Saturday, 14 April 2012

Go West, Young [Wo]Man

We stayed with our friend Aaron, the head of Signology (the sign making department at Woodford) in Brisbane whilst we figured out what we were going to do next, which at first sounded like fruit picking in Stanthorpe, about 3 hours south, so I bought a car, Norrington, to get us there. Then it turned into heading out west to Perth as Ann has a friend who lives there, and he said to come stay for free until we figured out a job. So off we went!

Which leads to Cool Thing Number Two: Driving from Brisbane to Perth along the southern coast. I can say it was the longest, flatest, straightest drive I've ever endeavoured to take, but also completely worth it as I've seen not only a country, but a continent! And we had our iPods plugged in. We drove from Brisbane, Queensland down into New South Wales, stopped for the night at one of the many, many rest stops, before continuing into Sydney to pick up our bank cards that we'd ordered more than a month previous. I can faithfully say that if I can navigate through Sydney and the CDB, I can probably drive anywhere in the weste- well actually no, if I can get through Melbourne, then I can drive anywhere in the western world! More on that later. After the stress of driving through the CBD, Ann and I headed to the iconic Bondi Beach to soak up some afternoon rays and enjoy a dip in the Tasman Sea, as well as meet up with our friend Dan whom we'd met in Queenstown. It was a nice little visit, and before we knew it, we were on the road again, this time making it all the way to the Australian Capital Territory aka Canberra the capital, so I could look at the Parliament buildings, which werent that exciting and I only ended up driving around them. But still, I saw them!

The next day we pushed onto Melbourne, picking up a hitchhiking couple, one of them German and another an Aussie. They were nice and polite, and actually slept for much of the way. It felt nice to help some fellow travellers out. In Melbourne, we hoped to meet up with our German friend Melanie that we'd met Zorbing in Rotorua, NZ, but she unfortunately had some visa issues, so was actually back in Deutchland. She gave us her friend Roxy's number, and after successfully navigating the CBD and the hook turns* and having a shower at a pool, we met up with her and a group of her friends at the Queen Street Night Market, which only happens on Wednesday evenings during the summer months- timing is everything, as they say! It was pretty busy, and there were heaps of stalls selling food, clothing, jewelry, leather bound journals, artists sketching charicatures...the list goes on! There was also live music, and a stall that was selling sangria. We wandered about the market for a few hours, enjoying the company and atmosphere, until it closed down around ten, then it was out of Melbourne to the just before the start of the Great Ocean Road, one of the most scenic drives in the world!

It's not hard to see why they call it as such, although surprisingly, it doesn't always wind along with the coastline (causing uninformed backpackers to think they are a bit lost and must have taken a wrong turn somewhere...). It is pretty stunning though, pictures to follow this post soon. We took a small detour to "Australia's Most Significant Lighthouse" but didn't pay the $17 to tour it because we're backpacking hobos, however on the drive back to the main road saw all these cars parked on the side of the road, so we stopped, and low and behold, there were wild koalas hanging out and having a snooze in the eucaplytus trees! It's apparently pretty rare to see them in the wild, so it was a treat that we got to see even one, let alone three of them! We continued on our way, stopping for pancakes for lunch (I was craving them) before stopping at probably the most photographed spot, besides Uluru and the Sydney Opera House, in Australia: The Twelve Apostles (which there's apparently only 8 of). Of course, I snapped the iconic photo, and then Ann and I backtracked slightly, heading down to the bottom of this cliff to a really nice beach to chill and get out of the car for an hour or two. I fiddled around with my camera, figuring out the settings a bit better, and then before we knew it, the GOR had ended and we were in a small town called Port Fairy. We bought some bread and a cold bevvy each at the general store, then headed to a beach/scenic lookout to park the car for the night. We went for a walk that evening after sunset, taking one of the trails that meandered away from the lookout point, eventually coming upon this really wicked spit of a cliff that, to stand at the edge of, with the wind howling around you and the waves crashing into the cliff base, filled you with awe of the power of nature.

The next morning we were woken up by a Victoria Parks guy, asking us to move on because we weren't supposed to be camping there. Ah well, but at least we didn't get a fine! We passed Cheese World in Allansford, and decided to turn around and check it out due to our shared love of cheese! And there was free cheese tasting too... But I swear, it's because we love cheese so much! They had a few really good varieties, tomatoe and cracked pepper, garlic and cracked pepper, good cheddars, fruit cheeses, etc. AND they sold wine as well! And it was decently priced! So we bought a couple cheeses and a bottle of Yellowtail, checked out the cheese/local museum they had, and continued driving. And driving. And driving. We crossed into South Australia. And kept driving. Pine forests lined either side of the highway, if it wasn't for the high temperature, I could easily have been in Canada. It's actually quite a beautiful stretch of countryside, from Portland in Victoria to Adelaide in South Australia, I would have loved to stay in the area and explore. But alas we kept pushing onward! We spend the night at a rest stop just outside of a little town called Beachport, about 400kms south of Adelaide, enjoying a beautiful sunset and our wine and cheese. The next day we made it to Adelaide, a half way marker on our journey, around 2pm, and spent the next six hours in a McDonald's getting our online Responsible Service of Alcohol certificates. For bed that night, we drove out of the city and parked at a lookout, gazing down at the spread of city lights, refelcting on this crazy adventure we're on.

