Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why we love AC

Our vision, as flawed as it turned out to be, of this trip is that we'll make like '60s surfers and just follow the summer around the globe. We'll, I think we jumped the gun just a bit because the majority of NZ was just hitting its springtime awakening. Not quite the hot, sunny days we had hoped for. Our first week and a half in Australia offered more of same, if not a few degrees warmer. It's getting better... Now try this – hop a plane from Melbourne to Cairns, going roughly from the extreme southern end of the island to the extreme northern, tropical end. Eureka! We found the the heat! Typically a treasure like this is marked with an “X”. Here it's marked with a continuously sweaty back and a constant need to hydrate. Because guess what, we found the humidity too. 90+ degrees (which is reached somewhere around 9:00 am) with similar humidity. No relief in the shade and ya, it's the start of the wet season, so it rains too.

So we came upon our first real challenge from the heat as we “settled” in for our first night in Cairns. Let's see... how does one, or two in this case, comfortably snuggle in to bed when bed consists of a two man tent filled with two 75 litre backpacks, a whole mess of other shit that's being carried by other various methods, in the 90 degree heat, in the 90 percent humidity, with the rain fly on and closed up to avoid those sudden downpours, with the doors all zipped up to protect against the swarms of bugs that love to munch on Courtney at every chance, when you can't stop sweating and your sleeping pad is sticky and wet? (Can you say run on sentence?) I can answer that – you don't. Talk about a crappy way to spend the night. Hence the title of this post.

First order of business that next morning was to head into the office and grab ourselves a nice little cabin with air con. Come one baby... fan on high.... temp down... temp down... temp down... ah yes, that sweet blast of cool air first hits you and it's like you're walking into the mall on that hot summer's day – thinking that that billowing AC is meant especially for me. Now comes the next challenge, can Jeremy keep it at 58 degrees so that he's nice and comfortable or does Courtney not have enough cold weather clothing to stay warm enough while under the blankets? It's a battle that we'll happily wage rather than endure another night in our nylon sweat box from Hell. I love me some AC!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!!!

From 008 - Whitsunday Islands flickr

Holiday greetings from Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands. Gorgeous!!

Merry Christmas everyone!!! We're here in Hervey Bay, Australia, getting ready to wrap up our first Christmas on the road. We began this Christmas at around 6:30 am when the unfortunate positioning of our tent yesterday afternoon woke us up with a glimmer of sunshine / sweat-box style tent. Love the tropics... ;) (Remember that we're a day ahead of everyone, so while most of you are dreaming away, waiting for Santa to bring the goodies, we're getting ready to put this one in the books.) I don't think either of us has woken up that early on Christmas day since we were 8 years old!

Well without the requisite sausage souffle or monkey bread to fill our bellies in the early morn', we created a new Christmas tradition - peanut butter, honey and banana sandwiches for breakfast! Mmmmmmm... I think we'll be able to fit it on the menu in future years. A few hours on the beach, a nice bike ride and some wonderful skype chats with the family made for a great day. But still, we're both weirded out by the whole Christmas-on-a-beach thing, and we're really bummed to be missing all of the snowy fun that everyone is having at home!

Tomorrow's going to be a continuation of another Christmas tradition only on a grand scale - time to go to the movies! But we're going all out this year - it's marathon time! Hopefully we'll be able to get show times to sync up and hit 3 or 4 shows. Oh the popcorn and Milk Duds will flow freely!!! It will be glorious!

Just a little slice of our traditional holidays that'll keep us going since we're missing you all like crazy right now! At home, through the missed flights, battling the weather and all of the other SNAFU's that always show up around the holidays, we wish everyone the best!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Found on a street corner in Melbourne, somewhere I believe in the middle of the financial district, of course...

Anyone got a guess?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sounds like fun!

Stop number one was to hit the chemist on our way out of Te Anau and load up on the Dramamine. After that we rolled about two hours up the Milford Highway, driving through cliffs and tunnels, and avoiding passenger attacking giant wild parrots until we dead-ended in Milford Sound. You really only go to the village of Milford Sound if you're going to go for a cruise on the Milford Sound. You're at the end of a 100+ km dead end road, no gas station, one bar, one cafe, one hostel and 300 meter cliff faces on all sides. You're getting on that damn boat! We spent a night at the hostel where Courtney managed to redeem herself on the Monopoly board and we did laundry. I told you, there's nothing to do there.

