Sunday, October 29, 2006

 

Quick Notes on 'Study' Week

As is the norm, we had a week off to study for exams after classes. Usually not much studying is done during this week (took off to Queensland last semester), and being on an exchange was twice the excuse to not open a single book again.
The break was off to a good start with the trip to Mt. Kosciuszko and some more rest was needed after this so Beck and I took off to her condo on Philip Island for a few days. This was my third trip to the island and was again different from the others. I like that I made three visits, it started to feel like I had been making visits all my life.
It was a very low key and relaxing few days. We visited the Nobbies which was cool because it was so windy and the waves were nice and violent and the blowhole was blowing more than I have ever seen before.
Since it was still spring, the weather could be hit and miss. I would say we had a little of both - it was sunny, but not very warm. Still, we hung out at the beach for a bit, but the only wave I rode was this one out front of a surf shop.
After hanging out and chilling to the max, we arrived back home in the midst of preparations for the biggest Halloween party ever seen by most people who attended.
The party was taking place at our house, and had been in the planning stages for weeks. The word had gotten around, it was on a convenient day (Saturday the 28th), flyers were passed out and invites had been given as freely as candy to trick-or-treaters.
The party was to be in the style of a 'North American university/college' where everyone pays 15$ for (hopefully) all they can eat and drink. This would be fun for the Americans because it was like home, and fun for the Europeans because they hadn't attended such an event before.
Our budget started at around 700$ but the buzz was loud enough that we bumped that up to over 1000$. So we were all a bit nervous about losing money. We bought decorations, and had some posted from home. Arlen hooked us up with 100+ free sausages, we bought 20+ slabs of beer, boxes of wine and prizes for costumes.
Everything was going smoothly. I took my post at the BBQ and the people started showing up. I have to say I was extremely impressed with everyones effort for costumes. There was the quota 'Beerbarians' from the US, dracula, characters from movies, a cupcake, pirate, cupid, a box of wine and the most politcally incorrect costume of the season. Steve Irwin with a stingray barb in his chest and so many others.
In the end, the box of wine took first place for best costume while Cupid and Where's Waldo/Wally tied for second place.
By the time the last people left, drinks were just finished, a bit of food was still sitting around and, thanks to the almost 100 people that came out, the 7 or 8 of us who invested in the party each made a 6$ profit.
The neighbours behind us are a young couple and said it was cool to have a party, the other side of us is students, and the other side is an old lady who, when I mentioned the party, said 'I can barely hear you talking to me, dont worry about the noise, Ill be fine. You kids have fun!'. No police showed up either which is a nice change from similar parties in Canada.
Yes, the party was perfect. I have to give 98% of the credit to housemates Tara, Sabrina and Ashleigh. I will put you in touch with them if you are planning a similar party.
The party was talked about for weeks after, and is probably still mentioned by everyone who attended, which I believe gives it the status 'Legendary'.

Monday, October 23, 2006

 

