Oceania

Melbourne

I have a friend in Melbourne I met when we were both living in Beijing. A few years back she visited LA with her husband while they were on an around the trip. It only made sense that I would also visit her on my world tour.

Since up to this point and what will continue to happen in the the trip none of my travel planning made any sense. It didn’t make sense for me to fly from Cairns to Melbourne to Tokyo but that’s exactly what I did.

I arrived in Melbourne exhausted. My friend forgot about her husband’s graduation when we were trying to figure out the best time for me to visit. I had originally booked an early flight so we could have as much time together as possible and also at that point I would have been in Cairns for over a week so I didn’t think I would need to stay any longer than I needed to. So as it turned out I had a couple hours to explore Melbourne on my own.

I took a bus to the city. In Sydney it’s fast and easy to get to the city by train. It’s so fast I almost missed my stop not expecting it to come up so quickly. I stored my bags at the bus station and walked towards the center of the city. The city didn’t look so big so I figured I could walk around for a couple hours.

I underestimated just how tired I was. I grabbed a couple walking tour maps and was about to embark on a three hour tour along the river when I spotted a boat that did the same thing in an hour. The price was around $20 AUD, I was sold. The minute I sat down on the boat I fell asleep. I got up and moved outside to the back. As the boat started to move one of the workers came out and instructed everyone to sit down. We quickly came up on a bridge, a really low bridge, so low it’s possible to have knocked your head or maybe even worse had you been standing. It continued that way for the rest of the hour. I never learned why the bridges were so low and there were many. They only have the information on the inside and I was on the outside.

After the boat my next brilliant plan was to find a grassy area where I could lay down and take a nap and not look homeless. I eventually found a spot that looked decent so I plopped down and closed my eyes. I wasn’t able to completely fall asleep but I rested a good hour so I decided it was time to continue my tour of Melbourne.

The next walking tour I decided upon was the ritzy shopping streets. After living a backpackers life for the past month this LA girl missed shopping and dressing up. I started the trip in Vegas and normally I’ll bring lots of options and heels but I could bring one and also be able to repurpose the outfit later. I caved and packed my ‘fancy sandals’ that I eventually had to send back to LA with my friends because I didn’t have any space.

The tour led me to Chinatown. I took a photo of the gate and then I walked down another street and saw another gate and then another. I’m used there being only one gate so I was disappointed when I saw all the others since I had spent so much time trying to get the perfect photo on the first gate.

I eventually got back to where I started and then headed back to the bus stop to wait for my friend. It was getting cold and I didn’t have anything else to wear. I was able to catch the sunset by the bus station. Something about sunsets always gets me. Sunrises are great too but I prefer sleep so sunsets are more my thing. I miss those LA sunsets.

My friend picked me up and we headed into the ‘burbs of Melbourne. It was nice to finally stay in a home and not at a hotel or hostel. My friends 2 year old was scared of me at first but she warmed up to me eventually.

I desperately needed to do laundry so I did that first thing Sunday morning. She didn’t have a dryer so I hung everything up on a drying rack. She said she’s never had a dryer! Even though I’ve worn the same clothes over and over they’re probably in better condition because I haven’t been using a dryer. After laundry we went to church. It felt just like a regular Sunday, church in the morning and then lunch in the afternoon.

After lunch we headed to the mall. The previous night I was able to confirm I was missing clothes. My friend loaned me jeans that happened to fit perfectly so I wouldn’t have to wear yoga pants to church. It was either yoga pants or shorts. When I walked out wearing my friends jeans she was impressed by the fit and confirmed it by checking how my butt looked in the jeans. At the mall I called the hotel and they said they did have my clothes and could ship it to my friends in Melbourne. I was ecstatic. I ended up not buying anything hoping to hold out until Korea.

The next day we headed to a Tulip festival. The weather was overcast but it held off. We had fun snapping photos in the tulips.

