Archive for February, 2010

Australia Wrap Up

Australia was great and we wish we would have had more time here. It felt a lot like being home in the States, only with better beaches.

 The Landscape and Weather

 We can’t really speak for the country as a whole, as we only saw a bit of the east coast…mostly golden sand beaches, blue crystal water, and looming cliffs (it was horrible, really). Again, it was summer here, so it was eighty or ninety degrees everyday, sunny for the most part, but we had a few rainy days in Sydney and on our Whitsunday’s trip.


The People 

Actually, we met more Aussies abroad than we did while visiting the country. We love Aussies…they remind us a bit of Texans (loud, proud, friendly, and love to drink). Oh, and the men love to wear tank tops. We also met a ton of Brits, Canadians, and Americans on work visas here. 

It was also great to meet up with Marianne again and we loved hanging out with ourr new Canadian friends, Jeff and Jeff.

The Oz Gang

The Food

 …was a lot like in New Zealand and basically what we would get back home (minus the awesome Tex-Mex). We actually cooked a lot of our own dinners in Australia since we were usually with a group of friends and it is muuuuch cheaper to cook your own meals here than to eat out.


 Australia was our most expensive country to date. The food and booze is comparable to home, if not more expensive. Hostels ran us $25 – $40 per night, per person, depending on the location, which took up a huge chunk of our daily budget. Bus transportation is reasonably priced, but since Australia is so huge, we had to purchase an internal flight which wasn’t cheap. All tours and activities are pricey. We spent around $800 per person for our Frasier Island trip and Whitsunday sail. Obviously, we were over our budget in this country. If you plan on coming here, be prepared to spend some cash!!

 The Booze 

Our beers of choice were DB and Toohey’s New. We had the occasional decent bottle of vino, but we mostly drank ‘goon’, otherwise known here as boxed wine. All broke backpackers drink the stuff because it is literally $5 – $8 for two liters of it. I will say though that we did drink a little bit better (expensive) version, as the bottom-of-the-barrel goon says it is made from ‘nut and fish products’. No thank you. I’ll pay the extra $5 for a box of actual wine made from grapes.


Kelly drinking the last bit of goon

Random Thoughts

 -We listened to the ‘top 100 songs of 2009’ countdown on our way home from Frasier Island and the top five songs in Australia are crap.

-We are totally bummed we never got a chance to try a kangaroo burger, but we did SEE several kangaroo.



-There are a lot of jellyfish here. We had to wear ‘stinger suits’ (wetsuits) while swimming on our Whitsunday cruise.

-Yes, there is a Steve Irwin Zoo/Museum here. We did not go.

-Surfing isn’t as huge a thing as I expected. Yes, there are a bunch of surfers and surfing lessons, but it wasn’t shoved down our throat like I thought it might be.

Now, onto Asia!!

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One thing that Kelly and I realized early on this trip is that some things just don’t turn out to be how you imaged…that we are not always going to have that picture-perfect experience. This was certainly the case with our three-day sail out to the Whitsunday Islands. 

When we booked our trip in Byron Bay, the first thing to decide was on what boat we wanted to sail. There are dozens of sailboats of varying sizes, different trip durations, amenities, and clientele. We knew right away that we didn’t want to spend three days on a ‘party’ boat with a bunch of drunk eighteen year-olds and due to Kelly’s issues with sea-sickness, we definitely wanted a bigger boat. Most importantly, we wanted a boat that was going to sail all the way out to the Great Barrier Reef since we didn’t have the time to make it all the way up to coast Cairns. The Anaconda III seemed to be the right fit for us, so we booked a private cabin with it’s own ‘bathroom’ and air-conditioning. The tour included all of our meals and there was a bar on board with plenty of cold beer to quench our thirst.

