From Austin to Oz. I'm planning to flee the country for 7 months - working for 4 and traveling for 3.
Departure = 03 Sep 2003 / Re-entry = 03 Apr 2004

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Long day

Yesterday was quite a long day. Maybe it was a premonition of how my body will adjust to a 16-hour time difference.

I woke up at 03:00 (Christchurch) to get ready to board the airport shuttle at 04:30, arriving at 05:00 for my 06:30 flight to Sydney. After queuing for 1 hour, I finally checked my bag at the Pacific Blue counter and left for the gate. After grabbing a takeaway long black and a ham & cheese croissant from a snacko, I boarded the plane and sat between an Aussie and a Canadian with a UK passport.

We arrived in Sydney at 08:00 (Sydney time), only 10 minutes later than expected. Now, 08:00 Sydney = 10:00 Christchurch, so by this time, I have been awake for 7 hours already, and most Sydneysiders are still preparing to start their 09:00 work day. All this for a cheap NZ$139 flight across "the ditch" (Tasman Sea which separates Australia & New Zealand). But, who's complaining? I reckoned that I could have a whole day of exploration during this beautiful 17oC Sydney day - at least until a potential jet lag moment when I might find a park bench and sleep like a koala (which sleeps 20 hours a day).

So, I left the International Terminal, purchased an A$8.80 gate pass to leave the terminal and an A$15 Day Tripper train/bus/ferry pass. I arrived the Central Station, and walked a few blocks to my hostel, The Maze Backpackers. I booked a single room because, at the end of the whole magnificent trip, I need a bit of private space free from the incessant symphony of plastic bags, zippers, nylon, bed springs, talking, cell phone beeps, and alarm clocks that multi-bed dormitory rooms house. Call me shellfish.

After having dropped off my gear in my room, I headed for Souvenir World to pick up some last minute gifties. Then, I had some lunch and rode the train to the Sydney Olympic Park. At the Olympic Park, residents and tourists alike can use the facilities and take lessions. Some of the venues were closed to prepare for the Royal Easter Show. Rather than take a tour, I decided to head for the Archery Area, where I wanted to take an archery lesson. By the time I arrived, the last lesson of the day was wrapping up, so I walked to the ferry terminal to ride back to Circular Quay in the CBD. Sydney Olympic Park is served by all modes of transporation and is bicycle friendly. It truly is well planned and accessible.

The ferry ride was just what I needed. When the ferry landed at Circular Quay, I hopped on another ferry going to Darling/Poopshen Harbour. (Why walk to the Harbour when I could ride another ferry? Let's just say that I got my money's worth from the DayTripper pass.) I debarked at the Aquarium stop to visit the Sydney Aquarium - Australia's most popular tourist site and highly recommended by Kim & Jen when we were in Sydney in late February.

To begin my description of the aquarium visit must start with superlatives - most ... , best ... , -ist ..., etc. Yet, I don't want to appear as I'm exaggerating. Kim, Jen, and whoever else has been to the Sydney Aquarium will understand. Let's just say that these are some of the highlights:

* First exhibit as you enter the aquarium: THE PLATYPUS! Yay! I've finally seen one!
* Fairy/blue penguins: the smallest penguins in the world
* Sea dragons: like seahorses, yet they look more like seaweed. Almost like smooth fractals
* Moon jellyfish: translucent hemispheres just floating along with the current or flapping slowly
* Seals: they were all asleep by the time I arrived in the late arvo, tho.
* SHARKS! : there are glass tubes around the perimeter of the shark exhibit allowing visitors to walk underneath the water and observe the sealife at tankfloor level. There were 6 - SIX - small sharks resting on the bottom of the glass tubes as I entered, allowing me to see them from underneath. It was mesmerizing. I am still astounded that my hand was separated from a shark by mere millimeters of glass. I like sharks. They are beautiful creatures. They just get a terrible rap from people. More Australians kill each other with automobiles every year than die from shark attacks, almost 3'000 vehicle accidents versus 0.7 shark attacks. On the way out of the exhibit, there were 7 other sharks perched atop the exit tube. Thirteen shark bellies! That's what I'll entitle my day.
* Rays: in addition to the sharks there are a few rays gliding about the tank. The largest one is about the size of a twin bed turned sideways. It moves thru the water with a ripple akin to ballet folklorico or flamenco dancer's dress.
* Turtles: one of the 3 turtles in the same shark tank is the size of a bonnet/hood of a mid-size car.
* Crabs: I had no idea that Australia is home to so many species of crabs - 80% of a shark's diet is crabs.

