Thursday, April 24, 2008

North Island, New Zealand

Wednesday November 28th, 2007 (Picton to Wellington to Ohakune)

We started off the day on an Interisland Boat Ride from Picton to Wellington. We didn’t do much on the boat; I watched a movie and took a few pictures, and Kacey slept (she had been really tired lately). Once we got in, we got the rental and got going on the road. We hadn’t made much of a decision of where we were going, just roughly toward the central part of the island, probably around Tongariro National Park. Once we reached Bulls, this is where the highway split and we needed to make a decision. As Kacey was just sleeping the whole way, I woke her up once in town. We were hoping to get information packets on the parks, but could not find anything. So with the information we had, we decided to head toward Ohakune and the National Park. We got to Ohakune after much driving and started looking for a place with internet as we wanted to plan the next couple days. We found the Hobbit Motorlodge after driving for a few minutes and they had a vacancy sign with a wireless internet sign. We stopped in, got a room, and asked about dinner. We ended up going to town, filling with fuel, buying a couple groceries, eating at the Mountain Rock Café, and going to bed (after some internet time of course). Dinner was pretty good and since it was not ski season, it was mostly locals just hanging out.

Pictures from Wednesday can be found here.

Thursday November 29th, 2007 (Ohakune to Hamilton)

We got up and headed toward Tongariro National Park and stopped in the Whakapapa Village for some information. We got information for a couple hikes, but as Kacey was not feeling to well, we went to Tawhai Falls and got going. We had a lot of nice views of the volcanoes as we drove, so we stopped for pictures along the way. As we approached Turangi, we stopped for some views of Lake Taupo (map). We stopped in Turangi for some lunch at the Mustard Seed Café. The sandwiches would have been better toasted, but we moved around Lake Taupo toward Taupo. In Taupo we stopped at the doctor to make sure Kacey was ok. Turns out she wasn't tired from hiking and traveling for three weeks, she was pregnant! So as you can imagine, this is a most unique way and place to find out you are expecting, so we will probably never forget this day as long as we live. We then headed to Huka Falls. These were a little cheesy as it is a man-made falls and river that empties from Lake Taupo and it is used to generate electricity. We then headed across the road to Crater of the Moon Park. This was interesting as Kacey had not seen geothermal activity before. There was not much activity or water pools, but there was one bubbling mud pool. We got on the road for the two hour drive to Hamilton. When we arrived, we drove to the place we were hoping might be available, the Barclay. It was, and it was a pretty big and nice room. After some dinner at Pasta Mia, which was pretty good, we got to bed.

Pictures from Thursday can be found here.

Friday November 30th, 2007 (Hamilton to Waitmo to Auckland)

Today we got going pretty early and headed down SH3 toward Waitomo for our 10am tour of the Glowworm Caves. I had been looking forward to seeing the Glowworms. This was a pretty cool boat ride through the cave with a nice tour. At 11am, we then had a tour of Aranui Cave which is a dry cave, so no glowing worms. We stopped in Otorohanga for some lunch at the Copper Tree Café. We each got a small pizza that was not too bad. We then started the three hour journey to Auckland. Once we got near the city, traffic got very bad. Driving downtown was a nightmare as the streets are not straight, and many one ways and no turns made it take a while to figure out how to get to the hotel. At the City Life Auckland, we got put up on the 15th floor with some nice views. We walked through a few stores, ate dinner at the Middle East Café, and got some gelato down at the Harbour. We headed to the room to get ready for the long plane ride back home tomorrow.

Pictures from Friday can be found here.

