A Travellerspoint blog

Great Barrier Reef, surfing, and more

Hello all - Lynette here. Thanks to everybody for the comments and emails. It is good to hear that people are enjoying our blog. We look forward to getting online to see what people have to say and it is nice hearing from people we know (and even some we don't) from back home.

After the Outback trip we flew to Cairns (pronounced Cans), which is considered the main town for the Great Barrier Reef. We found out that summer is not the best time to visit the reef due to being not only the rainy (monsoon) season which reduces visibility of the reef but also due to the return of box jellyfish in this area. This is mainly a problem around the coastline but they do find their way to the reef as well. The east coast of Australia is having, according to locals, the worst summer in memory. It has rained a ton and the weather is hot and sticky. There have been some towns that have experienced major flooding, which has destroyed houses and stranded people, etc - not a good situation. It rained every day we were in Cairns and the humidity was intense - a lot like Florida.

I read in our Australia guidebook that Cairns is not a place you see but a place you do. We found that to be very true. There wasn't much to the town itself to look at but there were a ton of activities and trips that you could take to do things like snorkel, scuba dive, rainforest zip lines, and on and on. Dave and I were recovering from our outback adventure so we took it easy and spent quite a bit of time lounging around in our hotel's pool. We went downtown a few times but didn't really do anything else except book a snorkelling trip to see the Great Barrier Reef. We booked an all day snorkelling tour where we would get to snorkel at 3 different reef spots at the Agincort Reef, which is supposed to be the best snorkelling reef in that area. Doing this is something that I have dreamed about doing and always have wanted to do. Like something I wanted to do before I died kind of experience - definitely on my bucket list. Due to the jellyfish situation - everyone who snorkelled including Dave and myself opted to wear the full body lycra snorkel suits that would protect us from jellyfish stings that according to the snorkel guides - could end your holiday or possibly your life. They said that the risk was not that great by the reef but still possible. To get to the Great Barrier Reef you need to take about a 45-minute boat ride from the coast. I was a bit worried right away about visibility of the reef since the water was not clear like the Caribbean where I have snorkelled before. I said something to one of the guides and she said that it would get clearer when we get to the actual reef.

As we came to our first snorkel spot the water was still pretty muddy but you could see a few clearer spots where the reef was. The boat was anchored about 50 feet from where the actual reef was so to get to the reef we had to swim this distance. Unfortunately, the waves were so high and choppy and the tide was so strong - I never made it to the reef. I basically swam in the same spot for 30 minutes. Dave and I tried to fight our way over to the reef and we would look up and see that we had been pushed behind the boat away from the actual reef. One time Dave made it to the edge of the reef and he looked up to find me to wave me over to where he was. After he did this he looked back down and realized he had already been pulled away from the reef again. I wish I could put into the words the frustration. Both of us finally gave up and just swam back to the boat. I was so disappointed I cried. Here we were at the "great" Great Barrier Reef and it was turning out to be the not so Great Barrier Reef. This was turning out to be a mammoth disappointment. We still had 2 more reef spots to go but after that first one my expectations were extremely low.

The second reef spot was only 15 minutes away and as we started going there I could tell that it was going to be better. The waves didn't seem as big and there were more clear spots in the water. When we got into the water and looked down we could see reef immediately. I was so relieved - it wasn't crystal clear by any means - but it was clear enough that we could see all sorts of coral and fish and their colors. Yay! Halleluiah! The third spot was even better! The sun actually came out at one point and shined down on the coral and the colors came alive. We saw more species of fish than I can count, all kinds of coral and shells and even saw sharks! We were on the boat when we saw the sharks but still we saw them. I also caught a glimpse of a turtle when we were on the boat. Overall, the snorkelling experience turned out ok - we did eventually see the reef and its amazing colors and fish. Due to the season though it wasn't as clear and brilliant as it can be. If anyone wants to see the Great Barrier Reef I would definitely recommend not coming in the summer/monsoon season.

The next day after our snorkel adventure we again hung out in our hotel's pool just relaxing. I tend to want to just go and go and go but we really do need to just stop and chill out regularly. The day after that we flew back to Sydney and stayed at a really nice place that had a view of Coogee (pronounced CueJee) Beach. Coogee Beach is just 3 miles south of the world famous Bondi Beach with the lifeguards in their speedos and little beanie red and yellow swim caps. Dave and walked from Coogee Beach up to Bondi Beach along the Beach walk. We passed numerous beaches and tons of surfers and swimmers. We also passed a lot of runners - more people must run in Sydney than any other city in the world. There are runners everywhere!

