IMG_20150308_152335_thumb.jpg

A short drive around the South Island

This is a combination blog. As such we will need to colour code. Vicki will be purple. Rich will be this red colour. Good luck keeping track…I will add switch over clues to help.

[Vicki] Actually, it turns out, it won’t be such a short drive. Whilst planning our trip, we didn’t really appreciate the distances involved, and so we will end up with some fairly big driving days – never mind, I’ve heard the scenery is quite impressive!

Thursday 5th March – Queenstown to Franz Josef

Whilst sitting watching the sunset the previous evening, it had occurred to us that due to the time difference,when we were picking up the car in the morning, many of 26.2 rrc would be getting ready to run the monthly handicap race. Given that we had wanted to fit in a run, it seemed quite fitting to do it at the same time. I have to say that running along the edge of lake Wakatipu as the sun came up was infinitely more enjoyable than 2 laps around Berrylands. However, at the end of the run we found ourselves running alongside a state highway (an NZ equivalent of a motor way – still only 2 lanes wide) and then through industrial estates. We really felt that we had then got to see bits of Queenstown that most tourists don’t. 

Car and bags collected we headed out of Queenstown towards our end point for the day – the Franz Josef Glacier.

[Rich] The first leg of the drive was to Lake Wanaka. As we left Queenstown we soon found ourselves on a very steep and windy road. This didn’t fill Vicki with confidence for the several days of driving ahead as she isn’t a fan of roads like this, especially not the way that I drive them. There was nothing to worry about though as this only lasted for a few miles and was by far the worst section of the drive. From then on it was highway passing between lakes and through forests. The only thing we needed to worry about was getting stuck behind campervans. You don’t want a Wicked or Jucy van spoiling your view.

After a lunch stop (pies and sandwiches from Wanaka eaten by the lake), Vicki took a turn at driving. She took us through Mount Aspiring National Park. I am currently getting her to work on her scenic driving as on several occasions she failed to stop at lookouts or passed by car parks to interesting features. Often we would end up a few hundred metres past them as she hadn’t noticed them straight away (Vicki – or Rich hadn’t decided if he wanted to stop until we had passed them!). Fortunately we got back to all the key ones, a particular highlight were the Blue Pools. Although the sand-fly were biting it was still worth the walk down to see them.

IMG_8590IMG_8591

As we left the national park it started to rain and I took over driving. We did a fairly long run up to the Glacier region with no stops, partly because it was raining but also as there didn’t seem to be anything worth stopping for. The drive was still scenic but partially obscured by the rain.

We made it to Fox Glacier as the rain was beginning to die off. Seeing a road advertising a glacier view we followed it. Unfortunately all we could see was cloud so really not worth the detour. Returning to the Fox Glacier village we considered our options. We could go straight to Franz Josef but we really wanted to see a glacier since we had come this far. As the weather was steadily improving we decided to give Fox another chance and headed to the car park to walk to the base. We figured we would at least see what the visibility was like and try and get a glimpse of the glacier. We were very glad we did as it stopped raining entirely and cleared just in time for us. A walk up the hill gave us great views of the glacier now the cloud had dissipated.

IMG_8677IMG_8679

In recent years our views of glaciers have been while skiing over them. Seeing the glacier in summer was a very different experience as you can see how it is melting away and the valley that it is carving through. There were options to take trips onto the glacier however we were happy having been able to see this one so passed on the expensive glacier walking options available.

[Vicki] Having legged it down from the glacier, we made it to our accommodation just in time to squeeze in a dip at the Hot Springs in Franz Josef – there are 3 pools, at 36c, 38c and 40c and at twilight, we almost had them to ourselves. I found the 36 and 38c both very comfortable,but the 40c a little too warm, but Rich was happy to float around the 36c and after an initial dip avoided the other 2. It was very strange to be sitting in basically a large jacuzzi without bubbles, but it was a lovely end to the day.

Friday 6th March – Franz Josef to Christchurch

When we arrived at our accommodation the night before, the man at reception had mentioned (quite cheerily) that he was expecting ‘rain like you have never seen’ over the next couple of days. Given our experience in Brisbane we didn’t think this would be true however the thought didn’t exactly fill us with joy. When we woke up to heavy rain, we decided to hightail it over to the other side of the island. Apparently if it is raining on the west, it is unlikely to be raining on the east, and so that guided our decision to drive to Christchurch. Well, that and the fact that they have a parkrun.

Destination decided, we set off, and made our first stop of the day in a little seaside town called Hokitika. It was still raining, and so we decided that the only thing to do was to go inside somewhere – the choice here was the Sock Museum, or the National Kiwi Centre. The Kiwi centre didn’t just offer Kiwis (in fact, there were only 2), there were also captive Eels, some up to 100 years old. Luckily, we had arrived just at feeding time and so got to watch a mass of Eels being fed. For someone who is snake averse, when the offer to feed the Eels was made, Rich was straight in there (however, he did decline the offer to stroke one). Apparently they are an endangered species, but as they are not cute and cuddly like to Kiwi there is less support for their protection. I thought they weren’t as ugly close us, and surprisingly gentle when taking the food from you, but I can see why people would choose a Kiwi over an Eel to protect.

IMG_8698

The Kiwis were definitely shyer than the Eels – the fact that they are nocturnal doesn’t help with the viewing but combined with their aversion to noise and people, meant that they were mostly content to hide at the back of their enclosure. The female did dart out for some food, and I have to say, they are very cute – little balls of fluff (apparently their feathers are more like fur) that trot about, with a huge pointy beak.

The final attraction at the National Kiwi Centre was Crayfish (nope, we had no idea why either). In particular, you could fish for your own crayfish, as long as you put them back afterwards (rather than taking them for your lunch). The staff had left some meat on table, and in a similar way to crabbing, you had to dangle it in the water and wait for a bite. However, these were smart Crayfish. As soon as they felt you tugging on the piece of meat they had started to nibble, they would let go. We assume that they had learnt that moving meat means a trip in a net and a bucket, and wanted to avoid this. However, we did eventually catch one, much to the excitement of the German family that was also trying. Mission accomplished, we left them to take photos and throw our little friend back.

