26 January 2008

Mama I'm Coming Home...

My tour bus just dropped me off here in Airlie Beach and I was actually really sad to see them go...some really great people on that bus and some very happy memories. I hope they continue to have fun without me (although, let's be honest, is that really possible?).

All that's left now is to make my way (solo) back to Melbourne for my flight to the USA on Tuesday. I will be happy to have some time to reflect on everything I have seen and done and although I am sure the low is going to come soon I am in a pretty happy place right now. I am older, wiser, tanner, and back to using the majority of my English vocab (which will of course quickly go away again once I hit American soil).

They all kept asking me if I was sad to be leaving, which I felt bad saying "no" to so I said "yes" but really, it's all one big adventure at the end of the day and I never feel sad about finding out what happens next. You keep in touch with the ones that made the real connections and you fondly remember the others that made asses out of themselves while you laughed on your bar stool.

It's all about the great circle of life kids.

Wonder what movies I'll watch on the plane?


Missing you already Oz...missing you already.

23 January 2008

Whitsundays - Coming to the end of the road

Just a few days left now - lots to report but not much time to write so you'll have to wait for the post-trip report.

Highlights include:
  • Jumping in the waves at Surfer's Paradise.
  • Swimming in an amazing fresh water lake while hoping to spot a dingo (but not)
  • Teaching my tour group how to crank it like Soulja Boy.
  • Creeking on Fraser Island and avoiding eels and ginormous spiders
  • Watching kanagroos take their brekkie in the early morning twilight
  • Turning a poor innocent tree frog into the subject of tour group paparazzi (he was well up for it though)
  • Sitting in a dark natural cathedral cave with perfect acoustics and listening to an acoustic Lorena McKennit echo back to me while bats circled above.
  • Waking up constantly in the middle of the night afraid there is a bug in my bed.
  • Tanning, peeling, tanning, peeling

We are in the Whitsunday Islands for the next 3 days - including Australia Day, which promises to be an amazing party, and a full day on a booze cruise catamaran. Hell of a way to end the tour I think...

I can't believe it's almost over. It went so fast! This time next week I'll be on American soil (Cheech - would you pick me up?) and this will all be a memory with only the photos to remind me. Guess I better get out there!

(BTW - Are you all still with me? No comments and I start to wonder if I've lost you)

20 January 2008

On the Move - Gold Coast to Fraser Island

Just a quick note while I have a minute to catch you up on where I've been and where I'm headed. Spent the last 2 nights in Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast. Gold Coast is a lot like Vegas in that it's mainly a tourist spot. Lots of tall hotels, not a lot of local charm (unlike Byron Bay which was heavy on local charm - loved it!)

We stayed at a place called "Paradise Resort." The rooms were nice enough - big and spacious - and despite the fact that 4 girls were sharing 1 bathroom we made the best of it. The location was great. However, we should have been a bit wary when the sign for the hotel had the slogan "Heaven for children, Paradise for parents"

The third line should have been, "If you are neither of these 2 categories, may god have mercy on your soul."

There were children EVERYWHERE...and for some reason, they were all screaming...all the time.

Needless to say, we didn't spend much time by the pool and opted for the beach instead. The waves were tons of fun!

Today we are in Brisbane (95 degrees, eek!) for the morning and then we are off to Fraser Island this afternoon for 2 nights. Apparently, the white sand at Waikiki came from Fraser Island (so the Aussies tell me) and it's the largest natural sand island in the world. There's no Internet there so I'll be quiet again for a few days but the place is meant to be full of natural beauty. I actually have a 1/2 day nature exploration tour booked in for tomorrow - we're going to check out some gorgeous creeks, lakes and beaches. After that we head further north to cross the Tropic of Capricorn and then on to the Whitsunday Islands.

More soon kids...

18 January 2008


You'll have to wait for mine, but you can see Cheech's photos of our trip here.


Next update from Gold Coast...

17 January 2008

The Tour: Sydney to Byron Bay

So the tour kicked off early Wednesday morning in Sydney. I checked out of my lonely hotel at 7:30 am and hauled my bags 5 blocks down the street to meet the tour group.

Trepidation was high.

What were the people going to be like? What were the accomodations going to be like? And what about the food?

