My Travel Map

My Travel Map

25 April 2006

Sharks, roos, and didgeridoos

Hard to make out...but this was just too beautiful and perfect of a shot to keep out. That is a rainbow with Sydney's sky tower inbehind and a massive Aussie flag over Darling Harbour (I'd recommend copying and pasting into a photo editor to zoom in).

Here is your stereotypical shot of Sydney...the Opera House and Harbour Bridge from a place in the Botanical Gardens called Mrs. Macquarie's chair. Mrs. Macquarie was a wife of one of the governors of the then penal colony of Australia. The Botanical Gardens (which are MASSIVE) were used as their private garden, and Mrs. Macquarie enjoyed going out to a bench cut into the rock at this point jutting out on the harbour. I must admit, she had great taste...the views of the harbour from there were absolutely stunning. The water is a deep and vibrant blue and the city (which wasn't really there then) is still quite green...beautiful.

My new second most favorite animal: the platipus. Dolphins would still be first.

For Missy and Shona, Little Penguins...the smallest (and cutest) type of penguin in the world!!! They were awesome and quite active in the water. The Sydney Aquarium was a great experience overall...definately a must do in Sydney.

Sharks at the Aquarium...oooo scary!

One of the many spectacular views from the ferry ride out to Manly Beach. These views alone were worth the Aus$12 for the trip...the amazing beach and chill town at the end of the ride are just added bonus!

Manly Beach. This place is my kind of place...beautiful beach, clear and warm blue waters, and great surf, which is why I am returning there tomorrow actually. Manly Beach was named by some early explorers when they saw some very masculine looking Aboriginees on the shore there. Weird eh? Anyway, the beach is spectacular and the town is really cool too. Lots of surf shops and tons of souvenir places but also many cafes and diners too...all with that relaxed surfer atmosphere...very cool. I even got to see a genuine didgeridoo-off in one of the stores! These two guys were taking turns rocking out on the amazing instruments, both trying to outdo each other with the deep, harmonic sounds...sooo cool.

Here were two guys jamming out on their didgeridoos at Circular Quay. They were playing the traditional sounds on the doos, but in the background was a very modern drum and synthesizer beat...it was an awesome combination. I sat and enjoyed them for quite sometime...hard to believe that such an amazing sound can come out of a piece of eucalyptus tree that has been hollowed out naturally! I will definately have to buy one of the many Aboriginal music cds before I leave here...I love the trance like feel to the music (the good relaxed kind of trance, not the drug induced, epileptic kind).

Today I wandered down to the Sydney Fish Market, which is the second biggest in the world after Tokyo's. It was unreal how many fish and other sea creatures were on display inside...all diferent colors and shapes and sizes! I also had some amazing sushi here...so fresh and sooooo good.

Sydney

Hey everybody...so I'm quite upset at the moment. I spent about 30 mins last night putting up a new post, at the very end, I was running out of time. When I clicked on the post blog button, the internet decided to go through a slow period and of course my internet timer did not. So it did not post. I had some great pics too. I will have to update those again tomorrow.

So for those of you that haven't figured it out yet, I am in Sydney, Australia and absolutely loving it. I have been very busy so far. On my first full day here, I went to the botanical gardens and wandered those, with their amazing views of Sydney Harbour and the Opera House and bridge. I then wandered to the Opera House to check it out before going to Circular Quay to catch a ferry to the Toronga Zoo. I spent the rest of the afternoon there with a brief detour through central Sydney on my walk home from the quay.
The next day, I went to Darling Harbour, Chinatown and the Sydney Aquarium, which was incredible...even better than the zoo in my own opinion. Following that, I wandered down to one of Sydney's older areas, the Rocks for some great cafe and pub life and a weekend pedestrian market on one of the main streets. It was awesome, and more to come on that with the pics.
Today was ANZAC, which is Aus and NZ's form of Remembrance Day/ Veteran's Day. It is also a day when all Aussies get absolutely plastered. So it was cool to see the massive parade of veterans that totally shut down central Sydney as well as all the Aussie spectators being so patriotic. Anyway, more to come with the pics.

