Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Campervans in New Zealand Kick Ass!!!!
New Zealand is just too gorgeous of a place to not check out Troy's photos of South Island on our photo website.
We just spent close to three weeks in South Island, New Zealand and we loved it especially since it reminds us of Colorado, of course without the ocean and the gajillion sheep. Both are beautiful with huge mountains, snow capped peaks, gorgeous sunsets, rolling farmlands that are brown... excuse me... golden, high fire hazard, chilly nights, and perfectly clear skies. We did our fair share of driving, covering over 2300 miles in 18 days. Honestly I didn't know the South Island was big enough to drive that far. But drive we did and we saw as much as there is to see.
Spending three weeks in NZ Troy and I decided to rent a camper van instead of staying in hotels every night. As we found out a huge number of tourists do this so we were not original in our thinking. You would probably feel like the lonely fat kid on the block who has no friends if you were driving around in a little rent-a-car instead. Troy and I are not very good campers. We have discovered there are certain comforts we like to have while out in the big bad wilderness such as a refrigerator, toilet, shower, and a soft comfy bed. We are a little ashamed of ourselves but at least we can admit it. We definitely were happy with our shower/toilet combo since it's cold at night and the last thing we wanted was to have to do our business in the woods while we froze our ass off! Originally we planned on staying at camp sites every few days to use the power. But once we realized it was not essential to have the power to run our microwave so we could have popcorn we headed off the beaten path and camped every night next to rivers, lakes and beaches eating chili dogs (mmmm chili dogs), NZ green lip mussels and enough local wine to open our own liquor store. The beach was the best until Troy's handy dandy GPS told us it was full moon with high tide at 2am and the ocean tide got a little too close for comfort to our camper.
Speaking of the gajillion sheep, they are not very smart animals. We're driving down a dirt road and the fields on both sides of us are packed with sheep. Some how a lot of them were outside the fence so they were crossing back and forth across the road as we approached. It is amazing how quick they panic and freak out. We're driving as slow as we can so they can get out of our way (and to cause them the least amount of panic) but there is this one lone sheep that can't figure out what to do. "Which way do I go? Do I go this way, no I'll run this way. Oh wait, no I'll go back across the road. Oh shit, the truck is still there, where do I go, what do I do? Somebody help me! Ahhhgggh, I wish my brain wasn't so small so I could figure out what to do!" The sheep is running faster and faster as he criss crosses back and forth across the road until he finally manages to find the side of the road only to run full speed, face first into the fence. You could only laugh at the poor animal!
One thing we planned on doing when we got here was some hiking. We have become quite lazy on our trip so we definitely needed some exercise. Only we became a bit over ambitious on our first hike and ended up doing a 17 mile/28 kilometer hike. Considering over the last few months our main form of exercise consisted of walking from the train station to the hotel with our backpacks, climbing a few church steeples and swimming against current while diving, this hike just about did us in. But obviously we survived and didn't go quite as far on other hikes. One of our hikes ended at the base of a glacier with dozens of waterfalls running down the rock face with the bright sun shining everywhere. It was one of the most beautiful hikes we have ever done. We were feeling quite special since we were alone and thought we were the only ones who knew of this hike. That is until we turned around and on our trek back we must have passed at least 75 people heading toward the same glacier.
We also wanted to tackle some white water rafting which is one of our most favorite things to do and whenever there is an opportunity to go, we go. Unfortunately since it is not spring there is no snow run off so the rivers were not running very fast or high. We almost decided to not go until we were offered a little two person rubber duckie raft. This was a hoot!!!! In a normal raft that sits about six people, you sit fairly high above the rapids. And unless they are class three, four or even five (four being scary huge rapids) you don't get very wet nor is it horribly exciting. You just kind of putz along the river looking at the scenery. We love scenery and all but we can get that out of the windows of our camper van. So we wanted something a little more exciting. This little duckie turned class two rapids into class three+ rapids which was wild. We were down low in the thick of the rapids and were getting drenched at every bump and turn. Loads of freezing water gushing over our heads, water forcefully splashed into our faces, water going up our noses and filling our duckie with water. It was also a lot more work then on the big raft because Troy had to steer (instead of the guide steering) while I paddled us through the rapids before the rapids paddled us. We're both yelling at each other "PADDLE! PADDLE! GO RIGHT! PADDLE HARDER! GO LEFT, GO LEFT, GO LEFT! PADDLE PADDLE PADDLE! WATCH OUT FOR THE ROCKS! OHHHHHH SHIIIIIIT!" Seriously, it was a blast!!!!!!
