Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Paihia Week #2 – Day #6

12/26/07 – Boxing Day

Today, Jenny and I went to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to see an authentic Maori performance and then walk around to see a war canoe and the meeting house. It was a very cool performance. They did a lot of singing, and they played a game with wooden rods that they passed around, kind of like hot potato :) During some of the songs, the guys would make these faces, with their tongues sticking out and eyes really wide, to convey strength and hostility. The woman would shake their hands really fast, which represented the living and spirits coming together. They were all very good. Check out the pics:

In the afternoon, Paul, Jenny, and I went fishing. It was a little windy, so it was choppy, but we took Dramamine so we were okay. We went all the way out to where the bay meets the South Pacific Ocean, so there were some big Snapper out there. At first the fish kept taking the bait off of our lures without us knowing because the current was strong. Paul even caught a fish without realizing it! But we finally realized that they were biting as soon as our lines hit the bottom (which was 50 meters down) and we caught some good ones.

Jenny won by catching the biggest fish, but my big one wasn’t far behind. Jenny caught 2, one big one and one medium-small one. I caught 3 fish, one big one, one small one, and one tiny one that we threw back. Paul caught one fish that was medium-large. It was a lot of fun! A little windy, but not too bad.

When we got back to the wharf, our fisherman guide filleted the fish for us, but there was so much that we only took about half and gave the other half to an Australian guy who went with us but didn’t catch anything. We didn’t have much to cook the fish with, so we just sautéed it in butter. It was okay, so we didn’t eat all of it and gave the rest to the hotel owners. They were very thankful :)

The rest of the night we just chilled. Tomorrow we leave for Tauranga. Hopefully we will have good weather and be able to do a lot of activities. Can’t wait!

Paihia Week #2 – Day #5

12/25/07 – Merry Christmas!

Today we woke up and had some yummy breakfast. Then I went down to Reception to find out from Deb what the local access number was for our calling card and she said that they were making white bait with their breakfast and said she would bring us up some leftovers. White bait is this small white fish that is long and skinny and swims upstream on a local river, sort of like salmon do. Apparently it’s a big delicacy and has increased in price significantly to ~$125 per kilogram! People even guard their section of the river with shotguns where they catch the white bait because it’s so lucrative and some sections of the river are better than others!

So Deb brought us some plain white bait that had been browned and also some fritters that had white bait in them. It wasn’t bad, but it was kind of weird, so we didn’t really eat them, but at least we tried something very Kiwi authentic!

After breakfast and talking to my parents, we watched a movie and eventually played some tennis. It rained pretty much all day, but that didn’t bother us since we were just being lazy. It was a great Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Paihia Week #2 – Day #3

12/24/07 – Christmas Eve Day!

Today we went on an all day trip to the west coast to go to the Waipoua Kauri Forest. The Kauri trees are like the redwood trees in California. They are very old and although they don’t grow to be as tall as redwoods (they only grow until they are taller than the second forest canopy), they are super wide. We went to see Tane Mahuta, which is the Maori god of the forest. He is 2,000 years old and so incredibly huge. He actually has an ecosystem up in his tree limbs. He is 51 meters tall and his branches are so huge, he has like 30 plants and trees growing out of him. He is the tallest Kauri tree in New Zealand, but not the oldest. The oldest one is Te Matua Ngahere, who is the Father of the Forest, but we didn’t get to see him because he is protected.

We had a Maori guide who took us through the forest and told us of all the history. When we were at Tane Mahuta he did some prayers and singing in the Maori language. They are very spiritual. They have gods for many things, like god of the forest, god of the land, and so on, so they pray and sing a lot when they are there to say greetings to the god.

After the forest, we went to overlook the Hokianga harbour, which feeds out to the Tasman Sea. It was absolutely beautiful. On the other side of the harbour were huge sand dunes, which apparently were once in another location. At one point, there was a huge natural explosion of some sort that blew the sand dunes to the harbour. You can actually body surf down the dunes into the water, but we didn’t have time for that.

Then we ate lunch in the tiny town by the harbour, Opononi, at a little café that has really good burgers. Paul and I had a fish burger, and it was the best fish sandwich I’ve ever had! It had heaps (all the kiwis and ozzies always use the word “heaps”, like we use the word “tons”) of fish and just a little breading, and the tartare sauce was really good too. YUM!

In the town, there is a status of Opo the dolphin, who was a wild dolphin that came into the Hokianga harbour in the summer of 1955 and became so tame that kids could swim with him. He ended up dying in the winter of 1956, but before then, people would come from all over to see him. He would find bottles at the bottom of the harbour and bring them up and play with them. Dolphins are so crazy smart and playful! There was some controversy about his death. Some thought that some fishermen killed him with a little explosive that they used for catching fish because he was eating their fish. So sad.

After lunch, we drove to a car ferry so that we could drive back to Paihia on a different route to learn more history. Our driver knew so much history, but of course, I can hardly remember any of it! I have such a bad memory for those kinds of things. But we did go to this town where we saw the oldest bridge in New Zealand. It was so funny. It was about 6 feet wide and just went over a creek. It had a frame of rocks, but most of it was dirt and grass. Too funny.

