Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Toasty the Sandman

Toasty the Sandman
Was a jolly happy soul
With a fern-like pipe and a carrot nose
And two eyes made out of broccoli (florets)

Toasty the Sandman
Is a fairytale they say
He was made of sand
In a distant land
And he came to life one day

There must have been some magic
In that old dead gull they found
For when they stuck a feather on his head
He began to tramp around

Toasty the Sandman
Was alive as he could be
And the children say
He could laugh and play
Just the same as you and me

Toasty the Sandman
Knew the sun was hot that day
So we hit the beach
With a wine glass each
To celebrate Christmas Day

Up to the mountains
A walking stick in his hand
Tramping here and there all around the hills
Saying catch me if you can

Thumpety thump thump
Thumpety thump thump
Look at Toasty leap
Thumpety thump thump
Thumpety thump thump
Over the hills of SHEEP!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Happy (End of) Channukah

Nothing reminds you that you're Down Under more than celebrating The Festival of Lights in the middle of the summer. We're not even getting sunset until 9 o'clock, much less the first three stars. And when you're lighting candles that late, it becomes particularly necessary to have ones that will only last an hour or two.

But where do you find Channukah candles in the lovely Christian city of Christchurch? Unfortunately, the one local synagogue never called me back. Luckily, there's a listing for candles in the yellow pages. Unluckily, it led us to a warehouse.

"Do you sell to the public?"

We were greeted by a stare and a hesitation.

"Not normally, but what are you looking for?"

Hurrah for New Zealand, the land of small towns and friendly people. The lady sold us two boxes of excellent non-Channukah, Channukah candles. That only left us with the question of where to find a menorah.
Luckily, there's construction on our road. This means that there's a nice pile of rocks a few houses down. No one noticed us pillage the pile in the twilight hours. That, a bit of fossicking at the beach, and some colored wax from the birthday candles I bought just in case we couldn't find Channukah candles, and we had a menorah!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Off the road again

There is a very important announcement which requires us to break our silence: we have flatmates! And flat-cats! And flat-wireless internet access (but Mekayla thinks this is less important).

We have been very distracted by the South Island these past weeks, and keep wandering away from Christchurch to go exploring in the mountains and discover locations to go for some multiday backpacking in the future.

We went for a real Kiwi style tramp this past weekend. We didn’t have to ford a river, but we did stay in a hut. We fell asleep to the bleating of sheep and the scurrying of mice. Next time we need to do more than one night.

The hut system in New Zealand is extensive. People wander through the wilderness for days, and spend their nights warming up and drying out in the huts. You have to have some place to dry out when your trek requires you to ford multiple rivers each day. The one we stayed in was a three room stone house built in 1919. Not too much had changed in it since it was built. Except that the old black and white photos of the place looked much cozier.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

On the road again

Well, we have taken quite a hiatus from posting recently. Seems like every time I started to write a post the news would change before I got around to actually posting it. Today we are leaving Rotorua and heading for Christchurch. So let's briefly recap how we got to this point before something changes again:
  • Arrived at Rotorua
  • Journeyed briefly to Wellington and started worrying it might not provide enough access to the South Island.
  • I shaved!
  • Bought a car and tallied our expenses for the journey so far (camping is cheap!).
  • Met up with friends in Otane and traveled around the East Cape
  • Debated living in Wellington vs Christchurch
  • House sat and looked after a cat while the Red Sox won the World Series.
  • Explored thermally active Rotorua
  • Started looking for jobs in Christchurch
  • Mekayla presented some work to another design firm (networking!).
  • Now we are leaving for Christchurch
We will be on the road again for a couple of days: camping, ferrying the car to the South Island, and exploring some of the Southern Alps. Then we have to find some jobs and some place to live for a few months.

It is amazing how fast a month can go by. Rotorua has provided us with some great downtime. There are still a bunch of things we would love to have time to do here, but there is so much more that needs to be explored.

So in the spirit of all great summary posts let me leave you with some pictures.

These guys were pretty impressive.

I had gotten a little scruffy looking in Australia, and then I got impatient with it when I arrived here, and it had to be removed.

How have I not posted any pictures of sheep yet? It is lambing season.

Hopefully it won't be another month before our next post. Talk to ya all soon.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

New Arrivals in New Zealand

We have landed and settled down for a stay in Rotorua with some great friends of Mekayla’s Mom and Robert. We haven’t explored much yet, but the land is all volcanic and green. There has been a fair amount of rain in the 24 hours we have been here, but some of the clouds we’ve been seeing have been from the geysers and hot mud pools from around the area.

The posts today bring us up to date on most of where we have been. We’d still like to write a few more posts on Australian accents and some of the characters we’ve met, but it might be better to slow our pace so we don't overwhelm our readers.

