A Travellerspoint blog

Just One More! Just One More!

"Let's just get on and then figure it out," was Nick's way of attempting to solve our problem of not knowing how to get back to the train station we needed to be at. While this method of attack worked for us time and time again while we were on The Great Ocean Road, I didn't think it was the prudent action to take now that we were back in Melbourne. Having the campervan made us masters of our domain, so to speak. Able to adjust on the fly and quickly rectify and mistakes or poor judgements we made with the help of our trusty van. However, the last think I wanted to do after a poor night's sleep in the back of a van that was sitting in a parking lot, which preceeded a 6:30 a.m. wake-up, was get lost wandering around the city. I had friends that I was meeting at a downtown hostel and was anxious to get there as fast as possible. So, after a split-second look of trepidation from me, I offered up the option of asking for help from the gentleman in the blue blazer since he looked like he worked for the transit authority. The helpful employee sent us off armed with the information we needed and we were on our way. After one train switch and a short walk to the hostel, it was time to spend the rest of the day catching up with friends, watching tv, and just relaxing. I spent the next two days wandering around the city and just hanging out with friends I had made from my time in New Zealand. And, as was customary of my travels so far, when the last night that I was going to be with my friends came, we would have a night out on the town. Having a few drinks with friends is always a fitting end to a chapter of travel. In fact, it's often how the friendship is forged in the firstplace. Nothing accelerates and solidifies the newfound friendships backpackers make with each other while rooming together for short periods of time than a social gathering lubricated by the effects of alcohol. So, my British and Welsh friends and I had a plan to explore some of the happening nighttime venues in St. Kilda since none of us had a chance to do it while we were staying in the area. The original plan was to hop from place to place so we could maximize our time and see a healthy number of different places. As I travel through life I'm finding more and more that plans rarely follow the form you expect them to. After we got to the second bar, we got stuck. Yes, that's right, after having grand delusions of hitting all of these famous hotspots we got stuck in a cheap little hostel bar. Every time we would talk of moving to a place with a bit more character someone would shout, "The drinks are so cheap here...just one more! Just one more!". So, we stayed for just one more....about ten times. The night ended up being a blast. As is usually the case when friends are just hanging out reminiscing about this or that.
After Melbourne I begrudingly headed to Canberra. I had been told there's not much for a backpacker to do there, but I wanted to stop by the Indonesian embassy and try to get a visa that would allow me to stay in the country longer than 30 days. Now I'm sure Canberra is a lovely city with tons of great things going for it. However, between my adventures with public transport, walking all over the place when the correct information would have kept me from doing so, and the embassy telling me that the paperwork was so much I should just do it at the consolate in Sydney, I didn't have the greatest of visits. In fact, it was worse than the time the raccoon got caught in the copier. If you know what that means, bravo. That's all I have to say about Canberra.
After changing my bus ticket, I arrived, alive, into Sydney at about 10:00 at night. The word 'alive' had to be shuttled into the previous sentence because the bus driver was either just having a rough day or wanted the passengers of his bus and every person he met on the road to die a horrible, firey death. We swerved, we zigged, we zagged, we drifted, and we even took branches off of trees that had no business being meticulously placed on those sidewalks by city workers, no matter how lovely they looked. We were honked at so many times that it sounded like one constant horn from the time we reached the outskirts of Sydney to our stop at Sydney Central Station. It was as if the motorists were handing a baton of horn-blowing to the driver in front of them our entire ride through the city. After the thrilling ride I wearily stumbled around the block, found my hostel, which was located next to the station, and crashed for the night.
After morning found me I immediately started moving to my next hostel. I had decided to stay by Central Station the night before because I didn't want to mess with trying to find a far away hostel in a city that I had never been to at ten o'clock at night. I transported my stuff to an area of the city called Kings Cross. I had heard it was an interesting area that had a lot going on. However, when I emerged from the station and stepped out onto the streets I was not ready for the scene that lay before me. I felt like I was walking down some seedy side street back home in Las Vegas. Apparently when I was reading about the city I failed to find the part that told how Kings Cross was also the red light district of Sydney. While I walked down the street I found topless dance clubs nestled in between backpacker hostels and fast food shops such as McDonalds. None of it was that shocking to see...just unexpected. Hmmm...what's this next place with the neon lights called? The Vegas Hotel. Great. I travel to the other side of the world and I get dropped right back in Vegas somehow. I finally found my hostel and deposited my stuff, ready to explore the city. The dude working the front desk says if I want to see the Sydney Operahouse and Harbour Bridge I should wait for the free tour the hostel puts on in the morning. I hold true to form and buck the tour so I can explore on my own terms. Walking from Kings Cross to the harbour isn't that daunting a task. I thought I was lost several times, but managed to get there in about thirty minutes. Which, I'm later told, is about how long it should take when walking. After wandering around snapping the usual touristy photographs I start my journey back to the hostel. On the way back I see something that I haven't seen since before I left the United States. Wait for it......people playing basketball! I love playing basketball. But, the good people of New Zealand and Australia had not helped me out by providing very many opportunites for me to play. So, I asked the guys if they minded if I play some ball with them and they were kind enough to let me play. After continuing in the Dream Team's mold and upholding America's global dominance in basketball, the guys had to all leave. Because, you know, they all have jobs, families, responsiblities, etc. All that stuff that I gave up (for a little while) to travel. I was hoping to play some more, but Aaron says I can just keep his ball and shoot around with it since they have to go. I tell him that I'm backpacking and don't really have room for a basketball. Aaron just shrugs and tells me to use it while I'm in Sydney and then I can leave it. Wow. My own private Wilson. From what I've experienced New Zealand and Australia have both been full of good hearted people who have gone out of their way to make some stranger they barely know feel welcome and comfortable. It's been a pleasure to meet so many wonderful people in each country.
The next day I catch the train down to Bondi Beach to meet some friends that I made while traveling in New Zealand. Emma, Georgina, Chelsey, and I lounged on the beach all day, doing basically nothing. Bondi was a beautiful sight to behold. I had heard that it was to commercialized now and full of wannabes and posers. But on this day it was a fun time on a pretty relaxed beach. After a day of relaxation I headed back to the hostel, with newfound confidence in my ability to get around on the transit system of Sydney. As soon as I stepped foot in the hostel my roommates Steve, Mike, and Shawn told me there's a two hour cruise through Sydney Harbour for $5 and I needed to hurry to make it. Since the cruise was normally $30 I jumped at the chance. I sprinted up the stairs, changed clothes, washed up, roused our 5th roommate Anton to come with us and made it back downstairs in about 4.5 seconds.....or maybe a hair more. Either way, we all made it. The cruise was a fabulous time. I was able to get some great photos of the Harbour Bridge and the Operahouse during the course of the tour. The next couple days were filled with a few lazy days spent around Kings Cross and a lot of cricket watching. The Ashes was going on at the time and my roommates were trying to teach me a little more about the game than what I already knew, which wasn't much. The Ashes pits England against Australia in test cricket approximately every 2 1/2 years. It's a very celebrated series to the respective countries. On Sunday the guys left for New Zealand while I moved hostels to a place down off of Bondi Beach. I would have had a nice couple days at the beach, but it rained the whole time I was there. I did, however, get a chance to have a Thanksgiving dinner of sorts. Since a relative of one of my friends from Vegas lived in Sydney now, I was invited over for a faux Thanksgiving dinner. It was nice to be around good food and great people, but it also actually made me miss being back home for the holidays a bit more. After hanging out with Nick one more time (who was now living and working in Sydney) I boarded the train and headed out of town. Sydney was nice, but I'll have to give the nod to Melbourne as far as which city was more to my style.
Now on to Byron Bay...........