The Anaconda III

After killing a couple of days at a great relaxed hostel in Airlie Beach, the evening we boarded Anaconda III, it was pissing rain. We were greeted with a glass of champagne, shown our cabin, met the crew, and the thirty or so passengers were given a brief run-down of our itinerary. ‘I’m sure all of you are wondering how long it is going to rain,’ one crew member commented. ‘The answer is…for the next three months. It’s rainy season’. Fantastic. How did we not know this?

Captain's Area

The following morning, it was still cloudy and raining, although not as heavily as the previous evening. Our first stop was Whitehaven, a beautiful white sand beach. Unfortunately, as soon as we set foot on the island, the winds picked up and we had to jump back on the boat to travel to a more sheltered cove. We spent the morning lounging and walking along the shore and Kelly took a shot at scuba diving. The crew offered a free introductory lesson which covers the basics and allows you to get used to the gear and breathing naturally under water. She felt it was a bit weird and had a some trouble with the breathing, but it did peak her interest and she may take an extended certification course in the future. On our way back to the boat for lunch, it started dumping rain and all of us were completely soaked.


Crap Weather

Pretty beach

Kelly gettin' her scuba on

In the afternoon, we were dropped off in a couple of coves for snorkelling. We saw some pretty cool fish and the reefs were beautiful.

There was no rain on our second day, although it was cloudy and the winds were blowing pretty strong. That morning, we got our second round of bad news…due to the high winds, we would be unable to sail out to the Great Barrier Reef. This was really disappointing, as the reef was the main reason we booked this specific trip on this specific boat (and paid more money). The ocean was really choppy that day and everyone was rolling around all over the deck, which was pretty entertaining (and nauseating). Fortunately, Kelly didn’t get seasick once!

Rough Seas

Evenings on the boat were spent chillin’ on the deck, enjoying Toohey’s beers, joking around with the crew and our fellow passengers. We had a good group with us, but no one that Kelly or I really bonded with. Our last night, the a/c in our cabin went out and the boat was rocking around pretty badly. Kelly and I tried to sleep in the lounge, but it was still excruciatingly hot, so we went up to the deck where I half-slept and Kelly took pictures of the sunrise.

Our favorite crew-member, Stompa

Me passed out on the deck

Kelly's sunrise

The final day, we awoke to sunshine…not a cloud in the sky. As annoying as this was, we were glad to have one nice day sailing amongst the islands. More snorkelling ensued, but none was as good as the first place we visited. All in all, it was a good trip, but we wished the weather would have cooperated a little better. We returned to Airlie Beach late in the afternoon and our Aussie friend Chris joined us that night for drinks before we caught our flight back to Sydney the next morning.

Finally, a nice day!

Us and Chris on our last night

To anyone out there that is considering sailing the Whitsunday’s, we highly recommend it…just try and do it when it’s NOT rainy season.

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Brisbane and Frasier Island

After Byron Bay, we made our way up the Gold Coast for a short stop in Brisbane, which would serve as the base for our trip out to Frasier Island.

Frasier Island is the largest sand island in the world (123 kilometers), home to a few hundred residents, a couple of ‘resorts’, and a bunch of dingos. There are two ways to explore the island: a) a tour agency organizes groups of eight or nine people and gives you camping equipment, a map, the keys to a 4-wheel drive, and you are free to explore the island on your own or b) you can do a tour with a guide who drives you around and drops you off at various cool spots. I knew immediately I did not want to do the self-drive tour, as I’m a freak about driving on rough terrain (all of the ‘roads’ on the island are sand), and since all of the 2 or 3 day tours didn’t align with our travel schedule, we opted for the one-day guided tour. It also happened to be Australia Day, which is basically their July 4th here. We’d be missing all of the parties in town, but really wanted to see Frasier and it was the only way we could do it.

We met our guide, Graham, at the bus station with the rest of our group, piled into a cramped Range Rover and made the three hour drive to Rainbow Beach. From there we took a short ferry over to Frasier and cruised along the 75-mile beach. Unfortunately, you can’t swim here, as the waters are breeding grounds for tiger sharks. After snapping some photos, we headed inland to check out Lake Birrabeen, a freshwater lake with a white sand beach.

