Mango Farm #2 - Arnhem Mangoes

Wednesday, October 28th 2009 - Sunday, December 27th 2009

So we were back in Darwin, back at Frog's Hollow Backpackers and disappointed with our current unemployed status and desperately looking for more work. I was tired of living in the Top End, the heat is terrible and I just wanted to get out of Darwin but we had free internet at the library and no way of heading to the west coast at the moment (although we were looking for jobs basically ANYWHERE). The job hunting got old very quickly and we were giving up hope and deeply considering relocating to the west coast for a change of scene when on the Saturday morning around 9am a man from the temp agency next door came into our hostel and asked 'Who wants to work packing mangoes?'. Unfortunately, I was in the shower at this time but Tyler was out in the common room area and jumped at the chance. And that is how we got our second mango farm job.

We had to pack up our stuff quick, sign some papers, watch a safety video that was falling apart from overuse and then the recruitment officer drove us to our new farm in a little town called Humpty Doo (which we were familiar with since that's where our previous mango farm was located). He told us that the job should go for 6-8 weeks, but once he was gone and we were talking to the managers of the farm they laughed and said that packing was almost over - not even a week left. We were angry at being lied to but made the most of it and worked a ton of hours and packed like crazy for that week. Since I had worked packing before they let me be on the 'grading' team, which means that I got to stand in the same spot for 10 hours and sort between good (1st grade) and alright (2nd grade) and unsellable (bulk/juice) mangoes. Tyler did lots of box lifting and crate moving - very good for muscle building.

There were tons of people here but after that week mostly everyone cleared out. People had the option of staying on for pruning season, so we decided to give it a go. There were about 10 of us who stayed - a mixture of mostly Germans, another Canadian girl, 2 people from Taiwan and a native Australian. And we also got 7 of the Indian guys who had been picking mangoes during the season. Pruning was pretty fun, there were basically 3 different tasks: pruning shears (for the low branches), a long hand saw (for the tall branches) and a rake (for all the fallen/cut branches to be raked into a pile with and eventually turned into wood chips by another machine). There was also a chainsaw team that went through the trees first. They were pretty hot days, but very satisfying. I had a heat rash for a little while because I was wearing too many layers (a tank top and a long sleeved shirt) but once I only wore the long sleeved shirt, the rash went away. We worked 7am until 4:30pm, half-hour lunch and the pruning lasted for all of November. The only bad part about this farm was that we had to pay a weekly rent for the containers we lived in which was $105/week whereas our rent was free at the previous farm. But we still saved a lot of money and learned how to make naan from the Indian guys, and samosas as well. Tyler perfected making breakfast pitas/flatbreads and we ate them every day for our morning break to give us energy. Hopefully he'll still make them when we come back home. :)

Our team for pruning was usually me, Tyler and a Taiwannese couple named Iris and Steven. We were known as the 'couples team'. We worked well together and everyone had their tasks that they liked to do. Steven was usually the saw man, Iris liked raking and Tyler and I would rotate with the pruning shears and the other rake. The pruning shears were my favourite but I would get bad finger cramps in the mornings, this started from packing at the Siah's farm - but it would go away by the time work started. Pruning was a good work-out though, definitely got some muscles from that month of hard work.

Basically everyone left after or during the pruning season but we were offered to be kept on for various farm tasks and upcoming centuring (chainsawing a ring around the trees to stop them from producing fruit too early) and cold tarring in January. So we are still working at Arnhem Mango farm and there is only Tyler, myself and a German girl named Anja left of the original pruning team. We have two Australian supervisors - Andrew and Darryl and the owner of the farm is a man named Barry who is very nice but very particular. We've done some gardening, fertilizing, fixing sprinklers, spraying herbicide and spraying insecticide for all the trees. I think there are around 10,000 trees on the farm so it has been pretty busy. We get to drive quad bikes and a golf-cart like car called a 'Gator' and Tyler even got to drive a big tractor for spraying insecticide on the trees (they were getting damaged by caterpillars). We're learning lots of new skills and enjoy working outside and getting our hands dirty for a change.

Farm life is not very exciting - we now work 6:30am until 3:30pm because of the afternoon rain that comes pretty much every day since it's officially the rainy season (although January is supposed to be the worst). We usually just have muesli for breakfast (with yogurt and mango while it lasts - there are no longer any left on the trees that are edible), then breakfast pitas around 9:30am for breaktime. Our lunch is usually leftovers from the day before (pasta, rice, curry, sandwiches, etc) and an apple for a snack. We have lots of time to make dinner so we're learning and experimenting with new dishes. We're pretty good at making curry now after our lessons during the road trip with our friends. And soup is always a classic for us, even in the hot weather.

We no longer have to pay rent now as they got rid of all the containers and we are living in the old group kitchen area. There are lots of fans and it's attached to an enclosed kitchen so we don't have to worry too much about bugs (the ants find their way into any place, they're very annoying), the mosquitoes were getting to be too much for us in the outside eating area at night time. We were covered in bites! So we're living comfortably. And we have an internet stick so as long as it's not too cloudy or stormy, we have a signal and can go on the internet. It's a nice luxury to have. We usually eat our dinner while watching the show 'How I Met Your Mother' that's on every night at 7pm, I'm addicted to it. And the only other show we watch regularly is 'Survivor' that's on for 2 hours every Tuesday night. We haven't watched it in years but it's pretty good this season and it's nice having something to watch regularly.

Aside from that I've been doing a lot of reading, whatever books have been left behind on the farm. And Tyler has been programming for fun and playing computer games. We also watch stuff on the computer to relax. And I'm in the process of writing all my Christmas cards, late I know, but they will get sent. It's a big task and tricky to get to the post office during office hours since we don't have a car and we're working but we have a week's vacation now and Darryl is going to take us out some days so I should be able to manage. I think we're going to get to go fishing, very excited about that. Tyler wants to catch enough to feed us for weeks. :)

Christmas day was pretty good, although not the same as home. I was disappointed because there were no Christmas movies on the 4 channels that we get on Christmas Eve, the closest I could find was 'Father of the Bride' so that's what I watched. I didn't get to see 'It's a Wonderful Life', that's one of my Christmas traditions. We made a Christmas tree out of a mango branch that Tyler and I found out in the orchard. We filled a pail with dirt and put the branch in it and then we all made little paper snowflakes and tied floss around them to hang them on the tree. Then we bought little gifts for each other and Anja and got to open them on Christmas morning after breakfast (french toast with brandy flavoured custard and some orange slices and chai tea to drink). We had a relaxing morning and made carrot muffins to take over to Darryl and his mother's new place for lunch. They invited us over for nibbles and conversation. It was a very nice afternoon and all 12 muffins got eaten so they were a bit hit. :) It felt more homey than if we had just stayed at the farm all isolated. And as per usual it rained in the afternoon on Christmas, but the morning was very nice.

So we have a week off to relax and hopefully not go crazy with nothing to do. We have to find ways to keep busy. Work should start in early January and I think we're already ready to start working again and making money - 3 days off is more than enough for us. We're hoping to go to Darwin for one of our days off and go to the movies, we haven't been in about 6 months and there are a lot of good movies out here. Keeping our fingers crossed.

Happy Holidays everyone! :)

Darwin - reunion with friends and working on a mango farm

Sunday October 4th 2009 - Tuesday October 27th 2009

Our time in Darwin was spent reuniting with old friends from our Melbourne hostel. Apparently most people that come to Darwin stay in the same hostel - Frogshollow Backpackers - so every morning you see lots of familiar faces that you didn't think you'd see again. Darwin tends to be the last stop for a lot of people before they fly home so we spent time reuniting and then saying good-bye again as everyone from our road trip and other friends flew back home since their visas were up. Kelsey went off to Asia for some travelling and meeting up with her friend, Ciaran flew back home to Ireland to prepare for his PHD starting in November and the only ones left from our road trip were Steve, Tyler and myself. Steve is still trying to sell the car, but is living and working in Darwin in the meantime to save some money before leaving Australia and doing a bit of travelling before going home.