We awoke the next morning to thundering downpours that managed to whitewash the cliff faces and hills with waterfalls. Seriously, you couldn't scan ten feet from side-to-side without running into another torrent of runoff cascading down to the sea. There was even a section of the mountains called The Cascades that I think may more appropriately earn the name than our home range. The storm definitely added to the fun on the water too. It created what mariners like to refer to as “rough seas”. Us land lubbers like to refer to it as “Quick, clear the doorway. Courtney's going to puke!” Well, we fortunately didn't get quite that far in the anti-digestive process, but the rolling seas sure did make for some uncomfortable times.

The unpleasantness in no way detracted from the real beauty of the Sound. We were skeptical that the storm was going to ruin the two hour cruise in that the cloud cover wouldn't allow us to see the full majesty of the cliff walls and fjordland beauty. But as time went on through our trip we were more than happy to welcome the rain. The guide on our cruise of 15 or so guests told us that after a dry spell, there are normally four, count 'em four, waterfalls that are visible during the cruise. Literally, this day, there were thousands, many cascading hundreds of feet to the water below, falls that normally trickled down the mountains were thundering 75 feet out from the rock face. Not to mention the free, all-you-can-drink coffee and tea! All for about $50 a head! An amazing deal for truly unique and breathtaking sights that we'll be hard-pressed to match any time soon, but we're going to try anyways... in about two days.

Milford Sound was truly amazing, but of course we had to have a look at it's sister fjord, Doubtful Sound. So down the coast we went to Lake Manapouri. A 45 minute boat ride across the lake, a quick tour through the Lake Manaouri Power Station, a 45 minute bus ride down the sea level and ta da – Doubtful Sound. The quick and dirty on DS is this – beautiful and worth it, but I'd say that if you have to choose one, choose Mildord. The scenery of the shear cliff faces is much more dramatic at MS and frankly, I just think we got spoiled with the amazing waterfalls here as well. The trip on DS was very nice, good weather too, but it was much longer of a tour (6 hours on the Sound, plus the bus and lake travel) and the fjord itself was quite as majestic as MS. Two amazing trips though that really are must-sees on a trip to NZ. Damn this country is beautiful!

Courtney trying out her best Donald Trump impression, post hanging out the window for a picture opportunity.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Wanaka & Queenstown - We love you!

It's amazing what a little sunshine can do for your motivation to get out and do things after long stretches of drizzle and grey. Our first four weeks in New Zealand definitely brought us more of the wet and dismal than the warm and bright, but no complaints... The same can be true I guess for the opposite, when all you want to do is sit down and soak it up.

We definitely ran into this “soak it up” mentality when we arrived in Wanaka and Queenstown, near the center of the South Island. Warm sunshine, no clouds in the sky and plenty to keep us occupied in these fantastic little ski resort towns. Queenstown especially reminded is of a Park City/Whistler/Tahoe vibe – Small town feel nestled right next to a gorgeous blue lake, lots of activities to keep the kids entertained (it's the adventure capital of New Zealand – think birthplace of bungee, paragliding, jet boating, skydiving, river rafting, etc...) cobble stone streets filled with shops and countless other places to just wander around and wish the day away.

We stayed in Wanaka for three days, not intent on even stopping before we got there, but as soon as we drove in to town we were hooked.

Though smaller than Queenstown, the feel was the same – lakeside ski town complete with waterfront views from our hostel, Cricket matches on the lawn out our front window and the attraction for adults and kids alike, Puzzling World. Feature number one is their amazing maze! Think of the corn maze out on Sauvie's Island over Halloween and then make it so hard that these two brainiacs were pushing on an hour and a half to get the hell out. Yes, the novelty had worn off by the time we finished... There were a myriad of puzzles, games, and magicy toys to play with in the lobby and several other “illusion rooms” to help prop up the $15 cover. Creepy rooms with faces that stare at you no matter where you stand, rooms built on a slant so that everything seems to travel uphill and makes people with equilibrium issues fall down easily (aka Courtney). This is stuff that you really are only supposed to see in Willy Wonka or Pawtucket Pat's factories, but without the Neverending Gobstoppers or rivers of beer. Your only real reward is the onset of a migraine headache from hours of puzzle solving and constant muttering of “how the hell did they do that?!?!” Well, I guess we did get a way with a few shots of us holding up the leaning tower on the front lawn. “Careful! It's about to go over!!” I can definitely see the Dads enjoying this place and it's well worth the stop if you happen to be in Wanaka soon.

