Mobile Meteor

Be sure to check out my new site: Mobile Meteor!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Kiwi Cricket

Ben lost a bet to Alexis a few weeks ago. Ben paid Alexis with his cricket ticket. Alexis sold this ticket to me. And so two Sundays ago I participated in a true cricket experience: The Australians versus the All Blacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground. It was a great day but there were a few too many kiwis flapping amongst us. We met up at Bar Cleveland in Redfern for a few critters (Little Creatures) before heading over to the official grounds. Somehow we made friends with some other rowdy groups and next thing you know the game is on TV. This is a "one dayer", a short version of cricket, so we better hurry! Not quiet. While a true cricket match, called a test match, lasts up to five full days and can still end in a draw, a one dayer is not short. A typical one dayer lasts about eight hours. Yeah, short version. After breaking free of the (other) rowdy bunch we hiked over to the SCG and settled into our seats. The SCG was first set aside for recreational use in the mid-1800s. In 1882 Australia beat England in the first Ashes test match played on the grounds - the sixth Ashes. I think this set the base for a tremendous future of Australia destroying England in the game the English invented. It's a beautiful stadium, and I appreciate the design of the Members' Stand (1878) and Ladies' Stand (1896). The game was great fun, but we couldn't seem to separate Glenn & Simon. Oh and the free Daily Telegraph hats provided excellent shelter from the sun. Thank you Daily Telegraph.

All kiwi cricket photos here.

*Note: Australia beat the All Blacks but barely. My brother, Ricky Ponting, embarrassed us with an early LBW. Shame.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Google Plane Grounded

Google, the company that provides this lovely blogging service to me for free, screwed up this past weekend. They did. They made a big hub-bub, a big to-do about a hired aircraft that would fly low over Sydney and its beaches, taking high-res photo-graphic metallic plates to add to their Internetified map service. It was big news! All over the papers there were articles with Google boasting about its first detailed photo of a city. People made plans and went out early with signs for a non-profit cause, an expression of love as a surprise for the lovee, a request for forgiveness or just for fun... and yeah some people were looking to take advantage of the free advertising.

So what happened? Nothing. Or next to nothing. Google posted this lame-ass update to the site. That space covers less than 10% of what they said they would and hardly any of the beaches and parks where people had started to prepare since early morning. Google, you are responsible for the [continued] failure of Aaron Schwebel's marriage. People will also be less inclined to Vote Climate, and, thanks to you, David Hicks will not be brought home. Possibly your biggest loss, Google, is that poverty will NOT be made history. I hope you're proud of yourself.

Yes, Google was providing a free service, but it also set expectations that it could not meet. It turned out that they did not have clearance to fly over the city and that Sydney airport would have had to have been closed to satisfy their demands. Google, c'mon, maybe if you're packing the right goods, but an aerial camera... {scuffaw}

We were out there with a big white sheet ($9) on which I spray-painted ($8) "DWARBI'S ROOF". Google, kindly send a refund of $17. And thanks for this free blogging service.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Australia Day 2007

This past Friday was Australia Day, Australia's celebration of the landing of Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet at Sydney Cove on 26 January, 1788. Another name for this day is Invasion Day. Depends on the way you look at it. Similarly, Dana and I arrived on Australian soil on 26 January, but in 2005. We call this day Australian Anniversary Day. Another name for this day has recently surfaced: Dana and Denis Sepo Invasion Day. Depends on the way you look at it. Somehow people came out to celebrate with the Sepos Dana & Denis on Australia Day!

In an attempt to reduce gang violence we did ban the Australian flag, but both Sams brazenly ignored the ban and waved the flag to and fro. Thankfully everyone played nice. Except Glenn Hinton. If you look at the photos it's pretty clear he doesn't know how to play nice. The party started nice and early with set-up beginning at 1, and friends coming and going into the night. We must of left a window open because there were kiwis in our apartment until after 3AM. Who knew kiwis could fly into an eighth story apartment!

Also, Google was scheduled to fly a plane low over the Sydney to add high-resolution images to their Google maps service. I was ready with a giant "DWARBI'S ROOF" sign but the Google plane didn't come very close us. In a few weeks we'll be able to check!

