Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A little late...

I shoulda put this in at the beginning of my trip. Oh well. It's a hit counter! To see how many people visit my blog. Of course now it's pretty useless now that my trip is over, but wait! My trip *isn't* over! Let's recap the last week just to put things into perspective and make mention of a few details I left out. My trip in Australia ends, I party with team Spring Break until midnight when I have to catch my cab to the bus stop completely drunk. The bus is a six hour drive to Brisbane, then another 30 minute train ride to the International Airport where I fly out of at 8:15am. On the cab ride over to the bus stop I tell the cabbie that I'm flying out of Brisbane to Christchurch, NZ and that my flight leaves at 8:15am and he warns me that it's very risky to be arriving that late. He tells me to catch a cab to the airport as soon as I arrive in Brisbane and to not bother with the train; that I won't have enough time. He waves $5 from my cab fare because he had picked up another woman who shared part of my route to the bus stop which I thought was rather nice. But I don't heed his warning or advice and end up just missing the train upon arriving on time in Brisbane six hours later, still a little drunk and hung over. I'm a little bit nervous while waiting for the next train which is skedded to arrive in a half hour at 6:27am. The train arrives on time and I get to the airport at around 7am. You're supposed to arrive 2 hours before your flight, I was only arriving an hour before. As I leave the train and head toward the international terminal there is a woman checking peoples' train tickets. Say what? Apparently you need to have your train ticket to show *after* you get off the train. Well I had never heard of such nonsense before and couldn't find my ticket. I start getting short with the lady and am really annoyed now because I'm already late for my flight and I'm just about to shove over another 12 bucks just so I can get by the ticket lady when I find my train ticket. I find my way to my airline check in and fill out the little international card for customs and am relieved that the line is so short for my flight checkin but then a little disappointed that after all that fuss that cabbie made I'm still waiting around for my flight to board when I was thinking at least I won't be waiting around unnecessarily for this flight since I'm cutting it so close. During the boarding process I was warned that, upon arrival, I would need to show customs that I had a flight out of New Zealand. I didn't really pay attention to this as I was only going to be spending a few days in New Zealand and didn't remember having a problem arriving in New Zealand at the beginning of my trip. I get to customs in Christchurch and I'm in for a bit of a rude awakening....

They thought it was a bit suspicious that I
claimed to be staying in NZ for only a few days. They
gave me the royal treatment so to speak searching my
stuff and checking my cameras for traces of drug
residue on them (??) and grilling me expecting to get
me for drug trafficking or something along those lines.
After they finally gave me an opportunity to explain
myself they finally let me go. The customs guys ended
up being nice once they were convinced I wasn't part
of a drug ring and I ended up recommending to the
guy to buy the new David Gray album when it caught is
eye after he had been rummaging through all my stuff.
I didn't bother mentioning the Strip Music, though, as
I thought it might just add unnecessary confusion to
the situation.

I arrived in Christchurch tired and beleagered after the drawn out debaccle with customs and booked a flight from Christchurch to Auckland for the following morning at 10:30am. Despite the short notice, the flight was only $75 US. Because it was a domestic flight I wasn't too worried about arriving super early. I figured 9:30am would be good. Right before I left I thought I should find out how often the shuttle buses went to the airport. It occurred to me I hadn't even found out how far it was to the airport. I was told every half hour, and then it occurred to me if the shuttle bus had just left the next one wouldn't be coming until 10am and my flight left at 10:30am. Oops.... I make my way to the shuttle stop and as I'm approaching a man comes up to me and asks if I'm going to the airport. I say uhh.. yeah, and he tells me to put my stuff in the van, we're leaving in two minutes. Well I enjoyed that thoroughly, finally I'm cutting things close! The shuttle arrives at the airport about 20 minutes later. I have 40 minutes before my plane leaves. The shuttle bus driver tells me I'll have plenty of time. I contrast that with what the cabbie told me. I take his advice and take my time, stopping to inquite about rental cars on the way to baggage check in. As I enter my departure gate I hear the PA system announce last call for my flight and I'm the last one to arrive. I look at my watch and it's 10:15am. The plane started taxiing at 10:25am. It's good thing I didn't arrive at the departure gate at 10:30am thinking I'd still be able to catch my flight. The Alps look awesome from the plane window and it feels great to have had the last week of my trip so haphazardly booked and rushed and to get away with cutting the flights, bus and shuttle so close. Then in Auckland my trip up North was also rushed and I return the rental car within the 59 minute grace period after the 3:30pm return time I was meant to be back at Avis by. I left plenty of time to make my 7:40pm flight to LA as I wanted half a minute time to just process the fact I was actually leaving this wonderful country and my trip was suddenly over. Three months rushed by in a whirlwind of nonstop adventure and sightseeing. And to be honest, I'm beat! I need a vacation from my holiday.

