Bali - Monkeys, Mangoes, and Motorbikes

Its amazing how much cultures can change with a short plane ride. Jodie and I have had a bit of a culture shock since leaving Australia and arriving in Bali. It has been very interesting, entertaining and refreshing.
Really the only thing that hasn't changed is the heat, in fact it seems to be a little hotter here, and maybe even a bit more humid.
90+90=sweaty. 90 degrees plus 90 percent humidity makes for a very sweaty Eli, and even Jodie who is not much of a sweater herself is starting to glisten a bit. That is really the only part of Bali that we don't care for. The people are wonderful, the scenery is terrific and the food is delicious.
Shortly after getting off the plane, I became a millionaire with a swipe of my ATM card. Thats right, I took out a cool 1.5 million Rupiah, or the equivalent of $150 USD. We are still adjusting to the mental strain of lopping 4 zeros off of all the prices to convert them to a familiar value. Things are markedly cheaper here, which is a relief to our budget and my inherent thriftiness. After spending a month and a half in New Zealand and Australia where we were blowing our budget everyday on nothing luxurious by any stretch of the imagination. However, here in Bali we are managing to stay right on or below our budget everyday and we have definitely upped our standard of living. While in Cairns, we were staying in a hostel ($30 for both of us sharing a room with 2-4 others, cooking at least two meals a day, and when we did go out to eat it was usually fast food because that was the cheapest option. We might have a $3 beer from the store which was a treat, or share a $6 beer from a bar if we wanted some entertainment. Today in Bali, we spent $10 for our own room with a bathroom, private porch and breakfast included. We spent $6 on lunch in a restaurant with fresh food, and fresh fruit juice.
Dinner was another $6 I had fresh snapper, Jodie had a seafood combination of calamari, fish and shrimp. We also managed to fit in a couple of full body massages for $4 a piece. We are happy.
We started off our time in Kuta, which is a very interesting place. It is the heart of tourism in Bali, and its bustling with restaurants, tons of motorbikes, and a million stores that seem to be selling the exact same stuff. It stretches out along a beach in front of nice resorts and many restaurants. Kuta reminded me very much of the beach towns in Mexico that cater to American spring breakers, like Rocky Point or Ensanada. The only difference is instead of rowdy Americans, there are rowdy Australians. It has a raucous night life with lots of bars and even a strip of high end shopping stores. Its a nice enough place but it didn't feel very Balinese to us. Every ten steps there was another shop with a eager to make you deal merchant trying to sell you sunglasses or t-shirts. Luckily for them I just so happened to need some sunglasses. So after walking away from about half a dozen merchants selling the EXACT same sunglasses, I finally found one at the end of the day that I worked down from 250,000 Rupiah ($25) to about 3,000 ($3). Jodie said it couldn't be done, but I found $3 sunglasses.
The beach was nice but very hot, and the bath warm water didn't provide much refreshment. It was by far the warmest ocean water we have ever felt. We did feel very safe while in Kuta, except for the rat that somehow managed to run across both of my feet while walking down a sidewalk at night. I almost pulled a hammy as I jumped in the air and screamed like a little girl. Also while in Kuta, we did manage to meet up with a friend of a friend of Jodie's sister Tanya, who lives here. Her name is Wendy and she is a British expat who moved here 17 years ago. She was very helpful on what we should see and do while in Bali. Following her advice we left Kuta after a couple days to explore some more of the island.