My friends insisted on feeding me a home cooked meal and I had said I wanted to try kangaroo meat so we headed to the market to buy kangaroo. They hadn’t actually tried much kangaroo. My scuba diving friends had recommended it so I wanted to give it a try. At the market I tried to find the smallest piece but they were all more or less the same. We settled on a cut and went home. Thankfully the package had instructions on how to cook it so my friend was able to follow those and it turned out well. I’m not used to the texture but the I didn’t mind the taste. My friend’s two year old gobbled it all up and asked for more! I quickly finished my plate and was satisfied. I’m not sure if I would try kangaroo again but I like that it’s lean so maybe. I need to get used to it a bit more.

My flight was set to depart around midnight so after dinner we headed to the airport.

Overall my time in Melbourne was a nice break from the usually traveling/backpacker lifestyle. I felt normal for once.

Cairns – It’s all about that Footy

When I was booking my tickets to and from Cairns I noticed the prices were high but I assumed it was because there were not many flights that went there. I didn’t check different dates since I needed to be there at a set time for my scuba diving course.

The AFL Grand Final is traditionally held the last Saturday in September or the first Saturday in October in Melbourne. If you’re impressed I know that don’t be because I just looked that up on Wikipedia. I was told to just substitute Super Bowl for Grand Final. That analogy immediately made sense to me but I still don’t know how the game is played or what it even looks like. I’ll have to continue my research on YouTube later.

So the game is played in Melbourne but guys like to watch the game in Cairns and then party. Or that’s what I gather. I guess to give another example an American would understand it’s like going to Vegas during March Madness or the Super Bowl.

My friends had traveled to Cairns a few weeks ahead of me and never mentioned it being party central.

The weekend following my scuba trip happened to be the time many non-professional Footy teams like to party in Cairns to end their season especially if they’re down south where it’s still cold.

Everything’s flipped in the Southern Hemisphere, the hot places are up north. There again was an influx of intoxicated males running around Cairns. It felt like I was on spring break in Miami, Cancun, Cabo, Bahamas, etc. I did witness a bikini competition but I didn’t see any wet t-shirt contests. Maybe that’s am American thing or it wasn’t hot enough yet.

I did happen to run into the occasional intoxicated male who got a little too close for comfort. I was usually able to squirm my way out of the situation. One time I could get tell the guy wasn’t going to leave me alone so before I decided to break into a run and possibly look a bit foolish I simply said, “please leave me alone,” and then he did! I was surprised he did. It took him a few more seconds to finally back off but after I turned the corner and looked back he wasn’t there. I’ve never actually said that before mostly because I think it will backfire and make the situation worse.

And to top it all off it was the end of school break so it was peak travel season all around.

Getting scuba certified on The Great Barrier Reef

When planning this trip I looked at various ways to visit The Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island. I didn’t even know the geography of Australia when I started planning. I had to google everything. I wasn’t planning on get scuba certified, I was just planning to go snorkeling for a day but I started looking at various companies that offered scuba trips and saw they also offered overnight diving trips. I figured of you’re going to see the Great Barrier Reef wouldn’t scuba diving be better. I went scuba diving about two years ago in Hawaii for the first time and had a lot of fun. I thought about trying to get the certification in LA and then just doing a diving trip in Australia but it worked out to be cheaper to just certified and do an overnight diving trip in Australia even after negotiating a couple hundred dollars off the course price in LA.

I had a friend who got certified at a diving school in Cairns and she highly recommended it so I decided to book with the same company. I was able to get open water and advanced certification back to back. I could do advanced in LA as well but it was cheaper to do it in Australia so I went for it.

So what started as a one day snorkeling trip to The Great Barrier Reef snowballed into a one week scuba diving course/trip… typical me.

I travelled back to Australia after spending two weeks in New Zealand. I went through a bit of culture shock when I arrived in Sydney. I wasn’t used to being around so many people. The first night in New Zealand we couldn’t see at night because it was pitch black. My friend had to shine a flashlight to the side of the car to park!

After spending a couple hours in Sydney I headed back to the airport and caught my flight to Cairns. I was happy to finally be leaving winter!

I looked out the window while we were making our approach in Cairns and I could see the esplanade. My first thought was that’s where I’ll go running everyday. I had packed my running sneakers but had only used them once in Sydney. I needed to train for my marathon! Now that I was planning to be traveling longer it was more important that I train while traveling.