The next day we had surf lessons. I have always wanted to learn how to surf so what better place than Australia. Dave and I were picked up by our surfer dude guide (who reminded us of Crush the turtle from Finding Nemo) at 8:30 a.m. and after picking up another 8 people who were all crammed shoulder to shoulder in the back of a converted Land Cruiser (great way to get to know people fast) we headed to our surfing destination which was about 30 minutes from Sydney. We had surf lessons on how to hold the board, get on the board, stand on the board, etc. We then all headed out to the water. The instructor asked if I wanted his help in getting on a wave and I said sure. I laid down on the surfboard and he pushed it onto a wave. I went through the 4 steps we learned on the beach on how to stand up and stood up on the surfboard and road the wave almost all the way to the beach. I sort of lost my balance at the end and when I went to get down from the surfboard I landed incorrectly on my left foot and hurt it. After that I was favoring my left foot for the rest of the day and sadly never stood up again on the surfboard.

The next day (yesterday) Dave and I were supposed to fly to Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur. However, when I woke, my foot was very sore, swollen and was hard to walk on. I thought it best to get it checked by a Doctor to make sure I didn't break or crack anything. This of course meant that our pre-booked flight and travel plans had to be changed which was a major pain and rather costly. The Doctor told me that I was going to need X-Rays to rule out a fracture. He sent me to the X-Ray lab where I got X-Rays of my foot, which cost me a whopping $39.00 Aus. I couldn't believe how cheap. The Doctor visit was only $50.00 Aus! Anyway, the good news is that I did not fracture my foot. It is bruised and sore but should heal with rest and elevation. We decided to stay in Australia for four more days to let my foot heal a bit and get the swelling to go down before we do the eight hour flight to Malaysia. We will cut our four weeks in India back to three so we can still do our week in Malaysia.

Since we are staying in Australia for 4 more days and since there were no decent hotels available in Sydney, we decided to head south to Wollongong and spend some time here. It is a smallish town about 1.5 hours south of Sydney. We are just going to hang out here until the 25th when we will fly to Malaysia. I'm sure that my foot will be better then.

That is it for now. I hope everyone is doing well and keep in touch.

Lynette

lschimpf@gmail.com

dbuck242@yahoo.com

Posted by schuckley 16:07 Comments (2)

Australian Outback Adventure - Photos

-17 °C

We just finished our 5 day guided Australian outback safari. What an extraordinary time we had. Its sure to prove one of the highlights of our entire year.

Our guide Paul was a cross between Crocodile Dundee and the Marlboro Man. Not a large bloke but he made up for it with his sweaty machismo. He was very friendly, but much more subdued than many guides tend to be which was nice.
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It was such a great feeling to have seen Uluru in person. We arrived in the evening for a sunset viewing. It was overcast so we did not get the amazing color changes you get as the sun sets when the sky is clear. But it was still fantastic.
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The next morning we got up at 4:30AM to get to Uluru before sunrise and do the 9 kilometer walk around the base as the sun came up. There were some great views of the rock as we went around it. It was cool to see that it has a lot more shape to it than it appears from the distant view that you usually see in photos. There were some really unique undulating rock formations, and weird hole patterns along a lot of the hillsides.
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Here's the "Sofie Star" making an appearance at Uluru.
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We visited several other sites during our 5 day journey including Kings Canyon and Kata Tjuta which provided some unforgettable views.
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Lynette feeling on top of the world!
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Lynette being dwarfed by a lone tree.
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For a sense of the scale, can you see the three tiny people on the sandy ground in the middle of this photo?
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Hey, isn't Lynette standing a little close to that guide??
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We got to swim in this deep gorge with the cliffs shooting up around us. What an experience.
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One day on the road we got the opportunity to stop and talk to this old German fellow. He has lived in the outback for 14 years, just travelling around in his motorless minivan towed by his two pet camels. He was quite the character. His camels were very friendly and some of us got to feed bread to them.
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At one road side stop Lynette and I actually got to ride a camel which was a really fun experience.
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Lynette and her new friend.
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Another great experience we had was getting to sleep outdoors under the amazing starry sky. This is something I never thought I would do. I've slept in tents before but I've always been too leary of mosquitos and other critters to attempt actually sleeping outside. Well there are no mosquitos in the outback due to the really dry climate. There are tons of flies though, so many that if we had not followed the advice to purchase fly nets to wear over our heads I would have gone mad. But fortunately they only come out to annoy you during the day and are absent at night. I was a little freaked out about the presence of scorpions, but since they are not the really poisonous kind and are about equivalent to a bad bee sting I took my chances. I was however the only one that wore my fly net through the night. Even though there were no mosquitos and flies there were some big moths and grasshoppers and who knows what else that might have landed on my face. Okay that's not very adventurous of me, but hey at least I slept outside! But it was all well worth it. The night air was cool and breezy, and the views were spectacular. There were so many stars visible. As I started to fade into sleep I kept wanting to stay awake to watch the sky and the falling stars, but I also kept wanting to fall asleep because we had to get up at 4:30 AM. What a dilemma.
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No, Lynette and I are not on the way to a funeral. These are the fly nets we wore to keep the flies from landing on our eye lids and lips, or flying into our ears or up our nose, which let me tell you is quite annoying. Lynette wished she had one on when she inhaled at the exact moment a fly tried landing on her upper lip and she inadvertantly swallowed it.
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For all you non-Australians out there, we just want to fill you in on a little secret. Fosters beer is NOT "Australian for beer" as the commercials claim. It is all just a big marketing scheme. We all have been lied to. They think its crap here and don't drink it. They mostly export it to other countries. Only a few places here actually sell it and that's for all the tourists who come and think they are doing as the locals do by drinking it - as did I. But I never lived it down. The guides and others made fun of me for the rest of the trip.
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Here's something I swore I'd never ever do - sing karaoke. But since we are on this amazing journey doing things we've never done I let Lynette talk me into it. We are singing a song called "Elvira" - Lynette's choice. I then did a solo singing Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash.
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One of the special treats of the outback trip was meeting some awesome people. We met one couple from Germany and another from Denmark who were our age and who were really nice. They were really funny and we had some good laughs. We'll never forget our discovery of the legendary Pygmy Koala. But I'll save that story for another time.