Ubud was our next stop, and we really liked it there. It is a smaller town, about an hour inland from Kuta. We took a shuttle bus which was nice to get a view other than the city. We passed a lot There were a few less tourists there, and it had a very different feel. It was a lot quieter and the town seemed to have more character. Our first stop was at the Monkey Forest near the center of the town. We walked around watching monkeys lounging, playing and waiting for banana hand outs from passers by. They were very entertaining but we didn't let them climb on us because of the warning signs at the entrance of the park that said they could get aggressive, and if they did climb on you to drop your stuff and slowly walk away. We walked around for the rest of the day checking out the various shops which were selling lots of paintings, wood carvings and other artsy stuff. After pricing out various massage places, we picked one for $6 an hour and it was fantastic. They specialized in reflexology which I guess means poking and prodding you in the feet, but it felt great. The one part I didn't care for as much was when the guy literally started punching the bottoms of my feet, but overall it was very nice. We awoke at our bungalow the next morning and were soon greeted by one of the employees who served us the typical bungalow breakfast of banana pancakes, fresh pineapple, watermelon and papaya, and some really strong sludgy coffee. Since most Balinese are Hindus, every morning little offering baskets are prepared and left all over on sidewalks, store entrances, and stair cases. They usually consist of a small weaved dish made out of palm leaves, and filled with flowers, incense and usually some sort of food, mainly rice. It's nice to walk around in the morning watching the people setting these out and sprinkling water on them by dipping a flower petal then shaking it above the baskets with a strong smell of incense in the air. That night we watched a traditional Balinese dance. The chanting and dancing was made more entertaining by the stray dogs that wandered around amongst the dancers with a confused look on their faces. We have noticed many dogs that look remarkably like our dog Marley which confirms our suspicions that he is 100% mutt.
Padang Bai was our next stop, about one hour east of Ubud on the coast. We really like it here. The town is a sleepy fishing village that serves as a port where ships leave for the next Island to the east, Lombok. The town has a narrow beach where all of the traditional fishing boats are sitting, it is very scenic. There isn't very many tourists here, which is nice because we can walk in any direction from where we are staying and within 2 minutes, you feel like you are the only non Balinese around. Things seem to be even cheaper here compared to Ubud and Kuta. We have had some excellent seafood here, like barracuda and mahi mahi which cost us around $3 per plate. Our favorite part of Padang Bai is a small beach in a cove called Blue Lagoon. There is a reef not to far out which has some great snorkeling and lots of tropical fish. Like most of the beaches here in Bali, there are always locals wandering the beach selling stuff and offering massages. We took a lady up on her offer and it was very relaxing. We planned on renting a motorbike (scooter) today but after talking with the lady at our bungalow, she said I needed an international license or the police might stop us and we would have to pay fines. That was strikeout #1 for the day. Then we decided we needed some more cash for the rest of the day, and we found out that the only ATM in town was not working so we had to drive an hour and a half round trip to the nearest one. I'm not sure if the guys across the street broke the ATM, but it is definitely good business for them, because we needed a ride and they just so happened to offer us one. I bargained them down from $15 to $6 to take us to the next town. That was strikeout #2. When we returned to Padang Bai we decided to find this other beach that was supposed to be nearby but we got as many different directions as people we asked. So after wandering around for 45 minutes we gave up, bought our daily 60 cent mango and headed to the Blue Lagoon. Not a bad compromise. Strikeout #3. However when we got to Blue Lagoon and went out in the water, I managed to cut the bottom of my foot in two spots when I stepped on some coral. What's more fun than cutting your foot on coral? Seeing how much sand you can cram into those cuts walking across the beach. Good thing I brought a nurse along, Jodie patched me up well and thanks to super glue I'm as good as new. Even with the setbacks, our day still turned out fantastic. We befriended a local bartender who talked with us while the power was out for three hours. He gave us a lot of insight on the local culture and was very friendly. Overall we have enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of Padang Bai, but we are eager to see some more of Bali so we are setting out for Padang Padang on the south point of the Island.