Saturday December 1st, 2007 (Auckland to Honolulu to Denver to Indianapolis)

Tired, because we lived Saturday December 1st twice.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

South Island, New Zealand

Saturday November 24th, 2007 (Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass)

We arrived in Christchurch (CHC) around 2pm. We decided to change our reservations and not stay here; we instead looked around downtown for about an hour, and then headed to Arthur’s Pass to stay for the night (originally, we had pre-booked our first and last night in New Zealand only). The drive was nice; there were many nice scenic views and they were covered with interesting rock formations. This was also Kacey’s first time driving on the left, which went pretty well as I had been telling her points here and there throughout the trip thus far. We arrived at the Arthur’s Pass Alpine Motel around 7pm and got checked in to our little cottage. We drove in to "town" for dinner at the Wobbly Kea. It was pretty good, actually, and priced pretty well too, considering there is nothing in any directions for miles (or kilometers). The town consists of a DOC (Department of Conservation), a train station, a small general store, a couple places to eat, and a couple small motels. We got back to our cottage and surfed the web a bit to figure out where to stay the next night.

Pictures from Saturday can be found here.

Sunday November 25th, 2007 (Arthur’s Pass to Fox Glacier to Hari Hari)

Today we got up and hiked a trail in Arthur’s Pass National Park. We hiked to the Devil’s Punch Bowl. It was fairly steep, but a well maintained and mostly graveled trail. We headed back to the car and got on the road toward the west coast. Again, the drive was pretty fun as these mountain pass roads are twisty and steep with great views. Even though the weather was light rain and overcast we still stopped for pictures along the way. We also got to experience the Kea bird for the first time. We stopped by the side of the road and we noticed a few of these birds that look like a distant cousin of a parakeet. After we got out to take in the view, the birds started jumping on top of the car like they wanted in. Then we a bird on a nearby rock eating a gasket, which seemed very strange. Then, we read the sign at the overlook which informed us that these birds have taken to eating rubber! This means that the birds were not trying to get into our car, they were eating the rubber from it! Once we reached the coast, we started the drive south along Highway 6. We stopped in Hokitika (map) for some quick lunch, petrol, cash (as there were possibly no ATMs south of town), and a view of the sea. It was a gray sand beach and the crashing of the waves put a mist in the air. We made it to Hari Hari and stopped to see if we could check in early at the Hari Hari Motor Inn and leave our suitcases. Sure enough we could and we did. Kacey also ran in the wool store in town and bought some beautifully dyed combed wool for her grandma to spin. We then headed toward Franz Josef Glacier for our first glacier experience.

We arrived in town and stopped for a few maps. These told us which hike to hit to really see the glacier. We took the Franz Josef Valley Walk which takes you as close as they will currently let you get unguided. With the overcast skies, you could not see all the way up the mountain, which made the glacier look like it was infinite. The walk was through the river beds that fill up during the summer when lots of ice starts melting. There was plenty of little water falls throughout the valley and the walls were very high up. After this walk, we headed south to Fox Glacier. We first went to the lookout for the glacier which was a walk through the rainforest for a not-so-big view of the glacier. We then drove over to the carpark for the hike up to Fox. It was trying to rain just a little so we were attempting to keep the cameras covered up. This walk also had plenty of signage to keep people away from the glacier but as we were very close to the glacier and the melting water river was far away, many people were going up to it anyway. We followed suit as we really wanted to touch it. We took some nice pictures and got going as the rain started to come down a little heavier. We looked funny with our little purple umbrella, but our heads and cameras were dry. We ate dinner in Fox Glacier at Café Neve which for the area was probably ok. We then drove back north to Franz Josef to try to find some dessert. There were more options, but the dessert was disappointing for the cost. We started the trek back to our hotel to get some rest.

Pictures from Sunday can be found here.

Monday November 26th, 2007 (Hari Hari to Nelson via 6)

We woke up and got on the road toward Greymouth. This is where we would stop for lunch and gas. We ate at Café 124, which was not too bad, just small portions. We searched for free wireless internet, but no luck. We then headed to Paparoa National Park. Along the way, we thought we spotted a whale off of the coast, but upon review of the pictures on the computer, it looks like it was probably a rock formation. We stopped at the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. This was pretty neat and we took lots of pictures of water splashing and a few videos to hear the blowholes. We then drove straight through to Nelson and found a place to stay downtown. We ate at Stefano’s, an Italian place, which was not too bad, spent a couple minutes on the internet looking at places in Picton, then went back for some rest.