It was so nice to be back in New Zealand those last few days after being in Australia for five weeks. It allowed me to just experience New Zealand without any expectations as I had when I first arrived. It's the little things about New Zealand that make it such a unique and special place, such as a Maori saying hello from the sidewalk when I was driving from the Airport to the city center. It was kinda weird not having anyone saying good bye to me as I left New Zealand. I said goodbye New Zealand and boarded the plane. I watched it disappear from my window seat one last time as the plane pulled through the cloud cover to reveal the sun setting into a white endless sea of clouds.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Giant Sand Dunes

Okay, so I lied, had one more little excursion. Rented a little Toyota Echo and went up to the tip of the North Island of New Zealand and went sledding down the giant dunes up there. I was virtually the only person there when I arrived which was a bit of a bummer but then someone arrived shortly after from Berlin and was kind enough to film and take photos for me. The video is more impressive than the photos. I took a major spill 2/3 way down the hill and just started somersaulting like crazy. Was awesome. Unfortunately I only have photos of me jumping and sledding down a relatively teeny dune to the one I sledded down and had the major spill.

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Climbing up that hill was so killer. This dune was enormous. Much bigger than the ones in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Unfortunately the photo doesn't quite do it justice. Pixagogo direct photo link

Sledding down the teeny dune: Pixagogo direct photo link

Oh, and I almost forgot. I was forced to put up my tent in the middle of a storm because I arrived in Paihia up in the north at 11:30pm and all the Hostels were closed. After wrestling with my tent which was convinced it was a kite from the powerful wind I finally got it pinned to the ground with stakes and had it properly erected. When I had the tent up I couldn't find the fly anywhere. It was pretty warm and I figured it would clear up soon since earlier there was a very red sunset (red sky at night, sailor's delight - red sky at morning, sailor's take warning) so I crawled into the already wet tent and put my raincoat over my head and tried to sleep midst the fwapping and rattling of the tent which was being nearly flattened against me inside it. -- Well if there ever was anything farther from the truth I know it not. I woke up periodically during the night from the constant noise and by morning I was lying in two inches of water. The wind was still howling and when I crawled out of my tent and into the car (why didn't I just sleep in the car?) the radio report was calling for a severe weather advisory with wind gusts up to 120kph/hr (hurricane force) and 100mil of rain. After sitting in the car for an hour tired and trying to figure out what I was gonna do with all my wet stuff and my bedraggled tent I went outside into the storm to take it down. It had somehow freed itself from the stakes, the wind was that strong.

It was a bit difficult getting a good picture. Pixagogo direct photo link

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Fraser Island

Team Spring Break ruled Fraser Island in a pair of rugged Toyota Landcruisers. Ranger Joe managed to avoid taking advantage of a free helicopter ride off the island by begrudgingly keeping all four wheels firmly planted to the sand (most of the time) and the brits managed to keep their shorts on after the trip was done but didn't manage to resist moon dancing the night away in the warm everning rain when sleeping wasn't much of an option when all the tents save one were wet.

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One of our jeeps broke down at the beginning of our trip at the famous lake Mckenzie so we got a free day added onto our self drive tour. We had to spend the afternoon lying around in the warm waters of the luminous lake while we waited for another jeep to be delivered to us. It was really rough. Pixagogo direct photo link

Dave poking his head out the window of the replacement jeep like a big happy dog unbeknownst to Ranger Joe who thought he was getting an exclusive photo with the jeep. Pixagogo direct photo link

At night our two chefs out did themselves with extravagant gourmet multi-course dinners. Angelo preparing perfect pasta Pixagogo direct photo link

The two chefs are soulmates Pixagogo direct photo link

Team Springbreak in front of the shipwreck Pixagogo direct photo link

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The following depicts the various wildlife and hazards on Fraser Island: Pixagogo direct photo link

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Pixagogo direct photo link We took to feeding the spiders the dastardly horse flies that followed us around the entire trip.

Pixagogo direct photo link oceanside highway

Pixagogo direct photo link Creeks form deep channels along the beach. This is what our orientation adviser had to say if we didn't drive along the waters edge where it was safest.

