Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Travelling the Southwest

Maria and I have now been traveling for a week and a half and we've stopped off in a nice town called Margaret River on the west coast about 2 hours south of Perth. It's a surfing town with lots of beautiful beaches and nice shops and places to eat. We arrived here on Friday afternoon and since then we've mostly just been relaxing.

Our second day in Denmark, we went out to Ocean Beach and spent the afternoon exploring the beach and enjoying the sunshine. The water is unbelievably blue and the sand is so white!
Ocean Beach
 We were planning on taking the bus from Denmark to Walpole the next day but we met a lady named Judy in our hostel who had a car and was headed the same way so we decided to get a lift with her so we could stop and see more along the way. It turns out she is a world traveler and has been to all but probably 5 or 6 countries in the world! She's even been to Antarctica! Along the way to Walpole we stopped to see two of the iconic spots along the coast, Greens Pool and the Elephant Rocks, and did the famous tree-top walk in the Valley of the Giants (a forest of giant trees known as Red Tingle trees).
Greens Pool

Elephant Rocks
Tree-top Walk
One of the Giants

We stayed the night in Walpole and then set off the next morning. Judy was only going as far as Augusta but we wanted to continue on so we took the bus to Margaret River in the afternoon.

Our first day here we just explored the town and then hung out with the other people in the hostel. There's a pretty good group of people here and I almost wish I was staying in the area longer because it seems like a great place to be. Saturday we went into town in the morning and had an excellent cup of coffee at a place called the Urban Bean. We wandered around town for a good part of the day and then went back to the hostel to relax for a while before heading back into town and going for a few drinks at the Settlers Tavern.

Sunday we went to Prevelly Beach and the Riverfront Beach. The beaches here are absolutely stunning and relatively quiet. The waves are huge and it seems like a great place to surf. If I come back to this area I'll definitely have to take up surfing!

The Margaret River Bakery
Yesterday was a quiet day spent mostly drinking coffee. We went back to the Urban Bean, wandered around town a bit, and then went to a cute little bakery called the Margaret River Bakery where they have delicious, fresh food and good coffee. How I've missed good coffee! Later in the afternoon I decided to go out for a much needed run and explore the area and I discovered a system of beautiful trails through the woods. The main trail is track left from the old railroad but there are lots of other small trails branching off of it. There are lots of pretty bridges and the forest is so green and lush with big, beautiful trees. The weather was perfect for running and I felt like I could've run forever! I only planned on doing a short run but it was so nice I ended up running for more than and hour!

We're off to a late start again today but I think we'll go back into town for more coffee and then maybe go out for $5 tacos tonight. It's a hard life being a traveler...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

From Coast to Coast

Although it's been ages since I left the East Coast and arrived in Western Australia, I actually wrote a blog post right after I arrived in Kulin but never posted it because I haven't had decent internet access in months. I’ve put it in here since it’s easier to just copy and paste it rather than trying to recap everything:

My last Tuesday in Sydney was mostly a travel day. We slept in a little and then took a shuttle to the airport to catch our flight back to Sydney at 11:00am. Once back in Sydney we walked to Circular Quay to see the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House one last time. We tried to watch the sunset from the front of the Opera House but the weather was cold and rainy and the sunset was nearly non-existent except for a few pinkish clouds. Afterwards, we walked back towards the city center and got dinner at a burger place where we had Indian-style veggie burgers in a purple bun! Weird looking but so delicious!