Posted by schuckley 16:55 Comments (3)

Katoomba australia photos

As lynette mentioned in the last entry, today started out pretty foggy. But at least it didn't rain! Even with the fog, the trails presented us with some amazing and beautiful sights. Some of which I have photos of here.

the twisted trees looked magical through the hanging mist.
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The area behind Lynette is what the distant valley looked like all morning. Check out the later shots to see how it appeared as the fog lifted.
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There were countless spider webs strewn throughout the forest which looked fantastic with the morning dew. Structurally they looked more perfect than any spider webs I've seen before.
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There were some bluish berries that looked iridescent, almost like they were made of glass. Not sure if it comes across in the photo. -Don't worry, we didn't eat any.
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In the afternoon, the fog lifted. Parts of it came and went over time, but for a long while we could see for miles. Just think, an hour earlier and this was just a wall of white.
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This "Three Sisters" formation is what we really wanted to see, so we were so ecstatic when it showed itself. Its called Three Sisters becaue of an ancient Aboriginal legend that tells of a witch doctor who temporarily transformed his 3 daughters to stone to protect them from an enemy. But he was killed before he could tranform them back. This is of course an abridged version of the story and I've read several variations of the same story.
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Posted by schuckley 01:31 Comments (5)

Katoomba revisited

Lynette here. This morning I woke up and peeked out the window and guess what? It wasn't raining and I could sort of see a tree line out in the distance! Instead of going to the caves like we were going to do today since it was forcasted that it was going to rain again today, Dave and I decided to head to the Three Sister's lookout (check out the picture of the Three Sisters in the next blog entry) for a possible view of the blue mountains which we had yet to see. My hopes sunk however as we started the 25 minute walk to the lookout because it was really foggy. It wasn't raining but you couldn't see the mountains at all. When we arrived at the Three Sister's lookout all we could see was fog - no views, no blue mountains, nothing. We went to the Information booth and I overheard the Information person telling a couple that the fog comes and goes and also overheard her telling them some good hiking trails to do when it is misty and foggy. Dave and I decided to do one of the hiking trails that was a few miles long and had a moderate difficulty level and we both were so glad we did. The walk was magnificent and we saw some amazing waterfalls and rock formations along the way. At the end of the walk we heard some people cheering and clapping and we look up and see them on a look out platform taking pictures. Dave knew right away that the fog must have lifted - so he goes running like a bat out of hell up the trail towards the lookout platform and sure enough he was right, the fog had lifted and we had our first view of the blue mountains including the Three Sisters. We clapped and yelled too since it was looking like we were not going to get to view them due to the weather. But the fog does move quickly and not a few minutes later you could see the fog decending again on the mountains. The lookout point we were at was actually at the base of the scenic railway - which is the steepest railway in the world. Coal was once mined in this area so this railway transported the coal and the people down the side of the cliff. Now, you can take the scenic railway back to the top of the mountain which is what Dave and I did since we didn't want to walk all the way to the top. The scenic railway was extremely steep - basically the track looked completely vertical at some points. We made it safely to the top and then spent some time hanging out in the scenic world gift shop and had lunch at their cafe and then the fog lifted again and again we had awesome views of the entire blue mountain area. This was turning out to be a mighty fine day.

