Thursday, November 29, 2007

South Island Walkabout...

After meeting up with my folks in Sydney it was on to Christchurch, to pick up our Motorhome and begin our travels around New Zealand. So far the scenery has been absolutely stunning, especially on the West Coast of the island, where in most places you have mountains on one side of you and beautiful turquoise ocean on the other side.

Highlights of our South Island tour so far include:

  • Learning to manuevre the 20+ft motorhome around some interesting mountain roads…

  • Sheep

  • Getting frozen in Dunedin – which is so much like Scotland, it even has the weather!

  • More sheep

  • Taking a boat trip around Milford Sound and feeling tiny against the sides of the fjord that are almost a mile high. Being taken almost under the largest waterfall, where they promise that the spray on your face helps you lose ten years!! I splashed it on a few times and am hoping to start high school when I get back to the states!

  • A few more sheep

  • Staying in the lovely lakeside town of Wanaka – for the brits, this also gave us a bit of a chuckle and an excuse to shout ‘ Are you from Wanaka?’ to any bad drivers on the road!

  • Yet more sheep

  • Taking the cable car up 1500ft to see the magnificent views over Queenstown and then screeching back down like a maniac in the luge ride.

  • Making my first bungy jump at the location of the first ever bungy jump, just outside queenstown. It was awesome.

  • Taking a helicopter ride over the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers and around Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, then landing in the snow, once the pilot finished eating his sandwich!

  • Bathing in the thermal springs at Hanmer Springs – phew what a smell…

  • More sheep

  • Whale watching (or whale waving as my mum liked to call it) in Kaikoura – and this time I actually saw whales, dolphins and seals.

  • Quite a few cows too

  • Visiting the Isabel winery in the Marlborough wine region

  • Driving in to the ferry terminal in Picton, where with a loud bang, the two 75 litre water tanks dropped off our motorhome ! Lucky we weren’t on one of those mountain roads… all we could do was laugh and wait for the engineer to arrive!

With a fixed motorhome, it’s on to the North Island for more adventures and hopefully a skydive…

Meandering in Melbourne...

My last destination in Australia, before heading back to Sydney and on to NZ was Melbourne. Still full of cold and a touch of bronchitis, I was very lucky to be welcomed by Lisa, Daryl, Sally and the bump in, to their home. I was extremely well looked after, even stopping off at the medical centre on the way home from the airport. With 4 years since we had last seen eachother, it was great to just pick up where we left off and catch up with all the gossip of the last 4 years! Lisa did a great job of showing me the sights in Melbourne, hitting the markets, neighbourhood restaurants, downtown shopping and even fitting in a bbq at home. I had a lovely time and also managed to completely recover.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Tasmanian devils...

My trip to Tasmania (Tassie as the locals call it) has been a bit of a blur. I picked up a nasty cold on the plane down from Cairns which hasn’t been helped by the significant drop in temperature (it’s approx 20˚C colder in Tassie). A lot of my time has been spent trying to stay warm and ditch the cold, but highlights from my active times include:

Taking a red double-decker bus tour around Hobart.
I stayed Macquarie Manor in Hobart, which I probably wouldn’t recommend – I had a very strange room, where the shower tray was in the bedroom, not a separate bathroom, and the toilet was in a cubicle – much like a public toilet – it wouldn’t have been a great room to share with anyone – no matter how well you knew them!
Visiting the convict station at Port Arthur, taking a walking tour and a boat tour and hearing about some of the truly horrific conditions the convicts were subjected to
I stayed at the Norfolk Convict Station – the actual building that housed the convict station. It was a very interesting place to stay and the owner was very friendly - lighting a fire to keep my warm in my Rudolph-nosed state!
Heading up the coast to Swansea and visiting Freycinet National Park – climbing the 600ish stairs to the Wineglass Bay Lookout – I figured it would be kill or cure. I’m still here, but I’m not cured! The view was absolutely spectacular
I stayed at the Redcliffe Colonial B&B which was lovely – clean, comfortable and for sale if anyone’s interested!
Making a final stop in Richmond – which is a lovely little town – but not much going on…

Next stop is Melbourne to visit my friend Lisa – I’m so excited to see her – we haven’t seen each other for years.

Scuba central...