View all photos here.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

NZ Day 8: Last Full Day

While we fully enjoyed our last day in New Zealand, there was a bit of sadness knowing that the next day we would be returning to Sydney. Being depressed about going to Sydney, Australia, should give you some idea of how great New Zealand is. We left our Queenstown B&B in the morning, skirted Lake Wakatipu and continued north past a few submerged towns, such as Cromwell, The Land of Giant Fruit. There's a story here: After realising that putting a lake on top of your town isn't the best thing for tourism, the town leaders - still soaking wet I assume - contracted a farmer to grow enormous stone fruit to attract international visitors. Unfortunately the farm was quickly overrun with monstrous fruit flies and the farmer was killed after giant bat poo fell on him one night. They managed to save some of the fruit and have enameled, as seen above.

It was back to square one for the good ole Cromwellites. "By jove," the town crier cried, "I've got it! We shall create a parking lot and next to it we shall lovingly reconstruct that which was flooded in the early 90's, demolished in the 80's and established in 1862! Complete with a plastic horse!" And so New Cromwell was founded.

Tekapo, located on Lake Tekapo, was our stop that night, but we decided to take a detour to see Aoraki/Mount Cook, NZ's highest mountain. To took the detour but didn't see the mountain. The clouds were too low. It was still a beautiful drive, and Lake Pukaki was gorgeous. The sky above it shimmered teal from the colour of the lake below it. The mountains around Mt Cook were also stunning. You may not know it, but you've probably seen Mt Cook. It was featured in Lord of the Rings and The Last Samurai as a stand-in for Mt Fuji. It's also a big climbing spot, despite the tremendous number of deaths. Over 200 people have died on it in the past 100 years. Two died last week. We were there in the middle of summer and the avalanche warning was high.

Back around Lake Pukaki and along Lake Tekapo we went. The other side of Lake Tekapo is lined with the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps. Add in an old stone church and a statue of a dog and you have one of the most picturesque towns in the South Island. The Church of the Good Shepherd, built in 1935, holds services for three denominations. Catholic mass is held once a month. I assume there is one priest for the entire county who racks up some serious mileage. The statue nearby is dedicated not to one collie dog who saved a boy from drowning, but to all collie dogs who have ever saved a boy from drowning.

Driving into Tekapo provided us with some amusement. There isn't really a town but a large rest stop right off the highway. Imagine our surprise when the sushi restaurant we ate at was quite good despite its position between a gas station and a gift shop. Besides the view, the town has some good restaurants and B&Bs. Our B&B, Grandview, was an excellent choice. What a view from our window! We left New Zealand extremely happy with all of our accommodation choices. What a trip.

View all of the photos from day 8 here.

New Year's Eve - 2006/2007

I've got one more New Zealand post left but I have to get this New Year's Eve one out before the end of January. We landed in Sydney the evening of the 31st and were home long enough to shower and shave before heading out. We got some sleep on the plane but adrenaline helped much more. Luna Park offered amazing music (Carl Cox) and a great view of arguably the best New Year's Eve fireworks in the world. The beverage selection was less than impressive. Todd and I both went to bed with shaky stomachs and woke up not feeling too hot even though we had only had a handful of VBs all night. Terrible beer. (This Todd is not the Bungy jumper from the previous post, it's BA Todd.) Dana and I took advantage of some of the great rides at Luna Park. The Wild Mouse was the best, but the Coney Island section with its classic - and dangerous - attractions was also worthwhile. Todd and I went to head to head in a potato sack race. I won. Candice beat Dana though. The music kept us going until about 3 and the trip home wasn't that bad. I was also impressed by the orderly trash. Kudos Sydney! On ordinary days I've seen workers scrubbing garbage bins and mopping sidewalks, but a neat New Year's Eve takes the cake!
Enjoy the photos here. Oh and a short video clip from the farewell to 2006, a pretty good year for me I'd say:

Friday, January 26, 2007

NZ Day 7: Bungy Jumping and Wine Tasting

Here's Dana standing next to our room at the B&B. OK not really. This is a replica of a house from "Old Chinatown" near historic Arrowtown. Arrowtown boomed during the gold rush, and since Chinese people were not welcome in the white town, they built their own self-sufficient dwelling in the hills nearby. The park and exhibits are interesting, way more so than the tourist trap of Arrowtown itself. Unless you want to buy a rock the size, shape, colour and price of a gumball... from a gumball machine. Now if you have a kid, don't worry - there is a disclaimer for your 5 year-old to read that will set him straight before he spends that coin he borrowed.