It was up and away again as our next destination, while only about 100kms away, was probably the most anticipated one, at least for me: the Barossa Valley. Aka wine country! I love wine! And one of only two things I knew I wanted to for certain do whilst I was in this country was take a wine tour through the Barossa. And I did just that! I tasted over 50, but no more than 80, different wines while I was there, it was so worth it! If I ever do another one, I'm going to make sure I break a full day tour up over two days, as you're pretty pissed in the afternoon, even if you've had lunch. After enjoying a few days there, we took Norrington into get serviced before we embarked on the Nullarbor, possibly the world's longest, straightest, most boring, and factually one of the most dangerous highways in the world; there is a 146.6km straight stretch at one point and all you see for miles and miles is scrubby bush, with the an odd road killed 'roo or two on the roadside, just to give you an idea. From Adelaide to Norseman, the western gateway to the Nullarbor, nothing of great import or excitement happened. From Norseman, we turned south to drive along the Southern Highway, and then cut up to Perth. We spent Australia Day, January 26th, in a medium sized town called Albany. We enjoyed a few ciders, and hung out at the community event outside their rec centre for the afternoon, Aussies decked out in I <3 OZ shirts and flags. The festivities finished with an impressive fireworks display, and we drove out of town to yet another rest stop.

And then we reached Perth! Finally! After more than 
5000 kms, over 1000 photos, a 146.6km straight stretch, 16 bottles of water, 12 1/2 bottles of wine, 11 nights spent sleeping in our car, 5 state/territory lines, 3 phone calls from concerned friends, and one hot, sweaty journey later, we arrived in Perth! I completed my first legitimate road trip, and now I am thinking that I might just drive around the north coast back to the East Coast, if it should so tickle my fancy!

We stayed at Ann's friend's (Michael) grandfather's house for about two weeks, trying to get work organized for ourselves, and by stayed, I mean that's where we spent 98% of our time. It started to drive me crazy around the end of week two, and having bought my WWOOFing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) book when we were in Brisbane, decided to try that out whilst I awaited potential employers' responses to my applications. Ann, having sent out numerous applications and getting few bites, decided to fly back to Brizzy to try her luck there. I wish her all the best.

I ended up going to an outlying area of Perth called the Perth Hills to help out at a horse riding school. Although I really enjoyed being around the horses and getting my hands dirty again, it unfortunately it wasn't a good fit for me right at this time, so I decided to leave after only five days to have a bit of a sit down with myself and figure out what it is I'm even doing in this country... at this point, besides priority numero uno of getting a job, I'm thinking I want to do five things here, which are, in no particular order:

  • get my SCUBA ticket

    • cage dive with great whites, which I am terrified of, which is precisely why I want to do it

      • take the train between Darwin and Adelaide, and maybe have some kind of Outback experience in the middle

        • check out Tasmania

          • learn to sail and sail in/to the Whitsundays

          • It's long enough to be short, short enough to be long, and has enough in it that should keep me occupied whilst I'm here until December, I reckon. There might be some things added, and some things removed, but that's what it stands at :). And that's all the updates I have for now!

            Monday, 20 February 2012

            Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!

            I've been in this country about two and a half months now, and in that time, I've managed to do two pretty cool things I didn't thing I'd be doing when I left Canada in September.

            The first: I spent from December 11th-Jannuary 5th at the grounds of the largest folk music festival in the Southern Hemisphere, the Woodford Folk Festival. There were over two thousand performances and something like one hundred and sixty thousand patrons over the course of 6 days. I found out about Woodford from Michelle, the Canadian girl I met in Samoa at Lalumanu Beach. Ann and I rocked into Sydney on a Wednesday, sent out our volunteer applications on a Thursday, got a call on Friday to come up (Woodford is a couple hours north west of Brisbane, which is 15 hours bus ride north of Sydney), and hopped on a Greyhound overnight, and then another bus once we got to Brizzy, as the locals call it, before finally getting to Woodford. We did two weeks of set up, getting free meals and accommodation on site, Ann was part of the Visual Arts department, and so, was helping paint and build things, while I did Organisers and Performers Camping, which basically entailed figuring out camping areas and helping artists get there. For a number of reasons, this turned out to be a lot more complicated that it should have been, and I wouldn't be lying if I said I was so relieved when the festival finally started, so I'll say it: I was so relieved when the festival finally started! And wow, what a time that was! There were so many amazing acts and performances I had the privelage of seeing- I got to go on the Mystery Bus!- including Xavier Rudd, who although I really enjoyed his music and the performance, there was one point he got a bit political, namely against mining, that left a bit of a sour taste on my tongue. Of course, when you're surrounded by a bunch of hippies, you keep your mouth shut. I also got to watch Gotye, Owl Eyes, Husky (in the Mystery Bus), Tin Pan Orange, Hanggai, a phenominal Canadian R&B artist Matt Anderson, and so, so many more. These artists I've mentioned are definitely worth checking out!

