Sunday, September 28, 2008

Australia - Queensland

Our couchsurfing hosts Jason and Jenene were kind enough to pick us up at the airport in Brisbane and treated us to a delicious dinner at their house. The next morning they took us round the sights of Brisbane, the river City-Cats helped us get around quickly and cheaply. Before sunset we squeezed in a trip up to Mount Cooth-tha to get a better view of the city and the river meandering through it.

The next day we stocked up on supplies for our trip up to the Whitsunday Islands, such essentials as sun-screen, board-shorts and an underwater disposable camera! As we were going to be on a boat for 3 days we thought some extra food would be needed to keep us going in case the rations were a bit stingy. I get cranky if I don't get enough to eat!

Our flight up to Airlie Beach was short and sweet. When we arrived our luggage was driven out on little baggage carts and left for everyone to rummage through searching for their bags! Even the most primitive airports I've been to have had carousels, this was a first for me! The boat was leaving fairly early the next morning so we had an early night.

At 8.30 the next morning we were waiting at the marina with our one green re-usable shopping bag each of clothes, a six pack of 'Tooheys New' and a 4 litre box of 'Crisp Dry White' wine, better known to other travellers as 'Goon'. Other green bag toting people (everyone was given one) floated up over the next half an hour until our full compliment of 12 shipmates had arrived. Quick intros we made before we all made our way onto the boat. Our baggage disappeared below decks as we lounged around waiting to be allocated our bunks. Anna and I had booked a shared double meaning we should have had a room with a double bed in as well as a pair of bunks to be shared with others. When we were called below we were given the only private double one the boat, as the two Dutch couples wanted to stick together. Worked well for us!

Over the next three days we had a blast, sunning ourselves, chatting with our shipmates, snorkelling every day, eating loads of tasty food prepared by 'Daimo' our Ozzie boathand and being taken to some breathtaking places by 'Fabian' the boat's Captain. The snorkelling was world class. Every spot Fabian picked for us was different and fully of marine life. There was an abundance of hard and soft living coral in a myriad of colours. Fish of all shapes and sizes, parrot fish, clown fish, bat fish, wrasse as big a dogs! and some many more I couldn't begin to name them all. The highlight though was watching a green turtle being cleaned by fish only a few metres from our faces. He didn't mind being watched one bit and took his time, probably wondering why a huge school of black skinned fish were watching him ( We had to wear wet-suits thanks to stinging jelly fish and corporate greed).

All too soon we were back on dry land and feeling a little land sick as everything wasn't moving with the waves any more! It was a great trip, although I'd not recommend the 'Goon', it's called that for a reason...

Back in Brisbane we had a bit of a faff picking up the car. I won't go into details but will just say, if you ever hire a car from Avis make sure you print out the confirmation of the price they agreed before you go to pick it up. Otherwise they may try to double it just to keep you on your toes and then laugh at you... Thankfully we had Jason and Jenene to rescue us and all was eventually sorted out. We now have a massive Mitsubishi 380 VXR about four up from what we requested. It's rapid to say the least and more than once I have nearly been caught speeding! Can't push it too much though as it drinks fuel as quick as you can get it in.

We had a nice day out at the Australia Zoo, home of the unfortunate Steve Irwin. It's a bit of a shrine to him now but still a pretty good way to spend a Sunday. The Koalas were pretty cool they just hung out in trees looking completely wasted, funny. The croc show was spot on too. After the zoo we cooked a thank you dinner for Jason and Jenene before a marathon session of 'Flight of the Conchords'. We were sad to leave but we needed to continue on if we are to get to Adelaide by the 5th of October. Next stop New South Wales and Byron Bay...


Sunday, September 14, 2008

New Zealand (South Island)

Another soggy greeting awaited us in Picton as we docked in the South Island Ferry terminal. We stayed the night in at a nice hostel in the town so we wouldn't have to drive any distance in the dark..