After awhile we decided to move on and visit another nearby town called Leura. We were told that we could catch a cheap bus fare outside of this one building so we waited for about 20 minutes and finally a bus pulled up but he told us that he couldn't take us it was the next one. So, we waited and saw the next bus and asked the driver if he could take us the the nearby town of Leura and he said no he only goes to Katoomba. Dave and I were like, what? the last bus driver said that the next bus would take us to Leura. The bus driver took pity on us and said he would take us as far as Katoomba town center where we could catch a train to Leura. We said ok and went to pay for the ride and he told us not to worry about it, which was extremely cool of him. The bus takes off and makes its first stop at the Three Sisters Look out. This is where Dave and I had started out in the morning where the views were nonexistent because of the fog but now they were glorious. Dave and I got off the bus and the driver said that he had to stay there for 5 minutes so we could take our pictures and he would wait for us. Again, a totally cool move by this driver that picked us up for free. However, once we saw these views we decided to stay there for awhile and forgo the trip to Leura and do another shorter hike to the actual Three Sisters rock formations. Dave runs back and tells the driver that we are going to stay and he tells Dave, well I might see you two again. Dave and I then take the 30 minute hike to the Three Sister rock formations. There was a bridge that you could walk over and actually sit under one of the rock outcroppings of one of the three sisters. The steps down to this were extremely steep - they are called the giant stairway and go not only to the three sisters but all the way down the side of the cliff.

We are so happy how this day turned out and feel very fortunate to have actually seen views of the blue mountains. They are called the blue mountains because the bluish tint the Eucalyptus trees produce and they really do look blue in the distance. We finally decide to head back to our hostel which is about a 25 minute walk up hill and as we are about 5 minutes into the walk, sure enough, a bus stops on the side of the road and it is the bus driver from before asking us if we want a lift into town. We of course say sure and again he doesn't charge us anything! Not only did he give us a lift into town - he ends up dropping us off right across the street from the hostel we are staying at. It was just the perfect ending of an absolutely great day.

Tomorrow it is expected to rain, again, so we are planning on going to the caves that we were going to go today which should also be awesome.

One of things about Australia is how old it is. We were told that when the Grand Canyon was a stream, the blue mountains were ancient. Also, in the mid 1990's some bushwalkers by pure chance came across about 40 trees from dinosaur days that were thought to be extinct. They said that the likely hood of them finding these trees is like the likely hood of someone finding a small dinosaur still alive. The location of these trees is a strictly guarded secret. They also said that there are parts of the blue mountains where humans still have never walked.

We have one more day in Katoomba and then we are back to Sydney to pick up our Indian Visas. Let's hope they let us into their country. Then we fly to Alice Springs which is the closest town to Uluru (Ayers Rock). Deciding on how to get to Uluru has been a chore. The travel agent where we bought our Nepal tickets from told us that it is cheaper for Australians to fly to Fiji then to visit Uluru. It basically is in the middle of Australia which means it is in the middle of no where since the middle of Australia is basically all outback. It is over a 3 hour plane ride from Sydney to Alice Springs and Uluru is another 5 hour bus ride. But, this is something that neither Dave nor I could leave Australia and not see and everything thing that I have read and heard indicates it is worth every ounce of effort to see and that you will not be disappointed.

Take care and until next time.

Posted by schuckley 01:00 Comments (0)

Still raining in Katoomba

It's been raining all day here in Katoomba. Supposed to for pretty much all of the 5 days we are here. I don't feel like drawing or reading right now, so I thought I'd jump on the computer again.

