Saturday, 27 March 2010

Nagambie, Australia

Seeing cats was not what I thought it would be, but I enjoyed it - I've decided to call it a singing ballet, as I don't think it really fits into the musical category as there was no real plot (LOL)

The day after seeing Cats I had a bit of a lazy morning & didn't leave the hotel room till 11am when I had to check out.  After that I went looking for a place to grab some lunch wondered all around & finally found a cute little restaurant/bar serving pasta, salad & a drink for $11.50, which was a great deal so I took it!

After my lunch, I then headed over to the train station to catch the train to Beth & Mike's work in Parkdale (south of the city centre).  40 minutes later I was there meeting Beth & Mike.  To those of you who don't know Beth & Mike (which in case you're not sure would be all of you) let me explain how I know them . . . Beth was roommates at college with my dear friend Anne in Connecticut.  When Anne found out I was going to be in Aus she put the two of us in contact.  Beth explained she lived in Nagambie (1.5 hours north of Melbourne) and that she'd love for me to come up & visit for a few days, so I took her up on the offer.

We left their work & drove home to Nagambie, where I learned they live on a river, have a motor boat which they do lots of waterskiing on & also are FANTASTIC rowers.  When I say fantastic, I mean best in the world in their age group at last year's master's regetta in Vienna, Austria!!

We first went out for a boat ride to check out the local wildlife and then had a barbie on the river's edge.  After a wonderful night's sleep in a real bed (hotel beds are not real to me any more) and a quick breakfast I spent all of Friday reading & relaxing on the river edge, alternating between sun bathing on the floating dock and napping in the hammock, and reading with my feet dangling in the water.

At lunch time we took the boat over to Tahbilk vinyard, which turns out to be the oldest one in Victoria (Vic is one of the states of Australia) and which had just celebrated it's 150th anniversary last weekend.  We had a lovely seafood risotto for lunch & toured their cellar.  I bought 2 bottles as gifts to bring back to Umina with me.

That evening, Beth & Mike's mate Neville Howell came over for drinks & dinner.  He's an amazing man, who's just turned 80 and is probably more active than I will ever be at any age!!  We had another lovely barbie on the water's edge before heading back to the house as the paper wasps where attacking Beth & me.  We stayed up till nearly midnight chatting about his business & rowing & stud farms & philosophy & my travels & a heap load of other things.  It was a wonderful evening with lots of laughs and great company :-)

This morning, we again woke up & had breakfast before heading out to check out some property (another stud farm) Neville was considering buying before heading to the airport to fly back to Sydney, but not before having my first Aussie meat pie!

Now I'm back in Umina & really want to migrate to Aus & live in Nagambie on the river & learn to row . . .

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Coober Pedy, Adelaide & The Great Ocean Road & Melbourne

So after a day long ride in a Greyhound Bus, we arrived in Coober Pedy (opal capital of the world) which is mostly underground!  We spent the night sleeping 6.5 metres where the temperature is 24-26C year round, even when the temperature outside is 54C (in the shade, aka FREAKIN HOT!)

Since we arrived at 8pm, we went straight to bed & then went exploring in the morning, before touring the opal mines & surrounding areas in the afternoon.  Sara found some opals in the ground around one of the mining holes & was allowed to keep it - how cool is that?  At 8.50pm our next Greyhound bus left Coober Pedy & headed over night for 12 hours to Adelaide.

The bus was rather cold & there weren't many people on it so we were excited to stretch out until the driver told us we could only take up 2 seats for safely reasons :-(

We arrived in Adelaide around 7.45am and walked to our hotel, where I got shoved in a holding area as the room would not be ready till noon.  Sara went out to get some breakfast & check out the city.  Apparently she was NOT impressed, she found it quite & boring.

In the afternoon after checking in & having a shower, Sara was off to Hahndorf, a German city about 25km away from Adelaide.  It was an interesting little town, but she was so knackered from the overnight bus, she slept the whole way out to the town & walked around in a sleepy daze (lol)

The following day Sara picked up the car from Avis & off they went Melbourne via the Great Ocean Road bound.  The first day was about 570km drive to Mount Gambier, with nothing much to speak of along the way, but stopping every 2 hours for toilet/stretch your leg breaks.  The one thing we did learn in Mt Gambier is that when we were arriving in Melbourne, the Grand Prix along with a flower show and food & wine show were all going to be going on, so we were going to have a hard time finding a place to stay which wasn't super expensive . . . luckily thanks to Tania (girl I'd met in Africa) who lives in Melbourne, she gave us a few ideas & we were able to find a place that was reasonable, NOT the InterContinetnal for AUS$650/night!!!

Spent the night in Mt Gambier and left the next morning stopping at all the "sights" on the Great Ocean Road and staying the night at the 12 Apostles Motor Inn & Conference Centre.