There was a mother (Graces) and 2 kids (Gabby and Hester) with us on the tour, and the little girl Hester was so cute! She kept hugging me and Jenny and holding our hands. I totally want a little girl! Anyway, they made the trip more fun because they were really excited about everything.

When we got back to Paihia, we just took it easy because we were so tired from the tour. After eating a small dinner in the apartment (I was still full from lunch!), Jenny and I went down to the Village Green to listen to them sing Christmas Carols. It was a kind of strange, but fun too. One guy came out and did a rap about Jesus Christ. It actually wasn’t bad, but definitely a little strange. Then we watched Love Actually on tv and went to bed. It was a good day.

Check out our pics for the day:

Paihia Week #2 – Day #2


Today, Jenny and I went down to the wharf to find out about different activities we could book. She wanted to find out about tours to the Kawiti glow-worm caves in Waiomio and the Waipoua Kauri (pronounced Cody) forest, which is on the west coast (we are on the east coast, but it only takes about 2 hours to get to the east coast because we are at a narrow point of the north island). We found out that there were no tours to the glow-worm caves, but we could rent a car and drive down there easily. So we called one of the car rental places and it was just this woman who lives in Paihia. The car was at the airport, so she came to pick us up and take us to get it. On the way to the airport, we saw 2 wineries, so we decided to go to one of them (Marsden) on the way from the airport to the caves.

I decided that I would drive (instead of Paul, since he drove the whole time in Ireland) and it was really weird driving on the left side of the road. Luckily, the roads here are much wider and nicer than the roads in Ireland, so it wasn’t too bad. Also, it was just weird to drive in general since I haven’t driven a car in 2.5 months! So we stopped in the Marsden winery and tried a few whites but only one red. We ended up getting a Pinot Gris for me and Jenny, a Sauvignon Blanc for Paul (which has a taste of capsicum, which is red bell pepper, in it and that was too weird for me and Jenny), and 2 bottles of the Syrah. YUM! It was really beautiful there and we wanted to come back that evening for dinner, but they only do dinner on Saturday night. So sad. So Jenny and Paul had a glass of wine (I didn’t have one since I was driving) and we walked around the vineyard a little.

Here are some pics at the winery (the plant at the end was actually in the woods at the glow-worm cave):

After the winery, we drove to Waiomio to go to the glow-worm caves. Apparently, one of the towns we passed through, Kawakawa, has these famous toilets in the street that are all different shapes and made of all recyclable material (some European built them), but we couldn’t find them, so we didn’t get to see them. Oh well.

When we got to the glow-worm caves, we realized it’s just a little family operation, so one of the sons of the family were taking us on the tour through the caves. He is a descendent of a Maori tribe that found a woman in there hiding from her husband over a thousand years ago and they have inhabited the land around the cave since then.

The glow-worm caves were really cool. These worms are super tiny, like the size of a sewing needle, and just the tip of them glows. The glow comes from the oxidation of their poop! How funny is that?!? (or am I just juvenile for thinking that glowing poop is funny? :)) The glow is used to attract insects, like flies and mosquitoes, to the glow-worm’s web, which is just a few web strings that hang down vertically, but it is sticky like a spider web, so when the insect gets caught in the web, the worm just pulls up the web and eats the insect. Weird.

Our guide said that we were only viewing 30% of the glow-worms during the day, and at night 100% of the glow-worms come out and you don’t even need a lantern to go through the cave because the glow-worms completely light it up! Too bad we couldn’t see that. They aren’t open at night, so only their family gets to see it.

There are some stalactites hanging down from the ceiling of the cave that are limestone and are still growing (unfortunately some people have broken some of them off :( so sad) and if you touch the ones that are still growing, the oil on your hands could stop it from growing.

After the cave, we drove back to Paihia and did some grocery shopping and then went back to the apartment and just chilled out. Then we went to dinner and watched a movie afterwards. We are such lazy bums. We pass out early every night :)

Look how pretty it is now!

Paihia Week #2 – Day #1


Today Jenny got here! YAY! We are so excited to have her here. And the weather has really improved too, so it’s going to be a great last 2 weeks. Even though she had been traveling for 24 hours, she was ready to go, so we decided to go get some lunch at a café downtown and then go on a cruise where they take you to see dolphins and then go to the Hole In the Rock (Paul didn’t feel like going so Jenny and I just went).

It was a beautiful sunny day (don’t worry, I put on sunscreen :)) with a little bit of a strong wind, so it was a little choppy out there. I was a little nervous about getting sick (after the whole scuba diving trip craziness) but I ended up being fine. On the way out of the bay, they showed us different islands in the Bay of Islands. There are about 120 islands in the bay, one of which Captain Cook from England set his first anchor at when he was discovering New Zealand after discovering Australia previously.

Everything was really beautiful. Finally we got out to an area where they were seeing a dolphin pod (which is a group of dolphins traveling together). Usually these pods only have about 12-15 dolphins, but this pod had about 50 dolphins! They said that the pod would probably break up in a few days since they usually don’t travel with that many together, but today we got the benefit of having all those dolphins around us. And we were so lucky because the trip that had gone out this morning didn’t see any dolphins!