75-Mile Beach

Driving inland on the sand roads was not pleasant for me. Most people get a thrill out of off-road driving, but it’s just not my cup of tea. The roads on Frasier are really rough and it amazes me that companies give a vehicle to any 21-year old with a drivers license and let them have at it. People constantly get stuck in the sand here, damage the trucks, or worse yet, roll their vehicle. Kelly and I did hear that after March, the government is no longer going to allow self-drive tours and I can clearly see why.

At first driving on the sand roads was ok, but after 20 minutes of all of us getting jostled around, I began to feel a little woozy. It was also around this time that our vehicle started to overheat and we would have to stop every so often to let the engine cool down. Great.

Once we finally reached the beach, our jaws dropped. It was absolutely stunning. The water was clearer than any I’ve seen and we spent an hour or so swimming and lounging before having a picnic lunch.


Yes, that's a lake



Since Graham was concerned about the vehicle overheating again and us missing the last ferry back to the mainland, we skipped our next stop on the tour and made a brief visit to Central Station to do a quick walk through the rainforest. Once again, we made our way back to the 75-mile beach and had to stop on several occasions to let the engine cool down.


Our guide, Graham, showing us a cool tree

Car Troubles

Another tour bus happened to be driving past, so to lighten the load in our vehicle (which would in turn help with the engine overheating), we all piled into the other bus for a ride back to the pier. Long story short, Graham made it back to Rainbow Beach with the car and we made the long drive back to Brisbane. Being Australia Day and all, Kelly, Graham and I celebrated with a couple of beers at a nearby bar and called it a night.


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Both Kim and I could have stayed in Sydney for a few more days, but were excited to head to Byron Bay since we had heard so much about it from the Aussie boys we met in Chile. We couldn’t wait to check it out and get some more beach time. Marianne had been there before as well and was able to show us around and point us in the right direction for nightlife (to say the least).

 Byron Bay is a great little beach town, filled with shops, restaurants, bars, and night clubs. We spent our days relaxing on the beach, shopping for some items we had lost along the way and sipping cold beverages. To get some exercise, we did a really nice hike up to the lighthouse, where we passed the most eastern point in Australia!! So cool. It also gives you an incredible view of the entire coast.


Byron Bay Main Beach


On the walk to the lighthouse


Another view

The eastern most point of Australia

Our hostel was quite large but also very accommodating for the amount of people staying there. We spent many a night just drinking on the patio after cooking and then heading out to one of the bars to do some dancing. One night I almost won a $20 bar tab by winning a game of flip cup (which I’m phenomenal at by the way), but I was screwed. Missed out by one game!! Later that night we went out with a group of Irish boys to a couple clubs and then tried to go to the infamous Cheeky Monkey’s. Marianne had been telling us about the $8 “jugs” (pitchers from where we come from) and dancing on the tables for months. She said it was a MUST in Byron Bay. Well, too bad that Marianne was kicked out before she or any of us even got in because the bouncer said we were all too intoxicated. What?? Nah….not us:)

 Soon the Jeff’s arrived and the debauchery continued. More beach time, more deliciously prepared backpacker dinners at the hostel, and of course more beer and wine. Gotta love that cheap box wine, which tastes awful and is known here as “goon”. ‘Goon’ is the aboriginal word for “pillow” so it includes any wine in a bag that is then put in a box, including our slightly more expensive and better tasting wine. But hey, when you are on a budget….

Hostel dinners and boxed wine...can't beat it!

 On Marianne’s last night in town, we decided to try our luck again at Cheeky Monkey. I just had to shake my booty on the tables with her before she left! We headed over early since they only served the cheap ‘jugs’ until 9pm. It was ladies night, so we all got a free, huge glass of champagne to start, and then proceeded to take back a good 12 or so pitchers within the hour! After a couple of hours of dancing on the tables (covered in sheet metal, obviously dancing on them is encouraged) we sent Marianne off in style by shouting “We love Marianne!!” in our horrible Norwegian accents for a good 5-10 minutes before her bus departed. I’m sure the other passengers loved us. We will be meeting up with her again in Montenegro this summer. I can’t wait!


