A Travellerspoint blog

Steepest, highest, biggest, longest

A theme we noticed in New Zealand was that every attraction, activity, place, was the something-est in the world/country/universe. This theme has now carried over to Australia, where today we went to something called "Scenic World" (which sounds super generic so you wouldn't think it's the -est of anything), which boasts the steepest passenger train in the world; the highest cable car in Australia; the biggest cable car in Australia (these are two different cable cars, BTW); and the longest elevated boardwalk in Australia.

I'll back up: today we went on an organized tour to the Blue Mountains. Being the super organized travellers that we have proven to be, we decided to book this at 6:30 last night, and did zero research on which tour we wanted to do. So, we ended up on a tour that included: a visit to Echo Point to view the famous Three Sisters and Solitary Mountain; a show at the Waradah Aboriginal Center; entry and rides at Scenic World; lunch in Leura village; visiting with the local wildlife at the Featherdale Wildlife Park; and a river cruise back to Sydney Harbour (plus all transportation). In terms of money, it was a pretty good deal; however, it did not include the things we actually wanted to do in the Blue Mountains, such as hiking/trekking, getting close to nature, etc.

So, our tour guide's name was Stephen, and he essentially told us his entire life story, explained things like speeding cameras, carpooling, toll roads, and other such novel concepts on our two hour drive from Sydney up to the Blue Mountains. He also showed us some lovely videos (a bit disconcerting that he was both the driver and A/V tech at the same time, but ok) and encouraged us to have a nap post-lunch. He also very strictly told us to be BACK ON THE BUS AT FIVE TO EiLEVEN. THAT'S FIVE MINUTES BEFORE ELEVEN O'CLOCK. Then he was very stressed out when there were people not back on the bus at five to eleven (maybe they thought he said five after eleven?). He was less concerned when people were twenty minutes late coming out of Scenic World, and allowed them the "choose your own adventure" option of walking to Leura.

The Echo Point view point was beautiful, and what you will see on every article/brochure/travel site advertising the Blue Mountains. It does not disappoint as the mountains are truly blue (due to Eucalyptus, I am told), the Three Sisters are amazing, and blah blah blah. We oohed and ahhed as appropriate.

The Aboriginal Center show was not quite as inspired as the Maori experience we had in Rotorua, however, I will give points for the awesome emu/kangaroo dance and a very impressive digeridoo performance (apparently the digeridoo has three other names, which he made us repeat three times, but I promptly forgot. You can google it).

Next up: Scenic World. I can't quite put this experience into words, as it was essentially a few different rides that took you up/down/across so that you could walk on the boardwalk through the rainforest in the Blue Mountains. There is also an old mine there which was pretty cool/occasionally quite creepy. The rides were colour-coded, as tourists are regarded as quite stupid in this country (as evidenced by the "look right" notes at every crosswalk), and we were supposed to go yellow-red-green-blue, but since we are are rebels we went yellow-blue-green-red.

Red was the scenic railway, which is at a 52 degree angle and is the steepest railway car in the world. It essentially looks like the drop off from Splash Mountain, only it doesn't go very fast. We wanted to go up and down a few more times, but didn't want to be late for the bus so Stephen wouldn't lose any more hair. This railway thing is pretty cool though; they originally made it as a way to get the coal/workers up and down the mountain, and then people wanted to ride it for fun (crazy 1920s daredevils) so they started charging for it. Eventually they retired the original car, Jessie, and built this new fancy-schmancy high capacity version with safety features. It also goes through a tunnel at some point, so there's that.

After Scenic World, we had our free lunch and then went to the Chocolate shop that was recommended as they have chilli chocolate (which I love), and besides, you can never have enough chocolate. Our supply from the Cadbury tour has finally run out.

At Featherdale Wildlife Park, we got up close and personal with some Australian native animals, such as koalas (I WANT ONE!! CAN WE GET A KOALA, DAD??), kangaroos, wallabies (but a wallaby will never have my heart like Rory, so don't worry Jared and Hannah [Faren or Ari tell Jared and Hannah I mentioned them in the blog, okay?]), dingoes (who were against all odds not eating babies), emus, blue penguins and tasmanian devils. I will now talk about each.

