Sunday, May 3, 2009

Northwest Trip

G’day folks and blokes.  Its been a long time since my last post and a lot has happened in between. My family visited Perth after our NZ trip, I turned 21 (cheers), and my bro stayed in WA with me for an extra week of fun.  I attended an Aussie rules footy match  (amazing) and have fully fallen in love with WA. I also got a chance to go on a 10 day trip through the Northwest.  Detailed below are my travels.



10 day Northwest Safari: April 10th-19th (coastal to inland)

Total distance traveled: over 3,600 kilometers

Tour company: Australian Adventure Travel

Three weeks ago I returned from a 10-day safari / trek through the Outback of Australia.  The trip, offered only to international students, was designed to show us the real Australia; the one where it is hot, desolate, and filled with deadly snakes.  Through out the 10-day trip we covered a distance that would be roughly equivalent to driving from the east coast to the west coast in the US.  One thing I learned really quickly is that Australia is huge and pretty well unpopulated.  In the ten days worth of travel we covered only one state, never coming even close to the border of another state, and saw few people in the process.

The trip was comprised of 20 or so study abroad students.  We had two fearless guides, Barry and Allen, and our caravan totaled two 4 wheel drive “busses” pulling trailers; one filled with luggage and one which served as our kitchen and fridge.  Barry and Al were quite the duo.  Both a bit cranky, and blunt at times, but they were also very knowledgeable and funny, if you were on their good side.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they did these trips just to laugh at American tourists and how they attempt to survive in the outback.  The Busses were interesting contraptions; they lacked comfort and style, had a top speed of 70, and were capable of mowing over kangaroos without so much as acquiring a scratch (though we did take off a part of the passenger side door when Al smoked one on day 5…Roo!).  And so we were off…on a journey to God only knows where….

Day 1:

The first day was pretty much all driving.  We departed Murdoch University at 8am and traveled north passing through towns such as Eneabba, Pt. Denison, and Geralton.  In Australia it is a “law” that when driving long distances the driver must stop every 2 hrs to stretch and wake up.  Needless to say it was not the fastest road trip I have ever embarked on.  I soon found myself purchasing iced coffees at classy places such as the 25hr roadhouse along the way.  Basically there is not a whole lot to say about the first day of travel.  I slept a lot and jammed to a couple shows I had downloaded prior to leaving.  Overall the bus was really pretty quite with the exception of Barry chiming in every once in a while to point out areas of “interest.”  By the time we arrived at our destination the sun was nearly setting so it was quite the day of driving.  Our destination and home for the night was at Henry Sanford’s Stables (circa 1853; I think this is outside of Lynton…either that or the place we stayed at was Lynton….one of the two).  Essentially, where we stayed at was an old farm in the middle of nowhere…not a 5 star resort but it more than worked.  We pitched our tents next to some silos, climbed a hill that gave us a great view of the ocean and sun set, cooked dinner in a really really old barn and called it a night.  Everyone was pretty tired from the early start and long day of travel.


Day 2:

            We were woken up some time around 5 am’ish for a 6am departure….off to Kalbarri national park.  About 5 min into the drive just as most people were falling asleep, Barry swerved, it remains questionable whether or not on purpose, and hit a Roo squarely with all the tires on the right side of the bus.  The Roo was about the size of a small deer and it made quite a speed bump….no damage was done and I had a good laugh.  On the way to Kalbarri we stopped at Natural Bridge, which is essentially a rock bridge that connects to rock faces that drop off into the ocean.  It was a fantastic view seeing the waves crashing in around these sweet land structures…there were many tempting looking climbs too….but after 15 min we were off and on the road again

We made it into the town of Kalbarri a short while later, unhooked the trailers and set off to the national park.  The area where we went is called Natures Window (see photos online) which is essentially a large boulder with the middle missing, creating a “frame” that overlooks a large gorge / valley. (Enter Flies).  While the gorge was quite pretty and nature’s window was cool as well, the flies were in abundance.  Thankfully I had myself an attractive fly net to cover my face but it was still a little annoying having 40 flies buzzing around you.  Overall I give the stop a 5 out of 10…it was an impressive sight, but a little too boring and fly ridden for my tastes.

            After everyone was done being a touron and had snapped their respective photos we set off back into Kalbarri town centre where we went for a swim in the ocean and ate lunch.  I should note that lunch entailed the same food every day…sandwiches and more sandwiches…they were alright…but not great.  Kalbarri was a pretty cool town…beautiful beaches and I’m sure Kalbarri national park would have been sweet had we have gone for a hike through the gorges rather than just chilling on the top of them for 15 min like we had.