We really wanted to come to this location for the hiking so we were determined to do it, even with the bad weather. Not only is it rainy but its really foggy, so you can hike but you won't see very much. We started out today and by the time we walked through town to the park where the hiking path starts I was ready for it to be over. As I learned on the New Zealand hike, my rain jacket is not completely water proof (go figure) so I had bought a 3 dollar poncho at the hostel front desk to wear over it and keep me dry. For the life of me, I can't figure out how, water was somehow still getting in. I guess that's what I get for 3 dollars. Then the paths were pretty much totally waterlogged so we were sloshing through puddles the whole way. I tried to shimmy along the sides to keep my feet from getting soaked but it was really slow going and the wet foliage kept hitting me in the face. I slipped on a wet rock and almost flew through the air. Luckily I caught myself because I could imagine having to be carried out with a broken tailbone or something. I was getting more and more frustrated. It wasn't my idea of a fun time. I was trying not to complain too much so as not to piss off Lynette so I was so happy when she stopped and said maybe we should call it a quits. Her map was totally soaked and falling apart and the paths were hard to navigate without it. So we trudged our way back up the path and headed back to the hostel.

Most of the activities here are outdoor adventure type stuff. So the rain has put a damper on doing pretty much anything. Except one thing. There are some caverns and caves that are supposed to be amazing so we will be doing that tomorrow. We were told that would be a good activity for a rainy day since its underground. Looking forward to that.

The food so far on the trip overall has been really good. We've tried some new things and been pleasantly surprised. Its nice to see some different takes on some of the foods that in America are always made the same way. Last night I had a lamb burger at a restaurant here in Katoomba and it was great. It was actually more like sloppy joes with the sauce and bits of lamb but with that and the bread and leafy toppings it tasted fantastic. A few dishes have not been that successful in my opinion. Like the so called cajun chicken I had today. One thing I've learned is that New Zealand and Australia don't make very good milk shakes. The first one I ordered in New Zealand was vanilla and it was really thin. It tasted like I was drinking foamy whole milk. Lynette realized that they have regular and then thick, so I would need to order thick. Well I ordered thick the next few times and I'd swear they were no thicker than the regular. So I've given up on that. I don't know if this is all of Australia but I ordered a coke in a restaurant/pub the other day and it was $3.00 with no refills. I was so thirsty I sucked the thing down in five minutes and had to spend another $3.00. Even with the exchange rate I think that's high. The ketchup here is not as good as home either, and its not consistent. It tastes different almost every time. And they call it tomato sauce, not ketchup. Also, bacon is not like traditional bacon in America. To me it is more like what we consider canadian bacon, or just ham. -Not a big fan. Of course I'm just nit picking here. Like I said, most of the food has been really great. I wonder how the milk shakes will be in Malaysia. :-)

We'll keep you updated with our amazing culinary experiences. I'm sure you are on the edge of your seats. We're off to the hostel kitchen to make tonight's dinner. We are having TACOS!

-dave

Posted by schuckley 22:54 Comments (0)

Lynette Queen of the Desert

Sydney is a huge city - beautiful - but big. Dave and I stayed at a very small hotel in a part of Sydney called Newtown. This area is known for quite a few things including cheap cafes (where we ate a lot of our meals), funky shops - like there was a shop called buttons where all they sold were - you guessed it funky buttons, and its happening gay and lesbian scene. I read in the guide book that in Newtown there is a world famous drag show which is what inspired the cult classic movie "Priscilla Queen of the Desert." I have to say - that Dave and I, in our wrinkled shirts and adventure pants were definitely the most unhippest of people in Newtown. It was cool though, to stay in an untouristy part of Sydney and eat amongst the residents. We did make it down to central Sydney and not only saw the Sydney Opera House but also walked across the Harbor Bridge and went to this funky county fair like amusement park called Luna. We ate at a pub or hotel as they were once called and I looked around at one point and was the only female besides the bartender in this very packed bar. Turns out that still to this day - going to the pub is a total male bonding experience you do with your "mates." I read that walking into a pub in Australia can be very uncomfortable for females and also for males who are strangers. This is even more evident in the more rural parts of Australia - crazy! We also went to Chinatown which is in full swing celebrating the Chinese New Year. They say that they have the biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside of of China.

We left Sydney this morning and are now in Katoomba, which is a town in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Although it is raining and foggy so our views are limited. It is supposed to rain for the next 3 days so I'm not sure if we are going to see any magnificent views which is a bummer. Hopefully it will clear up a little for us though. OK everyone. Till next time.

Lynette

Posted by schuckley 23:27 Comments (0)

more photos - New Zealand and Australia

-17 °C

Here's a few more photos from the trip so far.