Koalas: I got to pet a koala. And touch it's claws and feet. And I love it and I will absolutely be bringing him home. His name is Cole. We also spent about 20 minutes with the captive audience of 4 zookeepers who were interested in polar bears, our travels, and how cold -40 really is.

Kangaroos: A kangaroo ate out of my hand and it tickled. (Note: you can see a very amazing video of this on Facebook). I liked to pet the kangaroos too and watch them hop. Silly kangaroos.

Blue Penguins: We watched these itty bitty little dudes (and dudettes, I presume) who are only 12" high swallow fish whole. They also waddle and quack and I love them too.

Tasmanian Devils: These things do not stop moving and it turns out they have an animal version of ADHD. I turned it into a game by trying to capture a non-blurry picture of him but it was difficult. I also think he wanted to eat my camera but no such luck, Mr. Devil.

Emus: These are birds. Very large ones. Enough said.

Dingoes: These look very much like dogs, in fact, it may have been my Auntie Gail's dog Genny, I'm not entirely sure.

When we were overhead paged back to the bus, we went on the boat cruise back to Circular Quay. Since it gets dark at approximately 5:30 pm, we didn't see much, and plus, you can't beat the view from the roof of our hostel; but we beat the traffic and who doesn't love a good boat cruise?

Now we are headed to bed, as tomorrow is ANZAC Day (memorial day for Aus/NZ), and we need to get up at 3:30 in the morning (MORNING!!) for the dawn ceremony and then apparently a lot of day drinking. Stay tuned for more on that...


PS: Here is a very important video that we found today:

Posted by Flanilandlizard 04:47 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Not So Free Activities

Between the fact that I have no concept of sleeping on a good day, and the two hour backwards time change I was in no way surprised when my watch read 5:00 as I woke up this morning. After spending a couple hours convincing myself that maybe I would fall asleep again, I left our room and headed out to the rooftop patio of our hostel to take in the terrible views of the sun rising.

Now usually after a late night arrival breakfast would be a bit of a doosy, but we are lucky enough to be staying in a high end hostel which offers free pancakes on Wednesdays. So we headed down to the kitchen, grabbed some batter and joined forces with a group from Melbourne to flip some flapjacks and pick their brains for some Aus tips. Once we finished we headed to Hyde Park for a free 2.5 hour walking tour to help us get some bearings of our surroundings and absorb some Australian history. Now I was expecting a full blown Australian to be touring us around (picture old man in a Barmah hat with a thick accent) but instead were greeted by Lily, a lovely lady from somewhere in Eastern Europe (but would not divulge where) who has been in Aus for ten years, had somewhat broken English, but LOVES Sydney and its history more than anything. We met Lily beside this lovely fountain which was made by a french artist in 18something which caused tension because it was a British colony (Note my good listening skills).
Now the tour we went on is run by "Free Tours Sydney" but right from the get go Lily reminds everyone that this is her full time job, and many other companies would charge $50 for a city tour, so it's important to give her the amount that you feel the tour is worth. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to pay for someone to walk me around giving me information, but don't call your company Free Tours Sydney if you really will be mad if nobody pays you- just make it a $5 tour and then everyone knows what they are in for (and she could probably better predict her monthly income). Lie tactics aside, Lily really did know a lot about the Central Business District, waterfront and "The Rocks". The buildings here have a lot of history and there are statues of significant people everywhere you look. I can confidently name about 3, but luckily there are plaques to help me out. We also visited this pub, which is 1 of 3 to claim to be the oldest in Sydney.
Let me tell you a bit about "The Rocks". Australians are too damn nice to lock up their criminals so instead they decided to send them all to one part of the city and let them battle it out amongst themselves. This area happens to have narrow streets, hidden alleyways, and some of the best views of the city as it lies along the harbour front.
At some point in history the area became "super safe", full of expensive restaurants, kitschy bars and the odd button store. Our hostel is also within the rocks and is built on an active archeological dig site. I can't tell you what they are digging for because up until now I've yet to read any of the 200 signs explaining it. I'm saving this for a boredom activity...so stay posted.