Queenstown was definitely leaning more towards the kid-in-you rather than the kids themselves. There was an awesome frisbee golf course, an overload of shops in which to shop (which of course Courtney took full advantage of, because, ya know... we needed more weight in our bags, right?), adventure sports galore and a mountaintop luge/go-kart type course. Oh, and there happened to be an excess of clubs and bars in which to intoxify your nights and early mornings away in. I guess it was also good that there was an abundance of greasy spoon cafes and a movie theater to laze the days away in too.

I think we both put this mountaintop pair of towns near the top of our lists for places to visit in NZ. We didn't do a whole lot that they had to offer, but we enjoyed the heck out of just being there. Wandering, soaking up the sun and relaxing for nigh on a week.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I need a BLOG fix, Part IV

In Cairns we were busy busy busy, going to scuba school to get certified in a 5 day program which consisted of 2 days in the pool, and 3 days on a boat, doing dives along the Great Barrier Reef. It was exhausting: we'd spend 8 hours a day between the classroom and the pool, then have homework at night which took several hours to complete, before reporting back to school at 7am the next morning. Then at sea it was wake up calls of 5:30am for the 6am dive, slam down some breakfast between the first dive and the 8am dive, then briefings and additional lessons between the 11am and 4pm dives. It nearly felt like we were back at work!! (I'd love to know how many of you are openly cursing me at this very moment). Diving the reef was one of the most amazing experiences we've ever had, and we can't wait to dive other locations now that we're experts! More on scuba in subsequent blog posts....

From there we trained it down the coast to Airlie Beach, where we promptly jumped aboard another sea vessel – an 80ft sailboat this time. We cruised the Whitsunday Islands for another 2 days, stopping along the way to snorkel and sun ourselves on pure white silica sand that never manages to get hot. There we swam with rays and endless schools of fish in only knee deep water. On our last night I managed to pull a usual klutzo maneuver and slip on the boat deck, sending my knee off in a frighteningly unnatural direction. So we've been thankful for the few extra days we are 'stuck' in Airlie Beach before we catch the train to continue down the coast. I saw a doctor today and it's merely an “overextension of the co-lateral ligament” which in English means it's nothing too serious and I should be good to go in about 10 days. The trick between now and then is figuring out how to carry both backpacks..... What a strapping young lad I am lucky to be traveling with!

The next stop is Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world as well as the only place where rainforest grows in sand (to plagiarize Lonely Planet), where we'll celebrate Christmas and spend a few nights on a 4WD sand safari tour (yes, we've really been breaking the budget with all the wild fun Australia offers). After that, we continue down to Surfer's Paradise and Byron Bay, where we plan to take surfing lessons, relax on the beach, and party it up for New Year's, as we hear it's a great place to be to ring in the New Year. Then we head north to Brisbane where we fly out to Bali on January 7th. Look at that – we're AHEAD of ourselves now!!!

I need a BLOG fix, Part III

From there we were really hoping to hike the Great Ocean Road which is a 104km, 8 day stretch that runs along the southern coast of Australia, passing some amazing natural sights along the way. The 12 Apostles, London Bridge, and Loch Ard Gorge to name a few of the the awe-inspiring limestone rock formations carved out by the pristine ocean water. The parks dept. wouldn't bend on the 2 week advance reservation policy, however, and we didn't care to hang around Melbourne that long to make it happen. So we survived a 12 hour bus tour to see the sights instead!