If we thought we got close to the water with our rubber duckie, we got even closer when we went river sledging. We have never heard of this before we got here so we definitely had to see what it was all about and give it a go. What you do is you put on a really thick wetsuit, fins, helmet (mandatory to avoid getting your head smashed by a boulder) grab a glorified boogie board, jump in the river and ride the rapids just like you're riding a wave at the ocean. Talk about a face full of water at every turn not to mention the adrenaline of not having a raft to protect you from running into the rock walls. Our first run down the river wore us out because we had no idea what we were doing even though we were given instructions. It is definitely one of those things that looks easier then done. But our second run down was much easier and more fun since we had figured things out.
You can't come to New Zealand and not see the amazing wildlife that the country is known for. We saw a lot of sea lions from car parks while they sunned on nearby rocks but we hoped to get closer to them. My guidebook named several places on the west coast to see them up close but our best clue was knowing where the locals go. So on a rainy, windy day we headed to Sarat Bay in the hopes the sea lions would be out. After getting drenched walking in the rain and tall, wet grass we almost gave up until we turned the corner and saw four huge sea lions right on the beach about 50' away from us. We couldn't tell from their behavior if they were playing or fighting but we found out later that it is the mating season so there was some testosterone behavior going on, trying to woo the females towards the males [see video of sea lions]. We really had to keep our eye on them as we moved closer because we were told they move very fast on sand and since it is breeding season the male might have wanted to try one or both of us on for size!
Next was the Royal Albatross which is an endangered species. Birds don't normally interest us but these are amazing creatures. For one thing their wing span is 9' across. That is just enormous if you think about it. Second, they can spend years (yes years) out at sea never setting foot on land. The South Island is the only place in the world that has a mainland colony of breeding Albatross birds. All the other breeding sites are on small islands so it is very difficult to see these birds so close unless you're on the open ocean. Another bird we had to see in the wild were penguins. We lucked out at one beach as we saw one penguin come out of the surf and head to the grass where her babies were. But she was not that close and there was only one. We were greedy, we wanted to see more. Very near the Albatross colony was a penguin conservation reserve that is on private farmland but is open to the public to view the penguins that come and go from the ocean. I honestly have to say, these penguins were just so cute. I never use that word, but they were cute that I wanted to pick them up and hug and squeeze them. Though not so cute when they poop. It's a little sad that they have no legs, just feet attached to a fat belly and have to waddle and hop to get from one place to the next. I guess evolution forgot a few things when it came to the penguin. The penguin we saw is the Yellow Eyed Penguin or the Hoiho. These are very endangered with only 4000-5000 left in the world. We also saw the blue penguin which is the smallest peguin in the world, but they wouldn't come out of their little holes so we could see them better. We have a video of a penguin walking and a video of a penguin being fed if you are interested.
New Zealand also has the most unusual geological land. Everywhere we turned were either millions of years old petrified forests, odd perfectly shaped spheres of rock, cliffs of rock and sand that shot out of the earth like stack of church spires, deformed shaped bouders and disgusting sea kelp that looked like gigantic strands of spinach fettuccini. I know it's not the most exciting thing to write home about (which is obviously what I am doing) but the things we saw were just weird. Just look at the photos and see for yourself!
It's a good thing we're done with New Zealand because Troy is tired of driving. After 2300+ miles I don't blame him. Next up, Fiji then onto Vanuatu!
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Trapped In The Outback of Australia
Check out our Australia Photos at our Photo Website!
We just finished up with almost three weeks in Australia and "it was kind of a bust. But as far as busts go it wasn't a bad bust" (Troy's quote of the day). Diving was ok but not the best, it rained everywhere we went, roads were closed (and there are not a lot of roads here), cyclones circled nearby, we got stranded, beer is not very good, but we did meet some great people, saw some beautiful rain forest, did not see any snakes within six feet of us, did not get bitten by anything poisonous and became very familiar with some of the quirks of the Australian locals. We did manage to keep ourselves entertained by taking photos of me pointing at big things along the road: big fish, big peanut men, big crabs, big mangos...Australians love big things!
Just a few observations about Australia and the people:
Only in Australia: While driving down the road listening to the radio, we heard a story about a man who died after being shot by his dog! Evidently when letting the dog out of the truck to go get the goose the hunter had just shot, the dog stepped on the trigger of the gun that was in the back of the truck with him, causing the gun to fire and kill the owner. Actually, to be fair, this type of thing probably happens all the time in Kentucky or Tennessee.