Australia - Crocs, the Outback, and Wally

Eli and I have been in Cairns and the surrounding area for the past week and a half. The population of Cairns is about 100,000 but it feels like it is mostly full of tourists.
It is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Even though it is on the coast, it is 10 miles from the nearest beach and when you do get to the beach via bus, you can't actually swim in it during the summer (Oct - March).
Well that's not entirely true...you can swim in a blocked off area where they have stinger nets protecting the innocent swimmers from the deadly box-jellyfish that are present this time of year. Eli and I braved the small area of "safe water" for about 30 seconds before we both decided it wasn't worth it. I noticed that the waves carried water right over the floating devices holding up the stingernets and I'm no engineer but I'm pretty sure those nets couldn't stop all those jellyfish. Luckily, Cairns has catered to the lack of swimable beaches by building a large lagoon (public pool) that overlooks the ocean. Pretty much the whole town hangs out at this lagoon. Eli and I spent 3 afternoons there to escape the 90 degree muggy heat too.
After a few days in Cairns, we got antsy to get out of the tourist scene so we rented our smallest car yet (stick shift) and set out for a few days. We first headed towards Cape Tribulation to check out some rainforests. We camped 1 night in Daintree National Park near the ocean.
The wildlife did not want us to sleep that night. The brush turkeys and wild cockatoos squawked endlessly. Once again Eli and I thanked the inventor of our most valuable travel possession...the mighty earplugs. While in the rainforest we took a boat tour up the Daintree River. We were guided by a very knowledgeable croc enthusiast. We saw 2 large crocs and 1 baby croc and lots of mosquitoes. It was worth it!
Ever since we landed in Australia Eli has been anxious to see some authentic "Outback." We were amazed at how quickly the terrain changed from tropical rainforest to dusty outback. We headed to Mt Surprise and the big surprise for us was that there wasn't a dang thing there, let alone a mountain. But it was all Eli hoped it would be. I enjoyed it as well as it did represent my preconceived notion of what Australia would be. The one good thing about this blink of a town was the dinner/gas station/general store. We ordered burgers there and we were delighted to get big juicy beet garnished burgers like none I have had before. Delicious. I was thoroughly disappointed that we did not see herds of dingos but we did see lots of kangaroos, most of them seemed to be napping right on the side of the road. Hmm, what kind meat was in our burgers???
After quickly escaping the outback, we headed towards the Atherton Tablelands. The tablelands have lots of waterfalls and a few extinct volcanic crater lakes. We cooled off by taking a swim in Lake Eechum. That night we camped at Lake Tinaroo. When we arrived there, we discovered that this campsite only allowed pre-booked campers. The sign told us to go online or call to register and pay for a site. Easy enough, not! Without a cell phone or Internet at the tips of our fingers, we faced a moral dilemma. After seeing that the campsite was literally empty, we concocted a plan to set up our tent late that night and take it down early the next morning, before any park rangers might patrol and give us a fine.
The plan worked, however, we both tossed and turned most of the night with bad dreams and we frequently checked our one watch to make sure we didn't sleep in too late.
Since we couldn't sleep, we busted out of camp at a cool 5:30am and went on a search for a cup of coffee.
The Laughing Kookaburra birds laughed at us as we drove away. After 3 or 4 unsuccessful stops at cafes (nothing opens here until 9am usually) we found ourselves in a little town called Kuranda. Eventhough it was still only 7am we found a local hippie-run coffeeshop, we were the first customers of the day, and we ordered the "Godzilla Mochachinno." Eat that Starbucks! After getting a coffee buzz, we walked through Barron Gorge National Park. We were amazed to see the waterfall in this park as it was about 900ft tall! We also came across a Lace Monitor Lizard climbing a tree.
He was at least 3 feet long. I love lizards.
The rest of the morning, we stayed in this happy little hippy town and surveyed the assortment of didgeridoos, crocodile dundee hats, and painted boomerangs in the market. We also stopped in the Aboriginal art galleries and saw some beautiful paintings but we decided we could find a better way to spend $34,000 dollars than on a painting of dots. Yes I did write $34,000 dollars for dots. We then drove a little ways out of town and found a campsite for the night. When we got to the campsite, we realized it was still only 1pm but since we had been up so early, we didn't feel like doing anymore sightseeing. Since it was too hot to take naps and since our newest insect nemesis, the huge biting fly, was pestering us, we sat in our tent playing chess. Nerd alert! We did sleep good that night after it cooled down.
The next morning we headed back into Cairns eager to get out to the Great Barrier Reef. We booked a trip for the next day and found a hostel to stay at for the remainder of our time in Australia. The 2 of us, along with 120 other eager reefers, set out for the 1.5 boat ride to the reef. The boat was nice but a little cramped so we were very happy to jump into the bright blue waters and snorkel on the reef. The coral was fascinating! We saw countless types of brightly colored tropical fish differing in size from a fingernail to a wheelbarrow. One of the most interesting fish we saw was turquoise and pink, about the size of a very large watermelon. This fish liked to snack on the coral and we could literally hear them chomping away while we floated above. The biggest fish we saw was "Wally" a Maori Wrasse fish, a local friend of the boats. When he came up to the boat I was quick to get in the water as he let people pet him.
Totally awesome. While this was almost the highlight of the day, my favorite thing was when Eli discovered that his beloved newly grown mustache was causing his snorkel mask to leak and he was forced to use his leatherman to cut it off. Poor Eli. Poor Mustache. Overall, the reef meet our expectations as one of the natural wonders of the world!
Our time in Australia is coming to an end as we prepare for Bali. We realized how vast Australia truly is and we might try to return here someday to explore the other 99% of the country.