"You will hit the first one. You will not see it coming. You will not get to hit the second one. You will be going on the island and I will be staying here. Everything on the island is trying to kill you. You will all be going home in a helicopter."

Ranger Joe dangling his legs over the precipice while searching for sharks and turtles. Saw some small sharks and big sea turtles break the surface. Wasn't quick enough to get pics tho.

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The champagne pools. Gettin blasted. None of us came away without scraped up knees elboes and feet. Powerful waves pulled us from the sharp barnicle covered rocks dragging our feet and hands as we struggled to keep a grip.

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Ranger Joe catapulting into the water.
Big Dog Dave choosing a smoother entrance.
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Team Spring Break knows how to have a good time on the island and off:

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Last Great Adventure

Well, the trip is really nearing its close now. It's been quite the trip, met a lot of fun and interesting people and did and saw alot of amazing things and learned a bit about myself in the process, but it's not over yet. After I got back from the Whitsundays I took a midnight bus down to Fraser Island where I arrived today at 1pm. Was able to stretch out across the seats in the back of the bus and get some sleep. I was pretty nackered as I was still battling the tail end of my cold and so didn't have any trouble passing out on the bus.

This afternoon we had an orientation of sorts for the 4x4 galavanting we will be doing along the beaches of Fraser Island. The itinerary is set out for us because of the massive tidal variations (10 feet) so you have to be at certain places at the right time lest you get stranded. The guy giving our orientation made it sound pretty amazing. One of the beaches on the island supposedly is repeatedly rated among the top ten beaches in the world. There are massive sand dunes some which are at a 60 degree angle so we will either slide down them on trash bags or just run down them. I remember how fun this was to do in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of N.C. last summer so hopefully I'll have some fun photos to share from this last sandy excursion.

Basically there is about eight of us taking turns driving the 4x4 to various lakes and sights on the island and then we'll be camping at night and meeting up with other parties of people doing the same thing. We bought our own food for cooking and we just so happened to have two chefs among our party. Not a bad bonus.

Thanks again to everyone who has enjoyed my blog. It's been fun.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Great Barrier Reef

The Whitsundays: what kind of name is that for a conglomerate of small islands? honestly! "Out here on the Whitsundays, the whit of Sunday afternoons here is unparalelled." I dunno, the name bothers me. It's the area we went sailing around where a section of the great barrier reef can be found.

Anyway, even though I didn't get to dive and most everyone else did I still had a blast snorkling. Snorkling is really fun. At first it was a little scary, all that coral and those strange and quite large fish, and then suddenly I'd pass over the coral which is just below the surface and it would just drop off and there would be this great abyss suddenly before me and I'd just barely be able to make out the sea floor 30 or 40 feet down and for some reason it was a bit unnerving. Nevertheless I forced myself to learn how to free dive. At first the thought of diving down into the water toward the seafloor was unfathomable, but when another snorkler acted as if it was nothing to dive 20, 30 feet down I felt I owed it to myself to get over it and after awhile it became easier and easier and I learned how to equalize properly although sometimes my ears wouldn't equalize and I wouldn't be able to dive very deep. But the times when I did, it was really cool swimming among the coral, and diving deep into chasms and chasing fish. At one point I suddenly found myself among a school of really big, funny looking fish. They reminded me of the giant dope fish from Commander Keen 4! They were really big and well, dopey looking and had giant, goofy looking front teeth just like the one's from Keen! When the fish, even small ones, would eat at the coral, you could hear their teeth scrape against it. I almost touched the tail of one of the "dope fish". I was literally a millimeter or two away. But it's extremely hard to touch any of the fish because they just move out of the way at the last second even when there's tons of little ones swimming all around you. You cannot touch them no matter how hard you try. One big ugly fish was just sitting in a dark cravasse among the coral cleverly camouflaged with it's mouth open and a little fish swimming about inside. I came back about ten minutes later to see that he hadn't moved but there was no longer a fish swimming around in its mouth.

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I found the small fish to be just as fascinating as the larger ones. Watching them shimmer and swarm about was really neat. Found Nemo a couple times (clown fish). Didn't see any giant sea turltes though. :( It was like discovering a whole new world I never knew existed even if I saw similar stuff on the Discovery Channel. Real life of course doesn't compare at all. I felt pretty good about myself for learning how to snorkle properly. I didn't buy an underwater camera so I have no pictures, but I have posted some pictures of the fish I saw from Google.