            Ah so the Mystery Bus, what is it? It's an old city bus that's been turned into a venue. Being such a small stage, there's really only room for two mics and the singers and a guitarist/drum box percussionist squeezed into the corner. The mystery of the Mystery Bus is that they don't schedule or announce artists who're going to play for it, you just show up for the ten minute set.

            Basically, it was a week of living in Wonderland. There's a lot of work that goes into it to making it look and feel really top notch, and it was quite sad when it was all said and done. But then, it was time to move on!

            Sunday, 22 January 2012


            As I wrote this post quite after the fact, the majority of it is very brief, and, um, to the point. Good for a quick study break ;).

            Day 1 November 22nd
            My time in Auckland was fine, I slept decently at the airport (can't say the same for the Christchurch airport, bastards...). Got up around 4am to be down and in line for 5am, which seems like it would be alright, but then you must remember that everybody else is also going to be there two hours before, and it really doesn't help when you're standing in the wrong queue. In my defence, the day previous the Airport Information guy had told me to  stand in that particular queue. But all is well that ends well. I had to book it to the gate, sans breakfast or an opportunity to buy a camera charger, but I made it in time to exchange a bit of currency and buy a sandwhich before boarding the plane, of which I was one of about four super white people.
            There was only one other guy in my row of seats, a Samoan guy, Paulo was his name, who pretty much offered me a place to stay before we got off the ground; I've heard about how legendary Samoan hospitality is, but really? Awesome! He's a pastor in one of the villages inbetween the airport and Apia. We chatted a bit, though I slept for a majority of the flight. And then we were there!
            I was all smiles disembarking the aircraft: I made it to the South Pacific! Woot Woot! (It always kinda seemed like something older, more established people do). I cleared customs and claimed my bag, said goodbye to Paulo as I had arranged to meet somebody from Couchsurfing already though I hoped to get in touch and do a homestay, and headed out into the heat (sidenote: I was wearing my Canadian rugby jersey, yoga pants, and my was supposed to be raining) to hop on a local bus, bogged down with all my crap, politely declining the multitudes of "You need a taxi?". It just so happened that the bus was pulling up as I got there, which is fortunate because, well, Samoa is an island, and according to Lonely Planet, it's quite comfortable running on island time, so I could have waited for a long time for the next one.  I hopped on and the locals made room for me, Dude, and Little Dude (my packs).
            The local bus is such an experience! First of all it's like a wooden school bus with out galss in the windows and they BLAST redone-in-polynesian-songs! Everybody was staring at me, obviously as I'm kind of alien like to them, the little kids on the bus, giving me smiles and laughing with me. A fellow, hilariously named Paradise (seriously!), started chatting me up and asked me if I was married and if I wanted a Samoan boyfriend or husband! hahaha! Even just walking down the street I get smiles and "Hello!"s. It's a bit bizarre, and all I can do is laugh.
            I got into town, to the bus station/flea market and was super confused and disoriented. I was supposed to go to the Clocktower for 2pm to meet Calixto, so I just hopped on another bus that the locals assured would get me to my destination (turns out I probably could've just walked to it). I ended up getting off by the police station and then grabbing a taxi to the Tourist Information Center so I could take a breather, figuratively and literally speaking; it had air conditioning, bless it's little inanimate soul, and I have never experienced heat/humidity quite like that before.
            The girl at the desk was pretty concerned that I didn't know where I was staying that night (still to be confirmed for sure if I could stay with Calixto's host), so she kindly let me leave my bag there whilst I went to the clocktower to meet Cali. I stopped in at a supermarket, maybe one of the only ones in Apia, so therefore the country, for a "refridgerated" Coke (thankfully the bars have operating coolers) and an icecream, before continuing to the corner to wait for Cali. I felt a bit pressured, maybe it was the heat, so I bought a lava-lava, or basically a cotton sheet with tropical floral design on it, for WST$10 (Western Samoan Tala), which was fine because I knew I would want one anyways as it's still pretty traditional in the villages for women to be covered up. Men also wear them too. Anywho, so I waited, then Cali rode up on a bike, thinking he was late, though because my iPhone was still set to NZ time, I thought he was early. He confirmed that yes, I could stay with his host tonight, but that we were supposed to wait for a German Couchsurfer. So we did,  and we did...and we did. I got a Samoan SIM card in the meantime as Cali had said it was worth it, which I'd say it was. This girl didn't show up though, so we said screw it, I went and got my bag, and I took a taxi to Supy's, where we chilled out, then we went to a bar and met up with Supy and his friends Blakey and Troy. They were all very nice people, we had a good time enjoying the local brew, Vailima, over some good conversation.  Supy and Blakey are in their third and final year with the Peace Corps, an American volunteer organization, and Troy is 4 months into his 1 year stay in Samoa with an Australian NGO. We hopped bars to a newly opened one, enjoyed the sunset and played chicken with the rain. During one of the forays inside, I met Tony and Catherine, a kiwi couple contracted by the Samoan Finance department for 4 months. They had ordered a huge platter of battered fish, fresh tuna I think it was, and kindly shared with us as we exchanged stories. As everything closed at 12, we headed home shortly after, but not before getting some drunk Micky D's, which I can assure you, even in a developing country, still tastes the same as it does back home. I PTFO'd, unfortunately not before I was able to get the mosquito net untangled, waking up in the middle of the night with a bad tummy to the sound of a terrential when it rains in Samoa, it POURS!
            November 23: Woke up with a million little red bites from mysterious and unknown critter, took bus to Matautu, almost didn't get to, but snorkelled and saw giant clams (they really are giant), stayed at Jenny's, had an interesting supper of hot dogs, bread, salad w/watercress, potatoes, all girls slept in one room, boys in the other as per Samoan tradition.