Posted by vegasmbj 01:01 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Whoops

Waking up to sunshine slipping in through uncovered portions of the campervan windows was an unexpected, although welcome, experience. The night brought spots of rainfall and less than ideal temperatures with it. The plan for the day was the same as the day before….just go do whatever we felt like doing. Possible activities for the day included capturing a kangaroo on film and checking out the crumbling coastline that has come to be known as The Twelve Apostles. We ended up driving the down the coast a couple hours and seeing The Twelve Apostles first. As with most pictures of magnificent natural formations, the ones I have of them really don’t do them justice at all. They really were incredible to see up close. Afterwards, we drove back up the coast to the area we had already been in and ended up camping at a campsite that was supposed to be excellent for spotting kangaroos. As it turns out, on the drive into the campsite we spotted a couple full grown kangaroos but were unable to get any photos of them. The rest of the time at the campsite proved to be a fruitless endeavor as far as kangaroo spotting went. We weren’t able to spot anymore the morning after camping there. So, we headed back up the coast to the town of Apollo Bay to do a little fishing. After an afternoon of fishing that resulted in more broken lines and near catches than actual caught fish we were enjoying an afternoon of football (American style) in the park when Nick received a call from the campervan rental agency. It turns out the we were supposed to have the vehicle back an hour ago. Whoops. The guy told us we wouldn’t have any charges for the extra night as long as we got the van back by the time they open the next morning at 7:30 a.m. After going over our options we decided that instead of waking up extremely early and trying to make it back to Melbourne in the morning, we would meander down the coastline towards Melbourne and get in late that night. Then we could find a spot to park the van, stay in it overnight, and return it in the morning. The relaxed drive back consisted of a stop at Erskine Falls. I had a friend back in Melbourne that did the Great Ocean Road drive the week before that was able to get some brilliant pictures of her at Erskine Falls. After hopping across the boulders in the river below the falls as if they were mother nature’s checkerboard I was able to get some great pictures up next to the falls. Back by the stairs that led to the parking lot I noticed a trail that led deeper into the forest. I contemplated whether or not I should navigate the trail in flip-flops, but only for a moment. I mean, really….how many chances are you going to get to explore tiny little overgrown trails that meander around a small river that seems to disappear into a foreign rainforest? For someone like me that lives to explore the outdoors, the decision was a rather easy one. It turns out that it was a good decision, since the trail ended up going to Straw Falls. The falls weren’t as spectacular as Erskine Falls, but they were climbable for people with experience in such a practice. After scurrying up the falls I was able to get some great photos of me standing right in the middle of the falls, half way up. That's enough exploring for one day...time to head back. I skidded the van to a halt on the road back to town when I noticed what looked like a kangaroo on the side of the road. Now that someone in Sydney has told me the difference between wallabies and kangaroos, I think it actually might have been a wallaby. Either way, I didn’t get a picture of it before it skipped into the foliage and was out of sight. Foiled again. On the way back to Melbourne we stopped at Bells Beach to cook dinner and watch the surfers get in a last few waves before sunset. It was a pretty awesome sight to see how skillfully some of the surfers navigated the waves as the sun dropped down over the horizon. We made it back to Melbourne and returned the van the next morning without incurring any extra charges. Definitely a nice way to end a great trip.

