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A man from Cockshutt.
A Brit and a Canuck Down Under

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Hawaii part 2

Honolulu, United States

The next day we drove to the north of Oahu, around the area where they do a lot of the filming for Lost. We’d booked ourselves onto a horseback riding trip that promised a mountainous trail offering “panoramic views in all directions”. Soon after we arrived at the base camp, we were joined by a group of 8 Latinos (3 fairly young couples and 2 kids) from California. We had to wait a little while after we arrived, to give the horses that had just come back from another trek a bit of a rest. This was a bit of a problem for one of the ladies, who kept on asking when the ‘whore-seeees’ were going to be ready. When we were all saddled up and ready to go, our guide told us how to control our horses and how it was important to try to keep our horses moving. The only time we should let our horses stop for a munch of grass on route, would be if someone’s horse had to stop to go to the loo. If this happened, you just had to yell out ‘potty break!’

About halfway through our journey, during one such break, one of the fat Latino women yelled out “the whore-seees aren’t the onleee ones who godda poop” Lovely. Throughout the rest of the journey (which although was fun to do as something different, didn’t offer quite the scenery we’d thought we’d get,) this woman kept on reminding us how she needed to go for a shit, and how increasingly desperate she was becoming. As we got back to the base camp and were unloaded, the shitty woman jumped the queue to be dismounted and promptly trotted off to the port-a-loo.

Before we left the north coast, we tried to find the Lost beach, and somewhat unsurprisingly, had no success. We did, however, find some giant turtles sunbathing on another beach, so stopped to take some pictures of them chilling out.

For our last full day in Hawaii we decided to hire a kayak and paddle out to some small islands that lay a few hundred metres offshore, to the east of Oahu. Only when we were ready to launch into the water did I realise that we didn’t actually have any water or food for the journey. So, I suggested to Angela that she go for a swim for a few minutes while I pop up the road to get some supplies. Though we were in a more residential neighbourhood, we were still in part of one of the major towns on the island, so I figured that it would only take me 15 minutes max to get to a store and back. I ended up walking, on a baking hot day and without water, for over an hour. There wasn’t a shop or even a bloody freshwater tap anywhere near the main beach in the town. Figuring that Angela was probably panicking about where I was, I hurried back only to find her relaxing in the shade taking pictures of the sand. When we did finally attempt to begin our journey towards the islands, we managed to capsize the kayak in the not inconsiderable surf, and Angela’s sunglasses, which had travelled all this way from Shrewsbury, were lost to the ocean. The second attempt to set off was a lot more successful, and we made it to the islands pretty quickly, navigating around the odd giant turtle that was looking to catch some waves.

The beach we landed on was absolutely packed, so we decided to try to hike around the island for somewhere a bit more peaceful, but equipped only with flip-flops, this adventure was fairly short lived, and we made our way back to the beach and went snorkelling instead. After taking a few more pictures, we paddled back and dropped the kayak off, before heading out for our last meal at the Cheesecake Factory - our restaurant of choice in Waikiki.

The next day we dropped the rental car back, and packed our bags one last time. We left them at the hotel while we did one last bit of shopping and had our last meal on the road. The shuttle bus to back to the airport got us there in good time, especially so given that once we arrived we discovered that our flight to L.A. had been delayed by 3 hours. Then I was ‘randomly selected’ for extra screening while going through airport security, which even involved my flip flops getting rubbed with some sort of cotton wool, which was then screened for something or other. Luckily, whatever they discovered can’t be illegal, so I was allowed on my way. The flight arrived in L.A. just in time for us to make our connection to Toronto, and we arrived there pretty much on time. My 1 year visa was processed and stuck in my passport, which brought a bit of symbolic closure to the last year’s globe-trotting. I was finally going to be somewhere to stay. At least for a little while.

permalink written by  olliejohnson on August 31, 2007 from Honolulu, United States
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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Hawaii part 1

Honolulu, United States

We’d decided to spend our 5 days in Hawaii just on Oahu, mainly because we’d run out of money, but also because we thought that there’d be more than enough on that island to keep us occupied. We’d managed to get a good deal on a hotel room in Waikiki, so it was a short walk to all the main shopping, drinking and eating areas, and of course Waikiki beach. We spent our first day on Oahu just investigating the immediate area. There was a nice market under the shade of a few massive trees that we looked around, but we spent the evening by the beach soaking up the atmosphere.

The next morning we picked up a rental car and headed for Pearl Harbor (sic). We’d been told that unless we got there really early, we could face a long wait to get a ticket for the USS Arizona Memorial, and might not even get one at all. So, with this in mind, we left our hotel around midday and were on our way. The journey itself was only about 20 minutes, but funnily enough, the car park was already full and it looked like we were out of luck. We decided to try again the next day (and maybe get up a little earlier), and instead headed back past Waikiki onto the south-west of the island. The drive itself gave spectacular views as the road hugged the edges of cliffs with a clear blue sea crashing up against the rocks at the underneath, or rolling up along the occasional beach we passed. One of which, Sandy Beach, is considered the most dangerous beach on the island (in terms of injuries and rescues), but because of the conditions that create this, is really popular with bodysurfers

The place we were actually headed for was called Hanauma bay. This crescent shaped beach, though stunningly beautiful in its’ own right, is particularly famous for the snorkelling on offer from the moment you step into the crystal clear waters. A coral reef stretches across the width of the bay, and lies in what was once the bottom of a volcano; the seaward rim of which was gradually worn away through thousands of years of waves beating upon the rock. The rest remains though and provides a visually dramatic protective barrier, with arms extended around the bay before slowly dipping to meet the sea.

Much like our experience in Doubtful Sound in New Zealand, before we were allowed to go down and have fun we had to do some mandatory boring/‘educational’ stuff. On this occasion, it involved being shepherded, on a boiling hot day, into a small movie theatre about 100 metres up the hill from the beach. Only once we’d sat and watched a 10 minute film about the how the bay was created, and then how to snorkel responsibly (which included a really irritating disney-esque song called ‘ don’t step on me’, presumably sung by the coral,) were we allowed onward to the beach itself. We probably spent just over an hour in the water, and although we did see lots of really nice tropical fish, it definitely wasn’t the best snorkelling experience of our trip. The ‘ don’t step on me’ philosophy has obviously been adopted a tad too late for the coral nearer the beach, as the vast majority of it has been broken into thousands of tiny pieces by fat Americans stomping all over it.

