King’s Canyon

March 9, 2009

What to say about King’s Canyon? Perhaps photos can make up for what words can’t describe.

Oooh, good opener.

We mentioned the average trip to the Outback lasts 1.3 days – King’s Canyon is just one reason why that is insufficient. The Canyon Walk is easily the best rock mountain walk I’ve ever done. The caravan park isn’t bad either – the Café could stand to be a touch more exciting, but the loos are clean.

If doing the walk, be sure to wake in time for the sunrise…. we heard it was spectacular.

Oh, and you’ll be pleased to know I finally got around to finding a beter photo gallery system!

Check out the photos.

Our apologies!

February 17, 2009

Loos for virginsSorry to all our avid viewers for the lack of posts! We’re attempting to catch up now.

For convenience, we’ve tagged ‘todays’ updates under the category "Added Feb 17" & "Added Feb 18" as we’re trying to keep the entries in chronological order… very fun.

Hope you like!

The Great Austrlian Outback!

February 7, 2009

If you hadn’t heard, Australia is pretty damn big. We’ve heard that many visitors assume they can "Do Australia" in a week or two – nope. Like Canada there are a small number of cities separated huge distances. Unlike Canada, Australia has more than one airline from which to cover these distances. 

With this in mind, our original plan was to stick to the East Coast of Australia for the four months, leaving the West coast and the Outback for future trips, thus allowing plenty of time to take in local culture and the diverse regions that make up Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. We had planned to included in Tasmania, the southern most territory of Australia, as it has been described to us as the most beautiful landscapes in the country.

Returning from New Zealand, it occurred to us that we’d been using the word Beautiful a lot over the previous three weeks and so while Tassie is no doubt as amazing as people say, it might fall short of the sights we have just seen in New Zealand. We decided instead that we should visit the outback. There was little chance of it looking anything like we’d seen in New Zealand, and really, what’s a trip to Oz without seeing ‘The Rock’?

After a week in Melbourne in 40+ heat we thought it would be a great time to head further North (closer to the equator). Summer heat be damned.

Flying into Alice Springs on the always exciting Tiger Airways we were met on the runway with a surprisingly pleasant 46 degrees celcius.  But it was a dry heat. We spent 38 very hot hours exploring Alice Springs before picking up a campervan and heading off to see the sights.

It’s worth mentioning, we learnt that the average trip taken to the outback lasts 1.3 days. Perhaps those tourists know something we don’t (like how hot it is, or perhaps how irritating the millions of very friendly flies can get) but you really can’t see much in 1.3 days, even from the comfort of an air conditioned luxury Coach. If you go, trust us, you need to spend a week at least. Preferably in the Winter.

After our great success navigating Fraser Island, we opted for another Britz 4WD camper van.

… Oh, another piece of advice. It seems that the Maui, Britz and BackPacker Campervan companies are all the same company. Maui gets brand new vehicles, which are later passed to Britz customers, which are later passed to BackPacker customers. BackPacker customer pay less, have a smaller insurance deductable ($4500 vs. $7500!) and yet very often get Maui or Britz vehicles anyway as there are more available! If you’re booking a caravan trip, be sure to check out for all your caravan needs, and please keep arms and legs inside the campervan at all times…

For those curious, you can reach Uluru (the correct name for Ayers Rock) by sunset from Alice Springs with a quick stop at Rainbow Valley if you really put your mind to it… and leave before lunch time. Fortunately our plans to stop at some creeks to swim were cut short by there being no creeks.

Did I mention the flies? In Alice Springs we had to contend with two or three buzzing around your face continuously. Outside Alice Springs, where there are, as you can imagine, fewer distractions for flies, there are hundreds and hundreds of them. A shout out to the lovely English girls at the hostel for recommending we pick up some fly screen head masks before setting out. Being both stylish and functional, these masks may have prevented us from going insane. As you can see from the photo, Sarah wore hers with pride and dignity.

Australia has come along way in the past few years with its recognition of Traditional Ownership, handing back large amounts of land to the original Aboriginal owners. Ayers Rock is now formally recognized as Uluru, a sacred site of the local people. While they still allow you to climb the rock, they ask that you don’t, which we chose to respect. Not only is it dangerous, especially when over 40 degrees, it represents another aspect of absurd white-man thinking of climbing things just because they’re there. The view 200 feet up in the outback is like looking at stars through at telescope… it looks exactly the same! The Aboriginal traditions of Dreamtime stories also separate stories for children, men and women, and many of their sacred locations are also limited to men, or women, or children. As non-members of the tribes, tourists are treated (aptly so) as Children and therefore forbidden to hear certain stories, see certain places, and interesting enough, photograph certain sites.