Posted by vegasmbj 15:56 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

You Want How Much For A Beer?

As the plane swept over the last remnants of land that was New Zealand, I felt a bit saddened by my departure. The reasons for my melancholy state were twofold. First: New Zealand was the first overseas country I had ever visited and I think most people will agree when I say that your first anything usually holds a certain amount of significance in one’s life. Second: There were still parts of New Zealand that I had yet to explore and really wanted to. However, I had to keep reminding myself that New Zealand was the first country of many that I hoped to explore while on my tour of the world world tour and in order to visit each country that I deemed important enough to see, I was going to have to make a few sacrifices at each individual stop in order to maintain the health of the whole trip. Being excited about seeing Australia was also making my departure from New Zealand much more bearable than it would have been otherwise.
I arrived in Melbourne in the mid-morning and caught a shuttle to the suburb of St. Kilda. I had heard good things about the laid back beach lifestyle of this particular suburb and decided it was a good spot from which to start my exploration of the Melbourne area . My friends from Queenstown had caught up with me by my last night in Christchurch and twisted my arm to get me to go out on the town with them. My airport shuttle left from the hostel at 3:30 a.m. so I reasoned that I might as well just stay up until it was time to catch the shuttle. Makes sense, right? Anyways, the night out combined with my irritating ability to not sleep on planes had me rather tired when I arrived at the hostel. So, when I looked over to my right while standing at the reception desk I wasn’t sure if that was really a friend of mine from New Zealand that had left two weeks earlier. We locked eyes….nothing. I’m still staring and giving my best ‘hello’ smile. Waiting for some recognition. Nothing still. Not only does she not crack a smile, but she looks like she wants to punch me straight in the nose. But wait……after a good 5 minutes of staring, well it was probably more like 5 seconds, Georgie realizes that out of all the hostels in Melbourne I have randomly chosen the same hostel she’s staying at and we launch full bore into getting caught up on what’s been happening to each of us over the last couple of weeks. I’m told Megan, another friend from NZ, is staying here as well. It’s always nice to see familiar faces when you’re traveling to strange new lands. This holds true even more so when you are not expecting to meet up with someone you know and are completely shocked to see them. After the catch-up session, I climb the stairs and begin the search for my room. Got it. Now….time to crash. I had told Georgie that I’d accompany her and Megan on a walk around the neighborhood that afternoon. But, good intentions fall by the wayside and my body’s cry for sleep rises to the forefront. I pass out for most of the day and catch up with Georgie and Megan at dinner instead. The rest of the night is mostly spent getting to know my new roommates. I’ve lucked out and drawn a room that has some pretty cool people. It’s always a toss-up when you check into a hostel room. You never know what type of roommates you are going to get. Usually the actual experience of rooming with strangers for a few nights is just fine. Sure once in awhile you get the inhumanly loud snorer or the prick that acts like he is the only person staying in the room. That comes with the territory when staying in hostels. However, sometimes those roommates can also become travel companions, pleasant short term acquaintances, or maybe even lifelong friends.
The next few days were spent exploring St. Kilda, finding a gym to work out at, attending my first live cricket match, and meeting up with Georgie and the Birmingham boys. Tom, Luke, and Andy were friends I’d made in NZ that were looking for work in Melbourne at the moment. The second day I was in Melbourne I went to a women's professional cricket match at the MCG, a large and world-famous stadium situated near Federation Square. There were hardly any people in the stands so I was able to get next to the field while the players were warming up. I had a great time talking with the players and got a few smiles and laughs out of them as well. I inquired to one of the girls if I could get a picture with her to commemorate my first cricket match. She said that she couldn't before the game, but afterwards she would get me in a picture with the whole team. I was pretty excited about this prospect, which helped me sit through 3 1/2 hours of less than exciting play. However, about 5 minutes from the end of the match the player that promised me the team photo hurt herself diving to catch a ball and had to be helped off the field. So much for the team photo. I tried to get the attention of some of the other players as they were leaving the field so I could get a photo with one of them, but to no avail. A team photo would have been nice, but you can't have it all I guess. Enjoying a cricket match at a famous stadium for free while sipping on a few beers (Which were extremely overpriced. And I thought American sporting events overcharged for beer.) isn't a bad way to spend your first full day in Australia.
After the weekend Nick and I decided to rent a campervan to take on a drive down the Great Ocean Road. Nick set up the rental and informed me that we had it for three nights and must have it returned by 3:00 on the fourth day. So, we were off. The Great Ocean Road is a stretch of highway southwest of Melbourne that runs along the sea and is the entry way to both endless miles of wilderness and loads of beaches that are home to a countless number of surfing enthusiasts. Our plan was not to plan, which we pulled off with spectacular success. As a result, we drove aimlessly down the road deciding to decide where to stop whenever the moment struck us. Our initial attempt at camping on the first night of the expedition was at a campsite outside of the small town of Lorn. The sweet old lady at the information center told us of a campsite a few kilometers out of town that could only be reached by a decrepit dirt road. After wandering through the forest for about six kilometers we reached the ‘campsite’. Which turned out to be nothing more than a pullout at the end of the dirt road that was split in two by a billabong. We were the only brave souls who were attempting to spend the night here on this particular evening. My mind even started wondering if the sweet old lady hadn’t sent us on a wild goose chase. The scene reminded me of something out of a horror movie where the seemingly nice, polite townsfolk sucker the tourists into becoming feed for the grotesquely horrible being that lives in the woods/house cellar/abandoned factory/etc. Our two main goals for the trip were to see koalas and kangaroos in their natural habitat. Not more than 20 seconds after I said, “This campsite will be worth it if we see a koala.”, we heard a low snorting sound that sounded something like a hog, only it was coming from above. And there it was….our first koala not more than 30 feet away yelling down to us from his perch in a nearby tree as if to say ‘Look up here! Look up here!’. After gawking at the koala, we decided this campsite wasn’t so cool and proceeded back down the dirt road to the highway. We ended up driving on until dark and parking on a pullout for the night. Curiosity got the best of us during the evening so we took a stroll through the nearby town. By town I mean about 30 large vacation homes and a general store. As we walked through the streets we wondered why there were no people around. Sure, it was 10 p.m. but we thought you would see some signs of life. That’s when we saw a four legged figure in the dark up ahead of us. At first glance I thought it was a dog…but it looked a bit different. It was slinking towards us with a hungry look in its eye, almost like it was sizing us up for an attack. We went behind a boat parked on a trailer on the side of the road and the dog started circling around like it was trying to get behind us. At this point I happened to see a large branch that had fallen out of a tree and immediately picked it up. The dog stopped and stared at us while we slowly backed up the street the way we had come from. I had mentioned to Nick that the dog looked suspiciously like a dingo to me. But I was unaware that they lived in this area of Australia. After returning to the pull out and sharing our encounter with some fellow campers, they assured us that it was, in fact, a dingo and that we were lucky it didn’t pounce. Dingo or not, it looked like it had plans on making us it’s next meal. So, I considered ourselves lucky to be able to escape the encounter with either of us uninjured. When the morning came we were off on the rest of our Great Ocean Road trip….