From Melbourne we caught a flight up to Cairns, (pronounced Cans, just like the town in France) at some ungodly morning hour. Departing the plane, we could hardly breathe! The air was so thick with heat and moisture and it was only 9am! We finally found ourselves immersed in the sunshine and heat we'd been craving....but careful what you wish for! The climate along the east coast is so tropical, that we could only survive one night in the tent before breaking down for air-conditioned rooms everywhere else. Though I've acclimated pretty well, it's been 2 weeks now and poor Jer still hasn't stopped sweating!

To be continued in tomorrow's edition, again, for the last time...

I need a BLOG fix, Part II

The best part was the time we spent on Phillip Island and the amazing array of wildlife we encountered there....kangaroos, wallabies, emus, kookaburras, Tasmanian devils, and adorable koalas, just to name a few. We were able to feed and interact with most of the animals, including the brand new – still hairless brand new - baby wallabies that would peek out from momma's pouch. We also experienced the “Penguin Parade” one night, where we witnessed nearly 2000 blue penguins retreating from the ocean to return to their nests for the evening. Truly a spectacular sight! We were so ready to steal two little furry babies who were panicked that their mom wasn't coming back. They would molest each and every penguin that passed them up the hill in the hopes that it was mom bringing dinner home. Just as our hearts were breaking, momma penguin showed up and the babies nearly attacked her. Their reunion was pretty hilarious to witness.

Our last stop was Melbourne (pronounced Mel-bin) where Tammy and Rob surprised us with a Christmas/thank you gift of a night at the Marriott hotel! Wait, maybe THAT was the best part! Wow, what a treat. I still dream of that plush bed and all the pillows....traveling definitely gives you a whole new appreciation for the finer things in life! It was such fun to have friends to play with for a while, though we were nearly glad to see Tammy and Rob go because our livers needed a break!

To be continued in tomorrow's edition, again...

I need a BLOG fix, Part I

Dear buddsabroad,

Ok, November 22 was a long time ago – I’m sure you’ve had a few more adventures that you could share. Even the board game review proved to be interesting reading. I want to read about Roo’s & Wallaby’s – all the big spiders you’ve managed to avoid – stinging jellyfish – snakes that can outrun a man – You know all the good OZ stuff! Your loyal fans deserve better –
Grumpy in Reno!

Dear Grumpy in Reno:

Please accept our sincerest apologies. You are right – it has been nearly a month since our last entry and our readers do deserve more. Our neglect has not been intentional, however; please know that. It's just that we've been filling our days with non-stop, action-packed excitement and haven't had a moment to document it for our fans. Let me attempt to appease you now:

We've thus far tried to blog in chronological order, though our readers would never have any clue as to our actual whereabouts were we to attempt this at this time, since we are so far behind. So I'll do a sum-up to bring everyone up to speed and hope for the best in terms of getting older adventures documented at a later date.

We left the wonders of New Zealand behind at the end of November, to fly into Sydney just in time to meet up with Tammy and Rob (Courtney's friend from high school and her man, who we hadn't previously met. He was cool and very go-with-the-flow, which made for a great traveling companion as well as getting a thumbs up) who we planned to celebrate Thanksgiving with and travel around with for about a week and a half.

We had a fantastic time together! We hired the Red Rocket to travel in style down the coast after spending a few days in Sydney. Some of the highlights: a very authentic Thanksgiving dinner of Italian food, a hilarious comedy show at the Sydney Opera House (two twin guys who called themselves The Umbilical Brothers – check them out if they come to a venue near you!), traveling down the gorgeous coastline from one sleepy coastal town to the next (sleepy meaning “ENTIRE town shuts down at 6pm and your only meal option is very sketchy Chinese food”), seeing and petting kangaroos in the wild at Pebbly Beach, making a killer American meal of chili dogs and macaroni and cheese for dinner, and meeting the son of the mother dog who played the main canine role in Babe (seriously – his owner was very excited about this).

To be continued in tomorrow's edition...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Glorious! (But never to happen again...)

In all my days of board gaming I have never laid witness to the thorough thrashing that was delivered that lonely night in Haast. It started out with an innocent game of Battle Ship at our hostel. Everyone had fun and nobody got hurt. We then moved on to Monopoly and that's where things got ugly. Courtney and Jeremy both came out aggressively, snatching up properties as fast as they could. Players passed Go, rents were paid, people went to jail and Jeremy even won $10 in a beauty contest. Naturally. But as the game progressed the moods began to turn.