The next morning we tried to get up extra early for our Pearl harbor visit, but I guess the attempt lacked any real conviction, as we arrived around 11am. We picked up our tickets and discovered that it was still going to be a 2 hour wait for our Arizona memorial tour. To kill the time, we decided to pop across to the neighbouring exhibit; the USS Bowfin submarine museum. This was actually really interesting (well, for me at least, and Angela found it pretty interesting as far as history goes) as the museum charted the development of submarines from the very beginning up to the nuclear age. Then we got to walk through the USS Bowfin itself - a retired submarine, moored alongside the museum. The Bowfin survived the war without suffering any casualties, while sinking 44 ships during the same period. It was pretty eye-opening walking through the cabins and getting a feel for what it might have been like to live in such cramped and claustrophobic conditions.

The Arizona memorial tour began with a video detailing exactly what happened on the morning of 7th December 1941 in Pearl Harbor, using eye-witness accounts and film from the time. 350 Japanese planes launched a surprise strike on the naval base and surrounding airfields in 2 waves, beginning their attack just before 8am. In total, 2,335 US servicemen and women were killed over the next 2 hours. Over half of these (1,177) died on board the USS Arizona, which was engulfed by a colossal fire which ripped through the front of the ship when a bomb exploded in the forward ammunition magazine. The average age of the enlisted men on the ship was just 19. The wreck of the Arizona has been left where it sank as a permanent memorial to all those who lost their life. A small structure has been built across the midsection of the ship‘s sunken remains, with the names of all those who died on the Arizona inscribed on a wall at the far end. After the film of the attack, the US Navy ferry you over to the memorial. The remains of a solitary turret is all that is left above the surface, but when the light hits the water in a certain way it’s still possible to see the ship a few feet below the waves. It’s a suitably moving experience, though it seemed a little odd to both me and Angela that most of the Japanese contingent and a few of the Americans touring the site seemed more worried about posing for pictures with Navy personnel than paying their respects to the casualties of war beneath us.

permalink written by  olliejohnson on August 28, 2007 from Honolulu, United States
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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Tropical North Queensland and a stressful check-in

Port Douglas, Australia

Our other main excursion while around Cairns was a journey into the rainforest to the west of the city. As part of a package we’d bought, we took a train ride through the jungle to a small town called Kuranda, and made the return journey by cable car (which took us right over the rainforest canopy.) The journeys themselves were pretty spectacular, although the rainforest looked to me pretty much just like normal forest, but with slightly greener trees. And the odd parrot.

While in Kuranda, we paid visits to a bird sanctuary and a nature reserve. The bird sanctuary was actually pretty cool. It was a massive hemisphere with no cages, just a giant net held way above all the trees, so that although the birds couldn’t escape, they could at least fly around and go (roughly) where they wanted. My dad managed to get loads of good pictures of all the different types of birds, while I spent my time taking some pictures and trying to avoid getting crapped on. Angela was apparently less fearful of this than me, and even coaxed some birds onto her shoulders in exchange for some food (bird blackmail.)

At the animal sanctuary, we saw some wallabies and kangaroos with joeys in their pouches - and mum and Ang finally got to hug a Koala, though Ang said afterwards that it actually smelled pretty bad and didn’t look all that cute up close.

This was pretty much the end of our time together as a foursome, so we said goodbye to my parents in Cairns as they flew back to Sydney, and the next day me and Angela caught the bus up to Port Douglas. We spent a long weekend there staying with one of Angela’s friends from home; Brooke, who is living there with her Aussie boyfriend, Kass. Apparently Tom Hanks had just been in town filming a new war film, but though we just managed to miss him, we really enjoyed our last few days in Australia chilling out in our subtropical setting. The town was smaller than I’d expected, but had a really relaxed atmosphere and really did feel (as Kass had said to me) like every day was a weekend.

Our last journey in Australia was a flight down to Syndey, where we spent one last day wandering around the city. The next morning we caught our last glimpse of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, did some last minute souvenir shopping, and then caught the train to the airport for our flight to Hawaii.

The flight to Honolulu from Sydney was going to take about 13 hours. It was operated by JetStar (the Aussie equivalent of Easyjet.) It was the combination of these two factors that worried me. The main things I like about flying are the free food, free drinks, and the little tv screens in the back of the seat in front of you, where you can watch movies and see that map that shows you where you are in the world and how much longer there is to go. A JetStar flight promised none of the above. We’d actually booked the flight as part of our round-the-world ticket, so had no idea at the time who it would be with (though the rest of our flights had been BA and Qantas.) When we got to the check-in desk, we attempted to clarify the situation only to be greeted by the most unfriendly ‘assistant’ imaginable. As we were putting our bags on the belt to be weighed he lost it,

“Come on, come on! We haven’t got all day!”
Slightly taken aback, I then asked if we’d be given free meals on the flight.
“Free meals?! Why would we give you free meals?”
“Well, it’s a 13 hour flight, so we’re going to need some food. I know it’s a JetStar flight, but the flight number on our ticket is actually a Qantas number-and whenever we’ve flown with them before, we’ve been fed.”
“Well, well, well. How do they make a profit??!”
“So we don’t get meals?”
“OK, so can I order some food for us”
“Not here. At the counter at the end.”

It turned out that we couldn’t order any food at the counter at the end. But it also turned out that the guy checking us in was a useless liar, as we did get free meals with our ticket, complimentary drinks and (even!) a blanket - treats that they made most people on the flight pay extra for. There were, however, no mini-tv screens in front of us. Due to having crossed the International Date Line, we arrived in Hawaii about 11 hours before we‘d left Sydney. To further add to the surreal feeling, we were greeted by a genuinely friendly American Customs Officer....

permalink written by  olliejohnson on August 25, 2007 from Port Douglas, Australia
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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The Great Barrier Reef

Yorkeys Knob, Australia

Early on in our 4 month trip down under, I received an email from my mum about a place that she’d found for us to stay while we visited the Great Barrier Reef and rainforest around Cairns. It looked nice enough: self-contained apartments; swimming pool; short walk down to the beach, and set in a quiet little town a short drive from Cairns itself. For some reason the main selling point for my mum however, was the towns name: Yorkey’s Knob. She said it seemed an appropriate stopping point for someone from Cockshutt. Feeling slightly nauseous, I advised leaving the booking until the last minute when we would be sure of the dates we’d need.

Sure enough, we ended up booking the place my mum had originally suggested while we were in Hervey Bay, and spent our first day in Yorkey’s Knob relaxing and catching up on sleep after the previous days’ flying, driving, off-roading, swimming and whale-watching. Me and Dad decided to hold a summit meeting with our friendly host to sort out all the things we’d need to book for the next few days. Angela and my mum stayed back in the apartment and probably talked about boys and make-up.

