Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Townsville, Maggie and Brisbane

I came into Townsville on Saturday via one of the most irritating bus rides ever. The driver was hard of hearing and thought we should listen to music at the decibel level of a jet engine. There was no stopping the music. Not with earplugs. Not with my own ipod. It overpowered them both. I had asked him to turn it down, which worked until the next stop, about a half hour, then it went right back up to deafening levels.
I was able to visit my friend Deane in Townsville. I hadn't seen him since I lived in Europe, 11 years ago. We met on our way to Greece and later in Dublin for St. Patrick's Day in May. It was the year of foot and mouth disease and they had postponed St. Paddy's until May.
Townsville is full of very interesting people, though Deane told me they normally aren't that strange. As we sat at the pub and caught up I noticed there were a large proportion of Townsville folks wearing costumes and silly hats. Apparently there was a big horse race in town, so all the women had to get out their best and most ridiculous hats. I'm not sure about the guys in full Bert and Ernie costumes.
Sunday I headed over to Magnetic Island (Maggie), just a short boat ride from Townsville. It's a beautiful island with plenty of wild koalas and WWII history. I hiked most of the island Sunday, seeing a koala and a wallaby. Luckily I didn't see any death adders. The hike was what I like to call an ankle breaker. Loosely jumbled rocks up and down a mountain. I'm glad I ended up bringing my hiking boots despite the weight they add to my pack. I saw no one on the entire trail. I guess I was the only one crazy enough to hike it in the heat and humidity. Along another path (a much easier one) there were plenty of WWII fortifications. This trail is where the koalas often hang out. Since they and the wallaby were a bit shy, there are no pictures. You would have only been able to see trees. I did, however get a picture of the TARDIS (zoom in on picture below).
Sunday night I ended up talking to locals who were hanging out at the bar at the hostel (there are limited establishments on the small island). They were telling me how it was very nice to live on such a nice island, if it wasn't for the bloody tourists. That was the same thought I had about living in the Mount. For all those thinking, but wait, you're a tourist: I believe I lived in the Mount long enough to qualify as non-tourist.
One of my roommates had nightmares and woke up screaming that there was something furry in his bed (in German). Though there were several possums and wallabies that hung around the hostel at night (I almost stepped on some trying to break into someone else's room), there were none in our room.
Monday, after a beautiful sunrise I took the bus to the ferry to Deane's car to the airport to fly to Brisbane to get on a train into the city. The flight was a bit late, but otherwise it was uneventful travels via many methods.

I was helped by a military guy after getting to my train stop. He pointed me in the right direction to the hostel. He happened to be walking that way as well and managed to talk to me about 50 different subjects in the span of the 10 minute walk. I wandered around town after I had dropped off my bags. For you Minneapolis folks, imagine Nicollet Mall, only without buses and much bigger. The pedestrian mall was very nice, though there were a disturbing number of strip clubs next to Gucci shops and posh restaurants. Today, Tuesday, I wandered some more. I went to the South Bank of the city which has some nice walkways along the river. Brisbane reminded me a lot of Minneapolis with much better weather. However, they have a London Eye like ferris wheel and a Nepalese pagoda near the river.
I'm now off to Byron Bay, followed by Port Macquarie. Then it's on to Sydney to meet up with Kaleb and Skog.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Cairns and the Reef

Add it to your bucket list: dive the Great Barrier Reef. I came to Australia via Cairns 2 days ago. Yesterday I just walked around the entire city. There are some very beautiful parts, and some that look like the run down, rubbish filled places you can find in most cities. I found a few walking paths. One was through the botanical gardens, and the other was along a nice river. Only after I started walking the path by the river did I see the signs warning of crocs.

I then thought of how I could easily disappear, some hungry croc's lunch, and no one would ever know what happened to me. It was at this time I decided the walking path next to the river was not that cool, and turned around.