After our highly informative tour we heard the beach calling our names so we headed for the ferry. En route we managed to watch what I would call essentially a live audition for "America's Got Talent" (AGT) but the performer called "Free Street Performers". Again he made it very clear that this was his only form of income and that other people could charge us $40 for this much entertainment, so if you didn't have money you at least needed to shake his hand and look him in the eye, but mostly that you should be paying him. After watching him act as a robot, swallow a balloon, light his head on fire, and juggle some "dangerous" items my judgment is that he would not have made it through to the next round on AGT.

We opted to go to Manly beach instead of Bondi today as we were told it would be less crowded. After arriving at 2:28 for the 2:30 ferry we grabbed seats and promptly made friends with our latest English companion- Lucy (not to worry Dave, she is also a doctor but you are still our #1).
Lucy was also heading to the beach so after our quick 30min ferry ride we made our way through the adorable beach town and down to the sand. Manly was not surprisingly beautiful, with low waves and warm water. Unfortunately we got there pretty late in the day so only had a couple hours before the sun set.

Once we had returned to mainland we offered to show Lucy around the Rocks as she hadn't yet discovered the area. We followed the path Lily taught us and recited all the things we had learned earlier that day. Lucy was quite impressed with our Tour Guiding skills and we were quite impressed with how much information we had absorbed in two hours. We also brought her back to our archeological site to take in the view. Now at this point you should know that I was highly considering doing the bridge climb since its so iconic and I thought might be cool to say I've done here. But then I found out it's $300. I'm not exactly sure who is willing to pay that. Or what I would see from on top of the bridge that is better than this. P1050487.jpg
So readers, if you are interested in reading a blog about me climbing the bridge...then please forward donations. We seem to be averaging a couple hundred views a post (I know some of you are checking in more than once) but really it's about $2 per person for me to do this. I am even doing my part to donate to the cause. Our hostel offers $6 dinners as an additional perk . Now I'm not talking a crappy microwave meal. Oh no, tonights dinner was homemade chicken burritos made fresh in the kitchen by one of the hostel staff, served with a side salad and a free soda. And did I mention it was delicious?! Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of this meal as I was too excited eating it, and I'm not sure it would have looked that pretty. But know that it was awesome.

And now, I'm going to enjoy some relaxation on the rooftop patio because its 10:30pm and still 20 degrees.

Posted by Flanilandlizard 05:51 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Many Ways to Almost Die for Lots of Money!

We woke up in Auckland to a rare sight- sun! We hedged our bets and took our raincoats anyways (this turned out to be a pretty good idea, as you might have expected). We were planning on renting some bikes and riding around the harbour, so we headed towards the harbour in search of bikes (and something to see other than Asian food restaurants). When we got there, we figured out that in fact what might be best to do in Auckland is get out of Auckland. Oh, and we also finally tried Hokey Pokey ice cream, and yes, it lives up to the hype.

So, we hopped a ferry and took a beautiful 45-minute cruise over to Waiheke Island, home of-you guessed it!- wineries!! We also signed up for a "Vineyard Hopper Tour", which sounded really amazing but actually was just a bus pass with some added stops. It took us to a vineyard/craft brewery/cafe called Wild on Waiheke, where we sampled beer (for moi) and wine (for Lani), ate lunch, and soaked up some sun. Wild on Waiheke also had the interesting feature of being "family friendly", meaning there was archery, bocci ball, a playground, and clay disc shooting (they let children have guns here!?). This provided entertainment as we waited for our food (did we mention it's maybe not brilliant to go to a family friendly winery on Easter Monday?), watching children alternate emotions between excitement, anger, jealousy, and then apologizing for inevitably hitting/pushing/biting each other. Did you know that when you're a kid it's okay to push someone as long as you shake hands and say you're sorry?

After Wild on Waiheke, we walked up the driveway and then around the corner and up a LONG driveway (yes, we paid for this privilege!) to Te Motu Vineyard. Here we joined in on a wine tasting of some wine that we generally agreed wasn't fantastic.