Our last day in Sydney (Wednesday) was nice and relaxed. We left the hostel around 8:30 and went to breakfast at our favorite little café where the lady at the counter knows our orders because we went there almost every day we were in Sydney. Then I went to the bank and cell phone company to finish up some last-minute stuff before leaving the city and then we walked to a part of Sydney known as Darling Harbour, which is a cute little harbor-side area with lots of shopping and food places and some pretty fountains, a man-made river and an awesome playground (of course we played on the playground for a bit). We were both eager to get to the airport and ready to leave Syndey so even though our flights didn't leave until after 7:00pm, we took the train to the airport around noon. Since Katherine was flying internationally and I was flying domestic, we had to check-in at different parts of the airport, so even though we would've liked to hang out until the very end, we said goodbye and went our separate ways - Katherine to Hawaii and home and me to Perth, Western Australia.
Darling Harbor

My flight left Sydney at 7:15pm Sydney time and arrived in Perth around 9:45pm Perth time. Just a couple days before I left Sydney I found a place to stay with a family outside of Perth and they agreed to pick me up from the airport which was so great. The family saw that I was looking for a place to stay through a site called HelpX which an absolutely wonderful resource for backpackers because it connects travelers who are looking for a place to stay with locals who are looking for help around their house or farm. In exchange for working for a few hours a day, the backpackers get free food and accommodation. The family I'm staying with at the moment has a 100-acre farm about 40 minutes out of Perth in a place called Gidgegannup. Their farm is absolutely beautiful and they have 30 horses which they play polo with during the summer. I help them out by helping exercise the horses in the morning. It's easy work because they have an automatic horse walker so all we have to do is put the horses in and out of the walker. It usually takes a few hours every morning to work the 13 that are currently in work and the afternoons are free. A few times they've taken me to the train station and then I took the train to Perth or Midland (the closest "big" town) and other days I just relaxed or explored the farm/local area. 
The view from my bedroom door at the farm - they have a pet kangaroo!

Wild emus on the farm!

I left the farm this past Tuesday (August 19th) and got on a bus to a small town called Kulin, three and a half hours southeast of Perth. Since then I’ve been working at the Kulin hotel, which is a country pub, restaurant, and hotel that looks like it’s been here since Kulin was settled in 1910. I work at the bar in the evenings and clean in the morning. Kulin is a small, quiet but pleasant town surrounded by farmland and the people who visit the hotel reflect that. Wednesday and Thursday were fairly busy days but other days only a handful of people come in, but all the people that do come in are friendly and nice and most of them are farmers.  

I've just finished two and a half months of working at a country pub/hotel (the Kulin Hotel) in a small country town called Kulin in the wheat belt of Western Australia. It is located about 3 1/2 hours southeast of Perth, WA and is basically in the middle of nowhere. I wasn't sure what to expect when I first arrived in Kulin but it was really a great place to be for a few months. I spent most of my time working at the hotel, the local IGA, a café, and a daycare center but I did make friends with some of the locals and fellow backpackers and we did have some pretty good times. When I wasn't working I spent my time going for runs, going for bike rides, and enjoying the great social atmosphere in Kulin. :)

On an epic 18 km bike ride across the Australian Outback
The Kulin Hotel
All the lovely photos above were taken by my friend Maria Strong
Kulin's biggest - and really the only - event of the year is the Bush Races. It's a couple days of horse races and other events that people come from all over to be a part of. I was lucky enough to be in town for the weekend of the races and see Kulin become a bustling tourist hub rather than the quiet farming town it usually is. Because I was working I didn't get to see the actual races but I did make it out for the band at night and it was good to get out for a bit.

Kulin also boasts a few tourist attractions... It is the location of the largest water slide in Western Australia (unfortunately, it wasn't open while I was there) and the Tin Horse Highway, which is a collection of horses made by locals from scraps of tin and other materials, and it is an hour's drive from an interesting-looking wave-like rock called... Wave Rock.
One of the tin horses

The famous slide

Hippo's Yawn

As exciting as Kulin was, I was ready to leave and quite happy when the day finally came. I left early Saturday morning and headed south with a few of friends who have also been working in Kulin. We spent the weekend in Albany, the oldest town in WA, which is a beautiful port town on Western Australia's southern coast. We arrived just in time for ANZAC Albany which was a series of events commemorating the day 100 years ago when the first convoy of Australian and New Zealand soldiers left Albany to fight in the First World War. We missed the main event - the parade - but it was a busy weekend with a lot going on anyway. It was quite a change from quiet Kulin!
Sunset in Albany

A few friends had to go back to Kulin after the weekend and now Maria (one of the girls I worked with) and I are continuing to travel along the coast. Today, we took the bus from Albany to a pretty little town called Denmark about 40 minutes west. We spent the day cycling around the lush, green farmland, checking out the local wineries, and exploring a bit of the coast. Minus the hundreds of annoying flies that are constantly swarming you, it is a paradisaical place! We'll spend another day here tomorrow and hopefully explore some of the famous beaches before setting off for our next destination.