While under the shark exhibit, I became part of a tour group of young Koreans. By that, I mean that I was touring at the same speed as they were. They were a funny lot, them, and I'll give them credit with taking creatively posed photos instead of the normal "Here is me in front of something, now I will put on a bland smile and stand like a two-by-four" photos that plagues most tourists. At one point, had advanced a bit and was at the Great Barrier Reef exhibit. There is a section that compares the Reef's size to the size of certain countries. I had already flipped the Australia, Germany, and New Zealand flags that cover the statistics for those specific countries. Then, I flipped the Korean flag, was reading it when the group had caught up with me. The tour guide was translating for her group as I was reading along. The tour guide then thanked me, as did some of the group. Que polite Koreans!

I skimmed thru a bit of the Reef exhibit, as I was fortunate to have dived/snorkeled it in February with me mates. There is one point in the exhibit where there is an enormous tank full of colourful fishies, starfish, and other fauna aquatica. And, there's a point where the visitor can "walk inside" the tank because there is a square tube thru the aquarium. Fish swam above, below, and along two sides of me! Uberkool!

At this stage of the exhibit, along bounded a heap of cacophonous, spastic pre-pubescent girls on a field trip. They could learn heaps of manners from the polite Korean tour group. So, tired of the excessive noise, I walked quickly to the exit, as the Reef exhibit is the last.

I walked back to the Aquarium ferry stop, boarded the ferry for Circular Quay, passed into the train station, then exited at the Town Hall station. Am I lazy for not walking the 30 minutes back to the hostel? I don't care because I was making the most of my Day Tripper. Ha!

It must have been about 20:00 when I returned to my hostel room, which means it was 22:00 Christchurch time. I had been awake for 19 hours. Let's just say that my head found the bed and my nonstopsupahfastouttacontrolWednesday ended early.

13 shark bellies.

Monday, March 29, 2004

/cah key te ah nu/, Aotearoa

Today is Monday, 29 Mahch. I arrived in Christchurch from Queenstown earlier today. Wednesday, I hop on a plane bound for Sydney. I stay in Sydney until Saturday, when I board another plane for Austin (via San Francisco and Denver).

Upon arrival, seven months will have passed since my mum, cousin, and brothers had lunch with me at Schlotsky's on Riverside before I left Austin for Sydney. Heaps of things have occurred since 03 Sep 03, yet Life has a way of happening anywhere you go - it knows no geographic limits.

Now, what do I do with a backpack full of new experiences?

Friday, March 26, 2004

Franz Josef Glacier

Two days ago, I climbed a glacier.

The weather was spectacular, clear skies and no rain. One guide, two Czechs, two Dutch, two Swedes, four Poms (English), and me. At one point, I drank glacial water. We squeezed thru a cravasse whose walls were at least 4 metres hight. Another time, we had to shimmy thru a mousehole of ice to reach the rest of the trail. Eight hours later, we returned to basecamp. Wet socks can be changed, and sore legs heal after a few days.

I would do it all over again. Who's coming with me?

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

North Island, New Zealand, Oceania

I forgot to mention that last Saturday, after having paid for my parking spot at the Auckland airport (spot 648, next to numbah sux-fufty), I walked to the car and was greeted by the whiff of pot eminating from the open windows of the car parked next to mine. The passenger tried frantically to close his window, yet he was a wee bit on the slow side. Plus, smoke fogging up the car is only obvious. Pot smoking Kiwis. Because they can.