Straight off the boat on Saturday evening and after a quick dinner with Kim, I picked up the overnight Greyhound bus from Airlie Beach to Cairns to embark on my learn to dive course. It would have been an 11 hour bus trip, if a lorry(semi) hadn’t jack-knifed across the road approx 3 hrs outside of Cairns – we had to wait 2 hrs for it to get light so that the bus driver could take an alternate route… the road was too narrow to attempt in the dark!

After dropping my bags off at the hotel, I was determined not to repeat my Sydney hotel lobby experience, so I headed straight out to find something to do for the day. I found the tourist information center and booked myself a day trip to Kuranda – traveling out by cable-car over the top of the rainforest and back down by scenic railway. The rainforest scenery was beautiful and couldn’t have been more of a contrast to my last few days in the ocean. I had a lot of fun trying to perfect self-portraits with my camera while I was traveling over the top of the rainforest in the cable car – hope no one saw me! Once in Kuranda I visited the Koala Sanctuary and hugged a Koala!

Monday saw the start of my diving course with Pro-Dive in Cairns – 2 days of pool and class-room based learning, followed by 3 days/2 nights on a boat out at the Great Barrier Reef. I have to admit to being more than a little bit nervous about learning to dive – I had heard so many good things about it, but I still couldn’t quite fathom how anyone would deliberately put themselves in a place where they could so easily drown and if not drown – come away with one of the many different diving related injuries we learned so much about in the first couple of days of the course!… By the time we got out on the boat, my nerves weren’t exactly dispelled!

The Pro-Dive course was great – very professionally run – my group of 8 was taught by 2 instructors and 2 assistants whenever we were in the water. I was with another great group of people – everyone passed the written exams and pool-based exercises and on Wednesday we headed out for our adventures on the boat. At this point our group joined other Pro-Dive groups – there were a total of 32 divers on the boat, with 7 crew.

Highlights of the dive trip included:

- Giving myself a serious talking to on the way down to the first dive in order to make myself continue
- Surfacing alive after my first dive!
- Going back for more
- Completing all the skills necessary to become a certified open-water diver
- Screwing up the underwater mask-flood exercise every time - pulling my mask off, snorting in water and finally calming myself enough to clear my mask and continue
- Completing my first unguided dive with my buddy Elise – getting completely lost and surfacing nowhere near the boat … a long swim back! We found Nemo though!
- My confidence in the water growing and deciding to go for it and take the adventure diver certification including completing a night dive and a 30m deep dive
- Completing my first (and best!!) night dive – guided by SpiderPig – where we saw Bryan the turtle, who is the size of a dining table, swimming around. We also saw three 2m Whaler sharks – the experience of which was heightened by the crew playing the Jaws theme tune as we got in to the water for our dive!
- Being branded ‘Team Turquoise’ because all of my nice new dive gear matches!
- Completing my deep water dive, where we saw a lion fish and sting rays and experienced how colours change with depth. I also managed to mess up the counting to 20 test!
- Taking a camera on dive 8 and getting some pretty good amateur shots - including one of Nemo!
- Returning to Cairns and partying the night away with cast and crew
- Recovering from my hangover to do it again…. And then catch my 6am flight to Tasmania…

Wandering the Whitsundays…

After a very comfortable night in the Brisbane Hilton, it was time to move on to Airlie Beach ready to embark on a trip to the Whitsundays. I flew up to Prosperine Airport which serves the Whitsunday area, and arrived on a Monday afternoon, without any onward plans – hoping to be able to get a live-aboard sailing trip within a few days time. As it turned out, Monday and Tuesday are fairly quiet days for sailing tours, but according to the specials posted at my hostel (ugh!) – there was a 3 day 3 night cruise which went around the Whitsundays and out to the Outer reef on Wednesday – perfect. That gave me a couple of days of down time to hang-out, explore Airlie Beach (took about 30 mins!) and to plan the rest of my trip.

Our boat was the Pacific Star, there were 19 passengers and 4 crew and we had a blast. The conditions were perfect – sunny blue skies, calm seas and a great bunch of people on board. I shared a cabin with David, Chris and Amanda – conditions were v cosy – the room was about 6’ by 7’ with two bunks on either side, and a v narrow passage between the two sets. I considered myself to be very lucky – at 5’4” I could stretch out and just touch the end of my bunk – David on the other hand was about 6’2 and his feet hung-out over the end!