More kangaroos

I said before that we were going to stop taking pictures of the squirrels. But then a clan of kangaroos showed up and our resolution broke down entirely.

Lastly, for all of the golf fans, we have the golf course in Anglesea, Victoria where a mob of kangaroos lounge on the golf course relatively oblivious to the golfers.

The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road was built to be similar to the Pacific Highway in California, but I would have to say it is a fair bit more spectacular.

And at sunset the red colors of the rocks really starts to stand out.

We were also blessed with stormy weather. I decided not to bore you with twenty pictures of rainbows. Why are there so many pictures of rainbows? Possibly it is because we saw eight in one day. It alternated between rain and sunshine every half hour or so.

Well, this one has a rainbow in it, but that is really incidental. There is also a dog!

It is rare that we end up with any pictures of the two of us these days and since there are parents reading this blog I will throw some red meat to the wolves in this post.

A Far Too Fast Tour of South Australia

Our whirlwind tour of South Australia took us from Adelaide up to the Flinders Ranges and back down through the vineyards of the Barossa Valley. The drives in between entertained us with open country of yellow fields of canola starting to flower, sheep as red as the dust in which they were grazing, and lonely, broken homes left behind by failed settlers.

We were lucky enough to have timed our arrival in South Australia with the beginning of spring. The wildflowers had just started flowering when we reached the Flinders Ranges for a few nights of camping. We also hiked over twenty-two kilometers of spectacular, rugged terrain.

The day before we got to watch some Aussies try and conquer a hill with their 4WD. They got a pretty good running start, but when they were halfway up the 60-degree slope the wheels spun in the dirt until the engine stalled out from the dust. They then meekly turned around and drove away. It is quite entertaining what you get to see just while sitting at your campsite.

We spent only one day tasting wine in the Barossa Valley.

The Indian Pacific Railway

Our train ride from Sydney to Adelaide was a beautiful experience. Traveling by train allowed us the luxury of reading while the 1400 kilometers sped effortlessly past the windows. We left Sydney in the afternoon and watched the sun set upon the Blue Mountains. When the sun rose again we were greeted by kangaroos racing along beside the train and vast stretches of flat, scrubby outback.

Near the outback town of Broken Hill a recorded announcement described the largest freshwater lake in Australia and that we were about to pass it. Immediately after the recording, the conductor came on and explained that the large expanse of scrubby trees to our left was what used to be the lake. The drought (or climate change) in Australia has completely dried the lake up. Where before we would have been looking out on boats fishing, there were now trees and bushes.

As we crossed over into the state of South Australia the emptiness of the outback began to be replaced with farmlands and sheep and cattle pastures. The brown, scruffy country turned to green, manicured farms. Both are beautiful in their own ways.

I guess the only problem with the train is the rather poor sleeping accommodations in the cheap seats. (Have I mentioned yet that I got bored of shaving)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Alas, We've Run Out of Time

Our last day in Australia. We have a date with some penguins tonight, and then tomorrow morning we get on our flight to New Zealand. I'm hoping to use the flight to catch up on writing a few more blog posts to finish telling some stories about Australia, so there will probably be one more splattering of Australia posts to come.

We're definitely looking forward to being in one place for longer than a few days, but are going to miss all the camping and driving around we've been able to do.

The past few days have been great though because we've been staying just outside of Melbourne with some new friends we met while camping up in Queensland. They showed us footy (Australian Rules Football), fed us kangaroo, and made a last valiant attempt to get us to eat Vegemite.

What a beautiful world

Well, since it is tough to tell all of the stories maybe I will just try and throw up some of the most beautiful pictures and let them speak for me. These are pictures up until we reached the Blue Mountains.

We saw our first kangaroos just before this sunset in Undara. We stayed out past dusk to try and see more, but of course the next day they were hopping through the campground.

This is the view from the beach we camped on in the Whitsunday Islands.

One day in the Whitsundays we managed to get up for dawn.

Somehow the rain drop on the lens of the camera makes the lighthouse in Byron Bay look much better.

We later learned that these fields of flowers (which we see everywhere now that spring is here) are canola.

The Breadknife in the Warrumbungles is only about 10 feet wide, but extends hundreds of feet above the mountainside.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Snorkelling and Other Sea Life

In Cairns and the Whitsundays we did a bit of snorkeling which was absolutely beautiful. I’m still not very proficient at underwater photography, but with some editing of the pictures some came out ok.

Anyway, here are our two intrepid snorkelers. Mekayla’s picture came out with a bit of a modernist twist that I rather like.

This picture of the coral does mostly capture the colors correctly, but it is impossible to capture the experience when it is just a few feet from your face.

The schools of fish that seem as interested in us as we are in them are in my opinion one of the coolest parts of snorkeling. And it is amazing how many fish you see in just two or three feet of water.