Pictures from Monday can be found here.

Tuesday November 27th, 2007 (Nelson to Motueka to Picton)

We woke up and got going to the northwest toward Motueka and Abel Tasman National Park. We drove over the mountain to arrive inside Abel Tasman NP and stopped to hike for a bit. We then realized that the main entrance and Visitor’s Center was north near Takaka and would have taken another hour and a half to reach it. We decided to just walk out to one lookout and then head out. It was a little disappointing to not get to hike more, but the views of the water were pretty nice. Abel Tasman is mostly known for ocean kayaking and boating, so there probably was not much more hiking had we headed north. We stopped in Mapua for some lunch at Café One (or something like that). Their salads were pretty good. We got on the road for the long haul towards Picton. Highway 6 between Picton and Havelock had some pretty nice views, along with several logging trucks. It is very noticeable as you view the mountain sides that logging is very heavy here. Many of the hills were bare and areas not bare were lined with “rows” of trees from replanting. We had noticed on the maps a side road from Havelock to Picton, but had not found much information on it. We saw what we thought to be that road, but without much information and wanting to stop in Blenheim for wine/olive oil/chocolate, we stayed on 6.

We arrived outside of Blenheim and started looking for signs. We searched for the information center in town, but could not find it. As it was getting late, we knew shops would start closing soon, so we hurried on in hopes to see some north of town. We found Annie’s Wine Room and Café and stopped in. We got there about 10 minutes before closing. We tasted a few local wines and one olive oil. I did not really care for their particular Rieslings, but Kacey found one red she liked. So, we picked up a bottle of red and a bottle of Omaka Springs Olive Oil and headed out. The woman there told us how to reach one other winery so we headed that way. We arrived there about 10 minutes before closing but unfortunately they had very little wine to try. There was only one that Kacey wanted to try, but she didn’t care for it and we moved on. On our way to the car, we saw down the road a chocolate shop, so we rushed over. To our luck, it was the one store we had read about to stop in; Makana Confections. We got there about 30 minutes before closing and had a look around. We bought some chocolate for us, parents, family, and a few friends and got moving once north once again on Highway 1 toward Picton. We arrived in town and it was somewhat smaller than we had imagined. We first stopped at our first choice of hotels, the Jasmine Court. They had a vacancy sign out front, so we knew we had a place to stay for the night. This place was pretty nice and we quickly did a load of laundry and headed to the Yacht Club for dinner. Do not eat at this place, it was quite disappointing. There was really no one else there and we waited 30 minutes for a poorly prepared dinner, part of which involved a microwave that we could see from where we were sitting. We headed back to the hotel, did a little web browsing and trip planning and went to bed.

Pictures from Tuesday can be found here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sydney, Australia

Wednesday November 21st, 2007

We had a 4pm flight to SYD, which was late and with storms, we did not get off the plane until about 9pm. The Airport Link train was a fast route to Wynyard station, but cost about $13 each. We checked in at the Grace Hotel Sydney, and went to bed.

Thursday November 22nd, 2007

Today we headed to the harbor. We gazed at the Opera House and Harbour Bridge for a few minutes, and then bought tickets to take the ferry to the Taronga Zoo. We spent about four hours at the zoo, got some pictures with some Koalas, and headed back to the harbor. We did something called an Animal Encounter. We spent 10-15 minutes with Koalas in their environment where we got up close with them and took pictures up close with them (Australian law prohibits visitors from touching the Koalas). The Taronga Zoo is much better than the Melbourne Zoo and we really enjoyed our time here. We then walked around the outside of the Opera House for a while. Up close, it seems smaller than what you see in pictures and TV. We headed back to the hotel to figure out dinner and ended up going down the street to La Bora Italian restaurant. The food was decent, but nothing special. We looked for desserts but could not find anything near by.

Pictures from Thursday can be found here.