Lynette taking a nap in Hobbiton
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The Sofie Star in Sydney
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Here's some views of one of the better hostels. Nice place, just a bit noisey.
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Kitchen
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This is a cool spiral fountain in Sydney. The water flows down around the channels to the center.
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Glamour shot
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Some animals from Wildlife World in Sydney:

Boxing Kangaroos
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Always wanted to see a koala bear in person. Here we got to see several. They are so cute. Did you know they have 2 thumbs on each hand to help them hold onto the branches? I didn't.
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-Dave

Posted by schuckley 23:27 Comments (2)

Last of New Zealand / On to Australia

-17 °C

Hello. Dave here. We are now in Australia. We flew into Sydney 3 days ago. But before I get to that, let me tell you a little about our last stop in New Zealand, Rotorua. Its a smallish city on the north island, a 1/2 hour flight south east from Auckland. The town has a lot of cafes, restaurants and some small galleries but it is definitely not a night life kind of place. We found that most places close up shop pretty early.

The first day there we went to the site where they filmed the Hobbiton scenes from The Lord of the Rings movie, which was on a 1200 acre sheep farm about a 45 minute drive out of town. Our shuttle bus to the location was running late so he was flying on the roads to get us there on time for the guided tour. Once we got onto the farm the roads turned to gravel and were very hilly and curvy, as well as cluttered with countless sheep. We narrowly missed running one sheep over as the driver had the pedal to the metal. He was wrong in his assumption that the sheep would move off the road when he heard the honking. We finally arrived at the top of the hill just as the tour was beginning. There's not much left of what the site looked like in the movie because it was mostly demolished after the filming and the land owners are not permitted to reconstruct it to appear anything like it did. All that remains of the Hobbit's homes are the bare white plywood structures set into the hillside with open circular holes where the windows and doors were. But even still, it was neat to see and imagine it as it once was. Only one of the homes had an actual interior space which was used to place the camera gear for a shot looking out the door over the landscape. The rest were false facades. We walked around the site and the guide pointed out where different scenes were filmed and talked about different aspects and challenges of the filming process. I'm anxious to get home someday and watch the movie again to compare the scenes to my photos.

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While in Rotorua we also made a visit to the spa. The city is on the site of several volcanoes and has a lot of underground thermal activity. Geisers, hot springs and bubbling mud pools are scattered throughout the area. Many houses are even heated by the hot springs that the neighborhoods are built around. It was neat to walk down the street and just see steam rising up out of peoples back yards. So the spa touts its hot spring pools which we were glad to try out. We soaked and relaxed, starting in the coolest and working our way up to the hottest pools. Then we went inside for our hydro massages. Other than the exfoliating scrub at the beginning, the hydro massage is pretty much just like a regular massage except you have hot water spraying down onto you as the masseuss works on you. The hot water and resulting steam were quite soothing.

neighborhood with hot springs and bubbling mud pools. Hopefully the children learn to stay away!
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Later we attended a Maori (native New Zealanders) cultural experience with stage show and dinner. This particular place was recommended by a few locals as being more authentic than the others. Of course we have nothing to compare to but we did think it lived up to their claims of it being great and enjoyable.

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The last thing we did before leaving Rotorua was to hike down into Tarawera volcano. It last erupted in the late 1800s and is supposedly now innactive. Our guide was pretty cool. He looked like a little leprechaun and sounded and laughed like one too. He said "cool" a lot and "cool bananas" which, with the New Zealand accent, sounded kind of funny. But he was really informative and had all kinds of facts about the volcano and geology that I will never remember. We walked around part of the perimeter of the volcano and down inside of the huge crater that is left in its center. It was a steep walk on very loose volcanic rocks. The guide showed us this little shuffle walk that we were supposed to use to go down so we wouldn't slip, but right away Lynette and I started to slip and slide down the gravel and were afraid we'd slide all the way down to the bottom. After a bit more trial and error we got the hang of it and started our decent. The perspective of the crater depth was deceiving. I kept thinking we were close to the bottom, but we kept on going. Finally we reached the bottom and got some great photos of the crater walls towering up around us.

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We were sad to leave New Zealand the next day, but excited about getting to Australia. We've been in Sydney for a few days but haven't done a ton of sight seeing yet because we've been working on planning our itinerary. We also had to go to the Indian Embassy here in Sydney to apply for our Indian visas. And to apply we needed an onward ticket showing we were planning to leave India, so we also had to stop by a travel agent to buy plane tickets from India to Nepal. We did have a day to go down and check out the Sydney Opera House which was really awesome to see in person. While we were there we decided it would be quite memorable to actually see a show at the Opera House. We checked out the schedule and there was availablity for a few shows that same night. Even though we wouldn't have time to go back to the hotel and change out of our very casual "touristy" clothes we decided to book something. While most people had on sport coats or dresses I had on shorts and hiking shoes making me look like a Crocodile Hunter wannabe. But thankfully there were other people who were dressed like they decided last minute to see a show on their vacations as well. The choice of performances included, some Australian comedian, a Shakespeare show, Burt Bacharach, and Cinderella the opera. So since it was the Sydney "Opera" House we definitely wanted to see some musical performance. We thought it would be kind of cool in a cheesy kind of way to be able to say we saw Burt Bacharach there, but we opted for Cinderella since it was a true opera. And thankfully it was a much different version from the Disney animated film. We both agree that it was quite amazing to actually see a show there and its something we'll never forget.