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We walked among dozens of stingrays in the shallows of Whitehaven beach where the sand is white as snow and just as soft. I crawled along in the shallow water behind a small shark. Chasing the sharks was fun but it was entirely pointless as you didn't have a chance in hell. I was following one for about two minutes as it just slowly cruised along. But they could dart off like a sudden bullet if they wanted too. Very cool. They were only about a meter or so long (maybe 4 feet).

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Helping put the sail up.

The guy across from me couldn't swim and fell overboard. He managed to hang onto something on the side of the boat before the dive instructor jumped in the water and rescued him. At the end of the trip he finally got the nerve up to go in the water with floaty tubes and a mask to peek the world that lay hidden just a few feet below the surface.

Glorious sunset from the boat.
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I was reading a book about the youngest person (a 17 year old Aussie) to sail around the world alone without stopping and unassisted. It was really fun to read while sailing along. Just thought I'd share that. Reading the book made me want to plan a proper adventure for myself and maybe some likeminded friends?

The boatPixagogo direct photo link

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

We Interrupt this blog for a very important announcement [Updated]

Brought to you by

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Will the new Civic Hybrid beat the Prius in MPG?
Posted Sep 4th 2005 12:30PM by John Neff
Filed under: Hybrids/Alternative

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While perusing TCC's reports on the new Civics from Honda, we noticed a paragraph tucked away under the heading "The Hybrid" in which Honda says the Civic Hybrid will get 43.6 mpg in real-world driving, a number it claims will best the Prius's rate of 42.5 mpg. Of course, these are Honda's numbers, although TCC verified that an editorially owned Prius gets around 42 real-world mpg.

The EPA rates the Prius at 60 mpg city/51 hwy, while the new Civic Hybrid clocks in at 50 mpg city/50 hwy. Unlike the previous gen Civic Hybrid, this one received a whole slew of new hardware to help it conserve more fuel, including the ability to operate in battery-only mode like the Prius and regenerative braking that’s 170% more efficient. You can bet we’ll be monitoring the sales of the Civic Hybrid as compared to those of the Prius as soon as the numbers start rolling in.

Updated --> Now back to your irregularly scheduled blog. Been sleeping out on the deck like a beggar because the air conditioning was really exascerbating my cold and it's automated and you can't get to the plug to pull it out of the wall and there is no way to turn it off and the reception wouldn't turn it off for me. So because I've been sick for so long I am now very rushed to do the Whitsundays 3 day/3 night boat cruise on a racing boat - get to help put up the sail, too. Free scuba dive included in the package I bought. Won't be doing the scuba dive because persons with Pneumothorax (collapsed lung) are strongly advised against it and Queensland as the stricted scuba laws. Then it's off to Fraser Island to tool around in a 4x4 jeep which I hear is lots of fun. The first tour where we won't be babysitted. They give 11 people a 4x4 to go exploring the island on their own for three days, each person sharing the driving.

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Been taking a multi vitamin to help me get better. It's one of those natural ones so it's got like ginseng and ginko-biloba and I was really amazed at my ability to remember peoples' names! Even other people were impressed. Cause usually I hear a name and then I've lost it not five seconds later. Finished reading the first Harry Potter book while waiting to get well. Feel a little better today which is why I risked booking the boat for Friday (today is Thursday.) It hasn't been all that bad lounging around being sick. Have had company by other people in the dorm most of the time. Greg left yesterday who I was travelling with for a week. He's the guy I had the Mt. Sorrow adventure with in Cape Tribulation up north. Good lad. We had a good time.

Every night at the hostel bar there is a different activity they have going where people can sign up to win some cash like. Most of them require you being a girl, such as the jelly wrestling and wet t-shirt competition, but guys are allowed to sign up for the poll dancing. There's also a foam part where I guess the whole room gets filled with foam and well, I'm not exactly sure how that one goes. Last night was a wet t-shirt competition good for $500. Basically it consisted of ladies getting on stage, having water poured on their chests wearing ripped white garments meant to pass as t-shirts and then strut their stuff on stage where most of them completely removed their shirts and half of them went as far as to drop their drawers as well. Not bad for $5 admission. You would have thought some of the girls were strippers the way they worked it. So, yeah, there are worse places to get laid up in while recovering from the other kind of travel bug.

Pixagogo direct photo link The girl on the right won and the girl on the left was runner up. The voting was done via a decibel reader. The audience had to make as much noise as possible for the girl they thought should win and the one with the highest decibel reading was then chosen as the winner. It was a tie at 112 decibels until the MC told those who were cheering for both girls (like me and the english guy I was with) to only vote for one. 113 to 112 was the final score. Heh, why do I feel like I shouldn't be posting this.

