A Travellerspoint blog

March 2012

New Zealand – Bring on the Pant-Wetting Activities!


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We arrived in Auckland late at night from Sydney, checked into our hostel, and, since it was St. Patty’s Day, headed out straight away to celebrate with the other “one night a year Irish folk”. We went to Danny Doolans Irish Pub and quickly discovered that New Zealanders celebrate St. Patty’s Day pretty much like everyone else. It was a good start to our time in New Zealand!

Auckland is very geographically blessed; it is located on a tiny strip of land surrounded on the east and west by ocean and the north and south by dormant volcanoes and lush countryside. We hit all of the obligatory tourist stops via a self guided walking tour of the city, but I have to say a highlight was watching the Volvo Ocean Race sailboats depart the harbor for the next leg of the race. The Volvo Ocean Race is a “who can make it around the world fastest” type of race with state of the art boats. As part of the festivities for the send-off, there were lots of stands and free activities, including a simulator and 3D movie on what it is like to sail across open oceans. We also caught a glimpse of big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton giving the Puma sponsored boat a personal sendoff.
IMG_4681.jpgThe boats all lined up before the start of the race
IMG_4692.jpgLaird giving a hand to the Puma team before they head-off

For the first time in a while we had rainy weather on our second day in Auckland, but we persevered to get some sightseeing in anyway. We traveled to Waiheke Island just off the coast of Auckland in a borderline squall and found ourselves stuck with the indoor activities. Lucky for us that included wine tours :) So, we caught the local bus and ran from vineyard to vineyard tasting the local flavors. The day nearly busted our umbrellas, but we made it through, and had a fun time in the process.
IMG_4740.jpgGetting ready to sample the microbrewery flavors
IMG_4742.jpgJeff braving the wind and rain
Vino_-_E.jpgI'm all set :)

The next morning we left Auckland behind in our new and supped-up Jucy campervan. It’s the “condo” version, so it has standing room, a double burner stove, larger fridge, and can seat and sleep four – we are livin’ the life :) For our first stop we headed straight to the Waitomo Caves for some “adrenaline-pumping, gut-wrenching, soaking-wet, pitch-black, squeezing, plummeting excitement” as they say. We signed up for a two-hour black water rafting trip with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. Our tour guides led us through a cave which required us to float on inner tubes and jump off of waterfalls – in the dark. It was pretty awesome! While floating through the caves you can see “glowworms” on the roof (the larvae of the fungus gnat) – they look like florescent stars and are amazing to see. After hot showers, bagels and soup (it’s cold here), we headed to Rotorua, our next destination.
IMG_4808.jpgLeaving Auckland- the surrounding city and our Jucy
IMG_4809.jpgIn our wetsuits and rubber booties- ready for some adventure
BWR1-20-03..ndy_014.jpgBrad's first "test jump" into the river- and that, ladies and gentleman, was how cold the water was :)
BWR1-20-03..ndy_023.jpgGroup photo in the cave
Black_Labyrinth_009.jpgCheck out the glowworms on the ceiling- they really were that bright

The area in and around Rotorua is a geothermal attraction in itself, including hot springs, geysers, and bubbling mud pools galore. We stopped at the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland to watch the Lady Knox Geyser blow its top and then checked out the surrounding thermal pools. They ranged from stinky sulfer pools to florescent green lakes. It was a lot like Yellowstone if you’ve ever been - very cool!
IMG_4816.jpgThe Lady Knox Geyser
IMG_4850.jpgOne of the many steaming lakes and hyper-colored pools
IMG_4863.jpgJeff and Brad at the florescent green pool- it looked nuclear to me
IMG_4859.jpgWe lost Jeff in the steam for a minute- this was him emerging

While in Rotorua, we also decided to partake in a classic Kiwi adventure activity called Zorbing. Basic concept- you jump into an enormous inflatable ball full of water and then roll down a hill. We decided to all go together to really get some speed. Mercifully, the water they pump in is hot and, because of the water, you slide around inside the ball all the way down the hill, while at the same time trying not to slap or kick each other in the face. We screamed like little kids and had a blast - it was a hilarious and fun experience! Put it on your list :)
IMG_4879.jpgInside that ball we are laughing like little kids