But today, as I type this in my wet swimsuit, having just finished my FIRST EVER SURFING LESSON in Byron Bay (stood up for about .05 seconds, but it was SO FUN) and getting ready to lay out in the sun to keep topping up the tan after I am done here...well, I'm glad I booked it.

Accomodations = Good!
Food = Totally Acceptable.
People = Non-stop entertainment. OMG.

There are 14 of us travelling north on the East Coast of Australia. Three boys, 11 girls, everyone is a single traveller, and we are from all over. I am the only American. Couple of folks from different parts of the UK (Ireland, Wales, England), a few folks from Europe (Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland), and 4 girls from Korea (who hardly speak ANY English - good on them!).

Everyone is travelling for a decent amount of time. A month seems to be the minimum. Quite a few folks have been travelling for a few months already. One girl did a month volunteering in an orphanage in Cambodia and has since been travelling around Asia.

And, praise be, I am not the oldest! However, I have also learned that age is definitely nothing but a number. First off, I can't tell the ages of any of them. Almost all of my guesses have been wrong. Second, the oldest ones seem to be the wildest...they definitely have the biggest hangovers the next day - and not for just their age. That's for sure.

There is non-stop entertainment from the lot of them. Stories coming later.

So we are in Byron Bay for 2 nights (last night and tonight) and tomorrow we take off for the Gold Coast and Surfer's Paradise. I must go lay on a beach now and do nothing.

Australia is hard work.

13 January 2008

Australia is crying today.

Well, we knew it was coming, even though we both tried to ignore it and deny it...but in the end, it was inevitable.

Kjersti left me today to fly back to 'Merica.

Come on, say it with me kids:


It's like my left arm was cut off.
(I always walked on the curbside)

I spent all day aimlessly wandering the city and never really managed to do anything except disciver an extensive network of indoor malls. Apparently in Sydney they love the indoor shopping. It's kinda ridiculous. I think you may be able to traverse all of the CBD without ever setting foot outside.

I thought about going to the zoo and the beach but it was raining. It's been raining since yesterday afternoon.

In fact, it's been raining since Kjersti and I toasted our glasses at Manly yesterday to cheers her last full day in Oz.

That's right kids, Australia is crying today.

(I haven't told the koalas yet...shhh.)
Tomorrow, I have one full day in Sydney on my own (maybe the zoo? maybe the beach?) and then bright and early Wednesday morning I join my 12 day tour that will take me north along the East Coast, through Surfer's Paradise, Brisbane, and up to the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands.

Pray that I am not the oldest one, ok? I don't know if I can handle 12 days of 21 year olds looking for a party...then again, maybe that's exactly the kind of spice this blog needs??

Sydney, Sydney, Sydney!

A whirlwind of a few days here in Sydney!!

Kjersti and I have spent the last few days maxin and relaxin here in the capital of New South Wales. We rolled into town last Thursday night, ready to hand Tori's keys back over to Hertz and spend a few days exploring the big city.

Our first afternoon however, Sydney decided to smack back a little. And we learned the hard way to never ever leave Tori on the curb even for a second alone (even if the hotel tells you it's ok, even if you are in a loading zone) because you will get a ticket for not having a ticket.

Oh and the best part is, the ticket we were lacking WAS FREE.

That's right you need to get a free TICKET to be in a loading zone for less than 10 minutes or you will get an $80 ticket in fines. I can't make this stuff up. And no, the parking guy doesn't care that it's a stupid rule, that you were uninformed, that the hotel said it was fine, or that you are obviously just a tourist. Jerk.

Can I report HIM to the Visitor's Information Centre?

Car drama aside, we returned Tori the next day (and thanks to the parking man we were happy to see her go, good as she had been to us) and hit the town on foot and public transport. Since then, we've hit both Bondi and Manly beaches to top up the tans (no more sunburn for this girl - we're going brown people, going brown!), took in some underwater wildlife at the Aquarium (the closest I'll ever get to diving), saw an amazing modern dance performance at the Opera House, sipped champers at the Opera Bar as the sun set behind Sydney, dined on fabulous seafood while gazing at views of Darling Harbour, and relived our youth at Cargo Bar on a Saturday night.