Seeing as we were planning to go snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef, I’d thought I’d take the opportunity to ease my parents into the experience by holding a little practise session in the evening. The water was already too cold to hold the nursery in the swimming pool, so I filled up the kitchen sink with warm water. I was amazed when my mum actually agreed to put the snorkel on and practice breathing with her head in the sink. The limitation of this technique was the lack of view (the bottom of the sink), and the constant danger of the tap above your head. The culmination of this brief foray into the underwater world was practising clearing the snorkel of water. My lack of forward planning meant that I hadn’t considered that this manoeuvre would spray water all over the kitchen.

Our second day in Cairns was my dad’s birthday, so to celebrate we went to the Great Barrier Reef. We were warned beforehand that the winds were likely to be 20-25 knots, so the 1 ½ crossing to the Reef itself could be a bit rough. Not even my dad was quite sure exactly what a knot equated to, so we were a little taken aback by quite how rough the crossing turned out to be in the end. The general advice once on board seemed to be; take an anti-seasickness pill about half an hour before you travel. Failing that, Ang suggested going outside, holding onto the railing and looking at the horizon. However, Ang was the only one among us who had never really been seasick before. But if it worked, it sounded like a great solution to me. With the ship tumbling about in the waves, I’d make my way out onto the deck because I’d be feeling like I was about to hurl, but to everyone else it’d look like life wasn’t harsh enough for me in the protected little cabin. No, I wanted to go outside and battle the Sea eye to eye; fight the waves as they attempted to wash me overboard and laugh in the face of danger.

As it happened, when I eventually went outside to join my parents who had taken an early exit, I was joining the majority of the people on the ship. It was a bit more like a walking into a doctor’s waiting room rather than waging war against the elements. Groans from sickly people emanated from above and to the side, and the occasional (bio-degradable) bag of vomit would fly over my head to land in the waters behind us.

When we finally arrived at the pontoon (where we were to be based for the rest of the day,) everyone was looking a little bit green. But there was no respite for mum and dad, as (despite the comprehensive training I’d provided,) they’d decided to join a beginners snorkelling group and had to get kitted out and in the water straight away. Me and Angela decided against joining a group, and went in on our own with an underwater camera we’d hired for the occasion. The Coral was teeming with all sorts of colourful fish of all shapes and sizes, and we spent an hour either side of the buffet lunch we were given in the water, taking lots of pictures of the sights around us. I spent a good ¼ hour chasing a massive, metre-long fish (which turned out to be a Mauri Wrass) and eventually managed to get a good picture of it. This particular fish was apparently quite famous amongst the people working on the pontoon and even had a name; Wally. At one point in the afternoon, chasing a free meal, Wally swam right up and beached himself on the snorkelling platform at edge of the pontoon. I can only imagine Mauri Wrass don’t taste very nice.

The crossing on the way back was a lot better, but we were still all glad to get back on dry land in the evening. We went out for my dad’s birthday meal at a boat club near our apartment, and the next evening he finally got his birthday (cheese)cake, which came complete with candles. His delight at this treat was all too apparent.

permalink written by  olliejohnson on August 20, 2007 from Yorkeys Knob, Australia
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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Off-roading on Fraser Island

Fraser Island, Australia

It was a 5:00 wake-up for our trip to Fraser Island. On the plus side, it meant that we’d probably avoid the weird old landlady. We were renting a 4 wheel drive truck for our 2-day journey onto the island, and we had to attend a mandatory instruction and safety briefing before we were allowed out of the paddock. Never one to enjoy reading instruction manuals before being allowed to play with new things, I was up for more of a ‘trial and error’ approach to our adventure. But apparently cars are a bit more complicated. I learned that there were 2 gearsticks in our new wagon. One was normal, with numbers for all the different gears; but there was another one that you weren’t allowed to touch while you were in motion, and had 3 angles you could push it in, called ‘High 4 wd’, ‘Low 4wd’ and ‘2 wd’. I found this confusing. It would have been a hell of a lot easier if they were just called A B & C. Luckily though, there was an easy system to help remember what to do with it all. You just had to leave weird gearstick alone unless you got stuck. And if you got stuck, you just had to ask dad what to do. Sorted.

The ‘safety’ aspect of the session involved the company doing just about everything they could to scare my mum out of any vague notion she might have had about driving on the island. What I took from it was this:
a) don’t get stuck in the sand, it’s really hard to get out.
b) the softest (and therefore most difficult to drive through) sand is along the top of the beach. If you want to get through it you have to drive as quick as you can.
c) don’t drive too fast on the beach - you might cross a massive drop in the sand (a washout) and flip the car and kill everyone.
d) don’t crash, there’s no ambulance on the island.
I can pretty easily spot when my mum is nervous about something. As we left the rental place I could see that she had her nervous face on.

Fraser Island is around 120 kms long and 10kms wide, and famously, composed entirely of sand. As such, it is the largest sand dune in the world. Somehow though, an impressive variety of vegetation has found a way to thrive on the island, and with it an impressive variety of fauna. Fraser Island is particularly well known as the home of large numbers of dingoes (an Aussie type of wild dog). Off the coast of the island you can, on a good day, see dolphins, tiger sharks and humpback whales. Finally, there are a handful of amazingly beautiful freshwater creeks and lakes, ideal for a cool swim on a hot day, and it was these I was particularly looking forward to seeing.

To get over to the island, you have to catch a ferry from the mainland. Apparently the captain of our little ship was a ‘hands on’ kind of guy, as he backed the cars in through a megaphone from his bridge overlooking the car deck. Half an hour later, we had landed on Fraser and were on our merry way. Dad was in charge of driving us for the first bit - we’d decided to head to our accommodation on the island to drop our luggage off before investigating properly. This hour-long journey proved to be a bit of an eye-opener. The sand was really soft in some places, in others there were giant bumps and dips in the track, and throughout the track was ridiculously narrow. We had to stop in front of a soft patch of sand to let some cars pass in the other direction, and when we attempted to get going again we didn’t have enough speed to get through. This led to the first occasion of the four of us on our hands and knees digging out the wheels on the trip. It took a couple of attempts to free us, and we were pretty grateful when our apartment came into view a few minutes later.