The next day (Sunday) was pretty much a rest day, fillled with heaps of nuthin'. Ah..

Monday, I headed to the Lion Red brewery for a tour. A rather good tour. Afterwards, on Stephanie's recommendation, I headed across the street to the Auckland Museum. For only a NZ$5 donation, mine was the museum to wander from 14:30-17:00. Honestly, this is one of the most spectacular musea that I have ever visited. After only 2.5 hours, I had only finished touring one of three floors! The museum exhibits a comprehensive view of Pacific cultures and history with an enormous emphasis on Maori culture. I began to tour the next floor (Kiwi fauna and flora) but only saw about 30% of the floor. Did you know that New Zealand was home to the extinct moa, a flightless bird almost 3 metres tall? Or that the kea is the world's largest parrot that literally attacks parked cars and eats the rubber from the windscreen wipers? If only I could have stayed longer, I could feed you more kiwifruit tidbits. Advice: on your next trip to Auckland, arrive when the museum opens and stay until it closes.

Then, I went to an Internet cafe that charged only NZ$2 / hour! I haven't found anything that cheap at all (other than free wireless Internet on Queen St. in Brisbane for those who have laptops)! While planning my next few weeks in Kiwilandia, I came across the Best of New Zealand Pass which covers coaches, trains, and a flight from the N. Island to the S. Island. The BONZ pass is more my style since I can't be bothered with the backpacker coach passes like the Kiwi Experience or Magic Bus. Yes, the backpacker coach passes have their markets and limitations, but for the same price, I get to call the shots, mingle with Kiwis taking public transportation, and not have to board a coach at 8AM (as with the backpacker coaches).

I bought my BONZ pass this morning and hopped on the normal coach at 13:00 destined for Napier, one of the world's best example of Art Deco -- since a 1931 earthquake leveled the entire town and it was all rebuilt in the same style of the time, Art Deco.

Before your brown hero left Auckland (the world's largest Polynesian city), he took a few snaps of The White House, a legal brothel operating only a few hundred meters from my hostel. Let's just say that I try my best to smooth rough Kiwi-Bald Eagle relations when I can.

So, on to the arvo coach and away I left Auckland, City of Sails (the city with the highest number of yachts per population in the world). Only 6.5 hours later, I find meself in Napier, bedded in an Art Deco hotel converted into a hostel. Tomorrow, I will take a tour of the city's Art Deco Architecture and in the arvo, hop on a bike and undertake a self-guided wine tour. The tour company gives you a bike, a pannier, a map of the local wineries, and a cell phone -- to use in case I'm too drunk to cycle back to the hostel. Me mates wanted to do this type of tour in the Hunter Valley, North of Sydney, but the price was A$129! The Napier one, in sharp contrast is only NZ$36.

From Napier, I head to Hastings, just a 20min citybus ride away. Hastings also suffered the same 1931 fate as Napier, yet most of the rebirth architecture is Spanish Revival, popular in Southern California. Then, to Wellington.

I wonder which route Frodo & Sam took?

Saturday, March 06, 2004


Today, I woke up as 25% of a group of Austinites in Tauranga, New Zealand, and tonight, I go to sleep as a sole traveler in Auckland, New Zealand.

Earlier this evening, I left me mates Trevor, Jen, and Kim at the Auckland Airport to board their Qantas flight to Los Angeles. After waiting to see their plane disappear into the ever-present low-flying clouds of Auckland, I headed back to the hire car and drove to downtown Auckland to register at the youth hostel, from where I jot down these few lines.

So, now what? I don't know, really. I only know that on 03 April, I fly from Sydney to Austin. I plan to stay two nights in Auckland, and then take it from there. Any suggestions? I'd like to spend at least 2 weeks trapsing around the South Island. Hmm...