Monday, September 28, 2009

A few days in Sydney before it’s off to Singapore!!

25-Sep-2009, by Jason

Well, it’s been almost 6 weeks since we’ve left the states and we’ve seen quite a bit (although really just a scratch on the surface) of both New Zealand and Australia. We leave on Tuesday for Singapore and the start of 6.5 months in Asia, the main focus of our trip. Before heading out we had a few days to relax and enjoy American, I mean Australian culture, before heading off to a whole new world. So, in all fairness to Australia, they are a great people and very warm and sweet with a beautiful continent to show off…but in the culture department there was a definite north american feel. When it comes to cuisine, other than meat pies, there is no distinct Australian cuisine (walking down the street you find American fast food, Vietnamese, Thai, Middle Eastern Kebabs, Malaysian and Italian restaurants) and on TV they have Australian Idol and “The Apprentice Australia”. Needless to say it felt a little like home for us, which was a nice intro to our trip which we both think is about to turn into much more of a culture shock as we head to Asia. That commentary aside, (and in all fairness, we only experienced the East Coast of Oz, Western Australia and the Outback would probably be much more of a culture shock for us!) this place really is very cool (the views, countryside and beach culture are amazing!) and worth a visit or four (so much to see in this place, a flight from Sydney to Perth is over 5 hours!!)

So we arrived in Sydney on Wednesday and met sweet sweet Lynne at the Britz office where we returned the camper. We really hadn’t found a hostel yet so she was more than happy (almost giddy actually) to help us find a place in Sydney. She did a quick search online and found a place just South of the CBD (still pretty CBD though, really) and we booked it (not knowing any better and not really liking the place we stayed at last time we were in Sydney) We took the train into town and checked into this place and it was the essence of large, corporate inner city hostel. We met some nice people in our room, but this place was just too big and too much of a party (ie. noise 24/7 and crap all over the hallways) for our tastes. We had pre-booked three nights but decided to find a different place for our last three nights in Sydney. Thursday morning we set off to the Apple Store to check e-mail (we’re both Apple shareholders, we’re entitled to use the facilities, right?!?!) and book a new hostel. With that work finished we set off to Darling Harbour to walk around a bit. We stopped at a cool cafe for lunch (Swiss had the Laksa salad with “sea trout”, pea pods and vermicelli noodles in a nice coconut milk sauce and I had the “sea trout” potatoes and white wine sauce pie with a side salad) then we walked through Chinatown. Chinatown in Sydney is nicer than Brisbane but still has nothing on Chinatown in NYC, Chicago or SF.

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I forgot to mention that after checking e-mail, I was desperately in need/search for a haircut…I couldn’t do it any longer! While I was getting a haircut, Swiss went in search of an iced coffee (which was unsuccessful, FYI) but instead he found a Korean grocery with a fresh shipment of Kimchi! So after spending the afternoon wandering the harbor, we trekked back to that grocery store (hidden down an alley, with a shopkeeper very confused by us buying just kimchi) and we tried our best (with very limited hostel kitchen resources) to make lettuce wraps with rice, kimchi and kangaroo meat (our Aussie take on Korean BBQ) and it turned out quite nice! I was quite stuffed after chowing down on this.


Friday was forecasted to be the warmest day of the next four, so we decided it was our best chance to make it out to the world famous Bondi Beach for some sun, surf and relaxation (you know, because this trip has been so stressful thus far ;-) And after a quick bus ride out (take the 333 bus from Circular Quay or Museum Metro Stations, prepay tickets only so buy in advance from 7-11) you’re dropped off right at Bondi Beach. We literally laid out in the sand (not a cloud in the sky!!) for 4 hours and just relaxed (both reapplying sunscreen and Jason in a goofy hat to protect ourselves from the sun!) We did the walk down south for about 2.5km then back to check out two other beaches, then headed back into the city to clean the sand off! Enjoy some Bondi pictures:

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So after a day at the beach we were both pretty lazy and decided to go out for dinner instead of cooking. The previous night we’d noticed a Mexican place in the Oxford St neighborhood (Mexican caught our eye since it’s not too common down here) and decided to head back that way. So we were presently surprised when we sat down with our burritos (and combined with the nearly identical menu) realized that we’d apparently walked into Chipotle Australia (not actually, but we think an Aussie visited the states and stole the idea!) It hit the spot, mainly because we didn’t have cook, and as I mentioned earlier we didn’t miss much since this country doesn’t have a unique cuisine.

