Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Just a quick post wishing everyone a very Happy New Year and wonderful 2010. No pictures for this post as we're using an Internet terminal at the New Zealand Alpine Club and there's no wireless to upload our pictures from our laptop.

Although we had the option of WWOOFing over New Year's we decided instead to spend it at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. We spent New Year's Eve at the Glencoe Lodge, one of the lodges in the park. We didn't realize it had a Scottish theme until at New Year's there was a big speech by a guy in a kilt with a sword (his combination of Scottish and New Zealand English was completely unintelligible) and then a rendition of Auld Lang Syne set to bagpipes. Then it was back to our dorms for the night!

We're headed towards Queenstown and Milford Sound today. The beauty of the South Island is amazing. The weather has been pretty good actually. The West Coast was raining (sounds familiar :-) but once we crossed over into the Eastern side it's been sunny and nice. Super windy, but we were able to do a nice hike yesterday up to the Sealy Tarns and across a suspension bridge above a glacial river. Oh, and caves! We did a river walk through a cave that took us 45 minutes! There was no natural light so we used our headlamps to navigate up and over boulders and through waterfalls. We'll post a full report with pictures soon!

Have a safe and happy New Year's!!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Where do we start?

First of all, apologies to our families for not contacting anyone over Christmas. We are safe and had a fine, albeit interesting Christmas weekend. The reason for the silence was that we were WWOOFing out in the country where our cell phone didn't work, the Internet was dial-up that was ridiculously slow even for dial-up, and although we could have used the phone (and should have!) we were kind of scared to ask our hosts...let's back up a bit to explain.

We arranged to WWOOF at a pizza cafe and bar in Westport, on the West Coast of the South Island. Little did we know when we signed up that it would be so isolated and that it would be run like an East German compound. Petra and Jack, the German owners were quite stern and even though their English was pretty good they were somewhat uncommunicative and we were often unsure where we stood with what we were doing.

We're pretty sure we would have left much earlier if we'd had our own car. We felt trapped without a car, but even if we'd gotten away we were unsure where'd we go during the Holidays on such short notice. The West Coast is very rural and we knew from looking at the bus schedule before that it ran very infrequently, especially during the holidays.

We were going to title this post "WWOOFing in Hell", but that would only be true if Hell had good food (and beer). Our first in indication of how the place was run was when Jack picked us up at the bus stop (a gas station) and we went immediately to the grocery store to stock up the bar.

I was pushing the above cart around, trying to be polite to the stares. "Yep, just getting ready for Christmas", I told other shoppers. And this was just the grocery store (and the beer cart - Jaimee was pushing the wine cart), we next went to Liquor Land to get even more beer and hard liquor.

Then when we chatted with him about our other WWOOFing experiences and we mentioned "four hours of work a day" he said, "Oh, that is just a recommendation." As it turned out they pretty much expected us to work all day doing outdoor stuff, then help in the kitchen in the evening. But they never really said that so we weren't sure. One day we did only work four hours but got a really chilly reception that evening.

It was a weird place. Not just the East German vibe (they actually had a friend who was doing some carpentry work for them who had spent some time in an East German prison for trying to escape to West Berlin 25 years ago) but also their favortism for this French WWOOFer who was some sort of permanent unpaid employee. She was weird too - she drank tea in the morning out of a soup bowl and could hardly speak English but was the only one allowed to wait on customers (I got lectured once for serving two guys drinks at the bar, even though I charged them and put the money in the till). And don't get us started about the espresso machine (which I was yelled at for trying to use), or calling Jaimee "bloody stupid" for catching a mouse in the dining room during the dinner rush but releasing it instead of stomping on it to kill it (she actually got a round of applause from the dinner patrons for catching it).

Also, the accomodations were quite rustic. Here's Jaimee posing in the outdoor shower:

And, to top it all off, the police came looking for us! We were working in the kitchen and I noticed that a police car drove up. Petra went out to see what he wanted, and then came in to get me. I thought maybe she needed someone who spoke better English, but it turned out he was looking for me and Jaimee! When we hadn't contacted Jaimee's Mom and Aunt over Christmas they got worried, and using our last GPS coordinates from our Spot page they called the Westport police to have them check on us. Luckily we were right where our Spot said we'd be. We then snuck away to call Jaimee's family and told them we'd be more diligent about checking in either with Spot or via e-mail. Our habit had been to check in with Spot only when we changed locations but we'll try and do it more frequently so no one worries...

However, our stay at Jack's wasn't all bad - as mentioned, the food was very, very good. Petra made excellent fresh bread nearly every day, the pizza was yummy, and usually they would offer us beer (except for the day we only worked four hours - No beer for you!) Also, we did meet a lot of interesting local characters, and walked to the beach and chatted with some gold miners we met there:

But, we've moved on now. We got a lift into Westport today (Jack needed to buy more beer), and even though it's "Boxing Day Observed" we were able to rent a car (we had to call them and they opened up especially for us and rented us the last car they had). We're going to explore the West Coast on our own for the next week or so. Prior to going to Jack's we had tentatively lined up another WWOOFing gig for New Year's weekend but we'll have to decide if we want to do it now or not...WWOOFing does save us money (we spent zero dollars during the past week), and when it's good, it can be very good. We got a super nice e-mail from Craig, our last WWOOFing host and it cheered us up to know that we'd made a good friend. But, as we've experienced, when it's bad, it can also be quite bad...