The next morning we drove from 12 Apostles to Geelong, again stopping for photos at all the important places.

After a night in Geelong we drove up to Ballarat to see Soveign Hill & try our hand at panning for gold, which we soon learned was a lot harder than opal mining & we ended up with nothing to show :-( and then drove into Melbourne, but missed our drop off time of 6pm by about an hour due to city traffic.

Next morning we woke up, returned the car & saw that Cats was playing so we stopped in for a quick avaiability check, and walked out with 7th row centre stage tickets (SCORE!!!!!) But then realised we needed to do a bit of shopping as none of us had anything aside from shorts, trainers & flip flops, so the rest of the day was spent shopping at the DFO (direct factory outlet) where we all found something to wear for this evening's performance!!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Alice Springs & surrounding area

Well we've been busy here in Australia, as you can tell from Sara's last update.  Since then, I've been packed, unpacked, repacked & HAD tons of clean laundry - gotta love fresh smelling clothes!

We left for the airport at 6am a week ago (Thursday) and got the 9.30am flight (aka the 10.50am due to high winds & heavy rains) and after a bumpy take off the rest of the flight was pretty smooth, apparently up in economy they showed the movie The Blind Side, down in the belly of the plane they showed nothing, what's up with that?

We arrived safely into Alice Springs, got a taxi to the Heavitree Gap Outback Lodge and planned our next 4 days.  That night Sara fed the local rock wallabees which come down the gap around dinner time to get fed pellets sold by the hotel.  The next day was the West MacDonnell range tour - so we saw, Simpson's Gap, Ormiston Gorge, Standley Chasm, Glen Helen Gap, and a few others I've forgotten now.

Following day was the beginning of the bigger adventure, a 2 day tour of Ayer's Rock, The Olgas & Kings Canyon. 2.5 hours after leaving Alice, we arrived at Erldunda (which is just a road house) and switched into a smaller van for the day in Kings Canyon, the weather was looking cloudy but not horrible . . . until another 3 hour drive got us to Kings Canyon Station (cattle station - only petrol shop for miles!) and they announced the creek might be flooded, but we decided to have a look . . . to make a long story short, we made it into Kings Canyon creek to find it flooded 1metre above the road & by the time we turned around Katherine's creek was flooded 1 metre as well, so we were trapped between the two creeks for 1.5 hours, till Katherine's creek went down a bit & we just gunned it & made it across.  The plan for the day totally impossible, we headed back to Erldunda for the night.  Next day we headed to The Olgas & Ayer's Rock, which we saw in the pouring rain, which is very unusual AND we got to see awesomely amazing waterfalls coming off the rock, which few people get to see in person :-)  Due to the tour failing the day before we decided to stay an extra night in Erldunda & go to Kings Canyon the next day . . . long story short, it had rained too much & now the creek was 2 metres high, so we came back to Alice Springs & saw some things in town.  Spent the night at Heavitree Gap Lodge & next morning got the Greyhound bus to Coober Pedy.

Arrived in Coober Pedy, found our underground motel & slept 6.5 metres below the ground - WEIRD!  Then took a tour of the booming metropolis of Coober Pedy, getting to do a bit of opal mining ourselves, well not really, we got to look for opals in already dug up piles of rock, & I found a few pieces :-)

Last night we got on the overnight bus from Coober Pedy down to Adeliade, where we arrived this morning at 7.30am & have been walking around till now.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

New South Wales & Australian Capital Territory

I've now been here in Aus for about 6 days, feels like longer with all the things I've already seen & done!

The flight was rather uneventful, Qantas staff are amazingly friendly & helpful and the food was par for airline food.  I arrived at around 14.30, flew through immigration, baggage claim & customs, with just a brief pause for shoe cleaning, since I'd been in Africa & there was still some dirt on the bottom of my trainers.

Arrived in Umina (Central Coast) around dinner time and after that I basically just went straight to bed.  Woke up the next morning and we went to the Australian Reptile Park, were we got to see spider milking, which is just to collect the venum from the spiders & they save it to send to the labs for it to be made into anti-venum.  Apparently the only place in Aus which does it - pretty cool!  We saw lots of other Australian wildlife as well, a few photos from the reptile park just down the road from Kaylie's house, click here.

Following day, we got manicures & pedicures, which were much needed after 41 days in Africa!!  Now my fingers & toes look fabulous - in case you were wondering ;-) We also did a bit of shopping for things like an Aussie sim card, Havaianas (flip flop) and planning for the next few weeks until dad arrives on April 2nd.