We did a lot of job hunting only to find that the agency that works for the Harvest Trail doesn't actually get a lot of business and they were telling us that the mango season hadn't started yet, but we knew it started weeks ago. Not many people in the area go through the agency. We spent a lot of time in the water since it's so hot in Darwin, and a lot of time in the air conditioned library looking for jobs and phone numbers to contact for farm jobs. Very frustrating! In the end we got a phone number from a French girl in our hostel who got another job while she was laid off from her mango farm for 2 weeks and now they had called her back to work so she was trying to find replacements.

Enter me and Tyler. We called the farm the next day and they wanted us to start immediately. Luckily we had Steve to drive us to Humpty Doo (a nearby little town) and we got a little lost but managed to find the plot of land that was our mango farm. It was run by a Chinese couple (Mr and Mrs Siah) and they showcased the free accomodation in little bunkers that had air conditioning. We were so happy! We had a crash course in mango packing and were just left to work things out ourselves and get to work with a team of 4 other workers. Some days the machine would be at maximum speed and the bins would be close to overflowing, but Mrs Siah liked to work us hard and we did pick up the pace. It was good work, we probably ate our weight in mangoes and papayas (so delicious) and we had tons of hours (we worked 86 hours in 7 days). The work was hard and we were sore every night - very stiff fingers and thumbs from making boxes and sore backs from lifting for 12-13 hours a day. Everything was going great, we even got a day off after working for 14 days.

Then there was an overflooding of the mango market as all the crates of mangoes got shipped on the same day from all the farms in the area and there weren't enough places to buy them. About 60 skids arrived in Melbourne at the same time - too many! We were let go from the job since they weren't making enough money from selling the mangoes so we were dropped off in Darwin and set about on the job hunt again. We are not happy campers.

The Great Road Trip through Southern Australia, the red centre and the Northern Territory

Monday September 14th 2009 - Day 1

Not much to report for this day, we left around noon and ended up camping in a rest area because it got dark very fast. Drove through highlights of the Great Ocean Road since Steve (our main driver and the person whose car it was) had never been. London Bridge is still standing, guess the recent falling bit wasn't as major as I had thought. Finally got to see the 12 Apostles without cloud, fog or rain so that was a bonus. :)

Tuesday September 15th 2009 - Day 2

Camped at Coorong National Park and met a German woman riding a push bike across Australia. Very inspiring. We saw a creepy millipede/scorpion insect but thankfully it wasn't vicious. And we had an illegal fire in the park but it was so nice and helped us stay up later than we usually do while camping. And we didn't get caught. Hurray!

Wednesday September 16th 2009 - Day 3

Made our way to southern Australia, we had to eat all of our fruit and vegetables right before the border as they have very strict rules about taking them over state lines due to fruit flies.

Drove to Adelaide, had lunch out in a sandwich bar to save time. We were mostly shopping for supplies and using internet in Adelaide. It wasn't a very long stopover. I had wanted to meet up with my penpal who lives there but it was too short notice and would have been awkward holding everyone up so I just left it alone. Hopefully we get to stop by there another time for a visit. We made it to the Barossa Valley, one of the famous wine regions in southern Australia. And we camped there overnight in order to do a tour of the wineries the next day.

Thursday September 17th 2009 - Day 4

Rented bikes from our campground in order to tour the wineries. The bikes weren't in the best condition but we made do with them. Ciaran had the brilliant idea that we wouldn't waste any of our time by eating lunch in between our tour of the wineries, we'd just eat around 3pm when we returned the bikes. And we didn't bring bags so we didn't have any water aside from the glasses you were allowed to pour at the winery itself. So let's just say that it didn't take very many samplings of wine to have us all drunk and trying to ride our bicycles in a straight line. Funny times. There was a minor bicycle collision which resulted in Tyler's bike breaking and we had to return it early. And we lost a key to one of the locks... but we never had to pay anything extra.

The people serving the wine got a kick out of us and I think they gave us more than they should, but we're not complaining. We made it to 5 wineries total but the girls had to refrain from the last winery as we knew we were at our limit and couldn't stop giggling. We had lunch at 6pm and slowly recovered from the wine. Definitely should have brought lunch with us. Lesson learned. But still a fun time.

Friday September 18th 2009 - Day 5

Made it to Flinders Ranges National Park. There were tons of emus, kangaroos and wallabies when we first arrived and were driving to the free bush camping ground. It was a beautiful national park but got there at night time so the hikes were saved for the next day.

Saturday September 19th 2009 - Day 6

We stayed in Flinders Ranges on this day as well. We hiked around Wilpena Pound, the famous sight in the national park. It was a 4 hour return hike and very beautiful from up high looking around at the surroundings. Ciaran was in heaven because the place was full of lizards, but there were no snakes to be seen (we think it was too cold for them). We ate tuna sandwiches at the top and took in the beautiful views. We started the trend of taking group photos on timers at the same time and this carried on for the rest of the road trip and resulting in some injured cameras that fell from great heights due to the wind. Luckily our camera is quite fat and proved very durable and the wind just couldn't blow it over.

Sunday September 20th 2009 - Day 7

We drove towards Coober Pedy but only made it to Maree by nightfall. It was nice to have a cold beer, our first in a week. The camping ground also had a very cute dog that I ended up playing catch with. Adorable! The wind was pretty bad that night and actually blew the fly off Kelsey's tent and Ciaran got out of his own tent to fix it in the middle of the night. I got my worst sleep of the entire trip because of the constant flapping of our tent against the wind. But it was free so we can't complain.

Monday September 21st 2009 - Day 8

In the early morning Kelsey got teased for flirting with the coffee guy and this teasing continued for most of the trip. We visited a sculpture park on the way from Maree to William Creek, it was very cool to walk around and look at what different artists had created. They had made large sculptures with scrap metal and even cars and buses, look for photos posted on my Facebook. We also entered a dust storm once we arrived in William Creek. The one that you saw on the news that made it all the way to Sydney but we were definitely in the heart of it. We tried to get to Lake Ayre but couldn't see anything at the southern Lake Ayre. We plowed on to Coober Pedy and couldn't see anything on the road and had to constantly pull over and wait for the storm to calm down. We ended up camping underground once we made it to Coober Pedy at a camping ground called RIBA's. Kelsey destroyed a cactus while arguing with a very drunk Ciaran who finished all of our alcohol (wine, whiskey and port).

Tuesday, September 22nd 2009 - Day 9

It was our second day in Coober Pedy - the town known for having underground housing and lots of 0pals. The dust storm continued and was very intense. We went to the Didgeridoo cafe to relax in the early morning and ended up buying $6 coffees from a crazy but entertaining European man who kept saying "I make good coffee for you!". We also visited the underground Serbian church and went noodleing for opals in the middle of the dust storm. We came across a cool graveyard where one grave had a keg and wine bottles on it and the gravestone said 'This drink's on me'. Very clever. We ended the evening by watching the movie "The Wrestler" in the tv room on Tyler's laptop and scared away the families in the campground from the tv room due to the sex scenes. We made burgers for dinner and they were delicious.

Wednesday September 23rd 2009 - Day 10

We drove from Coober Pedy to Curtain Springs. Curtain Springs is a free camping ground about 100km away from Ayers Rock/Uluru. The dust storm finally finished. We stopped at the border but ignored the quarantine since we didn't want to get rid of our fruit and veg when there was little opportunity to shop in the Red Centre.

Thursday September 24th 2009 - Day 11

We visited the Olgas and did the Valley of the Winds walk. We also visited Ayers Rock and walked around the entire base, we were swarmed by flies and sweat buckets in the sun. We took photos of Uluru at sunset. We camped at Curtain Springs again. We were exhausted by teh time we got home but Ciaran plowed on and made dinner then we all just passed out super early from our full day of hiking.

Friday September 25th 2009 - Day 12

We woke up to car trouble, there was a gas leak. We relaxed around Curtain Springs campground and I had to fight the emu for my handwashed clothes as it kept trying to drink the soapy water and to eat the drawstrings on my trackpants. Kelsey made sound for lunch since we had a lot of time to kill and it was delicious. Steve managed to fix the car with some help from one of our neighbours in the caravan park. We made it to King's Creek station for the night/late afternoon. We only paid for 2 people and were paranoid at night about being caught by the ground owners.