Here are the pictures from our stay:

WWOOFing at Jacks

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Note about Christmas Gifts

Not that we are seeking out Christmas gifts, but some have been asking what we'd like for Christmas this year. It's a cliche to say that this trip is gift enough but it's true. We're having the time of our life and are not in want for anything else.

But if someone really wanted to get us something we decided we'd love gift certificates. Jaimee and I are both big readers so we can use the gift certificates to buy books during our trip.

How will we order books from during our trip? Well, before we left we bought a Kindle from The Kindle is Amazon's electronic book reader. I was intrigued with the device when it first came out, but never considered getting one because we are both huge library users and would usually read most of our books from the terrific Seattle Public Library. However we didn't want to carry a lot of books on our trip and days before we left the US Amazon released a new version of the Kindle that works on the cellular network of over 25 countries. What makes the Kindle unique is that you can order and download books without using a computer. You connect via cellular reception and the book is downloaded directly to your device (or you can connect the device if you don't have cell coverage). The Kindle has been great. Jaimee and I have both now read several books on it.

I especially love how you can download samples - often when I have free time I'll browse and download samples of all sorts of books.

Anyway, if you'd like to contribute to our reading pleasure, click here. (Use our joint e-mail as the recipient address.) The only thing we'd ask is that you also give us a book recommendation to go along with it. (You don't have to give us a gift certificate - feel free to leave book recommendations in the comments too - we're always eager for new reading ideas.)

Speaking of reading, we've been very busy on our trip so haven't had as much time to read as I thought we might (isn't that always the case?) but for those that are interested, here are the books that we've read on our trip so far since we left Seattle on August 15:

The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3), by Philip Pullman. The last of the series, the first two being The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. We listened to this on CD during our US road-trip. The series is a great audio choice; it's unabridged but it uses a full cast of actors for the different voices. We read (listened) to this series when we were looking for something new after reading all the Harry Potter books.

Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World, by Tyler Cowen one of the main bloggers at Not what I thought it would be at all and very hard to encapsulate. He combines autism, computers, economics, religion and politics together in unexpected ways. Recommended, but I'd understand if you couldn't get through it.

The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Another audio book that we listened to while in the US. The author of one of my favorite books of all time (The Shadow of the Wind) returns with another mesmerizing tale. Highly recommended. We were sad when the book ended.

Driving Like Crazy, by P.J. O'Rourke. Subtitled, "Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-bending Celebrating America the Way Its Supposed to BeWith an Oil Well in Every Backyard, a Cadillac Escalade in Every Carport and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Mowing Our Lawn" it's a collection of essays O'Rourke wrote about cars. He reads the audio version himself. Several of his stories involves taking road trips and at one point when we were listening to the book in Arizona, he was relating a story that took place only a few miles from where we were.

Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. I'd wanted to read this since I first visited Moab, Utah and saw the beautiful scenery in the Utah desert which is where this memoir/long essay takes place. It's now one of my favorite books and I would definitely consider reading it again.

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, by T.R. Reid. The first book I read on the Kindle, it's about a man who goes around the world searching for a solution to a shoulder problem he's having. Along the way he discusses the different ways countries handle health care. I enjoyed it quite a bit, although it gets somewhat repetitive in that every new country presents another opportunity for him to bash the way the USA handles health care (not that it's undeserved, but I didn't need a recap every 25 pages or so).

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, by Jon Krakauer. Another Kindle book that Jaimee and I both read. You can't go wrong with Jon Krakauer; I've read everything he's written and enjoyed them all. Pat Tillman was the NFL football player who enlisted in the Army after 9/11 and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

Thanks for the Memories, by Cecelia Ahem. We found this book at the first place we were WWOOFing in New Zealand. Irish author, set in Ireland and London about an American professor. Supposedly it's Chic Lit but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1), by Stephenie Meyer. Speaking of Chic Lit. What can I say? I downloaded the sample chapter (it's a generous sample so I think it included about three or four chapters) to the Kindle and told myself I would only read it if I liked it. Forks, Washington plays a large role in the book and having been there several times it was fun to visualize the locations (which were pretty accurate). The teenage romance stuff? A bit much at times.

The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education, by Craig Mullaney. This is a memoir about a West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar who served in Afghansistan. I got this once from the library but didn't get to finish it before having to return it. Jaimee and I are both read it on the Kindle.

Pomegranate Soup, by Marsha Mehran. I picked this off the shelf at the WWOOFing place we're currently staying at. It's a novel set in 1984 Ireland involving three Iranian sisters who open a restaurant in a small Irish town. Each chapter begins with a recipe that is central to the upcoming chapter.

And I'm currently reading:

Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, by Paul Horwitz. I browsed through this book at a book store a long time ago and always wanted to read it. Now, after visiting a few of the places that Cook went in Australia and New Zealand I thought it would be fun to read about his journey. Although the Kindle does display pictures (and you can rotate to landscape for easier viewing) it does need some work on image viewing. I miss seeing a larger map of Cook's travels which I remember was on the inside cover of the paper version.

Jaimee has read the following books not mentioned above:

Strip Jack and Black and Blue by Ian Rankin.

Casino Royale and From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming.