Friday November 23rd, 2007

We got up, got some food at the Espresso Bar next door to the hotel (good), and took the train to the Blue Mountains. We got to the train stations right around 10, and we had just missed the train to Katoomba that leaves every one hour. So we found some take away sandwiches for the train and boarded the Blue Mountains Line train around 11. The two hour train ride was nice as we needed a little time to sit, listen to music, and play some sudoku. We read that the few shuttle services/tour trolleys leave every hour and are lined up with the train arrivals, so we picked the cheaper one (Blue Mountains Trolley Tours) and quickly got our tickets once we arrived. We really only needed the shuttle to get us down to the Gordon Falls so we could start a hike along the rim. Due to the late start, we decided to not try to get all the way to Three Sisters, so we hopped on the bus for the last kilometer or so. We made it from Gordon Falls, through Leura Cascades, to Honeymoon Lookout. It was a nice hike and fairly rugged. The views were wonderful and made for a quite relaxing time. Kacey grabbed a cupcake to eat and we caught the 5:24pm train for Sydney Central. We switched trains at Central to get us up to Wynyard to stop off at the hotel before dinner. We walked a few blocks south to Captain Torres for some pretty good Spanish food. That night we stayed up late packing as we had to leave the hotel around 6am for the train station.

Pictures from Friday can be found here.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Cairns, Australia

Sunday November 18th, 2007

We arrived in CNS, got a taxi (about the same cost as the bus), checked in at the Rydges, and went to P.J. O’Brien's Irish Pub for dinner. It wasn't anything special, but at least it was a little lively.

Monday November 19th, 2007

Today was our boat trip for snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. We went with the Silver Swift company and they were very good. It was about $140 each, but we went out on a high speed boat and had time to hit three different dive sites. There were tons of fish! We first hit Milln Reef where we stopped at Whale and Fishtown. Whale is a spot that got that name because the reef comes up to the surface and causes a vortex, which looks like a whale spouting water. Fishtown got its name in an obvious fashion; it has lots of fish. Last we went to Flynn Reef for a stop at Tennis Courts. I am not quite sure how this got its name. Each spot we were given around an hour to dive, which is quite a long time. The last spot had very strong currents which made it extremely tiring, especially at the end of the day. We were quite tired by the end of it all. They served some muffins, coffee, and tea for breakfast during the one hour ride out. Although highly encouraged to take the free motion sickness medicine, nearly every one got sick off the back of the boat (and some didn’t make it to the back in time). Kacey was close, but just sat and relaxed to get through it. Coming back was the exact same thing; you really think people would have learned their lesson! It was a great day though. We didn’t get to see any sharks, which I really wanted to, but we did see some giant clams.

Pictures from Monday can be found here.

Tuesday November 20th, 2007

Today we rented a car and went north to the rainforest. We first stopped in Barron Gorge National Park at Lake Placid. We watched the ducks and ate a little food. We then drove up to the Hydro Station. There were some nice views of the Gorge along the way. After this we headed to Kuranda. This was a mountainside road that was very curvy with a steep elevation change. We stopped at a lookout about half way up for some views of the ocean and towns below. Once in Kuranda, it was obvious this was a little tourist stop. We stopped only for some information and moved on to the Barron Falls Lookout. Barron Falls feeds in to an enormous gorge. There was a nice hike through the rainforest to get down to the lookout. Next we drove over to Wrights Lookout.

From here we decided to drive inland (west) to Mareeba and drive south down highway 1 to Atherton, and then head back east to Gordonvale. We stopped in Atherton and looked for some information and Kacey ate some Greek food. Next we headed to the Curtain Fig Tree. This was a pretty large display of a Curtain Fig Tree. We also snapped many pictures of an Australian Brush Turkey, but only a couple came out any good. Our next stop was at Lake Eacham which is park of Crater Lakes National Park. Here we saw a few more Brush Turkeys and got a look at some turtles in the lake. We then stopped at Lake Barrine, just down the road, and got a view of several pelicans feeding. As it started to rain (as it was on and off all day), we ran to the car and headed over the Great Divide toward Gordonvale. Near Gordonvale, we snapped a few pictures of the natural Pyramid, a hill naturally shaped like a pyramid. There was not that much to see of it, so we headed north back to Cairns. We stopped at Adelfia for some good Greek food and called it a night (after buying a half liter of gelato for dessert).