I landed at Cairns and I could feel the warmth! By the time I arrived at my hotel I was exhausted. I just wanted to do laundry and go to bed. I had two full days ahead of me and I needed sleep.

I arrived at the school a few minutes early and waited for the instructor. I was a little worried about having to actually learn things, remember them and then take an exam. What if I didn’t pass!

The first day we stayed in the classroom and watched videos and took a few short quizzes/exams. By the end of the day I was starting to get confused between the symptoms for different sicknesses. I was glad when we finished early.

I finally had energy so after class I went downtown and explored Cairns. I didn’t really know what to expect of Cairns, when we were Rotorua my friend said it reminded her of Cairns. There were lots of people out and about. What I didn’t know at the time was it was the weekend of the AFL Championship. It felt like spring break, there were restaurants and bars everywhere. I wandered my way over to the esplanade and found the lagoon but no beach! Cairns has the feel of a beachy town but there’s no beach! The lagoon is nice and it gets cleaned. They offer free exercise classes on the esplanade. They had an early morning yoga class that I wanted to take but it was too early for me. I found a festival on the esplanade that I think was celebrating the nearby island nations in the Pacific? They had a couple food vendors so I looked for the longest line
and bought a meal from that vendor. I watched a couple performances and then headed back.

The second day we spent in the pool. There was a checklist of items we needed to get through. We ended up going over our time and stayed later to get through everything. I was exhausted by the end. The last thing we had to do for the day was the last swim test. I forget how many laps we had to do but I was so tired after. Running I can do, swimming I cannot.

The third day was boat day. They picked me up and we made a stop at the dive shop. I purchased a mask at the shop since that was the one thing my instructor suggested we buy. They dropped us off at the marina and we boarded the day boat. The class I was with on the classroom was only 6-8 people. I was surprised by how many people were on the boat. There were people who were just doing day trips for snorkeling and scuba and then others who be transferring to the overnight boat with us.

They warned us about getting seasick and I figured I would be okay… The last hour I sat outside and tried not to throw up.

We had our briefing inside the boat on the way to the dive site. Our original instructor was injured so were being passed to another instructor. While he was running down the list of things we needed to do for our certification I could feel myself getting sicker. I was remembering the last time I had to throw up on Mt. Whitney it came to a point where I couldn’t hold anything back and had to let it all out. I was worried the same might happen again.
I kept thinking if it gets really bad you need to go outside. Luckily I survived the meeting and then immediately after I went outside and continued to try and not throw up whole everyone was filling up the garbage can with used puke bags. TMI?

I was excited when it was finally time to dive. Getting into the water would be the only way to get over this sea sickness. We had back to back sessions so our borrowed instructor could return to the overnight boat. Since we finished early we had time to go snorkeling at the next dive site after lunch. We still had more certification dives coming up so I decided to take the opportunity to have a free snorkel and I was safer in the water than on the boat. I wasn’t feeling as queasy anymore but better safe than sorry.

Around mid-afternoon we transferred to the overnight boat. I was wondering how the transfer would happen. They had us pass all our bags over first so we could cross between boats without having to hold anything. There was a small gap between boats. They ushered us into the dining area for our orientation. We had a few minutes to drop our bags in the room and then it was time for another dive! The equipment got nicer and nicer as we changed boats. We finally had stations that we would continue to use for the remainder of our time on the overnight boats.

We jumped into the water and continued our course certification. I am a pro at mask removal and replacement now. We usually found a sandy area to kneel down on while everyone completed each task and there were fish and divers swimming all around us. I couldn’t believe I was actually scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef!

After diving it was dinner time! My friend who had recommended the course to me joked all you do is dive and eat. I don’t know the last time I are 3 meals a day plus desert! The food was good and there’s was always more than enough to eat. Our first instructor joked diving is the laziest sport but I was always hungry at meal times!

After dinner there was a night dive. I wasn’t able to dive the first night since I didn’t have my certification yet but they lowered the back grate and baited the fish so we would have plenty to see. Two sharks also came out to join in on the fun.

And finally it was desert time! It was starting to feel like a retreat. After desert we had free time to relax. One of the people in my class thought to bring cards. We played every card game we could think of that night with the exception of poker, no chips. After a full day I was exhausted and ready to turn in. There was a morning dive scheduled before breakfast but since I wasn’t certified I wouldn’t be able to dive. I was okay with that.