New Moon (The Twilight Saga, Book 2), by Stephenie Meyer. We borrowed this from Galit in Brisbane (and we're carting it around until I finish it and then return it to her.)

The Shark Net, by Robert Drewe. Jaimee found this where we WWOOFed. It's about a serial killer in Perth, Australia.

And she's currently reading Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3) on the Kindle right now (literally right now).

A weekend away

After getting a ride into Auckland with our last WWOOFer's neighbor, we spent a night in Auckland at a hostel before catching a 12 hour bus ride to the south of the North Island. The ride went through some beautiful scenery but because we kept getting behind schedule we didn't get to stop at any one place for very long, and the one time we did stop for any duration, we got out to stretch our legs and got back on the bus to find our seat was now occupied by a quite large woman and her daughter. We explained that she was in our seats (even showing her our water bottles that we left in the mesh net on the back of the seats) but she didn't care. So...we had to ride the last eight hours not next to each other and not by the window. (The bus was a double-decker and our original seats were on the top by the window.) It was a little bit annoying, but such is life with long-distance bus rides. At least I loaded up the iPod with my favorite podcasts before leaving (although I'm not sure listening to five hours of podcasts about the financial crisis helped my mood much...) Jaimee entertained herself by reading three-quarters of a real page-turner.

In any event we arrived in Wellington, had a quick beer at the pub in the train/bus station (we needed it!) and caught the train out to the town of Upper Hutt to meet Brian, the Harley Davidson-riding kiwi who Jaimee's aunt and mom met last August when he was cruising through Idaho.

Brian is a awesome, although not exactly your stereo-type New Zealander. About the only thing typical is his business - he runs a fencing company, which I assumed meant farm fencing for the numerous farms around New Zealand. But, no, he said he does mostly commercial jobs that require tall barbed wire fences, like prisons. He also rides Harleys (he leaves one in Montana for his frequent visits there) and collects muscle cars (there were three Cameros, two Mustangs, a couple of Ford pickups and a Corvette, among other cars I couldn't identify in his garage). He fixes them up (even converting the driving side in some cases) and re-sells them. Who knew there was a market for 1980s Corvettes in New Zealand (or that there were so many prisons that needed fencing)?

Brian lives above his garage/work shop, which is decorated quite interestingly. Here I am working on the blog:

But we didn't stay here long. In the morning we went out to his land (he owns about 700 acres which he's subdivided and hopes to develop). Continuing with the WWOOFing theme, we helped him replant a tree, although if this was a real WWOOF situation we would have dug the hole by hand. Instead we used Brian's tractor:

After this task (and a cup of tea, of course) we drove a couple hours up the coast to his bach (pronounced batch) which as mentioned previously is like a small cabin or weekend home. His bach was a bit rustic, but the setting was phenomenal, literally across the street from the beach. The weather was a bit blustery for a swim, but we enjoyed walking along the water and playing with his three dogs by the beach. We also drove out along a beach road to a light house and seal colony.

We also got to do some work on the grounds (mowing and cleaning up). Once we tell people about WWOOFing I think they think it means that we want to work. We didn't mind, although the grass was pretty unruly and long and the mower kept stalling out by choking on the grass.

Now we're back at the workshop, but leave early in the morning to take a train back to Wellington, a ferry across to the South Island and then a bus to the town of Nelson. We'll check out Nelson (it's supposedly the sunniest place in New Zealand) before heading to our WWOOFing hosts in Westport on Tuesday.

Here are all the pictures (don't miss the one with the American Flag!):

A Bach Weekend

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Almost like leaving home again

We've had such a nice time WWOOFing here in Mangawhai that it's hard for us to leave. Although our hosts Craig and Jeanette welcomed us to stay through the Holidays with them, we've decided that as tempting as the offer is, we've got more things to see so we're heading south tomorrow morning.

We had a lot of fun here. The work wasn't too bad, and we got to see some beautiful areas of the coast. We went on a cliff walk in Mangawhai, part of Te Araroa - a 3,000 km long trail that covers the length of New Zealand. The entire thing isn't open yet, but the section we hiked was beautiful.

Only the cliff part is part of the trail but we made a loop of it by hiking along the cliffs and back along the beach, stopping for this picture along the way:

Craig's neighbor is giving us a ride to Auckland in the morning (he has to go there for business anyway) and then Friday morning we're taking a bus to Wellington, the southern point of the North Island. There we're meeting up with Brian, an acquaintance of Jaimee's mom and aunt in Idaho. (He travels to the states each year to attend the Sturgis Motorcyle Rally, riding through Idaho which is where they met him.)

Brian invited us to spend the weekend at his "bach" somewhere on the coast near Wellington. Then early next week we've lined up another WWOOFing gig on the South Island coast near Westport. It's been hard to coordinate WWOOFing around the Holidays as New Zealanders travel extensively during the Holiday period; the entire country is essentially on vacation. In fact, commercial trucks are not allowed on coastal roads from this Monday through New Year's weekend.

But our next WWOOF place is a farm/hotel/pizza restaurant so they are open and busy during the holidays. Not sure what we'll be doing but they want us to show up next Tuesday.

So, we're on the move again; it will be good to travel again after being here for over a week...