The hostel I'm staying at is a bit of a party place. I'm too old for that and don't appreciate being woken up by super drunk people. The pub connected to the hostel, however, does attract some locals, so I was able to talk to them. Somehow I just couldn't have a conversation with the guy who was talking about how old and wise he was at 24. I managed to keep my mouth shut, but had a good internal chuckle. I'm hoping I wasn't like that when I travelled throughout Europe.
Today I went diving on the Great Barrier Reef. It is not cheap by any sense of the word, but worth it in every way. I was able to go on 3 dives throughout the day. I opted for the guided dives, since it had been several years since I dove. I got to see rays, a lot of fish, but no sharks or turtles. What fascinated me the most, though, were the wide variety of sea cucumbers and sea worms. Very cool. I'm also very thankful I don't get sea sick, as it was a rough ride out to the reef, and several people got sick on the way. There's no way I can actually describe it, so just put it on your list to do sometime.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Where did the month go?

I know I haven't posted in a while. Perhaps it's because I haven't been doing much interesting, perhaps it's because I'm not the biggest fan of writing, or perhaps it's just plain laziness. My guess would be a little of each. Let me sum up the last month for you:
The last post had my parents still here and we were in the Bay of Islands. We had a great time and they left a day or two after my last update. I had to drop them off at the airport a few hours early in order to have a slightly easier drive. There was torrential downpours which led to flooding and road closures. I made it home on an alternate route and in only 1 1/2 hours more than it usually takes.
Kaleb had been working for the avocado industry for a few weeks now and is enjoying it. He has solved many of their data issues in short order and is impressing them thoroughly. I tell him he needs to be careful, or they won't let him come back to the states. Working remotely for them, however, could work.
It has rained nearly every day for the last month and a half. Our apartment building has flooded a few times, but luckily we're on the second floor, so none of our stuff has been damaged. However, the rain gave me a perfect opportunity to do a mud run. The girls and I had a lot of fun, but will probably not be doing one again. It was cold, and, judging from the horses and cows nearby, some of the "mud" was not just wet dirt. It felt good to shower after that.
For the past 2 weeks, I've been selling off my toys I've accumulated during my time here. Mainly my surfboard and bike. I was able to sell them for the same price I paid, so it was like renting them for free. Kaleb will be staying until mid January, so had to find a few flatmates to live with. He found a posh place 2 blocks from our apartment with 3 flatmates, all of who are very athletic. With Kaleb moved into his new place and me all packed up, it's time to start my way home (by way of Australia and the South Island).

I'm now in Cairns by myself. Kaleb's friend Skog is flying in tomorrow. I will be meeting them in Sydney in a little over a week. We will then head to Queenstown for some mountain fun before I leave for the states.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Further Travels With the Parents

After Kaleb left us in Christchurch, my parents and I boarded the TranzAlpine Scenic train. Though very windy and raining much of the time, it was very scenic. Luckily we were going west to Greymouth a day after it had rained about 1/2 meter in the span of 24 hours. One of the few passenger trains left in NZ, the TranzAlpine winds its way from Christchurch on the East coast to Greymouth on the West coast and through some very scenic mountain passes.
Greymouth was quite grey, as it was still raining when we got there. Luckily it was more of a mist, so the flooding was going down. We walked down to where the river emptied into the ocean, and it was very impressive. The pictures don't do it justice. Really, there were whole trees hurtling down the river and getting flipped like toothpicks in the waves resulting from the river crashing into the ocean. We stayed at a very nice hostel, probably the cleanest I've ever seen. It was decorated in Africa style and had a beautiful kitchen and common rooms. If the weather had cooperated, we would have been able to hire kayaks and bikes free of charge. If you ever find yourself in Greymouth stay at the Global Village.