Australia - Thanksgiving, Kangaroos, and TimTam Slams

Wow we have been lazy about blogging, now we have some catching up to do.
We are currently 30,000 ft somewhere above the east coast of Australia on our way from Sydney to Cairns. We have been in Australia about a week now and are having a great time.
We arrived in Melbourne anxious to see our friend Rachel from high school and to sleep in a real bed.
It had been a few years since either of us had seen Rachel, and now she is married with a son and another child on the way. Rachel and Mark where very gracious hosts, we had a comfy bed to sleep in, wonderful home-cooked meals and a great tour guide. They are in the process of building a house so we actually stayed at a friends house where they are temporarily living. Their friends name is Ash and he was very welcoming to allow us strangers to stay in his house for a few days. Ash and I had some great conversations about Australian customs, politics and the strange sport of Cricket.
The first stop Rachel took us to was a local wildlife park.
It wasn't terribly elaborate but it was very entertaining. Upon entering the park we bought some kangaroo food and found to our delight that once inside the park, about 40 kangaroos were just roaming around. Most of them were lounging in the shade but the real friendly ones would come right up to you happily eating the food right out of your hand.
I had always assumed that kangaroos were not to be petted, but these ones didn't seem to mind it one bit. We wandered around the park for a few hours checking out koalas, wallabies, wombats, tazmanian devils and the larger Red Kangaroos which some were as tall as myself and they were fenced off in a separate area. Rachel had heard a rumor about a baby kangaroo that had been orphaned and one of the zoo keepers were taking care of it. We asked around and after a few minutes we were introduced to Glen the zoo keeper. He was very friendly and looked very Australian with his short shorts and boots. He went into a room and retrieved a ball of blankets which contained a young joey named "Ruby". She was a little bigger than a house cat and Glen had explained that her mother got her head stuck in tree stump while she was in the pouch and it took a while to get her free.
In fear of her hurting the baby Glen had taken the joey under his care and had been taking it home with him every night for the last several months. He told us he had to feed it every four hours, twenty four hours a day so he felt like a mother of a newborn. It was funny to picture this burly Australian bloke bottle feeding a baby kangaroo in the wee hours of the morning.
As we were taking turns holding Ruby, we were making conversation with Glen and Rachel asked him what he likes to do for fun. Expecting an answer of maybe playing sports, camping, hiking or something, but I should have known better. "Snake catching, I like going into the bush and finding snakes, or people will call me when they need one removed" he told us. I felt like I was standing next to Crocodile Steve. Then Glen told us a story about how he used to live with a guy who had a few tame dingos. He said they really made a mess out of everything and he "woke up one morning and found out that the dingo ate my phone" I never thought I would here that sentence.

We then watched glen feed some of Australia's deadly snakes by opening up the doors on the glass enclosures and dangling a dead mouse in front of the snakes with some forceps. I was keeping my distance, not being particularly fond of poisonous snakes especially when there is no physical barrier between us, but Jodie didn't seem to mind. The snake feedings weren't quite as eventful as I was picturing but I was ok with that.

