31 December 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Queenstown!  The last week has been crazy with little down time, so I'm afraid no more epic blogs until I get back.  But just an update: after spending a few days relaxing in Akaroa, I drove to Queenstown for a night, did a ZipLine (steepest in the world!), then drove to Te Anau where I saw some shiny glow worms!  Then a cruise through Milford sound and partying in Queenstown last night.

NZ is really great.  I really might have to move here....

Miss you all!

26 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Happy Christmas to all of you from down under!  Sorry I'm a few days late!  I've been in Akaroa camping with no internet and I must say it was absolutely lovely.

A quick note before I post something more substantial: I spent Christmas Eve in Christchurch, where I went to St. Matthew's midnight mass.  It started with 30 minutes of caroling at 11:15, then there was a mass, where this amazing All Boys/Mens choir sang!

I haven't listened to this video yet, but here it is for your enjoyment:


Now I'm in Dunedin, where it is currently POURING rain and projected for more rain on the way.  A few nights here in Hogwarts then it's off to Queenstown and Te Anau for New Year's!

Miss you all!  

24 December 2010

New Zealand!!! Christchurch and the Northeast

I made it to NZ (pronounced N Zed) but not without incident.  It seems Australia wasn’t done taking my money, because as I was about to fly out a crazy strong Northeastern gale hit the airport, temporarily shutting it down to only one runway, and effectively delaying my flight by 2+ hours.  It seems that Aus (pronounced Oz) wanted me to stay so much it made a heart out of ‘Jandals’ just for me.
Also forgot to mention that I saw slackliners in Aus.  We’re everywhere!
Once successfully in Christchurch, I caught a 2:30am shuttle to my hostel (thanks Shuttle guy for waiting for my, the very last plane, to arrive!) where I took a quick shower and passed out.  I slept in on Tuesday, and blogged, as hopefully you’ve seen by now.  I also laid out my shiny new NZ money for a photo.  That’s Sir Edmond Hillary on the $5 bill.  He was the first person, along with Tenzing Norgay, to summit Mt. Everest and return alive!
I got my poop in a group enough to leave the hostel around 3pm, where I took this old school elevator down to the town centre, also known as Cathedral Square, which was conveniently right in front of the hostel.

 
 
My wanderings found me in a vast park, where the sky really is big here.  *Almost* as big as Montana, but not quite…
 
In the botanical gardens, there was this old Peace Bell.  I rang it with a big stick I found, in the name of Team Peesarch!
 I wandered past Christ College, which is apparently one of the oldest Uni’s in NZ.  This building looks awful new to be old….

Christchurch suffered a big earthquake here recently.  As part of the damage a lot of old buildings are falling down and are being supported by beams and scaffolding until they can be repaired.  It seems the Kiwi’s enjoy being creative with the scaffolding decorations.

 Should I buy one of these?  Think it would help me to blend in???
My wanderings took me late into the evening, where I caught one of what will surely be MANY stunning sunsets.
Here’s the cathedral at night.  Right after this I was able to watch the Full Moon eclipse for Summer Solstice!  Thanks for the head’s up about the eclipse Madre!
On Wednesday morning, it was time to pick up the rental car.  Their building was damaged in the quake, so a long walk across town took me past this place: ROXX Climbing Gym!  If only it had one more X in the name…then it would be TRULY epic!
En route, Waikuku Beach looked too tempting to pass up and I’m very glad I stopped!  The water here is so green and mineral looking from all of the heavy rains they’ve had this year!
Since I was stopped anyway, I decided to finally get the Fish and Chips I’ve been craving for DAYS!  I stopped at the only place in town, which was a cross between a general store, a 7-eleven, and a restaurant.  Basically it was everything.  I ordered Snapper and was served this lovely little newspaper package?  I think my confused face says it all…but the contents of my package were delish!

I made my way up Lewis Pass where it was just POURING rain.  As I mentioned, La Nina is packing a punch down here, and it’s been very unseasonably wet.  These through the window car pics hardly do NZ justice, but it’s still very beautiful despite the rain.
 