22 April 2006

Whoa who is that guy?

Opera House

Looks to be like some hungover koalas at the Toronga Zoo...a quick ferry trip across the Sydney Harbour

Missy, this one is for you...a sleepy wombat
a lazy kangaroo...these animals have it made eh???

Beautiful view of Sydney across the harbour from the Torongo Zoo. This was at the bird show venue, which was amazing. The crafty Aussie zookeepers somehow managed to train all these different types of native Aus birds, from cockatoos to owls to eagles, to fly very close over the top of the crowd and do various tricks...amazing for sure!
More to come soon!

18 April 2006

Entering Fiordland National Park...
So here are the pics I promised...they are a lot because I had so much time to cover and I have also been very busy in the last week. I hope you enjoy them as this post has taken quite some time (and money)...voila.

You can't really read it, but those crafty Kiwis wrote the sign in the middle of the lake in mirror so that it reads correctly in the reflection in the water...it reads: Mirror Lakes. This was one of our many stops throughout Fiordland National Park.

No, that tree is not upside-down...and no the mountain is not (technically) either. That is actually the reflection of a mountain in one of the mirror lakes...cool stuff.

Lets all thank the last ice age and its receding glaciers for carving out these amazing valleys and peaks that make up Fiordland National Park...THANK YOU ICE AGE GLACIERS!

A lush river valley.


See...waterfalls down sheer cliff faces...is that what you all pictured from my description?
It's hard to show that these are thousands of feet high though.

yet another waterfall

Ok, this one might take a magnifying glass...but the small white specs against the far off peaks (near center of pic) are actually huge ferries capable of carrying hundreds of passengers...trying to give a sense of scale here. This place is huge.

Whoa...who's that?? I snapped this so that you can all see I am alive and don't have a massive shaggy beard or anything.

Milford Sound (actually a fiord)....and this is just a picture.
I can't immagine a more grand and majestic place.

The Franz Josef glacier. I wish the bright icy blue of the top would have turned out...oh well.

The Franz Josef glacier. Notice the two small dots amongst the rubble in the mid-bottom-left part of the picture...they are people walking up to the face. I took this pic just under 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the face of the glacier...yea the thing is huge. The coolest part is that it is surrounded by rainforested hills.

One of the many one-laned bridges we crossed (they have a ton of these in NZ)...this one was picture worthy however because both lanes of traffic also had to share the bridge with the trains...and there was no gate at either entrance....pretty unique and unusual I believe.

One of the bus stops had this lovely walk to some amazing rock formations...the Punakaiki Pancake rocks...cool eh?!?

This is the walkway to the Barn, the hostel I stayed at in Marahau (at the top of the South Island), a one minute walk to the entrance to Abel Tasman National Park and one of the highlights of my NZ trip. The pics are a bit out of order, but they turned out well and you should get the idea.

Yes, that is a tractor in the water. It is coming out with a trailor to pick up the water taxi. The water was only about a meter deep here and the taxi could go no further. The crafty locals therefore employ the tractors. The Tasman Bay experiences the most extreme tides in NZ. They can be up to 4 meters difference between high and low tide, that is more than 12 feet!!! So massive patches of beach and sand are revealed and then resubmurged based on the tide.

A local landmark, Split Apple Rock.

Kayakers in the Bay. For quite some money (more than I could afford), one can rent a kayak for the day and get taxied out to one of the many islands that colonies of seals call home. The seal pups are very playful and often times actually jump up onto kayaks. It is supposedly an amazing experience...one that I will have to do when I return.

Part of the beach at Bark Bay...this is where I got dropped off by the water taxi for my hike. I cannot possibly capture the beauty of this beach. The sands of Abel Tasman are a golden color from small bits of rust in the sand. That, combined with the perfect aquamarine blue of Tasman Bay and the bright vibrant greens of the forested hills, make this place so amazingly beautiful.

