A Travellerspoint blog

Sun Chasers

sunny 20 °C
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Leaving Copa', Kyla and I boarded a train and headed in search of the Blue Mountains. Getting off at a place called Katoomba (sounds like somewhere off the Mighty Boosh) we walked to view the mountains, in particular a formation known as the three sisters. The mountains arent actually blue of course but thanks to a haze given off by the Eucalyptus trees they appear to have a strong blue tint to them. Walking down to the bass of the three sisters we then headed accross under the cannopy. Down here it started to rain and hail on us so we moved swiftly accross bridges and muddy trackks to the train back to the top of the cliff. The train used to be a mine train used for tourists on weekends and it stills travels upward at the steep incline of 58 degrees i think it was, travelling through a naturally formed tunnel through the rocks. Having discovered the Blue Mountains we returned to Copa' to go and see the Whitlams with Marion. A famous Australain band I'm sure none of you have heard of, I certainly hadn't and for fair reason. Touring a best of album they were playing at one of the Australian Social Clubs I mentioned before and although there were'nt completely offensive they certainly weren't amazing. It was apparent however that any Australian, mostly women, were obliged to like them. Besides having to remove my flat cap it was a good night.

Leaving Sydney area for Brisbane the bus journey was not at all as I expected, it is more than fair to say that the Greyhound busses are highley inferior to the busses I had used in South America, the leg room was about half of their latin counterparts and the seats may as well have not reclined at all. Having not slept well on the bus but feeling surprisingly ok the morning we arrived, accomodation was duely arranged and we dumped our stuff before checking out the area. I was looking forward to visiting the Modern Art Gallery in Brisbane, as a curator in New Zealand I had talked to tipped me off about a show here called Visual Music and assured me it would be of interest to the work I had been making. Unfortunately Picasso had taken over the whole gallery when I enquired and they hadnt even got a catologue from the show, what sort of place are they running here. Dissapointing.

Now incase you havnt picked up on it money has become a pain whilst in Australia, everything is far too expensive so plans had to made and then the harder part, decisions had to be made. Flights were the most affordable method of transport around Australia for us and so the flights were booked, now we just had to spend very little a day, difficult when for such poor room quality in the hostels it costs a bomb. I hadnt been in the same room as snorers like this at any point on my trip either. We stayed in Hervey Bay for a few days and the Woolshed Hostel there provided much better value for money but could do nothing to fend off the snorers.

So the weather improving further north I sit in Brisbane having enjoyed the free Jazz festival at the weekend. Set on stages in South Bank which has been a lovely place in itself to just stroll around or lay on the grass or dip your feet in the public swimming pool area, all for free. Great Stuff. Lets hope the money saved will allow me to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef as we land in Cairns tomorrow, then it'll be worth it.

Posted by FlatCapped 10:45 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Pope Giveth but he also taketh away...eth

storm 10 °C
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It is of course winter in Australia but during the World Youth Day celebrations and the Pope's time here, the sun shone brightly and provided warm days, as well as cold nights which was unfortunate for the pilgrims sleeping in the stadium awaiting the Pope's mass on Sunday. Then the Pope left and with it left the good weather, on our last day in Canberra we watched on live TV as the Quantas plane took off with the pope on board. The drive accross back to the east coast was then covered with threatening grey clouds.

Making it to the coast we went to Jervis Bay but found the campsites to be expensive so drove on to Berry and stopped in a motel. Berry was tiny but a really interesting mix of buildings. As it is so small however we had seen everything in 20 min and so left immediately the next morning for Kiama. here there is much more to see with a blowhole in the rocks made lively by the strong winds and huge waves now that the Pope had left. A walk around the town brought me my first OP Shop bargain in Australia, a T-Shirt for $2 which is just less than 1 pound sterling. Bargain. We managed to drive up to a beautiful peacefull viewpoint before leaving the Kiamam area and driving on. Then it happened. The skies broke and lashing rain pounded the ground as far as we could see(which was about 2 feet in this storm). The wipers going crazy over the windscreen we drove on all the way to Sydney, at no point outrunning the storm, the rain was everywhere.

The rain eventually eased off but once again our old friend the Australian Government stings us with another toll road. they dont warn you untill its too late, then they say to cut costs there's no booth here thanks for having an e card.... we dont have an e card. You better ring up and we'll make you pay an admin fee on top of the toll charge then. But that wasnt where the bad night ended, then there was no room at the inn, about 3 inns infact, we eventually found somewhere to camp miles out of the centre with security guards for some reason. As we were out of Sydney's centre we decided to use our time seeing the areas around it so we headed down to a place called Bradley's Head where you look over to brilliant views of the harbour. These views were obviously popular as we stumbled upon 2 weddings whilst walking along the front. (The couples must have been happy that the weather had now improved to nearly clear blue skies). Another place worth visiting outside the centre of Sydney was the Olympic park, purpose built for the 2000 Olympic Games, you can now go and use the facilities at a very decent price. Golf and Swimming were our sports of choice. I enjoyed a chat with a lady at the informatino desk and we discussed what it may well be like when Britain host the 2012 Olympics. She insisted it was worth getting involved, however, I told her I wouldn't want to be wearing a uniform with that Olympic logo, no matter how good a time they promise.