Us at Cheeky Monkey's

Marianne and Jeff L. gettin' tipsy

Going to miss you...see you this summer!

The following morning, the rest of us booked a day trip to the hippie town of Nimbin. Not much to see there other than a bunch of head shops, druggies, and a quirky museum. However, we did stop at some cool markets along the way and a few scenic spots on the drive back.


The Nimbin Museum

Our last night in Byron Bay, the Jeff’s and I camped out on the beach so we could catch the sunrise the next morning. It was breathtaking. Though quite uncomfortable, it was totally worth it. Check out these pictures.


It was time to work our way north up to Brisbane for our one day tour of Fraser Island and then it was up to the Whitsunday Island for our sailing trip!! We said our good-byes to the Jeff’s and promised to see them again in Thailand. Byron Bay was definitely one of my favorite spots on this trip. I WILL make it back here one day.

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Sisters in Sydney

With almost 4 months of travelling under our belts, Kim and I said goodbye to New Zealand and moved on to the east coast of Australia. First stop, Sydney. We’ve all seen images of the infamous Syndey Opera House and Harbor Bridge, the Botanical Gardens, Darling Harbor, etc. Well, it’s all just as amazing as we imagined it to be. It was so great to finally see all of these things in person! With only a week in Sydney, we planned to make the most of it.

 We ended up staying at the Blue Parrot, a small, family-owned hostel filled with all sorts of travellers, long term residents, all looking for a good time. Our friend Doug that we met in Argentina was landing in Sydney the same day and we were excited to reunite with him after our time we spent together in the wine country of South America. Our friend Marianne we met there as well would join us 2 days later from Norway. The Mendoza clan together again! The hostel was located in the Kings Cross area, great for it’s nightlife and also known as the “Red Light District” of Sydney. Luckily, the hostel was around the corner from all the madness, so we didn’t really get that vibe at all.

Together again!

 We spent the first few days wandering around the city – a walk through the Botanical Gardens along the harbor, took plenty of pictures of the Opera House, had champagne in Darling Harbor and checked out the street markets in the Rocks, the oldest neighborhood in Sydney. We made a couple of new friends at the hostel, The Jeff’s, both from Canada, that joined us on our trip to Bondi Beach where locals and tourists alike flock to surf and soak up the rays. Marianne and I laid on the beach and relaxed, while Kim and the others did the 5 kilometer coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach, passing other small surfing beaches along the way. 

Syndey Opera House

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Darling Harbour

Bondi Beach

On the coastal walk

Another day, we all did a day trip to the Blue Mountains, located a couple hours outside of the city. They are called the blue mountains because of the blueish shade they take on from the sky and surrounding landscape. We had this crazy old tour guide that really liked to hear himself talk so we decided to take the trail instead of the cable car up to the viewing point just to get away from him. We hiked down (and then back up) the 1000 steps to take advantage of the amazing views. It was a great work out too!


The Blue Mountains

The Three Sisters


Our group

 Most of our nights were spent hanging out at the hostel with our new friends. We had some fantastic grilling sessions, a night of Marianne’s stellar caiparinas and caipiroskas ( a drink we became a fan of in South America), drunken walks to the nearby Elizabeth Harbor, a never-ending poker game, plenty of drinking games and late night parties on the stairs across the street. Um, yeah, we weren’t allowed to drink or make noise in the hostel after 11:30pm…so that’s where we ended up.

 We both absolutely loved Sydney!! Once again, I could totally live there. Now it was time to move further up the coast to the laid back beach town of Byron Bay. We even talked Marianne into joining us for a few days before she headed off to Newcastle for her semester of med school. The Jeff’s would join us as well a couple of days later. We were just too much fun to not see again:)

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New Zealand Wrap Up

Our last night in Auckland, we had dinner with Ben and Jo and took a walk around the harbour during sunset.  I love New Zealand and truly consider it my ‘home away from home’.