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Here's Lynette enjoying the trampoline at one of our hotels.
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One of the people we met on our hike in New Zealand was from Australia. He suggested I try the vegemite. He told me not to be deceived by its chocolatey, sweet appearance, that it was actually bitter. I spread it on some bread and tried it. It was disgusting! But at least I tried it. This is an Australian delicacy with an acquired taste that pretty much only Australians ever learn to love.
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A welcoming sign at the Sydney Airport.
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Posted by schuckley 16:13 Comments (1)

Queenstown and the Milford Track

Hello everyone - Lynette, here. This is my first blog entry in awhile. Dave and I have been in Queenstown, New Zealand for over a week now. It is the adventure capital of the world here. This is where you can go bunge jumping in the morning and paragliding in the afternoon. Speed boating perhaps? Or maybe going down some rapids in a wet suit? The town sets on a beautiful lake that has mountains all around it. Dave and I are at a hostel directly across the street from the lake. The lake is crystal clear. Everything is so unpolluted in NZ. There are so few people here. We found out that New Zealand is roughly the size of England and has only 4 million people where as England has over 60 million people! We also found out that Austalia and New Zealand are rivals in everything. Wine, sports, general existing. It is a major sore spot for a New Zealander to move the the more modern Australia. The big competetive sports are Rugby and Cricket. The NZ rugby team is called the All Blacks. So, every where you look you see shirts, lunch boxes, flags, etc. that say All Blacks. Rugby is big down here - no joke. In Queenstown we took a gondola to the top of a mountain and ate lunch overlooking the city and all the mountains and the lake. The town itself is extremely easy to navigate and is full of tourist shops, restaurants, and bars. We also did a lot of hanging out lakeside and just staring at the lake and mountains behind it. It seems appropriate that in the adventure capital of the world Dave and I do the most adventurous thing we have every done which is the Milford Track.

The Milford Track is considered "The finest walk in the world." It is also something that we were told all New Zealanders try to do in their life time and I feel honored to be apart of such an authentic New Zealand experience. The track is a 5 day 4 night experience and there are two ways you can experience it. You can do it independently and carry all of your food and sleeping bag and sleep in huts that do not have showers or you can do the guided tour which is of course way more expensive but all of your food is provided and you sleep in a lodge in a warm clean bed and you have access to hot showers and running water. Since Dave and I have never done anything like this before - we opted for the cushy version. Which still involved us carrying a backpack with our clothes and such. To get to the starting point is an adventure in itself. It was a 2 hour bus ride to a lodge where we ate lunch and then went another 30 minutes to the boat launch. We then boarded a ferry boat which took us to the actual beginning of the walk. The ferry boat ride was well over an hour. Once we got to our starting point - we had a short (less than a mile) walk to our first lodge - Glade House. After a short break we went on a nature walk where the guides described the plant life, etc. and then took us to a flowing stream. Where we could actually drink directly out of! Both Dave and I just could not get over that you could drink directly from the stream. It was just like the olden days! Like we were Charles Ingalls filling up his canteen in Plum creek! It was cool.

The second day was the first major walking day. The just shy of 11 mile walk was relatively flat, except for the very end and easy to walk. Dave and I kept on stopping and going off the trail to see the various views that we ended up being the very last walkers to reach the stopping point. A 73 year old Japanese lady beat us to the end that day. We walked next to a crystal clear river. At some parts it was extremely deep and because it was clear it covered huge fallen trees and small hills! The views were spectacular. There were water falls, and green forest, and mossy rocks. Magical.