The next morning we relaxed around the house glad to be able to spread out and lounge. In the afternoon we drove south to a place called the "Twelve Apostles" which was a series of rock outcroppings jutting out of the sea. We waded through the seas of Asian tourists to an overlook where we could see the ocean cliffs and waves crashing below. It was very scenic. On Friday we celebrated Thanksgiving with all the traditional foods. Rachel had some Aussie friends come over who had never celebrated Thanksgiving before, and we all had a good time. We cooked the turkey on the barbie and it was delicious! It almost felt like we were back home. One of my favorite Australian foods that Rachel introduced to us were these chocolate covered wafers called Timtams. She even showed us a special way of eating them called a "Timtam slam". You bite off opposing corners of the wafer and then use it as a straw to suck up some hot beverage (we had coffee). After about two seconds of sucking you shove the Timtam into your mouth just before the whole thing melts. I would put on the order of S'mores as far as deliciousness goes.
We left Rachel's on Saturday to set out for Sydney. We made a quick stop in downtown Melbourne for some lunch with Rachel before we said our good byes and she took the train back to her house. Our plan was to stop in Kosciousko National Park to hike the highest peak in Australia. Of course the next morning the weather was horrible so we decided to instead spend the day in the capital of Canberra. We stopped at the National Museum of Australia which was really fascinating. After a quick drive around the capital we found a rest stop on the side of the road where we slept inside our car once more. This time our car was a little four door hatchback, but we managed to fit with the back seats folded flat and the front seats pushed all the way forward. Pretty comfy actually.
Sydney involved mainly site seeing and lots of walking. We toured around the opera house, the harbour bridge, national art museum, bondi beach and such. The weather was not spectacular, light rain and lots of gusty wind but we had a good time anyway. Our favorite part of the city was the royal botanic gardens. Although beautiful, it was not the plantlife that got our attention, but the enormous bats. They are called Flying Foxes they are so big. There was hundreds of them just hangin' out upside down in the trees. Later on we swore we saw them flying around the city, it really cool. Sydney is a beautiful city but we are anxious to check out the Northeastern coast and the great barrier reef!


New Zealand - Fiords, Penguins,and Boulders

Eli and I went on an overnight hike in Fiordland National Park. We hiked the Routeburn track because it is one of New Zealand's "10 Great Walks." Due to heavy snow this past winter there was an avalanche blocking a part of the trail. Unfortunatley this meant we would have to pay $55 each for a "heli lift" (helicopter) to do the whole track. We opted not to do the heli lift and instead hiked up as far as we could and hiked back down. Day 1 - was overcast without rain and the views were mostly visible showing us glacially carved valleys and waterfalls. We set up our tent and a beautiful mountain lake surrounded by snow-capped peaks.
New Zealand has a great network of mountain huts for the multi-day hikes which most people take advantage of. They are simple but nice including a wood burning stove, gas cookers and bunks to sleep in. This leaves the campsites for us tent sleepers pleasantly uncrowdded...we are usually the only tent around. Since the Routeburn is one of the "Great Walks" the huts were $45 per person per night. We had pay $15 each to camp outside.
Day 2 - we woke in the morning to a steady drizzle which always makes getting out of the tent even more difficult. We ate our standard bagels and coffee in the little shelter area before packing up our tent that never seems to dry out. The hike down to the trail head was soggy and foggy all the way down. We got especially drenched as we passed near a 500 foot waterfall that seemed to double in force and volume from the day before.
I counted 85 streams that we crossed over that day during the 4 hours we hiked. Good thing for Gortex (waterproof) shoes but I can't say the same for the rest of our clothing. We reached our car in record time, quickly put on dry clothes, and scarfed down some lunch (granola bars, summer saugage, cheese, oranges). We debated about going to Milford Sound with the bad weather but we also knew we could not pass it up. Along the 1.5 hr drive to Milford sound we stopped to watch some curious Kea's trying to find ways into parked cars. These alpine parrots were much bigger than I expected. I love them. When we got to the Sound, it was shrouded in clouds so we had some coffee in a nearby cafe to wait it out. Sure enough, after a little while the rains stopped, the clouds partially lifted and we could see the beautiful Fiords of Milford Sound.
The one redeming quality about all of the rain was that it created literally hundreds of waterfalls streaming down the cliffed areas. We stopped at least dozen times on the drive back from the Sound to see the spectacular snow-capped mountains that we missed on the way in.
Eli couldn't take enough pictures! Definitley one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. For dinner, since we were on a roll with poor food choices for the day, we regretably stopped to get some "takeaway" (take out). Takeaway is always the cheapest but always fried. With our fingers and lips glistening, we headed east to find showers and a place to rest our heads. We stayed in Gore, the "Brown Trout Fishing Captial of the World." We splurged for a cabin (double bed in a brick bomb shelter looking room) and it was everything we needed. Eli says the smell and style reminded him of his Grandma Everman's basement. He felt at home.
Our primary mission for heading east was so I could see some penguins. We drove out to Moeraki's lighthouse and perched in a camouflage shelter and waited with binoculaurs. After 20 minutes or so, out hopped a belly bulging rare yellow-eyed penguin! Shorlty after we saw a second. I think they were boyfriend and girlfriend.
Also along Moeraki beach we snapped some photos of the infamous round boulders. Eli thinks they are actually alien eggs waiting to unhatch on an unexpecting tourits. They do seem like they are from out of this world.
That evening while camping some of the surrounding campers invited us to their picnic table for some wine. By the end of the night, our group grew to include 4 Israelis, 2 Belguins, a German, and a Kiwi. Sadly I decided to retire to bed when the rain started and after I discoved I was the oldest one at the table. The Israelis were not shy about telling me how old I am. It was a great time to be in the company of diverisity yet sharing the same passions for travel, wine, and music. We even had a "knockin on heaven's door" jam session when one of the Israel's busted out his guitar. Apparently everyone knows Bob Dylan.

