Thursday, March 25, 2010

End of the Road

For five years, has been keeping you updated on life Down Under. But that all comes to an end today, as we fly back to the U.S. to start life's next adventure - Tennessee. . .

Sunday, March 07, 2010

NZ's South Island

With our days in the Southern Hemisphere numbered and the clock ticking, in mid-February, we opted to make a last dash to New Zealand while we're still in the neighbourhood. And thus with little planning or preparation, we jumped on a plane to Christchurch to begin a 9-day lightening tour of NZ's South Island.
We arrived in Christchurch late at night and crashed in a hotel by the airport for the night. We awoke early the next morning to take possession of our luxury 4-berth motorhome from Britz, which served as our accommodation and transportation for the majority of the trip. On the positive side, the motorhome had many of the luxuries of home. On the negative size, they didn't tell us that road conditions in NZ are such that just about the last thing you want to drive is a big, bulky, slow-moving motorhome with limited visibility. In any case, we departed immediately from Christchurch, delaying only a couple of hours to stock up on provisions and obtain a travel cot for little Malia (incidentally, Phil and Teds make a wicked one).
Our first stopover upon departing Christchurch was Lake Tekapo, where we stayed overnight at the Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park. We spent the next morning hiking up to the top of Mount John, which provided great views of the lake and surrounding landscape. Then it was time to climb back into the motorhome to move on to the next destination: Mount Cook.
Getting to Mount Cook forces one to drive past the impressive Lake Pukaki. We spent the night on the lake's shore at Glentanner Park, which provided nice views of Mount Cook in the distance. It was also in Glantanner that we came to the conclusion that every other tourist travelling around NZ was from overseas. Up to this point, we'd seen huge numbers of European and Japanese tourists (particularly backpackers) and very few Kiwis or even Aussies. The next day, we awoke and headed toward Mount Cook village and tackled the 3-hour hike along the Hooker Valley Track that takes adventures up to the terminal face of the Hooker Glacier. There were a few other shorter tracks that looked appealing as well, but after 3 hours under the NZ sun with a baby on our backs, we opted to move on.
From Mount Cook, we turned south for the drive down to Wanaka, on the banks of Lake Wanaka (although we did stop for lunch, provisions and diesel in Twizel). While we were anxious about finding sufficient space in the caravan park, our fears were unfounded as we had our pick of sites at Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park. We spent the next morning walking around Wanaka, checking email at the internet cafe, and venturing out to Eely Point. We debated about whether to remain in Wanaka another night, but ultimately decided to push on past Lake Hawea and through Haast Pass, the gateway to the West Coast and the start of what would be several days of rather precarious driving. An island dominated by mountains offers few opportunities for making straight and level roads. This is not aided by the ubiquitous presence of bridges comprised of just one lane, forcing drivers to take turns in crossing waterways (an experience that can be fraught with danger, particularly when one is facing off against backpackers that haven't bothered to pay attention to the right-of-way signs).After spending the night in Haast Village (where we also had our introduction to the dreaded NZ sandfly), we headed north up the West Coast, stopping to check out the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. Each glacier visit involved a 30-45 minute trek up the valleys to the terminal face of the glaciers, although as argued in Lonely Planet, Franz Josef is definitely the more impressive of the two (but also the more dangerous). After the glaciers we pushed on up the coast, passing through Greymouth (which doesn't come highly recommended) to settle for the night at Punakaiki Beach Camp, where we scored the last available site.
The following morning, we checked out the popular tourist attraction in Punakaiki - the miraculous geologic phenomenon known as the "pancake rocks". Then it was back in the motorhome for the drive on to Nelson. We briefly entertained the idea of stopping off at the Buller Gorge swingbridge, but we quickly realised this was a cheap tourist trap and moved on. We arrived at our luxury accommodation in Nelson - the home of Mahren and Craig, which provided spectacular views. Having a home without wheels allowed us to unwind a bit, do some laundry and eat in style. We also used Nelson as a base for venturing out for a hike in Abel Tasman National Park and the neighbouring towns of Kaiteriteri and Motueka, before coming back to roost in Nelson for another night.
After two nights in a proper bed, it was back into the motorhome for the last dash to Christchurch, with a planned overnight stop in Kaikoura. The drive from Nelson to Kaikoura was a bit tedious (particularly after over a week on the road). Nevertheless, we passed through what looked like promising wine country, and Kaikoura proved to be a funky little
up-and-coming town, where we would have liked to have spent more time (travellers note: the 132 km road from Blenheim to Kaikoura is largely devoid of any living creature or retail opportunites). The numerous seal colonies around Kaikoura are a popular attraction and apparently it's a good jumping off point for whale watching as well. We particularly enjoyed the Alpine Pacific Caravan Park - despite (or because of) it's small size, we found it to be the best equipped park we encountered on our trip.
From Kaikoura, it was an easy drive back into Christchurch where we unloaded the motorhome and handed her back over to her owners. In total, we covered over 1,700 kilometres despite neglecting a number of popular locations such as Dunedin, Queenstown, and Milford Sound. That just demonstrates how much good stuff the South Island offers. As such, we're keen to hit those spots we missed in a future trip and tackle one of the multiple multi-day tracks that exist on the island.

Under the Weather

Another day, another extreme weather event in Melbourne. This Labour Day weekend was characterised by two days of severe thunderstorms that brought flooding and hail to Melbourne, much like the event back in mid-February. Saturday's storms shut-down Southern Cross Station when hail stones tore holes in the roof causing water to pour in. Meanwhile, the races at Flemington were called off almost as soon as they got underway. Sunday afternoon saw a repetition of Saturday's weather, with tornadoes reported in central Victoria, and heavy rains in Melbourne from dusk til dawn.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Howard Ascends to the ICC

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has been nominated as the next vice-president, and eventual president, of the International Cricket Council. This is undoubtedly a feather in the cap for Howard who is well-known as having nothing less than an obsession with the sport. However, one wonders whether this is an step up or a step down from his last job in Canberra.

Tunick in Sydney

Over 5,000 people bore all on Monday as part of a Spencer Tunick photo shoot commissioned by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Birthday to Uta

Friday marked the anniversary of the Uta's birth, leading to a weekend of celebration. We started off Friday morning with breakfast at the Abbotsford Convent - Malia wanted to get dressed up for the event. In the evening, Malia was dropped off with the volunteer babysitters and Uta and I headed to Chadstone for a bite to eat and a bit of cinema. The birthday weekend was wrapped up on Sunday night with dinner at Tony and Lia's

Thursday, February 11, 2010

For Those about to Rock. . .

Over the next three days, AC/DC will be playing two shows in Melbourne. I, sadly, will not be attending either show and thus will miss out on what can only be described as a cultural experience of epic proportions.

The Annual Downpour

Each year, Melbourne gets hit with at least one truly memorable storm (e.g., this event in 2007). This year, that storm fell on February 10th, and, just as with previous storms, Melbourne quickly began to resemble a scene out of Waterworld (which, by the way, is one of my top picks for 'worst movie ever').