Bark Bay campground...right between the beach and the lagoon...and one of my new favorite places in the world. I can't wait to come back here with more time and spend 3-5 days just camping and hiking this amazing park.

The Falls River mouth.

One of the lagoons as seen from the coastal track hike.
I believe this one was Frenchman Bay...lucky Frenchman, I'd say.

One of the many beaches and tidal lagoons in Abel Tasman. This was Torrent Bay and it is one of the few places in the park where there are still houses from when people started developing the place before it got National Park status. So some very lucky people get vacation homes in this amazing park...but it comes with a NZ$4,000,000 minimum price tag...I'm still jealous.

The valley before entering into the Abel Tasman Park...my hostel, the Barn, was back in that, surrounded by farmland...nice. It was a lot like Club Masa in Fiji...a place I could easily just lose myself at for weeks and months in the timeless beauty and laid-backedness of the place.

The rocky beaches of Kaikoura...another of my favorite NZ spots...there are mountains, beautiful blue ocean filled with wildlife (nearby are whales, dolphins, and seal colonies), and the best fish I have ever tasted.

15 April 2006

Glaciers, glowworms, and bus rides...

Hey everybody, so the last three days have been incredibly busy to say the least. On the 13th (Thurs), I made a day trip out to Milford Sound, which is famous for some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth. It truly was too. I cannot post any pictures from the computers here in Nelson, but as soon as I can, the pics will be on here...and they are amazing. I got very, very lucky with the weather! It had rained in the morning in Fiordland Park (where Milford Sound, which is actually itself a fiord, is) and then cleared up for the afternoon when we arrived...so that meant that there were hundreds, and I am dead serious when I say hundreds, of waterfalls cascading the down the thousands of feet of sheer rock walls that wall in the fiords. I was glued to the window of the bus for the entire ride, and we even got to get out and walk around at some of the particularly beautiful spots. Wait for the pics...they will be nothing like the real thing, but I'm sure they will make everyone want to go! It was surreal!
So yesterday I got the bus from Queenstown to the Franz Josef glacier. It was a great bus ride through yet more amazingly beautiful countryside. We stopped at a fruit market in the middle of New Zealand's best fruit growing region...delicious and well presented for certain. We passed by a bunch of old war planes that were the stars of an airshow for the weekend in Wanaka. I got to see plenty of blue turquoise glacial lakes and rivers surrounded by snow capped peaks. Then after passing over the divide, we drove through the rainforested hills and mountains that make up the west coast of the south island. The best was the surprises awaiting me at Franz Josef town. I was only passing through for the evening, getting in at 4:30 PM and leaving the next morning at 9:00 AM...so I wasnt expecting to see the glacier at all. Fortunately for me, the last shuttle to the glacier trailhead left at 4:45 and I was able to catch it! The glacier is huge and surrounded by lush rainforest...more to come with the pics. Then to add the icing to the cake, I found out about a free night hike in the area to see glowworms (something that many many people pay a premium to see here in NZ). The glowworms were amazing! Imagine standing in pitch black forest and then all of the sudden seeing all of these pinpricks of light all around you. Like a ton of little cities in distant hills or stars in the night sky...beautiful and amazing for sure.
Today was the long haul up the west coast from Franz Josef to Nelson (at the top of the s. island). The west coast was rugged and incredible...yet more amazing scenery. Then we made a turn inland to go more into the center of the island and followed the river they used for the Great River in Lord of the Rings...pretty cool stuff. Anyway, I'm in Nelson now and should have some great pics coming your way...enjoy and look for more soon!

11 April 2006

Queenstown and Bungy!