Our next stop on our crazy adventure was Lake Taupo, the self proclaimed skydiving capital of the world (over 30,000 jumps a year). What better place to skydive, right? That is what we said! It took a lot of gall for me to even sign up, but we made it to our dive site, Taupo Tandem Skydive , and got briefed before they told us the weather was not “diving appropriate” (too cloudy). After waiting a little while hoping the clouds would break, we decided to come back and try again later in the day, prolonging my anxiety. In the meantime, the boys found a golf course, another check off on the list (play golf in New Zealand), and the weather did in fact clear. So, we made our way back to the jump site, got geared up, and then told how “best to fall out of the plane”. My tandem jumper was Albert, a pro with thousands of jumps (and still alive), so that was comforting. All I can say is that when the door opened and I saw Jeff and Brad not jump, but literally fall over the side of the plane – well, I was glad I had someone there to push me out. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how the first five seconds of the free-fall felt - it was insane - like how your stomach feels when the elevator drops too fast – times 100!!! It was happy times when our parachutes opened and we all eventfully landed on the ground safely. There was so much adrenaline, we were all talking and laughing hysterically recounting our various levels of freak out. In the end, I am very glad I did it, but it was an absolutely crazy experience!
If you have any interest in watching our 8 minute skydive video click HERE (we didn't pay for the freefall video- uber expensive- but the other two girls in our video did and their footage is included)
Taupo.jpgA view from above- it's getting pretty real at this point
IMG_4589.jpgIMG_4590.jpgIMG_4591.jpg
All of our exit photos before we jumped- I think my thought at this moment was "Ohmigosh, this is actually happening!"
IMG_4915.jpgComing in for landing- much smoother than I thought it would be
IMG_4933.jpgPost-jump- we were all feeling pretty ALIVE at this moment

With the high of skydiving still pumping through our veins, we left the next morning for Tongariro National Park. Alpine trekking is the big thing to do there and we had our hearts set on doing the Alpine Crossing, supposedly one of the best day hikes in NZ. But, the weather was totally uncooperative (rain, wind and low visibility), so we decided to do a shorter, circuit hike out to a picturesque waterfall instead. After completing the hike in a little under two hours and managing not to get soaking wet, we drove south for a few hours through Whanganui National Park and eventually ended up in the town of Paraparaumu for the night. There wasn’t a lot going on there, but they did have a bowling alley. I was absolutely out of form (meaning I’m usually terrible) and somehow managed to win the first two games. In our third and final game, Jeff was ahead by 21 pins on the 10th frame, so he was feeling pretty confident. But out of nowhere, Brad bowled a Turkey (a triple strike on the 10th frame) to the win the game, just about breaking Jeff’s heart. It was a fun last night!
IMG_4942.jpgA view of the waterfall on our hike-still beautiful despite the rain
IMG_4980.jpgThe gorgeous NZ countryside in Whanganui National Park

We ended up the next morning in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand (nicknamed “Windy Welly” for good reason). Brad was catching a plane home later in the day, but before his flight, we managed to wander around the impressive and well done Te Papa Museum, hit up a microbrewery for lunch, and walk around the downtown. A special thanks to Brad for making the trek to come travel with us. We had a lot of fun and it was definitely adrenaline filled! We are heading to the South Island in the next few days and we’ll write more from there soon!
IMG_4991.jpgA view of Windy Welly

Posted by geldere 01:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Australian Road Trip: Melbourne to Sydney