Jeremy was coming on like the Donald and putting houses and hotels on all the properties he could. A few rolls of snake eyes here and a few Free Parkings there and the bankroll was flush with cash. Courtney's luck, on the other hand, was taking a turn for the worse. More rents due, more poor taxes to pay and more properties she had to mortgage. By the end of the night it was mayhem. It was, in fact, the truest game of Monopoly ever played. Behold.

Jeremy owns all properties. There is a hotel on every property. Courtney has no money. Jeremy has lots and a Get Out of Jail Free card. Never would I think that an ass whooping of this magnitude could be delivered at this game. Little did we know that Courtney would do it to Jeremy only a few days later (perhaps this is the ultimate fate in a two player setup?). BUT, as this is the game of which there is photographic evidence, it gets the glory. Jeremy = Monopoly King!!!

Friday, November 21, 2008

PWT? Not us!

Now here's something I can't say I've ever thought to do... Pulling into Taupo we hit a few of the local holiday parks to check rates, scenery, facilities, etc... Now up until now, we have pretty much limited ourselves to camp sites as our sleeping options. If we're really looking to spoil ourselves or if the weather just isn't looking like it's going to cooperate and keep us dry, we'll spring for a hostel. But at one of the holiday parks we tried we were offered up a new option – a caravan. A caravan? Yes, a caravan.

We walked around the site for our obligatory inspection of the facilities (communal bathroom, kitchen and lounge areas) and then made our way to the caravan. It is what you would expect I suppose – a camping trailer, pulled straight from the '50s and it could be ours for the low, low price of around $40 per night. Sold! We booked our three nights and quickly settled in. We unloaded practically the entire car, put away dishes, lined the spice rack with all of our seasonings, hung up clothes and felt immediately at home. Clementine, as she was named after a not too extensive period of deliberation, was stocked – queen size bed, two benches for seating, pretty much a full kitchen, closet and a TV. She was, in her own half-century old, musky, dusty way the perfect holiday getaway – and she was all ours.

We have lots of great memories of times spent with Clementine – cooking up some great homemade meals, playing cribbage late into the night, sleeping in late and watching our shows (which consist of Relocation-Relocation, a British show where the two camera-worthy real estate agents help find new digs for rich folk and The F Word, a Gordon Ramsey show where he runs a restaurant with a new group of amateur cooks each week).

It was a sad day when we had to say goodbye, but alas, we had to move on and Clementine had to provide much needed shelter for a new family. Ya, I can't say I could see us back home rolling into a KOA and asking to rent out someone's 50 year old camper. But then again, after the summer of '95, I'm never going back to a KOA again. (Please refer to the Tillamook County Sheriff's Office judicial records for further information... Sorry again Mom and Dad.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Down the hatch!

I walked into the kitchen of our holiday park in Manapouri only to find yet ANOTHER older woman flirting with my husband (they love him, those cougars), when after introducing myself, she said “Oh, you're the wino!” (Also not scoring high points). Though a tad harsh, she was harmless after all, but apparently I'd been called out on my appreciation of wine. As many of you have probably heard me gush from time to time, my favorite wines EVER are the Sauvignon Blancs produced in the Marlborough region of New Zealand's South Island. I've found that price doesn't much matter, as the $7.99 King Shag from Trader Joe's (BUY IT if you've never tried it – it's spectacular) is right up there with the $20 plus bottles of Dog Point, Whitehaven, and Giesen, which are three of my favs. But really, I've been hard pressed to find a bottle of the crisp, grapefruity/green apple-y/grassy goodness of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that I don't enjoy. Okay, maybe I am a wino.