All the fishing and seafood had made us hungry, and as the thing to eat in the area is Whitebait patties, we opted to pick up some lunch and have a picnic on the beach (well, in the car, as it was pretty chilly and still threatening to rain). I have to say Rich’s Whitebait Pattie Sandwich did not look appealing, but I am assured it tasted good.

IMG_8707

[Rich] As we drove on from Hokita it was raining off and on. This was not ideal as we were about to drive along the scenic road through Arthurs Pass. There isn’t much point doing a scenic drive if you can’t see it due to clouds and rain. Fortunately the weather gods smiled on us again and as we arrived at the pass the weather cleared. As we admired the rainforest along the road we even found a friendly Kea (the alpine parrot) and were pleased to check this off our list of sights to see.

IMG_8730

Further along the pass the landscape and weather changed dramatically. Passing through the high mountains trapped the rain that had been following us. This is a regular occurrence as we went from rain forest to much drier grassy plains along a river that was far from full flow. The contrast between the scenery at the two ends of the pass was huge and the change happens extremely quickly. We weren’t complaining though as it meant we had left the rain behind us.

IMG_8770

Completing our drive we arrived in Christchurch. When we got there we wondered where everyone was. It had been a struggle to find a hotel (we ended up in a central hotel where we would rather have been in a Motel) but when we got into the city it was not the large number of visitors that made finding rooms hard, it was the lack of hotels. Since the earthquakes in 2010/2011 the city has been devastated. There are many free car parks in the centre which are empty lots that were former buildings. Shops have been destroyed and replaced with container crates forming makeshift bars, restaurants and shopping malls. Wandering around a city centre on a Friday night you would expect to see many people however there were not. It was almost desserted. The earthquakes really did take their toll which you can only really appreciate when you see it.

IMG_8833

We did manage to find food in a pop up market (since there are few restaurants left) and then life in a container bar and on one of the few remaining retail streets. While you can see the damage easily, you have to search a little harder to find the revival that is underway. Once you find it though you can see the spirit of the locals has not been broken and we look forwards to seeing how the city will be reborn in the future.

Saturday 7th March – Christchurch to Nelson

[Vicki] Being Saturday, it was of course, parkrunday. This time a lovely figure of eight loop around the central park in Christchurch. We did very well posting our best times since last October. Clearly being on holiday is not taking too much of a toll. The run was followed by coffee and a chat with some of the runners, including a lovely chap called Dan, who had knocked over 10 minutes off his time in 11 appearances.

We left Christchurch quite content, and ready for another day behind the wheel. It was always going to be a long day of driving, but with bad weather pretty much all the way from Christchurch to Nelson (around 400km) we were pretty tired when we arrived into Nelson, a pretty little town at the centre of the craft beer and wine making areas of New Zealand (and incidentally, the place where the Lord of the Rings ‘One Ring’ was made).

As a treat for driving through all the bad weather, we headed out for a nice dinner. Hopgoods provided us with lovely food (more fab steak) and a lovely bottle of wine, which went down very nicely and meant that we were more than ready to hit the hay when we got back to our motel.

Sunday 8th March – Abel Tasman National Park

[Rich] No serious driving today as we have reached the top of the South Island. Instead we did a short drive to Kaiteriteri beach on the edge of the Abel Tasman national park. Here there were many different options for what to do, sea kayaking, boat trips into the national park or just relaxing on the beach. We decided to go for a trip into the park by boat. It would have been good to kayak in however having arrived late in the day after a leisurely start we didn’t have enough time for this, and having kayak’ed a few days ago, we didn’t feel we were missing out too much.

We cruised in to the park instead aboard the Sea Shuttle, seeing a few fur seals on the way. Along the coast of the park are sandy beaches in coves along a more rugged yet extremely green coast line. The water in the coves was spectacularly blue and very inviting. It turned out when we went in later that is was very refreshing (read cold) but a welcome dip on a warm sunny day. While in the park we took time out to take a walk into the woods and see some viewpoints. At a secluded bay I found some rocks to clamber onto and promptly fell off. With a wet foot and scratches on my leg Vicki was disappointed that she couldn’t say I told you so as for once she had not warned me off these rocks.

IMG_20150308_152335

Rich on the rocks, soon to be in the water.

From Abel Tasman to Nelson is a cycle/tasting trail. The idea is you ride along and sample the local delights over several days. Not having bikes didn’t stop us and one the way home we stopped for a brewery tasting and fresh cherry ice cream. After an afternoon toasting in the sun, both were very welcome.

Our evening back in Nelson started with a run to the centre of New Zealand. This is a monument and lookout at the geographical centre of NZ. We didn’t consider that it being a lookout would mean it would be up hill. We soon found it was a serious hill too as we struggled up for over 1km of paths to the top. We recovered back in our suite hotel with our first proper home cooked meal of the trip (seafood pasta) which was a welcome change from eating out and allowed me to get stuck into my session IPA that I got from the brewery.

Leaving New Zealand

It is 09:30 on 15th March (Happy Birthday Vicki’s Dad!) and we are preparing ourselves to leave New Zealand. We have updated our blog with the posts we have been writing here in NZ but didn’t have the time or the wifi to upload. You should see these appear automatically each day at 09:00 GMT.

As soon as we get the motivation we will be packing and heading for the airport. Our next stop is brief in Tahiti before moving on to Easter Island. Quite an exciting step in the trip as we move from the familiar of Australia/New Zealand to something very different on out Polynesian island leg of the trip.

Enjoy the New Zealand posts and we look forwards to telling you about our Island Adventures soon.