Dolphins are obviously very smart, and they can tell the difference between boats because of the noise the motor makes, so they get used to the boats that go out there. However, the company we went with (Kings) had just bought the boat we were on, so the dolphins were really curious about it because they had never heard it before. So they were swimming all around our boat! It was so cool! They were doing jumps, sometimes just regular jumps and sometimes they were jumping backwards or sideways, and sometimes 2 of them did several jumps in a row together, even the mommies and babies! These are wild dolphins but they were doing tricks like they had been taught them in Sea World! Amazing. They are just so naturally playful.

They even had some really young babies with them that were so cute. The babies actually have 2 mothers swimming with them, one of which is an Auntie dolphin that takes care of the baby when the mother has to go off to find food. And these dolphins were really big, like 10 feet long! And a couple of the babies were only about 3 feet long. They were too cute.

When the boat started moving faster, the dolphins would get into the boats wake, really close to the boats propellers, and ride the water that was funneling into the middle of the boat, so they were just being pulled along. They absolutely loved it! When we really started getting some speed, a whole bunch of them came into the wake, and they were doing big jumps! It was so cool! Unfortunately, Jenny’s camera had run out of batteries by that time, but I don’t think it would be possible to capture that anyway. Too bad we didn’t have a video camera.

Anyway, after we left the dolphins, we went to the Hole In the Rock, which is a big island rock at the edge of the bay (which feeds into the South Pacific Ocean). On a calm day, the boat could go through the middle of the hole, but today there was a lot of white water in there. A small boat went in and was really being knocked around, even on the other side of the rock, so we were glad we didn’t go through there. The hole was made from the ocean waves pounding against the rock because the rock is really hard but it’s brittle, so it can break off easily. There is another hole that is forming in the other side of the rock, and they said it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a complete hole.

On the way back to the wharf, we saw some other pretty islands, but the dolphins were definitely the highlight. That night we went out to dinner and then just hung out and took it easy. Tomorrow we will plan the rest of our week here. YAY!

Here are the pictures we took on the boat tour:

Friday, December 21, 2007

Paihia Week #1

12/14/07 – 12/21/07

When we flew into the Kerikeri airport (which is the biggest airport close to Paihia), we couldn’t believe it was actually smaller than the Airlie Beach airport had been! I mean, it was ridiculous. It was one airstrip and one small building with a baggage claim sign outside of the back of the building where they drove our luggage up to us on the luggage cart so we could take it off. I know the Airlie Beach airport didn’t have a baggage claim either, but this was even smaller and funnier.

Luckily, there was a shuttle waiting outside that we took to our apartment in Paihia. It was about a 25 minute drive and our shuttle driver and his wife talked to us about the things we could do in Paihia. We got to the motel and checked in and found our apartment to be very nice.

There are tennis courts across the street that we can use and our motel provides us with rackets and balls for free, so that is nice! We ended up playing tennis about 3 times this week and we actually did better than we thought we would since we haven’t played in about 6 years. One of the days we had to play with this couple staying in our motel because all the courts except for 1 were being used and we were both going to the courts at the same time. The lady was in her 40s and the guy was 50 and they were awful! At one point the guy ran up to the net to hit a ball and totally slid on the sand (there is sand on the court) and scraped his knee bad. We were hoping that would cause them to quit, but he couldn’t act like a wuss, so they kept “playing”. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore and we quit. It just wasn’t fun because they were so bad!

Other than tennis, we didn’t really do anything except take a bike ride because the weather was so bad, and also because we were waiting for my sister to come into town before we did the major fun stuff. But finally, Thursday ended up being a beautiful day, so we rented kayaks and paddled around the bay of islands. I gotta tell you, kayaking takes a LOT of upper body strength, which I don’t have much of, so it was tough. But we took a break at one point on a secluded beach and reminded us of the Corona commercial because our kayaks were chillin’ on the shore and we were sitting on the beach eating and drinking. We took pictures of it, but they are on a disposable camera because our camera won’t turn on :( so we can’t upload them until we get home and get them developed and then scan them. Totally sucks. But my sister is bringing her digital camera, so we will have pictures of the stuff we do with her, thankfully.

Anyway, after we ate on the beach, we walked down the beach (all 75 yards of it) and picked up pretty stones. Finally we got back in the kayaks (after I got my tank top completely soaked in the water trying to wash sand off my butt, and of course I got even more sand in it!) and started back to the shore. It was a long way! But we made it.

That night we realized how sunburned we had gotten. We have been so careful this entire trip, and then we totally forget to put on sunblock in the one place that doesn’t have an ozone layer above it! Can you believe that?!? Apparently New Zealand is so close to the South Pole, which doesn’t have an ozone layer, that it doesn’t have an ozone layer either, so the sun is much stronger. But of course the weather is so cool that you can’t even tell! It was in the upper 60s when we were kayaking, so you just can’t tell how badly you are getting burned. Needless to say, it’s Saturday and we are still in pain :) Oh well. You live and learn. And now we have aloe and sunblock! At least it’s cool enough that we can cover up our burns and still be comfortable.