Come Monday 28th we were ready to return our hire car at the airport where we could then lay in wait for Kylas family. One by one they arrived, oblivious to us inside, they had brought the bad weather New Zealand has experienced with them. A long, wet drive then ensued all the way to Copacabana, the Australian Copa' beeing much quieter and smarter than Rio's, which is where Kylas Aunty Marion lives. That evening, on meeting Andrew (Marions husband) and Jasper (their son), Milz (Kylas sister) and I jammed on some guitars with Andrew before he leant me an acoustic for the week and a bit we would be staying. It felt like ages since I'd played a guitar... well 6 months to be exact.

Sydney's Art Biennale is on at the moment and so at first opportunity I headed into Sydney on the train to see it. the train ride was enlightning as for nearly two hours I had the pleasure of sitting opposite an elderly pair of women gossiping at the top of their voices in a broad ozzy manor. I have never watched the comedy Katch and Kim but I am assured that is exactly what these two were like, as I have no way of really conveying their demeanors. Upon arrival at the Harbour I found that the Biennale was set between many venues which was a nice way to tour some of the sights. The Contemporary Gallery was near to the Harbour Bridge which previously I had only seen when driving accross it at night. Part of the show was also held at the Opera House although no longer on I obviously went and investigated the Opera House anyway. I have been told that people tend to be underwealmed with the Opera House, it definately had a 'good side', the iconic profile image of it was fine, the face on viewing of it is not as appealing to look at however. I was not dissapointed with the whitness of it as I was informed I would be. I had to walk through the Botanic Gardens to get to the next Gallery and so checked out the famous resident bats. They are trying to get rid of them, or certainly keep their numbers down, i can tell you it definately doesnt appear to be working.

My next dose of true Australia was spending the evening at a kind of Social Club, a bit like the Railway Club for example. They had a dinning area, an entertainment area which that night we were [un]lucky enough to catch the Karaoke and no Australian Social Club is complete without a room twice the size of the others full of 'Pokies' or slot machines to you and I.

Quick Ozzy Language Guide

Pokies - we've delt with. slot machines or fruit machines
Scooner - the biggest size beer available but still only about 2 thirds of a pint
Pot - the smallest glass of beer you have ever seen in your life!

Now Sydney boasts an IMAX Screen and the new Batman film, featuring Australian actor Heath Ledger, is filmed with IMAX cameras so on the Saturday I spent 3 hours watching the amazing Dark Night on a screen the size of which I have never seen, you couldnt even see the bottom, you were immersed. We followed that up with a visit to the Aquarium which was no where near as action packed. The next day we all went to the Australian Reptile Zoo which is presented to you by the Anti-Steve Irwin. This guy hates Steve Irwin and has no understanding of where the line he just crossed is when telling jokes about the departed. The show was good though with a great view of the 6 foot salt water croc feeding, I nearly got splattered in chicken blood we were that close. Tazmanian Devils were also fed.... with a whole Kangaroo leg including bone, and a baby croc fed with a young girl from the audiences hat. The guy really was evil.

Posted by FlatCapped 21:58 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Oi Oi Oi (read me first to catch up)

semi-overcast 10 °C
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Once again, I find myself having to catch up with missed entries. I blame this completely on Australia's extortionate prices for internet use. A tip for any traveller is get a small, cheap laptop, like an ASUS EeePC and take advantage of all the free wireless internet. It has been available in every country I have visited thus far, but paying wasnt a problem until now. Anyway, enough of my moaning.

Im sat in Brisbanes Central Library taking advantage of a free internet access and tomorrow I climb aboard a plane to fly to Cairns. Thats another thing about Australia is there is no cheap way to travel it, in fact the flights are normally the best value. So anyway, in Cairns I hope to enjoy the Breat Barrier Reef but thats all ahead so I'll leave that and fill you in on what has been and gone.

We landed from New Zealand in Melbourne. I really enjoyed staying there, it wasnt too big a city but had all the good parts of a big city. Personally my favourite area is Federation Square which is a sort of cultural centre with a variety of Art Galleries and Exhibition spaces. In the Moving Image building there was an interactive exhibition charting the history of computer games, allowing you to play on all the classic arcade games you can imagine, whilst outside in the square on the big screen there was a Nintendo Wii Olympics tournament with kids battling it out on the tennis. One thing I picked up rather quickly via the TV in the hostel and the people on the street is how the Australians think that they are the best at everything, especially when it comes to sport. And with the Olympics coming up this became more and more prevalent. But before the Olympics could take hold of the Australian nations attention and ego, there was the imminent arrival of the Pope to deal with.

