights. We made our way over to the area where there were two large telescopes set up and a set of tripod mounted binoculars. Greg started us out by talking about the ideal viewing conditions from this area if Australia. Not only do we have a view of the entire Southern Hemisphere sky, but because we are so close to the equator we can also see a good portion of the Northern Hemisphere.

From the dark of the desolated area you could see more stars than I can recall seeing since my childhood camping trips. We talked about celestial navigation in the southern hemisphere and he showed us many of the major constellations and planets. Once we started looking in the telescopes we were able to see Saturn and it’s rings as well as several star clusters and nebulas. He shared with us how the dark nebulas scattered throughout the Milky Way are believed to make up a Aboriginal god as well. It was highly fascinating and it made braving the hoardes of mosquitos worth every bite. I wish I could share with you all the things I saw, but stars are not the most photogenic objects.

Last time I rode in one of these, Craig was flying it…

The next morning I had signed up for a aerial tour of the Kimberleys. It is a region in the north part of Western Australia about the size of California, but only has about 38,000 residents. It is very remote and only really accessible by plane or serious four wheel drive (and only during the dry months).

It is some of the most pristine and untouched land in the world. We started our flight by going up the coast along the beautiful beaches to our only stop for the day called Cape Levique. I stopped and grabbed a light breakfast before walking down to the rocky beach and cliffs below. I sat there on the beach and could see down the coast for miles in either direction. I felt like the only person on earth and sat there appreciating the pathway that this area has taken leaving it so virginal after being inhabited for so long.  I am jealous of Australia’s land conservation and wish the US could learn to behave accordingly…

I sat here for an hour listening to the ocean and never saw a single other person…amazing…

Horizontal Falls

We flew over a remarkable phenomenon called the Horizontal Falls.  They are a fast-moving tidal flow through two narrow, closely aligned gorges of the McLarty Range, located in Talbot Bay. The direction of the flow reverses with each change of tide. As tides in the Kimberley can reach 10 metres, a peak tide gives rise to a significant difference in the sea level on either side of each gorge.  The tides weren’t moving as much as I would hope, but it was still something to see!

We headed back to Broome and took about an hours flight over some of the most barren land I have ever seen.  Mile after mile of bushland separated only by natural geography like streams, jettys, and bays.  This aerial tour gave me a great idea of the vastness of the Kimberley region and I came away appreciating this beautiful and diverse region of Western Australia.

So now what?  So now Valerie and I drive the 3000 km back to Perth over the next few days.  We are taking a different route to get back and plan on making a stop in Newman.  It is an inland mining town where Valerie lived and has friends.  I will keep you posted as I find internet in this internet starved country…

Miss you all!


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