            November 24: Did Waterfall Hike at Jane and Olsen's, adventure as no safety ropes, warm rain, refreshing water to swim in that got cooler the farther upstream we went, fresh coconut+banana+pinapple=yum!, jumping off waterfalls, feet cramped up about 3 times, I pansied out of the bigger waterfalls and jumps, but so did Cali, so it was okay.

            November 25: Stayed in Apia, went to help volunteer at sports complex, but arrived too late, picked up some garbage instead and then enjoyed a delicous orange snowcone, met Juanita. Went to Fiesta later that night, got reasonably drunk, home and sleeping in a hammock by about 11:30/12am.

            November 26: Rented car and drove to Lalomanu beach, did Piula Cave Pools on the way, Cali was unsure if we should pay for two nights, so we just booked one (silly man), was surprised in a bad way to see we shared a matress, but it worked out, he was a gentleman, met part of the crew ie. Michelle, Josh, Rob and Rachelle, then Sonja and Axel (all excellent people). Fia fia night. Some good looking Polynesian boys.

            November 27: Did To Sua Ocean trench, stayed Lalomanu Beach. Took Michelle, Josh, and Katherine with us, met Ben With a Pen, enjoyed some drinks, watched the Kiwi school group do their cultural performance, the middle 3 school boys were especially into it.

            November 28: Did a Turtle Cruise to Lamau Island, saw one on the way out to the island, snorkelled and saw some amazingly beautiful sea life and coral, lost camera in the reef :(, sunburned back, hiked the hill, very muddy and not worth it, slipped on the way down and got dirty.

            November 29: Took the ferry to Savai'i, chatted with Rob, used tarp, rogue wave splashed Michelle, stayed at Tanu Beach Fales, Peter the taxi driver: super nice guy, amazing stars and moon out, free bananas, free coconut upon arrival, self serve at the store; honesty system, staff played Polynesian tunes and sung well into the night.

            November 30: Hung out on the beach, went for a walk, sunburned my legs and I matched all over?, ate at the fale place next door, which took forever, green salad=red cabbage and some carrots...?, that night I sang and played the guitar, was nervous, didn't sound my best, but they liked it anyway. The Samoans are so happy and funny.

            December 1: Peter drove us around Savai'i. Stopped at Canopy Forest, Lover's Leap: saw a shark and turtles swimming, Afago Blow holes: tried and failed several times to get a coconut to shoot up, Afa'a Afa waterfall: authentic jungle vine swing, refreshing dip, a VERY large shrimp, then back to Saleopologo: market, bought cocao beans and souvenirs. Fia fia night at Tanu, then dance, then beach party and midnight dip in the sea.

            December 2: Got up around 6 am and took some amazing photos of the sunrise, also some artsy ones. Packed up after breakfast, and took local bus to ferry. Cute kids selling banana chips. I bought some, and juice, and a fan. Ferry back to Upolu, got a ride to Supy's from some randoms. Spent a couple hours at Supy's, then partied with Juanita and her sister.

            December 3: Up around 7:30, into town to get a Vailima tshirt, then back 'home' to Supy's to shower and pack and get a shuttle at Aggie Gray's Hotel to the airport. Had to have proof of onward ticket out of NZ, trouble connecting to the internet, thought I might miss my flight, but got it all figured out, refreshing coconut afterwards... they're always refreshing! Sorted Little Dude while waited to board. Good bye Samoa...I never will for-ge-et you...

