Sunday, November 28, 2010

Off to see the wizard - Gabe and Sarah's epic adventures in Oz

7 November - 9 November 2010: Melbourne, Australia

Sunday, after a morning lounging in the sun and a final Fab 4 lunch - sushi at the mall (very fitting ;), although not Chartwell - our usual hang out), Gabe and I said our sad goodbyes to Erika, I said my final farewell to good ol' Bryant Hall, and we started our drive up to Auckland to embark on our Australian adventure. We left Gabe's car at his friend's near the airport and got him to drop us off in time for our 7:30pm flight to Melbourne. We got in fairly late, took the shuttle and decided to go to bed early upon arrival at the hostel - after a celebratory Radler of course (we brought a pack of our favourite NZ beer with us on vacation, in anticipation of toasting Gabe's birthday the next week and just because.. it's that good).

Monday, after talking our way into free luggage storage for the day after checking out of our hostel, we wandered downtown and explored a bit before meeting up with our friend Izzy from Waikato (Erika and my skydiving partner, who lived in the neighboring residence hall). Prior to meeting Izzy in the well-known Federation Square we discovered an amazing alleyway full of delicious-looking cafes, crowded with people, fun sights and smells.

We also adventured into the ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image), where they had interactive displays chronicling the advent of any technology you can image - TV, video games, virtual reality, special effects, film etc. One exciting machine allowed you to recreate a Matrix move - you enter a circular room, with a dozen cameras enclosed in the wall surrounding you, which capture any move you make in epic slow-mo.

Some funny little interactive egg things outside the ACMI (the eyes follow you as you walk by... other than that, I don't think they serve any purpose):

A camera/projection screen that makes your silhouette into an abstract image (like unintentional shadow puppets):
Doing our thing on a sweet "grass" patch outside:

Oooosh handstand #85482349829534723923:

Nearby, we next ventured down a famous alleyway filled with amazing (and often bizarre) graffiti.

The alley - you can see the ACMI in the background across the street:

Yes, that unicorn is smoking a cigarette... hmm:

Waiting for Izzy, we were approached by two people from the Melbourne transportation authority and received $5 for answering some questions - we used this to buy ourselves a sushi treat in the cafe-filled alley on our way back to the square for our rendezvous.

Federation Sq. where we met Izzy:

With Izzy, we continued our city exploration, walking through Chinatown before taking a free tourist trolley around the outskirts of the CBD to the docks on the western portion of the city.

One of the weirdest sculptures I have ever seen ("Disfigured cow stuck in tree??"):

We walked around for another while, then caught a ride back to the city centre, where we made it to the entrance to the extensive Melbourne botanical gardens, but decided to lay leisurely by the river instead of continuing inside.
Melbourne CBD is directly behind us just across the river:

Afterward, we found a rooftop cider bar near Federation Square, where we enjoyed a quick refreshment before parting ways.
Izzy went back to her hostel, while Gabe and I went back to collect our things and board a tram south toward St. Kilda beach outside of downtown Melbourne. All was well, until we disembarked from the tram much too early and ended up a bit lost. After an hourish of walking (with our convenient rolley suitcases in tail) we finally found our hostel. Turns out we had been kind of close to our destination, but had made an epically counterproductive walking loop. No worries - we actually had an excellent walk and made the best of a funny situation :).

We got lost somewhere in the middle there, near South Yarra:

Tired (and sweaty haha) we showered/regrouped. Our new place was more of a hotel than a hostel (The Claremont Hotel), with immaculate private rooms, a lounge, free breakfast etc. Finally, we urged our tired feet to keep walking and strolled out on the town to find some grub. We ended up walking quite a bit (turns out the beach was a bit farther than advertised), before taking the tram down to the water. We jumped off the tram to a beautiful sunset and decided to postpone dinner a bit longer to walk out on the pier. Afterward, we strolled along the busy main beach street and split a nacho dinner.


Tuesday, we awoke in St. Kilda and decided on a beach day. The trams were running very late for some reason, so we half walked, half kept on the look out for trams headed toward the beach, and 3 hours later finally made it. By the beach, we refueled with some much needed burgers and Coronas. It was SO hot laying on the beach that we only lasted half an hour before needing to dip in the (actually quite freezing) water and decided to stroll along the beach and then take refuge in the shade.

Before catching the tram back up to the hostel, we enjoyed some fabulous gelato - a beach day must. As it was the late afternoon by that time and our flight left Melbourne for Cairns at 9:20pm, we began to make our way to the airport. Once tramming it back to the CBD, we walked with our rolley bags and stopped for a drink at a little hotel bar by the shuttle bus depot. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time AND just in time to receive news that our flight had been delayed by 3 hours - a midnight arrival to Cairns had just become a 3 am adventure. Again, a potentially miserable evening was actually fun - we had a Radler in the carpark, then once inside the terminal, we snagged some free dinner vouchers, and ended up making adventure to-do lists to pass the time. Gabe fashioned a bed for us out of the very comfortable *cough cough* airport bench seats (*I swear I ended up with a bruised rib*).