            After we had spent the allotted time in Kalbarri we set off for Hamelin Pool, which would be our home for the next two nights.  Hamelin Pool was located about 200 kilometers further north and 30 k west, right on the ocean. The place where were stayed at was an old telegraph and post office from back in the day.  It was only a 5 min walk to the beach where I watched one hell of a sunset (see photo with the dock and sunset right after it).  Hamelin pool is known for stromatolites which are apparently one if not thee first “life form” on earth…they supposedly also led to the creation of the atmosphere... they currently look like large colorful rocks.  The Hamelin Pool beach was really pretty and made up entirely of little shells (again see photos).

            At night I found myself eating a tasty dinner (I soon found out that all the dinners would be amazing).  Afterwards, about half of us stayed up and played a few card games and just hung out.  It was close to a full moon tonight and then stars were plentiful too.

Day 3:

            Today we were woken up at the pleasant hour of 5am so that we could be on the road by 545 ish.  The reason for such an early rising hour was that we were traveling up to Monkey Mia for the day and everyone wanted to be there in time to see the dolphin feeding.  Monkey Mia is a tourist destination, located in shark bay, which is famous for dolphins as well as bull sharks.  Each day there are 2-3 feedings where wild dolphins will swim in to the beach and people can feed them….under the very watchful and spastic eye of the Monkey Mia staff.  I attended the first of the three feedings, which wasn’t all that great really.  There were roughly 100 people all crowding around a few dolphins swimming in the shallows.  It was pretty cool to see dolphins up close but overall it was pretty touristy and I felt like a total gaper.  The remaining portion of the day was primarily spent cruising the bay on a very large catamaran sailboat.  We cruised to a pearl farm where I got the chance to see how pearls are naturally made and “farmed.”  I was also one of two people who got a chance to taste pearl meat.  While a delicacy in parts of china and Japan (the stuff sells for hundreds of dollars per kilo) I found it to be like a salty chewy scallop.  Not the tastiest of delicacies I have had but it was interesting none the least.  We also got the chance to do what is referred to as boon netting.  What it entails is essentially sitting in a large net that is behind the boat and getting dragged along.  It was similar to a large, cold, whirlpool that moved…great fun.  The catamaran also cruised to a place where we got to see an animal that is similar to the sea cow.

The remaining portion of the day was spent hanging out on the beach.  I got the chance to swim with some dolphins that swam in while I was snorkeling around….it was really awesome having dolphins within 1ft from me just swimming around and checking me out.  I also saw a large sea turtle cruising around on the ocean floor.  all in all it was a pretty good day…Monkey Mia itself was a total tourist trap but the sailboat and the snorkeling more than made up for that.  The night was spent back at Hamelin park “campground” where I watched another great sunset and called it a night after a few card games and a game of “taps” (read multiple games of taps)

Day 4:

Day four was one of my favorite days on the trip.  We did quite a bit of traveling as we heading further north to Warroora Sheep Station where we stayed for the night.  The plan was to get up to Warroora early in the day so that we could all have a swim at the 35 miles of private sandy beach on the station.  There was a bit of concern regarding the actual ability to swim as there had been a 5 meter salt water croc spotted only 1 kilometer up the beach from where we would be swimming.  Not worry, when we arrived at Warroora, which is in the middle of absolutely nothing (think middle of a desert and you would be closer to human life), there was a board informing us that the croc had been shot earlier that day…though that message was followed by “dead?”….hard to imagine one could shoot a croc without knowing whether or not they killed it.  Anyways…Warroora is a 300,000 acre working sheep station (we were later informed that this is considered to be a small station…the largest is 6,000,000 acres).  The day was spent swimming and relaxing on the beautiful private beach.  I also went and explored some sand dunes (see photos).  It was a great afternoon to say the least.

The night that followed was pretty hilarious and outrageous.  As we were sitting around a campfire back at camp,  a fellow by the name of Colby waltzed over.  Colby was quite the stereotypical Australian bloke.  Wine in one hand, harmonica in the other a few of us immediately took liking to him and we followed him over to his camp for some drinks. Turned out that Colby and four friends had escaped their wives, driven to the middle of nowhere and were spending a week drinking, fishing, and doing other manly things.  One thing let to another and soon we all found ourselves singing along to hootie and the blowfish, obnoxiously playing the harmonica, debating politics, and did I mention off key singing?  It was great and outrageous at the same time.  I have never had a night quite like it…and I don’t think it will be repeated anytime soon.