Saturday was spent transferring to a new hostel in a quieter part of Sydney, the Newtown neighborhood/suburb. We wondered around the area and found the local farmers market @ Carriage Works (An old carriage factory where they now film, “So You Think You Can Dance? Australia” among other things) and found a few good buys. It was a great market that reminded me a lot of the Ferry Building in SF…


We ended up making dinner on Saturday night by grilling some chicken and tossing with with a cracked pepper/lemon cream and pesto sauce we bought at that market. Saturday was fairly lazy and a day of relaxation after escaping the craziness of our previous hostel.

Now Saturday night Swiss was not feeling too hot when going to bed, a little congested, a slight cough and really tired. Sunday morning he awoke to a really red right eye and even more congestion/coughing. Fearing pink eye he went to the pharmacist for advice (since the redness had subsided a bit within 2 hours of waking up and the optometrist was closed on Sunday) and they suspected allergies (explaining the sinus congestion, irritation of the eye, and cough created by the sinus congestion) and loaded him up with drugs (no kidding, he left with pills, cough syrup and eye drops) Sunday was mainly a lazy day around town and we didn’t do a whole lot (Checked out the Glebe area, just on the other side of University of Sydney)

Monday Swiss was feeling better, and it being our last day in Sydney, we had ambitious plans! First we walked up to the Sydney Fish Market where Swiss enjoyed some fresh oysters and I some soft shell crab.


Then I had really wanted to walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge (not climb the bridge! let’s not confuse the two, I have a real fear of heights like that, just walk across on the sidewalk) and realizing where we were, we just walked over to the bridge and then across it. Got some great views though!

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Now we thought we could catch a ferry from Milson’s Point on the North Side of the bridge but where we thought was the ferry stop on that side of the water turned out to be a “wharf” with a sign that read “Sydney Ferries do not stop here” So we walked around to the Milson’s Point train station to take the train back across the bridge, transfer to another train to arrive at Circular Quay and hop on a Ferry to East Balmain (a small neighborhood that was a tip from some locals we met) Low and behold, upon boarding the Ferry, our first stop was…Milson’s Point!!! Apparently we were just 100 m off from finding the actual ferry stop on that side of the harbor bridge. Oh well! Of course I really wanted some pizza, had a real craving for pizza and we found the neighborhood where EVERY restaurant was closed on Mondays. We trekked back home to make a quick lunch instead and will go out tonight for pizza.

Tomorrow it is off for our 9.5 hour journey (via a stop in Darwin, northern Australia) to Singapore. And so begins our 6.5 month trek through Asia!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sydney is the new Mars ;-)

9/23/09 (by Swiss) - Well, we're off heading into the largest dust storm to hit Sydney since the 40's.


We departed Brisbane two days ago with Fabio 2, our relo deal from Britz. The last couple of days in Brisbane involved hanging out, checking out China town (not all that great), and being unproductive members of society.

We were hoping for a Mercedes 4 berth vehicle, but to our disappointment, we got an Iveco 4 berth instead. So no “Hans and Franz”, and instead just “Fabio 2”. From what I can tell, Iveco is an Italian brand, so at least the name seems fitting. The good news is that it has a “tip-tronic” tranny (***transmission for my SF friends :)***), meaning Lawton can drive it. Neither of us had ever driven a vehicle with this particular type of transmission, which seems to lack a torque converter and the more traditional feel of an automatic. Instead, it seems to have an actuated clutch and gear shifter making it shift and sound like a manual transmission, minus any human having to do the work of operating a clutch or shift lever. Funky.