We then walked (yes, walked AGAIN! And there was uphill!) through the "Vineyard Track" to Obsidian, a small winery that exceeded our expectations! We were a little sad we had to get on an airplane the next day, as there were a few wines at Obsidian that would have gone very nicely with our next few weeks in Australia. First up was a Chardonnay that changed our opinion on Chardonnay. Then a Montepulciano that was quite lovely. The piece d'resistance was the signature Obsidian Reserve, a red blend that will make you question all your previous red blend choices. We were suitably impressed with the very small Obsidian vineyard, and had a lovely time trying to convince another woman to blow a week's paycheque on a case of Obsidian. Our ride (we finally got to use it!) showed up before we could find out her final choice. (Interesting side note here: this woman and her family had sat behind us for lunch at Wild on Waiheke, and apparently her husband had sent a photo of us around to his mates to show them what a lovely time he was having. I'm not sure how I feel about that one-- shouldn't I get paid for that or something?!).

After we ferried back to Auckland, we walked back to the hostel and had a short sleep (we had been drinking in the sun all afternoon, of course). When we woke up, we were ready to go! Unfortunately, Easter Monday had other plans for us. The friendly hostel reception lady had ZERO suggestions, and so we settled on the Sky Tower. This is essentially a CN Tower/Space Needle/Calgary Tower type deal, that serves exactly one purpose: take money from tourists. Happy to oblige (though we did get a discount for being YHA members, so, I guess we win).

We took a lot of pictures and I got slightly nauseous at the glass floors that you pretty much HAD to walk over- the signs that assured me that the 38" thick glass was as strong as concrete were no reassurance when thinking of the Liz-shaped splat that would surely ensue any second. Somehow, I narrowly escaped death and we made it out alive.

For an extra $2, we were able to come back the next morning to see what we couldn't see in the dark (and compare what we guessed each light was to what it actually was). This also allowed us to watch crazy people jump off the Sky Tower (not bungee, this is a free fall. There's even a target at the bottom, how morbid). Some silly people were also walking around the outside of the Sky Tower (they say they were clipped on, but I'm not too sure), and I soon had some questions about what was missing in these people's lives that they are looking for ways to almost die on a regular basis. I guess that can be New Zealand's new motto: "Come to New Zealand for many ways to almost die at a very high cost!!". I think it says something about my level of intelligence that I only paid a lot of money to almost die once or twice in our three weeks.

And with that, we bid adieu to New Zealand, but not before meeting two more extremely friendly Kiwis:
1) A gas station attendant who gave us free chocolate bars and then $2 so we could clean out the car (we didn't ask. She just handed over her money willingly. Maybe she was hoping I would give her a chance to almost die?).
2) Our shuttle driver from the car rental drop off to the airport, who gave us lovely tips about which gate we would be at, where to eat, and what to do in the Auckland airport before our flight. He also told us intimate details about he and his wife's upcoming vacation to England and then a cruise and then a couple of days in Dubai. Maybe it was actually an invitation to join? Kiwis really are the greatest.

We landed in Sydney with the double edged sword of all travellers: sad about what you are leaving behind, but ever so excited about what's yet to come. That's the way I've always tried to plan my travels, and my life in general, and I guess I wouldn't want it any other way. A rolling stone gathers moss, after all, and I do hate the smell of mildew...


Posted by Flanilandlizard 03:55 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Let's go to the Beach! Beach! Beach!

Good Saturday began with- you guessed it- SUNSHINE!! I can’t believe our good luck as the weather gods finally took a day off from tormenting us. The forecast had called for rain and we were prepared to be disappointed about not getting to see Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach in all their glory. But alas, sometimes good things happen to good people!

As an added bonus, while I got some beauty sleep Lani took a walk into town and picked up eggs and hash browns to make me a delicious breakfast. Umm, how do I keep her with me next year in Philly?? She sure knows the way to my heart (hint for all potential suitors out there: it’s through my stomach).