So today my sister is coming into town and she is going to keep us very busy, which is good since we haven’t done much this week. We promise to post to the blog more often now and post pictures too. I just uploaded the winery tour pictures to the winery tour blog, so that’s something :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Queenstown Day #7


Today we went on a wine tasting tour. It was awesome. We were actually the only people on the tour, so we got really personalized service. Our wine tour guide was from England and moved here around 4 years ago. We were supposed to go to only 4 wineries, but she ended up taking us to an additional winery. The region around Queenstown grows mainly Pinot Noir grapes because it really likes the extreme cold conditions. It's also really known for growing the Pinot Gris grapes too.

The first winery we went to was called Peregrine, after a type of falcon, and we got 3 bottles from there! Our first stop! We got a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and a 2006 Rose. Typically Paul and I don't really like those types because the ones we have tried are usually not flavorful enough and are too acidic, but these were excellent.

At the next winery, Carrick, we got a 2006 Chardonnay that was really good. The next winery wasn't very good though. We really wanted to get a good Pinot Noir, but theirs were very dry and not very flavorful. But the next winery, which was not on the original schedule, had an awesome 2006 Pinot Noir. The winery was called Rockburn, and the girl working at the counter was actually from Michigan! We didn't get any wine at the last winery, but we had plenty with 6 bottles! All of which we have to drink before we fly to Paihia because we are already at our baggage weight limit :) But I don't think we'll have any trouble drinking it. They actually have some BYO (Bring Your Own alcohol) restaurants here, so we are going to take wine when we eat out.

I hope Paihia and Tauranga have good wine too! YUM!

Check out our winery pictures.

And here is a picture of the paragliders outside our hotel, our hotel at night, and Queenstown at dusk:

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Queenstown Day #4


Today we went sky diving! It was so awesome! Paul has already done it once near Lake Anna in Virginia, but I had never done it before, so I was a little nervous. Strangely, once we got to the airfield and were getting suited up and everything, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be. They put you in this harness, and my sky dive trainer partner strapped me in really tight, so I felt very secure.

The plane we had to get in was really small. There are no seats, so we all just had to sit on the ground between the legs of our trainer partners. There were 4 of us going and each of us had a trainer partner, and I was getting videotaped, so there was another sky diver taping me, which made 9 of us in this tiny plane, and that’s all that would fit. As the plane was climbing higher and higher, my trainer was showing me how many thousands of feet we were in the air, and even 4,000 feet was really high! One of the guys was only jumping at 9,000 feet, so we let him out first, and I think that’s when I really started getting nervous :)

Since we were at such a high height, they gave us these small tubes for oxygen, in case we got dizzy. Paul didn’t hear what his trainer said about how to use it, so he put it in his mouth and started sucking the oxygen from it. His trainer looked at him a little funny, and then Paul looked at me and saw that I was holding it in front of my nose, not sucking on it with my mouth! :) So he realized that’s why his trainer was looking at him funny! And he proceeded to take it out of his mouth and hold it in front of his nose. Too funny. :)

Finally we got to 15,000 feet. There was one girl going out ahead of me and once she was out of the plane, my trainer pushed me forward really fast. Then my videotape diver went out and was holding onto the side of the plane waiting for us. Then we had to get ready to jump out. I had to sit on the edge and dangle my feet out, which were blowing completely sideways because of the wind! Then my trainer rocked me and him back and forth and then pushed us out of the plane.

It was really fast, and since I didn’t have any control over whether or not we jumped, it was easy. :) The first few seconds my stomach definitely dropped because of the acceleration, but once I got to terminal velocity, it was great. My helmet and goggles were coming off a little because of the wind, but other than that, it was awesome. The views were absolutely spectacular and the rush was amazing. My videotape guy took my hand and spun us around really fast. It was really cool. We haven’t been able to get the video in a format that we can upload to the internet yet, and the video won't do screen shots right, so I can't show you any pictures yet :(

After he pulled the parachute, he kept pulling on the chute left and right to spin us around really fast. My trainer let me help pull the chute, but he was pretty much doing all the work :) It really made my stomach jump because it makes you look straight down and it’s spinning you so fast. It was so cool!

When we landed, my trainer did everything for me, so all I had to do was lift my legs and then put them down once we hit the ground. I was glad I didn’t have to do anything except enjoy it. I’m so glad I did it, and Queenstown was definitely an awesome place to do it because of the mountain and lake views. What a great experience.

The rest of the day we just chilled out because the sky diving actually took a lot out of me. That was enough excitement and activity for the day for me. I can’t believe they do it 10-15 times a day! I guess you would get used to it though. Paul said it was just as awesome this time as it was the last time, and I can imagine it would be. I would definitely do it again. It sucks that it’s so expensive!

Queenstown Day #3


This morning we just hung out in the room and made some plans. Then we went into town and went to Monty’s brewery and restaurant, the official brewery of Monteith’s beer, which is a really good local beer. We both had a really good Cajun chicken sandwich. In Australia and here in New Zealand, they say “salad” for the lettuce, tomato, and other toppings for sandwiches. The description for the Cajun chicken sandwich said it had cheese, bacon, and salad on it, and the salad on this sandwich not only included lettuce and tomato, it actually had shredded carrots in it! Very strange, but it was really good. We also had a few Monteiths beers and a shot of tequila, but they aren’t much into tequila, or anything Mexican here. I miss my Mexican food and drinks! Another good New Zealand beer is Tui’s. The beer here is definitely better than Australian beer, and we just like New Zealand better than Australia already. I mean, Australia is great, but we really like New Zealand so far.