While I’m on the subject of sea life I might as well sneak in a few pictures from the whale watch. Not much different from New England whale watching in my opinion except that the sea is an incredible blue.

See ya!

The Elusive Platypus

Given the amount of time we spent trying to photo a platypus and because Mekayla went and shaped her birthday cake as one, I cannot skip out on writing a blog post about trying to observe them.

They are as cute as you think they are, but much smaller and rarer than you can imagine. The first time we went looking for them we sat quietly by the side of a pool where it was said they came out and expected it would be rather obvious when one showed up. After over an hour we gave up. We saw our first one from 60 yards away when we noticed other people pointing off into the water.

It was a barely visible hump that was really only distinguishable because when it was on the surface for 10 seconds at a time it swam around. Then the platypus would arch its back and disappear into the black river. They would then stay under water for a couple of minutes before briefly resurfacing.

We probably spent 3 hours trying to find and take pictures of them that day, and then we got up at daybreak to pursue them again the next day as well. We certainly did see many and with patience got to watch them for quite some time. But taking good pictures of them was very difficult because they were so shy. The few times that they did surface near me I was rarely able to focus on them and take the picture before they submerged again. This is what I got most of the time:

But there were a few decent shots in the end as well. This one does a pretty good job of showing their size.

On the Road

The roads in Australia certainly deserve their own post. They are a very different experience from the interstate highway system in the United States. Occasionally we have actually come across divided highways with overpasses and separate passing lanes. But far more often we have seen one long stretch of two lanes, one in each direction.

Passing (called overtaking here) is always an adventure, and of course there are the previously mentioned road trains. More exciting still was the many miles of the Kennedy Highway and Gregory Developmental Road (there is probably a bad joke in that which only my Mother would find funny) where the two lanes in either direction converged to a single lane, in both directions. The speed limit is 100 km/h.

When cars come in the other direction you each slow down and drive with half your wheels in the dirt and the other half on the pavement. When a road train comes you pull over off of the pavement. They don’t get out of your way. Fortunately a helpful gas station owner gave me a lengthy rundown of what to expect on these roads. There were signs, but having someone hit you over the head before the insanity starts is quite helpful.

Along the Kennedy highway we also saw someone who was putting our adventure to shame: a lone biker heading out into the outback. When we passed him, he probably had over a hundred kilometers before the next town. His bike was weighed down by what was mostly water and food.

Along one of the back roads before we left the Atherton Tablelands we also met the largest snake we have ever seen. Its body was only halfway onto the road and yet it was taking up the entire lane and had its head 2 feet up in the air looking at us as we drove past. Since seeing it I have lamented not stopping to take a picture, but at the time all I could think was “big snake, must go faster.”

We figured out afterwards that it was actually a python, completely nonpoisonous and not dangerous at all. Since seeing it though there have been numerous other sightings: snake shaped branch, snake shaped bark, snake shaped leaf, etc. Maybe one of these days we will again see an actual snake. In the meantime our travels will occasionally be delayed by detritus in the road.

Oh, and this is me fording my first creek in Eungella National Park.

And here is me testing the depth before going across another one. We were actually kind of frightened by this one, but it all worked out.

Trying to Catch Up

We’ve now reached the state of Victoria and have only a few days left in Australia. There seem to be a ton of blog posts I have partially completed, so I think I will have to resort to summarizing in some of them and using more pictures than words. The route map is also now updated and a couple of thousand kilometers have passed by since the last update including a 1400 kilometer train ride.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Mekayla’s Birthday Cake: Not Just a Dessert, an Experience

The real reason we rented a cottage for a few days in the Blue Mountains was so that we would have an oven in which to bake a cake.

For those who are unaware, Mekayla has a birthday tradition of creating a differently shaped cake every year. This year she chose a platypus. And as if sculpting a cake into a platypus wasn’t difficult enough she also decided that the “cake” should be a chocolate bread pudding since we are partaking in a fair bit of British inspired culture these days.

Of course, neither of us has ever made a bread pudding before (though we did eat one our Servas hosts made up in Queensland). Our kitchen also turned out to be lacking in a few areas: a rather deficient baking pan, metric measurements in the recipe but nothing to measure them with, an oven in Celcius which didn’t measure temperature correctly anyways. Oh, and this being a recipe of Mekayla’s obviously meant we had to find a way to add fruit to it.

It turned out pretty well despite the limitations. In the end we think that there was not enough pudding for the amount of bread we ended up using. The top layer of bread was much too dry. On the second day we just started removing the top layer and eating the bottom layers of fruit and bread. These were quite delicious.

At some point we need to find some willing soul who really knows how to make bread pudding and is willing to teach us. Also chocolate bread pudding seems like it might be some bastardization of a real bread pudding. The real thing seems like it should not have any chocolate in it, but for a birthday cake I think the chocolate is very necessary.