Having got refreshed we decided to head up the beach to visit a couple of sites to the north of the island. And it was my turn to drive. We had to get through the soft sand first though before the easy drive along the beach. More than aware of the problems caused by getting stuck, I got a bit of speed up before we hit the sand and fought the steering wheel as the truck attempted to follow several different sets of tracks at once. Then I saw someone trying to do the same up the same bit of track coming towards me. Neither of us wanted to stop, which meant we both ended up having to do so. He managed to reverse, I failed to move. Sure enough, in my first 5 minutes behind the wheel, I’d managed to get us stuck. We all jumped out again and began digging away around the wheels and underneath the engine, and were soon joined by an surprisingly helpful group of French teenagers. With the help of a shovel and a bit of a push we made it on the firmer sand pretty quickly. Just as soon as we became free however, another car had become stuck. Me, dad and Ang did a turn at the Good Samaritan while mum couldn’t be arsed and ‘watched over the car’. It took at least another 10 minutes to free this chap, during which time me and dad had our faces sandblasted a couple of times by free-spinning tyres while attempting to give a push from behind. Now wearing a good deal of the island, we continued on our journey. Mum had perfected her stabilisation technique in the back seat of hanging on to the ceiling grip with both hands, while wedging an inflatable cushion underneath her. What worried me in the driver’s seat wasn’t so much her wide-eyed panic as the hysterical laughter that accompanied it.

After a few minutes we came to the wreck of the Maheno - a ship that was being towed on its’ way to be scraped when a violent storm hit and wrecked it on Fraser’s shores. Slowly being consumed by the sand, the rusting wreck’s hull, bottom third and stern are now no longer visible. Soon after the Maheno we came upon Eli Creek, and while mum and dad had a walk along the path beside the creek, Ang and I went in for a paddle, before we began the journey back to the apartment.

The next day we decided to have a look at the lakes on the island, taking in the deepest (Boomanjin) and the 2 most picturesque, Birrabeen and Mackenzie. All were freezing cold. Boomanjin seemed a bit dirtier, maybe because of algae, but whatever the reason, we saved our swimming and photos for Birrabeen and Mackenzie and it was well worth it. As you wander down from the car park you emerge through the bush onto startlingly white powdery sand, which slowly dips into the crystal clear waters of the lake. The sand is so fine it actually squeaks a little bit as you walk on it near the water’s edge. The water is so clear that it appears white for the first few metres, before deepening in colour as the waters themselves deepen, giving the lakes a distinctive turquoise halo when seen from a distance. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for too long, as we’d been booked on the afternoon ferry back to the mainland. One final bumpy journey back to the dock and overly-complicated loading procedure later, and we were on our way.

After dropping our truck back at the rental depot, we made our way back to our apartment in Hervey Bay - this was the weird old lady’s place again (we’d already booked it before our first night’s stay). It turned out that she really wasn’t joking when she’d said ‘you’re lucky you’ve still got your room’, when we’d arrived the first night. We arrived at roughly the same time in the evening - my mum went up to the weird old lady’s place to get the keys and made it about halfway up the stairs before a rather confused looking old lady came down to greet her. Apparently all she did when my mum tried to talk to her was just shake her head, say ‘oh dear oh dear oh dear’, and mumble incoherently. It was only when they’d walked back to the car that she began to elaborate. ‘I’ve done something naughty’, she admitted. By this, she meant she’d let our room, which we’d already paid for, out to someone else. Cue frantic searching through the Lonely Planet and desperate calls on the mobile to find anywhere with space. We eventually found somewhere not too far up the road that could put us up for the night, and in a lot more pleasant surroundings too.

The next morning we drove back to Brisbane via the Glass House mountains, and even had time for a frantic 20 minute stop at a Koala sanctuary (so that Angela and mum could see them - though there wasn’t enough time for any hugging) before dashing off to the airport to catch our flight up to Cairns.

permalink written by  olliejohnson on August 18, 2007 from Fraser Island, Australia
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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A fun city, a boring city, and some whales

Sydney, Australia

We arrived in Sydney mid-afternoon and were picked up by a shuttle bus our hostel had arranged for us. In the middle of rush-hour traffic, our driver insisted on breaking only when within about 1 foot of other cars, cyclists, or pedestrians. After about 40 minutes in the death cab, we arrived at our hostel in King’s Cross, which we soon learned was the red light district of Sydney. Our hostel wasn’t so bad though and had free wireless internet. We decided not to waste anytime and walked to the harbour that evening to check out the Opera House and harbour bridge.

The next morning, we walked down to the harbour again to see the sights by daylight. In photos, I’ve always thought the Opera house was white, but up close it’s made up of tiles of white and light brown. It’s probably even more impressive in person than in photos. Ollie’s parents had recommended we buy tickets for a harbour cruise (one of those hop-on-hop-off things), so we did that and got great views of the harbour. This allowed for pictures of the Opera house from pretty much every angle to be taken. The tour guide on the boat “highly recommended” we get off at Watson harbour for lunch, which turned out to be just your average harbour with slightly overpriced meals offered at cafés along the waterfront. After getting back on the boat, our next stop, Darling Harbour, was much more worthwhile. Lined with pretty cafés, fountains, and the odd shopping mall, the harbour was a definite Sydney favourite for the Brit and Canuck. There was a photo exhibit on with poster-size aerial pictures taken all over the world all by the same guy. We wandered as far as the Chinese Gardens from Darling Harbour, before returning to catch our ferry back to the main harbour. We’d decided on dinner in Chinatown that evening and walked back to our hostel before walking to Chinatown. As we looked at the map to decide upon our route, we discovered Chinatown was about 100m from the Chinese Gardens we’d been to earlier on. Oh well, at least we got our exercise.

Bondi Beach was our first stop the next day. It must have received its fame from its summer activities, which would probably make sense since it’s a beach. Aside from a few surfers on the water, there wasn’t much going on there. We did see a good, old-fashioned family man sitting with his wife and kids on the sand tastefully sporting a hoodie that said “Love to FCUK” on the back. The same guy was spotted the previous day in Sydney harbour wearing the same top. We took the ferry to Manly, a Sydney suburb on the northern shore of the harbour that afternoon. This was a required stop for Ol, since his sister and brother-in-law’s last name is Manley. Because it was the weekend, we decided to visit the weekend markets (or I decided, and Ollie reluctantly agreed) in the Rocks and Manly.

The following day we had to catch our flight to Brisbane. Unfortunately, Brisbane didn’t have as many interesting sights in store for us as Sydney did. In fact, it didn’t really have any. Upon arriving in Brisbane, I was pretty surprised to find that the city isn’t on the ocean, but on a dirty looking river. I guess with Surfer’s Paradise and Byron Bay nearby, they’ve got access to nice beaches. After a few days of wandering around the city, which mainly consists of office towers and malls, we finally discovered a charming bit on the south bank, with a small artificial beach. We finished the day by going up a mountain look-out. That evening, we were joined by Ollie’s parents, who had just flown in from Auckland.