Saturday September 26th 2009 - Day 13

We left by 6:30am and made it to King's Canyon. We did the rim walk and started at 7:30am and it was nice and cool at that time, a beautiful walk. We drove down a very sketchy road to see the Meteorite sight and then made it to Alice Springs and stayed in a YHA family room.

Sunday September 27th 2009 - Day 14

We relaxed in Alice Springs and had a big breakfast. We met an aboriginal man named David while eating our lunch in the park who tried to sell us his painting and shared our lunch with us. He started inviting all the other aborigines to join us and that's when we decided it was time to leave - we're generous but not that generous. We stayed at G'day Mate caravan park and tried the trick of only paying for 2 people again and it worked.

Monday September 28th 2009 - Day 15

We left Alice Springs and drove to Devil's Marbles and camped there. 2 aboriginal men gave a talk about their culture and the origins of Devil's Marbles and how it is cursed. There was no drinking water or any water at the campground but it was free.

Tuesday September 29th 2009 - Day 16

We walked around Devil's Marbles. Then we drove a long distance in the super hot car to Mataranka. We swam in the Thermal Springs and camped in Elsey National Park where there were tons of wallabies around and we saw a mama wallaby with a baby in it's pouch - so cute!

Wednesday September 30th 2009 - Day 17

We drove to Katherine. There were tons of wallabies on the road and we encountered one that had been hit seconds before we got there - it was very traumatic as it was in shock and hopping across the road spasming. The boys had to deal with it while Kelsey and I cried in the car dealing with the impact of seeing the hurt creature. Very traumatic for everyone involved. We swam in Kathering Hot Springs (very beautiful) and then the 1st level swimming lake but we got covered in baby leeches/worms and decided it was best to leave. We camped at Springvale Homestead but never paid. Steve managed to leave his cell phone there charging so we had to sneak back in the late evening to retrieve it - very tricky.

Thursday October 1st 2009 - Day 18

We rented canes and rowed the 1st, 2nd and 3rd gorges in the Katherine gorge for the full day - so fun! There was lots of swimming and no crocodiles. It was so hot that we no longer needed our sleeping bages or sheets at nighttime to sleep in. We also managed to lose the frisbee and Steve left his fliplops at the beach but some girl mistakenly wore his (we could tell by the duct tape used to hold them together) so he got his shoes back and the girl had none because Steve didn't wear any shoes back. We also briefly swam at Edith Falls despite croc signs since the campgro0und said it was safe. We camped at Edith Falls and Tyler successfully made bread using the campfire.

Friday October 2nd 2009 - Day 19

We arrived in Litchfield National Park. We visited Buley Rockhole, Wangi Falls, the Magnetic Termite Mounds and Florence Falls. We tried to find beer to drink but no success. We camped at Florence Falls 4WD campsite. There were no showers, lots of bugs, a full moon and bats flying across the sky. We had our last campfire and made baked potatoes.

Saturday October 3rd 2009 - Day 20

We swam at Buley Rockhole in the early morning to cool down before our long drive. We drove all the way to Darwin and arrived around noon. Finally in the big city - hurray! :)

Extended Return to Melbourne and Wilson's Promontory

Saturday September 5th 2009 - Sunday September 13th 2009

Thankfully I checked the receipt for our flight to Melbourne a few days in advance as I had written down in my notebook that we flew out on Sunday but it was actually the Saturday. Crisis averted. :)

We returned to Melbourne and stayed in our good ol' hostel Bev'n'Micks for the first night to catch up with everyone. We learned that not much had changed and a lot of the people who had left to travel elsewhere had come back for a short while. The old gang was back together. We weren't able to just pay for one bunk, so that was disappointing and part of the reason we only stayed there for 1 night. We were able to store out luggage there though and for the next few days we stayed with our friend Jess and her mom and boyfriend. We had met Jess on our Croatia boat tour. They spoiled us by cooking fantastic meals, giving us wine and letting us watch movies all day on their couch while they were out. Such nice hospitality. :)

We were only supposed to be in Melbourne until Tuesday but there were complications with the car and ordering parts and having other things fixed and we were delayed until the week-end so in order to make the most of it we decided to do a little road trip to Wilson's Promontory for 3 days, 2 nights. We rented a little mini car and crammed the 5 of us into it with all our gear. We looked hilarious but it prepared us for the big road trip in the 4wd Pagero (so much more space that it felt luxurious after our mini-car). Wilson's Prom was beautiful, did some great hikes and had great goals so we ended up hiking around 25-30km in a single day. That was exhausting! But we got to see Sealy Cove beach and it was spectacular. The prom is nice because you can see all the re-growth that's taking place as it had some pretty serious fire damage recently but it's already trying to recover. Some parts the trees are just black and decaying but they'll have little green sprouts growing up out of it. Amazing to see. It was also full of wombats, they are the cutest animals ever and can crush your skull with their muscular bums if you try to follow them into their burroughs.

Also to note, on the first night we left the passenger window all the way down and discovered in the morning that an animal had climbed into the car and eaten some bread and gnawed on our dark chocolate. Our main culprits are the birds (since they would gnaw on chocolate) or a possum that was at our campsite the next night sniffing around. He looked suspicious, like he knew we had food.... and the birds swarmed our site the next morning, so they were on to us as well. Perhaps they teamed up. But we learned our lesson and locked and closed everything after that event. :)

It was a great road trip - camping under the stars, eating camp food and lots of hiking and adventure.

We made our way back to Melbourne and were lucky enough to be able to stay with the nice hostel manager - Josh. Who lived just around the corner and was missing having company since his roommate moved to Brisbane. There was enough space for the 5 of us and we just relaxed and cooked him dinner and tried to keep the place tidy as repayment to him.

And finally by Sunday night the car was returned and we were all set to head out on Monday morning. It's about time!

Travelling up the east coast of Australia - 7 stops!

Tuesday, August 11th 2009 - Saturday September 5th 2009

East Coast trip

We booked our tours for the east coast while in Sydney because there was a friendly Canadian guy named Andy who said he'd give us a good deal. It wasn't a bad deal but it was pretty much the same deal as all the other places so it wasn't really a bargain. We also discovered that if you don't book ahead then you can get really cheap last minute deals when you're closer but that's something we'll remember in the future.

1st stop - Byron Bay

Byron Bay was lots of fun, a very relaxed surfer town. We loved it immediately, as do most people that visit it. Most people end up staying there for a while and finding jobs so that they can stay in a hostel and surf all the time. We were very tempted, but we did take our first introductory surfing lesson while in town. It only cost $40 and we got the 2 hour lesson, a wet suit and a half day hire to use any day afterwards with the equipment. It was so much fun and harder than it looks but they basically just push you out on your board with the wave and all you have to do is 'pop up' and stand on your board. Tyler was amazing and I fell more often than stood but it was still good fun. We will be surfing pros one day.

We tried surfing by ourselves the next day with our free hire but it was so choppy that the waves just threw us around even when just riding the wave on our stomachs. Crazy! But we practiced timing the wave and I think we have the hang of it now.

There is also a worthwhile hike to the lighthouse in Byron Bay that was very beautiful. We reached the most easterly point in Australia and saw our first whale. Did not manage to get a photo though, they're too quick!

2nd stop - Noosa, QLD

We bypassed the Gold Coast due to the description in our guidebook which summarized it as 'glitzy' and thought that didn't sound like our cup of tea. So we took another night bus to the Sunshine Coast and stayed in good ol' Noosa. It was another relaxed, quiet town with excellent beaches and surf. This time we just got body boards from our hostel because they were free to rent but still lots of fun. Also did a little hike around all the cliff faces and beaches.

3rd stop - Brisbane (aka ' Bris-vegas)

We weren't impressed with Brisbane. The promenade was pretty nice and the little man-made beach/pool looked fun for families. But the hostel charged us more than they said on the phone and it was super crowded but the rooftop was amazing. We spent most of our time up there relaxing and enjoying the coolness to the air (since the daytime was soooo hot!). It's funny calling it Bris-vegas, I think that's my favourite nickname. You have to go there to appreciate the nickname, does not remind you of Vegas at all.