Pictures from Tuesday can be found here.

Wednesday November 21st, 2007

We bummed around this morning. Ate lunch at La Pizza (nothing special here) and walked the boardwalk.

Pictures from Wednesday can be found here.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia

Friday November 16th, 2007

We arrived in AYQ near Ayers Rock (aka Uluru) and headed for Yulara (aka the Ayers Rock Resort). It was kind of surreal seeing the large monolith sticking up out of the ground while flying in. We checked in at the Lost Camel Resort and went to the grocer to purchase food for lunch and some random snacks. The rooms are interesting here. No TVs, just a radio and fridge. The hotels are very well made so they keep the heat out fairly well. Drove to Uluru, stopped at Cultural Center and spent a little time reading there. Went for two hikes (driving counter-clockwise around Uluru); the Kuniya Walk and the Mala Walk. Came back to the hotel for a quick break. Drove back to Uluru for the sunset view. Ate dinner at the Pioneer BBQ and Bar, which is a cook your own food place with live entertainment (locals playing covers).

Pictures from Friday can be found here.

Saturday November 17th, 2007

Today we slept in, relaxed some, got a coffee (cheaper than Starbucks, in the middle of the desert), and went to grocer for juice and muffins. Finished grocer food for lunch. We drove to Kata Tjuta (aka the Olgas), talked to Ranger Sam about park rangers here in the desert (~43 rangers). We ate dinner at the Pioneer Kitchen. Not too bad; pizza and vege wrap. We tried to do a Night Sky Show at the Observatory, but it was too cloudy.

There is not much to Kata Tjuta National Park. There are only a couple trails at Uluru and a couple viewing points along the way. The climb is usually closed unless you are here in their winter. The Olgas only have a couple trails as well and only a couple viewing areas as well. The Valley of the Winds trail is also usually closed.

Pictures from Saturday can be found here.

Sunday November 18th, 2007

We got up at 5am for the sunrise at Uluru. There were not really any good viewing places as it is a roadside stop and not elevated above the trees. Drove by to see if the climb was open and it was already closed due to winds. We bummed around by the pool until check-out. We ate at the Gecko's Café nearby and were disappointed. They gave our pizza to someone else, but we were the ones that noticed the mistake. When we brought it up, they did not apologize or anything and said that they were now putting another pizza on. Not until after I started to pay did I mention that this was disappointing and as soon as I mentioned a review of the place, she said sorry and no payment was necessary. The damage had been done and I threw a $20 at her and said it is too late.

Yulara is a resort that was planned and built in the mid 80’s. They did a fairly good job of hiding the resort in the hills and with trees. Crowd controls are pretty good too. This may be due to expenses here and several bus options for people to come in from Alice Springs. The bad part of the buses is when two or three show up to do a hike. They are loud and make shots difficult. The town is a little expensive, but deals can be found – like eating food from the grocer for breakfast and lunch. Dinner can be done for $30-60. The food actually is not too bad considering you are in the middle of the desert; we didn’t really have anything bad. I think the Aussies know how to plan and get food (and other things) to these remote towns fairly well. I thought a lot about how the village works (I can’t help it). I believe they satellite in TV, internet, phones, and a few radio stations. They then re-broadcast the radio here with transmitters as there are a few stations (some just may be accessible from Alice Springs. I doubt that any fiber has been run here. They make their own electricity and water. Internet is expensive too. There are wireless options around, but they were not available from our room. The rate was $25 for 24 hours (cumulative over two days) which is not too bad for out here. I am guessing it would not be that quick, though, as the internet terminals are not that fast either (about half your time at them is spent waiting for the pages to load). And, since the terminals are some proprietary crap software, we could not log into our bank to move funds.

Pictures from Sunday can be found here.