Thats right, every inch of Melbourne's centre appeared to be covered with 'Pilgrims'. World Youth Day was over a week away and hundreds of kilometers away (963 to be exact) but they were everywhere from every country, singing in the street. I didnt let this deter me from taking in the sights of Melbourne, including the obligatory Ramsay Street visit and a trip to the place Ned Kelly was hung. I very much enjoyed the whole week in this city before hating the cost again when hiring a car and choosing to head out along the Great Ocean Road.

Skirting along the South coast, heading West, we spent about 4 days seeing Kowalas and shipwrecks as well as doing various bush walks and camping. We then drove through the Australian Peterborough, stopped for the night before driving all the way back on ourselves, this time in about 4 hours not 4 days. We drove on past Melbourne and got caught by our first toll road (horrible sneaky things here) and spent the night at Phillip Island which in my humble opinion is overated. But it is from here we layed plans for our assault on Sydney with a target arrival date of the 28th if not before.

The nights in the tent appeared to be getting colder as the driving tour of South East Australia continued so one day upon the advice of an old lady we chatted with, we drove North into a National Park for an apparently stunning bridge walk. Next lesson: don't believe the Australians bold claims when they are reffering to an area local to them as, of course, in their mind, it is the best of the best, because its theirs. I would hate to be sat in a pub with an ozy arguing the merits of anything exisiting outside of this land. So the walk was rubbish but it sped up our move North, with our sights now set to Canberra via a stop off at the Buchan Caves. These turned out to be great for one main reason. The caves are set in an area of national park so we parked the car and started walking to the cave entrance. Happy with the spotting of Kowalas earlier and having seen many a native bird, I was still desperate to see Kangaroos ( I had only seen road kill so that does not count as a Kangaroo in its natural environment), but whats that, a thumping noise. As we walked to the cave about 20 Kangaroos just hopped right past us and off into the bush.

Once in Canberra it was immediately obvious that this place was completely purpose built, it was strange to enjoy the clean and tidy nature of it but miss the city feel of it and the variation you find whilst walking around most cities. a strange place mostly. Canberra also had what you could call a cutural centre and I would go on to learn that all the Australian cities have this focus on the government provided cultural buildings, Art Galleries, Libraries and Museums. Whilst staying in Canberra we drove a little way from the city to a village with a miniture model village, not sure why I was entering this place I was surprised and entertained by the fact that its main focus was on England and about 5 of the models were of Peterborough and surrounding area. It was funny to consider travelling to other side of the world to see models of Peterborough.

Posted by FlatCapped 19:48 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Seals and Snow in the South Island

snow 4 °C
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Right on my first day in the South Island it was clear to me which of New Zealands two Islands I would end up favouring. After driving off the ferry and toward Kaikoura to arrange some dolphin watching, I pulled up by the coastal road for a marked walk just into a wooded area to a small waterfall. At the bottom of the waterfall and in the river which then flowed to the sea, seal pups were playing, waiting in the safety of shelter whilst there parents hunted. The pups were so playfull and curious, a hidden gem no more than a few meters from the road.

We succesfully organised the dolphin watching tour and so on a cool afternoon, sailed out to the open area of ocean where the Dusky Dolphins can be found playing in pods. The dolphins were so interested in the boat, playing, surfing the front as it sailed along. To top off a great afternoon, on our way back in we saw a Hump Back Whale, well it's tail anyway.

Christchurch became my favourite town in New Zealand, beautiful and seemingly more genuine than I found Wellington. My oppinions of Christchurch werent even scarred by having to witness a frankly obismal display by Englands Rugby Team in the Jade Stadium where they took on the mighty All Blacks. (The Haka was awesome live). We would fly out of Christchurch so left for a circuit of the rest of the South Island but before departing also got to see the illusive Kiwi in (almost) natural environment. The Willowbank evening tour was a brilliant way to see these peacefull nocturnal birds, which are bigger than you think.

Driving through Arthurs Pass to the west coast of the island it is obvious how diverse the landscape is here. Living here, I would advise a vehicle that can handle the hills better than our Campervan though, it can become frustrating and the New Zealand University town of Dunedin does have the worlds steepist street. The West coast offers the chance to don crampons and walk an ice glacier left from the last ice age. We are informed by our guide that this glacier moves and is actually advancing at the moment by a meter a day which is crazy when you think about it. You could hear it creaking and crunching.