After an early start the next morning, we headed 3 hours up the coast to Hervey Bay, famous for its migrating humpback whales that stop by on their journey to the Antarctic. We made it just in time for the afternoon whale-watching trip. I expected we’d be seeing the whales about 50m from the boat at best. After ½ hour of motoring out into the bay aboard our catamaran, the boat was stopped because some humpbacks were spotted. The pod did some tricks for us, which we were able to see thanks to a couple pairs of binoculars Ollie’s parents had brought along (they’re much more prepared travellers than me and Ollie). Expecting the whales (which we were told were only a couple years old) to keep their distance, we were pleasantly surprised when the whales started swimming right up to the boat to check us out. According to the people working on the boat, the whales aren’t the least bit afraid of the boats and are actually very intrigued by them. In the first pod we saw, one of the three whales tried to convince the other two to get away from the boat and swim somewhere else with him. They just shrugged him off, so he probably felt like a bit of a loser. If he does it everyday, he probably won’t have friends for too much longer. Ollie and I managed to find a good spot on the boat for viewing and the whales came within a few feet of us a bunch of times. They mostly did little twirls and pec slaps and did the odd breach (when they jump right out of the water and do a flip back in). The first pod hung around for a while, before they spotted another boat and suddenly we weren’t good enough for them. Luckily, we soon came across another pod which was just as curious about all the people on board and swam around for a long time. The four of us all had our cameras at the ready to try and get a good breaching photo, but it was Rick in the end, with his long lens, who captured a great one on camera.

After about 3 hours of non-stop whale activity, we headed back into the harbour. It was definitely one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen or done. From there, we headed to our hotel in Hervey bay for the night, which I’d booked on the phone a few days earlier. The proprietor had apparently been smoking and sun-tanning excessively for so many years, it was hard to tell if she was 50 or 80. When we arrived at 6pm, she told us we were lucky we still had our accommodation for the night. She lead us into the unit and asked me to remind her what my name was. After I told her, she said “Oh yeah, I knew it was something weird. What kind of name is that?” “Dutch,” I replied. “Oh, I thought you was Chinese or something. It sure doesn’t sound Dutch.” Not feeling she’d graced us enough with her presence, she stopped by about ½ hour later to bring us some extra towels. Ollie and I were looking at the whale watching photos on his laptop when she came over to check out our photos and asked if we could send some to her. I guess living in Hervey Bay, she didn’t have enough opportunities to photograph the whales herself or buy one of the hundreds of professional pictures circulating around the town. She then decided to tell Ollie about her deceased rottweiler and having him put down. After she’d overstayed what probably wasn’t even a welcome in the first place, we sat down to dinner. We made it an early night, because the next morning we were off to the world’s largest sandbar.

permalink written by  olliejohnson on August 17, 2007 from Sydney, Australia
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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Journeys on the South Island

Christchurch, New Zealand

Our first night on the South Island was spent in a real dump of a campsite in a place called Blenheim, about ½ hour south from where the ferry landed. We had a train track about 20 metres away from our van and the site itself looked a bit like Glastonbury festival on a rainy year. Fighting our way through the sludge, we ambitiously decided to make pancakes for breakfast the next morning, having managed to melt the spatula on our first attempt earlier on in the trip. Proving that having a degree doesn’t equate to having common sense, we put the first experience down to bad luck and used the now semi-molten spatula again. And again it started to melt. Well fed on plastic pancakes, we decided to head across the north coast to Abel Tasman National Park before beginning the journey south. I’ll admit that my Abel Tasman knowledge is slightly sketchy, but what I am fairly sure of is that he was an explorer and probably Dutch, and from where we were in Abel Tasman National Park, you’d have to say he’s done pretty well in the ‘naming things after himself’ stakes. (Abel Tasman National Park looks out onto the Tasman Sea, over the other side of which lies Tasmania.) Though the park is New Zealand’s smallest, it must be amongst the most beautiful; with secluded beaches and bays, waters ranging from turquoise to emerald, and a resident colony of seals.

We decided to do a half-day kayaking tour of the park, which involved getting a speedboat to drop us off at one point and pick us up at another, with a couple of hours of kayaking in the middle. What somehow hadn’t really occurred to us was how much colder it would be kayaking in New Zealand than it was kayaking in the north-west of Australia. And we managed to forget my camera. Besides that though, we had a really good time, and Angela particularly enjoyed seeing the seal pups. (Luckily, I had the foresight to remove any clubbing equipment from her bag beforehand.)

We then had a 7 hour drive down to the Mt Hutt ski field near Christchurch, which took us past some amazing coastline and the top of the Southern Alps. We had time for a day’s skiing before my mum and dad joined us for the rest of our time on the South Island. Neither Angela nor I had been skiing for a few years, so we were both a little unsure as we stood at the top of the ski field at the top of a massive mountain, but after a lot of pride-swallowing snow-ploughing, we managed to inch our way down the slopes more and more quickly as the day went on. We only fell over once each, and mine was on the last turn of the day when I was getting a bit too cocky and promptly landed on my ass.

The next day Mr and Mrs J landed in Christchurch after more than a few problems on route from England. (for greater depth, see my dad’s blog.) They still had one more issue on arrival - the place they’d booked their campervan from had decided to close early, so they had to make do with a chalet on our campsite and hope that it’d get sorted before we wanted to set off the next day. Luckily their campervan company pulled out all the stops in the morning, and after a taxi to the office, they quickly upgraded the olds before dad had a chance to get shirty. Now travelling in convoy, we headed to Oamaru to do some more bonding with nature. We got seats in a little stand, and watched as blue penguins (the smallest type in the world) came ashore at dusk and waddled with various speeds to their nests after a day frolicking in the pacific. Apparently the frolicking was not limited to time spent in the water, as we’d managed to catch the penguins in mating season, so we had the dubious pleasure of seeing our little exhibitionist friends go at it with wanton abandon. Unsurprisingly, given the adult content of the ‘show’, no cameras were allowed in, so unfortunately we have no images of this to share with you. However, we can show you a picture of the Moereki boulders, which we saw the next morning. These are just big round boulders half buried in the beach, and no-one really knows how or why they’re there. They look pretty good in photos though.