            Monday, 21 November 2011

            The Ride of the Rings

            Tuesday night Ann and I went out for free beer (we booked more than $300 at the travel desk in the hostel) and a vegetarian pizza, which we added italian sausage to :P. I had booked a horseback ride through some of the Lord of the Rings shooting locations for the next day, supposed to be instead of doing the bungee, so it was an early evening and up before 8 for my shuttle out to Glenarchy, about 20 minutes away, and the stables. My morning horse's name was Bombey, a nice thoroughbred, about 15.2 hands high. I rode english for the first time since selling Yukon 8 or 9 years ago! I had to laugh at myself at how I had to actually concentrate on my form and posting correctly and all of that, since in western riding you sit everything. My guide, Laura, and the other girl, Flora, a make up artist working on The Hobbit, and I had a good time since we were all experienced riders- we got to canter! Bombey, and Eden, Flora's horse, were both ex-track and so, had a bit of a race a few times, but once we realized that Bombey should go in front, it was smooth sailing! The scenery was amazing too! I galloped past the Misty Mountains, and trod through that river Arwyn uses her elf magic on in the first movie. It was awesome! Then the weather kicked in and, since I was dressed only in a tshirt and my raincoat, I got pretty chilly. I was happy when the roughly 3 hour ride had ended, said bye bye to Bombey, and we went for lunch at the creativley named Glenarchy Cafe before my next ride through even more scenery. This was a much bigger ride, and I got to ride Elvis, one of the horses used in The Return of the King! He was a gentle fellow, I let him pick his own way, basically I just sat on his back and snapped photos. We rode past the place where the Fellowship is stopped in the elf queen's forest in the first movie, and where Borromir died, and also the plain where Sauromon's tower is! The area has been used for other movies too, including Willow, Wolverine, and The Lovely Bones. Also, we rode past a part of The Hobbit set they were getting up to snuff to start filming there the next day! I can't legally say anything more than that, so I will leave it there... Orlando Bloom was actually in QT for filming too, and Flora had informed me that the whole Hobbit crew was going out on Saturday night, which was exciting to learn about. Anywho, that ride was a bit shorter, only about 2 hours, but still, so worth it. I'm really glad I did it. I love horses. I love the feeling of being on their back, of flying with them; you're free. It's something I need to get back into for sure, I will definitely look into getting work with them in Australia.

            There's the most amazing busker in QT: Mathias the Piano Man. What busker has got a piano as his instrument, on a trolley/wagon?! And he plays so beautifully, I don't know why he isn't making music for commercials or video games like Final Fantasy or something. You people should check him out, I think he's on Facebook and Youtube.

            Besides a bit more partying, that's pretty much me in Queenstown. I really enjoyed my time there and I know I want to go back, when I get my working holiday visa for New Zealand, hell maybe get a job at that stable! Come Sunday morning, Ann and I parted ways as I am headed to Samoa on Wednesday for 12 days and she's staying to explore more of the South Island. I'm excited to get some solo travel experience under my belt, but it feels strange to be alone, after being with the same person for the last two and a half months, pretty much constantly. I'm actually quite, pleasantly, surprised at how well we get along, seeing as I didn't know her that well before we came on the trip; I wasn't quite sure what I was getting myself into. But I'm glad how it's all worked out :).

            Samoa will be very interesting and new, for sure. It's still retained much of it's tradional polynesian culture, and as a backpacker, it's surprisingly affordable- $400 return airfare? yes please and thank you!- with their budget accommodation being similar to what I pay here in NZ. I have made a bit of an itinerary for my 12 days, but I don't know that I'll stick to it all even, so we'll see! I have a Lonely Planet book, so that will help me out, but I also think I will get input from locals and that. It's going into the rainy season, so I don't really expect it to be a sunny, and tropical paradise, at least not all the time. It's not a big deal if it's not because it's just as much a part of life there as the dry season, and plus, I won't get sunburned! Although I do have loads of sunscreen with me anyways :). And that's all I have for now! I will post once I return from the South Pacific!

            Taking the Plunge

            Wow! Well Tuesday was spent mostly hungover, but that night Ann and I had some vino and a Big Al (so huge!) from Fergburger, and she and this Irish chick that worked there started talking about the Nevis Bungee that Ann was due to do the next day, and I said "Fuck it! I'm going to do it!" I was pretty terrified when I woke up the next morning, but you know, once you say you're going to do something, you'd better do it (right mom?)... So, tail between my legs, I headed down to the travel desk and booked the same package Ann had, not that I told her that of course- I told Ann that they would only let you book the day before, and so I was coming to watch her jump and act as a moral support. My plan would have succeeded too if the bungee guy, while we were waiting to take the, er, gondola/cage thing out to the bungee pod, hadn't asked who was jumping and who wasn't; I had a ticket to jump of course, so he was confused as to why Ann was telling him I was only watching. I gave him some razz, more so in an attempt not to think about the fact that I was going to jump off a suspended platform 134 meters high into thin air. How insane does a person have to be to pay money to be utterly terrified? I know I say that I'm a bit crazy, but sometimes I wonder if I really am...