The following morning, Sunday, we made a bee-line inland to Mt Cook National Park. What a glorious cloud free sunshiney day. We went for an easy 3 hr hike the base of the mountain where we skipped some rocks and basked in the sun. Being in God's magnificent creation was our church for the day. Our campspot had a great view of the surrounding glacier covered mountains. During the night I woke up to the sound of some growling avalanches in the distance, which apperently is very common in that area. Around 4 am the wind and rain started. Eli was worried about the tent being flattened by the violent gusts so by 5am we packed up and started our Monday. This day we drove to a place called Castle Hill. This place is a series of grassy hills with scattered boulders, some as big as houses. We spent an hour or so jumping and climbing like kids on a playground. Another surprisingly magical place.

Our time in New Zealand is now winding down. When we first arrived, I was a little anxoius and had some restless nights thinking about living life on the road and out of our tent. Now I am glad to say that I am adapting well and have found some routine in our currently non-routine lifestyle. At night, I take comfort in our trusty tent and my faithful sleeping bag and I can sleep easy. Luckily I have Eli next to me everystep of the way to hold my hand and encourage me.

We will spend one more full day in Christchurch before heading off to Australia. We are sad to leave such a wonderful place but of course we are excited to see a new country and a familar face. We will be spending a couple of days with our friend Rachel that we know from High School. She let me know that she is planning to have Thanksgiving while we are there.


New Zealand - Keas, Rainbows, Sandfly Lullaby

Earlier this week we spent 2 days backpacking in Nelson Lakes National Park. We hiked up to Bushline Hut the first day and camped overnight.
I woke up a few times to the sounds of squaking Kea (green colored alpine parrot). according to some other campers, the birds had been picking at the strings of our tent.
Eli stayed sound asleep and missed the commotion even though I shook him a few times.
The hike up Mt Roberts was breathtaking as we climbed above the clouds along a rocky ridge. At one point, we looked down into a valley and saw a full rainbow. It was surreal to be standing above a rainbow. Our camera was too cold to work so we only got this one picture of it.
The last few days we have been fighting off swarms of biting sandflies. We are undecided as to whether we like them more or less than mosquitos. They are bloodsuckers too but more aggressive than mosquitos. They especially like Eli. We read somewhere that sandflys only sleep at night so to entertain Eli, I made up a "sandfly lullaby" one evening.

The one thing we forgot to bring on our trip was a wine bottle opener. We shopped around for a corkscrew and found one for $2.40! What a deal! Well on our first attempt at opening some wine, the screw broke.
Eli was able to use his pliers to get the cork out, thankfully. We've since decided to splurge and now we own the $6 corkscrew. Hope it works!