From Arrowtown we went straight to my 11:30AM bridge jump booking. I have a fear of heights so I was expecting to be scared out of my wits. It was quite cold as I prepared to jump - and the drizzle didn't help - but I wasn't very nervous. I can get over my fear with logic and the jump felt very safe, even thought they basically just wrap a hand towel around your ankle, run a cord through it and push you off the ledge... maybe because it's all just so official. At the jump centre they weight you and write the weight on your hand in permanent marker... 91 kilos (201 pounds)?!?! No way! I was about to ask for a re-weigh without my shoes but decided to wear the weight on my hand for a while to keep it in mind. I still have not washed that hand. I jumped backwards after the crew recommended against my idea of attempting a flip. "First jump, keep it simple," they said. The length of the cord was measured perfectly with my weight so that I could get as close to the water as I wanted. My arms and head submerged. And by the way, I have washed that hand. Many times. The 91 will just not wash off. It's like it's a curse. If you're going to Queenstown, bungy jump. It's well worth it. Video here:

What goes great after bungy jumping? Wine tasting! Dana and I spent the rainy afternoon exploring Central Otago and trying wines from some of the best emerging wineries in the world. I must make special note of Peregrine: best pinot noir. Fantastic. And the setting for these wineries could not be better.

Dana and I popped back by the Kawarau Bridge Bungy for another look. While I was taking photos, some guy asked if we wanted a photo together.
Photo taken.
"Thanks! Lots of Americans around these days."
"Ah yeah, I'm from New Jersey."
Dana pipes in, "I'm from Jersey! Where are you from?"
"I'm from [somewhere in NJ]."
"That's right by me, I'm from Highland Park."
"I have a good friend from Highland Park."
"What's his name?" (long shot)
"Adam Ravens."
"No way!"

It turns out Don was best man at Adam's wedding. Adam married Alicia, a long-time family friend. Dana was their baby-sitter not long after and had actually met Don before! Small world. So we ended up hanging out with Don & Todd (who was bungy jumping) that night in Queenstown, along with some packpacking pommies we met. Great fun. Oh, and that's Todd standing on the bridge behind Dana and Don... because of all the excitement we nearly missed his jump!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NZ Day 6: Queenstown - Holy Shit

Apologies for the crude subject, but holy shit! How can a city like this exist? For once I trust the photos will speak for themselves as far as natural beauty, then top that off with the resources available, the stability of the nation and the nations surroundings and the height above sea level... not a bad place to live. We arrived at Queenstown after driving through a street sheep pasture, racing a steam train and rounding Lake Wakatipu to get to our B&B, Coronet View. The B&B was great and location perfect. We set off immediately for a good tramp (hike/bushwalk).

A good tramp up Queenstown Hill gave us spectacular views down onto Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. We could also look across at the "hill" with the gondola on it and way off into the distance at even greater mountains. The hike was steady and intense, but not overwhelming. We also got a good look at beautiful poisonous mushrooms and drunken wood pigeons.

Back town at sea level - or at least lake level - we headed over to the gondola and opted for a gondola + luge deal. Our gondola followed a delivery of milk (hey, no roads up there and obviously the cats are hungry). See photo evidence. The top was quite busy but we didn't have too much trouble getting a pair of helmets to go with our luge-ka-bobs, or whatever they are called. I expected the luge ride to be pretty lame. It was not lame. The twelve year-old in front of moved, but his mom zig-zagged back and forth, slowing us down until I finally pinned her to the side while Dana passed and we left her in the dust. The ride was a lot like the old Alpine Slide at Action Park before it closed after too many deaths. It was great to be a land free of lawsuits and full of opportunities to seek enjoyment at the risk of harming oneself. The hill also offers a scenic bungy jump.

Nightlife in Queenstown is also good fun. We had dinner at Dux de Lux - great beer made in-house and massive NZ mussels. Afterwards Dana and I walked around Lake Wakatipu before seeking out more Emerson's. Mini-Bar was the place, and the bartender made us feel like locals...most of the other patrons were Queensland service staff out for the night. Highly recommended.

Glad to say that this was not our last day or night in Queenstown…

Photos from day 6 here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

NZ Day 5: What's that Doubtful Sound?

Yesterday's post was obscenely long with not too many pictures to match. Today the post will be relatively short (relative to all of my past posts, not just yesterday's), but there are enough photos for a Where's Waldo conference (though please don't waste your life searching them for Waldo... play Where's Dana instead).