See, ya learn something here!

Click here are the pictures!

Melbourne, Surfing & Koalas

February 4, 2009

Sarah and I flew back to Melbourne on Jan. 27th to meet up with a friend of hers, Megan, whom she’d met volunteering at "The Lodge" in B.C. a few years ago. Megan’s a great laugh and avid surfer… we knew we were in for some fun!

Some of you may have heard that Melbourne just had a NASTY heat snap of +40 degree weather. Sarah and I landed in it.

One afternoon we headed to nearby St. Kilda beach. We hid out on a beach patio where the girls had their butts whipped at Scrabble by yours truly. [He won by 4 points! – Sarah] That night as Megan rocked out to a nearby Ani Difranco (pronounced "Ahhhhnee") Sarah and I watched "The Goonies" under the stars on the rooftop patio at St. Kilda Baths! Great movie that… didn’t realize Cory Feldman had such a filthy mouth on him.

Here’s a photo of the sunset we witnessed…

The next night we went to nearby Castlemaine to see some of her friends in a great production of "Little Shop of Horrors" where upon I enjoyed 2 hours of heated debate at the cast party with that most dangerous of creatures the "Nearly-Rich-and-therefore-Very-Self-Important Financial Guy." It wasn’t my fault though, while minding my own business looking for the toilet-tree, he specifically asked me "So how would you fix the world?" I was sure to confirm he wanted to bring me into their discussion and I even asked him to repeat the question before spewing forth a few brilliant ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and was relieved to see a few others agree that he was part of the problem. He was clearly a shit disturber but did offer us all a ride home in his very comfortable BMW… which was an adventure in itself.

The next few days were spent driving up The Great Ocean Road with Megan, who did a great job as tour guide and surf instructor. We have no photos of the surfing but DID manage to capture (photos of) a few Koalas along the road! Beginning our lessons at Barwon Heads, near Torquay, we moved up the coast and even surfed at Johanna – a rather expert location I’m lead to believe!

I’ve always held that the best experiences of traveling are the strangers you meet along the way and Mark and Stefan at Johanna was no exception! After setting up camp Megan started chatting to Mark, a fellow surfer, and soon we were on our way to his place for dinner, along with Stefan, another traveler driving around Australia in a fully insulated, fully decked out, home made 4WD aluminum bus! The five of us enjoyed some great food, fantastic wine and the kind of enlightening philosophical discussion you seem to only have with complete strangers. Weird that, isn’t it?

As instructed in every good tourism brochure we were sure not to miss the 12 Apostles (now 11 I believe…) further up the coast before returning back to a slightly cooler Melbourne.

Check out the photos!

Farewell New Zealand!

January 27, 2009

Our two week drive through the South Island came to an end on Jan. 27th as we fly back to Australia to see Sarah’s friends in Melbourne.

The last 2 days of the trip were spent mainly in the campervan driving back the 500 Kms to Christchurch. Sorry we didn’t take many photos except this one – looking North up Lake Pukaki towards Mount Cook, the tallest mountain on the island.

Looking back, there really is nowhere we’ve seen quite as beautiful as New Zealand. We’d heard this from many people but I’m not sure we could have imagined it. The people are very very friendly, a bit more ‘British’ than in Oz perhaps, but with with a much more laid back ‘island’ feel to them than their English counterparts.

I was also really impressed by the relations between the indigenous Maoris and whatever you wish to call those that have ‘settled’ the island… a contentious subject in most parts of the world in and of itself! In New Zealand the Maoris seem comfortably ‘integrated’ in to ‘our’ way of life, while still for the most part able to hold true to ‘their’ way of life and cultural interests. The ‘non-indigenous’ citizens (i.e. Europeans) seem to not just accept the Maoris, but also respect their cultural contributions, historical significance and their views of life which seems a refreshing change.

Sorry there aren’t any other photos for this entry, but we have some GREAT ones of the Australian Outback coming up… stay tuned!  🙂

Milford Sound & The FiordLands

January 25, 2009

We awoke to find we’d lost our sunny skies to ‘spitting’ rain. Fate has a wonderful way of working out – our plan was to enjoy the remaining drive to Milford Sound and while upset to see low cloud and drizzle, were reminded that when it rains you get wicked crazy awesome waterfalls!

The drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau is 120 Kms from which you must then turn around and drive back the way you came, i.e. if you didn’t like the drive, tough luck – there ain’t no other way out of Milford.