IMG_8337_thumb.jpg

Sounds like Milford

Tuesday 3rd March – Milford Sound

Milford Sound is the highlight of the South Island of New Zealand for many people. For me (Rich) I couldn’t say it was just the sound that was spectacular. The combination of Queenstown, the scenic drive down to Te Anau and then along the Milford Highway before completing your journey at the Milford Sound really do make this one of the most spectacular trips you could take.

Based on recommendations from a number of people we opted for an overnight cruise on Milford Sound. This meant a bus ride down one day, overnight cruise then a return bus ride the next. For those that like to see the disasters strike our otherwise perfect (ha!) trips our bus broke down before we even made it to the Milford highway. This was quite a setback as we had been travelling in a fine scenic bus with seats pointing outwards and viewing windows in the roof. Sadly the replacement minibus wasn’t quite the same standard and did mean we couldn’t quite appreciate the drive in the same way. Real Journeys, our tour operator did make good in the end though by refunding the cost of the bus. Having enjoyed our TSS Earshaw dinner cruise and the Milford Sound overnight, even with set backs of rattily old buses we find it hard to fault them.

Despite our less than salubrious transport down to Milford Sound, the scenery is just outstanding – towering cliffs, fabulous valleys and atmospheric clouds combine to make a scene that is distinctly other-worldly. Due to our unscheduled bus related stop, we did have to speed through some of the stopping points, but we did get a chance to do a couple of short walks to check out the scenery up close.

IMG_8148

(Vicki has taken over writing…)

Once at Milford, we hopped aboard our home for the night – the Milford Wanderer. This was a 36-person boat, and provided us with a very cosy cabin that would have been all to easy to get settled in. However, there were activities on offer and Rich was (surprise surprise) keen to get involved. He had already become acquainted with the sound when he stepped out to take a photo shortly after leaving the harbour and got drenched head to foot by spray.

IMG_8174

Carrying on the watery theme we opted for Kayaks in order to get a closer view of the cliffs, and spent a very enjoyable hour of so paddling about. Richard was then keen to see exactly how cold swimming in the fjord was, and so we both went in for a very quick swim. Refreshing would be one word for it. After a surprisingly good dinner and lots more photo taking we retired to our cabin, surprised at how tiring it was sitting on a bus for most of the day.

GOPR0822GOPR0832

Wednesday 4th March – Back again

After an early breakfast, our boat went on a scenic drive out to the Tasman sea, and then back along the sound, which gave more opportunities to admire the stunning scenery, and even the opportunity to see fur seals basking on rocks along the coast line. It was a shame to get off the boat when we got back to Milford, especially given that our bus had not been repaired and we had to take the dodgy little mini bus all the way back to Queenstown. On the way back we did have time for a few walking stops, which broke up the 6 hours or so journey. However, I think we were all glad to be able to finally unfold ourselves from the minibus back in Queenstown.

IMG_8337IMG_8411

The rest of the afternoon involved a walk up the hill in Queenstown. Now, most people would just get the gondola up to the top to admire the view, but not us, we decided it would be fun to walk it. About 10 minutes in, whilst almost on hands and knees scaling a particularly tough bit, we (well, me at least) were ruing our decision to walk. However, the views at the top were worth it, and as the mountain/hill is shared with Mountain Bikers (on separate paths) we got to see some hair raising bike rides whilst climbing.

At the top of the hill is also a ‘luge’ run where you get to race mini karts around a track whilst looking at the view. There are 2 tracks and we decided to have a go at each – kamikaze Rich won both, although in my defence I would like to add that I at least kept all of the wheels of my kart on the ground during the run.

(Back to Rich…)

One thing that we missed so far on our trip were Kea. These are a parrot that are meant to be incredibly mischievous. We had heard stories of them stealing food and pulling the rubber seals from cars. They are also the only alpine parrot for those more interested in the ornithological perspective, and look like a cross between a parrot and a bird of prey. In any case we did not see any. To make up for this I was drinking a fine IPA called Mischievous Kea this evening. It went down very well. That combined with the sunset over the lake and a delicious rump steak in the Atlas Beer Cafe made a memorable evening in Queenstown (even if we did have to alternate dashing away to complete various stages of laundry). We have enjoyed our time here and can see why the town appeals to many tourists. There really is something for everyone here. Tomorrow we pick up our hire car to move on and are looking forwards to more adventures.

IMG_7988_thumb.jpg

New Country…New Zealand

We hopped across the Tasman Sea (I think, or was it the Southern Ocean, surely not the Pacific yet, as you can tell my Southern hemisphere geography is not great) and we are now in the stunning scenery of New Zealand. People associate the tropical islands with paradise but I would much rather take rugged landscapes like this any day. Just landing at Queenstown airport was like a ‘best of’ the Lake District and  Scotland. You are immediately faced with the mountains (The Remarkables) surrounding the lakes around Queenstown. New Zealand was always going to be a highlight of the trip for me (hi, Rich here in case you were in doubt) as it is a place that has been on my bucket list for some time. The first impression was breathtaking and a good omen for things to come.

Sunday 1st March – Queenstown

We are staying in the Central YHA and it really is central. We are right were you want to be, close to bars, restaurants, shops and the wharf area in this very touristy but still charming town. To be honest you are never far from anything in Queenstown. Vicki was expecting a big city but clearly hadn’t read the guidebooks (Vicki – I never said big…I said bigger. Seriously, Queentown makes Surbiton look like a metropolis). New Zealand doesn’t seem to do big in terms of populations except for sheep (they outnumber the people 10:1). As the adventure capital of NZ probably, you can see there are many tourists and a lot of activities to keep them entertained (Vicki – and part them with their cash). I heard somewhere that the place is 40% tourists/visitors. That is a fair chunk but wandering around it seems to be short, all the “locals” seem to be foreigners backpacking and choosing to stay for a year or so.