The pictures of our WWOOF stay are here:

WWOOFing in Mangawhai

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Making ourselves at home

As we said at the end of our last post, we are doing our second WWOOF gig and so far it's going great! Our host, Craig told us "to make ourselves at home" and we've had no problem doing that. Especially since our schedule is to work one full day (which we spent weeding the decorative garden along the driveway) and then one day off, the morning which we spent out fishing with Craig and his friend Gibby. We had to get up at 5AM but it was super beautiful out on the water at that time of morning.

Craig is a great guy - he looks like John Goodman and acts like he's from Texas. He's a libertarian organic farmer. In other words, he loves to recycle and compost but doesn't want anyone to force him to do it. He also hates Al Gore, Michael Moore and doesn't know what to think of Obama yet. He's the first New Zealander we've met so far that likes Americans (compared to Australians who generally like Americans). This is especially in contrast to our last WWOOF hosts who didn't really hide their animosity to America. In fact from 2001 to 2003 they refused to host American WWOOFers because of what George Bush was doing.

But, enough politics...let's talk fishing. Today Craig took us out in his boat to the bay nearby to literally fish for our dinner. We've been having fish every night so far, and since his stock was running low we went fishing (you don't need a fishing license, he pointed out). I hadn't fished since I was a kid and Jaimee hadn't fished since she was 18. It was surprisingly easy - we used poles with three hooks each and we just dropped the lines to the bottom and waited for the fish to bite. I reeled in this Snapper (which goes for $30/kg in the store):

We definitely have enough fish for the rest of our stay here (which will probably be through the weekend or Monday).

The weather has been outstanding too - mid 70s with a slight breeze. Jaimee got a slight sunburn while working outside and my allergies have been pretty bad, but otherwise we're safe and sound and really enjoying ourselves.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A lightning tour of Northern New Zealand

As mentioned previously, we rented a car for a few days to go on a tour of the northern part of the North Island of New Zealand. We didn't really know where we were going except that we were expected back at our next WWOOF hosts by Monday evening.

We rented a car in Warkworth from the chattiest rental person ever - he told us that the USA used to drive on the "correct" side of the road until Henry Ford for some reason put steering wheels on the left-hand side of the car. He also insisted on going over all of New Zealand traffic laws before letting us part with his Toyota Starlet (we learned that you can only get a Starlet if you import it specially to New Zealand) rental, as seen here by a bush along the ocean:

As it turned out we ended up driving 850 km (530 miles) all the way to the tip of New Zealand and back. We used our Spot device to check-in at various points of interest and I created a map with some of the photos geo-tagged to where we took them here.

We actually had great weather for this trip - lots of sun with clouds scattered around but no rain. Northern New Zealand is beautiful. It's super rural with lots of little towns and beaches around every corner. It reminded us of Whidbey Island in Washington.

Here's the link to the full album of our trip:

Northland Whirlwind

We are now in Mangawhai Heads for another WWOOF stint. It's a beautiful setting - olive groves and a small farm amongst rolling hills. There's also a swimming pool and hot tub. I'm not sure what the work will be like though as our host asked us if we'd "done much concrete work before." I guess "organic farming" can take many shapes around here. And he drank a low-carb beer before jumping in the pool to get his exercise. We should be in for an interesting time...

Friday, December 4, 2009

On the road, briefly

We've finished our first WWOOF "job" and have lined up another one that starts Monday night. Until then we've rented a car to explore the Northland region of New Zealand's North Island.

The weather the last few days has been quite rainy - one storm dropped almost 4 1/2 inches in about 12 hours. Luckily our hosts found us indoor work: Jaimee cleaned and sterilized new vinegar bottles and Asa cleaned old olive oil bottles in preparation for a new batch.

We also were there for the last sheep birth: it was a set of boy and girl twins.

Here's the link to all the photos from our stay at Puriri Flat.

WWOOFing in Warkworth

Monday, November 30, 2009

Life on the farm

Just a quick update, but we're still at Puriri Flat Vineyards and still having a great time. We're falling into a nice routine of working half days, and we realized that we've now been here for seven nights straight which is the longest time we've been stationary since we started our trip.

Our hosts Doug and Jean-Ann are kind enough to rotate the tasks so we don't get bored. We've done a variety of different activities so far: mulching, weeding, making fertilizer (it smells!) and filling a retaining wall. We even got to dig out and move (or shift in NZ-speak) a lemon tree. We also had a moment of sadness this morning: one of the lambs born last Saturday was unable to nurse, and despite some bottle-feeding by Jean-Ann it didn't make it and died this morning. The cries of the mother sheep were quite sad and loud.

There are several lambs on the farm and one more pregnant ewe. Here's a quick shot of some of the sheep in the first pasture (before we herded them to the upper pasture):

We're here through Saturday, and we don't know where we're going after that. We've sent some e-mails to other WWOOF farms but haven't heard back yet. Maybe we'll have to call some of them to line up another farm stay.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A WWOOFing Thanksgiving

As we write this, it's Thanksgiving Day, which of course means nothing in New Zealand. Also because of the timezone/international date line, it won't be Thanksgiving in the US until tomorrow. However, we're having a blast on our farm.

As some background for those that don't know, WWOOF stands for Willing Workers World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The idea is to link up farmers with workers. You buy a year-long membership to each country you want to WWOOF in and you get access to a database of farms that take on workers. We decided in the beginning to try it for New Zealand (we're open to trying other countries later in our trip, but we only bought one membership thus far. We didn't do it in Australia because we figured we'd have other stuff to do there). As mentioned previously, we sent out some requests and Doug and Jean-Ann of Puriri Flat farm said we could stay/work with them.