We decided to ask our strong Englishmen if they’d like to join us for our beautiful beach day, and for some reason, they weren’t sick of us and decided to come along. We drove to Hahei (I think this is where the Lumineers got the idea for the song), where Lani and I were ready to get some snorkel gear for Gemstone Bay. Dave and Mark had brought along their own gear (and a spear gun, though I think this may have just been to add to their strong-man reputation). The man at the snorkel place asked us what we were going to do with said snorkel gear, to which I replied “snorkel” (I’m very eloquent). He asked if we’d like to see anything, to which I replied “yes, please”, and he said it was a no go. Too rough. Suggested boogie boards instead, and again I said “yes, please!”.

We loaded our boogie boards into Tilda’s “boot” (I have some British lingo in my vocab now. It makes me sound posh) and headed to the beach. Lo and behold: another surprise hike! This time, I was the dumb-dumb hiking in flip flops, but luckily it was a very easy hike. And once again, the reward was more than worth it- we made it to Cathedral Cove!

We found ourselves a good spot to plop down our stuff just through the cove, and quickly hopped in the ocean. It was a little cool (apparently my lips turned blue at one point but I wouldn’t know anything about that) but the waves were fab and we had a great time jumping and surfing and generally splashing about.

Our next destination was Hot Water Beach, where hot water seeps up through volcanic rock so you can dig yourself a nice little hole, hop in as it fills in with water, and have a soak in your own private hot tub. Well, private my butt! Lani and I had been wondering where all the tourists in New Zealand were. Turns out, they’re at Hot Water Beach at low tide, digging their own hot tubs!

Well, we may be Canadian but that doesn’t mean we aren’t a little industrious, so we scoped out a pool and had a soak. When it got a little too hot for the boys’ British behinds, we grabbed the boogie boards and hopped in to go for a ride.

The waves were big (Snidermans: think Big Island brunch at Mauna Kea), which only equalled big fun. One wave tried to ruin my fun by flipping me about, so I tapped out and just took pictures.

This got old fast so I went back to scoping out a perfect hot tub. Mission accomplished, however, I did sound a bit like Goldilocks: This one is TOO HOT! This one is TOO COLD! This one is JUST RIGHT!!

After we were sufficiently “relaxed” (Lani thinks Hot Water Beach isn’t too relaxing as you must continually work for your hot tub to be the right size/temperature/not have other tourists jumping in), we headed back to Whitianga, and to our separate abodes, to shower off the day’s evidence of fun (NB: I believe there is no sand left at Hot Water Beach, as it all found itself in my bathing suit, Tilda’s backseat/trunk, and our shower).

Once cleaned up, we headed back to the only acceptable restaurant in Whitianga (not sure this is true, but not willing to find out otherwise), where Lani and I had our burgers (YAY! But actually they were sub-par) and the boys got a turn at the pizza. We weren’t able to convince them of a repeat performance on the Strong Man’s Shot.

We ended off the night by drinking some of NZ’s “finest” brew on the beach, where we were narrowly able to escape the rain and had a lovely sit on some very comfy rocks. Dave once again showed us he was a Strong Man by opening beer bottles using drift wood.

This morning, we said goodbye to our British buddies over coffee, then headed off to Auckland. This will be our final stop in NZ, and our last drive in Tilda (though I’m not sure we’re too sad about that!). Let’s hope Auckland can live up to the high standard the rest of the country has set, and that Australia will be just as great!


Posted by Flanilandlizard 01:08 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Strong Men come from England

It seems the rain gods had decided that we had been having too much fun because by Thursday Rotorua (and much of New Zedland) was under a complete torrential downpour. The kind of face slapping, sideways rain that basically makes functioning impossible. We knew right away this would throw a wrench into our plan of visiting the night market that evening but were still excited to go to trivia at the Pig and Whistle (a local bar). We took things chill and spent some time at the library cafe warming ourselves from the inside out, then headed to the indoor climbing gym (no day is complete without an activity). As with most gyms the local climbers were an awesome and super friendly lot and so I didn’t hesitate to invite them to trivia with emphasis on how awesome it was going to be.