We’d planned a trip in Milford Sound, which is just one of dozens of fiords in the south-west of the South Island. As we arrived at the campsite the night before we hoped to leave, it was pouring down with rain, and had apparently been doing do for some while. This meant that the road to Milford Sound was closed due to avalanche risk - we were offered a trip on Doubtful Sound instead, which was meant to be just as beautiful but without all the tourists. This sounded like a load of crap to me, but seeing as it was all that was available we booked on for the next day. We went up to Queenstown and spent the day seeing the sights there. We caught the gondola up to the top of a mountain which overlooks the town, and gives amazing views of not only the town; but the lake by which it lies; and the surrounding mountains, the Remarkables. Angela and I went on a street luge track at the top of a mountain; surprisingly, Mr and Mrs J gave this a miss. My dad did, however, get his long zoom lens out on his camera and get some good shots of me zooming around the track (and almost managing to fall off,) with Angela slightly more sedate behind me, holding up a few nippy little Koreans.

First thing the next morning we caught the bus from our campsite down to Doubtful Sound. For some reason unknown to any of us (even the middle-aged ones), the first part of the tour was to take us around some power station (powered by the water of the lake.) It kind of felt like one of those school trips, where you weren’t allowed to do the fun stuff until you’d done some boring ‘educational’ bit first. This involved being driven deep down under a mountain in a rickety old bus, while the driver explained that we’d just stay down in the power station as long as we all wanted to. I looked around the bus and tried to guess who it’d be that would make us all wait down there. Odds on favourites were a Belgian group, who looked easily capable of absorbing as much power-station information as New Zealand could throw at them. The most interesting part for me was hearing that the engineers that designed the tunnel (only 40 years ago) through the mountain had ‘allowed’ for 50 deaths in the construction, so it was really quite good that only 16 people had died. When it was explained that the tunnelling process consisted of the not exact science of blowing holes in the rock with dynamite, in the dark, this began to make more sense. I came to the conclusion that engineering degrees at Kiwi universities couldn’t be very competitive. Then came the fun part - we were taken to the bit with the big noisy machines, where some woman shouted over the noise to give a lecture about something or other. In the end, the Belgians surprised me by being the first out after me and Angela and some weird American girl that insisted on taking picture of absolutely everything (including many of the inside of the rickety bus, in the dark, as we made our way in and out of the tunnel.)

When we did finally get out onto Doubtful Sound, we saw what all the fuss was about; dramatic landscapes with vast sheer mountains surrounding us, dipping their feet into the maze of waterways in which we chugged along. We were taken right up into the mouth of the fiord, where it became the Tasman Sea; and there we saw another colony of seals on a rocky island. On the way back through the fiord, we stopped to see some giant waterfalls cascading down the mountainside, before beginning the journey back to civilisation.

All that was left on our loop back up to Christchurch was a flying visit up the west coast, where we stopped to sea Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. Both had carved out huge valleys before them, but clearly were now nowhere as near as impressive as they once were. Apparently they had bucked the global trend by actually advancing between the 1960’s - 1980’s, but had since begun retreating again.

Angela and I got one last taste of dramatic kiwi landscapes as we cut through the top of the southern alps on our way back to Christchurch, where we were saying goodbye to our campervan, and temporarily, my parents too. Unfortunately, the campervan place had a little surprise for us on our return, as we were told that we’d scratched the side a little and chipped the windscreen. A few days later we got a bill for $250. There was a small silver cloud though; we were on our way to Sydney.

permalink written by  olliejohnson on August 11, 2007 from Christchurch, New Zealand
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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More Journeys in the North Island

Wellington, New Zealand

Since I’ve only seen the 1st and 3rd Lord of the Rings films and have never read the books, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Hobbiton set. Still, I knew Ollie was excited about it and we made our way to the small town of Matamata to see the farm where the scenes in Hobbiton were filmed (apparently one of 150+ LOTR sets across NZ). We paid $50 each to go on the 2 hour tour, so I thought there would be some serious Hobbitness going on, considering the length of the tour. I expected we’d see all the Hobbit holes in their on-screen form (or close to it) and the little Hobbit village all intact. After all, charging $50/person, they could certainly afford to do a lot of upkeep. The farm that was home to the set was massive and really lovely, and the set hardly took up any of the land. I was disappointed to learn that after filming, they had bulldozed most of the set. The guide stood before patches of what simply looked like grass to me and would say “this is the place where they had Bilbo’s birthday party!” and “over there is where the mill and the pub were!”, then would look around expectantly. Pretty much all that remained of the set were some of the hobbit holes, though without their gardens and décor. The clever sheep of the farm had apparently found the hobbit holes to be great winter homes for raising their young and had moved in. I tried to get a picture of one of these hobbit-impersonating sheep, but it didn’t really turn out. Ollie seemed to have found the patches of grass a little more interesting than I did and liked the tour.

The trip to Hobbiton did take us by some beautiful countryside. From here, we made our way up to Mount Manganui on the Bay of Plenty. It took about a half hour to climb and we got a really nice view of the bay. We were also entertained by some kids with their Kiwi accents calling their dad “Diddy.”

A few kms down the road we arrived in the city of Rotorua, with its distict sulphuric aroma, thanks to high geothermal activity in the area. It’s known as both the geothermal capital and Maori-cultural capital of NZ. So we knew we had to experience both these things while there. The first day, we went to Te Puia, the Maori cultural centre which is something like an amusement park, with Maori performances, a Kiwi-experience (where we saw kiwi birds), some geysers, and several mud and sulphur pools. As a side note, I thought some of you might like to know that English people pronounce “geysers” like “geezers.” The Kiwis and Aussies seem to make the distinction between the things that explode from the ground and old ladies, but the English remain confused. That evening, we went to a Maori cultural evening. This consisted of seeing a Maori war canoe, watching a traditional Maori performance and eating a hangi (a traditionally cooked meal, cooked on hot rocks in the ground). The evening was a lot of fun and the food was pretty good too. Our Maori guide took a special liking to Ollie and me and kept calling us “Canada” (at the beginning of the evening, he’d asked the group of 70+ people where everyone was from and had decided that Ollie was also Canadian so I wouldn‘t be the only one) and saw to it that we got front-row seats at the performance, hurrying us along with “follow me this way Canada, hurry so I can give you the best seats in the house.” The next day we treated ourselves by visiting a thermal spa and went in the mud baths, then a sulphur pool. Although it may not sound or smell lovely, it was really relaxing and is supposedly really good for your skin.