Luckily the flood waters had receded the next day and the roads to the north were open, so we were able to take a bus to Westport as planned. We were flying home (my home) from Westport, a small coal mining town on the coast. The bus stopped at a national park on the way, allowing us to do a short walk and see the pancake rocks. The Westport airport was awesome. If Kaleb thought security was easy in Christchurch, he would have loved Westport. It was a one room airport with 2 employees, 1 to load the bags and be a rampee and one to be a gate agent and air traffic control. The computer system was down, so we had to get hand written boarding passes and (ominous tone) luggage tags. Needless to say, my bag didn't make it home. I give Air New Zealand credit though since I received my bag by noon the next day, unlike the Delta 6 day wait.
I then sent my parents to Rotorua for a few days, so I could get some work done and they could see a human zoo. They picked me up on Friday and we travelled to the far north, to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. Forecast for the next few days until my parents leave (and beyond) rain, rain, rain. Those of you in the drought ridden U.S. are probably jealous, but the rain impedes on the beauty of this sea playground. We took a boat trip today and saw dolphins playing. The rough seas made for a roller coaster of a ride in some areas, but our skipper did a great job of keeping us out of the biggest troughs.

South Island

Nite time view of Auckland.
Today Beth's parents landed in Auckland and we took a really long ride on Naked Bus to meet up with them.  I think I would rather just rent a car and actually drive then take the bus.  As much as I hate to drive in the US and haven't driven in NZ I don't like cold and uncomfortable rides in which I have no control of.  Then there is the time and distance difference.  If driven like a rational person would be about 2.5 hrs and the route taken for the company pushed it to about 4.5 hrs.  I wonder how much longer it is going to take to bus from Christchurch to Dunedin.  I think we are scheduled for 5.5 hrs.  I just hope I'll be able to either enjoy the ride or just sleep. 
Scared of heights?
Today, 09/07/2012, we wandered over to the Auckland Museum in the Parnell area.  Entry was a requested donation of $10.  The lower levels reminded me a lot of Te Papa in Wellington, but they did have a huge amount of space dedicated to military affairs on the 2nd level.  Here we got to see some gnarly early guns.  This included some early anti-tank guns that Conan might have trouble wielding.  These things were just massive.  This afternoon we checked into our swanky 2 bedroom hotel room at the Auckland Harbor Oaks.  We have a room on the 26th floor and we actually have a deck with no protection from jumping.  This is something that would not fly back in the US as the rate of jumpers would be too great.  On our way home we stopped and ate at Poderi Crisci Vineyard.  This was a much larger place than the store front would lead you to believe.  I felt like I was back in Argentina visiting Peter and Leanne.  The small entry way gave way to a large court yard and then a bar and enclosed restaurant.  We all settled in for pasta even though they had a wood fire pizza oven named Vesuvivo.  I ordered a pumpkin gnocchi with a blue cheese sauce topped with rocket and parmesan.  It was very tasty, but Beth and I had to have some dessert from a cafe down the street as they had a caramel slice topped with a chocolate chip cookie instead of the traditional chocolate layer.
That is right that is my single log bench.
It is 6:30pm and they are about to go down for the count.  I have to applaud their ability to stay up for most of the day.  We are watching the sport news and the announcers are just having a field day with the Andrew Murray and the finals.  The stuff they are able to say about people is just amazing.  I don't remember the exact quote about Mrs Federer, but it was something on the lines of that is the clap of the cold hearted bitch who knows that her husband just broke his opponent.  Tomorrow we are flying to Christchurch and then taking a long bus ride on to Dunedin.  We hit up JetStar for our flight to Christchurch.  I got to dine on Spicy Tonkotsu Pork Ramen in the airport as well.  Not as good as Tokyo, but damn tasty.
Spicy Tonkotsu Pork Ramen.
Couldn't cross the Bridge of Remembrance.