The next couple days on the boat were pretty much the same: dive, eat, dive, tan, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, play cards.

On the second dive of the day I started to have problems equalizing. I later earned the nickname ‘the equalizer’ or ‘the equaliser.’ It took me almost 50 bar of air to get down! I borrowed some ‘swimmers ear’ and that helped me get through the next couple days. I was practically deaf in my right ear after 4 days of diving.

I ended up missing the first free dive with my class to give my ears a rest. When I finally jumped into the water for my first free I was ecstatic and also a little worried. I always followed the instructor and everything underwater looked the same to me. Luckily I had two diving buddies and new diving friends so I just followed them around. This time we could actually go wherever we wanted as long as it wasn’t below 18 meters. There were a couple times we got a little too excited and started to chase after a shark or a sea turtle and started to go too deep but there was always someone who thought to do a depth check before following the rest of us.

After getting my open water certification I continued on to get my advanced course certification. My friend in LA has her advanced course certification and she wanted someone to have the same so we could do deeper dives. With advanced certification we can go as deep as 30 meters. The area where we were, Norman Reef doesn’t reach to 30 meters, we got as far as 25 meters. I was worried about my ears not equalizing but I was fine. My instructor on the other hand was not fine. I wasn’t able to finish my certification dives that day so it would have to be pushed until another instructor was available. It worked out because I could then do dives with my new diving friends. They were leaving a day earlier than me.

The dives for the advanced course were actually pretty fun. I thought there might be an advanced mask removal and replacement skill we needed to be tested on.

Everyday there were people leaving the boat and arriving. In my new class there were 3 others. For one of the dives we had to swim through a hula hoop and do turns. For another one of our dives we had to navigate with a compass further than we had to for our open water course certification. The last dive we did they took us out in the raft and we did a back roll into the water.

After four days on the boat I was open water and advanced certified! It was nice to stay in one place for a couple days and also make new friends. I didn’t really know what to expect when I signed up for the course. In one of the videos we watched on the first day it ends with diving is more fun with friends, be sure to exchange information so you can go diving together in the future. I laughed then but it’s so true! My time on the boat was definitely more enjoyable because of the people.

I’m excited to go back to LA and do more diving! My friend said we can dive for lobsters! I want to dive for uni!

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Sydney

I caught an early morning flight out of Wellington back to Sydney. I was sad my time in New Zealand was up. I would definitely go back to New Zealand and revisit the same places to spend more time at each place.

I had a 6 hour layover in Sydney so I decided to head into the Sydney. The train makes is super easy and fast. It’s about a 15 minute train ride into the city.

I wanted to try for a third time to eat at Din Tai Fung since it’s become my thing to eat at as many Din Tai Fung restaurants around the world.

In the morning I ate an Anzac biscuit and and avocado, tomato on toast because I assumed I wouldn’t be eating on the plane. I flew Air New Zealand to Sydney. While on the plane they announced certain passengers would be getting a meal based on their ticket class. I assumed that wasn’t me but then they served me a meal so I ate again. I think I ate 3 meals in 6 hours! I ended up skipping dinner that night since I was still full from lunch.

Din Tai Fung (Sydney)

I waited outside around 11:20am and there were already other people waiting! The restaurant opens at 11:30 for lunch. Once I sat down and I saw the menu had items not in the US! So of course I had to try! I also tried to black truffle xiao long bao and it was truffley. I was stuffed after 6 pork xiao long bao, 2 pork truffle xiao long bao, egg fried rice with chicken cutlet, and cucumber appetizer. I shouldn’t have ordered the chicken cutlet and should have just tried 1 truffle xiao long bao. I ended up not finishing the fried rice and didn’t have room for desert. I swear the fried rice portion is larger in Sydney than in the US!