One of our favorite passtimes is skipping river rocks and building cairns (stacks of rocks). NZ has tons of perfect rocks.
We even stopped at a beach where there were thousands of cairns built by passerbys.
Yesterday we stopped at Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. Again, amazing.

We are currently in Queenstown, NZ and it is sunny and beautiful. T
he lakes and mountains have colors that seem unreal...vivid blues and greens. Our next adventure will take us into Fiordland National Park where we will do some more backpacking or "tramping" as they say in NZ.

Latest Itinerary

We purchased some more airline tickets!!

Latest Itinerary
Nov 25 flight Christchurch, NZ to Melbourne, Aus
Nov 28 drive to Sydney (tentative date)
Dec 2 flight Sydney to Cairns, Aus
Dec 14 flight Cairns to Darwin, Aus to Bali, Indonesia
Dec 23 flight Bali to Singapore
Dec 25 train Singapore to Phuket, Thailand (tentative date)
that's all we finalized for now....


New Zealand - celebrating 3 years of marriage

Yesterday Jodie and I celebrated our 3 year anniversary. It was a great day. We woke up early in Auckland in order to catch our morning flight to Christchurch. We had a bit of a close call when the cab we had scheduled to pick us up never showed, but luckily I happened to find one shortly so we made our flight in time. We landed in Christchurch to some crummy Portlandesque weather, it felt a lot like home. We had booked a hotel in advance knowing that we would be bed deprived, and it was a welcomed site after camping for a week. The hotel is very contemporary and looks like an Ikea catalog. The rooms are very small but nice and clean. We took advantage of the free internet to catch up on emails and to chat over skype with our families. We are so glad that we bought our netbook before we left, it has been great to be able to stay connected. Although, we often find ourselves randomly driving around neighborhoods at about 5 mph searching for wireless. Last night we decided to splurge and veer away from our normal diet of pasta and soups. We tried out a nearby Thai restaurant where we were seated right next to the glass windows facing the street. The food was decent but the real entertainment came in the form of us pretending to be mannequins when people walked by. I don't think we fooled anyone but we had a good laugh. Today we are heading north of Christchurch to start exploring the South Island.


New Zealand - Volcanoes, Boiled Eggs, Hot Springs

Eli and I spent today in Raglan, a small, trendy surf town. We sat on the beach and soaked up some sun. We are now currently south of Auckland with plans to camp in our car tonight in a park tucked off of one of the main roads. We just got done eating a hearty meal of baked beans and mac and cheese from our campstove. We must look homeless because a very nice Afghani family offered us some of there lamb kabobs fresh off of the grill. We accepted. The food in New Zealand has been tasty! Tomorrow we will head into Auckland to explore the city. We have been traveling the North Island for the past week taking it day by day with no real plans in mind. 2 days ago Eli and I spent the day in Tongariro National Park. It claims to be New Zealand's best day hike and we agree that it was spectaculur. The day was perfect, a bit chilly but just right for hiking. No clouds in site. We spent 7 hrs hiking up craters and volcanic areas. There was steam vents coming out of the mountain with sulfuric gas...smelled like eggs. So that night we went and bought a dozen eggs and boiled them to have as snacks. I am turning into my parents (as boiled eggs are a staple of any family road trip).
Yesterday we stayed in Kawhia, a small beach town on the west side of the North Island. Kawhia offered good fish and chips, which we devoured before the seagulls could get us. Kawhia is also known for the natural hot springs that hide in the black sands of Te Puia beach. We had to catch the springs near lowtide and then we walked around barefoot until we could feel hot spots on the beach. A friendly visitor had a shovel for us to borrow and Eli dug us a hole for our cold feet. The water was suprisingly hot. One couple on the beach actually dug themselves a shallow hottub!