And the grocery stores close ridiculously early. Very disappointing for hungry travellers.

4th stop - Hervey Bay, QLD and Fraser Island

There's not much to Hervey Bay other than it's a good place to go whale watching and it's the take-off point for all the Fraser Island tours. We did our 3 day tour with Koala Adventures and we got a 4 wheel drive that was top heavy with an upper storage compartment - but in 5 weeks they are no longer allowed to have those for the tours because of all the accidents with backpackers who drive too fast and flip over. There have been casualties in the past but thankfully everyone in our group was very safe. I was the only girl in the group and there were just 7 of us - me, Tyler, a Scotsman named Andy, 2 kiwis, 1 guy from Switzerland and a German. Good mix.

Fraser Island was beautiful - the best fresh water lakes we have ever seen and fun sand dunes to roll down in. You could drink the water as you were swimming - amazing! We saw a few dingoes but it was mostly at night when we were cooking and they could smell our delicious food. They never attacked though, we must have been too scary for them.

Fraser Island is a must-see though. Driving was quite the experience - on the beach it was nice and smooth, we only had a few close calls with rising tide times and driving over rocks and making the car tip at precarious angles. Otherwise driving on the pathways was crazy, we got stuck a bunch of times and had to push the car out a lot but nothing we couldn't manage. We even had a lucky team song (the ever popular 'Battlefield' song you hear all the time on the radio here in Australia) that always got us out of the ditch if we sang it while the car struggled.

Fun adventure.

5th stop - Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays

Our Whitsunday sailing 3 day trip was also lots of fun. Very similar to our Croatia cruise so we enjoyed the Fraser Island trip more on the whole since it was different, but you can't complain about beaches and swimming and snorkelling. We didn't have sleep on the boat either, we actually got to stay on an island so that made it more enjoyable (boats are awfully cramped). The beaches were beautiful, we got very tanned. And the snorkelling was my favourite part. Tyler and I even saw a sting ray up close - he was light purple in colour with yellow spots and I knew better than to follow him too closely. He lost me quite easily anyway. I did touch all the coral I could though, and all the fishes that came close to me - I'm such a rebel! I didn't hurt the coral though and our shipmate told us it was okay (he also recommended grabbing onto turtles and 'turtle surfing' so he had his own set of rules).

Our boat was called the 'Pride of Airlie' and it was quite the party boat. Within 5 minutes of taking off from Airlie Beach harbour people had taped up a snorkel to use it a funnel for goon (boxed wine - very cheap). We were not allowed red wine on board the boat as they knew how messy people would be and it stains. But it was fun to watch all the drunk people - British people can drink a lot. We were amazed.

We saw tons of whales while sailing but I never managed to get a good picture again - they're tricky animals.

6th stop - Townsville, QLD

We had heard mixed reviews about Townsville but thought we'd give it a go and see what it's like and we did not regret it. We finally tested out the whole paying for one bed because we share a bed and I got to be the 'secret' and Tyler snuck me in. And it worked! Despite the hostel having cameras all over the place - quite the rebels.

Townsville is a cute town, very cosy but with all the city essentials you need. We spent most of our time on the promenade under the cover of trees. They had amazing parks for children, way better than any we had seen back home. It's basically heaven on earth for kids. There's a water park as well. Just wish it didn't look creepy for us to hang out in the 'kid areas'.... we were mighty jealous.

We also did a hike up Castle Hill in the early morning but it was still boiling hot and we sweated up a storm. Great views though. And we spent the rest of the day in the pool/stinger free area. There were signs all over the place warning about jellyfish, I think they're a big probelm in the area. But we never saw any - boy were we disappointed. ;)

7th and final stop - Cairns, Northern QLD

We were sneaky again in Cairns and only paid for 1 bed - hurray! We love getting better deals. Most of the time we just relaxed in Cairns. They really spoil you in the hostels, they're a little out of the city centre but they have free shuttle buses every hour that take you to and from the city. And we even got a free dinner every night at a place in the city centre and the food was tasty and sizeable (mostly curries, spaghetti or stew). And beer was pretty cheap as well. One of the nights we just kept winning free pitchers of beer, we were on some kind of lucky streak or the host/MC just really liked us.

Our main accomplishment in Cairns was that we went for our first dive lesson. It was pretty nerve wrecking and I freaked out a little bit at first feeling like I couldn't swallow because my mouth was all salty but once under the water I relaxed and it was amazing. We had to link arms with the instructor (Tyler and I on opposite arms) and they slowly guided us around, I think we only got about 5 metres under the surface but it felt so deep. We got the hang of popping our ears, getting water out of the mask and cleaning out our breathing apparatus. We saw some amazing fish and coral, some fish were about the size of us and quite scary even if they aren't able to eat us. Definitely a memorable experience and something we'd like to try again sometime. Don't think we want to get certified though... at least not yet. Have to get used to it first. And I'm terrible with flippers on - my feet like to be free! That was probably one of the hardest things for me. I kept doing the bicycle kick instead of the proper straight leg and the instructor was annoyed because I was making him have to kick harder.... whoops! Next time I'll be better, I swear!

Cairns was a nice city, but the beach was terrible. Best to hang out in the lagoon/pool or go on one of the diving excursions to actually see the reef. It's the stuff you'll remember for the rest of your life.

Flew back to Melbourne on the Saturday morning in preparation for our big road trip through Central Australia with some hostel mates. Adventure awaits!

Catching up with family in Sydney

Saturday August 8th 2009 - Tuesday August 11th 2009

We flew from Hobart to Sydney on the Saturday, bright and early in the morning - the sun wasn't even up when we had to catch our shuttle bus. But we got to sleep on the plane so it wasn't too bad. We stayed in a hostel called 'Blue Chili Backpackers' which was in the sketchy area of King's Cross (where we always end up staying in Sydney) but was super cheap at $9/night each for a dorm. We also learned in this hostel that unlike all over Europe if you are planning on sharing a bunk bed then it's okay to just pay for one bed. We learned this from a roommate in our hostel who used to be a night-time manager in a hostel so I think it was reliable. We used this handy bit of knowledge for the end of our east coast journey - although we weren't sure if every hostel agreed so usually Tyler would sign in by himself and then sneak me in. We cheated the system and we're not ashamed! :)

We ventured to Manly Beach during our stay before Mark and Tiyanne arrived - very nice beach although we managed to get a little lost. We didn't do the nice, scenic walk described in our book but we found a war themed walk with old outposts and gun spots. It was pretty amusing.

The visit was lots of fun - we got very spoiled with fancy meals (like at the Botanical Gardens), a decked out appartment with free laundry, stove, fantastic shower and a balcony that Mark booked for us and excellent company of course. Great way to spend 3 days. It was a great change from our cheap hostels and instant noodle dinners. Definitely something we could get used to. :)

We also managed to book our tours and travels in advance on our last day in Sydney and headed on the overnight bus to Byron Bay on the same day Mark and Tiyanne flew back home.


Back to Hobart and on to our 4 day east coast road trip!

Thursday July 30th 2009 - Friday August 7th 2009

One thing to note about the Overland Track: when we decided to turn around, we were worried about the possibility of hypothermia. It was a good decision. It wasn't until after we were safely back in civilization that the experience was labelled a "failure". And it wasn't until the obligatory brooding period had passed, that the experience was labelled a "lesson" (a label that dilutes much of the associated bitterness). Thus, the incident is referred to as the "Overland Lesson" instead of the "Overland Failure".. Symantics!

After the Overland Lesson, it seemed prudent to put space between us and everything that resembled the Track. Initially this involved a tight chain of bus transfers aimed at Hobart. A discussion with the bus driver persuaded us to stay at the-nearby-dorm. Staying at the-nearby-dorm was dumped due to a lack of vacancy, and replaced with the-unheated-and-leaky-hut. The-unheated-and-leaky-hut was then scrapped (for obvious reasons), and swapped for the-fully-furnished-cabin. Despite obviously ending in the best possible accomodation, the situation was tense. Nothing was going smoothly. Expectations were exploding everywhere!