Britz vs Apollo

We figured it's time to do a little comparison between the two relocation deals we've had. From what we have seen so far, there seem to be two major campervan rental companies on the east coast: Apollo and Britz. We found that Apollo was a little more organized, they didn't charge for Propane, provided us with a full set of maps, two chemical tablets to operate the toilet, a welcome kit (including tea, coffee, sugar, soap, etc), and a flatscreen TV. Britz didn't offer those features, but did provide a free sleeping bag, bedsheet, pillow, and towel to be returned at the end of the journey, which was quite nice. The campervans were configured similarly, although given the larger size of the Britz van, it was a tad more comfortable. The downside of the Britz was that it was not brand new. Overall, it was agreed that Apollo provides for a better experience. Below are some pics of Fabio 2 for your consumption.

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A short day at Byron Bay

Given the relatively short relocation period, we opted to spend some time at Byron Bay on the way to Sydney. This spot, located about two hours south of Brisbane, came recommended by multiple Aussies. Our plan was to get there early afternoon on Monday, check out the town, I would try my hand at surfing (I enjoy wearing wet suits) Tuesday morning, and we'd then head off Tuesday afternoon to continue our journey onwards to Sydney. Byron Bay turns out to be a quaint little hippie town with a tourist flair, very nice beaches, and a wide variety of shops and restaurants ranging from cheap to expensive, depending on what you want to spend. It had a much more appealing feel than Airlie Beach, and watching all the hippies doing their thing reminded us very much of the Bay Area. We set up the camper van at a campground near downtown, took a stroll through town and down some of the beaches, and prepared some chicken cordon bleu with couscous and broccoli for dinner. Shortly after dinner, it started to rain, which lasted throughout the night, so no outdoor activities for us after that.

The next morning would arrive with me heading off for a surfing lesson while Lawton did a 5.5 km hike to the lighthouse and lookout spots. Although the rain had subsided early in the morning, we were hit by another shower mid-morning, a rather minor annoyance to me given that I was in a wetsuit and in the water, and a larger annoyance for Lawton, who wasn't quite as prepared for rain :)

My surfing adventure turned out to be a lot of fun, although I don't think I'm at a pro level just quite. I do plan on improving my skills over the next couple of months though, so watch out. As we were out in the ocean surfing, a group of three dolphins decided to join us. Quite the experience. Lawton, perched high above us on a cliff, managed to spot the same dolphins as well as some whales off in the horizon. Unfortunately, the weather prevented us from having any decent pictures, so you'll just have to take my word and use your imagination. The stay would be a short one, but we enjoyed it, despite the somewhat crummy weather. Below are some pictures from Byron Bay.

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As we hit the road to venture further south, we had a goal of getting to somewhere between Port Macquaire and Forster (pronounced Foster, don't ask me why.) Part of the relo agreement disallowed us to drive at night, which was probably a good thing, as we were both somewhat spent after surfing/hiking. Due to various construction along the way, we didn't manage the stretch goal of Forster, and settled for Port Macquaire around 6pm to prep some butter chicken with rice, green beans, and ice cream for dinner. Shortly after parking Fabio 2, we met one of our neighbors who was renting a six berth campervan to drive his family from Melbourne to Byron Bay. He explained to us that kids in Victora (where they are from) are currently on September holiday, and kids in New South Wales/Queensland start their holiday next week. Apparently it's very common for families to rent campervans for these occasions, which explains the pent up demand for campervan relocations to these areas prior to the school vacations starting. A quick inquiry also revealed that he was paying AUD 300 per day for his six berth van, plus a AUD 250 one way fee. Wow. It would be a lazy evening reading books (no TV this time) after dinner, awaiting the upcoming storm.

Final leg to Sydney

The scene reminds us of Armageddon, with dust coloring the air and sky with a slight yellow tint. We're happy we're not riding a bicycle (or suffer from any severe respiratory conditions), although the storm portion of the dust storm works wonders on our sail, aka Fabio 2. Apparently there were also two earth quakes in Melbourne (way south of us), which has led the radio station here to proclaim Armageddon. If you read this, the radio station was probably wrong, as I doubt this will be uploaded anytime soon. One more week in Sydney and we'll be off to Singapore.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Our 2 Day Journey to Fraser Island

Posted 19-Sep-2009 from Australia:

Since we last updated the blog we left Airlie Beach, had a massive day of driving last Sunday down to Maryborough, just north of Brisbane, then returned the camper van (Fabio) Monday just before noon. We settled on a hostel in the  West End for our time in Brisbane and set about searching for a trip/tour back up to Fraser Island. Now after 2 long days of driving neither Swiss, nor I for that matter…but he did all the work, were looking forward to driving almost 3 hours back up to Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach to catch a tour out to Fraser Island. On top of that the scramble to find a rental car (some places were just out of cars to rent) and one that was reasonably priced was just stressful, so we booked a 2 day tour from Sunrover that was round trip from Brisbane so we didn’t have to worry about driving ourselves up to that area.

We spent the next 2 days just lounging around Brisbane and exploring the city and left Thursday morning (17-Sep)






Day One of Fraser Island:

We left our hostel at 5.30am to arrive at Roma St station by 6.45am to meet our tour. Our ride up to Fraser Island was a late model Toyota Land Cruiser that I wasn’t entirely certain was going make it. She’s solid and all, but she’s also seen a lot! :)


We stopped briefly at Rainbow Beach for lunch and to buy some meat/food for dinner…


It was then off to take a quick Ferry ride across to Fraser Island…



And we were off. Now, Fraser Island is a World Heritage Site and the largest sand island in the world. According to our tour guide it is believed that the sand extends up to 100 metres below sea level. It’s an impressive stretch of sandy beaches (beautiful sand at that)


and also plenty of lakes, sub-tropical rainforests and nice hikes to do, but more on that later. So we stopped by camp to put our food in the refrigerator (yes, we “camped” but at a site with running water, electricity for toasters, tea kettle and refrigerator, a BBQ and stove plus toilets and “hot” water showers (now I will say that the shower on Day 2 was luke warm at best, but I’m not complaining!) Oh, and they had mattresses to put under our sleeping bags in the tents, it was rough :)

So after setting down we headed off to see the Maheno Shipwreck. You can click the link to read all about it, but needless to say it was pretty cool (and definitely should require a tetanus booster before visiting!)


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After that we stopped by Eli Creek for some swimming, relaxation and sun and then on over to Lake Wabby. From our stop on the beach it was about 2.4km one way out to the lake, and we chose the route over the sand blow, which got some amazing pictures (and a whole lot more sand!!)

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Be sure to check out the video of Swiss rolling down the hill into Lake Wabby here! :)

After that we headed back to camp to cook up some sand mussels we found along the beach, plus some sausages we bought for dinner. I must add, also, that the stars were amazing out there on the island. Away from any light pollution and with a cloud free sky, it was an amazing display of stars at our campsite. There was no way to capture it on our cameras, but trust me, it was just fantastic! We made a bonfire (which didn’t last too long) and were off to bed before day 2.

Day 2 on Fraser Island

On day 2 it was up and going by 8.30am and off to Central Station for a look at the old mining camps there and a short (1.4 km) hike along a pristine and clear creek. From there it was a short drive over to Lake Mackenzie, our stop for a good 2 hours. This is a beautiful lake set in the middle of Fraser Island. The water that enters the lake is sand filtered (don’t ask me where it enters from) and crystal clear. A great spot to relax an swim in some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen in a lake!


We had a very nice picnic lunch near the lake and then it was time to head back to the mainland. Our quick ferry ride over and a ride down Rainbow Beach and we cut across to another beach for a nice break (and our driver wanted to surf there for a little while, and don’t blame him after drive the 9 of us around for 2 days!) and then the drive back to Brisbane, with a really quick stop to check out some kangaroos!


Fraser Island is an absolutely beautiful and amazing place and needs to be on everyone’s list of things to do on a trip to Australia.

There are a lot more pictures than posted here, so be sure to check out the Flickr album for this portion of the trip here! I’m not quite done uploading, so be sure to check back in a few days for the remaining third or so of the pics.

We’ve now got 2 more days here in Brisbane to hang out and relax this weekend before Monday morning we grab our next camper van relocation special and spend 3 days driving down to Sydney (arriving next Wednesday, 23-Sep-09)