The landscape and weather

The New Zealand landscape is extremely diverse and dramatic, especially for such a small country…it’s no wonder that Peter Jackson decided to film ‘Lord of the Rings’ here, with its staggering mountains and volcanos, rolling hills, pristine lakes, lush rainforests, and golden sand beaches.

It was the beginning of summer when we were here, so the weather was warm, but still chilly at night. Unfortunately, we also got a lot of rain, which was unusual for this time of year.

The people

The Kiwis are absolutely wonderful – polite, friendly, and extremely helpful. In Wellington, Kelly and I were standing on the street outside of our hostel and a local man stopped and asked us what we were looking for and if he could help us. So nice.

We were also fortunate enough to have my old flatmates take us into their homes. Becky, Gavin, Ben, and Jo…thank you so much for your hospitality! You really made our time in New Zealand special (and cheaper!)

The food

Kelly and I were looking forward to some more variety after South America so it was no surprise that we went a little overboard here. Plus, I was dying to taste some of my old favorite Kiwi foods. This sounds weird, but the dairy products in New Zealand are outstanding. The chocolate, the cheese, the yogurt, the ice cream. My favorite is the orange chocolate chip ice cream and the hazelnut yogurt…Kelly HATES yogurt and still thought it was delicious.

We also went through god knows how many boxes of my favorite ‘biscuit’ in the world…the Tim Tam. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, caramel, double dipped…I’m seriously going to go through withdrawals from these once I get back to the States.

The most amazing cookie you will ever put in your mouth

Other than sweets, we ate our share of New Zealand green-lipped mussels, crayfish, lamb, meat pies, and tasty Thai and Indian food.

 The booze

New Zealand has great beer and wine (particularly whites). Our favorites were Monteith’s Original and Summer Ales, and of course, Speights. We also drank way too many bottles of the Lindauer sparkling sauvignon blanc.


Costs have really skyrocketed since I was here eight years ago, primarily due to the popularity of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and also because of the crappy American dollar. Accommodation ran us about about $20 – $30 per night, per person.  Food and booze were comparable to the States, if not more expensive. You couldn’t get breakfast for less than $8. Our transportation costs weren’t too bad since we rented a car and split the costs between 5 people. With gas, I think it averaged out to $15 a day/per person or something like that. Adventure activities (bungy jumping, glacier hikes, skydiving) are super expensive…Kelly’s bungy jump cost around $150 and a sky dive will cost you twice that.

Other random thoughts

-‘Sweet As’ is a popular expression here. For example, ‘Do you like my t-shirt?’ ‘Yeah, it’s sweet as’. The first time I heard this, I thought some ten year old was telling me I had a sweet ass.

-Prostitution is legal here. At least Kelly and I had a job if we ran out of money. (Kidding, Dad).

-There are no one-cent coins in New Zealand. Their lowest coin denomination is ten cents…change is rounded up. Why don’t we do this in the States? It makes soooo much ‘cents’. Ok, sorry…I love a good cheesy pun.

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Day 6 – Franz Josef +Lots of Rain + Cancelled Glacier Hike = Many Drinks Consumed

We awoke to POURING rain the next morning that would continue throughout the day. Due to the bad weather, our hike on the Franz Josef glacier was cancelled. There’s not much to do in this town other than hike the glacier, so we spent the day lazing around, uploading photos, making big sandwiches, and drinking a ton of champagne and beer. It was disappointing not to get to see the glacier, but it actually gave us a day to take a break, slow down, and relax. 