A few observations:
  • Sydney reminds me a LOT of London - big city with an English feel - it's very familiar to me. But you have to replace the India culture of London with a Southeast Asian culture in Sydney. Not a lot of curry but some of the best damn noodles, thai food and sushi I've ever had...in ABUNDANCE.
  • The Opera House, while a global icon, kinda looks a bit dated and 70's from up close. It's not gleaming white, it's more of a yellowing beige. I really felt a bit oppressed by the whole thing. Does that make me a bad person?
  • While I prefer the neighborhood around Manly Beach to the neighborhood around Bondi Beach, I actually prefer Bondi Beach to Manly Beach. Go figure.
  • Watching surfers is HOURS of entertainment but they are kinda like those kids on the skateboards in big cities. Sometimes you just watch and wonder if they are ever going to successfully nail a move.
  • Definitely take the ferry to Manly Beach. It's like getting a whole Harbour Cruise for $6 instead of the $30+ some of the places want to charge.
  • I am almost feeling too old to go clubbing. Is that sad?
  • Lonely Planet actually does REALLY WELL on restaurant recommendations. Y-U-M. Oh, and pretty much every restaurant in Sydney is BYO. No corkage fee involved. Needless to say, we both felt a lot better about all that wine we purchased in Hunter Valley that we had no way of getting home!

I think Australia loves us.

Well, everyone except the parking guy.

(see? doesn't it look white and shiny? It's not.)

12 January 2008

ReckenRoll is at Bondi Beach

Gone Tanning...

10 January 2008

Hunter Valley and Port Macquarie

On Tuesday morning we got up, grabbed the now clean clothes, said good-bye to our cockroach friend and headed out of Sydney (to return later).

Heading north, we negotiated or little red Corrolla, a.k.a. Tori (short for Victoria, the red thunder from down under) out of Sydney and on to Hwy 1 towards Port Macquarie. We had decided on PM through the advice of Cat and a quick perusal of the Lonely Planet(s) that we have to hand. We learned that PM was the third settlement in Australia - an ex-penal colony with plenty of beach, relaxed attitudes and, for Kjersti, potential skydiving - it was perfect!

Needless to say, exiting Sydney was just as difficult and stressful as arriving in Sydney and when we saw the exits for the Hunter Valley wine region, we decided a quick detour was necessary. We found the Visitor's Information Center (plentiful and friendly in Oz) and got ourselves a map and planned a route. Three wineries later and we had some great bottles of wine, a bellyful of yummy tapas, and even our first kangaroo spotting!

Hunter Valley was so good that we promised ourselves we would hit it again on the return trip. I promise we kept and I now have 5 bottles of wine to either drink or carry home...one guess on which option we are choosing to exercise!!

We arrived in PM later on Tuesday afternoon and after a quick walking tour of central areas (with another free tourist map) found our home for the next 2 days, The El Paso Motor Inn.

Judge not my friends. Judge not.

We quickly renamed the Old El Paso as the El Dorado and it was clean, quiet, and spitting distance from the river and park. We could easily walk to the beach, had a nice shared patio and found the people to be friendly and accomodating. It wasn't the fanciest of places but it suited our needs just fine. Tori even got her own parking spot free of charge. As if a sign that we were truly in the right spot, we ended our first night in PM sitting on our balcony, overlooking the people walking along the river, sipping our winery wine and listening to a small ragtime band that just happened to be playing to entertain just us.

Although I think other people may have enjoyed it too.

In the morning when we headed to the beach, we were greeted by a praying mantis who had taken up residence on our front door. (Apparently, the wildlife just loves us. It's like being the Snow White of the bug world, I swear.) After negotiating our way out the front door around him (do Praying Mantis bite? Who knows?) we obviously had to name him and there are only so many appropriate names for a praying mantis who lives on your door at the El Dorado.

I miss Manuel already.

We spent the rest of the day in full beach mode and I have the irregular sunburn today to prove it. I seriously was not paying attention with the SPF - you should see the red v white streaks on my legs and back. Our trip to PM finished with a picnic in the park, watching the pelicans(HUGE) and the locals and feasting on some of the BEST calamari and fish and chips I have ever had. It was fresh fresh fresh, made to order and melted in your mouth.

All in all a great little stop.

Today, we are back in Sydney (and I have the white knuckles to prove it)! Tomorrow we bid farewell to little Tori and set about to more beach time and city exploration.

More soon!