Met a cool english chap from south London who has been keeping me company these lay-low days in paradise. He was trying to find a job on a boat and finally landed one today after stressing about as to where and what he was going to do for work. The guys that Greg and I got a ride down with to Airlie beach from Cairns were locals to Airlie Beach and were just having a 5 day getaway up north to Cape Tribulation. Very nice blokes, put Greg and I up in a tent that they were travelling with. So, yeah, I've got both travel bugs and while the nasty one I feel is finally leaving me I'm afraid I feel another 6 weeks in Australia is warranted before I'd feel really ready to leave, but I am looking forward to seeing the baby and snow and skiing!

I'm in Airlie Beach which is on the east coast of Australia about 800 miles north of Sydney.

I fly out of Auckland on January 25th at 7:40pm and arrive 12 hours later in Los Angeles at 10:30am on January 25th. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. (yeah, I can't quite work out how that works.)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

No Tree in Middle-earth

or should I say New Zealand, can hold a candle to the LOTRificness of the trees in the Daintree rainforest up in Cape Tribulation where Greg and I were attacked by leeches.
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A baby wallaby rescued and reared by the campground owners when its mother died. There was a donation jar that looked like it had been donated to generously for the care of the animal which is hopefully going to be put back into the wild again.
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The oh so inviting and oh so deadly beach on the way up to Cape Trib. During the summer months, all the beaches on the northern half of the Australian coast are unsiwmmable except in tiny little enclosures made of netting to keep the deadly box jelly fishes out (ala the ones in "Finding Nemo")
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I'm sick (just a chest cold that keeps me from able to do anything) and don't feel like writing a blog so this blog is likely to be sub par. The leeches were bloody tenacious. Halfway up the treacherous Mount Sorrow trail suddenly the leeches were causing me to do a panicked version of twist and shout. We had to pry them off with our fingers and though they were just little ones they put up an impossible fight for their size. If it wasn't bad enough these leeches had to be tended to every minute, you could barely find your way through the rainforest because the trail was basically non-existent except for a few orange markings you had to keep a look out for. Furthermore, it had to be the steepest mountain I've ever climbed. Here is the damage the leeches did to an already existing cut on my ankle from the cheap sandles I bought that had been ripping up my feet.

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We were gonna sleep under the stars on the beach at a secluded campground up in Cape Trib (northeastern Australia on the coast in the rainforest) but as we were lying in the hammocks dozing in and out of sleep trying to fight off thoughts of the resident crocadile roaming about or the surprising statistic that coconuts falling on peoples' heads kill more people than croc or shark attacks we heard a giant crack of a cocunut falling from above and decided to sleep in the tent we had already erected.

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Me just cruisy in the back of an old '76 VW bus on the way down to Airlee Beach where I am currently awaiting my chest cold to vacate my rattled body. Takin' 'er real easy for the next couple days before it's off on the next great adventure... the Whitsundays on a yacht! White silicate sands adorn the spattering of islands off the coast of this little beachside resort. I will be snorkling and maybe do an intro scuba dive to see giant sea turtles ala the ones in "Finding Nemo" and the giant deadly box jelly fish. More on all that later.

Monday, January 02, 2006

A local guide takes us into the Rainforest

Nothing like a quiet retreat into the rainforest with just a half a handful of people after being on a boisterous tour bus for eleven days.

So a few of us from the quaint little hostel in Cairns on the northern part of the east coast piled into a local's teeny toyota two door. A very interesting chap temporarily living at the hostel imparted his local knowledge, wisdom and quite humbling and inspiring stories and experiences from his life and death after driving us out to a local swimming hole with some nice jumping ledges, butterflies and lizards along the way. Particularly interesting was the entlike tree that you half expected to stretch its roots out and start walking toward you. I didn't manage to get a pic of the large lizard in the forest though.

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So, yeah, bought a new camera and also got a memory stick for my video camera to take pictures on the fly while filming.

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Someone trying to cross the falls.
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Sunday, January 01, 2006

More Contiki Tour Photos

I believe this was Christmas Eve. Thanks Lindsay for the photos and lending me your camera on numerous occasions.
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Too close for comfort? Not quite. They get bigger. This one was prolly about 50 years old, but they can live up to 80 years and grow up to 22 feet or more.
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Our very cool tour guide Dan
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