After lunch I headed straight to the airport. My flight to Cairns was on Virgin Australia. To watch the movies on the plane you need to download the app for your device. I used the airport wifi to download the iPad app. I think my constant flying is catching up to me because I’ve seen every movie I would want to see I’ve had to watch my c-list movies. I watched Planet of the Apes with James Franco and I enjoyed it.

iPhone6

I stopped by the Apple store in Sydney to check out the new iPhones. I’m guessing that’s the store where the first guy to buy it dropped it. There was a line to pick up phones but it wasn’t crazy. I checked out the two phones and the different colors. I didn’t gravitate toward either phone and immediately pulled out my iPhone5 sad we would be parting ways soon. It’s my first iPhone, I waited 5 generations to finally get an iPhone and I’m not ready to move on. I can’t believe it’s only been two years! How time flies! Maybe I’ll be one of those people who doesn’t upgrade. If I had enough memory I would probably consider it. I’m contract free! I’m a free agent!

Windy Wellington

Before arriving in Wellington I was told it rivals San Francisco for just how windy it gets. I zipped up and put my hand on my head to keep my hat on. I saw women in dresses and wondered if I was overdressed.

Te Papa Museum

Every list for things to do in NZ include this museum. The admission is free, has free wifi and open until 9pm on Thursday. The museum is nice but I didn’t stay long.

Cable Car to the Botanical Gardens

It’s $7 NZD for a return trip. I took a ride up to see the city from up top. It’s not the best view because it’s blocked by trees but you get to see the city as a whole.

Cuba Street

I looked up places to eat and Cuba street came up. Duke Carvell’s came up on a couple lists. It’s tapas style, good for group dining but I figured I was hungry so I could tackle a few small plates. I tackled 3 and they were delicious.

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Tongariro Alpine Crossing

In early September it looked like the snow was melting away, winter had gone and spring had arrived. That all quickly changed as multiple storms passed through and covered the mountains in snow. I ended up waiting 3 days to hike. The day before and the morning of they said we would only get halfway because of possible avalanche danger. But as quickly as the snow fell it melted away and we were able to hike straight through!

We started the hike layering up as much as possible. They were concerned with the high winds that were expected but about 20 minutes in I wanted to shed all my layers and the strong winds never came. It was
a wee bit nippy at the summit but nowhere near what was expected. In NZ the sun beats down strong and it was quickly warming us up. I regretted the thermals I had chose to wear earlier this morning. The start of the hike was all dirt and then about 20 minutes in we hit snow. We carried crampons the entire way but ended up not needed them. It was a bit slippery at times but we were able to get by with boots and an ice axe. We happened upon a young family carrying a baby. While we were perched along the mountainside ice axes firmly planted in snow they shuffled below us with no ice axes or trekking poles. I began to wonder are we over doing it or are they just crazy?

The area we were hiking is still considered an active volcano so there are areas that are closed off. The hut on the mountain is closed to overnight guests since the last volcano eruption. The mountain is covered in black. You can also see steam rising and as you get closer you get a strong whiff of that geothermal activity.

After hiking up I was a bit worried about going down since it was slippery on the way up but we had crampons and maybe those would help. I was at the back of the group so I missed the first part of what the guide said and the next thing I knew the guide slid down the mountain! I thought he was instructing us how to walk down the steep section of the mountain. Instead we were planning to slide down the mountain! The kid in me jumped for joy. I quickly rearranged my clothing and backpack to turn myself into a human sled. I whipped out my gopro and got read to take some epic footage. We were able to get in a few runs and then there was no snow left to slide down so we had to return to using our legs to walk.

The hike is not a return hike so out shuttle met us at the end. I thought since it was not a return hike it would be more interesting but it’s not. At that point I just wanted to get down and not stop so my muscles wouldn’t cramp up. We still had another hour to go and we hurried down as quickly as possible. We were rewarded at the end with beverages and a grassy lawn to lie on. I noticed they also have outdoor lounging benches built at the ends of the Great Walks.

In the image they use for the end of the Routeburn hike there’s people lounging everywhere, relaxing after a long hike. When we did the Routeburn it was deserted because it’s still winter and not prime hiking season. This time since I was with a large group it looked just like the image I had seen. I took off my boots, dried my wet socks in the sun and drank my can of sprite as if it was a ice cold glass of water.

The best part of the hike is reaching the summit the second best part is reaching the car park.