Our first afternoon (arriving in town at 2pm) consisted of a delicious pie for lunch from Fergbakery then a wander. We thought we might have time to go up the hill but after confirming our coming trips (the first of which was the same day at 6pm) we decided it would be too much of a rush. Instead we settled on mini-golf. As it was a fine afternoon we went outdoor and Rich was victorious by a clear margin (10 shots).

Our evening trip was a ride of the TSS Earnslaw. This is a Twin Screw Steamer (hence TSS) that goes several times a day across the lake to a farm. We opted for their gourmet BBQ dinner cruise. The weather was ideal giving us great views out and a beautiful skies after sunset. We had an excellent meal, the BBQ meat and seafood were delicious and we would have happily eaten for hours. Our only gripe was that with such a large number of people disembarking at once we had quite a wait for food where we could have wandered outside while we waited instead of twiddling our thumbs at the table. In any case we had wine to occupy us. At the end of the meal we found ourselves outside with leftover wine enjoying a sheep dog / sheep shearing display. This was a new way to experience after dinner drinks and an impressive display. No doubt these won’t be the last sheep we see this trip.

IMG_7988IMG_8097

We were probably the youngest guests on the  boat if you exclude the children who wouldn’t have been given the choice to go. Clearly a dinner cruise isn’t the backpacker trip of choice. We couldn’t turn it down though as we had a discount after booking another trip. In the end we were very glad we didn’t. The boat ride was incredibly scenic and it was fun to be on the old steamer (we did feel sorry for the coal stoker), dinner was first class, and last but not least, the sing along on the way home was great fun. The reason I mentioned the ages is that the sing along wasn’t exactly the current top 40 but more 1940s. It seemed we had the WI singers with us for some songs as a core of ladies took the lead but most of the tour groups with us did seemed to know some of the songs. The one year age difference I have on Vicki is clearly important as I knew a lot more songs and was happy to get stuck in. Perhaps it was just I had a bit more wine as I still don’t believe that she didn’t know the words/tune to Waltzing Matilda. She did however do a fine rendition of Amazing Grace, a leftover from hymns at cathedral school I guess. In any case we happily disembarked singing “It’s a small world” to ourselves.

Monday 2nd March –  White-water Rafting on Shotover River

This morning we had very different boat to yesterday. Vicki has been dreading this as I was dragging her out White-water Rafting on the Shotover River. Having done white-water kayaking before this was something I was looking forwards to. In the end Vicki had nothing to worry about, the bus ride out along ledges bordering sheer drops was more frightening that the rafting. Don’t get me wrong, the rafting was very exciting but thanks to a fine guide (Swiss) we felt safe and controlled throughout. We cruised through some great scenery and felt the thrill of descending the rapids. The worst off we came was getting stuck on a rock in a calm section. Basically we beached ourselves which was more embarrassing than scary. We did get wet still with a few voluntary swims and a lot of splashing. The rafting was well worth doing and Vicki even enjoyed it when she realised it wouldn’t be as scary as she first expected. We will have to try something more extreme in the future, maybe a bungee jump or sky diving!

Our afternoon was spent chilling out in the hotel room with a round of golf to break it up. As it had started to rain we headed for the indoor golf. We both agreed that this was the best mini golf we have ever done. Really some pictures are the best way to show what it was like…

IMG_20150302_161058IMG_20150302_161105IMG_20150302_162322IMG_20150302_165140

Not that anyone is counting but Vicki came out victorious this time with a 2 shot lead. I thought I had her until a disastrous route choice on the second to last hole meant I dropped 3 shots. Poor form from me but at least we both got a free lollypop at the end.

The rain didn’t deter us from going out for an early evening run. It seemed that we stopped the rain as the last few drops fell as we set out and we were left running on a clear crisp evening. Views of the lake were stunning as we ran round the Queenstown gardens and along the lakeside.

Our evening continued with a call to our optometrists (thanks M&D) and a visit to the pharmacy to get Vicki’s gammy eye sorted. A few local craft beers numbed the pain (of listening to Vicki complain Smile with tongue out) before a late pie for dinner. The reason for the late pie for tea is that we had a huge burger for lunch. Queenstown’s most famous burger joint is Fergburger. You have to queue and wait a while for your burger at nearly all times of the day but the result is delicious. The burgers are huge, juicy and accompanied by mouth-watering fillings. They are well worth the wait and you can see why they have such a good reputation. Next door to Fergburger is Fergbakery where we had our pies yesterday. Having had a pie for breakfast, burger for lunch and then another pie for dinner I must be one of their best customers. It is safe to say the pies are just as good as the burgers.

IMG_20150228_191455_thumb.jpg

Heading for heights

Friday 27th February – Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb and Blue Mountains

The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb was one of our key activities while in Sydney. We had been considering different times we could do it, with day/twilight/night options being available, but in the end based on the time needed to complete the climb and not wanting to risk a flight delay (they seem to be common for us) meaning a missed climb we opted to do this on our final day. Part of this was based on a good weather forecast. We were pleased that when we woke up we could see blue sky in patches of the sky amongst clouds. Our luck seemed to be headed back to its cyclone attracting ways though as when we left our hotel the rain was pouring down. By the time we arrived at Bridge Climb HQ we were once again soaked so much so that we were handed towels as we arrived. We wondered whether our climb would go ahead but apparently they climb come rain or shine so we were headed up onto the bridge.

Getting ready for the climb is quite an effort, you need to remove all lose items and put on a special jumpsuit that everything you take on the climb can be attached to. The reason for this is that you are climbing over an 8 lane highway so dropping anything would not be a good plan. One thing they gave us as we prepared was a set of waterproof pants (Vicki – trousers, not the underneath kind) and rain jacket. Shame we didn’t have these on our walk to the climb.

When we were pretty much set to go we were introduced to our climb guide. We were surprised to see this was our cheerful French guide from the Opera House tour. Apparently she does both types of tour and by co-incidence we have had her twice.We were quite happy with this as she is very knowledgeable and quite amusing although it is often laughing at her daft sayings and how she says them rather than her jokes.