Day 5:

            Day five was spent at Coral Bay, part of Nigaloo Reef (smaller than the great barrier but supposedly it has more coral and wildlife).  Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy and cool when we were there but it was a really sweet area.  We spent the day snorkeling from a glass bottom boat.  The boat took us to 2 “dive” spots where we saw many variety of coral and fish.  It was really pretty sweet…but a little cold too.  The rest of the day was spent napping on the beach, eating a couple meat pies, playing some baseball, and just enjoying the views.  We watched the sun set from the pub during happy hour and enjoyed a jug with everyone on the trip.  The night was spent around the campfire where we played a few games, watched Adam almost start a bush fire, and looked at the amazing stars. Great day.

Day 6:

            Day six was the day that we headed inland to the unknown outback.  The entire day was spent driving from coral bay to Karinjini National Park.  The drive was somewhere around 8 hours with nothing to do but stare at flat bushland that went on for hundreds of miles.  Every two hours we would stop at a roadhouse for petrol, bathrooms, and a stretch break.  I would regularly buy an iced coffee and some sort of munchies as well.  A roadhouse is a uniquely Australian ordeal.  It consists of a gas pump, outrageously priced convenience store, a dodgy looking restaurant, and goofy people behind the counter.  Seems weird to me that someone would subject themselves to working in the middle of nowhere where the temperature regularly exceeds 120, people are rarely seen, and there is nothing surrounding you but dust and tumble weed.  Interesting to say the least.

Anywho…we finally arrived at Karijini National Park…home to millions of flies, spiders, dingos, snakes, red dirt that stained everything, and did I mention flies.  It was great.  We set up tents, made dinner and watched the thousands of insects climb in and on everything.  One individual was brought to tears with all the spiders and bugs flying around…it was great.  I did not sleep much that night due to dingos walking within 1ft of my tent all night…just so happened that I was the one who grilled up steaks and brats for dinner…perfect I must have smelt like one tasty meal.  It was a long day of travel but I was anxious for what was to come the next day.

Day 7:

            According to the itinerary, this day was going to be “full on”…what that exactly means I do not know…but I had some high expectations.  We unhooked the trailers from the buses and set off to the other side of the park to hike through gorges and to swim in waterfalls and pool.  In an attempt to discourage anyone from acting like an idiot, there was an information board at the entrance to our “trail” that listed the typical rescue timeline and process should anyone need medical help.  Between notifying rangers, getting to the site, setting up the equipment and actually pulling the person out of the gorge, it took 13.5 hours. And then they have to be flown back to Perth for any treatment, which is 750 miles away. When I found out you have about 5 hours to be saved from a snake bite, I made sure to watch where I was walking and kept a close look for snakes and such.

This was by far the best day and highlight of the trip.  We descended and climbed through gorges and steep cliffs requiring ladders to get down.  In total we climbed through 3 or 4 different gorges, all with natural pools and waterfalls, which we all swam in.  we also did a little cliff jumping and some sketchy rock climbing.  The pictures capture the day more than my efforts at explaining it…

The day was capped off with a damn good chili dinner, which I devoured until I was fat dumb and happy…. Really really good day.

Day 8:

            We spent the morning swimming and cliff jumping back at one of the pools.  It was a really nice day, and what a way to start a day by hucking yourself off of a 25 ft cliff into a shallow waterfall pool…good fun.

After a morning swim at Fortescue Falls, Unfortuately, the main fun of the trip was over at this point…it was time to leave the dingos, spiders, and flies of Karijini behind and head south towards Perth…though we still thousands of miles out.  So basically we had another long driving day from Karijini to Newman.

Newman is known for mining…and that’s about it.  We arrived in town, set up camp and enjoyed the luxury of running water, showers, and a pool.  After a bbq, naturally being university students, we broke out a deck of cards and a few drinks.  Within 10 minutes or so, 5-10 miners started drifting towards our contingency, beers in hand…could have been due to sensing females within 100 miles for the first time in ages.  The miners were a friendly bunch of bamfs and I struck up a conversation with a few of them.  In particular I talked with a local chap and a bloke from NZ.  A little background info on the newman mining industry:  starting wage for miners is  around $3,000 a week, housing is provided by the mining company, yearly salary is around $100,000 USD, they work only 6 days a week, 12 hour shifts for 4 weeks then they get one week off…most just work for a few years to make some money and buy some toys / house.

Anywho…we soon found ourselves following one of the miners, Allistair, to a bar called the Red Sands.  While we were specifically warned not to go there due to its reputation as a ‘punch up’ (fighting) pub we took our chances and ended up having a great time.  The pub far exceeded my expectations and I found myself chatting up the local Newman he and shefolk.  Unfortunately no fights broke out, but it was a great time none the less.