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New Zealand Great Walks

New Zealand goes to great lengths to maintain the natural beauty of the country. They realize early on on it’s one of he greatest treasures. There are various multi-day hikes around the country which are called Great Walks. You can choose to hike just a portion of the hike which I had to do since it’s still winter and many tracks are still under avalanche watch. These Great Walks are well maintained by the Department of Conservation. There are shelters built just off the trail so you don’t have to pack any sleeping gear. That makes the Great Walks accessible for more people since you don’t have to carry as much stuff. The trails are well marked and the signs look like they are hot off the presses. The information on the Great Walks is widely available and they detail out how much you should plan to hike each day if you’re planning to do a multi-day hike.

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Busing through New Zealand

A cheap way to travel through New Zealand is by bus. I discovered two companies in New Zealand, Naked Bus and Intercity bus. Not all buses look the same or come in the same size.

For example you might be staring at the back of the bus that says Johnston and on the side there’s a small sticker that says nakedbus.com. Next thing you know you stare as the bus pulls away only to come around on the other side by way of rotary (thank god for New Zealand rotaries). That’s when you grab your bags as if your Hercules and you sprint across the street and flag that bus down.

So make sure to thoroughly check all sides of a bus to determine if it’s yours.

I rode buses on both companies and didn’t notice a difference. Naked does charge extra for more than one large bag.

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New Zealand Facts

So these are facts I’ve heard from others that I didn’t fact check with Google or Wikipedia.

Population

New Zealand has 4 million people and 40 million sheep. 1 million live on the South Island and 3 million on the North Island. In the south the ratio of sheep to acre is 1:5. In the north the same ratio is 5:1. If I said that correctly for every 5 acres of land in the South there is 1 sheep.

West Island
If you haven’t heard New Zealand also has a west island and it’s called Australia.

Rotorua

Polynesian Spa

The water in the outdoor pools are from an actual hot spring. I went around 7:30pm since it closes at 11pm and they have free wifi at the cafe. Unlimited free wifi is hard to come by in New Zealand and I’m down to about 300mb of data on my mobile plan. I picked the $45 Lake Spa. The hottest pool was 42 Celsius. I didn’t last very long in that pool. I enjoyed my time in the pool that was deemed too cold by a Chinese woman at the spa. I’m pretty sure I was hanging at the spa with an entire Chinese tour group. I tried to listen in to practice my listening skills but most of their accents were too strong.

It’s called the Lake Spa because you get views of the Lake but you can’t see anything at night.

Hobbiton

They created this fictional village for the LOTR movies and then rebuilt it with permanent structures for the Hobbit movies. It feels a bit like Disneyworld where no detail is missed. Most of the trees and plants are real. The structures were all built and then severely distressed. I want to re watch the movies when I get back.

Zorbing

Zorbing and New Zealand have always been synonymous for me. I don’t even remember why. I really wanted to go zorbing but it wasn’t going to fit our original itinerary since there’s only one place in New Zealand you can do it. But then weather happened and it changed everything. We decided to leave National Park and then I had to figure out if I could leave with them or stay behind. Since zorbing was #1 on my list I wanted to make it happened. I was able to rebook/cancel some things and had to pay rebooking fees and lose deposits but it was all worth it. My cousin had recently gone zorbing and she raved about how awesome it was. Zorbing is loads of fun and after the first ride I bought two more! My YHA Hostel in Rotorua recommended Ogo instead of the Zorb company because they have a longer track. At first I wasn’t sure what to do since I hadn’t looked at the other company but I decided the longer track would be more fun and it’s closer to town. It’s same inventor, he just started a new company. When you look at it it doesn’t seem that long but once you’re in it it feels long. I tried both the straightaway and the sidewinder and both are fun. I can now understand why hamsters love their hamster balls.

Naked Bus

Yes there’s a bus service called Naked Bus. It’s like a Greyhound or a Peter Pan. I got to the bus stop 20 minutes early and still ended up running across the street chasing the bus. I failed to notice the sticker on the side that said Naked Bus and instead was looking at the name on the back of the bus which I’m not sure what it refers too.

This is the second time this trip I’ve had to run with all my bags at the last second.