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After meeting up with our buddy Brad at the Melbourne Airport, we headed into the city for two days of sightseeing. On our first day we happened upon the Moomba Waterfest in Federation Square. Strangely, for the main event of the festival, locals dress up like birds and hurtle themselves into the river. We unfortunately missed the splashdowns, but it was a fun event nonetheless. We also checked out some of the more atmospheric streets and alleyways which are lined with sidewalk cafes. Melbourne has a huge café-culture so we had to stop for a drink before heading back to our hostel - the Nunnery. It was aptly named since the hostel building was a former convent. Nearby was a tennis court so the boys battled it out for almost two hours, Jeff’s first match in almost a year (he managed to get out unscathed).
IMG_4473.jpgDowntown at one of the hidden alleyways
IMG_4494.jpgA view of the crowd gathered for the Moomba Waterfest

For our second day in Melbourne we walked around St. Kilda, a suburb on the water, checked out the Australian Center for the Moving Image (a museum specializing in film TV, and digital media), and checked out the impressive Melbourne Museum. Melbourne has what at one time was the world’s largest casino, so we spent the evening people watching at the casino and learning how to play craps thanks to Brad (he had to explain it to me at least five times). There’s a friendly rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne for “Australia’s Best City” and while they’re both great- I’d have to give it to Sydney :) (Sorry Melbourne!)
IMG_4488.jpgOn the pier in St. Kilda
IMG_4495.jpgThe Australian Center for the Moving Image
IMG_4501.jpgTaken near the casino

After two full days in Melbourne, we picked up a rental car and started driving the 750+ miles to Sydney. Between the two major cities are several national parks, so aside from driving a few hours each day, we spent the rest of our time over the next four days exploring the parks. We headed first to Wilson’s Promontory National Park (aka “the Prom”) where we did some coastal hiking, spotted kangaroos, and saw our first cassowary in the wild (an enormous turkey/ostrich hybrid). The coastal views on the drive into the park were spectacular!
IMG_4526.jpgA view of the river at "The Prom"
IMG_4531.jpgThe Prom- really beautiful views
IMG_4541.jpgOn Squeaky Beach- aptly named because when you walk on it, it really does squeak
IMG_4545.jpgAfter our hike back up to the viewpoint
IMG_4557.jpgThe elusive cassowary
IMG_4563.jpgA curious kangaroo, he had a collar- likely for monitoring

Our next stop along the drive was The Lakes National Park. We based ourselves in the cute little town of Lakes Entrance where the boys found a cheap golf course and indulged Jeff in his first round in almost a year. We checked out the undeveloped and deserted Ninety Mile Beach, but freezing water made us re-think our plan to swim.
IMG_4569.jpgThe golf course at Lakes Entrance
IMG_4571.jpg
IMG_4577.jpgOn Ninety Mile Beach

From The Lakes National Park, we headed to Croajingalong National Park where we rented a boat and took her out for a spin in Mallacoota Inlet. The inlet is almost totally surrounded by national park, so it was a nice change of pace for us to explore the park from a boat as oppose to on foot or in our rental car. I even parked the boat :)
IMG_4597.jpgAt the beach in Croajingalong
IMG_4606.jpgNavigating the waterways in our little dingy
IMG_4610.jpgEnjoying the ride- and yes, that's me eating Nutella right out of the jar

After a stopover for the night in the small, hilltop town of Narooma, we made it to the most well known site along our drive, Jervis Bay National Park. Around Jervis Bay we visited multiple beaches including Caves Beach (stunningly blue water) and Hyams Beach (the whitest sand in the world - supposedly). After spending the day swimming and gawking at the scenery, we headed to a nearby town for the night where Jeff and Brad managed to wrangle their way into a “club members only” lawn bowling facility. A fairly intoxicated old man showed them the ropes while other club members watched as “the foreigners” botched their game.
IMG_4629.jpgA view of Caves Beach
IMG_4649.jpg
IMG_4655.jpgOn Hyams Beach- the sand was really white
IMG_4661.jpgThe lawn bowling field
IMG_4665.jpgAn education in lawn bowling

After five days of driving and sightseeing, we finally made it to Sydney. It was good timing as the weather started to deteriorate quickly. We had a few hours before our flight to New Zealand, so we gave Brad a quick tour of the big sites including the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, and even squeezed in a ride on the Manly Ferry. All in all it was a great road trip with beautiful pit stops along the way!