SOOO, you can imagine my unabashed excitement upon arriving to the South Island and heading straight for the glorious grape-laden fields of Marlborough. We stayed at an adorable place called Watson's Way Backpackers, right in the heart of the wine region, whose owners were happy to point us toward the wineries offering free tastings, and to the best meat pies in town for soaking it all up afterwards. Our first day out we drove around to the outlying wineries, hills surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye could see on a gloriously sunny day. The scenery was as tremendous as the tastings! Our first stop was Montana (known as Brancott in the States – they don't go by Montana so as not to confuse us with thinking the grapes were grown in the state of Montana – they give Americans a lot of credit, eh? Thought you'd find that interesting, Eleissa – before our niece Leighton was born, Eleissa was very familiar with the likes of Brancott as well!). It was the first time that it's really 'hit me' that we're here....I just couldn't wrap my head around the fact that we were wine tasting in MARLBOROUGH!! We hit up 11 different vineyards and met some very entertaining people – including one wine steward who grew up in Portland!

The second day we rented bikes from our lodge and made our way around to several more within peddling distance, stopping at farms for heads of garlic and shallots, and local cheeses along the way. Another lovely warm day welcomed us as we combined our boozing and biking. By the end of the day we were surprisingly steady on our wheels, even after tasting the offerings from 13 different 'cellar doors' – impressive, no?! The headache the next day said differently, however. But with about 50 or so wineries in the area, I'd say we'd done a decent job touring the sights in our two days!

Needless to say we found some amazing wines....some of which we can find at home, but most of which are not exported to the States. We looked into the cost of shipping some home – YEAH RIGHT – the shipping fee and taxes alone cost over $300, NOT including the cost of the bottles themselves. Not quite in this traveler's budget. Ah well. We would have loved to share the joy of what Bouldevines had to offer (my top choice – even the Reisling was fantastic) and especially the Mt. Riley Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc with our Prosecco-loving family, but alas, tis not the season after all. We were able to pick up a few bottles to enjoy on our travels, however, with surprisingly little arm-twisting from wino, I mean wife, to husband!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

For Todd

Have you ever seen that Friends episode where Rachel makes the trifle but the pages of her cook book are unknowingly stuck together and she ends up with custard (good), jam (good) and meat (GOOOOOD!!!)? Meat pies are kind of like that. An apparent staple around New Zealand, I'm quickly becoming a fan. Picture a light, flaky crust wrapped around the meat/cheese/veggie combination of your choosing. It's not exactly gourmet, as the gelatinous and rather unidentifiable meat goo that binds the filling together constantly reminds you that you are in fact eating mostly “meat goo”, but they're still good. They're usually about three inches across and run about $2 USD each. A nice little snack on the go. So many varieties to try and so little time. I'm sure we'll report back on our favorites once we've completed more taste tests. I'm already envisioning a meat pie cart on the corner of 13th and Lexington. Maybe I'll end up in Bon Appetite!

In all its glory, I present to you steak and onion goodness. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Is this sane?

Unique people, places and activities in New Zealand are what we would like to go for as we travel around. If we can stay off of the Lonely Planet hot spots and get a little more authentic flavor we will. So granted, NZ is the adventure sport capital of the world (bungee jumping, zorbing, sky diving, hand gliding, giant swing things, black water rafting and on and on and on...), but none of those things are adventures that we couldn't have at home. Maybe zorbing being the exception, but we're not dying to do that.

So of our options, I'm thinking that a bungee jump would be pretty cool as Queenstown is the birthplace of the sport? (back in 1988). At least I could then say that I jumped from the very first location ever. But then I thought, hey, if we're going for it, let's go for the big daddy. As the original location is off of a bridge and about 150 feet high. But, for those with a complete lack of sense, there is the Nevis jump which is something like 130m. Now I'm still working on my imperial-to-metric conversions, but I think that's around 400+ feet. Riiiiiight... When we were at one of our hostels up in Renwick there was a guy we met from London who had just done the Nevis jump and had a video of it. We watched it. I'm not doing the Nevis jump.

Depending on the timing of this post, we may be past Queenstown and past the bungee jumping experience. Either way, I'm sure I just freaked my mom way the f' out with even the possibility of us bungee jumping. I know, Mom, I won't tell you for sure until after the fact.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Oktoberfest - NZ Style

Pulling in to Rotorua for a few days of thermal pool soaking and touristy wandering, we pull into the local Top 10 and get checked in. We browse the wall of brochures to see what there is to do around town and what catches our eye? Of course the advertisement for the first ever Oktoberfest to be held in nearby Okere Falls. They've got a drunk bus leaving from the nearby Burger Fuel and everything... this could be trouble.