Rain Blows

Day 7 – More Driving and More Rain

The sky was still dumping rain the next morning when we hit the road early to make the drive to Te Anau. The drive down New Zealand’s west coast is stunning, although the crappy weather didn’t allow for the greatest views. After making a stop in the town of Wanaka for some shopping and chillin’ by the lake, we arrived in Te Anau, showered up and went out to dinner. We had an early night to prepare for our Milford Sound cruise the next day.

 Day 8 – Milford Sound (Or What We Could See Of It)

One of my favorite things I did when I was previously in New Zealand was a boat trip around Milford Sound. Even in the rain, the scenery is incredible with loads of waterfalls cascading down the surrounding mountains. I wasn’t too concerned when it started to sprinkle as we started the drive to the national park. Unfortunately, by the time we actually got on the boat, the rain had picked up and we were surrounded in fog. We basically floated around in a white cloud for two hours. It was still pretty, but not nearly the experience I had hoped for everyone. Luckily, the clouds did part for a bit on our way home and we were able to stop in the park and snap some good photos.

Milford Sound. Stupid Fog.


Driving through the park

Days 9, 10, and 11 – Queenstown!

The next day, it continued to rain on and off while we made the short drive to the adventure activity destination of Queenstown. Our first night we had a yummy Indian dinner and hit up a couple of bars to let loose. Andy and Nicole woke up early the next morning to do a jet-boat trip in Skippers Canyon before we made the drive over to the Kawarau Bridge for Kelly to do her bungy jump. She was pretty freaked out, but after some liquid courage and watching a few of the other jumpers, she was totally pumped up about it. I had made the 43 meter jump myself eight years ago and I knew Kelly would love it.

 After getting weighed in and waiting her turn in line, she dove off with no problems. We’ll post the video on our flickr page soon (it’s already on her facebook), but needless to say, she thought it was a blast. Next on her list is skydiving!

Kelly on the platform

 We all took a ride on the Queenstown gondola and we celebrated Andy and Nicole’s last night in town with an amazing seafood dinner and drinks. I was sad to drop them off at the airport the next morning, but was happy to have Mary around for another couple of days.


View of Queenstown from the gondola

Andy and Nicole's Last Night

After a few persuasive speeches from Kelly, Mary decided to take the plunge and do a bungy jump. The three of us headed back to the bridge, got her signed and weighed in, watched her freak out on the platform (which was pretty hilarious), and cheered her on as she dove off.

Mary's bungy!!

The rest of the day was centered around the University of Texas vs. Alabama national championship game. We found a bar that put it on for us and we spent the afternoon rooting for the Longhorns, taking back pitchers and making new friends. Kelly managed to befriend an entire rugby team that was in town and tried to beat them at their own drinking games. Even though our boys didn’t win the championship, we couldn’t be upset…we’re having a blast in New Zealand!

Hook 'em

Day 12 – Reuniting with Becky in Wanaka

Mary decided to do a day kayaking trip and take a bus to meet Kelly and I in later that evening. Becky, her mom and sisters were vacationing in Wanaka at a friends house and invited us to stay. Becky took us on a lovely hike and that evening we made dinner and watched movies. It was really nice to spend more time with Becky and her family (and to play with Caitlen again!)

Hiking in Wanaka

Day 13 – Back to Christchurch…in the Fricken Rain

I was crossing my fingers for good weather, as we planned to hit up Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo on the drive back to Christchurch. No such luck…it poured the entire time. We did get a quick look at the lake, but that was about it. Damn the crazy weather! On the plus side, we did have a yummy Thai dinner once we got back into the city.

Lake Tekapo

Day 14 – Mary Goes Home

On Mary’s last day, Kelly and I drove her out to Sumner Beach for brunch and some strolling along the shore before taking her to the airport. Our last night in town, Becky made us roast lamb for dinner and we kicked back with some vino to enjoy our final night staying in their home. Kelly and I were not looking forward to getting back into hostel life.

It was a crazy two weeks and we feel so lucky to have such wonderful friends that would spend their hard earned money (and vacation time) to come visit us on this adventure. We love you Mary, Andy, and Nicole!


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