Driving down and then accross through Haast Pass, the winter weather hindered any walks that we could have done but on the high parts of the pass I drove through crisp white snow before descending down where the presipitation had returned to its rainy state. The childishly fun Puzzle World was a worthwhile stop in Wanaka before reaching Queenstown in time for the opening of the Winter Festival. Friday night saw bands and fireworks, one of which carrered into the crowd and another into a pub roof but no one seemed fazed. The next morning, by the dock was a small art market followed by a parade of floats through the city. A great vibe for the start of the Snowboarding season, unfortunately my money cant stretch far enough to get me on the slopes.

Heading back accross to the East coast we visited Dunedins Cadbury Factory, its not a patch on Birminghams but Kyla hasn't been lucky enough to go there so Dunedins suficed. I wanted to check out the local Spates Brewery Tour but I needded to drive on that evening so thought better of it. We drove the next day to the Mauraki boulders which are beautifully spherical lumps of rock deposited into the shoreline our main objective however was to get to Oamaru to see the Little Blue Penguins. A colony along the coast there watches the 30cm tall penguins swim in and walk over to their nests at dusk. Beeing the start of mating season we witnessed a few males fighting and a lot of calling between the sexes.

Heading back in to the centre, we drove to see Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand I believe, and Lake Tekapo. With the sun behiund the mountains, the cloud seeping over them thick and white and the ice glistening blue in the shade this provided some of the most amazing a peacefull sites of my trip.

That is a whistle stop evaluation of my whistle stop tour (2 weeks) of the South Island. Now I sit in the awesome Windsor Hotel, using the free internet, killing time before my late night, or very early morning, flight to Australia.

Posted by FlatCapped 03:19 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Thunder Road

rain 11 °C
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The campervan looks great, so after purchasing a lead so as to add the perfect music from my MP3 player into the mix, the Escape Rental van was on the highway heading for our first port of call. Thanks to the nature of now living out of a campervan, my bed for the first night has a view of the sea, is surrounded by trees and comes with breakfst in bed come the morning!

With a minor detour from the main coastal route we find a small place called the Waterworks, in these varied grounds are hidden endless amounts of gadgets and toys powered by water or other sustainable means, for example the water shooters that were powered by my own furious pedal power. Each gadget included explanations of how they work, providing moments of conceptual ionspiration ammongst the tomfoolery. Back onto the main coastal road and we drove on to the Hot Water Beach which, if you catch in the 2 hours either side of the tide rolling out, you can experience the boiling hot water seeping up from the Earths boiler house below. In this Winter weather it steams and bubbles away but if you dig your feet too deep into the sand it is mostly too hot to bear.

We... well I, decided to drive on regardless of the dark and the time and get to a stopping point nearer the next days attraction, however getting tired I got rather irritated when I struggled to find a suitable place to stop and then nearly ran over a bulldog who sauntered into the middle of the road. Conceeding defeat after struggling to concentrate after the near miss, we had to pay up for a place to stay for the first (and not to be the last) time on the campervan trip.

Roturua was more of a drive through stop for us, filling up with petrol before going through to the outskirts where the Hot Spring Volcanic Valley was, after a beautiful and relaxed walk, we left plenty of time to get to nearby Lake Taupo area and parked up near some water falls, before taking a walk and then cooking our dinner. Taupo was nice but the weather was really turning now with howling wind and rain. So in rain jackets, I partook in a lake side game of crazy golf. (I lost) From Lake Taupo the river leads to a damn which is opened at regular intervals in the day to rush water through hydro electric plants and so after lunch we pulled up in time to witness the afternoons flooding to the tune of a piercing warnign siren.

We had driven to the village of Wakapapa in preperation for the Tongariro Crossing the next day, only to be told not many people wish to do it this time of the year so the trail isnt really open, plus the weather forecast wasnt looking good. True to form, the next morning the cloud was so low we could barely see to manage to drive out of the village and carry on our way to New Plymouth. New Plymouth it turns out is the home of an intriguing artist and I will certainly not bore you with any details but sufice to say I purchased a catalgue and DVD of the work.

It was another coastal route which, then heading more in land, lead us to Wellington, the next day. The capital of these two Islands was somewhere I had been tipped to go to by travellers I had met, talking about creative outlets and happening places in New Zealand. This seemed strange when its main centre can be walked accross in about 20min, differing greatly from such "happening" places as London. There is definately things going on here however, and a feel which reminded me fondly of Norwich however the biggest blot on an otherwise potential great city is the mock Tudor Houses I saw, and Im not just talking about one. The galleries and art organisations of which there are abundance have got a fight on their hands to distract attention from these unfortunate eye sores.

Still undecided on how I feel about this city that I had anticipated for a while now, I leave to catch the ferry accross to the south Island. I have a date with the Christchurch All Blacks fans on Saturday night when I will be in the stadium (courtesey of a generous Birthday present from Kyla) cheering the England rugby team on to rectify their performance in Auckland last Saturday, a defeat I had to watch, sat with a bunch of Kiwis in a Wellington pub.

Posted by FlatCapped 17:23 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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