The rental is a Nissan Sunny, and en route I rolled to 111,111 kilometres on my trip.  Had to document the awesomeness.
After a long drive through the pass in search of a free campground (it was absolutely putrid when I found it, and completely soggy, there was no WAY I was staying there) I found myself in Hamner Springs for the night, where I pitched a tent, then ran into town (literally ran, about 3-4 miles round trip) to have a beer.  Here’s the view from my run, and my reward after.
Thursday morning, Christmas Eve Eve, I packed up my tent for the long drive to Kaikoura, a beautiful city on the coast where the mountains meet the ocean.  My drive took me past some more beautiful scenery: a spot for bungee, gorgeous Bridger-esque mountains, and Mt. Lyndon.
 
 
 A note about driving here:  As you may not know, the Kiwi’s and the Ozzies drive on the WRONG side of the road.  It’s really taken some getting used to, and while I’m better now, it’s still no cake walk.  It takes a surprising amount of concentration!  Also, suddenly your left hand becomes your "doing stuff" hand- ie adjusting the radio, fiddling with the ipod, reaching for food, etc, and that's been even harder to get used to.  My left hand is basically useless.  At least go to the right side of the car now, but I still reach over my left shoulder every time for my seatbelt!  I’ll learn eventually…

To make driving even more difficult, the Kiwi’s decided to build completely ridiculous roads.  I was worried about exceeding the 100km/hr national speed limit, but I would have to be crazy to even try to go that fast here!  Many of you know that I get car sick, but this can normally be abated by sitting in the front seat.  Let’s just say that these roads are so windy I made myself a little sick while driving!  These roads would not pass in the States, too many people would kill themselves I am sure.

After an adventurous 2 hours on the most dangerous road I’ve ever driven (don’t worry mom, I was careful) I made it to Kaikoura.  The weather was calm - normally it’s pretty windy here I guess - so I took the opportunity to explore the peninsula.  There is allegedly a big seal colony here, but I didn’t see it.  At least not enough seal’s to constitute a *colony*.

The beaches are black pebble (I prefer pebble to sand actually) and as you can see, the scenery once again does not disappoint.
 
There are a lot of structures build out of bone, dating back to the whaling port history of the region.  This park “peesarch” was built out of bone in remberence of the whalers who died in pursuit of the catch.

For dinner, I made myself a tasty spinach salad, which I enjoyed in front of this baritone and tuba fountain at my eclectic hostel.  Not a bad way to spend the evening.
Once again, NZ put on an AMAZING show in the dusk-night sky.  Some pictures to illustrate:

 
 
 Today I headed back to Christchurch, and tomorrow it’s off to the Banks Peninsula.  After that,  it will be south to Dunedin, west to Queenstown for New Year’s, then north through Nelson, Wellington, and Auckland to end my trip.  I don’t have lodging worked out yet for New Years, but as someone very dear to me is fond of saying, ‘It will all work out.’  So I’m having faith that the trip will continue mostly snag free, and that the worst thing to happen to me will be the loss of my water bottle (today’s tragedy).

To leave you, here’s Brew Moon, a brewery I passed.  Apparently they’re everywhere, I’ll be sure to try it and let you know how it compares to Blue Moon in the states.  Have to say I’m a fan of the clever name!

20 December 2010

Australia: An Exercise in Time Travel

I'm now in New Zealand after 4 whirlwind days in Australia.  What a crazy place!  Here's a quick run down of my activities, before I get into some musings about the land Down Under.

I arrived around 10am in Sydney after a 14+ hour flight and a ridiculously heinous 10 hour layover in LAX.  NEVER again will I do that.  Luckily my Facebook friends helped me to navigate to an In N' Out burger, which made my life significantly better.  Sydney was nice, warmish and muggy, but not overly warm and the flight in was gorgeous, as you can see.
I hopped a train to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, a range just outside of Sydney with Eucalyptus trees, which apparently emit an oil which makes the mountains appear blue.  In only two hours I found my hostel amid the tiny Katoomba streets, showered, and was off to explore near the 3 Sisters, a famous rock outcropping.  I chose to walk through the forest to get there and the waterfalls were stunning.
 Made it just in time to see the sunset on the 3 Sisters.  I guess it's because I'm a climber, but I didn't find these that impressive....sorry Katoomba...
 Sunset over blue mountains.
A nice walk put me back in the city centre, where I enjoyed some very tasty CROCODILE pizza!  Yeah, you read that right, crocodile.  And it was delicious.  I would totally eat it again!