I like to be prepared. Preparation requires plans. Even if they're only loosely thought out. Just thinking about what's likely and what's unlikely makes you prepared for most eventualities. I find comfort in having a general idea of what's going to happen. When something unexpected happens, then I become.. "agitated". I think this means I'm getting old. Anyways, my rant is over! We eventually went back to Hobart and began thinking about what to do with ourselves -- enter Jimmy.

Jimmy is a dude that is sort of like Santa Claus. He laughs a lot. He gives out presents. He has a scottish accent. He knows where the pubs are. He knows where the distillery is. He knows where the brewery is.. So yeah, he's friendly and well-informed -- like Santa (he also has a beard!). He also knows all about whatTasmania has to offer. That's why we decided it was time for a road trip!

We spent 4 days on the road, driving ~200km a day on all types of roads: paved, gravel, dirt, mud.. Beyond the driving, there was cooking with the camping stove, sleeping in a tent, sleeping in a car, sleeping on beaches, sleeping in forests, feeding the animals (even though it was forbidden, the kangaroo knew how to beg so I had to give him some pecans - I know I wasn't the first), chasing away the animals, bonding with nature, getting creeped out by nature, walking, viewing, making do with with sketchy toilets, making do with no toilets, etc. Oh, and we may have seen some glow worms. Glow worms (for those interested) look similar to the little stars you see when you stand up too fast or get hit on the head.

The photos of the east coast drive should be uploaded soon on Facebook and that's the best place to see some of the great sights we have of the trip.

Attempt at the Overland Track - Tasmania

Monday July 27th 2009 - Wednesday July 29th 2009

Our main motivation to go to Tasmania was a hike known as the 'Overland Track', one of the best and most beautiful hikes in Australia. And we missed snow from back home so we thought it would be perfect to try the hike in the winter time (and it's also free at that time since not many people want to do it). In theory it was the perfect plan.

It was tricky organising the walk since the bus system in the winter is terrible and it only left for Cradle Mountain on Mondays and Wednesdays - and we originally planned to start it on the Thursday. So that's why we went to Launceston to kill some time beforehand.

Finally, Monday rolled around and we got there, started the walk and then discovered that we were not equipped for the weather. It was terrible! We nearly got hypothermia walking to the first cabin, we had to stay in an emergency shelter along the way and we put out sleeping bags one inside the other and then crammed both of us inside it. Good thing we're both not super large people, it was a tight squeeze and that's how we slept for the night. We had a family of 3 possums trying to steal our food and crumbs during the night and discovered that the best way to scare them was to hiss at them. Not sure why exactly that worked, but throwing stuff and shouting at them did not affect them at all, only hissing.

So after realizing that we were not equipped for the weather up on the Cradle Mountain (we could handle the snow and the rain but not the wind thrown into the mix) we headed back the next day. It was a rough two days and extremely disappointing since that was one of the main draws to Tasmania for us and we didn't have time to try it again this trip. We mostly just felt stupid. :P But lesson learned, and we will do the Overland Track eventually and Tyler is dead set on doing it in winter again, just to prove that we can do it. I think that we also had some bad timing as a storm started just as we got up the mountain and we had a 2 hour trek in uncovered territory and that is what got us soaked and chilled to the bone. They had boarded up a path but it has broken down over the years and there were giant sink holes along the boardwalk so our feet got drenched, even in waterproof boots since it was so deep.

Funny adventure though.

We have some funny pictures and videos from our 2 day hike though. The wind was super rough and it was basically knocking us over. We had to hop over a river on the way back as well and my jumping skills need lots of practice - one foot made it though. But our feet were completely drenched before that anyway. All of our stuff was drenched as well and the only hostel in the area had all the hostel beds full due to a school tour group in the area so we had to stay in a deluxe cabin in order to have heating and get all our clothes dry for the bus ride back to Hobart the next day. Frustrating all around, but worth the money in the end because we would have been more miserable if we were cold and wet the next day as well. We mostly just felt like fools. But one day we'll show the Overland Track who's boss. Mark my words....

Launceston, Tasmania

Thursday July 23rd 2009 - Sunday July 26th 2009

After looking into the Overland Track and when we could actually catch a bus to get out to Cradle Mountain, we thought that we might as well go to Launceston a few days early and check out what the town had to offer. We stayed at Launceston Backpackers and it was probably one of the largest hostels that we've ever stayed in and one of the nicest as well. There was even a resident cat named Fuji who basically lived in front of the electric fireplace and loved to bite any of the backpackers foolish enough to try to pet her tummy. It was very entertaining.

Launceston is a very small town, but very pretty as well. They are known for the Cataract Gorge which has some pleasant walks around it and some boat cruises that go down it for the people who like to indulge in cruises. We hiked around the gorge and went up to Duck Reach Power Station, the old hydro plant for the town and it was fun to wander around. Lots of uphill climbing to prepare us for the big walk.

The most random thing about Launceston is the fact that they have monkeys in their city park. Yes, you heard me right. Our map of the town said 'Come see the monkeys in city park' and we were intrigued by this so we went to check it out and sure enough they have live Japanese macaques in an enclosed area in the middle of the park. They are quite aggressive and hate the little children that tap on the glass, they gave the kids quite the scare when they threw their bodies against it in retaliation. They even made me jump. No one really explained much about the monkeys but we heard that they were a gift to the city from a visiting Japanese politician or businessman. Weird though.

4 days in Launceston was probably too many days, but it gave us some time to relax and eat some good food. The town is very walkable though, nice and compact. And we learned that the Tour de France is a big deal over here, lots of people in the hostel were watching it and keeping track of who was winning. It made me fall asleep though.....


Hobart, Tasmania

Monday July 20th 2009 - Thursday July 23rd 2009

We are finally in a new city, it's nice to have a change of scenery. The rainy weather in Melbourne was getting a bit depressing and it was great to get off the plane and have clear blue skies greeting us. One thing that we quickly learned about Tasmania is that the weather changes very fast here. So while we were greeted with clear skies when we arrived, once we got to our hostel, wandered around town and went to pick up groceries, it was overcast and raining when we left the store. Lesson learned.

It's not as cold as we expected here but Hobart is on the south-eastern coast so I think that makes the temperatures more mild. We're bound to be freezing once we're at Cradle Mountain for the hike.

Our hostel - Hobart Hostel - is nice and clean and there are very few people here at the moment. Tasmania is more popular in the warm months - especially around Christmas time where every place is pretty much sold out of beds. Right now the hostel is empty and we have an 8 bed dorm to ourselves, it's a good change. We've gone to the waterfront, enjoyed some fish and chips from one of the docked boats on Constitution Dock that had seating indoors as it was pouring rain by the time we got there yesterday for lunch. The museum was also very interesting (and free!), with lots of fossils, taxidermied animals (including my beloved platypus, very sad to see) and weird expressive art that made us laugh. We're not artsy fartsy, okay?

Hobart has a nice feel to it and it's easy to walk around in. The library has free internet and our hostel advised us that it was faster than the internet they had, so Tyler was excited about it, until we got to the library and saw how slow they were running and couldn't handle multiple windows open at the same time. Let's just say that Tasmania is not very advanced.... but it's manageable, just disappointing to someone who loves fast, efficient computers as much as Tyler.

We discovered that Tasmania has limited buses in the winter season so we had some difficulty planning the walk since buses only leave Mondays and Wednesdays from Launceston to Cradle Mountain and we were unable to catch the Tuesday bus to Launceston and make the Wednesday bus for Cradle. Very sad. So we have to start the walk on Monday, which is fine but not what we originally planned. The walk will be 8 days due to the sidetrips that we have planned and we have all our food, equipment and everything all sorted. We should be back in Hobart by the next Tuesday (I think it's August 4th). Luckily we're meeting up with Tyler's dad in Sydney on August 10th, so if we don't show up then I'm sure he'll notify authorities to look for us in the mountains... ;) Just kidding, we know what we're doing, we'll be fine, I assure you.