Next on the itinerary was Taupo, “the skydiving capital of NZ,” an inland town on a large lake. Ollie decided he would be doing some serious adventuring. We hiked to Huka falls, which is on the river in the town. Rather than being steep like most falls, they were really gradual and then dropped a couple metres. Much smaller than Niagara falls, less touristy, and cleaner. Not just here, but all over NZ, the water is amazingly clear and blue. In a few of the places we’ve been, the locals said they just take drinking water directly from their lake/river. Later on we went for a sail around Lake Taupo on a small yacht. A couple guys run this tour company, which takes you around the lake to see some Maori rock carvings and the greater part of the lake. There were only about 8 other passengers on the boat, one of whom was, by the sounds of it, a paparazzi (she said she works on a cruise ship taking pictures of celebrities). Anyway, she seemed to think her paparazzi ways were both suitable and required for her to get pictures on this quiet, friendly little sail boat. Anytime there was something interesting in sight, she would spring forward with her camera, obstructing anyone else who had their camera out while she took picture after picture. Part way through the journey, the skipper got out some biscuits and started feeding them to some ducks flying by. He then asked a little boy on board and any other passengers if they’d like to feed them as well. The little boy took a turn, but was soon pushed out of the way by the paparazzi’s mom, who seemed just as ruthless when it came to bird feeding as her daughter was when it came to photo taking. When the ducks refused to take her biscuit, she started muttering “stupid animals” at them. I had a turn and the ducks ate from my hand, probably because they were Timbit’s Kiwi relatives (Timbit was our pet duck when I was younger, may he rest in peace). Anyway, we saw the Maori rock carvings, which were impressive, then went back to land before it began to rain. The next day, Ollie decided he wanted to go ski-diving. The weather had been up and down, so there was a chance that it might not be on if it was too overcast. I was secretly hoping it would be, because I was a little nervous about the whole ski-diving thing. It ended up being a go, so Ollie went off to be a dare-devil and I went to an internet café and called the family (I couldn’t really go watch a moving plane). A couple hours later, we met up in the city again. I was pretty relieved he was still in one piece. He told me before hand he would be going for the cheapest option (a 12,000 ft dive, with no DVD), but ended up splashing out and going for the 15,000 ft jump and the whole DVD/picture set. The DVD was pretty cool./hilarious to see, with Ollie pulling some interesting faces during the jump. Importantly, we also saw the new Harry Potter movie while in Taupo.

On our way down to Wellington, we stopped to look at the mountains of Tongariro National Park. The clouds were pretty low though, so it was difficult to get a good view. After getting a little lost looking for the campsite, we settled in Wellington for the night. While it did have a nice, free museum that we explored for about an hour and a pretty harbourfront, the city was pretty boring. We wouldn’t have planned any time for Wellington, had we not needed to catch the ferry to the South Island from there. The ferry crossing was, as we had heard, very beautiful. The water was really calm the whole way over and the Marlborough sound that you journey through at the tip of the South Island was amazing. Three hours after having taken off, we arrived in Picton, and so began our time on the South Island.

permalink written by  olliejohnson on July 31, 2007 from Wellington, New Zealand
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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The Honey Smuggler

Auckland, New Zealand

Our journey to Auckland was to actually take 2 flights - the first would take us to Sydney, where we were to have about an hour wait until the next flight took off to Auckland itself. Unfortunately, our first flight departed about ¾ hour late, and was then held up above Sydney for a while before landing. While waiting for the shuttle bus between the domestic and international terminals to arrive, we saw our flight to Auckland change from ‘boarding’ to ‘last call’. And we still had yet to go through the international flight security checks. So this led to the sight of me sprinting from there to our gate while trying to re-dress myself (belt, jacket, shoes and wallet had to be removed; laptop had to come out of its case etc…)

Our time in Auckland airport didn’t go any more smoothly. Our flight apparently was the last of 4 or 5 arrivals in the last few minutes, meaning a queue of over and hour to get through passports checks. After this, we headed over to the baggage belt to collect our backpacks. We picked Angela’s up and waited for mine to come around. And waited. And waited. And waited. I went to check the other belts in case it was on one of those for some reason, but it wasn’t. So, we went over to the lost baggage counter and reported it. Apparently some of the bags hadn’t made the transfer in Sydney, but mine wasn’t on the list; they had no idea where mine was, but not to worry, hopefully it should turn up soon, and in the meantime, here’s a washbag with mini toothpaste and toothbrush, shampoo, shower gel, and most importantly, a Qantas t-shirt and shorts.

There was one more hurdle before we could get out; handing in the landing card declaration and bag screening. We handed in our forms, and one backpack lighter than usual we loaded up our stuff onto the x-ray belt. As we waited for the bags on the other side, the lady scanning the bags asked what the jar in the bottom of Angela’s bag was. Completely confused as to why there was a jar in the bottom of her bag, she had to think for a second before remembering that she’d bought a jar of honey as a gift for someone. She had failed to note this on the landing card. Another chap was called over upon this admission, who inspected the jar and confirmed that yes, it was indeed honey, before sending us over to the naughty corner to have a word with a another man called Vijay, who had a very obvious-looking toupee. Vijay inspected the jar of honey very closely, passing it from hand to hand, and then read the script on the side carefully. He sighed. Something was clearly bothering Vijay. He looked like a man attempting to piece together a very complicated puzzle. With a furrowed brow, he placed the honey loosely in one palm, then lowered and lifted it slowly. He repeated the trick with the other hand. Finally he decided to make eye contact, and fixed Angela with a firm glare. “This is a very heavy item Angela…(dramatic pause) You claim that you did not remember that you had this jar of honey in your bag….. I’m wondering how you could possibly fail to notice such a heavy item in a bag?” After further questioning, a few mentions about the possible 5 year jail term for smugglers, and successfully managing to make Angela cry, he decided that the $200 fine was the most appropriate measure, and sent us on our way. Never have I been so happy to be out of an airport.

Once in the city, despite all our experiences up to that point (and all we‘d heard about it), we found ourselves really liking Auckland. A city with 2 bays and surrounded by various mountains and volcanoes, it is unsurprisingly very easy on the eye; but it also has a real vibrancy, with lots of cool bars, shops and cafes, and a decent arts scene. And to cheer me up even more, the morning after we arrived my backpack caught a taxi from the airport to our hostel. And just in time too. A few minutes later we had our own taxi to pick up our campervan (which we’ve rented for the duration of our time here in NZ.) After a ridiculously short tour of how everything worked, the van was all ours. It’s pretty cool - a converted Ford Transit with a stove, microwave, fridge, sink, massive bed, bathroom and loads of storage space. Before we made our way north, we decided to spend another night in Auckland to see more of the sights, including going up an extinct volcano; Mount Eden, to get the best views of the city.