The climb starts under the bridge roadway, passes to the upper level on a series of ladders and then crosses the main arch of the bridge. We walked halfway (to the top of the arch), across the arch, and then returned back down the same way but on the opposite arch of the bridge. As the worlds largest single arch bridge this is quite a climb. You are clipped on to a safety rail attached to a belt harness at all times. This means you feel quite safe all the time. Vicki wasn’t keen on the ladders or when crossing flooring you could see through however we had no issues at all on top of the bridge. I think this is partly due to the view you experience which is nothing short of spectacular.

Although we had seen the bridge, Opera House and harbour from a number of angles already, seeing it from the top of the bridge was by far the best view. Looking down across the many coves of the vast harbour you really appreciate how big and sprawling Sydney is. As far as you could see there were different parts of the city yet it is mixed seamlessly with green parks, forests and the cliffs and coves. We could have spent a lot longer admiring the view and while we had a lot of time in between photo stops we would happily have stood up there all day. You may ask why we would want to do this in the pouring rain? Well, what happened in the end was that it turning into a bright sunny day while we were getting ready. The contrast between the weather when we went in to the bridge climb centre and when we actually started the climb was huge. We couldn’t have had better weather for the climb in the end. This was a real treat before leaving Sydney and well worth doing.

Blue mountains

Picking up a hire car we headed out of Sydney towards the Blue Mountains. Unsure exactly where to visit our first stop was the information hut at Glenbrook. Here a very helpful man recommended his favourite lookouts along our route. Our key sights would be Wentworth Falls, Katoomba and Blackheath.

Our first stop at Wentworth falls had been described by the info man as being 50m from car park to falls. This wasn’t quite right as it was actually 50m to a viewpoint where you could just about see the falls round a corner and in the distance. This wasn’t good enough for us so we selected a trail and headed down to see more. The blue mountain lookouts are typically at the top of cliffs overlooking the rolling canopy of the forest below that fill the valleys. The contrast between the sandstone and mountain cliffs and verdant (Vicki’s word) green forest is quite remarkable and something we have not seen anything like before. Our trails led us down the cliffs to the middle of the falls. We could see water cascading down to us before a vertical plummet to the valley below. We then followed an undercliff walkway where you walk beneath an overhang along the side of the valley before returning to the top.

IMG_7814IMG_7815IMG_7875

Our next stop was the Three Sisters, the jewel in the crown of the Blue Mountain sights. These are three big peaks set away from the other rocks. This viewpoint has many more commercial opportunitues, and a lot more tourists were milling around, despite the fact it was now getting close to 6pm. However the views were stunning.

IMG_7858

Keen to escape the hoards, we took a walk down the ‘Giant Staircase’ to a little bridge at the base of the Three Sisters. These steps are very steep and I’m not sure whether it was worse going down or coming back up!

Viewpoints viewed we headed for our accommodation in the town of Katoomba. The owner seemed surprised when we expressed a desire to take a dip in the outdoor pool. However, on learning that we were English, all she said was ‘well that explains it’. Dinner was at a deserted (but very tasty) Thai restaurant in the very picturesque town of Leura just down the road. Despite there being lots of tourist accommodation in the area, it all seemed very quiet, and we wondered whether the hoards of tourists turn up for the views during the day and then are back in Sydney in time for dinner? This seemed a shame as there is a lot to see, and it was nice to be able to do a few of the walks without worrying too much about the time.

Saturday 28th February

Our primary reason for visiting the Blue Mountains over the weekend was so that we could tick off another parkrun. We opted for Lawson which is a new one at only 8 weeks old. Arriving 30 minutes early we weren’t sure we were in the right place as nobody else was around. It turned out that we were but fortunately we were only off by 500m so as everyone else arrived we were able to follow them to the start. As a new parkrun they weren’t used to tourists here. Nobody even registered what Vicki’s 100 shirt meant.

The course is a challenging one – all on really rocky terrain and generally always going up or down, including one monster hill in the middle. I’m sure it was a really pretty course, but I (Vicki) seemed to spend the majority of the time looking at my feet to avoid face planting, and so didn’t really get a chance to look!

Whilst it was nice to chat to the ED afterwards, we found it less sociable than others we have done, in the sense that there was no coffee / breakfast afterwards, and very little hanging about before everyone headed home. This time however, that was probably better for us in that it gave us chance to get back to Katoomba and shower before another day of view spotting.

IMG_20150228_085842

Today’s first activity was ‘Scenic World’ which is basically many ways of seeing the same bit of forest in exchange for varying amounts of money. We weren’t sure about the idea but had been told there was a nice walk near there, and the world’s steepest funicular railway, and so we decided to give it a go. We arrived about 10am luckily just before a few big tourist groups and discovered that it was possible to just pay for the parts of the attraction that you wanted rather than having to buy an all inclusive ticket, which made us happy as we only actually wanted to use their railway one way to avoid climbing back up a big hill!

We went for a walk, and again came across some spectacular views. At the end of our walk we were for the first time close to the bottom of the valley, whereas previously we had always been high up in the canopy. We also discovered that ‘The Boardwalk’ – a nice wooden walkway around the forest made by the people of Scenic World is free to enter, and so we spent a few minutes looking around this, and learning the mining history of the area. Rich misread the sign and was disappointed to find there was no hat making available. Turns out it said “miners hut” not “milners hut”.

All the time we were on the boardwalk, we could shouts and screams of tourists. It turns out that these were from the funicular. As mentioned before, this is the steepest railway in the world, at 52 degrees, and travels at 14km an hour. In the carriage there are three seat positions to improve your experience ranging from ‘laid back’ to ‘cliffhanger’. No need to guess which Rich chose. I will admit that I whimpered slightly going up the hill (as you are facing down the cliff) but it was still a much better proposition than climbing up the hill!