Quick little recap of Christchurch as we spent almost no time in the city.  There are a fair number of bike commuters in the city.  I saw several kitted out riders on their 29s and even a few brave souls on SS.  I say brave as I saw a few hills in the distance that would test even the best to ride up on a single gear.  We stayed in an interesting place that had 3 beds in a single room.  We stayed on a fairly busy street so the traffic could be heard all night long.  Glad I can sleep to music.  We did get out and wander the streets for the evening and even found an interesting place to geek out to.  But alas it was not to be as it was closed.  The place had dishes named after fantasy and sci-fi characters.  I was so going to eat me some Yoda or Dalek.  We did get to see the unfortunate destruction caused by the severe earthquake from last year.  The city will probably take a really long time to get back in order.  We wandered through outdoor art exhibits and even did a little grocery shopping at Countdown.  Every time I see the store, I start to sing "its the final countdown" and that is the only line I know of the song.  We ended up eating at Spagalimis Pizza as most things in the CBD are closed.  I did send out a tweet about places to eat and I got one back about Honeypot Cafe (which is only a couple blocks from the Countdown), but we were trying to eat at Astro Lounge, which unfortunately was closed.  We boarded the extremely well heated and screwed shut bathroom door Naked bus at 8am which meant an early morning as we had a 30 minute walk to the pick-up.  What happened for the next 5+ hours I can't really tell you.  I must have been rocked to sleep within a couple minutes and only woken up by Beth for bathroom breaks and lunch.  I did get to see some of the coast line and the mountains inland.  Everything around us seemed to be sheep or cattle.  I felt like I was in the Midwest minus the ocean and mountains.
Always take care when riding down tracks, getting off is tricky.
Dunedin: Do-knee-din not to be confused with dune-din.  We are staying at a backpackers just out of the inner octagon.  If you look at a map you'll understand.  We did a little wandering of the city today before becoming tourists.  Beth did not think my idea of crafting a tale of how we posted on lonelysinglemen.com for a tour guide was a good idea.  We were sold a tour of the area by the young chap, Richard, at the reception desk.  It just so happens that the person who gave us the tour was his father, Russell.  We started at 12:30 with a quick little jaunt around the CBD where he showed us the churches (June, I took some pictures for you!) and the railway station.  He also pointed out the Cadbury Factory, which we are attempting to take a tour of.  It being the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival, the town is seeing a lot of action.
I'm Russell and I like to take drive ms daisy.
We were giving a good commentary of the area and Russell is very knowledgeable.  I said to Beth more than once, that this spot or that spot would be good for dumping a body.  I think we are on tour with a serial killer.  Once again she says that isn't very nice to say.  I have to agree, but we are out in the middle of nowhere with a guy we don't know on a gravel road at a place unfamiliar to us.  Your imagination may get the better of you.  Russell is a very friendly and like able fellow and nothing like my crazy imagination makes him out to be.  I would totally recommend you do the tour with him, if you like to be driven around and conversed with.  It must be some sort of record, because I did not sleep in the van.  I don't recall the last time I was a passenger in any vehicle on a trip and didn't fall asleep.  Any way I digress.  We were taken to many scenic outlooks and told the cultural significance of this and that.  If you want to find out what they are, take the tour.  I'm not going to be giving away his information for free.  It is the Internet and most of it can probably be found on Wikipedia.  You wouldn't get the accent though.  Speaking of accent, Bill and Betsy were having a hard time understanding Richard last night.  He was talking about a Scottish girl who asked for something.  He turned and handed here a pin and pepper.  She had asked for pen and paper.  Ok, it might have been funnier in person.
Batman exists even in Dunedin playgrounds.
 Back on tour we went to an albatross reserve, where we loitered in the gift shop/welcome center as you had to pay more money to walk up another 50m to another building.  If they were flying you would be able to spot them from the road.  They have a 3m wingspan.  Its not something you have to sneak up on to see.  We did get the privilege to see one soaring right above our heads though.  Next we left the company of Russell for the company of a gentleman that neither Beth nor I could place his accent.  Daniel works for the penguin sanctuary.  We were on the hunt for the yellow-eyed penguin.  We got to see several coming in to the beach, but only 2 up close.  After the 1+ tour, we met back up with Russell who drove us back to town along a flat, but very narrow and windy road.  There was a very small bike lane along side the road that Beth didn't think would be safe to ride on, but I disagree.
Paying their respects to us. 