Nature never fails to deliver. The drive is a wonderful windy narrow road flanked by vertical mountain cliffs, hundreds of waterfalls (when raining), and beautiful (there’s that word again) views. We stopped at "The Gorge", a massive rushing river carving its way through the limestone which was most impressive. Continuing on, about 30 Kms south of Milford you pass through the famous (?) Homer Tunnel were Homer took Bart and his elephants or something. It looks as old and unstable as it is but fortunately the government limits their exposure to risk by only allowing one direction of traffic through every 15 minutes. This allows you to sit at the tunnel mouth stop light for up to 15 minutes, weighing your odds and counting the pieces of fallen rock around you. To help distract you from immanent death by mountain collapse, there are plenty of Kea birds (like mountain parrots) hanging around the tunnel mouths. I’m not sure if they’re related to vultures or just like watching frightened Japanese tourists in rain coats.

Milford Sound itself is fairly lackluster. Picture, if you will, a 45 year old ski lodge converted to a budget backpacker lodge with an over priced cafeteria decorated with photos of drunken events long past, and discoloured photos of river ferries long since sunk… and you pretty much have it.

Milford Sound, like Doubtful Sound to the South West, caters to tourists jumping on an assortment of river ferries taking you through stunning natural wonders which on a nicer day I’m sure we would have loved. I however was keen to get back through that tunnel as quickly as possible, and Sarah was keen to play with some of the Keas, so back in the car we jumped.

As our days were growing thin we drove back towards Queenstown that evening and once again camped at our favourite spot, South of Glenorchy.

Check out the photos!

Fangorn Forest & Rainbow Ridge

January 24, 2009

Moving on, we headed south towards Milford Sound and stopped over night in Te Anau, the "gateway" to the Sound, i.e. the last place before the hour long drive up to Milford.  Te Anau is just what you’d expect from a Gateway (expensive gas and expensive caravan parks) however, like Milford, is situated in some stunning scenery in the south end of the Fiordlands National Park.

We started the day with (yet another) LOR filming site, the infamous "Fangorn Forest", home of those big Tree people thingys. The actual shoot location is now private land and some sort of Retreat centre for alcoholic dolphins or something so we were forced to settle for the forest on the other side of the road. As the movie shows, this is incredibly old forest and it was quite amazing how peaceful and quiet it felt.  We laid down a tarp and sat among a tapestry of think moss, mossy tree trunks, mossy fallen logs, and mossy moss. With sunlight filtering through the leaves it really felt like a white wizard would suddenly appear and a large  tree would step on us. Very relaxing.

Moving on, we headed back past Te Anau for a hike at Rainbow Ridge.. our first real sample of the also infamous Fiord Lands.  This was, by far, the most beautiful (we use that word a lot here we’ve noticed) forest hike I’ve ever been on. ["It was very, very beautiful, but I’ve been on better ones in the Pacific North West", Sarah] ["well, Nyah nyah nyah", Roger]. The forest itself was amazing, but the overall experience was what rocked me – the temperature was absolutely perfect, there was a constant light breeze for the full 4 hours, and most importantly there wasn’t a single mosquito, fly or nasty the entire time. It was an incredibly peaceful walk which we’d highly recommend to anyone in the area.  Follow the suspension bridge over the river, then turn left and walk for as long as you can (it’s a full days walk to the nearest hikers cabin). The hike was of course capped off with a couple of cold beers back at the camper.

Oh, in one of the photos you’ll see a weird stick man… we couldn’t tell if someone made him or if it was a natural combination of moss and sticks and our over active imaginations.  He was only about 7 inches tall, but looked like a sea monster with a walking stick! The mushroom photos were a combination of trying to be artful and thinking of Smurfs.

After the hike we began the drive up Hwy 94 towards Milford Sound, stopping 2/3s of the way up in another free and amazing camping spot beside Cascade Creek (the last photo). Sarah did her best Betty Crocker impression whipping up some great Indian camping nosh while I was out hunting and gathering.

While these photos don’t do it justice, take a look anyway!

Sarah’s Birthday @ Deerpark Heights

January 23, 2009

Some of you may know, Sarah’s a bit of a nature and animal nut so it seemed appropriate that on her birthday we spend the day at Deerpark Heights. Located just across an inlet  from Queenstown, Deerpark Heights as a HUGE area of private land which has become a wild life safari, regular film shooting location (not JUST for LOR), and  presents some more stunning views of the Queenstown area.