We're off to Launceston today to spend a few days before starting the hike on Monday. Wish us luck. :)


Bev'n'Micks Hostel - Melbourne, Victoria

I think it's worth having a little blurb about the hostel that was our home for 3 and a half months. When we were in Melbourne for the first time we stayed at a different Bev'n'Micks, it was directly across from the Victoria Market and was conveniently nicknamed 'the Vic'. It was nice enough, full of Irish lads but it was full once we returned from our friend Ben Kemp's birthday for the Easter week-end in April. So they guided us towards another Bev'n'Micks hostel just down the road and around the corner (aka McMahon's Bev'n'Micks to differentiate between the two). We were quite happy in our new home hence the reason why we never felt the need to relocate. You just couldn't find a better deal than $80/week each for a bed and utilities and the fact that we kept getting rejected for rentals added to the equation of staying put.

So we shacked up in a dorm called 'London Bridge' that was branched off of another room with 6 beds, our room had to be accessed through the other room and ours only had 5 beds. Most of these went unused until the last 2 months of our stay, then our room became the popular one that everyone wanted to be in. This may or may not have had to do with the fact that one of our new roommates brought a tv with him and we subsequently bought a cheap DVD player.... :)

The hostel was loaded with British, Irish and a few Europeans thrown into the mix. We only met 2 other Canadians there during our entire stay, and a few Americans as well. In the end there was quite a lot of drama including people getting thrown out for ripping a door off it's hinges, and another one punched an employee (who was about 50 years old) while his father punched the bartender who tried to break up the fight. Luckily Tyler and I had a knack for either being away or asleep on the nights that these incidents happened.

There were lots of theme nights in the hostel included an 'big kid party' where everyone was wearing face paint, playing with balloons and playing kid games like Twister, hot potato (or 'pass the parcel' as they call it here), musical chairs and frozen statues. We also had a 'twins party' where pairs of people tried to dress in matching clothes, Tyler actually had two twins for the night, he switched outfits half-way through when his second twin was finished work and got back to the hostel around midnight.

The hostel also had:

Monday night = movie night
Wednesday night = pool competition (winner wins bar tab)
Thursday night = quiz night (winning team splits bar tab)
Sunday mid-day = poker competition (winner wins bar tab)

It was a very nice set up. There was a chef who came to the hostel mid-way through and once a week he would make a big meal of which we would pay around $7.00 each for supplies and we would have a huge, home-cooked meal. He was very talented, although we learned that the Brits and Irish love their salt - yikes!

We had some fun day trips with some of the hostel peeps as well included the Great Ocean Road trip, where it rained most of the time but we still saw some good sights. We were able to see London Bridge before it collapsed for good about 4 days later. Pretty nice coincidence. And most of us came down with the flu shortly after the trip because of the weather conditions, but it wasn't swine flu - hurray! And we shared it with everyone else in the hostel, we thought we were going to be quarantined!

We also went to Phillip Island which is known for its population of 'little penguins', they used to be called 'fairy penguins' but the term was considered offensive and they changed it. You had to pay $20 to get in and watch the Penguin Parade, they all come ashore after 2 weeks of feeding in the ocean and return to their burroughs. Very cute to watch and they are so vocal, they all fight over the burroughs and try to navigate their way around the sand hills. You can also see them for free if you just walk through the parking lot and on one of the trails down to one of the non-marked off parts of the beach. A few of the people in the group discovered this, I was jealous since I paid the $20 but at least we know for next time. Tyler didn't get to go because he had to work, sad day for him.

And now our time in Melbourne is done. We had lots of good times, met some great people but since my contract at work finished on July 17th and Tyler wasn't getting a lot of hours at his internet cafe, we decided to do some more travelling since we were in one place for so long. We're currently in Tasmania at the moment, enjoying a change of scene and happy to be done work at least for a little while. Hurray for travel mode! :)


Australia. Australia: Melbourne

Tuesday March 31st, 2009 - Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Melbourne, Victoria

Perhaps you've heard -- the world is experiencing some economic "bumps"..

The majority of this period has been spent in a state of unemployment. A state I am unaccustomed to and unsuited for. Jenny was the unfortunate person who got to deal with me during this period. Not a role to be jealous of.. Luckily we are both employed now. Jenny is working for Melbourne University as a receptionist and I am working for some agency as a passenger counter (public transit passengers).

Despite being unemployed, their have been some highlights:
- a weekend in Fish Creek that was sponsored by our favourite Fish Creekian (thanks Corinna!)
- several experiments that delved into the mysteries of cake, brownies and other assorted confectioneries (varying success..)
- a relaxing hike up the 1000 stairs of the Dandenong range
- a victory by team Canadia at the local quiz night
- a successful home-brew version of a chicken parmesian (a.k.a. "parma")

I'll let Jenny expand on those topics -- I'm currently a little busy basking in my own state of employment.


Australia. Australia: The Great Ocean Road

Saturday March 14th, 2009 - Monday, March 30th, 2009

Great Ocean Road, Victoria
(Torquay, Anglesea, Fairhaven, Aireys Inlet, Apollo Bay, Princetown, and Lorne!)

"Look ma', the kid can walk!"

That's right, apparently we know how to walk. During this 16 day stretch we averaged just over 10km a day, with almost all of those days involving ~4 babies worth of weight on each of our backs (the "baby" is a unit used to measure weight; each baby represents ~8 lbs or ~4 kilos).. Perhaps these numbers don't seem that impressive, but believe me they certainly feel like they are when live them. The weight alone was like carrying an extra 25% of ourselves -- that's like growing two new legs and one extra head! Anyways, here's a breakdown of our days (distance walked and weight carried):