This picture does little justice...but what I was trying to convey was that no matter where you look in Queenstown, there are these amazing mountains! Landing at the airport was incredible too. It was quite cloudy when we flew in, and all the sudden bam, we pop out of the clouds at around 7,000 feet or so and we are over this large valley with a lake totally surrounded by mountains (some higher than the plane is at this point). The plane then goes into a downward spiral for its final approach...wild.
Queenstown itself is very, very tourist oriented. There are soooooo many foreigners here, even a lot of the locals are originally from overseas somewhere. I can see why they moved (or just stayed) here though; the town is beautiful and there are tons and tons of things to do. Qtwn is also the thrill seekers capital of NZ, with all your extreme activities like skydiving, bungy jumping, valley swinging, street luging down a mountain, and white water rafting...and that isn't even half of what they offer.
I must say that I like Qtwn the most so far just for its laid back, calming atmosphere and amazing scenery. I was lucky though, the weather was amazing today with clear skies all around. Perfect for my first bungy jump...

The Remarkables: Queenstown's nearest mountain range. The Southern Alps here in New Zealand are so different from the Rockies. They are so much more dense (as in amount of mountains in any given area) and steep and craggy. They are also a lot more intimidating to look at for all of these same reasons. I can't imagine climbing these like I did the peaks of Colorado.

The view across Lake Wakatipu from Qtwn's city center. Sooooooooo beautiful. The lake is pretty cool too. It is really, really deep and super clear.

This was my view of the Remarkables from the airport when I first landed. It is no wonder these were used as some of the Misty Mountains for Lord of the Rings. Once again, the sheer magnitude and majesty of these mountains cannot be captured with a camera.

This afternoon I took a walk through the botanical gardens, seen here across the lake. The Kiwis are very good at many things, two of which being scenic overlooks and beautiful botanical gardens. Most of NZ's towns and cities have both of these things. Queenstown's are particularly stunning though due to the mountainous backdrops.

That little speck in the middle of the canyon (at the end of the bungy of course) is a person. This is where I did my bungy, the Kawarau Bridge site. This is the "Original Bungy Site" and it was AWESOME! The fall is 43 meters which works out to just under 150 feet, and you even get to dip in the river at the bottom of your first bounce. I wasn't nearly as scared as I thought I would be up there, and when it came time for it, I just jumped...easy really. I got the dvd too with the movie of my jump for those of you that would want to see it when I get back!

10 April 2006

Taupo and S. Island plans...


Right, so I'm back in Auckland and enjoying the super-cheap internet once again. From Wellington, I caught a bus up to Taupo. Taupo, pronounced Topau thanks to the Maori accents, is a little town on New Zealand's biggest lake, Lake Taupo. The town was pretty nice and the lake...well it was a lake, but these are not at all the reasons why anybody makes the trip there.
Taupo is famous for its extreme sporting possibilities as well as some amazing hikes. First and foremost, Taupo has some of the best, and cheapest, skydiving in the world. I didn't throw myself from a speeding plane at 15,000 feet, but at only NZ$ 150...it was really, really hard to pass up. Plus you get one of the best views in the world... New Zealand laid out underneath you with the lake and Tongariro National Park, which brings me to my next point. Tongariro National Park is home to the very popular and famous Tongariro Crossing hike. The picture above is just some of the scenery you get along this trek (the pic is not my own, however I did see these three massive mountains from the bus going by the park on the way to town as well as across the lake in the distance). And if that volcano in the middle looks familiar, it is because it was used as Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. Speaking of the Lord of the Rings, if that landscape looks at all familiar, it is because it was used for Mordor in the Lord of the Rings.
Now we all know I am a huge fan of LOTR, and this hike was the main reason why I made the journey to Taupo. Unfortunately, the weather decided not to play along with my travel plans, and the weather would not permit any hikers on the peaks in the park (winds exceeding 90 kph and extreme cold temperatures....). So I got to spend two days wandering town in the cloudy and rainy weather. Lovely. So I was pretty bummed out about this, but oh well, I can't change the weather.
Tomorrow I am off to Queenstown and the rest of the South Island, where hopefully the weather will be more agreeable (at least on the days I plan to do more hiking...pleeeease!). I also skipped doing a bungy in Taupo because I will be doing my bungy jumping in Queenstown (IF the weather allows that is). Other plans for the S. Island (weather permitting) are a day trip over to Milford Sound in Fjordland National Park, a night at the Franz Josef Glacier, a day hike along the beaches and through the forests of Abel Tasman National Park, and a day and a half in Kaikoura (and maybe a whale watching trip there as well) before returning to Christchurch and flying out to Australia. Those are the plans, but who knows how things will actually go! Wish me luck (or just good weather)!