After a quick bite to eat (which we shared with a lizard) and a walk to another set of falls, it was time to head back into the hustle and bustle of Sydney.

We had booked to stay in a hotel near the airport as our flight was early the next day and it had parking, or so we thought. Only when we arrived at the soul-less hovel that is the Ibis Budget did we discover that all of the parking had been pimped out to non-hotel guests for (we assume) more money. We were not impressed, but after a bit of faffing about what to do with the car, got on with our evening of sightseeing – first Bondi and then Coogee.

IMG_20150228_191455

Bondi was great. I had been expected to be disappointed, as Graham had said that he wasn’t that impressed, but I really liked it, and would happily have spent more time there (Rich: Shame I forgot my trunks, would have been good to have an evening swim). However, the AUD7.50 an hour parking charge (we parked a few streets away for free in the end) meant that we decided to head to another area, Coogee, for dinner. This was another lovely seaside resort and the bar that sorted us out with dinner, part of the Coogee Bay hotel, was one in which both Rich and I could have got seriously settled.

But alas, all too soon, it was time to return the car early to the airport, walk back to the hotel and prepare for the next stage of the adventure – New Zealand!

IMG_7647_thumb.jpg

A bridge and an opera house…must be Sydney

Wednesday 25th February – Opera House

Given our luck so far with transport, we were fully expecting this flight to be delayed, and so it was a pleasant surprise to be in our hotel room in central Sydney a little after 3pm, with plenty of time to go off and explore before meeting Graham, Vicki and their families for dinner.

John and Lauren had very kindly bought us a tour of the opera house for Christmas and we were lucky enough to be able to get a spot on the 4.30 tour. After a quick lunch pit stop where we amused ourselves by watching the police fining people for jay walking. We had been wondering about crossing roads while is Oz as the lights seem to take an age. It seems that it is a better idea to wait based on the number of people that the police stopped. We aren’t sure if they were actually fined but they were at least warned which we would rather avoid either way.

A walk down Sydney’s main shopping street took us to the two big sights straight away. The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge are both highly visible from circular key. We were told that we would be drawn straight here when we arrived in Sydney and everyone was quite right.

IMG_7610IMG_7647

Our tour of the Opera house was a great introduction to Sydney. Not only did our French tour guide, Celine, tell us about the Opera House but she also gave us a brief history of Sydney. The tour showed us inside the Opera House which is equally as impressive as the outside that we got the chance to get up close to and see the architect’s vision and understand the reasoning behind. Understanding the history behind the Opera house somehow makes seeing the iconic sight even more impressive.

Post Opera house we headed for the Opera bar. After the obligatory facebook post our running club friend KevF recommended the exact bar we were sitting in at the time. Clearly we both have good taste or the combined view of the Opera House and bridge are irresistible to all tourists.

Refreshed from our drink we headed to the Rocks. We immediately fell for this area. Wandering the different levels of streets is a delight and we would have happily stayed in the area sampling the bars and restaurants for many evenings. Sadly we had other plans so couldn’t even stay for one. We wandered up to the observatory to view the city from high and then headed down to meet, Graham, Vicki and families at the harbour on their return from a Manly visit. An evening in a bar catching up about our respective travels (and encounters with cyclones) through Australia was a welcome flashback to the wedding back in Melbourne. Only a few days ago it seemed much longer by this point.

IMG_7743

Thursday 26th February – Sydney’s Neighbourhoods

When in a new city there is something we are always on the look out for, where to run! Like in Melbourne we opted for the domain and botanic gardens. Sydney is surprisingly small so no sooner than we had set off, crossed Hyde Park and explored the gardens than we found ourselves at the harbour looking back at the Opera House once again. It seemed we had only run 2 miles and Sydney is a much more compact city than we expected. What we thought would be a long run turned out to be a comfortable 4miles which when taking in obligatory stops for photos, really didn’t take too long at all. We were back having breakfast by the hotel pool in no time.

image

Our afternoon had been set aside for exploring some of the different neighbourhoods that make up Sydney. First stop was Darling harbour. We weren’t too impressed by this as it is really just a modern complex/exhibition centre. We tried to find the monorail but it turns our that was removed 2 years ago (so much for our up to date DK guidebook!). The highlight of this walk was the dim sum we had on our way back to the hotel. We could have skipped the walk really though as the dim sum was only next door.

Our next trip out was more successful. We were very proud of ourselves on the way out as we managed to secure bus tickets and get the bus straight to our required destination. Having not used the Sydney transport system other than for the very straight forward trip from the airport we were pleased with ourselves that this went smoothly. Having take the bus was a good plan as we found ourselves walking for the next few hours. We visited Paddington, Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and Potts Point. Our long meander was broken up by a refreshment stop for ice cream but otherwise was a long walk through varied neighbourhoods. We went from up market terraces to the seedier areas then back to luxurious bay side living. Our walk gave a good view of what Sydney has to offer which is very different to what you find if only exploring the CBD (Central Business District).

IMG_7780

Our day ended back in Darlinghurst (we walked back) where we met Graham, Vicki and parents once again. Once we had navigated them away from the gaudy area around Taylor Square (the gay district) to somewhere we could enjoy a more sedate evening we enjoyed tapas/pizza and a few drinks. Once again it was good to catch up with everyone. Vicki and Graham’s parents are quite different but all very good company.

Our brief stop in Sydney gave us a small insight into the city. Although we would get to see a bit more in the morning and before our flight we were already comparing the city to what we thought of Melbourne. Both are great cities and we think we would happily spend time in either. Melbourne was a real melting pot of styles and cultures where we thought that Sydney had more of its own unique character. Sydney felt a bit more like a distinct place with its own personality whereas Melbourne was an all welcoming blend. Given the choice I think both of us would take Sydney over the Melbourne as a place to live (as much as you can judge these things in a few days) but given the chance you wouldn’t say no to either. I don’t think a trip to Australia would be complete without visiting both.

wpid-wp-1425271806026.jpeg

Whitsaturday to Whittuesday in the Whitsundays

We were in the Whitsundays for a few days. The Whitsundays are an archipelago made up of 74 islands off the cost of Queensland. We had moved further north away from the bad weather into the sun.