            The ride out to the pod isn't very calming. Though you're clipped in by your harness, the thing sways in the wind, and you can see right down to the valley bottom courtesy of a grated floor and railing! Once we were inside the pod-again, not calming; glass floor- you were stuck in this very uncomfortable state of anxietyand HOLY SHIT, WHAT AM I DOING?! while all the other jumpers go ahead of you. Unlike the Auckland bridge, there weren't that many people, so I was only waiting for maybe ten minutes, but man, did it feel like ages! And then it couldn't be long enough, once your turn comes up. Poor Ann, hers was the last one!
            They sit you in this chair while the jumper jumps, and literally, my hands were shaking like a polaroid picture. I told the guy "You have to tell me when to stop shuffling forward, because I'm not looking down!" And that, my friends, is the secret of bungee: don't look down. Because once you do, you're hooped; you've given your brain that millisecond of time it needs to process the fact that this isn't natural, and you need to GTFO now! But I didn't look down! I just looked out, and on the countdown, I thought 3, 2, 1, BUNGEE! and leapt off into nothing. And fell. And continued falling. It was only 8.5 seconds of free fall, but I can sure tell you it felt longer than my 65 seconds with skydiving. Then I bounced baaaaaaack up, and then plummeted back down towards the earth. Oh yes, I was screaming at the top of my lungs the whole way, you can hear it in the video. I was reeled in upside down, uncomfortable, but such is life when you mistime pulling the cord that brings you up rightside up. I could hardly stand up when they got me back in the pod, my legs were shaking so bad and I was so relieved to have the whole thing done and over with, plus the adrenaline high I hadn't experienced with the Auckland bridge was hitting me full force! It was amazing, I actually contemplated paying for another jump.

            Then it was Ann's turn, poor Ann. She was actually nervous as well, which suprised me since she's the adrenaline junkie out of the two of us. But she did it, she jumped! We highfived and cajoled and such afterwards, relief and adrenaline- mostly adrenaline- driving us forwards to do the Nevis Swing, aka the biggest swing in the world! That wasn't scary, it was just fun! The guy getting us strapped in was a Canadian too, so that was kind of cool. He'd even heard of departures! I was wearing my t-shirt ;). We got harnessed in together, and upsidedown!, annnnnnnd then we swung! WEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :D And that was that. That's bungee jumping. I think I prefer skydiving, it's a bit more scenic, less pants-poopingly scary, and lasts longer, but I would say that it was definitely worth it and I would probably do it again. Moreover, I'm quite proud of myself for doing it because I knew I would be terrified and I had the chance to back out (I could've actually paid the money to just watch),and I really didn't think I would actually jump, especially not on the first countdown, but I didn't and I still did it; I conquered a bit of fear that day, kicked it right in the arse, scored a million tries against it; I won against myself.


            I've fallen in love with the place, that much was clear after Ann and I booked a room and stored our luggage at Nomad's Hostel around 10:30am, pretty much right downtown Queenstown, and then took a walk about until we could get into the room at 2pm. It's breathtakingly beautiful here: the snowy tips of the Remarkables mountain range rise like the spine of some ancient dragon from Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown is nestled between the lake and mountains, and it really does offer everything else that New Zealand does, only it's all conveniently in one place! There is so much to do here, it's ridiculous! And expensive... I'm fairly certain it would break my bank if I was here any longer than a week! Anything that you could think of wanting to do- hiking, adrenaline activities (obviously, it's not nicknamed the Adventure Capital of the World for nothing!), drinking, fine dining, partying, historic tours, fishing, camping, etcetera, etcetera.
            Ann and I grabbed a coffee and some free wifi at Patagonia Chocolates (I'm such a caffiene addict...), and browsed the local crafts market that was on while we waited to get into our room. We had a Fergburger for lunch, which if you haven't heard of it, it's simply the best burger. In the world. Everything about it is perfect, and it's not just a meal, it's an experience.

            First off, the thing is massive, and the bun is everything a hamburger bun should be- fresh, toasted but still soft, and tasty. Then, depending which Fergburger you ordered (there's quite a range, from the classic 'Fergburger' to the 'Tropical Swine' to the 'Big Al'), the fillings they put in are spot on; the lettuce is proper and crisp burger lettuce, the tomatoes are juicy, the cheese is melted to just the right degree. The garlic (?) mayo (called aioli here) and their special sauce do nothing but compliment the features and the main star of the whole show: the patty. This isn't any pathetic Macka's (McDonalds) hunk of mystery meat, this is the epitome of a fast food patty, if you could even class Fergburger as fastfood; it's real ground beef, seasoned just right, and prepared fresh each day. Aside from the burger, the staff jovially bounce along to the cool alt-techno-pop-dance tunes blasting just over the din of the crowd gathered (there's always been one every time I've walked past and enjoyed a burger), a perfectly oiled machine of team work that keeps this essential Queenstown experience going. Simply put, if you come to New Zealand, you have to come to QT, and you've got to have a Fergburger, you would have a very lame experience if you didn't.
            Saturday night saw us out on the Big Night Out pub crawl (I love how organized these things are here, prizes, bands, "free" drinks and pizza!). We took one of our new roomies, Myles from England, out with us, and boy did we have a great time! He's a real sport, and we danced and laughed and made fun of eachother, eventually getting Fergburger for our late-night-drunken-munchies. We headed back to the hostel at 3, played pool (I lost), and then PTFO'd. Sunday was nice and relaxed, we got ice cream, sat on the beach, skipped stones, booked bungee and skydiving (!), went for a hike and played EXTREME SKINNY, SKINNY, WAKA at the top. In general, just hung out for the day and night, settling down for a Kill Bill marathon in the evening.

