Oz Blog

Now I know we're in Australia!

Now I know we’re in Australia!

2 April – 16 May 2012

Matt’s bit…

Leaving the earthquake damaged city of Christchurch we flew across ‘the ditch’ to Melbourne, arriving at the airport late in the evening.  We had booked a hotel in the city for a couple of days before our first house-sit in Woodend.  After being stung AU$34 for a bus ride into town, we trundled our luggage the two blocks up from Southern Cross Station to our hotel.  I had looked on good ol’ Google Maps for the location of said hotel and confidently we strode down King Street getting more and more concerned as the tenor of the neighbourhood seemed to get a bit seedy, with dodgy looking blokes lurking around street corners and nightclubs with names like ‘Golden Hands’ etc.  Luckily I had the address of the hotel and we realised we had been going the wrong way down the street, so we plodded back the three blocks to where the hotel was actually situated, having passed it 15 minutes ago.  The Kingsgate was a budget place but ok for a couple of nights and we had a quick look around the city the next day. We stopped into an old fashioned ‘Magic Emporium’ to buy a present for Asher, Fran’s cousin’s son with whom we were going to be staying later.  A great shop with loads of wonderful things under glass cabinet displays and old photos of famous magicians adorning the walls.  On first look we liked Melbourne City with its trams, art galleries, murals, busy streets and interesting buildings old and new.

Matt and mural

Matt and mural

The following day we headed by train to Woodend, an hour’s journey north from the city.  There we met with Denise and Steven, the hosts of our first house-sit in Australia.  They were a lovely couple with a beautiful house just out of the town, 40 odd acres of land with kangaroos bouncing through the paddock at sunset, a tennis court, spa and two delightful little doggies called Rosie and Pippa, not forgetting Pud the cat.  We loved our stay there and became friends with Denise and Steven too. Their house was situated near to the famous Hanging Rock, so we had to go there with a picnic.  It is a wonderful eerie place, high rocks riven with fissures and caves, one could easily imagine getting lost amongst them.  On the way up we encountered a party of young people coming down, one of which said to us that if we looked looked to our left just before we got to the top, we would see a koala bear up in a tall gum tree. Excited and pleased with this information from our ‘Koala Angel’, as Fran called her, we climbed up the hill and sure enough there was the bear sleepily wedged into the high branches of the tree.  We were having the genuine Aussie experience and had only been here 4 days.

Our sleepy koala

Our sleepy koala

The rest of the time at Woodend we whiled away the days playing tennis and relaxing in the hot spa and enjoying the company of the dogs.  Rosie was a jack russell chihuahua cross and full of energy.  She bounced on all fours and moved at extremely high speed down the tracks leaving a cloud of dust in her wake like Roadrunner in the Wily Coyote cartoon.  It was Easter time and we even got some chocolate eggs from our friendly neighbour Jenny, who lived in the small cottage next door.  We had a friendly night quaffing wine and watching the “Pies” and Carlton play Aussie Rules Football on the TV upon the return of Denise and Steven from New Zealand. The Pies, or Collingwood, were Steven’s team and got completely stuffed by their old rivals Carlton, still we waved the black and white scarves supplied by Steven (magpies) and fought bravely to understand the convoluted rules of Aussie Rules – a very big thing in Victoria especially apparently.  The next day we would be down in to the city and staying with Fran’s cousin Jay and her family.

Fran here…

We took the train to Footscray Station and somehow in the transition Matt’s wallet went off on an independent journey… it was a bit of a pain canceling and re-ordering his cards, but no real harm done.  Jay (my cousin) and her family picked us up from the station, it was great to see her again after seven years, the last time I saw her son Asher he was dribbling on my shoulder, he is now a fine young man who plays a drum kit. Jay and I had a good time reminiscing about the joys and perils of our childhood over a glass or two of chilled white. They took us to their local pub where a jug band were playing, great harmonies and fun stuff with ukelele’s and a washboard.

Paved Paradise

Paved Paradise

From central Melbourne we went to another house-sit in Point Cook, we were pre-warned about this one by watching people’s faces fall when we told them where we were heading. It was a pretty ghastly new suburb of Melbourne, built with speed and not much care. We spent a week here trying to find a green patch for the dogs to pee on and getting well acquainted with the ‘lazy-boy’ chairs and wide screen telly.

Next stop… The Great Ocean Road. We decided we had to see more of this vast country and hit the justly famous road. We stayed in youth hostels which were surprisingly sophisticated and not so youthful to be embarrassing.  We existed mainly on sandwiches as our finances were very precarious, Matt having no work for a month and the bookings on our house being very sparse, we only went out in the evening twice in the entire Australian trip. Still, we spent a happy time fascinated by the huge crashing emerald waves and the beautiful rock formations of the 12 apostles. One cheap and memorable drama for me was buying some bird feed for $2, expecting to tempt some sweet shy birds into my vicinity, what I got was more like a scene from Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’. A cockatoo landed on our balcony and then called his mates over, a whole flock of them were screeching and hassling, flapping their very big wings, when one landed on my back I beat a retreat leaving a giggling Matt taking photos.