Hawaii to New Zealand

We have finally arrived at our first international destination, New Zealand. It is wonderful here and we are glad to be continuing on our journey after some relaxing time in Hawaii. The last couple days in Hawaii were largely consumed by Halloween festivities in Honolulu. Jodie and I decided to dress as the Dharma Initiative (from Lost) because it was easy and cheap(goodwill jumpsuits). Si made an awesome costume of Max from "Where the Wild Things Are". With a little sewing instruction from Jodie and a pile of fake fur fabric, Si finished his costume and it turned out great. We saw a couple other "Max's" out and Si blew them away. We had a great time out with Si and his friends, so much so that we only managed about 2 hours of sleep before we had to be at the airport to New Zealand. Needless to say we were a bit rung out the next day but we managed to catch some sleep on the plane. Our original plan was to buy our "round the world" tickets here in New Zealand right when we landed because they were quite a bit cheaper than in the States. We also discovered that the company we were buying them from happened to have a 10% off sale that ended the day after we landed. Early the next morning after our much needed sleep we hurried off to the airport planning on an easy ticket buying experience. We talked to the man at the Qantas Airlines ticketing counter who didn't seem to want to help us because of how long it takes to book all the flights so he pawned us off to the phone
representatives. So we didn't really need to be at the airport after all even though thats what I had been told before. No big deal we thought, we will just call and book them over the phone. Well the lady on the phone told us that the 10% off deal was only available on the internet so we had to
book on the internet. We paid the outrages airport internet fees and tried to book them online but ran into more problems using the website, but we found out on the website where it specifically said that we could book over the phone and get the 10%.
We called back and finally talked to someone who was willing to help us so she took down our itinerary and said she would get back to us in about an hour when she looked up all the flights. FIVE HOURS LATER, we finally heard back from her with a itinerary that had only about half of our stops at about twice the cost. She said that some of the cities that we wanted to go to didn't fall under the tickets that we wanted so we had to do something completely different. (Which is not what I had heard before) We thanked her for her time, and decided that we needed to leave the airport after 8 hours, $40 in internet charges, and no tickets. It was a very frustrating way to start out our trip. Everything was fine once I cooled off a little and picked up our rental car.
Driving here (on the left side of the road) wasn't quite the anxiety inducing experience as it was last time I was here, but it still made me a little nervous. Probably the funniest part about driving with the steering wheel on the right is the blinker lever is also on the right and the windshield wiper lever is on the left so every time you try to turn on the blinker the windshield wipers fire on at full speed. It takes a little getting used to. Jodie is doing quite well behind the wheel.
We have been here for two days now and camped both nights since we got the rental car. Camping makes it way cheaper and the money we save on lodging more than pays for our rental car. Yesterday we went for a day hike up Rainbow Mountain near Rotorua and it was a wonderful view from the top of the rolling grasslands filled with sheep and dark forests. Today we will tour around the Taupo Lake region and plan a hike for tomorrow.


Mice, Karaoke and Jack

We have been in Hawaii now for 2 weeks and it will be hard to leave next weekend. Our days have been filled with coffee, beaches, mice and the occasional tv star. Shortly after we arrived we discovered a mouse running a muck around the house. After realizing that he could make it onto the stove and counter tops we decided it was time for him to leave us. A mouse trap, some cheese (peanut butter didn't work), and a little persistence later, we caught ourselves a mouse. Then his friend. (We won't show you the after picture, only the before one).
Once we caught the mouse we needed something else to pass the time so we decided to stalk some actors from the TV show Lost. Si's next door neighbor works for the show and leaked a couple of upcoming filming locations to us. After many mosquito bites and a couple of hours standing in the rain, we got to see the characters of Jack and Hurley filming on a hiking trail. We were pretty excited because we walked right passed them. I know, we are big nerds.

Si has been a gracious host and taken us out on the town a couple times with some of his friends. One night we spent the better part of 3 hours singing karaoke at a place called Karaoke hut. We think Si needs to start a band, and Eli decided he should never be allowed near a microphone. We had a great time and are looking forward to some more karaoke before we leave.


Laie Waterfall Hike

Yesterday we hiked Laie waterfall trail. The 4 hour hike turned into a 6 hour hike because the mud was so thick and the rocks were slippery. Along the way we munched on wild strawberry guavas. Si's roommate Tyler was our guide and he brought along his 2 dogs, Myles and Zion. Tyler hiked ahead of us so every 3 minutes or so, Myles would run back to check on us and lead the way through the trail. What a good dog.

Today we are a bit sore, so we are going to relax at the beach. As soon as we find out where the 6 year old boy in the balloon is (currently on CNN), we will head out.