Speaking of stupid things we heard on the news...In Australia the game of Cricket is huge. I think...um... England plays it and......er..... Pakistan.....and um... India plays it..... and no one else! Anyways there was a huge controversy the other day where the game - or test as they call it - was delayed and a player suspended because he called another player a bastard!!!!!! He then also called him a monkey!!!!!!!!!!!!! How insanely stupid is this? It was also one of the top sports stories for days. Troy and I died laughing thinking if these sissy Cricket players heard how American Football and basketball players talked to each other their ears would shrivel up and fall off the side of their heads.
Ok, about our trip now. The first part of our time was on a diving liveaboard to the outer Great Barrier Reef. To get to the boat, we took a low-level flight on a 16 seat plane to a northern town called Cooktown. When I say low-level, I really mean low-level. The wings were barely skimming the top of trees. Our rogue pilot would fly within a few hundred feet of a tall, skinny rock pinnacle, getting so close that all you could see out the window was rock, not the whole pinnacle. We knew things in Australia were dangerous but we didn't think that included pilots and their flying skills!
Upon arrival to our boat and after getting settled in, we were given our dive briefing. This is basically what it consisted of:
"Australia has some of the most poisonous animals on the land and in the sea. While you're diving please keep in mind if it's ugly it will kill you; if it's pretty it will kill you; if it moves slow it will kill you; if it moves fast it will kill you; if it sits still it will kill you; if it swims it will kill you!" You get the idea. During all of our diving over the last several months Troy has only worn a t-shirt and shorts. But upon hearing these warnings he opted for the full length wetsuit. While diving I'll sometimes touch things that I know are harmless such as sea cucumbers or clams. But here I wouldn't dare touch anything. One time I accidentally brushed up against a sea fan and the hypochondriac in me came out. "What was that? What did I just touch? Is that a tingling in my fingers? Am I going blind in my right eye? Aaaagh, I'm about to die a horrible, excruciating death!"
But it was mostly good diving. Because of the season we didn't have the best visibility but we did some wall dives that had some of the best coral we have ever seen. Not to mention the wall just dropping perfectly straight down to the ocean floor, 100's of feet below. The guides also did a shark feeding - they call it a shark "attract" since they don't actually personally feed the sharks because that is not allowed - for the group which consisted of a crate full of fish being dropped down that was then fed to the White Tip and Grey Reef sharks. It's more fun rather then exhilarating - unless you have never done this before, then it can be very exciting - because the white tip sharks are just these little annoying puppy dogs that don't know a dead fish from their ass. So as a result they bump into each other, the crate, the reef, us. I personally thought the most exciting thing happened when we got back on the boat and had a go at Shark Wrangling. This is where you take a fish head and poke it's eyes out - you can only participate if you poke the eyes out - and then thread a rope through the eye holes so it becomes a large piece of bait. You then throw the rope out into the water to try to catch a shark. Once the shark grabs hold of the bait you quickly pull on the rope and wrangle the shark in to see how close you can get it to the boat. It was all fun and games for me until this Grey Reef shark almost pulled my ass into the water with it!
For the next part of our adventure: rain, fried food, bad motel rooms, rain, flooded roads, leeches and a little tiny rent-a-matchbox-car. We should have known we were in for a rough ride when we first left Cairns and it was raining so hard there were waterfalls falling onto the road. Not into drainage ditches or trenches but right onto the road. We had nine days with our matchbox car so our plan was to do a driving route through the outback. Everyone who we told of our plan either told us we were crazy and would get stranded for weeks - not hours - or looked at our little car and sadly shook their head. It seems the road we wanted to take is prone to being inundated with floods since it is the rainy season. Oh, and the Australians have an aversion to building bridges so instead of roads being clear all year, three months of the year they are only passable to 18 wheelers and trucks with a snorkel. Our car was neither an 18 wheeler or had a snorkel. But to defend ourselves, we kept hearing conflicting stores "It will be fine... it hasn't been raining for months... in that car, sure!" Plus, how can someone get stranded for weeks? But so we were not entirely stupid we made sure we had plenty of water and some snacks. So off we went.
For the first few days, things were awesome! Beautiful and powerful waterfalls (from all the rain...hmmm) gorgeous rain forest, green and luscious fields (from all the rain, again). We even didn't mind getting soaked walking to a few of the waterfalls until upon return to our car we realized we both had several leeches attached to our legs! That was just disgusting.
Our first sign of real trouble was when we started heading toward the outback and we pulled into this tiny town of Mt. Surprise to get gas and lunch. As I step from the car to go pay, the lovely local older gentlemen in his insanely short shorts says to me "You going that way?" Pointing in the direction that we are heading.
"Well then you better go! Don't stop just go! The Ensleigh River is rising. This morning she was at a 4 now she's at a 5. You better go now!"
"Do we have time for lunch?" I meekly ask.