Posted by vegasmbj 02:00 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

That Should Just About Do It

Riding a bus with a hangover is never a fun endeavor. But, sometimes despite ones best efforts, it just can't be avoided. The night before this not-so-joyous journey was my last night in Queenstown and my roommates for the last two weeks were adament on not letting me leave without a fight. We had become a tightknit group over the previous few weeks; even before stopping in Queenstown. So, they had decided to take me out to enjoy the local nightlife, keep me up way too late, and hopefully I would miss my bus bound for Christchurch in the morning. Somehow, someway, I made my bus in the morning, but was not exactly thrilled to be partaking in the 9 hour roadtrip to my next stopping point. After finally making it to Christchurch I had decided that instead of making my way back up to Auckland and then flying to Australia, as I had originally planned, I would fly out of Christchurch and into Melbourne. New Zealand had been a wonderful experience, but I was burning through way too much money while there. I knew Australia wouldn't be any less expensive, so after waying the pros and cons of exiting New Zealand earlier than I had anticipated, I booked a flight for Melbourne. Choosing the city to fly into was a chore all by itself. I had been going back and forth in my head for weeks about what route to take while I was exploring Australia and finally settled on starting in Melbourne and working my way up the east coast. I wasn't sure if I would get to see Perth and Uluru by doing this, but as much as I hate to admit it, money must dictate the choses we make in life, every once and a while at least. While in Oz, I am hoping to visit the east coast until I made it to the city of Cairns and then fly from there to Bali. Time will tell if the plan will come to fruition or not. Anyways, my time in Christchurch wasn't as well spent as I would have hoped. I became ill the first day in town and didn't sleep the first three nights. Laying my head down on the pillow when my body told me it was time for bed proved to be an incredibly difficult task each time I tried. Horrible coughing fits ensued each time I attempted to sleep. So I just ended up, as one of my friends likes to say, 'getting on the online' every night and sleeping most of the day. When I was able to walk around the city I saw one that was still smarting from the huge earthquake that occured approximately six weeks earlier. Scaffolding, fences, blocked off roads, and disfigured buildings dotted the city streets that I strolled around on. I enjoyed the overall layout and architechture of Christchurch and wish I could have spent a bit more time engaging in some of the activities that it would have provided. I had mixed feelings about leaving New Zealand. I loved the experience and meeting the new friends I had made along the way, but was ready for a new country to explore. There are still sights in New Zealand that I want to see, so a return trip will have to be in my future someday. I'm sure the same will hold true with Australia, as I already know that I will be unable to visit all of the places there that I want to. But, that's what happens when you aren't even on country #2 of what you hope is a journey around the world. Sacrifices of smaller wishes must be made to keep the overall dream intact. That should just about do it for New Zealand.....now on to Australia.