Day 9:

            Day nine was another long travel day.  We essentially continued south through mining towns, and through the middle of nowhere.  It was not the most captivating drive to say the least.  We did see some red clouds during our lunch break.  Neither Al nor Barry knew exactly why the clouds were red but the guesstimate was that it was caused from a dust storm…either way it was pretty cool…similar to a sunset in the middle of the day.

We eventually found our way to Wogarno Sheep station where we stayed in a tin shed used for shearing sheep….a great accommodation for the last night.  The night was characterized by a great meal cooked over the open fire, a fantastic sunset, and a sky full of stars.  I stayed up long after most had gone to bed, which ended up being one of the better decisions all trip.  The sky cleared and the stars came out….millions of stars.  It was really sweet to say the least.  You could see stars spanning horizon to horizon, which allowed you to see the actual curvature of the earth…it felt like I was standing in the middle of a large dome.  I saw numerous shooting starts, planets, satellites, and did I mention stars…great night.

Day 10: Finale

            The final day we were up long before sunrise such that we could make haste on our long day of travel ahead.  Nothing exciting to report on the day…pretty much just slept on the bus all day and enjoyed a 9 hour drive.

Overall, the trip was fantastic. I met some great people and traveled through some beautiful country. I saw manta rays, dolphins, many spiders, dingos, coral reefs, gorges, sharks, waterfalls, pools, nearly every sunrise and sunset, and many other things.  I took hundreds of photos, and traveled thousands of miles.  All in all it was amazing and good fun.  To see photos from the trip use the links posted below.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3: a few edited favorites

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Photos from NZ trip

My travels to NZ

Written Monday and Tuesday, March 30th-31st

G’day.  So I have to apologize for slacking on the blog it’s been a long time since I wrote one.  I have been caught up in a time warp filled with a trip to New Zealand, having my family visit WA, my birthday, and then exploring with my brother who stayed in WA for an extra week after my parents left.

Going back a few weeks, prior to my trip to NZ, I pretty much spent the week getting some school work done and hanging around campus.  I guess the most exciting thing I did that week was going to Mandurah for the crab festival.  Mandurah is an hour south by train and each year they have the festival.  It reminded me of a very miniature MN state fair, except that crab was the main food of choice rather than deep fried foods.

Anyways on to the NZ trip.  

NZ Day 1: I flew from Perth to Auckland, NZ where I met up with my fam.  In Auckland we had to go through security and customs.  Overall it was pretty uneventful with the exception of the food finding beagle, which thoroughly loved my brother’s bag.  The beagle proceeded to return to my bro’s bag, which was filled with a rather large assortment of food, no less than three times.  After we escaped customs, starbust still in hand, we found our way to our connecting flight.

From Auckland we flew to Queenstown, which is in the southern part of the south island. One of the first things that stuck me about NZ was just how mountainous of a country it really is.  Flying into Queenstown was quite an experience; seeing all the mountains and lakes was pretty sweet.  One thing I learned really quickly about Kiwi’s is that you should never insult Lord of the Rings.  Just before we touched down the movie my dad asked if I had ever seen the film and my response was that I turned it off 10 min into the film cause it was like watching Star Wars with trolls on crack, which resulted in a dirty look or two from the Kiwi’s sitting in front of me.

When we finally de-boarded the aircraft and stepped onto the tarmac, I was immediately struck by the soft cool breeze of a NZ early morning.  After the usual airport duties of findings our bags and locating the rental car, my dad found himself with the daunting task of driving on the left side of the road, and sitting on the right side of the car.  To back up just a bit, prior to even the driving, it took us all about 10 min just to figure out how to start the car…but after that we were off…until we got confused on how to get out of the car lot…but then we were off…until we got to the first round about…and then we were off…finally…to Queenstown city center.

The first day was pretty laid back due to jet lag and overall tiredness from traveling.  Given the time difference from WA to NZ and the fact that I did not sleep at all on the flight over, it was equivalent to pulling an all ‘nighter.  So it wasn’t a real fast paced day. We checked into our hotel, the Glebe, found a great breakfast place (if you are ever in NZ or WA order yourself a flat black…its one amazing cup of coffee).  Following breakfast we decided to check out the gondola, which travels to the top of a mountain overlooking all of Queenstown.  It was a short walk to the bottom of it where we found out that they were charging people $20 for a round trip ride.  Given that there were 4 of us, we were not about to pay $80 for a seemingly 5-10min ride up…so after finding a hiking path, we decided to hike only a ways up to check out the view; we had no intentions of hiking to far, especially given that Brett and I were wearing flip flops.  After hiking for around 30min we had yet to find a clearing where we could “check out the view” so we decided to continue going up.  Long story short, an hour later we thought we were pretty much to the top so we continued hiking only to find out from a nice person hiking down that we were still 20 min from the top…turns out that we were about 30 min from the top.  Regardless to say we ended up hiking all the way up to the top, quite an over ambitious effort.  But, once there, the view was almost…almost worth it (see the photos in the NZ album).  We snapped some photos and hung out on top for a while before hopping on the gondola down for a “free” ride back into town.