Jean-Ann picked us up at the bus station in Warkworth (about an hour north of Auckland) and we went to their farm. It's on a beautiful hill (nothing flat about their farm at all) overlooking a tidal river.

There were two choices for accommodations: a small house with bunk beds or a semi-permanent caravan (trailer) at the top of the property. We chose the caravan as it contained a double bed and was unbelievably cute as well as being private.

So far we've worked two days. Breakfast is at 8AM, we start work at 8:30, have tea (Doug is originally from England) around 10:30 and then go back to work until 1PM. After lunch we are free to do whatever we want in the afternoon. Lunches have been sandwiches or leftovers, but for dinner Doug or Jean-Ann cooks up something yummy.

Thus far the work has been manual labor type stuff. The first day we cleared and mulched brush along the side of their driveway (it rivals my Uncle Neil's driveway for steepness - although this one is made of cement sections). Today we took wheel barrow loads (33 loads to be exact!) sideways across a hill to fill in a retaining wall. It would have made a perfect Amazing Race task as it required teamwork to keep the wheel barrow from falling over and was also very tiring. Phil would be proud - we didn't drop one load!

Today Doug gave us a ride into Warkworth, although we have to hitchhike back. Their farm is about 10km from town, although they said people hitchhike all the time so we shouldn't be worried.

One other quick note: Doug showed us pictures of all the other WWOOFers who'd worked on their farm (they've been doing this since 2001 and have had probably close to 100 groups come to work, taking pictures of each person for their book) and we felt very unremarkable. They've had Japanese who've brought sushi-making materials, a philharmonic clarinet player who gave a concert in their yard, a fifth-generation mason from England who built them a stone wall and artists who've done beautiful artwork for them. Jaimee has some funny stories about autistic kids to share and I was able to chat with him about which band of service to use for his cell phone (GSM vs UTMS). Not sure how memorable we'll be. Although it has only been two days so we'll see what we can come up with.

We're scheduled to work here through December 5, and I sheepishly asked if they work on the weekends, and the answer was, "If you're staying here, yes" although the days might be shorter. We'll see...

Monday, November 23, 2009

More about Auckland

We're loving Auckland. As we noted, Auckland reminds us a lot of Seattle so we're very comfortable here. On our second day we took a ferry trip out to the island of Rangitoto, a park reserve about a half-hour ferry from the city harbor. It's an old dormant volcano and reminded us a lot of Wizard Island in Crater Lake National Park. It was a nice climb to the top where there were great views of the city. The day was kind of overcast and hazy but it was still a nice outing.

Yesterday evening our couchsurfing host, Young, had some people over for dinner and games at his apartment. There was also a french couple, Estelle and Christophe, who were couchsurfing with Young as well for the night. This couple has been traveling for almost three years, biking their way around the world. They started in France, biked across Europe, through India, Iran and Pakistan, into China, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia and Singapore. They then spent about a year in Australia before coming to New Zealand. They had some cool stories and were surprisingly laid back about all their travels.

Young also invited his neighbors over, Christine, an American who went to high school with Young and the first New Zealanders we met, Bronwin and her daughter Cass. The french couple made a lovely quiche and Bronwin brought a yummy salad. It was a wonderful evening hearing stories of everyone's travels. Interestingly, of the non-Americans, only Christophe had been to the US (once to New York City). (Christophe's biking jacket reflected from the flash - we tried "photoshopping" it out but only made the picture worse so we left it.)

We're leaving Auckland in a few hours to catch a bus to our WWOOF farm in Warkworth. We don't know what the Internet will be like there, but assuming we can connect we'll post our impressions after a few days.

Here are the pictures we took while in Auckland:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Seattle of the Southern Hempishere

We left Australia and flew from Melbourne into Auckland, New Zealand. Based on first impressions only as we've been here less than 24 hours, Auckland is a great city. It reminds us of Seattle in many ways. We mentioned earlier in our travels that we thought Austin, Texas was the Seattle of the South, well, Auckland is like the Seattle of the Southern Hempishere. This time though, the comparison has more to do with the climate and geography.

We took the airport bus from the airport and arrived at our couchsurfing accomodations. Our hosts were two guys, one born in Chicago and the other born in England who had both lived here for about three years. They were pretty well traveled and we enjoyed talking with them about places they've been and places we've been. It was also fun to talk to them about our impressions of Australia and the differences between Australia and New Zealand.

We got up this morning and the sky was overcast, drizzling a little and about 55 or 60 degrees - which would be typical for a Seattle spring day. We're staying in the Eden Terrace neighborhood of Auckland which is very similar to Capitol Hill in Seattle. We walked into downtown and crossed an overpass that was surprisingly similar to Pine Street and Boren in Seattle:

The downtown is right on the water and is full of coffee shops, bookstores and other stores similar to Seattle. There's even an island close to Auckland (Waiheke Island) that by description sounds very much like Vashon Island. We even saw a coffee shop named Seattle Espresso:

Then, the cost of two bagels with cream cheese and two coffees was $15, just like we'd pay at Mr. Spot's Chai House in Ballard. To be fair, if we paid $15 in Seattle we'd get lattes, and with the favorable exchange rate, $15 NZ dollars is about $10 US. The exchange rate is actually helping us here. Australia was terribly expensive with the US dollar being worth less than $1.10 Australian. Here a US dollar is worth about $1.35 or so New Zealand dollars, and so far the prices seem pretty comprable to what we were paying in Australia. So, this is good news for our stay here.