We cruised around the Whitsundays, which were absolutely stunning and then headed out, traveling through the night thanks to skipper Shane so that we could reach the Outer edges of the Great Barrier reef – visiting Whitsunday Island, Bay Reef, Net Reef, Club 21 Reef, Elizabeth Reef and Hayman Island – highlights of the trip included:

- Finally being among a mixed age group and not feeling totally ancient

- Seeing stunningly beautiful clear waters and catching my first glimpse of the Great Barrier Reef

- Snorkelling over the reef, seeing so many fish (no nemo!) and swimming right next to a shark

- Getting completely freaked out about jelly fish and getting back on to the boat!

- Lazy evenings sat on top of the boat – trying to get the perfect shot of the sunset (thank goodness for digital cameras!)

- 1 min showers to conserve fresh water – the skipper kindly offered you an extra few minutes if you wanted to shower with him ;)

- Stopping off on the way back in from our trip to just jump off the boat for a swim in the middle of nowhere… that was great fun until a shark came jumping up out of the water… just a small one – but I was more concerned about what he was jumping to get away from!

Chatting, hanging out, playing cards and drinking wine (thanks to Michael and Michaela) with a great bunch of people

Coming back to land was a real challenge – life was good on the open seas!

Friday, November 2, 2007

4WD Fun in Fraser Island

Fraser Island is the world's largest sand island - it's a gigantic sandbar measuring 120km by 15km. It allegedly contains more sand than the Sahara and is covered in a combination of rainforest, 200 lakes and sand dunes. There are no paved roads on Fraser Island, so a 4WD is necessary. You basically have 3 choices - Drive yourself (usually in a group with other self-drivers), take a small 4x4 organized tour or take a large 4WD bus tour. I knew I didn't fancy the self drive option - having heard a number of horror stories of overturned vehicle (1 per week) and lots of people getting stuck. I decided to take an organized tour - opting for a smaller group version. Being a little north of 30, I thought I would avoid the 'party safari bus'... I arrived at my pick-up location and discovered that my tour buddies all ranged from 18-20.... way to make me feel old!

Taking the ferry from Rainbow beach to Fraser, we arrived at high tide which meant taking a track across the middle of the Island to our camp site. Within 15 mins on the island we were brought to a halt, because a car ahead of us had burst in to flames - we had to wait until the petrol tank had exploded, so that it would be safe to pass!!!

At that point I was pretty glad I didn't opt for the self-drive option :)

Highlights from Fraser included:

  • Visiting Lake Wabby, which is accessed via a climb up an enormous sand dune. The bonus being that once you had climbed up one side of the sand dune, you could roll down the other side into the water. The downside being that when you roll down a slope - apparently you look like a dead and accessible meal for the local dingoes! We all had to spend a little extra time in the lake waiting for the dingo to decide he was bored of waiting for us to reemerge!

  • Visiting Indian Head and finally seeing whales breaching in the ocean

  • Seeing the wreck of the Maheno, which was a passenger liner blown ashore in 1935 in a cyclone and actually sits on the shore

  • Swimming in Lake McKenzie - the largest and most famous of Fraser's 200 lakes. The water is stunningly clear and the sand is white

  • Helping to dig out and push numerous stuck cars - the funniest of which being the one that moved quicker than I did after we started pushing and me ending up face down, flat in the sand!

  • Seeing a car pulling a car pulling a car pulling a car pulling a boat - after getting stuck in the sand

  • Best not to mention the camping and the huntsman spiders...

  • Returning to a night of luxury in the Brisbane Hilton - hot showers and a real bed...

No surfing in paradise... no bloody whales either :)

First stop on my travel up the East coast was a day in Surfer's Paradise - unfortunately the weather didn't really cooperate to make it very paradise-like. Somehow I didn't make the connection between it being too rough in the sea to swim and the fact that a whale-watching trip might be little choppy...

On the one hand - luckily I had taken some sea-sickness prevention meds on the other hand, unfortunately none of my fellow passengers had had the foresight... we weren't even out of the harbour before the first victim ran to the bathroom! By the end of the trip it was only me and the crew still standing - people were lying on the floor, on benches, hanging over the side... all looking pretty miserable. To add insult to injury the whales decided not to put in an appearance. Apparently they had been breaching right next to the boat the day before ... I have to admit I did wonder how many times they use that story (what a cynic)

Back on dry land - i found my way to the local train station and took a train to Brisbane, ready to start my next adventure - a 3 day camping(yes camping!) tour to Fraser Island.