Posted by vegasmbj 21:52 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

If At First You Don't Succeed.....Just Try It Later

After Nelson the tour group I was with made many more interesting stops as it devoured the sights and scenery of the South Island of New Zealand. After leaving Nelson and raiding the local Salvation Army of the next town for supplies, we stopped for a bus costume party at a lonely little bar out in the middle of nowhere. Crazy times that will never be spoken of again, for sure. I think I did manage to let a few of the tamer pictures make there way to my facebook page...for some reason. After the costume party at the 'Poo Pub' we made our way to Franz Josef for some glacier climbing. We were given several options in which to explore the glacier with. Option 1: Helicopter tour where we land at the top, walk around for two hours and then depart via the same way we arrived. Option 2: Ice climb several walls of the glacier. Option 3: Take a guided hike about halfway up the glacier. I chose to explore the glacier through the wonders of option 2. It seemed a little more daring than just hiking up the glaciers with a group and a lot less expensive than taking a helicopter to the top. However, life seldom seems to follow the nice little plan that we have laid out for it and my time in Franz Josef was no exception. The rain was pooring down so incessently that the ice climbing portion of the options was wiped out. I decided to bypass the hiking portion as well, and just return to Franz Josef at a later date so I could complete the ice climb then. Needless to say, the two days I spent in Franz Josef consisted of lazy activities that didn't require much action or thought. That is one of the luxuries of traveling at your own pace and not having to stick to a rigid schedule- I can afford to take my time and wait for exactly what I want.
So, when our subsequent time was extinguished in Franz Josef, the bus headed to the sleepy little town of Wanaka. Wanaka seemed like a great place to take part in outdoor activities and to genuinely enjoy nature without being battered across the head with the commercial aspects that you see in most vacation towns today. We spent one night in Wanaka and stopped by Puzzle World on the way out of town. Puzzle World is worth the visit if you're ever in Wanaka, by the way. It has numerous mind-bending puzzles, problems, illusions, and even a maze that doesn't have the highest degree of difficulity, but is a nice way to spend a few minutes nonetheless.
Next stop on the South Island tour was the town most of us had been eagerly anticipating since we first arrived at the port of Picton. Queenstown. I had long heard of how much fun Queenstown was to visit. Let me just say that the stories I had been told of the quintessential adventure town were indeed true. Remember how quaint and commerically untouched I said that Wanaka was? Well, Queenstown was the exact opposite. However, despite the outrageous prices for goods and services, I must admit that I had a great time in Queenstown. So good that I got sucked into staying there a lot longer than I had anticipated and spent a lot more money than I had originally planned. Oh well, so goes the life of a backpacker. A few days after our arrival into Queenstown, some of the other tour members and I decided to rent a car and head back to Franz Josef to tackle the elusive glacier. Sean, Michelle, Sara, Katy, Emma, and Georgina missed out on the glacier hike and wanted another crack at it. I was going along to finally be able to ice climb. I was looking forward to the trip when about two hours before we were set to take off one of the girls told me that the ice climbing was full for the next day. I was crushed. Once again, no ice climbing the glacier. I managed to pull myself together enough to tell her that I'd still go on the trip with them and take part in the glacier hike instead. Ice climbing was something I really wanted to do, but I figured that it's not that often I get to spend any time on a glacier, so I better go for it. After the hike I realized that I definitely made a wise choice. The guided hike was ok, but shortly after it started I decided that I would rather have just rented the necessary equipment myself, set out for the top of the glacier and find my way on my own. That's the problem with taking hikes in a group- your only as fast or competent as the least skilled member of the group. When it was all said and done, returning to hike the glacier was a great experience. Plus, road trips with friends are always a good way to spend the weekend.

Posted by vegasmbj 15:05 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Be Gentle, This Is My First Time

The early morning bus ride to the ferry terminal was filled with smiles. Not because of the actual bus ride, but because the tour bus driver that was taking us to the terminal actually played mainstream music. The whole North Island trip was accompanied by a soundtrack of obscure Kiwi only music. To be fair, there are some great Kiwi bands that create some outstanding songs. But when you have to listen to nothing but 'hidden gems' of the Kiwi music scence for two weeks, it gets a little old. My fellow travelers were happy to listen to songs that they had actually heard before. The entire 10 minute bus ride was taken in extreme pleasure. However, as soon as we exited the bus we were transported back to reality. That is, waiting in line for way too long at way too early in the morning. After boarding the ferry I made it be known to my friends that the four hour ferry ride from Wellington in the North Island to Picton in the South Island would be my first ferry ride. "Watch out, you might get seasick.", was the most common response to my first time ferry rider confession. I was on the ferry with veterans of this mode of transportation it seemed. And, honestly, I was a bit worried about becoming seasick somewhere along the journey. So what did I do? Promptly ordered up a eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, and toast breakfast of course. Probably not the course of action most people would encourage, but I was hungry and hadn't had breakfast food in ages. After breakfast we all found a spot to congregate and settled in for the ride. The seas were exceptionally choppy this morning and soon after settling in, people started feeling ill. And soon after that, they started throwing up. A lot. The veteran ferry riders from my group were not the only ones negatively affected by the overzealous waves. As you looked around the ferry you could find people everywhere using there complimentary barf bags; sometimes even two or three of them. All the while, there I sat. Not affected in the slightest. Yes, this was my first time. And no, it was not gentle. But, I managed just fine anyways.
After arriving in Picton we immediately boarded a bus bound for Nelson. Nelson is famous in New Zealand for having the most amount of sunshine filled days out of any town on either island. It is also where the geographical center of New Zealand is. Most of the tour group signed up for a 3 night stay in Nelson so that we could hike the Abel Tasman National Park. It was a sad time when some of our group members decided to move on after only one night, though. There were two options for the Abel Tasman hike. One: do the shorter hike ( I want to say it was about 10 km) or the longer hike that is 24 km. Of course I had to do the longer hike. My two Danish friends that had been on the bus with me since it left Auckland also signed up to take part in the longer hike. Everyone else chose to take the shorter walk. After taking an early morning bus ride to the hiking tour center, we took a water taxi up the coast to the drop off point in order to start the hike. A furious pace was decided on at the onset as we were determined to catch up the the group as quickly as we could. It had been decided that the group would stop at a beach about 3 km from the end of the trail and we would meet them there. However, the Danes and I had visions of catching up with the group before they even made it to the beach. An almost impossible feat unless we ran, which we nearly did, but one that we thought we had an outside chance of obtaining. Nearly a third of the way into our hike we had a choice: either take the beach route for a few km, or take the inland trek instead. We chose the beach route and were going along just fine until an unforseen obstacle found us. The tide has decided to come in while we were making our way across what was a drained area of land. We stopped and decided that instead of going all the way back around that we would just take off our shoes and wade across before the tide came all the way in. After forging ahead promptly finding out that the water was much deeper than I had thought, we decide that wouldn't work. Taking off our shorts was the next logical step. So, we did and waded into the water. Although we made farther, we did not make it far enough. The water quickly showed us that our clothes would get soaked if we wanted to continue with this course of action. After the most recent failure the Danes looked at each other and said, "naked". Without hesitation they stripped down, carried all of their belongings above there heads and took off. I, of course, followed suit and plowed through the water. Which was, no doubt, surprised that it had not stopped us in our tracks like it intended. The water came up to my chest as we waded through it on our way to the far end. A two person kayak was lucky enough to row by during our excursion through the water. I'm not sure, but I swear they slowed down just enough to try to see us exit the water on the far end. After making to the far end of the water filled inlet, we dressed and resumed our manic pace down the trail. Eventually we caught up with the others at the beach. Sadly, they had been there 30 minutes before we joined them, dashing our hopes of meeting them along the trail. After a couple hour detour holiday on the beach, the group started the final leg of the trail. One of the Danes and I pushed on and made it to the end first. Thereby completing the actuall hiking portion of the trip in 3 1/2 hours. Afterwards, we all returned to Nelson and enjoyed the sunshine until the bus picked us up so that we could continue our journey south.