07 January 2008

Melbourne to Sydney: The Drive

Let me begin by saying that despite what all the tour books, maps, and friendly advisors tell you, the drive between Melbourne and Sydney does not take "about 10 hours."

It takes a full 16 hours at least.

Under the misnomer that it was a much shorter trip, we got up last Sunday and headed northeast, cruising through Gippsland and making our way to the Victoria/New South Wales border. We paused for a detour to Ninety Mile Beach and found the most amazing and pristine white sand, warm water and deserted beach I have ever seen. Truly a happy place for me to go to next time the yoga teacher tells me to put a warm light in my heart. However, it also had some of the strongest winds (maybe why no one was lounging on towels) and we were only able to wander the beach to gather some shells for about 15 minutes before having to seek shelter in the car.

So maybe not the most perfect happy place...but a happy place nonetheless.

We carried on to Lakes Entrance where we figured we had made it far enough and overnighted. The Ferryman's Cafe on the water provided a huge bowel of bouillabase (sp?) filled with fresh out of the water prawns, clams, mussels, and fish. A nice local red finished the meal and Kjersti and I toasted our good fortune and progress while watching the black swans float below our deck.

Then Monday. 13 hours of driving later and we finally hit Sydney. We arrived late Monday night and had to negotiate the one way streets and foreign traffic signs (all while driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the street) in order to find our little Pensione Hotel for a quick overnight.

Thankfully, Kjersti is an excellent driver (oh yes, I have given up control!) and I am an excellent navigator and despite the white knuckles, we make a great team. The hotel was located, the parking facility found and by 10.30 pm we found ourselves sipping on a lovely glass of wine, enjoying the warm night air, and taking in the view over the Sydney skyline at Darling Harbor.

The night ended with me and a cockroach entering a gentleman's agreement in the guest laundry room at the hotel. The agreement was this: I agreed not to smash his guts all over the laundry room floor and he agreed to stay in his corner.

Both parties held their end of the agreement.

I still can't yet post any photos but if you want to see what I've been seeing on the drive and around, I found a great photoset on Flickr that pretty much covers it...EXACTLY. Click here and enjoy!

05 January 2008

Day 4: The Great Ocean Road

Day four in Melbourne and we woke up bright and early to go and explore the Great Ocean Road. As stolen from Wikipedia: "The Great Ocean Road stretches along the South Eastern coast of Australia between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Warrnambool is one of Australia's great scenic coastline drives."
We had read some amazing things that said this drive was really a MUST DO...so we did. The Twelve Apostles rock formations were definitely the highlight.

Kjersti and I both drove this day and are becoming quite proficient at all this right side of the road and car stuff. So far, our biggest challenges are turning on the windshield wipers everytime we want to indicate a turn and maybe hugging the left side of the road a bit too much. However, we have also become quite the team. Passenger side job is to let the driver know when the curb is getting a little too close for comfort!

It was HOT yesterday. Damn hot. Hot that rushes you back to the car to get the AC going. In combination with the flies that attack your eyes, nose, ears, mouth whenever you leave the car (outside the city - not in Melbourne at all) we didn't spend too much time wandering around the gorgeous natural wonders but we did stop and got some amazing shots...although these are just from the web since I still can't get my camera connected here.

Things we learned today: no need to tip in Australia. Waiters get paid a good wage.
The highlight: The 12 Apostles and Lord Arch. Also sampling the local wines.
The lowlight: We have officially learned the Australian Salute.

Today we are off to begin our drive to Sydney. We are driving up the coast to the Lakes and overnight along the way. Good-bye Victoria tomorrow and hello New South Wales!!

More soon!!!

Day 3: Phillip Island

On Friday, we picked up our cute little red Toyota Corolla rental car (not yet named but we will)and met up with my friend Cat and headed out to Phillip Island. I met Cat in a rock climbing class when I was living in London. She was my first non-work friend and I took great pride in introducing her to my peeps with a, "Why yes, I do know people in London that I don't work with everyday" air.

Unfortunately, she took off shortly thereafter to move to Australia and spend a year working and traveling (was it something I said?) and my pride and interest in branching out to meet new people was quickly squashed.

Anyhoo. I digress.

Thanks to modern technology (Facebook) and a bit of advanced planning, Cat was able to meet up with Kjersti and I in Melbourne and we have spent the last 2 days touring around together. First order of business, we made Cat drive. Wrong side of the road & wrong side of the car was too much thinking too early in the morning.