We've also lined up a WWOOF host for next week. It's about an hour north of Auckland in a town called Warkworth. They grow olives, grapes and lavender. Not sure exactly what we'll be doing yet but their website is here. We'll be sure to post what that experience is like after we get there. We don't go there until Tuesday afternoon so tomorrow we will look around Auckland some more, maybe even take a ferry ride somewhere.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Roadtrip Over

After 20 days of traveling up, down and around eastern Australia, we returned the Wicked camper van today. We drove 5,293 km (3,289 miles) and stayed at 16 different places along the way. We checked in with our Spot GPS over 60 times during our trip and we were able to compile them together into the map below.

Map created by SpotAdventures

The last stop was an overnight trip to Phillip Island, about two hours south of Melbourne. We went to the Penguin Parade, where you can view wild penguins returning to their burrows after feeding in the ocean. There were over 1,000 penguins marching across the beach (not all at once - they go in groups and the whole event takes about 45 minutes). Since the penguins breed in stages we got to see penguins of all ages, including super furry baby ones. We were not allowed to take pictures for fear of disturbing them but Jaimee did snap a picture of a chocolate penguin at a chocolate factory:

Phillip Island is kind of weird that way. There are wild penguins on one part of the island and less than five miles away is all sorts of kitchy touristy stuff, including a "grand prix" race track. Also, the Penguin Parade itself was really built up (think Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon but much worse). Hundreds of people view the penguins each night and they sell all sorts of junk in the gift shop, including pop corn, candy and snacks for during the viewing. But apparently the penguins don't mind, just so long as you don't take their picture!

On the way back from Phillip Island we stopped in the Melbourne beach suburb of St. Kilda and met up with our friend Lisa from San Francisco. We hadn't seen her since we stayed with her in California during the second week of our trip. She's here visiting her sister, who like Jaimee's sister Michelle also studied abroad for the semester at the University of Queensland. It was fun seeing Lisa again and sharing travel stories and impressions of Australia (mostly positive).

We are back with Nan and Pop for the next couple days with not much planned. We may go into Melbourne tomorrow or Saturday before our flight to New Zealand. We're very much enjoying the suburb of Newport/Williamstown. We went on a walk tonight around a lake near their house and saw a few different kinds of birds, including, apparently not that rare black swans.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Driving Around Melbourne

We arrived in Melbourne yesterday with Michelle, and as we mentioned we are staying with Yael's grandparents, Nan and Pop. It turns out that Nan and Pop are two of the nicest people we've ever met. They are pure heart and excessively generous with Michelle and by extension us.

Not only did they not bat an eye when we mentioned we might be staying until Saturday when we leave for New Zealand, but they were sad that we weren't staying longer. Today they took us on a drive around the entire Melbourne bay, starting from their house in Williamstown, going out toward Geelong and Queenscliff, taking a ferry across to Sorrento and driving back up to Melbourne to drop Michelle off at the airport by 4PM. We actually didn't stop very often because Pop was concerned about getting Michelle to the airport on time. But we did take this picture on Arthur's Seat State Park near Dromana:

We're having a blast hearing old stories that Nan and Pop tell. They both grew up right after the Great Depression (which even hit Australia pretty hard) and were definitely shaped by World War II. We had no idea how involved Australia was in World War II before speaking with Pop and since Pop was in the Australian Navy (in the Navy band) he has quite a few stories about the war and the years after it. It's also fun to hear the perspectives of someone who has lived in the same house for over 50 years and how things have changed around them.

We've definitely enjoyed meeting locals on our trip and we put Nan and Pop on the top of our list of favorite people we've met so far. Tomorrow we're headed to Phillip Island for the day and night (our last night in the van!) before coming back to Melbourne for a couple days.

Here's a map of Melbourne - Phillip Island is to the bottom right of where this map is centered, below French Island. We hope to see wild penguins and have a look around at the other stuff on the island.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Climbing Kosciuszko

As mentioned in our previous posts we planned on climbing Mt. Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia on our roadtrip from Brisbane to Melbourne. Well, we're happy to report that we succeeded!

Continuing from our last post, we drove south down the coast toward Sydney and camped at Crowdy Head National Park, a secluded ocean-front park. We had to drive about 10 miles on a dirt road to get to the camp ground and since we didn't see any other vehicles we thought we'd have the campground to ourselves. We were surprised when we turned into the campground and it was pretty full. And they charged $10 per person per night! This is in contrast to US National Parks which almost always charge only per site, and never more than say $20. But, there were free showers which we took advantage of the next morning. We also enjoyed watching the kangaroos interacting with the other campers:

The next morning when we drove around Sydney we got stuck in quite a bit of traffic. There are a few toll roads in Australia but very few of them take cash; you need a transponder in your car to ride on them. Since we didn't have one we had to take surface streets around Sydney. Eventually we found our way out of the city and started heading west toward Mt. Kosciuszko.