The third day was the toughest and on a clear day also supposed to have the lovelist view. Unfortunately we did not have a clear day. It was cold, windy, rainy with lots of cloud cover. This day was about a 12 mile walk and the first part involved about 4 miles of walking up a hill through what is called the Quinton Pass. This was tough - you were going over rocks and streams all on an incline. Our shoes and feet were completely soaked. Our rain gear was leaking - it was quite the experience. When we finally made it to the lunch spot. Everyone in the hut looked liked death warmed over. Everyone was exhaused and we all still had the descent yet to go, which we were told was actually harder than going up because it was so steep. Dave and I ate our soggy sandwiches and drank the hot Milo (hot chocolate) and then geared back up to head down the mountain. The weather was still pretty crappy but at one point there was a break in the cloud cover and Dave and I along with some other hikers got about a 5/10 minute view and it was magnificent. Waterfalls everywhere, huge mountains. It was so cool. Then the clouds came back and we headed back down the hill. Going down was definitely more hazardous. You had to traverse rocks and streams all while have the momentum of going down behind you. I still liked it better than going up though. I did twist make ankle several times and once (at the end of the trail) fell forward and ripped my pants and scrapped my knee. One woman that was part of our group actually fell during this part and broke her ankle in two parts. She had to be helicoptered off the trail using one of those lowered gurney things since the helicopter has no place to land.

Eventually Dave and I made it to our next lodge and after a short break walked the 1.5 hours to see Sutherland Falls. The 5th largest waterfall in the world. It wasn't wide at all but extremely tall. Then we hiked back to our lodge and took very long hot showers and rested are very sore legs, feet, and backs. The fourth day was the longest trek of the days with over 13 miles of walking. The terrain was by no means smooth as the second day, but it wasn't as crazy as the third either. But, when you are sore anything is a challenge. We made it though!!! We weren't last either - although we took our time. Lots of people on the hike were speedsters. I'm not sure why you would want to go so fast but lots of people did. In fact, our entire group set a trail record. We were the fastest group to ever do the Milford Track.

We definitely had a major sense of accomplishment when we finished. Especially because there were hardships - the weather being the main factor. It was rainy on and off on this day of walking also but not as cloudy so we were able to see lots of views. There was this awesome waterfall that is used in a lot of New Zealand adds on the track. We stopped and stared at that for awhile. There was also this rock that you could climb underneath and stand up inside. The water over the many years had hollowed out the center. At the end we took a short boat ride to the town of Milford (extremely tiny) and stayed at Mitre Peak lodge. We had a nice dinner and they gave a certificates of completition along with a group photo. There were 49 people who started the walk. There were a lot more Americans than I expected - over 12 of us. The other big group was the Japanese. Then a good hand full of Austalians, New Zealanders, and one lonely Canadian. The next day we went on a boat cruise of the Milford Sound area and then on out to the Tasman sea. The only thing under New Zealand is Antartica which was great to think about when out at sea. After the boat tour we had a 5 and half hour bus ride back to Queenstown. Dave and I were beat so we laid around a bit and then had the best hamburger I have every had in my entire life. Everyone must swear that if you every come to Queenstown you visit Fergburger and have one. They are the most delicious culinary burger experience known to man kind. I am not exegerating either my friends.

That is it from Queenstown. We move on to Rotorua tomorrow which is considered a must see experience in New Zealand.

Take Care all - Lynette

Posted by schuckley 16:02 Comments (0)

Milford Track - Photos - New Zealand

We just got back yesterday from our 5 day hike of the Milford Track in New Zealand. We will do a blog entry with a written explanation of the hike but here are some photos.

Before we left for the hike we took the gondola ride in Queenstown. Here I am at the top. My niece Sofie may recognize this thing I'm holding. She made it and gave it to me before we left so I thought I'd take it around the world with us and get some photos of it in some amazing places.
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This is the view going up the gondola
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Couldn't believe this tree. Wow.
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Here's Lynette as we are about to get on the two and a half hour bus ride to the ferry for our Milford Track hike.
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This is us on the ferry ride. It took us to our first lodging of the hike.
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Our first lodge, the Glade House.
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You can actually drink from the rivers here! The water is so clear and pure, from the melting snow in the mountains above.
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About to begin the first day of actually hiking, or as they call it here "tramping"
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Lots of great swing bridges along the way.
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Lots of amazing waterfalls.
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Second day of hiking was very wet and cold. Here's Lynette about to enjoy a warm hot chocolate, or as they call it here "Milo" at our lunch stop.
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Lots of wet hikers trying to get warm in the lunch hut.
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Sutherland Falls, the 5th highest falls in the world.
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We saw some amazing birds including this kind, the Weka, which can not fly.

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We finally finished!
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What a great view we had from our hotel on the last night.
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Back in Queenstown last night we went to a local burger place called Fergburger which has the best burgers we've ever had. Here's Lynette snuggling up to one.
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Posted by schuckley 15:30 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (6)

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