After lunch, we went on a flight and cruise to Milford Sound, which is one of the sounds in the Fiordlands on the southwest coast of the south island of New Zealand. The flight was in the smallest plane we’ve ever been in. Even smaller than the little plane we were in when we took the little flight tour to the Grand Canyon from Vegas a couple of years ago, which had a 2-seater bench on one side, an aisle, and then a 1-seater bench on the other side. This plane only had a 2-person bench. That’s it. It fit 10 people, including the pilot! But it was more fun that way. And we picked the best day to go in terms of weather because it was in the upper 70s and completely sunny with hardly any wind. However, in areas where we were going between mountain tops, there was enough wind to push the plane up and down, so our stomachs dropped a little. It was fun :)

The views from the plane were absolutely beautiful. This area is just breathtaking. All the lakes and rivers are a deep turquoise and there are mountains all around, some with trees, and some just rocky, and some with snow on them even now. When we got to Milford Sound, we got on a big boat and took a cruise in the sound. The sound is not super long (only around 13 km) but it’s super deep (300 meters)! But the lake outside of our hotel, Lake Wakatipu is even deeper, at 400 meters, and is the 3rd largest lake in New Zealand.

As soon as we pulled out of the harbour and got in the main area of the sound, the wind picked up like crazy! It was ridiculously windy. Thankfully we brought jackets and beanies, so we kept warm. There are a lot of waterfalls on the walls of the cliffs, most of which are temporary (meaning they are only around after it has rained), and one of them was blowing sideways because of the wind. That’s how windy it was!

The sound empties out into the Tasman sea, and when we got out there, there were 2 penguins just chillin’ in the sea. On the way back through the sound, we saw a bunch of sea lions laying on a big rock. Every time we see seals or sea lions, they are always just lying around all lazy. What a life. Well, I guess they do other things too, but we never see that part :)

After the cruise, we flew back to Queenstown. When we were taking off, it was so windy that it pushed the tail end of the plane (where we were sitting) to the left. It was really funny. When we got back to Queenstown, we walked around town a little and then we went back to the hotel and ate leftover pizza from last night (it was even better cold!) and hung out.

Check out the pictures of the Milford Sound flight and cruise views. This land it just so absolutely beautiful. And so untouched.

Queenstown Day #2


Today we woke up and just bummed around for a while. We were a little slow after going out last night :) It wasn’t a crazy late night by any means, but you know, we’re getting old ;) For lunch we decided to go to Fergburger, this awesome burger place that supposedly has the best burgers ever, and they DO! They are absolutely huge (check out the picture below) and so yummy. You don’t even have to put ketchup or anything on them because they have such great toppings. SOOOO YUMMY!

Check out how huge they are!

After eating, we went to a few stores in town and went back to the hotel room to chill out for a while. Paul played World of Warcraft and I just watched tv and read and stuff. Then we went to dinner at a pizza place called “The Cow”. It was definitely better than the pizza we had last night. And these 3 guys were sitting at the table next to us and they got an order of garlic bread, which was pretty big, and they each got a large pizza! One of the guys ripped right through his pizza, another guy got through his pretty fast too, and then the third guy was definitely struggling with his. By the time we left, he was leaving the crust off of the pieces he ate and his friends were calling him out on the pieces of crust that had too much pizza left on them. It was funny. Boys are silly :)

We went back to the hotel and watched a movie (well, I watched a movie and Paul passed out) and then went to bed. We’re so crazy!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Queenstown Day #1


Today we got up and went to the airport and flew to Queenstown. It is absolutely beautiful here. Queenstown is a small town on a huge lake, surrounded by mountains, and full of restaurants and bars. It reminds us of Blacksburg :) The weather is also so nice. It’s definitely a lot cooler here because it’s so much farther south than we were in Australia, and it’s a nice change from the heat.

Our hotel is really nice and has beautiful views of the mountains and lake. Check out the views:

When we got to our room, we decided to go down to the hotel bar for a snack and a few beers before we unpack. There weren’t many people in there, so we started talking with the 2 bartenders and they were really cool. One of them, Sarah, told us about a bunch of restaurants and bars to check out, so now we have a good idea of where to hang out.

After a few beers and some yummy nachos, we took showers to freshen up and went out to eat. We went to a place called Winnie’s and had some pizza, hot wings, and beer and wine. It was great. And what’s also great about this place being so far south is how long the sun is up. It rises around 6 am and doesn’t set until after 9 pm! We were so used to getting up early and then passing out between 9-10 pm because the sun set so early in Australia, but with the sun staying out so late, we didn’t get tired early, which was nice. We actually didn’t go to eat dinner until 8:30 or so.

After dinner, we walked around the town to different bars, but not much was going on. Most bars are open really late, some even as late as 5am, so it seems like people get a late start in going out, which is kind of a problem for me since I get tired early :) but I’m trying. We went back to Winnie’s eventually, since there were actually people there, and we played some pool. Then Paul walked me home around midnight and he went back out for a few hours without me.