Why the trim post, Denis?
Well, it's getting fatter the more I jibber-jabber, but I really, honestly cannot summarise the sites of Lakes Manapouri & Te Anau and Doubtful Sound. Almost all of Day Five was spend on boats taking in incredible natural beauty. So I will spin some yarn about side-topics, but enjoy the photos more than my words. And try to visit the South Island of New Zealand to see for yourself.

We were staying in Te Anau (on Lake Te Anau, remember), so we caught a bus to Manapouri (on Lake Manapouri) to catch a boat to catch a bus to catch a boat... and then second verse, same in reverse! It was a very full day well spent. Lake Manapouri provides scenery outstanding in its own right. Waterfalls spew out of the woods, forests cling to steep hills that drop to the water and in the distance are fantastic cloud formations around snow-capped mountains. We got off the boat and onto a bus at the Lake Manapouri Power Station. More on that later. Brown parrot-like birds greeted us as we deboarded. These are called Kea (not Manapouri Birds), and they are known for being very destructive to cars and houses. Who knows how these birds have survived in the Fjordland for thousands of years?!

The bus trip was nearly as amazing as the boat, taking down (and up) narrow roads past interesting plant life and many more waterfalls, most of which only occur as the rainfall sees fit. Once at Deep Cove, at the inland edge of Doubtful Sound, we boarded another boat. I was amazed at the solitude. For the duration of the trip, we saw a handful of other boats and about as many kayaks. This is the high tourist season for New Zealand - summer. We did pick Doubtful Sound over Milford Sound so that we would avoid the tourists, and I think it was worth it. Once on the water, we cruised for hours, taking in the sound itself, rarely seen Hector's dolphins and many seals. The skipper also pulled up nice and close to some islands and cliffs to give us an extremely close look at the native vegetation. The "Southern Christmas Tree" took the cake.

Fiordland National Park is also a World Heritage site (as part of Te Wahipounamu) and the reason is obvious once your are there... however, one crafy kiwi has figured out a way to get a supply store in there. He checked the legal papers and found out that the parkland starts on the land at high tide watermark, so he built this structure that is technically legal. It provides supplies and a place to rest to local fisherman and lobstermen. Another interesting thing to note were the many Christmas tree-shaped bare marks on the cliffs. Each one is the result of a tree avalanche. The cliffs along the fiords are rocks and steep, so the trees intertwine their roots for support. However, when one goes down, they all go down. After a major earthquake a few years ago there were 700 tree avalanches as a result.

After hours of peaceful boating we were back at Deep Cove and onto the bus. At the edge of Lake Manapouri we toured Manapouri Power Station New Zealand's largest hydroelectric power station... while still in the bus for some of it. Being an American, I was a bit surprised by the lack of security, but I also enjoyed every minute of it. The power station makes used of underground flow of water from Lake Manapouri to Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound and has relatively little impact on the environment. The groundbreaking power structure (haha) came about after enormous opposition to a dam. Kudos.

Back at the ranch, Te Anau Holiday Park, we had dinner in and got a good look at a tui! And enjoyed it's jibber-jabber, of course, and its bow-tie. Speaking of, there was a lot more jibber-jabber in this post than I intended. Please do take the time to review all of the photos here. Actually, that's only half of the photos. Still a lot, but it was hard to let go of them.

*Doubtful Sound gets it's name from Captain James Cook. When he came across it his men suggested they explore it. He said if they were to enter it would be doubtful they would ever leave. Given his vessel and the conditions of the call... good call Jimmy.

Monday, January 22, 2007

NZ Day 4: Boxing Day and the Biggest Post Ever

I realise that I left some key bits out of the last NZ entry: Christmas dinner. As we drove into Invercargill, we found that I had neglected to print a map for this town. "Sure!" we thought, "Invercargill has got to be tiny! We'll just drive around until we find our B&B!" While the city is not actually exceptionally large, it seemed to be. For one thing, as I recall, every street in the CBD had eight lanes. My memory may off at the moment, but that is how I remember it. Also, none of the traffic lights coming off of smaller streets ever change from red, so you have to turn left or right against red if you want to get anywhere. I think.

Where was I? Ah, yes, that blind tennis player named Dana suggested we call the B&B for directions... and expected me to stop the car while we figured out where we were! We did stop, and we did find our way to Beersheba B&B. We had a fantastic room full of fresh flowers. Since it was Christmas, our hosts had their own family over for Christmas dinner, and they introduced us to everyone as if we were extended family. Michael dropped us off at the Ascott Hotel for our Christmas dinner. Excellent choice for a B&B on Christmas.