Sorry for the long post!

Til next time,

Monday, August 11, 2014

Ya Know, Just Scuba Diving in the Great Barrier Reef

Yet another amazing day in Australia - possibly the best one yet. Katherine and I got up early this morning and hopped on a shuttle from the hostel to the wharf in Cairns where we got on the Silverswift boat to go diving in the Great Barrier Reef!!!
The Great Barrier Reef

Me and Nigel
The photographer kissing Nigel
The weather was absolutely beautiful today (sunny and 27 degrees Celsius)but the sea was a little rough and lots of people were getting seasick on the boat though, fortunately, I wasn't one of them. It took us about an hour and 20 minutes to get to our first dive site and on the way there, the crew briefed us over morning tea. Once we arrived at the first site, we suited up in sting suits (full-body lycra suits) and wet suits and then got all our scuba gear on and we were ready to dive! Since I was doing the introductory dive, we first had to practice a few skills before we could actually dive. It was my first time diving and I didn't know what to expect but it was so cool! The hardest part for me was getting used to breathing through the mouthpiece, known as the regulator, since it feels really different from normal breathing. The pressure also makes you need to pop your ears almost constantly as you descend and it can hurt if you don't pop them. After I got used to it, though, it was so great and actually really relaxing. The coral and fish were incredible and we got to hold sea cucumbers and met the huge local Napoleon fish, named Nigel, who always comes to see the divers from the boat. It felt like we had just started when our guide signaled for us to come to the surface and we all had to get back on the boat.

Sea turtle!!!
We then toweled off and went inside for lunch as the boat took off for our next dive site. Certified divers had the option of diving at each of the three dive sites but I could only dive twice so after lunch I went snorkeling. The second dive site was even better than the first, with huge coral towers that were so colorful and intricate it didn't seem real. There were also so many amazing fish - some were rainbow, some were leopard-spotted, some were zebra-striped - I could hardly believe they were real. My favorite part of the       whole dive, though, was seeing a Green Sea Turtle right below where I was snorkeling!!! I wish I had been diving so I could've swum right down next to her.

Our last dive site was only about 10 minutes from the second one so we put all our gear on on the way and were ready to hop in when we got there. This time it was just me, the guide, and one other person and we got to swim freely and explore a little more. The guide showed us some giant clams, which are actually surprisingly gorgeous inside and if you watch them you can see them opening and closing their shell as they eat! He also showed some coral that changes color when you touch it. I can't believe how many amazing creatures there are living underwater that you wouldn't ever see without going in the water!

We got back from diving around 5:00 and walked back to the hostel (with a quick ice cream stop along the way) and I think tonight will be another night in since we're both tired from our day on the water. Maybe we'll finish the movie we started last night. :) Tomorrow we're off for our last two days of adventures before Katherine heads back to the states and I head to Perth for a job.

Take care,

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Kangaroos, Wallabies, and Koalas - Oh My!

