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.

View World Trip in a larger map

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.

View World Trip in a larger map

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