Unfortunately, our journey up into Northland coincided with the second worst storms in 100 years in the region (the worst being in March this year.) 24 hours of constant rainfall marooned us for a day in a small town on the way up to Cape Reinga, but when we did finally get there, we were pleased we’d made the effort. It’s at the very northern tip of the North Island, and from the lighthouse stationed amongst a rocky outcrop there you can see the point at which the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean - which is more than just an imaginary line in the sea, as massive waves are churned up in the spot where the different currents from the two clash. On our way back down, we stopped at an ancient Kauri forest to see a 2,000 year-old tree. This wasn’t quite as spectacular as Cape Reinga, but we had to respect the tree’s longevity. As we made our way back down past Auckland, my excitement about our next destination was palpable. We were off to Hobbiton.

permalink written by  olliejohnson on July 7, 2007 from Auckland, New Zealand
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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Up/Down the Coral Coast Part 2

Kalbarri, Australia

Well, after that little cliff-hanger Ollie left you off with, you’ve probably been itching to know what happened next. It kind of reminds me of that season-end cliff-hanger they left us with on Friends, when at the alter with Emily, Ross said “I take you, Rachel.” You’ve probably already guessed that Ollie did indeed receive a speeding ticket. The Great Northern Highway that takes you up the West coast toward Exmouth is anything but great. It’s flat, straight road that goes on for hundreds of kilometres with barren, red sandy outback on either side and you can drive for 20 minutes without evening seeing another form of life or a bend in the road. After receiving the speeding ticket, Ollie tried to explain it to himself and to me by bringing up all these factors as excuses. I think we both knew that the real reason behind it was that tricky little speeding gene Ollie had inherited. Anyway, out driving in the middle of nowhere, we didn’t expect cops to be hiding in the bush. Sure enough though, they were. I was under the impression that for those radar guns to work, you had to actually pass the vehicle, but these cops caught Ollie from about 200 metres up the road. I guess radar gun technology exceeds that of the rest of the world in the outback. Supposedly, the cops don’t fine people for speeding if they’re driving 129 and Ol got a ticket for driving 130. Through all his disappointment and frustration, he failed to notice the name of the ticketing officer-- Officer Dicks. After I pointed this out to him, he was a little happier. Const. Dicks explained that there are several cattle roaming wild in the outback and we could hit one at any time. To that point, we hadn’t seen any.

We arrived in Coral Bay in the early evening and checked in to our hostel. Coral Bay is a town built around a bay, with it’s main attraction being-- you guessed it-- a coral reef. It has the Ningaloo reef (the world’s largest fringing reef, as far as I can remember) on its doorstep. That evening, we booked into a glass bottom boat/snorkelling tour of the reef for the following day. We picked up our flippers and masks before getting on the boat and then set off. The water was a bit murky, but we still had a good view of the coral.

I think the reason the coral here is pale in colour, rather than bright, is because it’s not in tropical water-- but I wasn’t listening to the guide too carefully, I was too busy looking for a Nemo fish. The first fish we were introduced to were the spangled emperors. These fish are quite big and love swimming right along the bottom of boats and close-by swimmers. We kept getting pulled around by the current while trying to put our masks on, because the guide told us to get in the water before putting them on. It wasn’t a great introduction to snorkelling for me. We got back on the boat after that and went to the next snorkelling spot. The wind was pretty strong and I was freezing, so I opted out of the second snorkel while Ollie went in.

While returning our snorkelling gear, we signed up for a kayak/snorkel trip for the next day. We were both pretty excited about this trip, because we thought it would make us proper adventurers. Our kayaking started in the afternoon, so we decided to try to make it to Turquoise Bay in the morning. The bay turned out to be further away than we’d anticipated and we had to turn back before even reaching it in order to make it to the kayaking on time. It turned out to be a 300 km detour in the end.

The kayaking place supplied us with flippers, masks, and wetsuits and gave us a brief introduction to snorkelling and kayaking. Kurt, our very stereotypical Aussie guide, gave us a very useful hint, telling us to keep our heads underwater or else the current would pull us around. The only other people on the tour were our guide, his friend, and a German couple. My excitement over finally knowing more about a sport than Ollie was shattered when Kurt said that the guys would sit at the back of the boats and steer and the girls would sit in the front. We quickly turned into the star students on the trip when the German couple had to be towed along by our guide. When we got to the first snorkelling spot, we tied up our kayaks to the buoy and jumped in. We got up close to the spangled emperors again. Ollie pointed out that the fact that these fish are so friendly and that they’re also rumoured to be quite tasty was a rather unfortunate combination for them. The first snorkelling spot was cool, but the second spot was amazing. Anytime we came by our guide snorkelling, he’d point out another sea creature we hadn’t spotted: two types of rays, a reef shark, a turtle, a clown fish. He had an underwater camera and got loads of photos of different sea animals and us snorkelling. Once underwater, it was easy to forget that there was a world of wind and choppy waves above us. The water underneath was so still and calm. When we stayed still for a few moments underwater, a friendly school of small, brightly coloured fish formed a wall around us. After a couple hours out kayaking and snorkelling, we returned to shore covered in salt and feeling pretty proud of our afternoon’s accomplishments. It was definitely the most fun day we spent in Australia -- aside from those countless thrilling days spent at the Plumbers Licensing Board, of course.

The next day took us about 700km back down the coast to Kalbarri; a small seaside town set beside Kalbarri National Park. The day we arrived, we went to check out Kalbarri’s main attraction; Nature’s Window, a giant rock shaped like a picture frame that overlooks Kalbarri’s river gorges. Unfortunately, 50 flies had the same idea and flocked to Nature’s Window (most hitching a ride on Ollie’s back) with us.

The following day we went to see the coastal gorges, which were infinitely more impressive than the river gorges. We learned a history lesson or two about the stratosphere, and then got some photos along the coast. We had a flight to catch that evening at midnight, so began our journey back to Perth (with a stop at the Pinnacles in between.) The Pinnacles desert is full of thousands of tall limestone pillars that punctuate the landscape. Before we arrived we expected to have to park and then walk to the pinnacles, but were pleased to find a sandy road marked out with rocks winding through the desert. As the sun set, we took our pictures, but were continuously blocked by some idiot with his tripod out and his family alongside, who all looked slightly embarrassed, and more than a little bored. We managed to avoid the kangaroos on our last journey on the West coast, which took us back to the airport. We checked in for our flight, which was to take us to Auckland with a connection in Sydney, and waited in the departure lounge.

permalink written by  olliejohnson on July 6, 2007 from Kalbarri, Australia
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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