We decided that we like Queenstown so much we are going to extend our time here and skip Nelson, which is a small beach town at the northern tip of the southern island, which is where we were going to go sky diving, but we can have a great sky diving experience here, in the extreme sports capital of the world. YAY!

Sydney Day #3


Today actually turned out to be a nicer day, in terms of weather, than yesterday, so we were able to go to Watsons Bay today. We had breakfast in the hotel and then headed to the train to get to Circular Quay. We got on the ferry around 10:30 am and headed to Watsons Bay. It gave us a beautiful view of the entire city of Sydney. I think this would be a really nice city to live in because you don’t have to live right downtown to have access to the harbors. What’s great is that the water comes so far inland, that it makes several harbors, so you have access to the water from many places.

Watsons Bay is a really small town that used to be a fishing village and is on a very thin peninsula that separates the harbor from the ocean. The wharf is on the harbor side of the peninsula, and on the other side, there is a steep cliff face that borders the ocean. When we got off the boat, we walked across the “downtown” area (which was all of 50 yards or so) and walked up to the gap. We had to walk up some small trails to get to the cliff face, and there were some beautiful views. But it was really hot and the flies were killing us, so we didn’t stay there long. This is why we knew that doing “outback” adventures and hiking stuff would not be for us. We hate the heat, the bugs, and especially when being forced to exercise or exert effort :) So we walked back to the wharf, ate a snack and had a beer, and then caught the ferry back to Circular Quay.

Here are our pictures of Sydney from the ferry and Watsons Bay views:

When we got back to Circular Quay (it was only a 20 minute ferry ride), we had a glass of wine (it was so good we had to have it again; it’s called Cloudy Bay and it’s New Zealand wine) at the oyster bar we ate at yesterday and then we went back to the hotel and just chilled for a while. At night, we went to eat at a nice Chinese seafood restaurant that had tanks of live seafood (huge crabs and lobsters and fish!) that you could just pick out and they would cook it for you. We didn’t actually do it, but we saw waiters constantly walking by with clear bags of live seafood. It was cool. After dinner, we just went back to the hotel, packed, and watched tv.

Sydney Day #2


Today we got a late start because we had bought 24 hours of internet last night to watch the game (which we didn’t get to do), so we decided to post our blog entries and upload pictures to our web albums. Our initial plan for the day was to walk through the city to the Royal Botanic Gardens and then have lunch at another harbour, Circular Quay. However, before we left we called Claudia, which is a girl who we met in Airlie Beach and lives here. She couldn’t hang out with us, but she told us that we should catch a ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay, which is a bay off of a small peninsula that faces the ocean (downtown Sydney is not right on the ocean, it’s more inland and the water from the ocean comes inland and makes all the harbours), so apparently the view is really beautiful, especially at a place called The Gap, which is a steep rocky cliff looking out at the sea.

So we decided to take the train (which is like the metro, but more elaborate and nicer) to Circular Quay, have lunch, and then take the ferry. We ate outside at an oyster bar, which was really good (we had a shellfish platter that had crab, crayfish, oysters, mussels, and bug – yes, I said bug; weird huh? it’s like a cross between a lobster and a crab, but I like crab better), and we had views of the big bridge where you can do the bridge climb.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it (and I hadn’t before we came here), the bridge climb allows you to strap yourself into climbing harnesses and you climb with a group up on the very top of this huge bridge (we took pictures of the bridge, so you can see how big it is). We have decided not to do it because it’s super expensive (~$200 each) and we have so many other things to see and you can’t take cameras up there, so we would have to buy pictures anyway! While we were eating lunch, huge storm clouds rolled in and all the groups on the bridge climb started racing down the bridge. It was pretty crazy to watch. Thankfully, they made it down before the rain came, which was extremely heavy, so we went inside the restaurant to wait it out.

By the time the rain passed, it was pretty late, and we had actually missed the last ferry to Watsons Bay, so we decided to walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens and go to Watsons Bay tomorrow. The Royal Botanic Gardens were really pretty, but what is up with the flies in Australia?!?! In Airlie Beach and here, the flies have been really aggressive. They land on you constantly, and fly in your ear. It’s so annoying!

Anyway, after walking through the gardens, we took a break in the hotel room and then went to eat dinner at a sushi restaurant. It was really good. After dinner, we went back to the hotel room and just lounged around. Of course, we went to bed early again :) Seems to be a common theme with us now. But that’s fine with me. Tomorrow we’ll get up early and catch an early ferry to Watsons Bay. It’s supposed to be cloudy tomorrow, but hopefully it won’t rain.

Here are the pictures we took of the harbour and the botanic gardens:

Random thought:
How to spot an Irish person: The “h” eating “t’s”.
Apparently, Irish people don’t know how to say the “th” sound, so they would say 3:30 is “tree tirty”, or more likely “half tree” (Europeans and Australians would say “half three” for 3:30 instead of saying “three thirty” or even “half past three”). However, Irish people do know how to say the “sh” sound, so it only seems to be the t’s that eat the h’s :)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sydney Day #1

12/1/07 – 12/2/07

On Saturday, December 1st, we were set to fly to Sydney. Unfortunately, we waited too long to try to book a shared taxi or bus, so we were going to have to pay at least double to hail a cab. Fortunately, at the internet café where we have been doing all of our internet stuff (which has been about 4 hours every day), the tech support guy was heading home and he lives close to the airport, so he took us! We were so grateful.