OK, here's where things get a bit interesting. Just about every Christmas dinner I have experienced - from a small boy playing with his new Light Bright and hoping his cousin Brian can sleep over - to a Christmas dinner full of questions about my impending move to Australia - have been interesting. This one was most interesting for different reasons.

The food at The Ascott Christmas Buffet was great: turkey, lamb, beef, salads, etc, all well seasoned and well-cooked (we were in New Zealand after all). The wine selection is good, again, of course. The staff were attentive and friendly.

But something seemed a bit off with this dinner. Dana and I knew this was the first one away from any sort of family - the year before we spent Christmas with close friends and their family - but something was stll amiss. Maybe it was the missing "i" in "stll" from the previous sentence. Not quite. It was something deeper. Most of the families came, ate and left, with little convivial banter. Most did stack too much food on each plate, apparently unaware that it was a buffet. Most didn't drink! Dana and I came to the conclusion that most of these people didn't like their family. It makes perfect sense: pick up your relatives, have dinner and then drop them off. There is no time to linger or worry about how to get rid of them. My Christmas's past, whether at Auntie Eil's & Uncle Gerry's, Colleen & Tom's, or Jim & Gail's, have been extremely fun. I can't remember a family Christmas party that I wanted to end. Dana and I had a very good, if absurd, time at Christmas dinner at the Ascott. Now if you frequent The Ascott Hotel for Christmas dinner, please let me know your thoughts.

I'm not done with Christmas dinner yet, if you can believe it. Seeking lively Christmas cheer, Dana and I moved from the dining room as more and more waitresses were poured into the room to clear the dinner tables. We popped into the little hotel bar attached to the restaurant, where they had to confirm that we ate dinner at the adjoining restaurant. You'd think they were packed! Nope. Dana and I were the only two there. They had a good beer selection! But what's this on TV? Kelsey Grammar? Lots of candles? Tom Petty? We sit down with our drink slightly unnerved. Jim Carrey appears on the TVs, "Joe and Bob worked on the 101st floor of the South Tower..." Outta here! Dana and I sat back down at our table in the dining room, but I did venture back into the bar to ask the bartender:
"Can I have another Invercargill Pitch Black?"
"Odd programming you have on here for Christmas."
"Do you know what this is?"
"We have a bunch of DVDs in the back on rotate and this is what's up."
"This is 'A Tribute to Heroes'... for the attacks on NY on 9/11."
"I'm from New York. This video brings up a lot of very sensitive memories... and it's Christmas."
I swear I actually watched my words fly over her head.
"Is there anything lighter you can put on?" I asked, "Maybe a documentary about Auschwitz?"
I gave up. Dana and I returned to the dining area. We took a stroll home in the twilight at around 9:30, to the consternation of a flock of cows that charged the fence and followed us on their side, glaring. I think one of them moo-ed, "Watch it, bro, this is South Invercargill!"

Look at me... all that writing and we're still on the day before! Let me add some reference to the title about how long the blog is.

Much better.

Let me wrap up Christmas night. Back at the B&B we joined our hosts and their family for some foosball and “Dirty Dancing”. Yes, it was a bit odd to be with strangers on Christmas, but we gave into their friendly insistence and had a lovely night. Besides, how can you resist foosball and “Dirty Dancing”?

Boxing Day it was off to Bluff, on the southern tip of the South Island. We picked up a brochure that had a "historic walk" of Bluff. Perhaps if the city quadruples in size and somehow gains significance then there could be a decent historic walk in about a hundred years. For now, it's still a nice place to drop by for the famous Bluff oysters and the view towards Stewart Island. Unfortunately the fog was so thick that we couldn't see the top of the hill we thought about climbing to see Stewart Island, and we were there too early to get any oysters. Oh well. Next time.

Onwards from Bluff brought us past some other interesting sites, such the (truly) historic Clifden Suspension Bridge, fantastic mountains, interesting little stores and police stations and lots more sheep. Dana even took the wheel for a bit so I could get a good look around. Dana's method of driving is to drop a brick on the gas pedal and steer. I don't remember seeing too much while Dana was driving, but I did get a good long look and the backs of my eyelids.