Phillip Island is about 2 hours south of Melbourne and known for it's "Penguin Parade." Every night at sunset, the "Little Penguins" come to shore in the thousands and return home for the night after feeding at sea all day. It's an amazing spectacle. The penguins are super tiny - only about 10 inches high - and they come on to the shore in groups of anywhere from 4-20 penguins at a time. The beach is apparently the scariest part of the journey so once the group decision is made to make a dash for the bushes (so funny in the water, out of the water, in the water, out of the water and no penguin is left behind) the waddle race is hillarious!

When you are done watching them come in to shore, you wander back to the visitor's center on fenced boardwalks that go right through their nesting areas. The boardwalks are pretty open and the penguins are everywhere around you (literally you can touch them if you reach through the fence - although no one did) and you can hear them calling to each other and see the hugs when they finally get home. It's the cutest damn thing. There were even baby penguins! When you get back to your car you even have to check underneath to make sure there are no little penguins underneath since some of them do nest as far away as the car park. Kjersti was in charge of checking for penguins. She did an excellent job.

We also went to the Koala Conservatory on Phillip Island and learned to spot Koala's in the eucalyptus trees. It's trickier than you think! There were several baby Koalas and thanks to the fact it was a conservancy and not a zoo, I got some amazing photos. I have to say, between the koalas and the penguins, I am a big fan of putting the humans on specific paths/contained areas and letting the animals wander free around you (instead of the reverse at the zoo). Kjersti checked for koalas under the car there as well and I am happy to report, we are animal free.

Our other stop on Phillip Island was at The Nobbies (love the names of things here) where you could supposedly see fur seals out on the rocks. While the walking on the cliff sides offered impressive views, unfortunately all we saw was a bunch of horny sea gulls...and a snake. I spotted it on our way back to the parking lot. We screamed and jumped, as girls do, and it got scared and slithered back to the grass.

Phillip Island: penguins and koalas and snakes. Oh my!

03 January 2008

Melbourne Day 1&2

Happy New Year from Down Unda Mates!

Hope you all had lovely New Years and have long since recovered from the hangover. Managed to find an Internet Cafe (obviously) and am currently hiding out from the 95 degree sunny weather by drinking a flat white coffee and catching up with all of you.

Let me begin by saying, the plane ride was honestly the longest one of my entire life. FOURTEEN HOURS. That was enough time to eat, watch a movie (Superbad), sleep a full night, wake up and get ill from the sleeping pills, get sick, get moved to a bed in business class for a few more hours sleep (and not to share too many details but it was not until I actually GOT sick did they let me lay down), recover from being sick, watch some more tv, eat and then land.

But all in all the jet lag is actually pretty minimal considering I am 16 hours ahead of you all. (If anyone wants me to let them know what happens to them tomorrow, I can tell you :) )

So far so good in Melbourne. The weather has been awesome - low 80s to upper 90s - and we have managed to not get lost or do anything incredibly stupid just yet. The city is VERY easy to negotiate, public transport is good, the streets make sense and our little B&B is comfortable, clean and quiet. There are coffee shops EVERYWHERE and practically every restaurant has outdoor cafe seating.

Loves it.

Wednesday we explored the Central Business District, walked along the Yarra River (which reminded me TONS of Southbank in London along the Thames - except for the 80 degree weather), Chinatown and then headed out to Brunswick Street for some laid back cafe hopping at dinner time. Yesterday we hit the Queen Victoria Market (everything from super fresh produce to boomerangs) and St Kilda Beach area where I found my happy place in a swinging chair with a glass of rose in hand and a view of the beach as the sun contemplated setting. I would post a photo of me sittting there with the biggest grin you have ever seen but this Internet cafe computer doesn't want to make friends with my camera.

Next time.

I already have a sunburn - which is already turning into a tan - and Kjersti and I have both already lost track of what day and what time it is. Only our itinerary keeps us honest at this point.

Today (Friday) we are renting a car and driving south to see the little penguins on Philip Island and some Koala at the Koala Conservancy there. Tomorrow we explore the Great Ocean Road to check out the 12 Apostles and then on Sunday we drive to Sydney.

I'll try to post one more time before we hit the road north...

Later gators!