The remainder of the day was spent finding a restaurant to fit everyone’s tastes, which to save another long but short story, turned out to be quite some effort given everyone’s jet lag and general tiredness.

Day Two in NZ was spent traveling from Queenstown to Te Anau, which was three hours south.  I quickly learned that the majority of NZ is covered in sheep, mountains and lakes.  It is a very beautiful country to drive through and the three hour drive passed surprisingly quick.  The roads in NZ are pretty narrow and extremely windy.  They also change in elevation quite often and very quickly.

Once in Te Anau, we found our hotel, lunch and such.  The afternoon was spent hiking along a “supposedly” famous track (hiking trail).  While the walk was beautiful and scenic for the first hour, the view never really changed so we found ourselves looking at the same kinds of trees, plants, and lakes for quite some time.  It reminded me of the mythical “Sherwood forest.”

In general Te Anau is a quiet and sleepy town.  Te Anau, while surrounded by beautiful mountain valleys and lakes, was almost entirely surrounded with tourists and tourist busses…which gets a little old after a while. .  The main and almost only reason we stopped in was to break up the drive to Milford Sounds, which is about 6 – 7 hours (one way) from Queenstown.

Day Three was spent traveling from Te Anau further south to Milford Sound.  The drive to Milford was one of the most scenic I have ever been on.  We passed multiple glaciers, crystal clear lakes, extremely high mountains, waterfalls, and valleys…a few sheep too.  The road to Milford was very steep both gaining and losing elevation quickly…and the entire ride was one sharp curve and turn after another.  Arriving into Milford we were greeted with an impressive view of the fjord.  The fjord is really really impressive with vastly steep walls.  In addition, the amount of green that is in the fjord is quite amazing.  It rains a ridiculous amount in Milford (thankfully we had a mostly sunny day…a rare occurrence at Milford…we were really lucky to see the sun) which makes everything really green…it reminded me of Seattle in some ways.

While in Milford, we took a cruise through the entire fjord on the “Milford Wanderer.”  The pictures I took will give a better impression of the fjord than I can describe so check out the album for a better idea of what it was like.  We essentially cruised around Milford for 3 hours or so taking photos and sightseeing.

After the cruise we poked around for a short while later and proceeded to drive back to Te Anau for the night.  In Te Anau we walked around, found some dinner and a cocktail before calling it a night.

Day four entailed the short drive from Te Anau back to Queenstown.  Once we were back in Queenstown we checked back into the Glebe and decided what to do for the day.  We settled on taking a drive to Arrow Town as it was raining a bit and overall not the nicest outdoor exploring day…Arrow town was originally built as a Chinese immigrant-mining town.  I was originally quite skeptical about the whole idea but it turned out to be a fabulous day.  Arrow town was probably the most unique place we explored.  It is filled with many cool shops and delicious looking restaurants.  Check out the photos again for better visual representation. 

After Arrow town we continued our exploration via car by driving to the original bungee jumping site just outside of Queenstown.  While none of us jumped…as we were planning on skydiving later in the week…we did enjoy watching people hucking themselves off of a bridge.  It was pretty cool to see the original place where bungee all started.

On the way back, we took a different route back to Queenstown through the wine country of southern NZ….grapes…grapes…and more grapes….along with the occasional winery made for a scenic drive back.  That evening back in Queenstown we went out for a great dinner at Captains and Brett and I stayed out pretty late going to a couple Irish pubs that were hopping in town.

Day five was a great day that took us from Queenstown to Wanaka where we decided to climb the Diamond Lake Trail.  Wanaka was the least tourist filled area we stopped at and was one of my favorite towns we spent some time in.  Apparently, it is a ski town in the winter as there are 2 or 3 different ski resorts within short distance.  The town also has a great view of Mt. Aspiring in the background.