The scene of the execution of 50,000 Jaffas.

The next day we packed up our day bags for a little jaunt over to the steepest residential street in the world.  It was to be the scene of the execution of 50,000 over-sized jaffas later that afternoon.  We were about 2 hours early and just wanted to run up the 350m street, but were turned away.  This was just a minor inconvenience as both Beth and I did run up some steep steps in the neighborhood.  We also were going to hike up Mt Cargill (680m) and then circle back to the city.  The hike wasn't very difficult as it doubled in many spots as a mountain bike track as well.  There were some sections that were dicey, but you just took it slow at that point.  We were treated to some spectacular views at the summit before the rain and fog came sweeping in.  We waited at the top for Betsy and Bill who crested about 15 minutes behind us.  We then had about a 7 mile descent back into town via a long road.  I was starving and decided to have a pie from the bakery and the rest just wanted to relax for a couple hours.  It wasn't long until hunger got the better of everyone else and we wandered over to "Minami" for some tasty Japanese goodness.  I was delighted when I ordered the house special and received nigiri, sashimi, udon, tempura, and miso.  It didn't stand a chance nor did Beth's left overs.  A 14 mile hike will do that to you. 
Meter long pizza anyone?
Want to get massive?

The next day was our last in Dunedin and we thought we would take in the Cadbury Factory Tour, albeit the abridged version as it was a weekend.  We were treated to some chocolate and a very informative 7 minute history lesson via DVD.  Next we were herded outside where we had to deposit all electronics and jewelry in a secure locker.  Then we were hurried past some of the early milk and delivery trucks as it was raining.  Next we entered the factory where the temperature was drastically higher and there was an overwhelming smell of melted chocolate.  It was at this point that my stomach became very upset and I had to leave the tour.  I was escorted back to the main lobby.  I arrived just in time to see Beth's arm, as she was wearing a bright green fleece, behind the chocolate waterfall.  After that I sat with my head in my hands until I was collected after the tour along with our electronics.  We had just enough time to grab some lunch before having to catch the 5+ hour bus back to Christchurch.  We went to a place called Angus Cafe & Desserts where I got a soup to try to get my stomach to behave.  On our way to the bus station, I happened to see a protein powder bag that rivals all others.  It was 10 pounds of powder.  If I needed any here, I would probably saw how much it costs.  Once again, I found myself uncomfortable on a Naked Bus.  The bathroom was once again locked.  I believe they are just for show and that the first bus was a fluke as it was open for use.  This bus ride was pretty chilly, but I just wore my soft shell and beanie and tried to sleep.  I also made frequent pit stops on the bus ride and the driver kept asking if I couldn't make it to another stop.  Open the bathroom up and this wouldn't be an issue.  Cleaning a toilet is pretty easy.  I should know as I've pumped out several in my day at the airline.
Love me some happy.
Our cell for the evening.
We got into Christchurch later than expected as the driver took his sweet time re-fueling the bus before departure.  We had  short 20 minute walk to our accommodations for the evening, jail.  I'm serious.  We stayed in a hostel that was the old jailhouse.  We were treated to a nice cell that was pretty spartan.  There was a plastic bunk that almost fell over when I ascended to the top bunk.  There was a small dresser that was home to 2 thick blankets as the beds were made up with a flimsy blanket and sheet.  I didn't get to explore any as I had to get to bed for my early departure.  I had a shuttle pick-up at 6:30am.  I had to get back to Tauranga to start my data analyst gig on Monday morning.  Somehow I managed to sleep through 2 different alarms and quickly through my gear in my pack and headed out to meet my shuttle.  The guy was 15 minutes late and said they both texted and left a voice mail for me.  My phone has no record of either.  I could have probably gotten in a quick shower.  Oh well, the people on the plane and my next naked bus leg would have to suffer.  From pick-up to through security was about 25 minutes.  I remember when it was easy back in the US.  Oh the price we pay for that warm fuzzy feeling when we board a plane.  Its like TSA foreplay.  I wont bore any readers with the rest of my uneventful trip back except to say that I met a nice Japanese girl in Manukau when I was buying some bottles of green tea.  She was from Yokohama and we chatted for about 10 minutes before I boarded yet another Naked Bus with a locked bathroom.  I think I'm going to start a facebook page called just for show and take pictures of all the locked or screwed shut doors that I find and ask that others post their images as well.  It was nice to get back to my now very familiar town and sit down for a home cooked meal instead of eating out.  I had rice and smoked tuna.