So we checked in for our flight, went through security, and sat down to wait for the flight. I think I told you how small this airport was when we first flew into Airlie Beach (there are no baggage claim belts, they just put your luggage on one of those luggage carts and drive it to the side of the airport building for you to take off of the cart), but I just have to reemphasize how tiny it really is. It is just a small building with two counters for checking in, two security screening areas, a two “gates”, both of which are half inside and half outside, so when we were waiting outside, we were being eaten alive by bugs! We thought the Key West airport was small, but that was nothing compared to this.

Anyway, while we were waiting at the “gate”, they announced that the flight was cancelled because a crew member had been hurt (which we found out the next day was because they had turbulence coming in and she fell down and hit her head and had to go to the hospital! – but thank goodness she turned out to be fine), so we had to stay overnight and get on the flight the next morning. We had to wait for a long time, but they finally were able to book everyone in hotels and got buses there to take us to the hotels. Thankfully, we got one of the nicer hotels (some people got crappy motels), and this place was really nice. Too bad we couldn’t enjoy it since we didn’t get to the hotel until 10:30 and we were being picked up at 6:45 the next morning, but it was still nice.

So the next morning, we got on the plane and got to Sydney. It was a beautiful day, sunny and in the low 70s, so we checked in and decided to walk around. We walked down the street and ate outside at this little Spanish tapas place (by the way, Sydney is going to be all about food for me :)). We had lightly fried calamari, artichokes marinated in a creamy vinaigrette, and scampi-like shrimp. It was all really good. And we had some really great sangria. What a great way to start Sydney!

Then we walked down to Darling Harbor, one of the many harbors in Sydney, and walked around. It really is a beautiful city. They have crazy fountains everywhere and a lot of landscaping, so there is a lot of green and beauty within the city (plus all the water, of course), which makes it so much nicer than when it’s all just buildings and concrete, like so many of the European cities. We walked to the Aquarium and walked around there looking at all the different types of salt and fresh water creatures. It was kind of sad because so many of the enclosures and tanks were so small! But some of them were pretty big, like the big oceanarium where they had all the Great Barrier Reef sea life, so we got to see again some of the animals we had seen when diving there, so that was cool.

After the Aquarium, we walked along the harbor and went to a couple of bars to just chill out and have a couple beers. It was really nice. Our plan for tonight was to stop by a kabob and pizza place on the way back to the hotel to get some pizza, stop and get some beer from a liquor store, and then watch the recorded ACC championship game in our room (the internet is really expensive here, but we figured it’s worth it). Unfortunately, when we got online, the game wasn’t available to watch! So we saw the score (30-16 – GO HOKIES!!!) and watched the highlights. It looked like such a great game! We are so mad we missed it! And, go figure, the Orange Bowl that we’ll be playing in is on January 3rd, and we’ll be in the air coming home at that time! But don’t worry, my parents will be taping it and we’ll watch it recorded.

Tomorrow we plan on walking through the city to one of the parks and then to the Royal Botanic gardens, which look absolutely huge on the city map in my guidebook. Then we’ll walk to a different harbor and have some good food. YUM!

Check out our first set of pictures of Sydney:

Liveaboard Great Barrier Reef Dive Trip

11/19/07 - 11/23/07
In our third week of being in Australia, we decided to take a 3 day/3 night liveaboard dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef to do a bunch of dives. The trip left out of a city called Townsville, so we actually had to take a 4 hour bus ride up there on Tuesday morning and hang out until the boat left, which wasn’t until 10:30pm. The trip included 10 dives, 2 of which were night dives and 2 of which were wreck dives. The reason we had to take a trip out of a different town than Airlie Beach is because most of the dive trips there go to the Whitsunday Islands’ reefs and not the Great Barrier Outer Reef. The Whitsunday reefs are nice, but that’s where we got certified for 3 days, so we really wanted to go to the outer reef, and since this dive trip had so many dives, it was the best value for the money.

We got on the boat around 9:30pm or so and staked out a cabin that we could have all to ourselves. We were pretty exhausted from our travels all day, so we went to bed right around the time the boat was leaving the docks. The wind was pretty harsh, about 25 knots, so the water swells were pretty bad. At times, I felt like I was going to be thrown out of the bed, so it made it hard to sleep. Eventually, probably around midnight, Paul and I both had to use the bathroom, so we got up and went. That was our biggest mistake.

Leaving the bed and going up to the deck to go to the bathroom really accentuated the rocking of the boat, and both of us began to feel sick. I had taken a Dramamine before we had gotten on the boat, but it wasn’t doing anything for me at this point. We both got back into bed, and Paul took a Dramamine to see if it would help him, but I was beyond help. I ran back up the ladder and shouted to someone for a bucket. I ran out on deck, took the bucket, and sat down on the soaked deck and puked my guts out.