Posted by vegasmbj 21:44 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Point of No Return

As the tour bus rolled out of Waitomo and on it's way to Taupo early in the morning, I was thinking about the hike I was going to do the next day. Before I had gotten to New Zealand I was told that the Mt. Tongariro Crossing was one of the greatest hikes to try in the country. So, I was looking forward to trying it out the next day. The weather couldn't have been better when we arrived in Taupo. Bright sunshine bathed the town and the surrounding area. The weather report confirmed that the next few days should be clear and devoid of any rain that might turn the day hike from an amazing experience into a miserable one. After my fellow travelers and I settled into the hostel we were staying at for the next two nights, most of them scattered to take part in sky diving or to visit the local hot pools. A few of us chose instead to go to a barbeque at the park with free food and beverages. Upon arriving at the park a few of the guys there were starting up a touch rugby match. I had watched a rugby league match the week before so I was extremely confident in my ability to competently compete with the rest of the guys that were playing. The rugby match turned out to be a lot of fun. I held my own and even scored once. After the barbeque we rode back to the hostel in a van with no back seats that was chocked full of approximately 12-14 people. Another interesting feature to the van was the back door that didn't latch, so it flew open around every corner, daring the person nearest the door (me,of course) to stay inside the vehicle. The night consisted of the usual meetup at the pub by everyone in the tour group. All though, the lot of us that were going on the hike the next day managed to tear ourselves away from the fun fairly early.
In the morning we took an hour bus ride to the trailhead of the crossing. As we headed for the mountain the clouds became darker and more foreboding. The bus driver told us that it was rainy on the mountain, but it should clear up the higher we hiked. The pessimist, nay, realist in me privately disputed the driver's assurance that it would be a pleaseant hike. The deciding factor in my thoughts that it would be a less than ideal hike was the bus driver's warning that if the weather was too bad when we reached the peak and were about to start the descent down the other side, we should turn around and go back the way we came. That was the point of no return. I scoffed at the notion of turning around when I was halfway through a hike, but I suppose the driver was morally, and maybe even legally, bound to issue the warning. I started the hike out at a steady but not overly fast pace and soon found myself passing everyone that had set out ahead of me. The weather quickly turned from bad to freakin' ridiculous as rain, sleet, and what seemed like gale force winds bombarded me as I made my way up the mountainside. I must admit, when I reached the point of no return I actually contemplated whether or not I should continue. But, stupidity disguised as bravery pushed me onward to the harrowing descent. I've been told of the captivating views that can be seen from the peak of Mt. Tongariro. However, on this day I was unable to see more than 10-20 yards ahead of me at most times because of the think fog that enveloped the mountain. As I made my way to the lower reaches of the opposite side of the mountain, the fog lifted and I had some magnificent views of the landscape below. The frightful weather inclined me to tramp through the hike without many stops. Which, allowed me to finish what I was told to be a 7-8 hour hike in 4 hours. That would be all well in good, except the bus was not coming to pick people up from the finish point for another 4 hours. The ensuing wait was not the most exciting time of my life, but I suppose there are worse things to do over a 4 hour period.
After Taupo we headed to a small lodge at River Valley which was in the middle of nowhere. Whitewaer rafting was the activity of choice at this stop, but I chose to save my money and not partake in it. We had just a one night stay here and moved on to Wellington afterwards. Wellington was a 3 night stay. Wellington seemed like a cool city, except for the horrible weather. It was very rainy and windy the whole time we were there. The locals told me that the heavy winds were a normal occurence for the city. There were a few interesting sights to take in around the city and the nightlife was ok. Other than that, not much happened in Wellington in the time we were there. Next up.....the South Island..............

Posted by vegasmbj 15:51 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Obviously, I had no choice at all.....

I've had a tough time keeping up on frequently updating my blog since I've left Auckland. This entry covers from Auckland down to Waitomo. I'll try to get to the rest of my activities on the North Island in another blog entry in a short matter of time. No promises though.