After what seemed like a millisecond, our time in Australia has come to an end. In one month we drove from Melbourne to Cape Tribulation covering almost 2500 miles (via a convoluted route) and were impressed with the scenery and wildlife along the way. It is definitely a gorgeous country filled with friendly locals. Our next stop (and sadly the last stop on our around the world trip) is New Zealand! We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 23:31 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Cruising the East Coast in a Campervan


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Just before we dropped off my Mom, Steven and Emily at the airport, we picked up our transportation and lodging for the next week… the Jucy Campervan. It is a lime green old-school minivan which has been retrofitted with a double bed, sink, fridge and stove. Over the next week, we planned to drive south to Brisbane in order to catch our next flight, but we started our campervan odyssey with a detour north to Cape Tribulation.
The Cape is pretty much the furthest north you can get on sealed roads along the east coast of Australia and is well known for its pristine rainforest. It was named by Captain Cook who ran into the Great Barrier Reef offshore and almost sank. While we were there, we took several short hikes and a boat ride on the Daintree River for some croc spotting. On the boat ride we saw one adult female known locally as “Lizzie” and several of her week old baby crocs.
IMG_4204.jpgCruising around in our fancy jucy
IMG_4105.jpgA view of Cape Tribulation
IMG_4112.jpgIt's box jellyfish season- makes you want to stay out of the water!
IMG_4122.jpgOn the rainforest boardwalk
IMG_4160.jpgLizzie the croc
IMG_4180.jpgOn our boat trip out on the Daintree River

After 24-hours in and around Cape Tribulation, we started our southbound journey. Since our campervan is also our hotel, after six hours of driving, we pulled over for the night at a rest stop to sleep, where, shockingly, six or so other campervans were also parked for the night. It was far from our best night of sleep ever. As my brother so astutely pointed out after we had already rented the campervan, it doesn’t have AC inside when the engine is off, so it felt like a sauna most of the night. It was a lose-lose situation for us, if we opened the windows the “mozzies” (mosquitoes) would fly in, but since we left them closed, we baked. Fortunately for us, as we made our way south the temperature cooled off and it became much more comfortable.

After another eight hours of driving, we finally arrived in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. The islands are spectacularly beautiful and the water surprisingly blue. We took a day trip out to some of the more popular islands and spent time on Hamilton Beach which has the whitest sand. Apparently the sand on Hamilton Beach is 99% silicone and so pure and fine that NASA used the sand when constructing the Hubble Telescope- according to our guide. In the Australian summer, Queensland has an over population of the infamous box jellyfish, so we all had to wear “stinger suits” when swimming and snorkeling (basically a giant leotard). It’s apparently a pretty nasty sting so we forewent our vanity and put them on.
IMG_4216.jpgThe amazing Whitsundays
IMG_4247.jpgOn Hamilton Beach
IMG_4258.jpg
1IMG_4269.jpgTaken from the viewpoint on at Hamilton Beach

After leaving behind the Whitsundays, we headed down to Bundaberg. During our drive we spotted and waved to the other Jucy’s rolling down the road. It was pretty funny- like any other “club” (boaters, truck drivers, motorcycles) you wave at each other. Fortunately, after a long day of driving, we arrived in Bundaberg just in time for our next activity – sea turtle watching. The Mon Repos Turtle Rookery just outside of Bundaberg has nightly beach tours during the turtle breeding season. We were really lucky because on our tour we were able to see almost 100 baby turtles dig out of their nest and scurry like the devil into the ocean and also a huge female sea turtle come onto the beach and lay a clutch of eggs. Apparently, sea turtles come back to the same place they were born to lay their eggs and only one in a thousand live long enough to reproduce. What an amazing experience – it was something you usually only see on National Geographic, but we were fortunate enough to see it in real time.
IMG_4292.jpgOne of the baby turtles before taking the plunge
IMG_4308.jpgThe big mama turtle getting measured before heading back to the ocean