After awaking to a view only angels could fart out, we hit Queenstown for a slap up breakfast and drove to the Heights. The pictures show the assortment of animals, LOR shooting sights and the remains of a Chinese prison camp from the 1980’s Disney film “The Rescue”. True to form, Sarah had to pet and feed every animal in the park, including a rather large Elk (despite the warnings) who decided the quickest way to the feed bucket was through the feeder. I’m pleased to say that both Sarah and the elk walked away shaken, but unscathed. Sarah may try to convince you it was my fault for encouraging her to lift his head for a better photograph, but I hold that it was sunspots and his desire to give her a birthday kiss.  Really.

check out the photos!

THE most beautiful part of New Zealand (so far)

January 22, 2009

Leaving Wanaka, we continued South towards Queenstown.

For those of you who like (and can afford) bungie jumping, whitewater rafting, helicopter rides, and leaping out of perfectly good aircraft etc, Queenstown is for you.

Driving through Queenstown, taking care to not run over the (adrenaline) junkies littering the streets, we headed north to Glenorchy (admittedly for another Lord of the Rings (abbrv. "LOR" I gather) location, "Isengard, Lothloren, the Misty Mountains and Amon Hen.)

*ahem* I would like to point out that it was Sarah, not I, who wanted to see these places… I prefer “Mists of Avalon” myself…  mind you, the dude with the bow and arrow is particularly dreamy.

While Glenorchy itself is fairly uninspiring, the drive to it is absolutely breathtaking. Bending around on the cliff edge with Lake Wakatipu to your left  and the Richardson mountains to your right you are met with views you simply can’t believe truly exist in nature. We were literally giggling with excitement as each turn presented us with vistas more beautiful than that last. Naturally, photos rarely capture the beauty as our eyes can so you’ll just have to trust me on this one… but if you can, take the drive, preferably in a convertible and on a sunny day. Wow.

Out of curiosity we followed one of the many gravel pull-offs and found a gravel lookout (LOOKOUT!) with a view up the lake and Mount Earnslaw’s peak visible in the distance. Amazingly the spot was void of travelers and, as it was Sarah’s birthday-eve, it seemed the ideal spot to park for the night. After an amazing sunset, we lay out under the stars and eventually fell asleep to the sound of angels laughing and fairies playing with unicorns in the water below.

check out the photos!

Sheep have TAILS??

January 21, 2009

Our photo journey through New Zealand contnues as we head south through the Blue Pools at Makarora, and then for a relaxing night at Lake Wanaka. Resembling Jasper, the picturesque town of Wanaka has a very down to earth feel which, it seems, you have to be fairly wealthy to afford… isn’t it always the way?

Have you ever heard of Burnt Ends? This is a Kansas City delicacy made by continuously burning a hung of beef, while shaving off the "burnt ends" into a vat of BBQ sauce. The burnt, saucy concoction is then tossed on to bread, served up with backed beans and washed down with a few good beers. Fantastic. Turns out Jeff from Kansas City has moved to Wanaka, opened a BBQ bar and is serving it up live and well. Yummy.

To walk this lovely, if heavy, delicacy off, we decided to hike "up" Roys Peak on the Skyline Track. It was actually more like "back and forth" than "up" as we were forced to follow switchbacks for a very long time. A VERY long time. The first half of the trek took us through private land littered with "Sheep on Hills" and as the photographic evidence shows, SHEEP HAVE TAILS!? We’d heard of ‘tail docking’ earlier on this trip – the process in which you remove a lamb’s tail and scar their (if you’ll excuse the expression) anus thus preventing the growth of butt hair which impedes the animal’s ability to remain, er, clean, and therefore reduces their chances of picking up some rather nasty infections in their nether regions – but didn’t realize just how docked they were! The picture here shows how god intended them to look. They have wooly TAILS!?!

By the way, we’ve invented a great (we think) traveling game…

When traveling, it is inevitable that a number of questions come up you don’t have answers for, such as What is the difference between a fruit and vegetable; What was the name of the actress who starred in Whale Rider; or How do you pronounce "Uruwhenua"? As in Trivial Pursuit, you earn a piece of pie by finding out (without Google’s help…!) the correct (or at least most acceptable) answer to these questions throughout the rest of your trip…. well, you have to talk about something on the road don’t you??

*ahem* Do we have any sheep experts out there? This is for a green piece of pie….

Are sheep ‘naturally’ as wooly as they are today or are they only this wooly because of human cross-breeding and manipulation? i.e. if sheep had been left alone years ago and their tails left intact, would they still have these ass issues or do they only get wooly bottoms from of our making them more wooly and thus giving them tails they can’t deal with without our, er, help?

FYI, Wanaka was the shooting scene for "South Rivendale’s Rough Country" and "The High Peaks of Moria"… very exciting stuff.

check out the photos!