It's been a busy, but great, few days and I'm enjoying an evening of relaxing in our hostel. On Friday, Katherine and I took the bus to see the famous Bondi Beach. I hate to say it, but I was actually a little disappointed. It is a beautiful beach with perfect soft sand and stunning blue water and I'm sure it would be a great place for surfing but it only covers a short stretch of shoreline and there's not much to do there unless you want to surf or swim. Since it was a little cold and rainy, we didn't feel like swimming or surfing so after walking around and taking pictures for a bit, we hopped back on the bus to the city.
Bondi Beach
Once back in the city, we walked down the main street - George Street - and caught the free bus to Circular Quay where the Opera House and Harbor Bridge are. We caught the ferry there to cross Sydney Harbor and go see the Taronga Zoo. The zoo was pretty cool, but we were a little disappointed because we were hoping to hold a koala and didn't get the chance and we also didn't get to see a platypus, which I really wanted to see. I did like seeing all the other animals, though, especially the big cats, although I always feel a bit bad for animals in zoos. They did look well-taken care of, though, and seemed as happy as possible for being in captivity.
Sleepy koala at the zoo
Swamp wallaby!

Kitties :)
 It wasn't too late when we got back from the zoo so we walked back to the hostel and got our laptops from the hostel and then went to the train station to get free WiFi. Free WiFi is a rare thing in New Zealand and Australia and most hostels and many cafés don't offer it so we'll take what we can get. After getting our WiFi fix, we walked back down to the Quay to get dinner at a restaurant we'd seen earlier in the day that looked good and wasn't too expensive. After we ate, we took the train back to our hostel, rather than make the 45-minute walk across the city for the third time that day.

Yesterday (Saturday) we had an early morning and were up by 6:00 to get a shuttle from our hostel to the airport to catch our plane to Cairns. Cairns is north of Sydney in Queensland and it is a popular destination for diving and other tourist activities since it lies on the Great Barrier Reef and is in an absolutely beautiful mountain-meets-shore location. Our flight was supposed to leave at 9:10 but was delayed over three hours due to some intense fog. When we finally did board it was almost 1:00pm but, luckily, the rest of the flight went smoothly and we arrived to beautiful, warm, sunny Cairns around 4:00pm. We found a shuttle and went to our hostel - the Travellers Oasis - and got settled in and then explored the beach town that is Cairns.

Today was another busy day that was spent exploring the Kuranda Rainforest. We took a bus at 8:30 in the morning to go see the World Heritage Rainforest that surrounds Cairns in all directions. The village we went to, known as Kuranda, is only about a 40-minute drive from Cairns but I think it gave us a good taste of the rainforest. It is so beautiful and lush and filled with singing birds. We started off by hiking to see Barron's Falls outside of the main village. It was a huge, stunning waterfall in the middle of the rainforest and definitely worth the walk. Unfortunately, once we got there, it started to rain and we weren't at all prepared to get wet. Katherine and I really didn't walk back in the rain and luckily for us, we ended up talking to a nice family from Texas and they offered us a ride back to town in the back of their car! 
Exploring the rainforest
Barron Falls

Back in the village, we explored the shops and then went to Koala Gardens to see some of Australia's most characteristic fauna and cuddle a koala! We first went to feed the wallabies and kangaroos but it was a little rainy so they weren't very interested in coming out to get the food from us. After trying to feed them for a little while without much success, we went to the "koala station" where we handed in our tickets for a cuddle session and then got a huge koala placed in our arms by the zookeeper. The koala was heavier than I expected and he gripped on with his little hands and feet but he stayed exactly as the zookeeper placed him and sat completely still in my arms. The poor guy was probably sleepy since koalas are nocturnal and his sleep gets interrupted all day so people can hold him. After a few quick pictures, the koala was put back in his home and we went to walk around the village some more. 

Koala cuddles 
My new friend
It continued to rain on and off but we did take advantage of a sunny spell and walked back to the Koala Gardens to see if we could have more luck with the wallabies and kangaroos. With the rain stopped and the sun out they were much more active. The kangaroos were still pretty aloof but the wallabies were much more curious and friendly. The Swamp Wallabies would even let us pet them and would sniff us and hang around us! The smaller wallabies, the Red-legged Pademelon, was much more shy but we did get a chance to pet them a couple times and they are so soft!
Wallaby kisses!
We caught the bus back to Cairns and wandered around town for a bit before grabbing supper and then strolling along the beach for a while and taking in the sights. Cairns is a really beautiful place naturally but it also has a really great atmosphere that feels very friendly and welcoming and makes me feel like I could live here. We stopped for ice cream at Movenpick and then made our way back to our hostel for a quiet night in to rest up for a big day tomorrow...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sydney Adventures

Katherine arrived in Sydney early Wednesday afternoon and after she arrived we went to explore a little more of the city. We did quite a bit of walking and went all the way down to the harbor and saw the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Botanical Gardens. 