When we got back to the hostel, Pete was busy checking in some guests and I promptly invited them to join us for trivia. Now that I had told half of Rotorua how awesome trivia was going to be we decided to confirm the start time. A quick phone call to the bar clarified that Trivia was cancelled on account of a comedy show. With deep disappointment (Possibly looking a tad foolish) and a lot of back and forth we settled on Brew, a local brewery, for dinner and drinks. By this time the rain had cleared and things were looking up. Pete joined us at the bar, and Liz made friends with a local principal named Sue. Once we had exhausted Brew (drinks were OUTRAGEOUSLY expensive) we went over to the Pig and Whistle where there was a live band that weren't nearly as good as the Flaming Moe's.
All in all nothing substantial happened Thursday, but you need those days to really appreciate the good ones.

Things were looking up Friday morning, with bright blue skies, Zorbing on the agenda and a trip to Whatianga in our future. Well the blue sky lasted about 5 minutes but our spirits were still high as we headed out to the Zorb. Now this is something we have been looking forward to for a couple of years and it did not disappoint.

A Zorb is essentially a giant clear plastic hamster ball that you crawl inside, get hosed down with water and roll down a giant hill. If you are ever wondering what it feels like to be flushed down the toilet- I would expect this is it. We have a fantastic video of the experience but YouTube currently hates us so you will have to do your best to imagine based on these before and after pictures.

After our ride and a visit to the hot pools we were ready to head out of town- Tilda, our moody little Nissan, had other plans. Our brakes had been acting funny for a couple day, which we had thought was related to hydroplaning but when we tested them out dry things were still not right. So we called AA and headed to a McDonalds to wait. The AA man was quite efficient and an hour later we were good to go.

As with all our drives we were told it would take us anywhere from 2-6 hours to get to Whitianga. It's worse than JST here. Along the way we noticed this epic double rainbow in the rearview mirror.

We opted to take a quick detour over to Wairere Falls for what we expected to be a quick, easy tramp out to see a beautiful waterfall.
For Tongagriro crossing there is adequate warning that you are headed into tough terrain and that appropriate gear is needed.
Not 5 minutes into this hike, due to the flooding the day before, we were hopping through rivers, side stepping baby waterfalls and crawling across rock.
Again we had all sorts of questions about the idiots trying to do this in flip flops, with babies strapped to their chests, and those who clearly had never walked uphill before. The hike was was steep but the summit was completely worth the new round of mud and water in our runners (It’s not like they had ever dried anyways).

Once back in the car we decided gas would probably be a good option if we wanted to make it all the way to Whitianga (I like this word, WH is pronounced F, I will continue to say it at every opportunity) and so we stopped in Te Aroha. You’re probably wondering why I am telling you about a visit to a gas station, in a small town, on the edge of New Zedland. Well I will tell you. As we were getting back into the car to leave a siren went off through town. We got slightly concerned and ask the man at the station. He looked at us like we were crazy for asking and said “That’s the five O’clock alarm” . The emergency is simply that you shouldn’t be working anymore. PHEW!

We got into Whitianga (Fa-Tee-An-Gah) around 7 and headed for supper. We went to Tuatua - a tapas and burger restaurant that was also the only open restaurant in town (Note: it was Good Friday). In the 45 minutes we spent being indecisive (and the table beside us spent judging us) the restaurant ran out of burgers ironically because the judgers had ordered the last one. Since I had finally settled on a burger and was now back at square one I had all sorts of negative feelings towards the two chaps who stole my dinner. Not long after we finally settled on our orders (pizza) when my table-side nemesis struck up conversation, as the tables were awkwardly close and they had also seen us at the Abyss tour. It didn’t take long before we propositioned Mark and Dave with a strong man shot each. I can’t tell you why they agreed. I’m not sure they can either, since again - they were sober and it was before 9- but either way with very little coaxing we were able to film the strong man shot as performed by two “strong” Englishmen. Unfortunately again, youtube hates us. So lucky for the boys there is no video in this blog post. Unlucky for them- I will be posting the video to Facebook so feel free to watch it there.

Whitianga was looking like a good place to be spending Easter.


Posted by Flanilandlizard 00:37 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

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