The Diamond Lake trail was just a short way down the road from Wanaka…bought 20-30min.  Along the way we passed many people rock climbing the many boulders and nice looking faces…made me long for my climbing gear I left in WA…but oh well.  The trail essentially involved climbing up a mountain via a trail that deteriorated the higher we went.  It was a 2 hour hike/climb to the top.  Once on the summit we were greeted with another set of amazing views from the glaciers of Mt. Aspiring, to the surrounding mountains, valleys, and lakes below us. (see photos). After the climb we explored Wanaka for a while…I ate a kebab…and we cruised back into Queenstown to plan out the following day and grab some grub. All in all it was a GREAT day and enjoyed by everyone.

Day six had been allotted as our “adventure day” where we were supposed to go skydiving in Queenstown…unfortunately we woke up to a cloudy, cold, and at times rainy day.  Being optimistic, we walked into town and registered to jump anyways as they would refund us if it got cancelled.  I was really looking forward to it…especially cause we got my mom talked into jumping…which took a little persuading as she is a bit afraid of heights.  We were set to jump at 2 so we hung out and shopped around Queenstown, got some lunch and waited for time to happen.  Unfortunately it just wasn’t our day to jump, as the weather never broke and really only got worse as the day went on.  We were informed of our misfortunes by the skydive shop and were soon faced with the task of finding something to do for our last day in NZ.

As it turned out, we ended up with the option of wine tasting or mountain biking…Brett and I had found a shop earlier in the week that rented full suspension downhill mountain bikes for a reasonable price…and we had seen some really nar looking downhill tracks on the mountain with the gondola overlooking Queenstown.  As it were, Brett and I settled on the mountain biking, while my parents decided to take the afternoon and sample some of NZ’s pinots.

Brett and I rented our bikes, opted for the full-face helmets (as the tracks we had seen were pretty ridiculously steep and narrow) and set off toward the mountain.  This time, rather than walking up the entire mountain we proceeded to combine walking and biking straight up the mountain…instead of taking the 3 hours or so to climb the mountain it took us 45 min to bike up it…we hauled.

Once we had topped out, caught our breath, and snapped some photos we hit the trail.  The first run was rather hesitant and slow as we were getting used to the bikes and the trail…but man was it fun.  We ended up sessioning the top half of the trail 4 times before heading all the way down the mountain.  The trails were really steep, really fast and really pretty ridiculous.  I went over the bars twice…though no blood was shed : ) ….check out the photos.

After we made it all the way down the mountain for the last time, Brett and I cruised around the town for a bit before returning our bikes and meeting up with the ‘rents for dinner.

Overall we salvaged a day that started out pretty disappointing and turned it into my favorite day of the entire NZ trip.  We packed up and left early the next day to show my fam where and what I have been up to in my new temporary home…WA

 In general my time spent in NZ was epic and I would return to NZ any day of the week.

**I will write about the time I got to spend with my fam in Perth, my birthday and the extra week that Brett stayed with me in Perth in the next day or so…until then I hope spring is on its way soon to all of you…Cheers

Monday, March 2, 2009


Cliff Jumping and climbing:

Rottnest Island:

(these are public links to my facebook albums *you do not need to have a fb account to access them)

Climbing, Cliff Jumping and Rottnest Island...all in one week

G’day  I figured it was once again time to write a little something about what I have been up to.  This past week was filled with adventures, good times, and even a little school work.  I have finally gotten into a routine here which has allowed me to settle in even further and get the sense that I am actually in school and not on a continuous vacation.  Classes have been actually fun, engaging and so far relatively easy; although the amount of reading is quite a bit more than I am used to in the US of A.  The only disappointment so far in terms of classes has been the Aboriginal culture class where the prof essentially uses the time to preach to us about racism and feeds us nothing but his opinions and papers he has written.  To make up for it though are my other two classes which are very interesting, well taught and stimulating subjects.  The tourism class is pretty relevant as well considering what I am doing here in the first place…traveling.

Throughout this past week I went on a few adventures.  The most notable was a trip to Rottnest Island.  This past Sunday all of us IFSA students took a trip to the Island via ferry (the rotto express), rented a bike and a set of snorkel gear and spent the day.  Rotto is a surfing, snorkeling, and cycling “destination” only 30 min away from Freo.  One of the cool aspects of Rotto is that there are no cars on the island so the only way around is by bike or walking…there are some unfortunate “tourist” buses that run every hour or so but the island is mainly for biking.  The island itself is quite small which allowed us to bike nearly around the entire island in the time we were there.  Every so often, pretty much once we couldn’t handle the heat any longer, we would seek out a stretch of reef that looked interesting and snorkel around for a few hours or so.  The reef was pretty spectacular, filled with the usual coral and exotic fish that go along with reefs.  The water was crystal clear to the point that you could see the bottom even if you were more than 100 yards from the shore.  We did encounter quite a few snakes, about three, and many many large spiders…think 2 inch bodies on the spiders.  At one point while we were sitting on a beach a 4-5 ft snake kept slithering out and moving toward our spot on the beach…given the coloration of the snake and our fellow Aussie friend Leon’s guess it was either the very poisonous western brown or the not so poisonous “other” snake haha…regardless it cause a good spike in the ole’ blood pressure.  Rotto was absolutely beautiful.  By far some of the best beach I have seen and snorkeling for the first time was really fun as well…not a bad way to spend a Sunday.