On Saturday, I went on a grand Canyoneering adventure and did the Serendipity canyon.  I don't have any pictures, but it was really amazing.  It consisted of 4 abseils (rappel's to those climbers) adn then swims through slot canyons and lunch on a hot rock.  Or it would have been hot had the sun been out.  The weather has not been kind to me.


I then hopped a train back to Sydney.  Check out my passport!  Another stamp! (And look, my shiner is almost gone too!)
Back in Sydney, my walk too me past Hyde Park, home to this beautiful church!
For dinner, there's nothing more tasty than a Kebab!
 Extreme eating picture!  Oh baby!
 After the Duner, I of course found a monument to do some bouldering on.  I mean, why not?
 Marsupials!
 So let me digress here a moment to address the issue of fashion in Australia.  I always like to observe the local fashion when I travel, and I am not kidding when I say there is plenty of amusing people watching to be had here.  I said that Sydney is like an exercise in time travel.  Not only am I literally writing this blog from the future since it's yesterday for most of you, but I also feel like I've gone back in time 6-months to this summer, when the fashion was gladiator sandals and ridiculously high-waisted unflattering skirts.  Australians have adopted this ill-advised 'fashion', only their skirts are shorter and their gladiator sandals are equipped with high heels.  It's bad people, like really bad.  See below.
 I was walking down the street and saw a girl that I was pretty sure would become spontaneously naked at any moment.  Her skirt was that short and her top was that small.  And that is common.  I felt very out of place in my full length shirt, thats for sure.

Did you all know that Opera was here a few weeks ago?  Apparently she was, and there are banners!
They drive on the wrong side of the street here.  Good thing they have street signs to remind you!
 On Sunday, I set about exploring Sydney.  I took a trip up to The Rocks district and checked out a street fair, that reminded me a lot of the Ballard and Fremont markets.  Then a walk through the botanical gardens took me past trees full of bats!  Fruit bats I guess.  I've never seen a bat before.  Very cool!  The gardens were very beautiful, and full of pretty and unique looking flowers.
 Finally, the opera house and harbour bridge.  Too bad the weather wasn't nicer.
 This statue was asking for it!
 In the evening I took a ferry to Manly beach, where it was POURING rain.  Good thing about rainy beaches is they make for good photo-ops.
 My chaco tan from one day in Sydney.  They are not kidding about the sun down here, it's ferouch!
 Sunday evening was nice, riding the ferry back to see Sydney in lights (my camera didn't get good pictures though) and then checking out an Irish Bar in the eve.  They quickly digressed into covers of the Cranberries, so I went on my merry way.

Monday was predicted to be nice weather all week, but apparently Mother Nature had other plans.  It rained.  On the Beach.  Again.  What is a 'Surfcraft' anyway?
 Where's my sunshine???  Good thing I have this bottle to keep me company....
 Yes!  The Sun finally came out!
So that's it for pictures!  Now I'm in Christchurch borrowing a computer and planning the rest of my trip.

Some final thoughts on Australia:  I felt like I was just hemmoraging money there.  Seriously everything was SO expensive!  From the trains to the food to just walking down the street, it felt like everything cost a ridiculous amount of money.  

The bus system there is very good though.  If you can remember the whole drive on the left thing, you're already one step ahead.  However, do NOT get on the back door, because they will yell at you then you'll have to apologize for being a stupid american (sorry Australia).  The busses are actually really nice and come equipped with survelynce cameras, which display your picture on a handy tv screen for all to see.  they also show advertisements.  It's kind of genius.  Oh, and the busses have their only 24/7 designated driving lane, which comes in handy for the bad Sydney traffic, and in some cases they even have their own roads that are completely separate from the rest of the drivers.  IT makes it feel like you are on a carnival ride!  I liked it!

Another thing of note...they spell Aussie 'Ozzie'...we made up the 'au' spelling.

So that's it!  Overall I didn't love Sydney.  The opera house is pretty, but lets just say it's very 70's and photographs realy well.  The city was just too frantic for me.  I'm looking forward to kicking back a little now that i'm in New Zealand.