Saturday 21st February – Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach was so pleased to see us arrive that they arranged a fireworks display for us. Our hotel was right next to the lagoon so we headed straight for a dip before the show. The lagoon is provided because despite the name the beaches in Airlie beach aren’t that great. Instead they have a large swimming pool that is open to everyone throughout the day. We had post swim fish and chips on the edge of the lagoon while watching the fireworks. The fireworks were very early, only 30mins after sunset but from our vantage with our backs to the recently set sun they were still a good display.

As it was Saturday night and we didn’t need to be up especially early on Sunday we took the opportunity to head out on the town. Airlie Beach is a big backpacker area with several large sprawling hostels and many bars to accompany them. The bars all had big outdoor areas with bands playing and were full of a mix of backpackers and stag-do / hen-do weekend away style party goers. The evening was very warm and in the outdoor bars we were sweating away and in need of refreshment. Perhaps a little too much refreshment later (for Rich mainly) and somehow we ended up on the fringe of a wet t-shirt competition being held in the bar. At this point we decided we should leave the backpackers to it so headed to bed.

Sunday 22nd February – Whitehaven beach

After a morning including a run (a very hot and muggy run!), a swim and doing our laundry, we headed for an afternoon trip to Whitehaven beach. This is the star beach of the Whitsundays as it has very fine soft sand and sweeps around a wide bay. The trip out also gave us chance to cruise through the Whitsunday islands themselves as we were staying on the mainland so had not yet seen them.

As the water around Whitehaven beach is a common place to find jellyfish we donned some very attractive stinger suits and headed for a dip. The advantage of the suits was that we wouldn’t get stung or burnt but we did feel a bit daft wearing them. Better safe than sorry in any case. After the swim we lay on the beach enjoying the sun that was a welcome change from our recent weather.

Our evening was to be a quiet one due to an early start the next morning. We found a restaurant that provided kangaroo and crocodile so decided to sample these to get the taste of Australia. The kangaroo was a bit chewy but a tasty gamey meat. Crocodile was our preference and was like a tougher tuna steak. Both well worth sampling as was the steak we tried. We went to bed full of BBQ and feeling a bit more Australian.

IMG_7376

Monday 23rd & Tuesday 24th February – Great Barrier Reef

Our early start was for another trip, this time an overnight on the Great Barrier Reef. We are going to create a dedicated post for this trip so look out for that appearing soon.

On our return from the reef we wanted to enjoy our final night in Airlie Beach. We made the most of it by once again doing some laundry and having a run/swim. Doing an evening run this time was much more agreeable. When we ran the other morning Rich was struggling from the off and ended up walking considerable amounts of the 3 miles (Vicki – Rich blames the weather, I think it was all the beers!). This time round we found the gentle sea breeze cooling enough to do our 3 miles at a steady pace. We also enjoyed the route a lot more heading down a bicentenary boardwalk along the coast. We passed through a couple of marinas and parks in the dusk light. Vicki nearly jumped in the sea though when we encountered a rather large bat leaving its tree.

wpid-wp-1425271806026

As we geared up to leave Airlie beach Vicki would quite happily have stayed longer. She was quite content with the relaxing by the lagoon and running along the coast. Our stay here seemed to be over very quickly as we had been busy with trips. It is always good to have a few relaxing days however we had to get back to the cities for more Aussie exploration.

wpid-wp-1424563836626.jpeg

A hire car? We need a canoe!

Friday 20th February – Noosa to Brisbane (Vicki)

Well, as the various posts have mentioned, cyclone Marcia seems destined to make our time in QLD a little damp. Nowhere was this more evident than during our drive down from Noosa to Brisbane.

image

We had been due to go to Australia zoo on the way down, but it was closed due to flooding. We then decided to go to Lone Pines Koala Sanctuary, just south of Brisbane, but the weather was so appalling that driving any further than necessary just seemed ridiculous.

We did manage to fit in a quick game of glow in the dark, wild west themed mini-golf on the way down – although several diversions were required due to roads being closed due to flooding.

image

I was definitely breathing a sigh of relief when we made it to the hotel – I would have been quite happy just to hole up in the hotel and hibernate for the rest of the day. However, we were only due to have a day in Brisbane so felt that we should at least see a little bit of the city. To be honest, the rain pretty much tempered everything. I am sure it is lovely in the sun, but it is hard to appreciate Botanical Gardens with rain dripping off your nose.

Our original aim in Brisbane was to run a parkrun and then get an overnight train up to the Whitsundays, but due to Marcia, all parkruns in QLD were cancelled, and as we found out during the day, so was our train. After a frantic half hour trying to sort out alternative transport up to Airlie Beach, we headed to the South Bank to at least have a look at the parkrun course. Mercifully it had stopped raining so we were at least able to appreciate the city by night. There is a big wheel and a mini rainforest, and a lovely peace pagoda just next to the river, as well as a great tapas restaurant (thanks for the recommendation Graham) where we were able to regroup.

After dinner, we headed up to the ‘west end’ to a couple of craft beer bars, and could have got very settled if it wasn’t for the 6.30 alarm call the next day, which would hopefully mean that we would be in the Whitsundays by lunchtime….

Saturday 21st February – Brisbane Airport (Rich)

…unless our plane is struck by lightning and forced to turn back. What are the chances of that happening though? Oh…

With our current luck I can’t see you being surprised that this has happened. We are in the airport waiting for a new plane that is due to take us up to Proserpine. It is a bit concerning that a fire alarm keeps going off on the other side of the airport and rain continues to pour outside. Evacuation would be a very unwelcome diversion at this time.