On Sunday, Kaylie & I drove to Canberra in Australian Capital Territory (ACT) to see a few things there, on our first day we visited the Australian War Memorial, which was super cool.  It's a nice large building, with an eternal flame & tomb of the unknown soldier, along with a museum filled with planes, boats, photos, models, and stories of all the things the military has been involved in since they first became a country.  We also stopped in at the tourist information centre and found out the Monday was Canberra Day so everything would be closed for the public holiday, so we decided to head out to Kosciuszko National Park and Eucumbine Dam for the day, which are both actally in New South Wales (NSW) just on the other side of ACT which is soooooooo small.

All in all we drove about 520km.  We left Canberra and headed straight to Thredbo which if you look on a map means we passed Cooma (where we grabbed some lunch)and Jindabyne (which I call Junebug, cause it's easier to remember & spell!) You can check out our photos from this trip by clicking HERE We took the chair lift to the top of the highest mountain in all of Australia where it was just 8C, but luckily no snow, since I was just in jeans, trainers and a tshirt.  On our way back from visiting Mt Kosciuszko, we decided to take a small side detour so we could also visited one of the many SnowyHydro Dams which were built many years ago.  The dam we visted was only 52% full, cause as most of you know, Australia has been in a drought for quite a few years now.  It probably would have been more impressive to see it at full capacity, cause right now it just looks like a lake at the bottom of a hill (lol).  We ended up back in Canberra around 6pm and were looking for a place for dinner, we thought the mall would be a good place to find something, but as it was a city holiday, everything had closed at 5pm, except for the cinema, so we decided to go and see Valentine Day and eat our dinner of popcorn and pepsi (LOL).  The movie was amazingly not nearly as bad as I was thinking it might be.  Has anyone seen it?  Did I also mention I saw The Blind Side, which I really really liked & since Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for it, I'm glad I've seen it, since I'd not seen any of the other movies which were nominated or won awards, oh wait, that's a lie, I saw Julia & Julia on my plane ride, but had to watch it like 3 times to see it all, cause I kept falling asleep during it.

On Tuesday, we went to visit the Royal Australian Mint & saw how their coins are made from a really cool viewing deck which is above the production floor and after that we went back to the visitor's information centre to find out if there was anything to do in NSW on the way back to Umina (which is north of Sydney by about 50km).  We learned that Fitzroy Falls was just off the highway & apparnetly just as popular a tourist stop as Ularu (Ayer's Rock) so we made that quick stop by there to check it out and it was pretty darn cool!

Today is Wednesday and it's a "preparation" day.  Tomorrow we fly from Sydney to Alice Springs for 4 days, then take the Greyhound bus down to Coober Pedy (Mrs Toste this stop is JUST for you!) where the opals are minded and then bus it again to Adelaide, where we'll spend a day before picking up a hired car and driving down to Melbourne via the Great Ocean Road.  I think that will take us 4 days and then we've got 2 nights in Melbourne, one of the days of which we'll go to Ballarat for some gold mining (wish me luck).  Then we'll go and visit my friend Anne Winterson's mate Beth for 2 nights, she lives 1.5 hours north of Melbourne in a rural area, which I think is on a river, before flying back to Sydney for a few days before dad arrives & I start part two of my Australian adventures with him!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Photos from Africa

I've put up a few photos albums on Facebook:

Kenya & Tanzania, you just click here

Malawi & Zambia, you can just click right here

and for Botswana & South Africa, you will have to click on this link

Botswana & South Africa

Sorry for the long pause, being in Australia is sorta like being back home in America, so I've been bad about sitting down infront of the computer to write, since the weather has been sunny & warm every day!!!  But since today is our "planning" day & the weather is cool and rainy I decided to jump on here quickly and give you an update since I left you in Zambia, which is now quite a few days ago and a whole other continent away!

Where were we?  Oh yes, relaxing on the Zambezi River, oh how lovely that was.  It had stopped raining for the first time in a long while & our tents were starting to dry out (YEAH!)  We were prepared for our last 6 nights on the way to Joburg.

In order to get to Bostwana from Zambia you have to take a REALLY old ferry which hardly looks like it will hold people let alone MACK trucks, but This Is Africa (TIA) and of course it all works out with only a half hour wait.  WHen crossing, you're actually in the Zambezi river, just before it changes it's name to the Chobe River and there are different countries on all 4 corners of the river, Zambia, Zimbobwe, Namibia and Botswana.  On the other side we passed through immigration without any problems and then had to walk over this mud covered sponge to "clean" the bottoms of our shoes, cause they have a large fear of foot & mouth disease entering since they have a large beef industry & export!