I knew I shouldn’t have had that last drink. Or maybe I shouldn’t have had the two that preceded the last drink, really. These thoughts groggily floated through my head at 7:45 a.m. as I boarded the tour bus that was going to be taking me the distance of the North Island from Auckland down to Wellington. Tour buses don’t usually give in depth views of a country, but they do offer a quick highlight package of sites for travelers that either don’t have an abundance of time to check out the local points of interest or who are interested in meeting like minded travelers to possible travel with. I had a good experience using the same company for my trip to the Bay of Islands, so I was looking forward to the trek south. Despite the late night out, I was actually feeling pretty good as the bus started out of town.
The first day was fairly uneventful. We did stop at Cathedral Cove, which is a small, secluded beach tucked into the rock cliffs on the northeast side of the North Island. After that, the bus continued on to somewhere and we did something while we were there. I know there are a few details of our activities missing from the last sentence, but honestly, so much has transpired in the weeks since the first leg of the trip out of Auckland that I can't remember exactly when we did what. I know there were a few walks through the bush, some supension bridge walking (with at least one casualty), a few tramps through some caves, a wine tasting, and then we made it to Rotorua. The predominant activity I kept hearing that I had to take part in when I made it to Rotorua was the mountainside luge. My friends from Montana that had spent some time in New Zealand a few years back made sure to tell me to try the luge when I arrived in Rotorua. The luge activity consists of sitting on a small scooter-like object that has a pair of handlebars on the front end. The handlebars afford the driver steering 'control' and even allow him to brake when they are pulled backwards towards the driver. As I looked through the group of people on the tour bus that wanted to do the luge racing I quickly surmised that the brake would most likely not be used too much during our afternoon on the luge track. And (surprise, surprise) it seemed that with each of the five races we took part in, the brake was used less and less. The result was an excess of wrecks, injuries, and brilliantly performed passes which insured that it was another fun afternoon at the luge track. The evening started off slowly, with me going to a local bar to watch the Grand Final of a rugby league match with a friend from Australia. Rhys' team was playing in the final, after underachieving the year before. Hmmm....sounds like a couple sports teams of mine back in the States. To make a long story about a long night short; Rhys' team won, most of the tour group ended up showing up to hang out for the night, and things got a little crazy. Good times in Rotorua.
After Rotorua, we headed to Waitomo to take part in some cave exploring. There were two options for us to choose from as far as how we wanted to explore the caves. Option one was floating on a tube through the watery caves and looking at all the 'glow worms' on the cave ceiling. While option two involved abseiling into the cave, trapsing around through confined areas, zip lining through pitch black nothingness, jumping off of waterfalls, and finally, climbing up a few waterfalls. Obviously, I had no choice at all. Option two was chosen by five other wise individuals, as well as myself. I can honestly say that after spending hours taking part in the afore mentioned caving activities, I was direly disappointed when I emerged from the adrenaline inducing excitement of the caves into the humdrum tediousness of the daylight covered outside world. If you can't tell, I was extremely impressed with option two of the cave tours.

Posted by vegasmbj 19:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Sand Dunes, Kayaks, and Condom Covered Pints

The horrible sound reverbertrated through my head over and over again. As I sat in the hostel gathering room waiting for my tour bus, the sound of my roommate's snoring from the night before still haunted me. It was without a doubt, the worst sound these ears had ever had the mispleasure of hearing. Minutes later, however, my thoughts shifted from the previous sleepless night to the day that lay ahead of me as the tour bus rumbled to a stop outside the hostel. After I boarded and found a seat, the driver navigated the bus through the mostly empty downtown streets of Auckland, stopping at various hostels to pick up the rest of the tour group that was heading North to the town of Paihia for the next few days. The early morning ride up was mostly nondescript, as most of the travelers were in groups of two to four and seemed content to keep their conversations between only companions that were familiar to them. All of them were girls, as well, which didn't strike me as too bad of a tour group to be a part of. After arriving in Paihia, I spent the rest of the day getting to know many of the other backpackers that shared the bus ride North with me and walking around the town, taking in the sights.

The next day most of us went on a guided bus ride around the area. After a few hours on the road, we went onto 90 Mile Beach, bus and all, and drove the distance of it while Spike the bus driver shared facts about the history of the early Maori and English inhabitants of the North Island. Spike then took us to a few sand dunes that were near the beach so that we could partake in some sandboarding. After hiking up the biggest dune around (which was probably about 60 feet tall) we were given instructions on how to take the quickest route to the bottom. This was done by laying face-down on a boogie board, holding onto the front with your arms balanced somewhat securely on the front third of the board, and leaping off of the top of the dune so that you could hurl yourself down the face of the dune as fast as possible. Hiking up the dune was such a chore that many of the riders only went one time. I managed to hike up four times, but was easily outdone by the Spike, the insanely fit bus driver, who went six times. The tried and true method for stopping or slowing yourself down when sandboarding is to dig your toes into the sand behind you while you are sailing down the dune. But I, being the ever experimenting fellow that I am, decided to try a different way of stopping. That being, I managed to dig my face into the sand, with my mouth open by the way, until my board and I were brought to a grinding halt. Who needs toes? My method was not adopted by very many people in the group, but there were a few fellows that accidentally tried it, much like I did. After sand boarding we continued on to Cape Reinga. This is where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet and seemingly melt into each other. There were some amazing views from the point above the ocean at this stop. After a couple more stops we returned to the hostel for a couple hours of relaxation. My Canadian friend, Madison, and I went to the pub to take part in a quiz game that was going on that evening. We teamed up with two more travelers and felt pretty good about our chances to win the $50 bar tab grand prize. Apparently a quiz that has Lord of the Rings, Kiwi Trivia, Geography, and Name That Tune categories, along with random acts such as who can bring the MC a pint glass with a condom stretched over the top first, is not our strong suit. We came in 6th out of 7 teams. The worst part is even the team made up of the four Welsh girls that were on our tour bus beat us. What an epic fail.