By afternoon we were passing Manapouri, located on Lake Manapouri, on our way to Te Anau, located on Lake Te Anau. We have some great photos from the lakes, but again, they just don't do it justice. We did some beautiful walks, grabbed a bite, and went off on a boat trip to see the Te Anau Caves, or Te Anau Glow Worm Caves. This was one of the highlights of the trip. The boat ride across the lake was stunning. Once on the other side we were led into to the caves, which are still forming thanks to the very active underground rivers. In groups of eight we boarded tiny little boats, hardly big enough for six, and were pulled through a small underground lake to a "grotto". Once there, the guide's light was turned off. Eyes readjusted, and the glow from thousands of worms grew stronger and stronger. It was like being outside late at night in the desert, each worm a star. The worms drop sticky fishing lines from the ceiling and then glow to attract small insects. The insects get stuck and become supper. Pretty amazing.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Uncle Matt

After seeing photos from Christmas on the home front, I can't help but feel like I'm Uncle Matt from Fraggle Rock, leaving Bobo, Red, Buber, Wembly and Moker to deal with all the real issues. My family is dealing with new births and Billy returning from war as I report on roller coasters and bus trips. Weeee. That being said, bungy jumping kicked ass.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

NZ Day 3: Ever Notice that Nearly Every Brochure Says, "Open Every Day Except Christmas"?

Christmas morning we awoke to exchange gifts while staying at the Hulmes Court B&B in Dunedin, New Zealand... a very unique Christmas morning! Luckily I loved everything Dana got me and (I think) Dana loved what I got her. We popped over to the common room for breakfast, and, not surprisingly, we were one of only a few couples staying. Hulmes Court is a larger B&B, with a number of rooms across two houses. The B&B-man, Norman, chatted with us as we ate until his kitty started peeing into a potted tree. When Norman picked him up, the kitten shared its pee with some more of the floor. Good laughs. And a very good place to stay in Dunedin, just outside the city (walking distance) but a cozy place to stay. And the cats are cute... apparently mandatory for B&B status.

The next time you pick up a brochure, take a look at the hours of operations. It doesn't matter if it's a house of wax or a historic mansion, it will say, "Open every day except Christmas Day." So Dana and I did a lot of driving and walking Christmas Day. We took the scenic drive from Dunedin to Invercargill, and Dana picked out every obscure scenic drive road sign along the way. It was amazing. The first one came up after a quick left: Dana says, "There, 'coastal scenic route' quick, turn right." I made the turn but thought it had to be wrong. That sign was impossible to see, and to be the first sign on the entire route... but, it was right! As navigator, Dana is like blind man who kicks ass at tennis. At home, she's the least observant person I know, but on the road, driving at 110 km/hour, she's on fire! We didn't make one wrong turn the entire trip.

After finding a servo (gas station) serving sandwiches, we drove to Nugget Point (Tokata) and had a wee tramp, as the kiwis would say... that means a bushwalk or a hike. There were seals playing down at the bottom of the cliffs and low clouds caressing the mountains. We tramped out to the lighthouse for a better view of the nuggets. The drops on both sides were extreme, but we could still watch young seals at play on the rocks. It was a solid hike, rewarded with those sandwiches from the servo. On our way out we say another walk to see the rare yellow-eyed penguin. Since you rarely see a penguin during the day we almost didn't go... but when we did we spied a large yellow-eyed hobbling up the beach! We hurried to the viewing shelter... by now the penguin was hopping up into the dunes, presumably to a nest.

With the rest of the day we drove towards Invercargill through the Catlins, checking out the beaches full of seagull wings and kelp. We did love the sheep, of course.
Full set of day three photos here.

NZ Day 2: Christmas Eve with Boulders and Emerson's

Christmas Eve morning we woke up at the Blunden's - Trish and John at the Sefton Homestay B&B - in Timaru. They served a fantastic cooked breakfast, including poached eggs, while spinning the yarn with Trish and John. Ollie, their dog, saw us out as we head back to town. Their B&B was one of the best I have stayed at anywhere - highly recommended. However, for those with allergies like me, it seems to be a prerequisite for a B&B in NZ to have a dog or a cat, so bring your Claritine.

After a brief swing by the markets in Tiramu town centre, we were on the road to Oamaru. There for lunch we had a drive out to the little blue penguin hot spot but had no luck - you usually only see penguins at night, when you can't really see them. Back to town for a walk around the historic buildings. Most were factories of some kind but now most are art galleries or artists workshops or a combination of these. Oamaru is a great town with cafes to eat at as well. Definitely worth a stop. We also found the Criterion Hotel, an old hotel that was closed for many decades before it was reopened. Locals have mugs behind the bar, you can purchase pickled eggs from a jar, and they serve Emerson's, the best beer made in New Zealand.