We spent the night at a beachfront caravan park- can’t beat an ocean view when you wake up in the morning- even if you did just sleep in a van :)
Our next big stop was Hervey Bay, the jumping off point for Fraser Island. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and the only place where the rainforest grows on sand. From Hervey Bay we took a ferry to the island where we picked up another day trip. The tour company drove us in a bus on steroids around the major sites on the island, including the rainforest, the Maheno shipwreck, and Lake McKenzie. The lake is amazing because it’s entirely made up of rainwater and is the clearest water I have ever seen. The island to us really resembled Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia, one of Jeff’s favorite spots. We also managed to see a dingo (a wild dog) on the beach; it came up to our group curiously sniffing around for left food.
IMG_4312.jpgMaking breakfast from the back of the Jucy
IMG_4313.jpgJeff with his makeshift ice pack of soda cans (his foot swelled like crazy- but we had no idea from what)
IMG_4332.jpgA classic strangler fig on Fraser island
IMG_4338.jpgA view of the Maheno shipwreck
IMG_4352.jpgPosing with our snazzy tour vehicle
IMG_4401.jpgThe clearest lake I've ever seen- Lake McKenzie

After snuggling up with other backpackers at our campervan site that night, we headed to our last stop along the way, Noosa Heads. It is a great little surf town on the edge of a national park and only a couple hours north of Brisbane. While in Noosa we took a hike through the national park, watched some surfers, and were lucky enough to see our first koala in the wild. He (or she) was sleeping in a tree and only moved just far enough to confirm that we were not a threat.
IMG_4431.jpgThe cutie koala
IMG_4454.jpgNoosa Heads

After driving over 1,000 miles from Cape Tribulation, we finally made it to Brisbane. We had some time to kill before our flight so we checked out the Museum of Modern Art and the Queensland Museum, which was very kid friendly, thus I enjoyed. We also stumbled upon an Irish festival (we didn’t realize St. Paddy’s Day was coming up!) before dropping off our Jucy and heading to the airport. It was certainly a great and memorable trip down the East Coast in our Jucy!
IMG_4466.jpgDowntown Brisbane

As I write this, we are in the Brisbane airport, Melbourne bound, where we’ll meet up with our friend Brad who will be traveling with us for the next two weeks :) We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 05:23 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Traveling from Sydney to Cairns


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From Sydney, we rented a car and drove north to Byron Bay. Australia is enormous – it is roughly the size of the continental US, so we were covering some ground. After about seven hours in the car, we decided to take a pit stop at a wildlife park to see some native animals. It was really neat to see koalas up close and get to touch one (they really do very little other than eat and sleep). We also got to feed a whole slew of kangaroos. We were a little timid at first since the kangaroos were not in cages and no one was around to tell us what to do- plus I’ve seen America’s Funniest Home Videos where they kick and slap people. Initially, we just threw the corn at them, but eventually, Jeff just put his hand out and they came over, grabbed his hand, and started to eat right out of it. It was then that we realized they were actually pretty docile.
IMG_3621.jpgOne of the cute koalas at the park
2IMG_3655.jpgSteven getting up close- I think the koala looks like it's smiling
IMG_3669.jpgOne of the kangaroos carrying a baby in her pouch
IMG_3697.jpgJeff feeding the kangaroo some corn