  1. Torquay: ~10.0km; 1kg; bused to Torquay; watched surfers, surveyed surf shops and promised to be surf pros by tomorrow
  2. Torquay: ~8.0km; 1kg; too rainy for surfing; decide to sit in cafe and drink; determined to be surf pros by tomorrow; meet backpacking Swedish doctor -- puts us to shame by walking ~20-30km day (overachieving swedes =P)
  3. Torquay: ~9.0km; many surfers at beach.. decide not to make them look terrible by surfing (surfers have weak confidence, don't want to undermine it); will become surf pro after big walk tomorrow
  4. Anglesea: ~18.0km; 15kg; hiked to Anglsea; long walk; heavy packs; lots of coast; walking on sand with pack found to be difficult -- like walking on a herd of gritty, greased pigs; pass by Tiger Snake breeding ground -- nothing amorous seen
  5. Fairhaven: ~12km; 2kg; leave packs in Anglesea, walk to Fairhaven, bus it back to Anglesea -- super-duper-success; walk relatively weightless, and thus "awesome"; celebrate with discount, day-old cinnamon buns
  6. Apollo Bay: ~12km; 0kg; bused to Apollo Bay; Fish n' Chips for dinner -- witness "freakishly-aggressive-Jenny" chase seagulls who want our food.. Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; read about skin cancer statistics in newspaper and decide to buy narrow-brim bucket hat (have beard, have hat, have plaid, need fishing rod..)
  7. Apollo Bay: ~16km; 4kg; plan on nice relaxing day before first day of big walk; go grocery shopping for Great Ocean Walk; breakdown of shopping:
    • walk to town; 2km
    • walk first market; 1km; survey prices
    • walk second market; 1km; survey prices
    • write shopping list
    • walk first market; 1km; survey prices
    • walk second market; 1km; survey prices
    • walk first market; 1km; buy: ramen noodles
    • walk second market; 1km; buy: carrots, bread, tuna, vegemite, eggs
    • walk first market; 1km; buy: steak and veggies for "last supper"
    • Tyler has tiny freak-out about starving on walk
    • walk back to campground; 2km
    • Tyler has bigger freak-out about starving on walk
    • walk to town; 2km
    • walk to first market; 1km; buy: bread, cookies, chocolate
    • walk back to campground; 2km
  8. Elliot Ridge: ~9.9; 18kg; have idea to carry plastic bags of food on stick (like two hunters would carry a dead gazelle: gazelle tied to stick, and stick on shoulders) -- GENIUS! Lots of up and down on the walk -- very sweaty; splash water on selves -- refreshing, but not cleansing..
  9. Blanket Bay: ~11.6km; 18kg; long; boring; middle-aged English couple feel pity for our us after seeing soup dinner -- they feed us pasta -- it is delicious (thank-you England)
  10. Cape Otway: ~10.5; 18kg; meet Australian named Mathew, who is also on walk -- we all like food, so that's what we talk about for the next 5 days (we also playing a card game called 500 -- fun); buy 6 chocolate bars, 1 ice cream bar and 1 popsicle at Cape Otway Lighthouse kiosk (only place to buy food on the walk); food topic for day: chocolate bars
  11. Aire River: ~9.7; feeling smelly and greasy; find cold, slimy, pond to bathe in.. feel less gross (actually produced a little oil slick.. *ick*); koala near walks over us to get at nearby eucalyptus tree -- wow; awesome campgrounds -- feels like a brambly hobbit village; food topic for day: McDonalds
  12. Johanna: ~13.6; 17kg; echidna shows us it's prickly butt -- mmm, wildlife-tooshy; awesomer hilltop campgrounds -- view of wavey ocean; food topic for day: pastry and pies
  13. Ryans Den: ~12.4; 17kg; hills; hell; up, down, up, down, down, down, up, up, up, up, UP, down, up, down, up, etc.; meet a mob of kangaroos; two leaches jump out of a tree and attack Jenny's left boob -- hilarious; awesomest clifftop campground -- tall, jutty, clifftop view of ocean; food topic for day: food
  14. Devils Kitchen: ~15.3; descend a couple hundred steps to Wreck Beach, which has an anchor embedded in some rock -- pretty cool; play cards on the beach -- also pretty cool; ascend a couple hundred steps from Wreck Beach -- not really cool..; pretty cool clifftop campground -- trees, view of ocean
  15. Princetown / Glenample homestead: ~12.9km; 16kg; overcast, cold and dry; sunny, hot and dry; overcast, windy and rainy; sunny, windy and dry; sunny, windy and rainy (?!?); food topic for day: pizza and salad
  16. Melbourne Lorne: ~?km; -99kg; bused to Melbourne Lorne to relax wait for Melbourne Grand Prix to stop flooding all possible accomodation; Jenny buys a sun dress
  17. Lorne: ?km; ?kg; What happened today?
  18. Lorne: ?km; ?kg; devonshire scone: scone, jam, cream -- mmm

So, that was the walking adventure. Good times,

Tyler and Jenny

Australia. Australia. Singleton to Melbourne

Saturday, March 7th, 2009 - Friday, March 13th, 2009

Melbourne, Victoria

Two facts:
  • FACT #1: at some point, in the not so distant past, Melbourne was named the world's most "liveable" city (REFERENCE; also note that Canada rocks the liveable list!)
  • FACT #2: the Kings Cross region of Sydney is mostly certainly NOT the world's most "liveable" anything
In our continuing adventures, we experienced these two facts back-to-back, and found them magnified by their proximity..

So the story began because it was time to leave Singleton. We wanted to go to Melbourne. Melbourne is not particularly close to Singleton.. So we devised a plan that combined feet, cars and trains to get us from Singleton to Melbourne via several way points (numbered for later reference):
  • 1: feet bring us to car (situated in Singleton driveway; ~30 seconds)
  • 2: car brings us to train (in nearby city called Maitland; ~1 hour)
  • 3: train brings us to other train (in major city called Sydney; ~2 hours)
  • 4: other train brings us to Melbourne (traveling by night to diminish the whopping 13 hour commute!; ~13 hours!)
4 steps. Assuming each step had a modest 95% success rate, then the overall journey had a success rate of ~80%. Meaning, hypothetically, if we made the journey 5 times, then 4 of those times would be successes. Meaning 1 in 5 would be a failure. Now, it's pretty obvious what a success would be, so lets walk through what a "hypothetical" failure would be.. Most journey's don't begin with failure, so lets take step 1 as being successful. Moreover, most good failures occur because of reasons that are out of the subjects / victims control -- so lets take step 2 (the car) as also being successful because the subjects are still in control (~"sort of"). Thus we are on step 3, and have only 2 chances left to fail.. now seems an appropriate time. Train accident? Too "big" to be simply termed a failure.. Robbery on the rails? Too dramatic.. Missed train? Appropriate. But again, a good failure is out of the subjects control. Let's say the train was missed because of track renovation that our victims inquired about earlier during their planning phase, but were cordially reassured (by a train representative) that renovations did NOT exist and would NOT affect scheduling, but in fact renovations DID exist and DID affect scheduling (by ~1hour), thus forcing our subjects to reschedule their night train to Melbourne for the next morning (a surprisingly easy and affordable affair -- thank-you Country Link Trains), which in turn forced them to spend a night in Sydney on (perhaps) the busiest night of the year: Gay Mardigras (as in homosexual), which fills the streets with a curious mix of tights, trannies, and teens, that are all very leathered, very pierced and VERY gay (as in happy), which is cool, but all these people need places to stay, which makes choices for accommodation limited, forcing our subjects to return to the hated Sydney Cooee hostel (damnable meat-thieves! [REFERENCE]), the crowds also make accommodations sell at a premium, which translates into prices doubling (stupid, crappy $40 dorm bed.. I hate you bed!), and finally ending in a sleep that is broken by gay noises (as in both homosexual and happy.. ...) that are not conducive to our subjects' sleep (subjects like ours who have had a long day and could be quite accurately termed "party-poopers" do not like noises!). Following the (hypothetical) failures of step 3, step 4 arrives and likely completes successfully (except that instead of sleeping a blissed-out 8 of the ~13 commuter hours, the happy subjects are able to observe the sun's exciting (and painfully slow) ascent and descent. Luckily, there's an 80% chance that the hypothetical failure that has just been described above did not happen to Jenny and I.

Arrival in Melbourne. Initial thoughts:
  • air filled with smells that are completely unlike urine -- good
  • less gayness (as in happy -- unsure about other gayness) -- neutral
  • subway's maps and electronic timetables fairly accessible -- good
  • accommodations near to subway; somewhat expensive, but include toast, cereal, fruit, milk and various hot breakfast beverages (CEREAL! FRUIT! HOT BEVERAGES! In the immortal words of the Counting Crows: "you don't know what you got till it's gone") (also clean linen -- thank-you Claremont Guesthouse) -- good
  • nearby stir-fry place (cheap and delicious -- thank-you Smiley Thai) -- good
Initial thoughts on Melbourne? Not unliveable.

Other noteworthy events:
  • a hippie restaurant that lets the customer decide the value of their meal: Lentil as Anything -- more difficult than you may think..
  • finally confirmed that the McDonalds in Australia provide free WiFi (but sadly do not offer McGriddles)
  • egg tarts -- Jenny has been quoted as saying: "mmm" in regards to these
  • We re-united with some friends from our Croatia tour who really talked up Melbourne and we helped them win at trivia night -- free pitchers of beer for everyone!
  • Parmas are delicious and an Aussie specialty -- breaded chicken with cheese, ham and spaghetti sauce, no pasta is served with it here, only mashed potatoes and veggies. Mmmm.....
That's all,

Tyler and Jenny

Australia. Australia. Katoomba to Singleton

Monday, March 2nd, 2009 - Friday, March 6th, 2009

Singleton/Hunter Valley, New South Wales

When people think of Australia, Singleton is not often the town that comes to mind, but it was actually a nice place to visit. We never would have seen it otherwise, but my good friends from Edinburgh, Renee and Kempy have settled down there and had a free bedroom for us to crash in. Who could say no to that? It was so nice after the camping in Katoomba and the unpleasant hostel experience in Sydney to go and stay in an actual house with fresh, real, non-travel towels, a tv, a Wii nintendo and all the other luxuries we had at home.