Our theory is that bad things happen in Brisbane (delayed getting here, cyclone, cancellations, lightning strikes). Once we are out all will be well. As such I figured I would mention this now so we can forget all about it when we are on the beach this afternoon. Let’s just not think about our return journey to Sydney transferring through Brisbane.

image

IMG_7228_thumb.jpg

D.I.N.G.O!

D.I.N.G.O!

D.I.N.G.O…

…Dingo was his name-o!

IMG_7228

Due to cyclone updates we are slightly out of sync. Here is what we wrote before it got really wet…

Wednesday 18th February – Hervey Bay & Fraser Island

Yesterday morning we woke early again for a trip over to Fraser Island. This was quite an ask following the long and late drive the night before. The weather wasn’t tempting us out either as it was wet and windy. It really didn’t seem the ideal day to be going to visit Fraser Island, the worlds largest sand island and a UNESCO world heritage sight….

Here are a few of the things we saw:

  • Rain forest. Second of the trip after seeing this on the Great Ocean Road too. This one was unique thought as it is a rain forest grown on sand. Some lovely creeks snaked through and our guide Steve (not a cat) was extremely knowledgeable about the trees and plants that it contained.
  • Sand tracks. Serious 4WD territory on the island. Good job we didn’t try and take our little red hyundai over. It wouldn’t have made it off the ferry. The bus we were on was quite a machine and handled the terrain with ease.
  • 75 mile beach. Wow. That is a long beach isn’t it. It is also a public highway which Steve (guide, not the cat) seemed to enjoy zooming along.
  • Dingo! Hence the post name. The dingo came out to say hi. We also saw a sea snake that Steve (guide, still not a cat) brushed (as in, with a broom) off the beach/road back into the sea. I kept a safe distance and let Vicki take the photos. I am not a snake fan.
  • Mckenzie lake. We got there just in time for our only rainstorm of the day. Fortunately we were already in swim gear so frantically stuffed our other clothes into the dry bag and dived in. Very refreshing and warmer in that out due to the rain storm. We had a lovely 50mins swimming around and admiring the wonderful setting of the lake. This is one of the main draws for a lot of the visitors to Fraser Island and it finished the day well. The rain shower was very short (about a minute) and it warmed up nicely for when we had to get out.

Another special treat for the day was a scenic flight over Fraser Island. We did  this when offered on a whim as we thought it would be a good way to see the extent of the island. We were glad we did the flight which although short gave a new vantage onto the island that we would have missed otherwise. The length of the beach, inland lakes nestled in the rain forest and sand dunes sweeping over the forest could only really be appreciated from above.

IMG_7244

Overall the trip was well worth doing. Although as a day trip we saw just a snapshot of the island and had to cram a lot in it was worth it. It would have been good to be more independent as waiting for others on a trip and sitting around with strangers at lunch is a bit of a drag however for a day, getting our own 4WD or private tour just wasn’t practical. In weather terms we were actually quite lucky. Although it wasn’t gloriously sunny it was clear and the rain held off. Apparently we were just in time too. A day later and the cyclone would have ruined our trip. More on that later.

Our evening involved a whistlestop tour of Hervey Bay where we were staying including seeing many fruit bats, shopping in Woolworths (a supermarket over here) then takeaway pizza. We then had a very early night (in bed at 8:30pm) as we were exhausted from the last few days.

Thursday 19th February – Travel to Noosa

So it seems we are in Queensland at the same time as Cyclone Marcia. Bad planning that. She is due to make land tomorrow in Hervey Bay so we headed off pronto. There was no escaping her preceding storm though so today has been wet. Rain all day. Actually, it did stop for a few minutes at lunch. So rain nearly all day. The rain after lunch more than made up for the slight break though as it has been torrential!

What to do in the rain then? Well we planned to head to Noosa to go to the beach so we carried on with that plan. It was about 2.5 hours drive over all with two stops planned on the way. These were in pretty much the only significant towns on route. Australia does contain a whole lot of nothing!

First stop was Maryborough a heritage town. Lots of interesting buildings. Good to see ye olde Australia. Also many Queenslander style houses. These are raised up to avoid floods (possibly needed in the next few days) and verandas to keep cool on in the heat (probably not this week). We also saw a kangaroo on the way out of town…another Australia site ticked off. Second town was Gympie. In Maryborough we saw a bakehouse and decided pies were in order for lunch. While Gympie doesn’t offer much more than a funny name we did find great pies.

On to Noosa for the afternoon. Staying in the Noosa Sun Motel which is perfect for us even if false advertising as there is no sun here. Nice big room with kitchenette. We chilled out for a bit with a bit of TV and then braved the rain again. In Noosa we wanted to sea the National Park. Rain wasn’t going to stop this so on went running kit and we headed out for 4 miles along the coast.

G0050318

The forest and rocky coast combined with beaches were well worth seeing even if being battered by the storm rather than bathed in sunshine (Sunshine Coast by name only today). We were far from alone in the rain. There were hundreds of surfers. They were running along with us to get to the best launch spots and would then dive in and tackle the violent surf. It was great to watch but we had no intention to partake. Although very wet it is still warm so we were happy to stand watching. We even had a swim in the pool when we got back to the motel since we were wet anyway!

GOPR0293

Not sure what is in store for tomorrow. Australia zoo may not be a good idea so we may head straight to Brisbane. Will have to see what Marcia has planned for tomorrow!

Washout

Cyclone arrived but not where we are. We did however get rain. So much rain.

Australia Zoo closed because of flooding.

Couldn’t get to other zoo because roads were flooding and closing fast.

Brisbane sightseeing done in the rain so not much covered.

Parkrun cancelled throughout Queensland.

Train on from Brisbane cancelled.

Overall a bit of a washout.

image

Fear not though. We have regrouped and tomorrow morning we fly on to the Whitsundays a day early where it is sunny and hot. For now we have booze and tapas.

image