Around 4:00 we made our way to the Sydney Harbor Bridge for our tour across the bridge. We were given special suits and some gear, including a kind of harness and we were led along the paths that are used for bridge maintenance and up to the upper arch of the bridge. We were really lucky with the weather – it was warm and sunny with barely a breeze – and we got to be on the bridge for sunset and after dark to see the city all lit up. After the bridge walk, we stopped for a dinner of pizza before walking back to our hostel for the night.
On top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge!

Thursday was a great day. Katherine and I got up fairly early this morning and went to a local café for bagels and coffee before hopping on the train to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains! The train ride was two hours long but it went fast and it was great to see a little of the Australian countryside. It’s much drier than New Zealand and the vegetation is really different.
The town of Katoomba is small but it has a few cute shops and cafes. We walked all the way down the main street to the Blue Mountains National Park. The Blue Mountains are often referred to as “the Grand Canyon of Australia” and for obvious reasons. The mountains are layers and layers of ancient sandstone and limestone and in some places it really resembles the Grand Canyon.  We did a few hikes in the park. The first was the Katoomba Falls hike and we walked a long way down the mountains to an amazing waterfall. We then had to walk all the way back up lots and lots of steps and near the top we went to see the famous Three Sisters which are three tower rock formations.

Looking out into the Blue Mountains
Katoomba Falls
The Three Sisters
After our full day of hiking, we were both tired and ready to go back to town. We explored a few shops on the way back to the train station and then caught the 5:30 train back to the Central station. We were more than ready for supper when we got there after the two hour train ride and we decided to go to a place called Just Falafel which has all kinds of delicious varieties of falafel wraps. Falafels aren’t really a New Zealand or Australian food but they’ve become one of my new favorite foods while travelling here. After dinner, we made a quick stop for McFlurries before heading back to the hostel to get ready for bed and relax before another full day.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Goodbye New Zealand

This past week has flown by and I can't believe my time in New Zealand is really over. This week has been filled with finishing up classwork, a few more great trips, and lots of celebrating and reflecting on our five weeks together.  Our last big day was Saturday at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve which was basically a small zoo/petting zoo with a mix of natives and exotics. We did finally get to see Kiwi there, though! We  also got to see Tuatara which are large lizards that can live up to 300 years old, although the one we saw was only 23. We also participated in another Maori powhiri (welcoming ceremony) and got to learn some Maori dances and enjoy a traditional Maori meal (known as a hangi) cooked underground. Sunday we all finished our journals and handed them in and then had our goodbye party complete with a great slideshow from the trip. The end was bittersweet as I was sad to see everyone go but I am so ready to go on to a new adventure.

The tuatara - a living fossil

The Maori women performing a poi dance
Our last family photo

My flight left Christchurch at 6:00 this morning so I spent last night in the airport and it was a long night but it could've been worse. It turns Christchurch Airport has an Air Lounge for people who have early morning flights and it has beanbags and a few other amenities which makes it much more comfortable than the other option of hard plastic chairs. After a three-hour flight, I arrived in Sydney at 7:15am (it's two hours behind New Zealand). I took a shuttle to Bounce Backpackers where I am staying for the night and dropped my stuff off but it was too early to check in so I went out to explore the city a bit.