For those of you who don't know, the Hunter Valley is one of the big wine regions in Australia. Many people cruise around the area and go visiting/sampling at all the wineries. They have notices in all of the wineries warning about not being able to serve you if you are intoxicated. I think it must happen a lot. But they were happy to give you a sample of whatever you wanted, it was amazing! And we even had some cheese and bread sampling too. We learned the difference between dry, sweet and fruity wines (just because it's sweet does not necessarily mean that it's fruity). And dessert wines are terrible - that's what I learned, too sweet for me anyway. We tried some sparkling red wine and it was pretty delicious, you can even serve some red wines cold.... as crazy as that may sound to you, it's true. So we're becoming quite the connoisseurs. :)

Aside from being great hosts, Renee and Kempy chauffeured us around town and took us to see Newcastle, a great coastal town in New South Wales. Beautiful beach and waterfront. It would be a great city to live in, not too big and lots of beautiful scenery. And they also took us to Kempy's parents house in a town called Tea Gardens. It's mostly full or retired people who wanted to get away from Sydney in their later years, a nice quiet community on the river/waterfront. The river connects to the ocean so it's saltwater. And I saw my first real life dolphin there, just swimming into the harbour. Amazing!

Renee and Kempy also introduced us to some crazy Australian movies and tv shows and the local cuisine. We went 'yabbying', which involves setting nets to catch yabbies (crayfish-like creatures). We boiled them up and ate them for dinner along with lots of barbecued meat. Before you boil the yabbies you have to rip their bums out so that was kinda gross, but it's better that we don't eat that part of them. We learned that what we in Canada would call 'cocktail weiners' are referred to in Australia as 'little boys'.... but not when you order them over the
counter or you might get some funny looks. Also, fried eggs are delicious on pizza and burgers, Australians try to add eggs to whatever they can. Breakfast pizza is a must! And tim-tam slams are delcious (tim-tams are the popular chocolate cookie here and you eat opposite corners of the cookie then dunk it in your coffee and sip the coffee through the cookie. So bad for you, but delicious.

We came from Singleton/Tea Gardens well fed, better educated on things Australian and extremely comfortable. And we may even be going back if Kempy gets us a job pruning grape vines for his friend. We'll let you know. :)

On to Melbourne!

-Jenny and Tyler-

Australia. Australia. Sydney to Katoomba

Tuesday, February 21st, 2009 - Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Jenny and I "tour-ised" Sydney quite thoroughly:
  • Opera House
    • NOTES:
      • - one local compared it to a pair of turtles mating.. wierd
  • Sydney Harbour
  • Sydney Botanical Gardens
    • NOTES:
      • home to a colony of bats
        • bat facts:
          • unlike vampires, bats can come out during the day
          • unlike Batman, bats are quite social
          • bats are annoying
        • misc phrases for groups of creatures:
          • a Thought of Barons
          • a Knot of Toads
          • a Raffle of Turkeys
          • a Decent of Woodpeckers
          • a Conspiracy of Ravens
          • a Smack of Jellyfish
          • a Murder of Crows
          • a Kettle of Hawks
      • for fellow travelers, the 10am free walking tour is worth checking out
  • Aquarium
    • NOTES:
      • sharks actually do exist and are not fictious creatures created by the Aussies to keep us away from their beaches -- big mouth, big teeth, small eyes..
      • Jenny wants a platypus..
  • Bondi Beach
    • NOTES:
      • against all common sense, this is actually pronounced "bond-eye beach"
      • riptides are more fun, than dangerous
      • (to Mr. B. Williams) topless beaches are everything you dreamed of and more
      • may have to exchange dreams of surfing for dreams of body-boarding -- Jenny will kill me if I die..
After approximately 4 days at Sydney's Backpacker Headquarters Hostel, we decided to try trading up to Sydney's Cooee Hostel. Not only did it match the Headquarters' free breakfast and guest kitchen, but it also advertised cheap double rooms, air conditioning and free internet. This lead to the first harsh lesson of trip: meat theft. Little bits of stir-fry beef in a sweet Cantonese ginger sauce.. GONE. The only suspect: the clerk from hostel's front desk (he was eating "his" dinner when we discovered our loss). He had this sort of pathetic / sympathetic smile, that was endearing before the the theft, but absolutely infuriating after (I swear I saw little bits of stringy, dark meat stuck between his teeth!) Anyways, no proof, no foul -- must move on.

Beyond theft, the Cooee also suffered some minor maintenance issues. There were two bathrooms on our floor. Someone (intentionally?) managed to clog the urinals in both of them. I am ashamed to say that I panicked and fled the facilities the first time that the yellow water started to spill over the rim (don't worry, I had some hand sanitizer in my backpack).

On February 25th, took the train to Katoomba in the Blue mountain region. Small town. Many cafes. Many tourists. Free internet at the library. Impressive scenery (cliffs, waterfalls, trees, wildlife, etc.).

Bought a camping stove (I have fire!)

Stayed at the Katoomba Falls Caravan Park. Facilities well priced and clean.The tent and sleeping functioned perfectly.

Attempted 4 hour hike to the Red Hand cave in Glenbrook -- success (the hands painted on the cave were indeed red).
  • NOTES:
    • got lost one time (1/2 hour confusion)
    • many birds
    • many bugs
    • no snakes.

Attempted 2 day hike to Chinaman's Gully, via Mt. Solitary Summit -- success (!).
  • NOTES:
    • got lost four times (1 3/4 hours of confusion)
    • many birds
    • two snakes (who puts a snake in the water)
    • one leech (Jesus Christ -- they drop from trees!)
    • something that bounced
    • for fellow travelers:
      • a bit of (lots of?) mild (extreme?) climbing is required
      • the signs aren't lying when the claim the path is not well marked
      • there is no "chinaman"

Tyler and Jenny

P.S. The previously mentioned showers-with-tinted-glass-divider actually turned out to be the showers-with-one-way-mirror-divider. This discovery came at a terrible price -- it involved me making several very strange faces on the mirror side, while some unknown naked man may (or may not) have been watching on the see-through side. I think it likely that an unknown naked man was watching because a certain gentleman started giving me cautionary-eyes whenever he saw me around the hostel..

Australia. Australia. Sydney: Arrival review

Tues, February 17th, 2009 - Friday, February 20th, 2009

So to recap:
  • departed from Toronto, Canada (Pearson airport) at ~9pm
  • arrived in London, England (Heathrow airport) at ~9am local time (~6 hours of travel, 0 hours of sleep)
    • NOTES:
      • showered successfully
      • bought sandwiches.. and chocolate
  • departed Heathrow at ~9pm (12 hours of waiting, 2 hour of sleep)
  • arrived in Bangkok, Thailand (? airport) at ~? (~? hours travel, 1 hour of sleep)
    • NOTES:
      • very warm -- an unsettling precursor to Australian weather..
      • security officers are "friskier" than those in Canada or London -- was pleased to learn that my groin was not armed
  • departed Bangkok when the sun was near the horizon -- unsure whether it was rising or setting (1 hour of waiting)
  • arrived in Sydney, Australia (? airport)
    • NOTES:
      • forgot aluminum water bottle on plane; attempted to get Baggage Services to retrieve it; failure
      • despite warnings about the severity of Sydney Customs officers they are found to be amiable
      • telephoned Backpackers Headquarters Hostel to make use of their offer for free airport pickup; failure -- no answer on their end; waited 30mins, then redialed -- failure -- no answer; waited 5mins, then redialed -- failure -- no answer; waited 0mins, then redialed -- failure -- no answer; waited 0mins, then redialed -- success (!)
  • departed Sydney airport when the taxi arrived
    • NOTES:
      • Australian accents can be mixed with any other accent to create unimagined hybrids (i.e., aussie-indian, aussie-polish, etc.)
  • arrived at hostel
    • NOTES:
      • reception: pleasant and helpful
      • dorm-mates: nocturnal (i.e., sleep during the day)
      • beds: ~clean
      • showers: separated by tinted glass (first noticed this while trying to determine if I was the unknown naked man in the mirror -- there was no mirror -- I was not the unknown naked man)
After the above, we walked around, felt tired, went back to the hostel, went to sleep while the sun was still high and awoke around 4am.