As he frantically waves his arms around "Good God no! Just go! The Einsleigh is rising. If you stop now, you'll get stuck and won't have a meal for months! Go!"
So we took his advice and off we went. We stopped in the next little town of Georgetown for lunch and continued on and things were going smoothly until we came across a car stopped in front of a flooded flood way. Hmmm... maybe this is what everyone was telling us about. So this Australian couple - notice how they're locals, not foreigners - is standing there gauging if the water is rising or falling. We step out of our car and proceed to do the same. We all walked through the water to see how deep it was and then discussed how to get our cars across. A local came across from the other direction and told us this was the worst crossing. There were several more up the road but they were not as bad as this. So the four of us thought, "lets go for it." The first car went and got several inches of water in his car. We went, stalled and had to push our car the rest of the way but at least we didn't get any water in it. We get to the other side, hop in our cars, and off we go. A few miles later we come upon the next floodway. To our astonishment and utter horror, the guy was wrong. This crossing was much deeper by several inches and we found out the ones farther down the road were just as bad. So we waited around for about an hour to see if the water was going up or down. It was going nowhere. The thing about Australia is it is flat, flat, flat. This water was sitting with no place to go. So by this point Troy and I have given up on our Outback adventure and have decided to figure somewhere else to go. But first we have to turn around.
We turn around and go back to the first floodway with the supreme confidence that we will cross it with no problem and with in an hour we will have a cold beer in our hands, being kept chilled by it's coozie. Guess what? The water is not any higher but is now running faster and there is the very real possibility of it being strong enough to push our car down river. So this is what people meant when they said we could be stranded for weeks on a island highway. So we wait and wait and wait to see if the water is going up or down. To our delight it is going down but not quick enough. And it is getting dark and in the land of poisonous animals, Troy and I were not too anxious to be out in the middle of nowhere. But to make a long story short, we braved it out and got our little car across. Troy was not happy, to put it mildly, but our only choice was to stay the night out on the highway. So we made it back to the happenin' town of Croydon - population of 200 - where we had a shitty room for the night and greasy fried food for dinner. Have you ever been to a town with a population of 200? They don't even have a post office. They have a guy who works at the gas station with dirty fingernails who not only sells you stamps but will lasciviously lick them and place them on your postcard for you.
The next day we woke with a new plan in mind and headed out on the road with gusto, eager to see new places. So we're driving down the road, got the windows open, enjoying the fresh air, we actually got a station on our radio, there are no kangaroos jumping out at us, when we come around the corner and come to a screeching halt. A river that we had crossed so easily the day before - no, not the Ensleigh, this is the Gilbert - is in the process of massively overflowing the 1000' long bridge. And it's not just a sluggish flow. It's carrying large logs, farm animals and homes. Ok, so there were no farm animals and homes, but we expected to see that at any minute it was flowing so fast. The couple who we had met the day before at the other floodway pulled up behind us. We then did what we had become really good at - standing, watching, wondering if the water was going up or down. After an hour Troy and I decided to go back to Croydon, hang out have an early lunch then go back in a few hours to see if there was much change and hope for the best.
So three hours later we return and guess what? The water was higher, much, much higher then before - not even 18 wheelers or trucks with snorkels are crossing. Before people could walk across it without the fear of getting swept off. But not anymore. At this point we didn't know what to do other then laugh and say "We can't say we weren't warned!" So we decided to wait. To make this short, we - and many other people - waited all day and around 6pm the water started dropping rapidly. We finally made it across at 10pm and got a hotel for the night. We then decided to "play it safe" and head back to the east coast and go down south to the Whitsunday Islands. The next night we stay in a larger town called Charters Towers. We didn't get stuck and made it out safely the next morning but late in the day we heard on the news that a cyclone struck the town and the dam burst from too much water. To say we made it out of the town just in time is an understatement.
Onto the Whitsunday Islands and Airlie Beach where it rain and rained and rained. It actually rained 14 inches in 24 hours causing Airlie Beach - where we were staying - to be considered a natural disaster area. Once again roads surrounding this area were flooded so no one, including us could leave. So we stayed. The big problem about Australia is the roads to get places are few and far between . There are a lot of undeveloped and dirt roads but nothing suitable for our matchbox car. So we didn't have a lot of choice to move about.
We finally made it back to Cairns to catch our flight to New Zealand. It was close though. As we were leaving Airlie Beach we still came across a major road that was closed from flooding. But within an hour it opened and it was smooth sailing all the way back. We wish we could have had better luck but our luck has held out so far on our travels that it was bound to happen sooner or later. And like we have become fond of saying "It makes a great story!" That is as long as we survive to tell the story!