We arrived in the small town of Byron Bay after about ten hours of driving and were spent. Byron Bay used to be a sleepy little place, but it was discovered by surfers back in the 70’s and has since become a popular tourist destination. While we were there, we loaded ourselves up with activities, starting with surf lessons. Even though the “waves” were pretty small, it was still a lot of fun figuring out how to stand up, balance and turn. It was Steven and Emily’s first lesson and they were fast learners. After surfing, we moved on to one of Mom’s bucket list items – horseback riding – she had never done it before. It was really amusing seeing her constantly talking to her horse and telling it to “go easy on her”. Steven had a horse that was naughty and wouldn’t listen, which I thought was a great fit for him. We spent the rest of our time in Byron Bay relaxing on the beach, enjoying views from the lighthouse, and checking out a nearby farmers’ market. It is a really great town to visit and I was impressed that it maintains a local feel despite all of its notoriety.
DSC00282.jpgGetting our "land lesson" and me just being a goof
P2240177.jpgDoing the surfer stereotype
P2240181.jpgLooking very excited- and check out how big that wave is! :)
P2240188.jpgEmily going for a wave
IMG_3782.jpgMom looking pretty giddy pre-ride
IMG_3823.jpgThe equestrian gang towards the end of the ride
IMG_3723.jpgA nice view of the Byron Bay Lighthouse
IMG_3779.jpgThe beach at Byron

After three full days in Byron Bay, we drove two hours north to Brisbane in order to catch a flight to Cairns. On our way, we stopped for a few hours to watch the Quicksilver Pro Snapper Rocks Professional Surf Competition in the small town of Tweed Heads. Having never been to a surf competition before, it was very cool watching some of the best surfers in the world perform. Our timing was perfect because we showed up just in time to see Kelly Slater, one of the biggest surfers in the world. What I find most ironic is that we went all the way to Australia to see Kelly Slater, a guy who’s from Cocoa Beach, Florida, just down the road from Orlando!
IMG_3876.jpgAn action shot of Kelly Slater during his heat
Kelly_Slater.jpgKelly Slater during his post-surf interview
IMG_3910.jpgProves we were there :)

After catching our flight from Brisbane, we landed in Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s pretty far north on the east coast of Australia and is currently in the midst a rainy season, but, fortunately for us, it wasn’t that rainy. Our main goal in traveling to Cairns was to dive the Great Barrier Reef. Mom, Steven, and Emily all suffered through a winter time SCUBA class in Pennsylvania just for this, so we were very excited to go. We took a boat out to the outer reef and completed three dives. The reef was beautiful, the fish colorful and diverse, and we even saw several small sharks. A lot of the reef is located 10 to 60 feet below the surface, so the colors can be National Geographic vivid, especially near the surface when the sun is out. From hearing Steven’s stories from the SCUBA class, Mom sounded like a bit of a spazz under the water – “she’s up, she’s down, she’s at the surface” – but she was a champ diving with us. Learning something like SCUBA at almost 60 is very impressive!
P2280235.jpgThat blue thing is the inside of a huge clam- pretty amazing
P2280243.jpgA white-tipped reef shark
P2280303.jpgThe back of our dive boat- we had a mix of divers and snorkelers
P2280343.jpgJust before heading back to Cairns from the reef

After diving the Great Barrier Reef, we spent a day exploring the rainforest surrounding Cairns. We took a 4.5 mile long gondola ride above and through the rainforest canopy to the small town of Kuranda. Along the way, we also took a few short hikes through the rain forest, came upon several humungous spiders (apparently not poisonous, but they gave me the heebee-jeebees anyway), and saw a massive waterfall. After walking around town and grabbing lunch, we took a historic train ride back to Cairns.
IMG_3966.jpgOn our gondola ride to Kuranda
IMG_3979.jpgHUGE spider!
IMG_4052.jpgOn our train ride back from Kuranda- amazing waterfall!
IMG_4069.jpgOur historic train- said to be from the late 1800's

After two fun filled weeks of traveling around Australia, our time with Mom, Steven and Emily came to an end and they headed back to the States. As Steven and I have gotten older, family vacations have become harder to come by, so this was a rare, wonderful and forever memorable family vacation! Thanks to Mom, Steven and Emily for making the trip!
IMG_4085.jpgSo, this is funny- our last night together for dinner we pick the "#14 restaurant in Cairns on tripadvisor"- turned out to be the hotel restaurant at the Best Western, slightly dumpy but did in fact turn out to be pretty good :)

For the next leg of our trip, Jeff and I have rented a campervan and are driving south to Brisbane. We’ll write again soon!

Posted by geldere 02:55 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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