We camped at a rest stop outside Australia's capital, Canberra, which is also near some of Australia's wine country. We were able to visit a winery on our way the next day but some of the other wineries we tried to visit were closed, as was a brewery! I guess it's sort of "shoulder season" here between Winter and Summer.

We got to the Mt. Kosciuszko area which is a National Park, even though there are several ski resorts inside the park. (As a side note, you have to pay per day to enter the park, which was $16 per day per car. Unlike the USA where paying a National Park entry fee generally allows you to stay for seven days.) We parked the van in a secluded spot where we had kangaroos and pygmy possums visiting us during the night.

We drove up to Charlotte Pass (one of the ski areas) to start our hike. It was a pretty easy hike, walking along a flat trail that used to be a car road. The hike was 18km (about 11 miles) round trip with about 468 meters (about 1500 ft) of elevation gain. It was really beautiful scenery. Here we are at the top:

It seems most people who climb Kozi (as they call it here) take a chairlift part of the way up. But not us. Plus, it cost $29 each to take the chairlift!

The drive from Kozi into Victoria and Melbourne took us another day and a night. We camped by a river and after a long day of driving today arrived in Melbourne in the afternoon. We're staying in Williamstown, a cozy suburb of Melbourne at the grand parents of Yael. They're super nice and plan on showing us a few sights around here the next few days.

Here's a link to the rest of the pictures of our Kozi hike.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On the road down South

After picking up Michelle in Brisbane we headed to Galit and Brian's house for the night. Galit is Yael's sister (Yael and Michelle grew up together although Yael was actually born in Australia). We met Galit before when we went to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary as she's the vet there.

Galit and Brian have two amazing Great Danes. They are probably the biggest dogs we've ever seen. Here's Otis trying to slobber all over Michelle:

In the morning Otis and Indigo wanted to come with us in the van, but Jaimee wouldn't allow all that slobber. (Actually they didn't really slobber that much but for dogs that size even a little is a lot!)

Then we were off! Our first stop was the beautiful beach town of Byron Bay. This is the Australian hippie town and we definitely saw our fair share of dread locks there. The beach was super pretty and the water was clear and clean! We layed out on the beach for a few hours than went up to the lighthouse and viewed "The Most Easterly Point of the Australian Mainland". Apparently there must be some Australian islands farther east but I doubt the view there was better. The lighthouse and short walk down to the point was incredibly beautiful. Of course the perfect weather helped as well.

After sleeping in the van at a rest stop along Highway 1 we continued today along the coast. We've stopped at a few very cute towns for both breakfast and lunch and are now at the library in Port Macquarie. We're not sure how much farther we'll go tonight, but we're less than 400km from Sydney which is approximately our halfway point distance wise.

We've started posting some pictures here which we'll add to as we continue South and West toward Melbourne.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back in Brisbane, briefly

We are in Brisbane again for a quick stop to pick up Jaimee's sister Michelle. She finished her last final about 1/2 an hour ago and we will soon be off on a road trip with her. Our first stop will be at a family friend's house near Brisbane for the night, then the three of us will be off on the long drive to Melbourne. This is about a 2,000 km (1,200 mile) drive. Our route will be along the coast initially, then cut inland toward some mountains in order to climb Mt. Kosciuszko, the highpoint of Australia. I'm not sure how much Internet we'll have during our trip but you can check our Spot page to see where we are.

After our sailing adventure, our return trip to Brisbane was fairly uneventful. We stopped at roadside rest stops to camp in the van. At one spot there was a huge flock of lorikeets. Here's Jaimee getting accosted by them when she brought out some bread to feed them:

They were super pretty and cute all lined up:

We also stopped in the town of Hervey Bay for a little bit but otherwise our drive back from Airlie Beach was pretty direct. We are writing this from the house of our second couchsurfing host in Brisbane. Couchsurfing has been so great so far on this trip, as we've met some great people and seen some less touristy sides of the places we've been.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sailing in the Whitsundays

When we couchsurfed in Bundaberg and we told our hosts we were heading north they suggested we message a couchsurfer in Airlie Beach who has a sailboat. They had heard that he sometimes took couchsurfers out for a sail in the Whitsunday Islands, a group of 74 islands in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. We thought it was worth a shot so we sent him a message before continuing north in our van.

From Bundaberg, we spent the morning at the beautiful beach at Bagara and then checked out the sea turtle nesting grounds at Mon Repos. The turtles weren't quite there yet (plus they only come in at night) but it was neat to read about them and see the beach where 90% of all female loggerhead turtles lay their eggs.

After spending the night at a camping rest stop right along a river we drove the next day into the town of Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. Airlie Beach is fairly developed but a cute town. It's full of backpackers and travelers. We spent the first day lounging around, playing Scrabble and reading. It was beautiful and relaxing.

Later, when we checked our e-mail, the couchsurfer with the boat, Joe, e-mailed us back and said he couldn't promise anything but he might be heading out for a sail in the next few days if we were hanging around. We met up with him for dinner at the lagoon and met him, three other couchsurfers (a German, Austrian and Australian) he was hosting on his boat as well as this other couchsurfer John who owns a catamaran. John was also hosting an American couchsurfer. There were also two Swedish travelers who joined us for dinner. It was quite the motley crew.