TransAlpine shot

Their elaborate hostel.
Beth and her parents stayed another hour in Christchurch before hoping on the TranzAlpine train ride.  They stayed in the town of Greymouth last night and are flying back to Tauranga before they wander the North Island for the next week.  I will not be able to join in any of the reindeer games as I will be settling in to my new gig.  I'm one of 14 people in a small office on the 5th floor of a beige building.  I did get a slew of keys and an access card today.  I can turn the lift on and off.  Get into the parking garage, and lock/unlock our office.  What responsibilities I was given after only a couple hours.  The gig looks like it will be a good fit.  I will be able to utilize what I know and also grow in the mean time.  It will probably be a blend of development (coding) and data work.  The data work may be creating custom reports or doing ETL work.  Either way it looks like it will be a good way to spend the next 6 months.  If I can only talk the CEO in to taking me with her on some of the oversea trips.  She is in Western Australia right now with trips to Asia and US in the future.  Just have to prove that I'm useful to have around.  Kind a like MacGyver.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Christchurch earthquake and more S. Island fun

My parents are visiting at this time. I think they love when we're living abroad, as it gives them an excuse to visit another country. We're in Dunedin a small city in the south of the south island now. We arrived here after some time in Auckland and Christchurch. In Christchurch we got to experience one of their frequent aftershocks. When I say we, I mean me. My parents and Kaleb slept through it. I'm not sure how they all could sleep through the big crack sound followed by about 30 seconds of good shaking, but all woke up when I very quietly reached for something in my backpack. Kaleb will be posting a full tale of our travels and photos in a few days, so stay tuned.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Redwoods bowling and work

I know it's been a while since I last posted, but not that much has been going on. It's the school holidays now, so our quiet little town has been overrun by holiday makers. Part of living in such a nice place that makes tourism it's business is you have to deal with tourists. Sounds funny coming from the foreigner. I'd just be happy if they could walk down the street while simultaneously looking where they're going. Not going to happen.
Last weekend I went hiking with a couple of friends in the Redwoods (slightly smaller than the CA redwoods, but still big) near Rotorua, about an hour from my house. It's a great area, except for the spots where they're clear-cutting. There are great hiking and mountain biking trails and some geothermal activity. Kaleb went mountain biking there yesterday.
Last weekend we also went ten pin bowling. You have to put the ten pin in there or people will assume lawn bowling in Brit's style. We went with a great group of ex-pats, mostly from UK and South Africa. I was not in great form as I was using a 10 pound ball with so many divots, it probably only weighed 9 pounds. Still, since bowling is not that popular here, Kaleb and I were better than average.
Also in the news, Kaleb got a proper contract working as a data analyst for the Avocado Industry Council. This means he will be living here until January. I will still be returning to the states in September as we are doing a system conversion at work and there's only so long you can ask your best friend to mind your house.

My parents are coming to visit Monday and will be here for a little over 2 weeks. We plan on heading to the South Island first. There's a chocolate festival in Dunedin that we must attend. Because of the ridiculously hot weather back in the states, they're looking forward to being in winter for a while.