Eek! Cockatoos

Eek! Cockatoos

After one stop at a motel with a nasty snitty owner, we dropped off the car at Melbourne airport and got ready to fly to Perth. We were picked up at the carousel by Rob, the long time friend of our buddy in Berko. He has a lovely calm house with a great colour scheme and a kitchen like something from celebrity chef. His cat Renzo was a very handsome chap but in a sorry state, having to sport a cone while he recovers from an operation. We all anxiously counted the ‘sleeps’ until cone-off day and the lovely beast was restored to dignity and freedom. We were sorry to leave this lovely refuge and say goodbye to Rob and his beautiful partner Monica, but Rob cryptically said he would leave our bed made up until we left the country…

The joy and novelty of house sitting definitely took a dive in the next chapter… the monster from Munster… We were left in charge of three dogs, one small, cute and looked a bit like Yoda, a medium sized lab who was no trouble apart from attempted sabotage of the fish pond, and one freaking great French Mastiff, bred for bringing down bulls. Luckily he was very good natured, but unluckily, young, boisterous, hardly trained and had a habit of jumping at you with his massive jaw looming in your face. He was so strong that he just yanked you around on walks and could slip his collar, we decided we wouldn’t take responsibility for taking him out in case he maimed himself or someone else.

Monster from Munster

Monster from Munster

We had a few nice outings while here, to Freemantle where we looked at the hippy shops and queued for free hot dogs at a May Day fair. We paid our respects to the glorious Ocean on Cottesloe Beach.

We had been planning to spend the last bit of the trip in Narrogin but spent some time calculating costs and realised that was not to be. We were going to see the beautiful Belynda, my buddy from our book group in Ulverston. Luckily the lovely Rob graciously took us back (he told us not to change the bedding!) and Belynda, her Mum and her lovely bonny boy Lachlan were able to come and visit us. We spent a peaceful morning reminiscing, catching up on the last 7 years, and delighting in Lachlan’s delight exploring the mandarin tree.

Contemplating mandarins

Contemplating mandarins

Another quiet high spot was sharing in Monica’s mothers day brunch, a lovely lazy Sunday with one of her daughters and boyfriend, and some gorgeous food. We have one more sleep here, and then we fly to Singapore, Asia is the last and most enigmatic leg of our year long journey.

Check out Matt’s “Water” video and more gallery pics below:

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Exciting Road Trip

7th-14th February

We decided to do a little exploring of the North island so we hired a cheapo (relatively) camper van with ‘Exciting New Zealand’ emblazoned on it and hit the open road. All was well for the first hour as I drove on the amazingly quiet roads, singing Dixie Chicks songs and planning our route. We stopped to stock up in a supermarket, jumped back in our wagon, only to find the brake warning alarm flashing and the brakes intermittently seizing. There followed an anxious sweaty hour in a garage trying to get the attention of the snooty mechanic who was much more interested in some shiny sports car. After much fiddling about, removing of wheels, sucking of teeth and shaking of heads the diagnosis was… gremlins.

Whatever! it worked and we headed off to Rotorua, (try saying that with a rhotacism like mine), the land of the stinky eggy emissions. You can’t ignore the fact that much of New Zealand has active volcanoes and the sulfurous whiff is a ever present reminder here. We got settled into our campsite with some great facilities and an interesting selection of campers. We tried the thermal spa which is reputed to do wonders for arthritis and other ailments, it certainly soothed our creaky bones.

We walked across the road in the belting heat (it’s Summer here) to investigate Te Puia where you might be lucky to see a geyser blow, but it was so hot and silly expensive we ran away. Matt discovered a cheaper version so we visited there in the cool of the next morning. It was a fascinating tour around a thermal village where Maoris live and work, we were struck by the pride of the community and the way they have integrated into ‘modern’ life whilst still preserving their healing traditions, their education and very importantly, their language, all of which were under threat from European domination not so very long ago. We walked around marveling at the volcanic pre-historic looking landscape, glooping pools and steaming streams and we saw the mighty Te Puia geyser blow a good 30 metres into the air, a sight Matt has always wanted to see. All of the Maori community get together every evening and bathe together under the stars letting their aches drift away as they catch up with the latest gossip. We watched a cultural show, some of it very impressive, like the Haka war dance, some of it rather naff, like the audience participation hokey-cokey!

Onwards we drove, leaving the smell of eggy farts as a distant memory, we headed West to the Waitomo caves. Matt was still working through the fiendish Rodrigo and Gabriela album in working conditions only marginally improved since the bunk beds, it meant our tiny van was pretty much occupied, so I went tramping the hills in search of hobbits, writing up our travel adventures, taking photos or floating about in the pool.

We had a double cave day, the first being pretty impressive, though we were smarting a bit from the enormous expense and the large hole in our small budget. The second one made it all worthwhile however, it was truly awesome (the non-American version). We were herded into the darkest depths to an underground river and told there was only room for half of us in the boat, so we we left huddled together, a group of strangers in the dark, the silence broken only by the occasional drip or nervous whisper. Eventually it was our turn and the boat came gliding out of the darkness and we clambered in. We were transported, gliding silently in the water, raising our eyes to see the most beautiful constellations of glow worms everywhere. We weren’t allowed to take photo’s and in some ways I’m pleased about that, we just simply absorbed this incredible natural phenomena, sorry not to share the vision with you though!

Speaking of remarkable natural phenomena, this country has more than it’s fair share, we headed for another one, after a night’s stop in a slightly dodgy campsite that  looked like a gathering place for all the men who’s wives have kicked them out, one in particular was very leery and sported an impressive mullet. Anyway, I digress… on to Hot Water Beach where the volcanic action makes it’s presence known once again. You can hire a spade here and dig in the sand until you have your own private hot spa, well semi-private, the hot springs are concentrated in a small area so all of humanity and their mother are squashed in and digging, it’s quite a sight!

Then it was back to Auckland to say goodbye to ‘Exciting’ and to continue our onward adventure… stay tuned…

Meantime check out the illustrated version in the slideshow below.

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