We parted company that night and Joe said he'd text us in the morning if he was going sailing. In the morning he sent us a text and said he was going out for an overnight sail but he had to be back by 10am the next day. We said, sure we'd go! We packed a little food, our bathing suits and met him at his boat. It turned out to be a 52 foot sailboat (I couldn't even get the whole boat in the picture from the dock!)

Together with the three other couchsurfers we sailed into the Whitsunday Islands. It was beautiful! We sailed through some islands stopping for the night in this cove to enjoy an incredible sunset.

Later, John and his catamaran found us and we moored together to have a two boat party. The next day Joe told us he thought we'd stay out for another night which although fine with us, was a bit worrisome as we didn't bring very much food. Plus, the three girl couchsurfers didn't have much food either. But, the next day we sailed over to Whitsunday Island and Whitehaven beach, which was probably one of the prettiest beaches we've ever seen. The sand is extremely white and super pure - it's so fine that your feet sink several inches in and if you rub it on silver it polishes the silver!

We climbed Whitsunday peak on top of the island and had views into Hill inlet which is the picture you see most often when seeing postcards of the Whitsundays.

Then we sailed over to a great snorkeling spot and swam with tons of fish. Joe threw bread (and tuna) into the water which got the fish riled up into a frenzy. Then we sailed across the bay as it got dark and actually sailed for a couple hours while it was dark. The wind was really blowing and it was a tad scary, especially since Joe was often down below while he left either me or Jaimee steering. Plus, he kept saying it was a "bit rocky" which in Australian means unsteady seas and not actually large rocks, although we didn't learn this until later!

We found a protective cove, made up an improv dinner using spagetti and pumpkin (it was pretty yummy actually). We did a long sail the next day back across the bay to Airlie Beach and arrived on land 60 hours after our departure. Even back on land we kept thinking it was rocky as we were so used to swaying on the water.

Today we start the long drive (900 miles) back to Brisbane to pick up Michelle before heading on to Melbourne. Here are the links to the two albums we've posted so far:
Australian Roadtrip Part I

Sailing the Whitsundays

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Roadtrip Australia

We left Michelle in Brisbane to study for her last finals and rented a camper van to tour the coast of Australia north of Brisbane. We went with Wicked Campers, which as it turns out is not as cheap as we would have hoped (after adding in taxes, insurance, etc.) but since we can sleep in it and it includes a stove to cook on I think it will be fine.

The Wicked Campers are painted all crazy; ours has guns all over it which is kind of annoying, but I think it does make people give us a wide berth, which is useful since I often forget which side of the road I'm supposed to be on.

We cruised up the coast, stopping at the beautiful beach in Mooloolaba before camping for the night at a road side rest stop. Australia is pretty friendly toward camper vans and at the rest stop we were at there were several other vans staying for the night. It cools off at night and the van was actually pretty comfortable so we slept well.

The next day we continued up along the coast, stopping at a Sunday Market in Peregian Beach, just south of Noosa National Park. We sat on the beach for a while and got back into our van just before the rain came. The weather was not that great but the van was comfortable for sitting and hanging out.

Going north some more we went to our couchsurfing hosts for the night. They live outside of Bundaberg in Coral Cove. What an amazing couple Ely and Val are. They live right on a golf course and we went for a nice walk with them along the water when we arrived.

We had a nice dinner with them and they introduced us to a couple of their favorite Australian TV shows: Border Security and Rove. Both shows were very entertaining. We especially got a kick out of the fact that Val's 75 year old mother (who lives next door with them) got excited for Border Security. The show is a reality-type show about the customs agents in Australia. In the show we saw, an Indian couple got fined $220 each for bringing in contraband food and a man from Taiwan was trying to export live snakes and lizards in his checked luggage. Scary stuff!

Here's a map showing our stops in Australia so far. Australia is a huge country. Our plan is to drive north to Townsville (you'll have to zoom out to see it) before turning around to head back to Brisbane.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Brisbane, Part II

We are on day five of our stay in Australia, about to leave Brisbane. Brisbane has been a great starting point. It's a really nice city and we've seen and done a lot so far. Yesterday we spent most of the day at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, a short bus ride from the city. The public transport is pretty good here, although I mentioned that to one of the French guys who we're staying with and he didn't agree...but for our uses it's been fine.

The Koala Sanctuary was pretty awesome. We got to hold Koalas, which despite how fluffy and cuddly they look are actually quite heavy.

We also got to feed kangaroos!

We saw a "birds of prey" bird show where two different kinds of owls and two different kinds of eagles flew back and forth between the handlers. We also saw a cool "sheep dog" presentation (although the dogs used were an Australian version of a border collie). I think I may have found my favorite dog now:

We've rented a camper van for the next couple of weeks and getting ready to hit the road! Our plan is to head north of Brisbane along the coast, return to Brisbane to pick up Michelle on the 10th after she's done with her finals and then drive all the way to Melbourne. Depending on how far north we go, this will be quite a few miles. There are overnight rest stops on most of the roads around here so we plan on sleeping in the van at these, or using the supplied camping gear to camp at times. We've also arranged a couple couchsurfing stays along the way so we can take showers, meet some locals and hopefully use the Internet (as a side note, we've found that Australian businesses are more stingy with wi-fi than American ones so we haven't been able to use as much free wi-fi as we'd hoped).

Here's the full link to our Brisbane pictures, which recaps our Australia journey so far...


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