Next we stopped at a place recomended by our guide book: The Moeraki Boulders. A few rocks on a beach is what we first thought, but then we read about how they are made, how rare they are, and the significance to the Maoris... and then we appreciated them. These boulders were cemented from mudstone into nearly perfect spheres, sort of like pearls. They are formed in and buried in the earth until erosion exposes them. As the beach crawls and claws at the island, more are exposed and eventually worn away, revealing their hollowness first.

Once in Dunedin we wandered around a bit - only half surprised to find it empty, but it was odd that the visitor's centre was open but had the lights off. The city itself is large, but it's also a university town, and the students were all back home. The town centres around an octagon which took us an absurdly long time to find. There were a few restaurants, but we opted for Albar. We stopped in for a drink before dinner but stayed the entire night! This place is gold: Emerson's on tap and cask, great tapas, friendly locals, and Scrabble! Yes we did play Scrabble a bit. But mostly we just enjoyed the atmosphere and planned the rest of the trip.
All photos from day 2 found here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

NZ Day 1: Bored While Drying Hands?

If you've been as disappointed as me with the lack of growth in advertising space since the birth of mini above-urinal billboards and elevator screens, you'll be very pleased to know that we have entered a new era: video ads built into hand dryers. I have seen them with my own eyes and even have photographic proof:

Marketing brilliance! A captivated audience of one for a solid eight seconds, shaking off excess water before rubbing hands vigoroursly. If you've bought my pitch, contact the supplier nearest you!

What does this have to do with our trip to New Zealand? It was in the airport bathroom! In Sydney, though. Every other photo from this trip was taken across the Tasman Sea, I promise.

At night in Timaru we walked along Caroline Bay near a fairly active shipping port. The sand on the beach was so fine it was like clay. On our first night in New Zealand we were blown away by the roses (as mentioned in the last entry) at the Trevor Griffiths Rose Garden. This public garden had hundres of rose bushes, some dating back over a hundred years. The entrance from the street is through a large piazza with a large fountain/waterfall. It's a massive piece of public works for the size of the city. I did appreciate the stairs. If it were in Sydney they would all be escalators.

Dana and I ended the night with a few handles of beer at the Speight's Ale House. The pub had great character - it was rediscovered after a wrecking crew demolished a not-so-attractive building that had obscured it. Thankfully the bulldozer stopped short when he saw the old stone building. And yes I did say night, but it was light out until 10PM. Day one photos here.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

New Zealand (Aotearoa) Overview

I'm going to have to break up the blog entries - there was so much to see and do in New Zealand that we saw and did a lot! It's a fantastic place to visit, so all of you who are planning your trip to see us should tack on an extra week or three to swing by New Zealand. It's only about four hours away from Sydney. Yes, it is that far. When people from the other side of the world glance at a map, places look a lot closer than they really are, especially when they are so remote. This place is worth the trip from anywhere in the world.

New Zealand contains very unique flora and fauna. The most common theory is that New Zealand broke off of Australia when Pangaea busted up, but some believe it was part of South America. I've never been to South America, but the NZ I saw looked nothing like AU. There are some trees that can only be found on New Zealand and South America, and New Zealand has no marsupials. There did used to be a really badass bird called a Moa that was like a giant emu but with no wings at all and a height of up to 10 feet. The Moa was killed off by humans, just as many other birds on the island would be killed off by other pests. There were not many natural predators to birds before humans arrived, bringing with them cats and rats, so the native feathered animals were diverse and easy prey. Kiwis still exist, but we didn't see any of them during our trip. I did see plenty of hedgehogs but they were all dead. I cannot confirm that there are any hedgehogs still alive in New Zealand. I saw about as many dead hedgehogs along the roads of New Zealand as I saw dead wallabies in the Northern Territory. Hedgehogs were introduced to reduce pests on farms but became pests themselves and have wiped out species of insects and snails.

That all sounds so negative... well, it pretty much is. Europeans also introduced deer and rabbit since they had nothing to hunt. The deer and rabbits took off into the vast wilderness to proliferate and not worry too much about a human wondering their way with a gun. But, some amazing birds and plants do survive! The aforementioned kiwi - a small flightless bird whose egg is a quarter the size of the mother; the tui - a bird that looks like a lounge singer in a bow-tie that does impressions... no seriously it mimics the calls of other birds; and plenty of penguins. We managed to spot the rarest of them all: a yellow-eyed penguin... and during the day! He was wobbling along the beach and then hopping up to his nest. Or she. I didn't get that good of a look. We also saw heaps of fur seals and dolphins.