Earlier in the week, I felt the itch to find some rock climbing, especially after missing the bus to do so last week so once again, I set out with Mike in search of Blackwall Reach…a public park that is along the Swan River.  To get there we had to catch the bus into freo and then snag another bus into Bicton, a suburb just outside of Freo. This time we managed to catch the bus and after a decent walk from the bus stop (about 20min) we found our climbing area.  Blackwall is essentially a large natural park that sits on a cliff face overlooking the river.  It took us a while to figure out how to get down to the level of the water and to find a place that was suitable for my first outdoor climb in over 3 months.  We found a really nice overhand about 3 meters in height that protruded right over the water.  We were a little indecisive if the water would be deep enough of offer proper protection but after a short debate we pretty much decided that we did not travel all that way to not climb.  The style of climbing we were doing is “deep water soloing” which allows a climber to climb without the traditional protection of a rope and anchors;  the climber uses the water as protection, which is considered to be “safe” up to 50ft.  We did have a little trouble with jellyfish floating into our “fall zone,” where we would have to wait until they cleared up before proceeding.  About 5-6 climbs into it we decided that jellyfish were too many in numbers and not leaving so we packed up and left.  On our way out we ran into 3 locals who were cliff jumping close to where we were climbing…and they were jumping right into the jellyfish swarms with no apparent fear or worry about it.  We soon found out, after one of the fella put one of the jellyfish on his head, that the jellys we had been all sketched out about all day were not poisonous and did not sting…good to know now I guess haha…crazy locals.  We decided to have a go at a few more climbs after the new found knowledge.  We found another good 30ft climb or so…it was pretty easy but really fun and it was cool to climb in such a free and uncluttered way.  It’s fun to be exposed to a good size fall, with the safety of the water below…hard to describe until you do it.  Anyways…there are many good climbs of various height and difficulty that I will be exploring in the near future.

The last major adventure of the week entailed a trip back to blackwall reach with the sole intentions of cliff jumping.  I woke up Saturday, a little tired from a good Friday night, to a clear blue day and high 90 temps. I figured what a better way to spend warm day than to huck myself off of a good size cliff with a couple mates.  I gathered a crew of 2 and we set off again toward blackwall.  Because it was a Saturday, the bus that Mike and I had taken earlier in the week was only running every 3 hours, so we had to catch a different bus.  This resulted in making the 20min walk from the bus drop a 30-40 min walk…not overly fun in 90 degree heat…but well worth it.  We eventually made it to the spot and discovered that it is infact quite a popular place on a hot weekend day.  20 or so people were there cliff jumping and or watching the jumping.  There are 3 different jump locations.  The first, where we started, is roughly a 20-25 ft jump that is really easy i.e. no reef to jump over.  The water is really deep – we deducted this by the people who were diving off the cliff.  The second jump, that we did later after our confidence was up, is roughly 35-40 ft.  it’s a little hard to judge height from on top of a cliff but look at the pictures in the link and you can get the right idea about size of the jump…it was quite large.  It was fun to watch the crazy shenanigans that the other people there were doing…imagine people doing running gainers and backflips off of the smallest slippery platforms 40 ft above water.  Not much else to say about the experience other than by the time we got back all three of us were drained after a day filled with high levels of adrenaline.  It is definitely something we will all be back to do again here in the near future.

The remaining days of the week and such were filled with class, lecture, and reading early in the week along with a trip to the beach.  Needless to say it was a great week filled with many adventures and new experiences.

Well, it’s the beginning of the third week of classes here so I got 3-4 days of class work, lectures and readings until the adventures and fun start up again.  Have a good one until then.