It was awful. I have never been that sick in my entire life. And for those who know me well, especially in college, any of the times I got sick from drinking, even the time in Bahamas when I had the ulcer, was nothing compared to this pain. I spent the entire night out on the deck, half the night actually sitting on the deck, which was continually drenched with water since the deck had holes along the sides of it for drainage and the boat was rocking so badly. At times, so much water came up on the deck that it completely drenched me from head to toe, which I guess wasn’t too hard since I was sitting crouched on the deck hugging the bucket :) Halfway through the night, I was able to sit up on the bench so that I wouldn’t get soaked anymore, but that’s as far as I could move until we actually stopped and put down the anchor at the reef. The crew was very nice and kept watch over me from their bunks all night, which is all they could do for me.

Thankfully, the wind died down during the day and over the next 3 days, so I started feeling better that day (thanks to ton of Dramamine I took) and didn’t get sick again the rest of the trip. Plus, we went on a dive right away Wednesday morning, and being under water made me feel so much better than being on the boat. The one problem was that I could barely swallow because my throat was so raw and swollen, so I couldn’t really eat all day and barely drink even water, so it was a rough day. Even over the next few days and once we got back to Airlie Beach, my throat was still hurting, though it got better each day. I think now, a week later, it finally doesn’t hurt at all.

Despite how awful that was, it was totally worth it in order to experience diving at the Great Barrier Reef. It is absolutely beautiful there. So much sea life, and the coral is gorgeous. In some spots, the coral covers the ocean floor and creates big walls. One reef spot we went to was actually called “The Maze” because there was just a maze of coral that you had to swim through. We saw huge clams, barracuda, all kinds of beautiful fish both huge and tiny, some reef sharks, sea turtles, rays, and a sea snake.

The wreck dive was definitely the highlight of the trip, which we did the last day of the trip. The wreck is a ship that sank in 1911 because of something that happened during a typhoon, but they don’t know what happened because their radio on board was broken. Ironically, the purpose of their trip was to get their radio fixed. The ship sank to about 30 meters on its side, so one side of the ship starts at 18 meters and the other side is resting against the ocean floor at 30 meters.

When we got certified a few weeks ago, we got an Open Water certification, which only allows us to go to 18 meters by ourselves. The advanced course allows you to go to 30 meters, but we didn’t want to be taking a course while on the trip, so an instructor on the boat that was taking a couple of advanced students to the 30 meters for their course took us down too so that we could log ourselves as having a deep dive with an instructor, and then we were able to do the second wreck dive by ourselves. When we were down with the instructor, he showed us an empty water bottle he had brought down with him that was completely crushed from the pressure of the water. Then he cracked open a raw egg he had brought down and showed us how it didn’t spread apart because of the pressure of the water. Then we had to write our names 3 times backwards while he timed us to show us the effects of nitrogen narcosis, which are nitrogen bubbles that form in your blood when you are at such deep depths. After the dive, he timed us again and showed us how much faster we could think at the surface than under that much water. It was pretty cool. Of course, Paul didn’t have much trouble with it since his name is so short! :)

The wreck was really cool. Over the years, it has become an artificial reef because coral has grown all over it, so there were all kinds of huge sea life everywhere. All the fish were absolutely ginormous, except these tiny little neon yellow fish that were following us around and crowding in front of my goggles :) We think they were doing that to take a break from swimming because the current was so strong, they had to really move their tail fin to not be swept away. We couldn’t even make it to the front of the ship (the dive started at the back of the ship) because the current was so strong. However, we still got to see so much cool stuff swimming by us that could actually fight the current. We saw a huge eagle ray which has big black spots on its back.
(this is from the internet, and so are the next 2 pics, but since we didn't get pictures of these, we wanted to show you what we saw)

We also saw some big barracuda

a sea snake that was about 6 feet long (but he didn’t care much about us)

a shark sleeping in the bottom of the ship (we’re not sure what kind of shark it was, but it had a rounded nose and a thin tail), and Paul saw a huge Grouper that he almost ran into because it blended into the color of the ship :) It was so cool. Definitely the best scuba trip we have ever taken and definitely worth me getting sick the first night :)

Unfortunately, despite the fact that I have such an attention to detail for most things, sea life is not one of them. Every time we got back on the boat and started talking with people about what we had seen, I could never remember the details of any of the sea life. I knew I saw a big yellow and blue fish but couldn’t remember the exact markings, or I knew I saw a ray but didn’t realize there are a bunch of different types of rays and I had no idea what the shape or color of the ray was that we saw :)~ Fortunately, Paul was much better at that than I am, so he remembered a lot more and figured out that we had seen a couple of different kinds of angelfish, and the rays we saw at the Yongala was an eagle ray (we still don’t know what kind of ray the other one was that we saw at the reef), so that was cool.

This trip was so incredibly awesome, that we decided not to go on another dive while in Airlie Beach because it just wouldn’t compare to this trip. So, for the last week in Airlie Beach, we just hung out and I did some work. We were supposed to go fishing, but we decided to save that for New Zealand when my sister is with us because she wants to go fishing too.

Check out our pictures from the trip. Again, unfortunately, they aren't super clear, but they are cool.