As far as plant life, it's pretty much the same story. We were amazed at the number and size of roses in New Zealand - they were everywhere! The roads were lined with (besides dead hedgehogs) beautiful tall flowers. These are russell lupin. They were introduced but took to the soil and spread like wildfire. The "southern Christmas tree" blooms in summer (Christmas) with spectacular, bright red flowers. These are native to NZ but it's slightly amusing that it's called a southern Christmas tree when it's surrounded by millions of pine trees.

I think that's long enough for one post. I realise now that it's all about plants and animals, but the people and scenery were amazing too! But the beer and bungy were the best. More on all of that soon.

Friday, January 05, 2007

BA Pub Crawl - Sydney

This past Thursday I was very happy that I had the foresight to take the day off before Wednesday night even began. Beer gurus Todd and Candice Alstrom were at the tail end of their visit to Australia and ready for a good night. We started off at The Australian Heritage Hotel (of course) for some Little Critters and pizza while we got aquainted with those folks we knew online but had never met in person. Michael from Matilda Bay also had some rare goodies and we'll be looking for those at the bottlo soon. Gotta love The Aussie. It's also my ma's favourite pub in Sydney.

Next stop was The Glenmore, just up the road. Great views, terrible beer. It's a good spot because they haven't really bothered to update it very much. Quick stop then on to the Lord Nelson! If you've had their recently bottled beers, you're probably as disappointed as me, but the brews are much better fresh on tap. Lots of laughs and good stories at the old pub before finding the next two stops were closed! The Palisade Hotel, a fantastic old pub on top of the hill, and The Hero of Waterloo, probably the best true old Sydney pub, closed their doors before 11... on a Wednesday! Unheard of.

Bidding adieu to Hero we made our way down to George St, checking the locked doors of Harbour View Hotel before settling into The Mercantile... and The Orient after that. Publess yet again, we were forced into the depths of Hell - Jackson's on George. I was proud to say that I had never set foot into this cesspool with an ego, but I passed the stinking gates on Wednesday night. My eyes opened in wonder at the Chimay on tap but were quickly snapped back to the stinking gates. No access for Mr Todd Alstrom. Apparantly his shorts were not in season and the bouncer wasn't having any of it. I tried to reason with the gentleman, politely pointing out that it's a Wednesday night, the pub wasn't crowded, we would spend a lot of money at the bar, and Todd's shorts were hot and sexy. The bouncer asked me if he had to call security. I asked him if security would be needed for a second opinion on whether or not he was an idiot and a monkey. We left.

Last stop: Trump's on King Street, just two blocks from where I live! Hey, it may be a seedy underground 24-hour bar but they serve Little Critters and admired Todd's buttocks. Not really about the buttocks, but they DID have Critters. A few dropped off along the way, but my night wrapped up around 4AM. All photos here. Check out the previous week's Redoak gathering here.

Sidenote: Todd and Candice are fantastic houseguests. Not only are they great fun to hang out with but they clean up well after themselves. Like cats. Candice, I do wish we had time for you to bake something for us. Next time.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Monday, January 01, 2007

Diving with Sharks

Diving with grey nurse sharks in Maroubra, just outside Sydney, was a thrill I had the pleasure of experiencing a few weeks ago. The dive site was at Magic Point, a short boat trip from shore. Though no one mentions it on the boat, we're all a little worried about seeing other sharks besides grey nurse. Great whites, bronze whalers and bull sharks could be in the area and would not be a welcome sight. Hammerheads may be around but they are fine as long as there is no blood in the water. Grey nurse sharks are very safe all the time as long as you don't pull on their tail or something. When the first shark swam up to a little more than an arm's distance away I didn't think about pulling about pulling on it's tail... I kind of freaked out and ascended a bit.

These animals are beautiful. My buddy Wade and I descended and found their cave very quickly. We sat tight and watched them swimming majestically around the area before exploring. There were about seven large grey nurse sharks at this location.

A blue groper took a liking to us and followed us for the rest of the dive as we passed coral, nudibraches, starfish and heaps of other fish. Wade also spotted a mask and snorkel combo that had already become part of the natural environment.

Photos from this dive here.