A twenty minute ride later and we pull up in front of a small roadside store in pretty much the middle of nowhere. Granted just about everything looks like the middle of nowhere around here unless you're actually in a larger city. We figure we're probably stopping to pick up a few more degenerates, but nope, it's off-the-bus time. We're here?!?! Ok, around back we go to what could be described as a nice little outdoor beer garden type area – tables set up on terraces, a few small tents, a fire barrel and a window with two lederhosen-clad bier maidens shelling out the frosty cold beverages. Not to be deterred by the underwhelming nature of this Oktoberfest celebration (guessing about 15 people there once the bus unloaded, total), we head to the window for our first sampling. Twelve genuine German selections to choose from – why not just run down the list and get them all?

A new deck of cards quickly purchased from the store (naturally we forgot ours back at the camp site) and we were well on our way to a debaucherous night of drunken Gin Rummy. Watch out New Zealand!!! We hung out for a few hours, chatted with a few other travellers and managed to make our way through the entire list of beers, obviously doubling up a few times for good measure.

We unfortunately had to catch the bus back to Rotorua at 9:00, which only gave us three or so hours at the party. Courtney tried to muster up the drunken courage to join in with the locals and their sing-along, but after quizzing me about the full lyrics of “Like a Virgin” opted to pass on her opportunity to shine, Karaoke style. I have to think that if we were in Munich under the same circumstances we may have seen her best Madonna impression. Let's see if we make it there next year...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Picture Time!

So we've finally had a chance to get the majority of our photos captioned and we've started uploading, so check them out! There's a link to the right "Evidence (Get yer flickr on!)" that will take you to our online albums.

We're still behind, but making progress. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Bye Bye Bush!

WOOOHOOOOOO!!!!! Way to go, America! The good ol' US of A got it right this time and no blatant cheating took place this time (as far as we know)! We'd just checked into a little hotel in Hokitika, got settled, and turned on the TV to see Obama giving his acceptance speech live from Chicago. We're so excited and celebrating at the bar downstairs with a jug of the local brew. It will be intriguing to chat it up with other travelers now that we know the outcome. The overwhelming consensus so far has been that the rest of the world was rooting for Obama as well, so many parts of the globe are probably breathing a sigh of relief along with us. We've already received many congratulations on our win....I guess people just assume we'd be leaning the Obama way! Now we'll wait to see what changes are to come!


Since our caving adventures in Waitomo, we now manage to explore every crevice that possibly resembles a cave that we may happen upon on a hike. These are some friends we've met:

They are called Cave Wetas (though we were sure the guy was saying Cave Widows but it was just his accent – we learned that after visiting the museum). They are like giant grasshoppers and won't hurt's fortunate someone told us this BEFORE happening upon them, or there surely would have been two screaming Americans running wildly down the trail! (Okay.....probably only one)

Cave Masters

Well we have now officially reached badass status! In Waitomo we did a tour of one of the many caves that the area is famous for. It started with a 90ft abseil (apparently Americans are the only ones who call it rappelling) down into the belly of the cave. Jer had never done it before and my only experience was rappelling off the Ormsby House Casino's parking garage in high school (Mom & Dad – I've told you about that, right???). We'd lucked out that no one else had signed up for the 9am timeslot with us, so we had Allen the hilarious Scottish guy as our personal tour guide.

After landing in the cave we hiked upstream a bit to check out the glowworms – also unique to the area. Though they seem really cool, glow worms are actually the very gross larval form of the fungus gnat. The gnats lay their eggs on the cave ceilings, and once the larvae hatch, they create a slimy sock like cocoon that they live in for 9 months. In order to catch food, they excrete long sticky threads that hang down from their cocoon to catch flying insects, who are attracted to the glow they give off. The glow actually comes from their waste that stays stored in the tip of their body. Gross, right?! But did you enjoy your glow worm lesson for the day? Ugly in the light but really cool in the dark....the cave ceiling is alive with a million tiny blue lights that look like stars. Allen slammed his intertube against the cave wall (scaring the absolute shit out of us since it was pitch black and we had no warning) and it made them 'wake up' and glow brightly.