            Monday was the skydiving. I wasn't terrified at all, in fact, I was just P-U-M-P-ED the entire time! We had to wait ages (we booked the 2 o'clock jump, didn't end up jumping until after 4:30), but man was it worth it! I opted for the photo and DVD package, which I know is a money grab, but whatevs, pretty worth it I think. It was an absolute beaut' of a day, not a cloud in the sky, sun glinting off the lake, completely picture perfect scenery to look at on the ascent to the heavens. I was laughing and smiling, so excited to jump out of the plane at 15 000 feet. I will admit, though, I did get nervous when the door slid open and I wrapped my legs under the edge- you have to make yourself like a banana- "Am I ACTYULLY going to jump out of this plane?" I thought before one rock, two rock, four rock and we were out! Your mind doesn't quite know what's going on for the first 3 seconds after jumping out of the plane, or rather being pushed out by your tandem guy. [Handsome] Greg was my tandem instructor. It's so surreal, being up in the air watching the earth race towards you in slow motion. I know that's a paradox, but that's really how the 65 seconds of freefall felt! When the parachute went up, it yanks up upwards, the harness wrenched up so that part of it was, er, obstructing my inspir-and-expiration. That's what happens when you are on the smaller side of human height, and your tandem is on the other I suppose. It was fine though, Greg pushed it down so that it wasn't choking me so much, and I enjoyed the cruise down to the landing site; Greg wheeled us in tight circles, I stuck out my arms like a bird, simply reveling in the experience. Touching our bums down, or rather sliding, left me with an amazing feeling, it was just awesome. Definitely in the Top 5 Best Experiences of My Life, probably in the Top 3. I know I'm going to have to go again, it was over all to quickly. Skydiving is defiitely going to be a thing of repetition for me! Good thing I work in mining :P... Though who knows, maybe I'll be that person who takes the photos one day ;).

            Monday night, we went out on the Nomad's Bar Crawl, Tramp, tacky, and/or bad taste themed. Out of 130 people, Ann and I were the only ones who dressed up, but what ev's, we had a ball, especially with our new friends, Myles and Danielle, his travel buddy, also from England. They're so much fun, and they're going to be in Sydney when we are, so we'll definitely meet up then too! We went to five bars, and inbetween our 3rd and 4th one, they had a contest, 2 for 1 bungee, and the winner was the first person into the lake from the start of the pier, clothes optional. The girls, or rather girl, that girl being me :D, had a sooner starting line than the boys, and I made it to the railing first, but slowed down. A few boys jumped in, before I said "Ah fuck it!" and jumped in anyways. That water was COLD AS. I ran back to the hostel to change before heading to the next bar and carrying on with the evening, which was grand! Called 'er a night around 3 am, happy with the night's random and awesome and drunken string of events.

            Headed South

            We have made it to the South Island! Albiet a bit later than we intended to, but I'll admit I am rather pleased with how things have turned out. The ferry ride over was a bit of an ordeal- I lost my adaptor, bought a new one, lost it in the hour it took to walk to the train station, buy groceries, and get to the ferry terminal >.<, not to mention our 2 o'clock sailing was cancelled and we were put on the 6 o'clock [read: 7 o'clock because the Interislander is apparently always late...] crossing, which of course they inform us of at the 'reasonable' hour of 8:30 am (pfft, when you're a backpacker, the day doesn't really start until 10:00am, 12 if you went out the night before; everday is a weekend!). The point is, we did make it to Picton, around 11pm, and us, being the seat-of-our-pants travellers that we are, of course didn't have a hostel booked or nothing. I was expecting, and rather hoping, to just pitch a tent on any available stretch of grass, but the nice shuttle lady ensured we had a hostel room for the night, a 6 bed dorm all to ourselves!, by calling the nice hostel lady to let us in. Picton's a small town, it actually quite reminded me of Smithers, very quaint, very nice, and when I come back to NZ, I will be sure to spend some time there!