It is already very different from New Zealand but I'm relishing it because I was so ready for a change. Sydney is much more what I think of as a city, although I can't really put a finger on why. It just feels more alive, I guess. I'm not a city person by any means but I am enjoying the feel of this city and I feel like I could walk for a long time without running out of "nice" and I couldn't say the same about cities in New Zealand. And to make myself sound really American, I just had Starbucks for the first time in eight months and I am feeling quite at home here in Starbucks as I sit here and write this. :)

As much as this city is nice, however, I can't wait to get out of it and see what Australia is really like. Katherine comes tomorrow and then the real adventures will begin! I can't wait to see what is to come! I''ll try to keep you posted and post some Sydney pictures soon.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Day in the City

It has been an especially quiet couple of days as most of the group has been off in Queenstown and Connor and I have been trying to make the most of our free time without spending too much money. Our first choice was paragliding but it turns out that it's closed for the winter around here, so we also looked into hot air ballooning, horseback riding, and even skydiving but they all proved to be too expensive. We made the most of it, though, and spent one day out in the city of Christchurch. Christchurch is the closest city to Lincoln University, where we're staying, and it's not what I would call a big city by any means. The damage from the earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011 is still readily apparent and, although the city has a great spirit of resilience, it's obvious that Christchurch isn't what it used to be. I've noticed that New Zealand cities (at least Auckland and Christchurch) don't have the same bustling and busy feel that American cities do. I guess it's because the entire population of New Zealand (about 4 million) is less than that of any one big American city, but the cities here feel sort of desolate and empty. Despite that, Christchurch does have a certain charm and I like the innovative ideas they've had to make the most of the post-earthquake devastation and rebuilding.
One of Christchurch's distinctive sculptures
One of the ways Christchurch adds color and character
The Christchurch Cathedral

Connor and I took the bus from Lincoln to Christchurch and explored the Restart Mall (aka the Container Mall) which is a shopping center built entirely from freight shipping containers and some of the local shops for most of the morning. We stopped at Dimitri's Greek Food - a food truck right next to the Restart Mall - for some delicious falafel pitas and then at a café in a container for coffee. We filled the rest of the day with more exploring and ended the day with a drink at a local bar made from old school buses and then took the bus back to Lincoln. 
The Restart Mall
(All these photos were taken in when I was there in December,
hence the reindeer on the roof)
Yesterday was just a day of relaxing and working on class journals. I also spent much of the day looking for jobs for when I arrive in Perth, WA. There are certainly plenty of opportunities out there and I've applied for a few but I'm still waiting to see what works out. Only one more week until this course is finished and I fly to Australia!
All the best,

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Last Month in New Zealand

I can't believe it's really my last month in New Zealand - actually, I'm down to less than two weeks! It may be surprising but I actually can't wait to leave. Some people may fall in love with New Zealand and never be able to leave but I am not one of those people. I found myself wishing many times that I hadn't committed to such a long time here and that I could just go home, but it really has been a great experience and I certainly don't regret it. The culmination of my New Zealand adventure is a 5-week study abroad in Conservation and Biodiversity with the University of Florida and it has been worth the wait. I am now on week 3 out of 5 and I already know I am going to miss the great people I am fortunate to study and travel with.
"The squad" as we like to refer to ourselves

It's hard to summarize all we've done in the past three weeks but you can check out our class blog at http://www.kiwisforthesummer2014.blogspot.co.nz/ if you want to know what we've been up to. We just returned from a 3-day trip up the coast to Waipara where we learned about wineries' efforts to become "greener" by providing patches of native forest for native wildlife within the wineries and to Kaikoura where we saw A LOT of New Zealand Fur Seals (known as Kekeno which means "looks around" in Maori), some species of birds which we hadn't yet seen, and some Dusky dolphins way off in the distance. Needless to say, the views were also spectacular.

One of the fur seal colonies(above), a fur seal "looking around"(below)
 Most of the squad is looking forward to a fun weekend in the adventure capital of New Zealand - Queenstown - and although I would really love to go, I can't afford it so I will be enjoying a relaxing weekend in Christchurch. And in case you were wondering where this random blog post came from, from now on I'm going to try to blog regularly... better late than never! :)

Til next time,
The Kaikoura Coast