08 April 2006

Wellington

Wellington is the capital city of NZ and it lies on the very southern tip of the north island. As you can see...it is a really really beautiful city that wraps around the harbour. I shortened my stay there to only a day and a half in order to get to the south island sooner, but that was definately a bit of a sacrifice. Wellington appealed to me so much more than Auckland did. The city is super pedestrian friendly, as you can see from the picture below of one of the pedestrian only streets. The city is loaded with cafes, bars, restaurants, internet cafes, music stores, and second hand book shops! I really enjoyed my day in this city.
When I woke up in the morning, the first thing I did after breakfast was a trip to Te Papa, NZ's national museum. It was a great place that reminded me a lot of Toronto's science center. I particularly liked the Maori section. Afterwards, I followed a fellow travelers advice and made the hike up to Mt. Victoria, one of the many mountains that surrounds the harbour. It was a hell of a hike but well worth it for the view (see pic above).

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the city streets. In the evening, another Canadian guy and I went to one of the local bars to enjoy a Super 14 rugby game. The Super 14 Union is made up of teams from NZ, Aus and South Africa, and the people love it.


05 April 2006

New Plymouth and trip to Wellington

A pleasant garden and view from the cafe we stopped at on the way to New Plymouth. North Island hill country in its prime. Everything is so green; I'm sure the Irish would feel quite at home here. The cafe was awesome too. One of the interesting things here in NZ is that they actually farm deer. Yes, deer. It is really weird seeing a flock of sheep, then a bunch of cows, followed by a large group of deer all in their own respective fenced areas. So that got me thinking, and at the cafe, sure enough, I got to have a deer burger. It was mmm mmm good and farm fresh too.

Once again...the North Island's hill country...aka the Shire.
This pic was taken from the bus on the way to New Plymouth from Auckland. It cannot at all convey how beautiful it was.

So in New Plymouth, I found myself wandering and stumbled upon this amazing park! It is called Pukekura Park and the community is quite proud of it, for good reason too. It was beautiful, with lots of lakes, streams, hills, and paths for walking or running. It also had a slew of native New Zealand flora, which is rare and I will discuss more in detail later. There was also a little zoo and playground for children. It was a really nice surprise, and totally free!

This is a shot of the famous New Zealand silver fern. If any of you have ever wondered why the Kiwis use that white fern on everything (like their Olympic and other national sporting uniforms), it is because of this plant. In this pic, I'm turning one of the ferns over to show its very bright silver/white underside. It really is incredible, and I was shocked to see it all over the park. Anyway, supposedly, if you are tramping (hiking) in NZ and get lost or hurt, simply turn these ferns over along your trail or around you. Those searching for you, both on foot and from the air, can see the overturned ferns very easily and use them to track you down. So there you go; learn something new every day!


After tramping around for the morning in the park, I walked along the ocean walkway that New Plymouth is also famous for. The surf was incredible and I wish I had more time there to find a good surf shop to rent from, although I did see some guys out there and they were wearing wet suits...so maybe it isn't too bad that I missed the cold water.
This pic is sunset at New Plymouth. Notice the sea swells...it was pretty calm in the evening, but they were breaking at even 12 second intervals during the day...its no wonder this is such a popular area for surfing.

And finally, Mt. Taranaki! It is so wild how this one lonely mountain dominates a massive area around it. If you look at a map of the North Island, you can see that the lower left corner is quite rounded. It is almost a perfect semicircle because of this mountain...wild. The locals are very proud of their mountain as well. Most of the tourists that venture to the area are there to climb (or get a chance to climb due to weather) this very lonely volcano.