            We ventured forth in the morning for internet before catching our train, the Tranz Coastal, to Christchurch at 1:30. What a train journey! You have the Kaikoura Range on one side, and the sea on the other! Unfortunately for us, our train ran over a sheep (or a large rock, but a sheep sounds cooler, and really, how the hell would a big rock end up on the tracks? There was a large thud! in any case), so we had to stop for about half an hour/forty five minutes while they took out the broken down carriage (an air hose was broken on the brakes apparently). After that it was smooth sailing- I really do love train journeys, plus Ann let me play the happy photographer with her camera- until our arrival in Christchurch. We saw some of the devestation of the February earthquake- their still in the process of taking down unstable buildings, mostly old, architecturally interesting churches and the like. In fact, one nice man, who was helping us get to the grocery store, was a bit frustrated with the whole process as he had been transferred down from Wellington to help rebuild the roads and since his arrival four days previous, had done literally nothing as his boss wasn't the most, er, go-getter of types. It's too bad, really. All in all, it was pretty staggering to see that kind of destruction; buildings, half torn apart, their innards just there, for the world to see, not sure if it's from the earthquake or the cranes standing still beside them. The whole Central Business District is cordoned and fenced off, which of course, there are no signs saying what street is a closed off/a dead end >.<.
            We left ChCh, as I've seen it referred to, on the Tranz Alpine train, "One of the Greatest Train Journeys of the World", on the Saturday. It's not hard to see why it's called this, really; the scenery takes a dramatic and simply breathtaking turn as you move westward across the South Island to Greymouth. It is a lot like BC here, with the snow capped peaks and that, but it just doesn't seem real, it seems like a card board cut out. The mountains rise sometimes like jagged teeth, at others like an oblong pregnant woman's belly, from the idyllic river valleys, sometimes from canyons carved out over the aeons. You can't help but feel small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, a great reminder that you are, in fact, still a mere mortal with an expiry date. It's refreshing. Unfortunately Ann's camera had died, probably from my overenthusiasm of the previous rail trip, so I took mine out. It's not that it doesn't take good pictures or anything like that, it's just slow, and by the time you've turned it on and gotten the settings set up, your photo-op has already raced by. Ah well, it's shock proof, water proof, dust proof, cold proof, and best of all, BEER proof! We got to Greymouth around 1:30pm, and fortunately caught a free shuttle to our hostel, Noah's Ark. The rooms were animal themed (not surprisingly), we got the sheep room, and after perusing the interwebs on our complimentary data (I <3 free internet!), we met up with a couple Canadian boys from back home that Ann knew. Well really, they're from Haida-Gwaii, but it's all the same when you're that close, relatively speaking. We enjoyed a good tea, and contemplated doing some karioki that night, instead opting to play a Kiwi game called "Skinny, Skinny, Waka" and have a jam session. Basically you roll 3 beer caps in your hand, calling out what you think it's going to be, Skinny standing for the S on a Steinlager cap (writing up), and waka being the Maori word for canoe, so cap upside down. You have to call it exactly, or else you have to drink. It was a good night, with many laughs, and we called 'er around 2am, after I spun some fire poi that one of the guys had- WICKED!

            Ann and I left Greymouth the next day, intending to, gasp!, hitch hike to Franz Josef, a town about 180kms south. I know you wont be thrilled to hear that, Mom and Dad, but it did work out okay :). We started walking from the town center around 10:30am, down the highway to get to a good hitch hiking place. We then came up with the insane idea to just walk the 40kms to the next town. Normally, with out the ~80lbs of gear and food between us, not a big deal, but oi, that was a mission and a half! We stopped for lunch around 1:30 at a bus shelter just outside city limits, I'm guessing we walked around 4-5kms, then resumed our march. Shortly afterwards, we stuck out our thumbs and it wasn't long, relatively speaking, before a nice elderly couple stopped and gave us a ride to the Kumara Junction, probably about 15kms down the road. We walked another kilometer after that, probably, before taking a rest (hey the sun was out), and waved at all the drivers passing by before a young Aussie couple stopped and took us all the way to Franz Josef, luckily where they just so happened to be going. Don't worry Mom and Dad, I won't ever hitch by myself, but it just goes to show that it can be okay to do so if you've got a buddy!
            We had thought we were going to go for a glacial hike, but it was a bit steep and really, we can go up Hudson's Bay if we reaaaaally want to walk on a glacier, so we took the bus to Wanaka the next morning, Monday. Wanaka was really quite nice, we ended up staying there until Friday. Situated right on Lake Wanaka, this pretty little town is very relaxed and easy going, with a quaint little street that quite reminds me of Main Street. I will say I was taken a bit aback upon walking into the book store to see Christmas garland and bobbles bedecking the ceiling on the bright, sunny, and green day. We did a kayak and a hike and went to Puzzling World over the course of the four days we were there, Puzzling World was very enjoyable, there was a big maze and optical illusions rooms, and tables with puzzle games on them- all in all, a great way to spend a very sunny and hot afternoon (unfortunately I got a wee bit of heat exhaustion).
            From Wanaka, we went to Cardrona for a night- Ann has a friend in Canada who's parents own a resort there, so we got a good deal on a really nice room for the night. In the morning, we packed all our stuff out to the road and stuck out our thumbs, once again, and after only 5-10 minutes, got a ride with a nice lady and her young daughter to... Queenstown!!!