We slept as much as we could on the plane and got in around 3:30 AM! After finally figuring out a taxi-share with two girls going to another Cairns hostel a bit farther downtown, we checked into our hostel (thank god for the 24 check-in staff), and made a run to the corner 7-11 to save our starving stomachs!

On a side note - Can you spot the Marmite? As expected, Vegemite has clearly won in Australia (taken in a Melbourne supermarket):
They even have squeezy tubes of it.. ewww, gross!
Who knew Kraft made Mac 'n Cheese... and Vegemite?!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Taupo take 2 - Joining the 3-mile-high club at 200 km/hr!

On Tuesday, the 2nd of November, Gabe took me out for an amazing breakfast at a garden cafe in Hamilton - picture a garden store-nursery/restaurant with a landscaped back patio, amazingly fresh food, good music and sunshine. We relaxed there for a while, then took a stroll around the actual Hamilton gardens, which take you from Japan to China, India, Italy and back again, through gardens styled after each corner of the world and even include a Maori garden with traditional carvings, a "perfume" garden and modernist garden that channels a Hollywood vibe.

Around noon, I called Taupo Tandem Skydiving again to check the weather and got the go-ahead, so we ran back to campus to rally the troops. This time, since Gabe was on R.A. duty at the hall, Erika, Izzy and I took Izzy's car back down to Taupo. We got there by 3 p.m., signed in and suited-up and were in the air within the hour! After a 20-minute plane ride we reached 15,000 ft, where strapped to our instructors and accompanied by our personal cameramen (to document our daring act of stupidity), we were flung out of an airplane, free falling at 200 km/hour (125 mph) for a full minute through the clouds, 3 miles above lake Taupo. The jump seemed so surreal that 60 seconds flew by in about 10, by the time my brain could process what was going on.
Surprisingly, I never really got nervous, which I chalk up to this delay in mentally processing information and the fact that I was strapped to Joel, a Kiwi who has done over 6,000 jumps over the past 6 years. We fell so fast that I hardly remember making any faces besides sticking my tongue out at my cameraman and screaming in excitement. The only stomach-turning moment was during the paragliding ride down, when Joel did some sharp 360 turns to give me the beautiful view of Taupo and the snow-capped mountains in the distance, towering below a brilliant blue sky, speckled with glowing white clouds. Erika told me that as her tandem partner, Darcy, pulled their shoot he said: "Welcome to my office." I must say, his day job comes with quite a spectacular view.

Back on the ground, we celebrated our survival, got to view our free fall DVD and photos, donned our Taupo Tandem t-shirts and paid our fee (when we had asked about paying before gearing up, the instructor's reply was: "You pay after... upon survival" ;) Very reassuring).

We got back on the road and back to Hamilton by 8 p.m., where we stopped for a much-needed sushi dinner before returning to the halls - we were simply starving after our adrenaline-filled afternoon! Over all, a fantastic, fun-filled day! We celebrated the end of an amazing semester by jumping out of an airplane and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cathedral Cove & Hot Water Beach - The Fab 4 adventure to the Coromandel

On Monday, November 1st, the Fab 4 loaded into the car after lunch and headed north towards the Coromandel Peninsula - Sam postponed studying for us :) and decided to come too, so we finally got our group mini road trip ADVENTURE!

Now... more about a wonderful day with my favourite people:

On our way to the Coromandel, we passed through Paeroa - home of L & P (famous NZ soda, like sweet/sparkly lemonade). Of course, we stopped to pose with this giant bottle and drink a bottle too.

2.5 - 3 hours and a few moments of worry whether we were on the right highway (good job Gabe, haha I didn't believe you) later, we arrived at the beaches. Leaving Gabe's trusty whip in the car park, we trekked with our beach gear on the 45-minute (quicker since we are young and spry) jaunt to Cathedral Cove. We stopped at two little coves on the way - Gem Bay and Stingray Bay - for some frolicking and fun photos and got to our destination by 4:30 p.m.

Handstand in Stingray Bay, oooosh:
Most of the sun had gone by that late in the afternoon, but the boys bravely went for a swim. We spent a while exploring the beautiful beach and then hiked back to the car.

With a few hours to kill before low tide (necessary for our next stop), we went for a takeaway dinner of chicken nuggets, corn dogs (they call them hot dogs here, "American hot dogs" are our hot dogs fyi), mussel fritters, and chips of course, before driving a few minutes down the road to the Hot Water Beach.

A ways down this beach, there is an area where you can dig to make natural hot pools in the sand!! When the tide goes down, you can see small bubbles and steam seeping up through the sand - almost too hot to walk on in some spots! If you dig in the right area with your spade, you reveal pools of scalding hot water, suitable for some leisurely hot-tubbing :).

We arrived at the perfect time to stake out a spot and dig our pool with a sturdy sand wall to block the waves while the tide receded (we had a mishap with a freezing mini rogue wave before we got it right - it got the other 3 pretty good in the back of the head heheheh).

After a relaxing while, watching the sun go down, we piled back in the car and a very sleepy Fab 4 made it back to Hamilton by 11 p.m. GREAT DAY :)