Sunday, February 22, 2009

First week of Uni = not much Uni

G’day to all. I have officially made through the first week of lectures so I figured it was time to drop in with an update.  After a bit of shuffling around and sitting in on extra lectures I have decided to take Introduction to Australian Indigenous Studies, Introduction to Tourism, and Psychology: Drugs and Dependence.  The first week of lectures proved to me right away that the University life and style of learning is quite different from that of my last 3 years at Gustavus.  For each class or “unit” I have lectures once a week and then “tutorials” once a week.  Tutorials are almost like study sessions in a small group format of 15 or so students where as lectures are upwards of 50 students.  The grading method is also quite different here.  Essentially there are HD’s or high distinctions (our A), D for distinction (our A- through B) and P for pass (our B- through C).  The major difference here though is that grades or marks do not matter as a student who gets all HD’s gets the same exact certificate of deposit as a student who just passed everything.  Its kinda funny cause most of my profs even admit that they just went for passes and only did what was required to get P’s.  In essence this creates a laid back and noncompetitive environment in the classroom which is nice for a change.  In terms of how I am assessed for my units there are generally 1 paper for each class, a presentation in the tutorial and one final exam.  One major benefit of going to school here is that textbooks are cheap here…too bad everything else is real expensive.

weather wise perth has been experiencing a bit of a heat wave where it has been arond 37-40 degrees Celsius which is roughly the beach has been a good place to chill.  I will say though that the sun is super powerful here...sunburn is a major issue.

But enough about the boring side of my time in Australia…throughout out this past week I spent quite a bit of time exploring around and going out again (especially cause I only have class 4 days a week).  The lifestyle in Perth and Freo revolves around the beaches.  There are many amazing beaches all within reach.  My favorite so far has to be Cottesloe beach, which is a simply amazing stretch of white sand, rolling waves, water so clear you can see the bottom at 20 feet deep, and home to some beautiful Aussie ladies.  Just the other day a couple of us traveled to Scarboro beach which was about an hour or so of travel to get to….see the photos online.  Scarboro had some nice waves and I am hoping to be able to get some more surfing in here in the near future.

I have also been busy further exploring Perth and Fremantle.  On Friday night I went into the city to hit a pub and club with one of my Aussie mates and one of the Americans I have been traveling with.  Perth is a great city with a good night life…it can be a little sketchy depending on what part of Perth you find yourself in…but we had a good time.  The highlight of that night was definitely eating a kebab while waiting for the bus.  An Australian kebab is a delectable treat that is somewhere between a gyro and burrito.

After spending another week exploring Freo I have really come to love the small yet busy town.  It is now home to my favorite pub little creatures…which has one of the best pale ales I have ever had…it gives the 471 Breckenridge IIPA a run for its money.  Creatures over looks the ocean and is a great place to watch the sun set, grab some food, and obviously grab a brew.  I have also come to love the Sail and Anchor, which is a pub with a great cover band that plays on Saturday nights.

Another adventure during the week led me to Newport…a club in Freo.  I was amazed at the kind of shenanigans that was going on for a Wednesday night but to put is shortly Aussies know how to have a good time every night of the week.  This club was filled with 100’s of students…including 100’s of attractive Aussie females…where everyone was dancing and drinking the night away.  A good time was had…I met some new people and I ended the night with another delicious kebab…only to have to get up for lecture at 8am the next morning.

I think the coolest experience in Fremantle for me so far had to have been when I went and explored the market that is open only friday saturday and sunday.  It is an open air but closed market where locals come and sell anything and everything.  when I walked through the gates it was as if I had stepped into a different world...or culture at the very least.  I was there towards the end of the hours today so I was able to pick up some fruits and dried mango for really cheap.  It was a great place to just walk around and look at all the different things getting sold and bartered for...and a great place to people watch.

One of the best adventures of my travels so far happened today…one of the guys I am traveling with rockclimbs and like myself he brought some of his gear down.  So this morning we got up and mapped out a place where we had found some climbing.  The journey to the climb would have entailed catching 2 busses and about an hours worth of travel.  We caught the first bus into freo and saw that our next bus was pulling away from the station…leaving 5 min early…and the next bus wasn’t to come for 3 hours…so essentially our day of climbing was done before it even started.  Rather pissed off we walked back toward freo where we passed a didgeridoo shop called didgeridoo breath…it was a shop I had seen earlier and wanted to stop in to take a look…so that’s what we did.  Turned out the two guys working the place talked us into trying to play the didge…long story short we ended up jamming out on the didgeridoo for over 2 hours with these guys who were giving us “lessons” on how to play.  I almost bought a didge on the spot…and I will definitely buy one in the near future.  Learning to play the didge was on my list of things to do here and I am really stoked that it happened so early in my travels.  everything happens for a reason I guess...climbing will have to happen later but for now I would have to say that missing the bus today led to one epic day.

Well I think that is enough rambling for a night…just thought I would share a little about the past week.  As for this week coming up I have a couple days of lecture and reading ahead of me…along with a couple days at the beach…maybe a trip back to the didge shop as well.