We hiked back downstream where we mounted our tubes and blackwater rafted downstream. It's called blackwater rafting because you can't see a thing and it's pretty exciting! The water levels were low so we could only go so far before we were hitting rocks and had to dismount. Of course, true to my klutz-o ways, I managed to slam into a rock and get dumped into the water. Even when I can't see I still manage to go ass over teakettle one way or another.

Since it was just the two of us, it allowed extra time to do some caving and exploring. What a thrill! Allen turned and looked at us with this sly grin and asked “How do you two feel about small spaces?” When we both gave a half-hearted mumble and a shrug, he proceeded to lead us through a series of itty bitty crawl spaces, up nearly vertical cliffs, down natural water slides, under crevices that we had to duck and swim into, up onto ledges, etc etc etc. Wow! We were exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time.

Eventually the tour came to an end, so we high-kneed it back upstream to the cave entrance, where we climbed the rock face to get out. No small task when you've been caving for 5 hours, but definitely an amazing exit to our memorable day. Don't we look sexy in wet-suits???

Saturday, November 1, 2008

19-10-08 - Making a Splash!

So we've become accustomed to staying in the wonderfully outfitted holiday parks, the tip-top of which are the Top Ten Holiday Parks. Stainless steel, multiple burners, manicured grasses and eau-de-bleach galore. When we decide to rough it though (i.e. camp like we usually camp, out in the middle of nowhere) there are a wonderful network of DOC (Department of Conservation) camp sites that are very basic, typically off the beaten track and not too populated. We hit our first DOC site just out of Whangamata on the Coromandel Peninsula late one night with only enough time to fire up a few servings of Ramen noodles (ghetto style bought at the Asian grocery in Auckland, a great idea at the time but quickly found to be a far cry from the college staple REAL Ramen noodles).

The next morning we made our way up to Wentworth Falls, a nice hour-and-a-half-or-so hike shooting off right from our campground. We had the privilege of being escorted by our personal tour guide, Missy? Lucy?, (the camp host had a VERY thick accent) the campground dog.
She was a very good guide and was happy to let us know when we were lagging behind or not going the right direction. Apparently at one point the “right” direction according to MissyLucy to cross the river was THROUGH the river and not over the beautifully crafted wooden bridge going OVER the river, which we didn't see until after the fact. Courtney, not being one to ever miss out on the full experience, decided to really introduce herself to the river.

River, Courtney. Courtney, River. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.

I think she dried off by the end of the hike. Nothing a nice coffee and meat pie wouldn't cure. More on meat pies later...

18-10-08 Yeeee haw! That there is one fancy jacuzzi!

So here's the preface – it's been about two weeks since we've actually been on and blogged, and it will probably be about another two weeks before we get on line and actually post these. We're still getting used to having to pay for internet access and getting things done on $2/20 minute time lines. So be it, we're on holiday...

Anyway, here goes –

So one of the things I will give NZ (that would be pronounced “en-zed”) is that there is no shortage of absolutely stunning hikes to take all over the place. Now granted, the main highways around here disappear beyond 20 km outside of a major city and from there on they are two lane roads passing through some of the most amazingly scenic landscapes ever. You just drive along and look for the sign to the next waterfall, walking track, scenic beach or forest tramp, almost all of which are guaranteed amazing. As we made our way down the Coromandel Peninsula two of the great spots we hit were Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.

The first was a twenty minute hike (down from the posted 45 minutes) to the beach where there were amazing caves, arches and rock formations. I got a few shots, but damn the battery running out in the camera and damn me for forgetting the extra battery. Hot Water Beach is some what of a phenomenon in the highly thermal region of the North Island. On two hours either side of the low tide the hot water springs start flowing up to the beach. So for that four hours a small area of the beach is packed with people digging holes in the sand, letting the hot water bubble up and the cold ocean water flow in creating superb little soaking pools. It really is a free, PWT hot tub, but hey, we're in another country so therefore it's “...a quirky, unique experience not to be missed...” (so says Lonely Planet).