We'd booked a whale watching tour in Kaikora a couple of days later but the weather wasn't playing ball at all so we ended up driving to Christchurch earlier than expected. It was a particularly dicey drive. The so-called main roads in New Zealand are little more than sealed single carriage ways. When the rain hasn't stopped for several days the hills at the side or below the road often give way and either cover the road with debris or leave gaping holes where the road once was! Several times we were forced onto the opposite lane to clear such obstacles. Flooding also made the drive interesting, thankfully we were in a rally bred Mitsubishi Lancer Station Wagon and it coped superbly with all nature had to throw at us! The road was closed the day after we got through so another stroke of luck meant we weren't stranded in Kaikoura for days!

We only stopped a night in Christchurch before following the better weather reports further south and west to Queenstown via Lake Tekapo. The weather still didn't play along with our plans, Lake Tekapo was covered by a low level cloud that totally obstructed our view of the famous Mount Cook and neighbouring mountains. The drive to Queenstown wasn't quite as tough as the previous day but it was a long one (about 6hrs). There were a few hair raising moments as we crossed the Lindis Pass thanks to ice and grit on the road. As we got closer to Queenstown the weather started to clear and it continued to be fine for the few days we stayed there.

Queenstown is NZ's capital of adrenaline junkie sports, there are untold options to nearly kill yourself and part with bucket loads of hard-earned travel cash. We took the fairly restrained approach and went skiing for two days. Anna hasn't skied much at all so she took lessons the first day, while I took myself around the Cardrona ski area. The runs were really good and not too overcrowded. After two days we were seriously tired and stiff thanks to no preparation and two hour round trips to the mountain.

As the good weather was continuing we decided to head to Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park. We took our time the next day driving the 2 hours up to Milford Sound to catch the last boat trip of the day to avoid the bus tours from Queenstown.

We spent a night in Wanaka after Te Anau, but there wasn't a lot going on there so we continued the next day to Franz Josef. On the road there the weather turned again for the worse and it didn't stop raining for the next 3 days, which was all the time we could realistically spend waiting to climb the glacier... So with a single sad glimpse of it through thick cloud we continued up the West coast to Greymouth. We stayed at a lovely big old hostel called Noah's Ark which was warm, welcoming and deserted, so we chilled out with the hostel's golden retriever puppy with full control of the TV (a real coup when staying in hostels!).

To get to our next stop, Hamner Springs, we had to cross the snowy Lewis Pass. After stopping for a quick snowball fight we warmed ourselves up in the thermal hot pools that Hamner is famous for. We spent the evening in the cosy hostel playing board games with a group of kiwi and aussie girls.

As the weather forecast was looking good in Kaikoura we made a beeline back there to re-schedule our cancelled trip. When we awoke the morning of the trip it was a glorious sunny day, not a cloud in the sky. We checked in for the trip. Then came the announcement 'The Boat Captain has cancelled the 10:00 and 10:30 trips due to wind and large swells...'. It looked like we wouldn't get to see whales after all. Gutted. As we were collecting our refund the lady suggested we try 'Wings over Whales', which was only $15 more than the boat trip. So we headed to the i-Site, booked ourselves on the 11:00 flight and sped to the airport for take-off.

The 8-seat prop-plane, took off and began its search pattern almost immediately. Looking down on the vast expanse of ocean below us covered in white crested waves I wasn't convinced we'd see any whales. After nearly 10 mins of the 30 min flight we still hadn't and I wasn't hopeful until the pilot pointed into the distance where two helicopters were circling. Our plane joined the dogfight over a black streak in the water. Finally, a sperm whale! I wonder what they must make to the flying circus above them every time they surface? We stuck around long enough for him to dive back into the depths. Then almost immediately the three fliers joined again in a spiral over a second whale. This time we didn't wait for the dive, there was a third just a bit further away. The helicopters stuck with the second so we had plenty of time over this one on our own. We had to wait a while until he eventually dived to feed again. It was a great experience to finally get to see these amazing creatures.

Satisfied, we drove down the coast to Christchurch for the remainder of our time in NZ. We had a nice day out to Akaroa the French colony and spent an afternoon at the Arctic experience with the Little Blue Penguins, a mock arctic storm room which was chilly to say the least.

5000+ kilometers and a month since we picked it up we gave the car back to the lovely people at Backpacker Campers. Even though the weather has been rubbish and we've not been able to do all we wanted to, it's safe to say New Zealand is an amazing place and we look forward to returning. Next time will be in the Summer!!