The next day I had a choice of taking a tour boat across the bay to see whatever sites their might be, or to kayak the bay with a personal guide. Kayaking is definitely something more my style, so it was an easy decision to make. Madison and I went on a paddle around the Bay of Islands with our tour guide, Merva. Even though the weather was threatening to poor down showers halfway through the tour, the weather ended up being absolutely gorgeous. It was a nice three hour activity that even allowed us to stop and spend some time on one of the many beaches so we could 'take tea'. I had such a great time that I was very confident in the wisdom of my decison to go kayaking instead of taking the boat tour. That is, until one of the Swedish girls told me how they were able to actually get in the water and swim with dolphins before seeing a hammerhead shark later on the tour. Hmmmm....maybe I should have taken the cruise instead. To make matters worse, later on one of the Welsh girls told me about the dolphin swimming adventure, and then promptly added that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity...but the kayaking sounded nice. Yep, definitely should've done the tour. Oh well, hopefully they'll be plenty of opportunites to swim with dolphins later on the Tour Of The World, World Tour. Not too much happened the next two days. Just a lot of laying around and conversing with all of the different people from a wide variety of countries. Growing up in Montana and not traveling internationaly before, I haven't met too many people from countries other than the U.S. It's been great to already meet people from Australia, Sweden, Holland, England, Ireland, Slovenia, Germany, Canada, Denmark, and Brazil. Even though I do take a little flak for being from America. I've only met one other person from the U.S. on my trip so far. He's a Vikings fan and understands my pain for our 1-2 start. Although I'm pretty sure a Super Bowl title is a very real possibility for the Vikes this year since I'll be unable to be in attendance for the game if they make it there.

Heading to Auckland tomorrow, then Mercury Bay on Saturday. Not sure how long I'll be there or what happens after that.

Posted by vegasmbj 21:54 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

I Don't Want It, I Just Need It....

Warning: This is basically going to be an entry about nothing....but I'm bored and need something to do.

  • I have a deep and unyielding love for Mountain Dew. Some would call it an addiction. Whatever, potato, po...tato? Hmmm, I guess comparing two different ways to say the same word doesn't work too well in print. Anyways, its not my fault. I can still remember the notorious day all those years ago, when in my formative and impressionable youth, my sister (who shall remain nameless, to protect the guilty) offered me my first Dew. Ever since then it has been there by my side, reassuring me while also providing me with a truncated case of ADHD. A while back a friend of mine told me that they didn't have Mtn Dew in New Zealand. I laughed off the simple, nonetheless alarmingly disconcerting, remark and life continued on. After I had arrived in Auckland and began to walk around the city, I noticed that every restaurant, cornerstore, and street-side vendor did, in fact, only carry Coca Cola products. I had begun to think that my friend was not just trying to slip a hurtful barb disguised as a seemingly innocuous remark in my direction, but was indeed telling the truth. To tell the truth, I was beginning to worry that I would have to quit the Dew 'cold turkey'. However, after four days of exploring the city, I wandered into a tiny little street shop about half the size of my college dorm room and what did I find? Copious amounts of Coca Cola products. I would venture to say there was a plethora of Coca Cola products in the shop. But in a little tiny corner of the cooler, way down on the bottom and pushed to the back were three 1.5 litre bottles of liquid gold. I quickly purchased one and told the clerk that this is the first time I had found any Mtn. Dew since my arrival earlier in the week and I was starting to get worried that it was not sold in New Zealand. He must have noticed my death-grip on the bottle because he asked what land I was from where the Mtn Dew flowed like soda pop. After I told him the U.S., his only response was an 'ohhhh' that was accompanied by a look on his face that said, 'of course'. I have since been back to that store each day since to purchase my daily dosage of 'The Dew'. And every time I walk in the clerk greets me with a massive smile. I can tell that in his head he is thinking of how glad he is someone is finally buying that swill. No luck yet on finding any PBR, but I'll, of course, continue the search.
  • The locals around town seem nice enough. Although, whenever I've mentioned that I got into town the day before this massive run of bad weather commenced, they look at me weird and tell me that it must be my fault the worst storm to hit New Zealand in 20 years has picked now to show up. I'm sure they're joking though....well, pretty sure.
  • I was able to join a gym on a free 3 day guest membership. The girl that was giving me the guest membership options stated that the $70 (NZ) two week plan was the shortest they had. But after giving her my sob story of being in town for only a few days (and batting the baby blues) she relented and said she didn't see why I couldn't just try the facilities free of charge for a few days. I'm well aware of the fact that she probably would have done that for literally any person that walked through the door and gave her the same circumstances, but I'll chalk this one up to the baby blues anyways. So, I've been passing the time until the bus tour around both islands starts on Monday by walking around the city and working out a couple hours a day. One thing I've notice about walking: Most New Zealanders usually try to walk on the left side of the sidewalk. Which makes sense since they drive on the left side of the road. I started out the week by walking on the right side of the sidewalk while I was wandering around, busy looking at my surroundings and almost ran into quite a few people, causing a few awkward moments along the way.

Posted by vegasmbj 22:43 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

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