About an hour later, we arrived at the Thebe Lodge, which was a nice campsite with a pool, so after lunch all of us jumped into our suits and veggitated by the pool until it was time to go on our Chobe River Safari.  Which was suppose to just last 3 hours . . . as some of you have already heard, it's only thanks to the Botswanian military that we all came back alive!  Our guide was trying to get us close to a fish eagle which was sittign in a tree branch in the middle of lots of grasses & water lillies.  The wind had picked up and I remember thinking if we get blown into their it's gonna be hard to get outta there, but what do I know, right, I'm just a customer, not the person who does this tour on a daily basis . . . further & further into the grasses we get blown, I think I notice the guide trying to reverse out, but he still looks calm & all others are snapping photos & have no clue what's going on.  After awhile everyone is done with photos & says okay lets move on, which is when I realised we weren't going anywhere!  Pulled the motor up & it's COMPETELY full of crap, so I help to clear it out & he attempts to push us out with his one paddle (did I mention this is a boat which holds 22 people so not exactly small).  Pushing on one side only turns us side ways & every time he puts the motor back in & attempts to turn it on, we just collect lots more weeds/grasses/etc.  Another boat similar to ours offers to help & thinks if we get on their boat he'll be able to get out more easily cause there will be fewer people on it.  We give this idea a try, but the problem is, in order for us to get onto the other boat, he must come into the same grassy area & probably needless to say, he gets stuck as well!  The Botswanian military which is on border patrol as we're in the section of the Chobe which is opposite to Namibia, sees us struggling & comes over to assist us.  Now I don't have time to rewrite everything which I just wrote, all you need to know is they got stuck in the grass as well, since the wind has only gotten stronger since we started this adventure.  After ten minutes of struggling & a wooden paddle breaking in half, one of the military guys jumped into the water & started to push all of the boats out to safe water.  Now you might think this sounds easy, but understand there are tons of crocs & hippos all over the place so this is SUPER SUPER dangerous, especially as it's breeding season so you don't want to go near a nest as the animals are overly protective of their children!!!  Plus he was up to his armpits in water, so not exactly easy to push a boat which has 10 passengers on it through thick grassy water, but he did & saved our lives!  Had I mentioned it was around 6pm at this point, so starting to get dark & non of our boats have lights on them?!!?

Back at camp about an hour late, we had lovely bbq steak dinner and went to bed early.  Half way through the night it started to rain and kept up for the next day and a half.  Following day we packed up camp & headed on to Elephant Sands campsite, where the week before 10 elephants had come over to the pool and drank out of it while people sat around the pool in chairs!  We were not so lucky since the weather was pouring rain the ellies were able to find water without looking into pools, but it was a neat campsite & one I would have loved to explore more if the weather had been nicer.  That night, Steph heard something outside our tent & worried it was an ellie who might step on our tent, we looked out, but instead of seeing a large animal, we just saw two bright eyes in a tree.  Steph insisted she "knew" it was a leopard, I wasn't so sure, but wasn't going to test it!  We waited till the sun started to come up around 5am and looked again, turned out to be the smallest monkey in the world, but some how it was able to make lots more noise in the tree, so much so by the time the sun was coming up I was starting to worry it night be a leopard as no other animal could make that much noise in a tree (or so I thought).

That morning we crossed into South Africa and stayed at the Bushmans' Safari Game Park for the night, where the rain stopped & I got a great photo of the sun rising the following day.  That afternoon I learned to play Texas Hold'em Poker & actually won (Beginners luck for sure!)  After our days of rain we knew the ants would be out in full force & fearing a repeat of our ant infestation, we covered our tent inside & out in ant/insect powder and even slept with Raid Ant Spray, which Steph & I had each picked up a bottle along the way - nothing worse than waking up to ants EVERYWHERE!!!!!!!

Woke the next morning ant free - YIPPPPEEEEEEEEEEE!  We headed in the direction of Kruger National Park.  Arriving in the mid afternoon.  The weather had stayed nice & we were super excited about not having to worry about rain sheets & maybe not even ants after one night of ant free sleeping :-) when they announced they had no more room in the campsite so they would be upgrading us for free, into their lodges.  OMG, they were wonderful, real beds, real white tiled showers, and a real toilet, things we'd not seen for just about 30 days!  We stayed here for 2 glorious nights & visited Kruger Natoinal Park the day between for a full day (6am pick up and 6pm drop off) game drive, where once again we saw the Big Five and assorted other animals.

After leaving there, we had a long 7 hour drive (thanks to traffic in & around Joburg) to our FINAL destination The Backpackers Ritz (a hostel) where we all had a shower & went out for dinner at the Rosemont Mall, where we had a cup of Earl Grey tea (another first since beginning this African adventure).  The next day my flight was at 6pm, so I spent the morning with Steph, Jess and Jonny before heading to the airport for my 12 hour direct  flight to Sydney.

All in all it was a FABULOUSLY WODERFUL trip, I know at times it might not have sounded that way, but it was all good fun, just trying at times when you're soaking wet, cold, and covered in ants ;-)

So this section of the trip was 7 countries (Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa) in 41 days (Jan 20 - March 2).

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Umina Beach, Australia

safely here, updates to come at a later time :-) and hopefully photos too!!!!!!!