Conquering Mt. Kosciuszko: Part 2 - Bagging the Summit

There was a sense that we were a bit behind schedule as we pulled up to Charlotte Pass, where we parked the car. This is the highest point you can drive to in Australia at an elevation of 1830m. (If you know that the mountain itself is 2228m, you'll see that we weren't looking at a ridiculous climb). There is a road that leads just about to the summit, but it has been closed for environmental reasons. It is now an 18km return hike going the short way, but I figured it would suck to be tired and walk down the mountain looking at the same stuff we saw on the way up, so we picked the longer, 23km round trip up one trail that passes by a few lakes, and then down the road for the walk back.
We had been told that the weather is very unpredictable and to be prepared etc... The summit is where the coldest temperature in Australia was recorded in 1994: -23 Celcius... would have needed a toque if you were going up that day.
We had lots of layers with us anyway, and about 5 minutes into the walk, we started taking them off. The weather was gorgeous, the sun was strong.
The second photo was taken at the beginning of the hike. The trail in the middle is the one we followed up and over the mountains in the background, along the back and way over to the left where the summit is.
This area is where the headwaters of the Snowy River are located, crossing it was the first thing we did. You can see how clear the water is in this photo, almost like there isn't even water there.
From here it seemed to take forever to get to the first lake. We passed a few guys carrying skis who had found some leftover snowdrifts to play on.
It was nice to finally reach the first lake which I think was named Blue Lake. It was a perfect example of a cirque. Not a french circus, but an area where snow accumulates to feed a glacier that moves down the mountain. The wall beside the lake is where the glacier would have plucked rocks away before carrying them away. Such perfect examples of these glacial processes were great to see in person after reading about them in textbooks for the past 5 years. Here is a photo of the lake and wall beside it. And here is a link to another photo of a lake we passed a bit later on that also served as the location for the glacier to accumulate snow.
The climbing continued, and we were getting slightly bored of it until we got over a ridge and were treated to an awesome view. The entire time up to know, we were looking back on the hills behind us, but now were looking off the mountain to the rest of the mountains in the distance. Now it felt like we were getting somewhere so we marched on with renewed enthusiasm.
Other fun parts of the hike came when we had to walk through snowdrifts. It was a novelty to see snow this late in the season for one, and to see snow in Australia in general. This is one of the 3 occasions I saw snow during my year, and I know that some people my age who have lived there all their lives still haven't seen it at all.
You can see that there are no trees in the photo. I think the treeline lies around 1700-2000m, depending on the slope aspect, and anywhere above that, there is not even small bushes. The area is well known for wildflowers but we were too early to see much of that, other than this yellow one. When there weren't any rocks or flowers, the ground was covered in thick rugged grass.
As we powered on, mostly uphill still, we kept thinking the next high looking point would be the summit. We had no idea how far we walked, and only knew how long we had walked.
After the first 30 minutes of our hike, we passed maybe one other couple, but since there are 3 trails that converge at the turn off to the summit, it sure got a lot busier.
After setting off at around 11am, we made it to the summit shortly after 3pm of pretty steady walking, minus about 2 or 3 short breaks for eating and photo shoots.
We hung out at the top for awhile. I had great mobile phone reception but it was too late to call Canada, so a special friend, Beck, back in Melbourne got my full attention instead.
We had a nice group photo taken of us by another couple at the summit. And when they left, this trend-setting and infamous photo was taken. Congratulations to Flo and Jonas for also accomplishing this feat in December during Flo and Jonas' Excellent Adventure.
The sun still seemed strong, but we knew when it got dark out and we wanted to be back before that. We packed up and made our way down the road. The shadows grew really fast, and when they caught up with us, it got pretty chilly pretty fast. Lucky we had those extra layers with us all day. It was pretty much completely dark when we made it back to the car. Not gonna lie, after about 7-8 hours of walking we were beat. The last thing we wanted to do was set up a tent and cook, let alone the fact that it was now dark. We headed into Jindabyne to find a cheap place to stay. Everywhere was booked, but a man overheard Tara asking for a place in a bar and he gave us the number of a guy who manages some chalets. We got hooked up with a huge chalet for 80$ where we cooked all our leftover food, had some wine to celebrate, and then crashed into our beds hard. We slept very solidly, and got up and out to town around 10am to check out a few things.
We hit the road and headed for Melbourne. The drive was pretty uneventful since we went back the same way we came. Only once did I think we were in massive trouble was when we got pulled over by the police. He had actually passed us and turned around to get us. He asked for my drivers licence, and asked if it was my car. It wasn't and I told him exactly who it was registered too and where she lived. I did my research for exactly this sort of situation and it worked. He asked to look in the bungy corded shut trunk, gave me back my licence and bid us good day.
We rocked up to Melbourne and looked back on all our good fortune. Everyone was happy to have traveled with me since everything always works out so well.
Item #1 on my list of things to do in Australia can now be moved to the Australia Book of Highlights!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

 

Conquering Mt. Kosciuszko: Part 1 - Getting There

Reaching the highest point in Australia, Mt. Kosciuszko, was high on my list of things to do, and time and money was running out. We had a week long study break and I had Tara fully committed so the planning began, which wasn't much in the end; drive there, camp somewhere, climb the mountain and come home again.
The car I had acquired earlier in the semester seemed to not be having any problems so it would hopefully get us there and back, but we had no guarantees and would dump the car and figure something out if we had to.
We recruited Tracy and Jakob the Bad Ass Viking to keep the costs down and because we were sure they understood that this trip may not even get out of the city and they would be cool with this.
It was a very reckless idea, but 'reckless' = 'adventure' so we loaded the car right up, so much that Jakob had to sit on his blankets and headed out.
Once we found the right highway, everything was very uneventful. We were still nervous about the car just not working, and also the fact that it wasn't registered in my name, or the person before me's name and that it had no insurance, but all we had to do was be careful right?
We headed up to Wodonga where we picked up our groceries for the trip and a pot and a flashlight because we forgot that stuff.
From here the scenery only got better. Very colourful rolling hills making the drive on the 401 in Canada seem all the more shitty. We crossed into New South Wales and entered the park. There was noone to pay for a pass, so we didnt buy one. We checked the map for campgrounds and decided to stop one sooner than originally planned.
The old '89 Nissan was having a hard time on the hills in the park, and I think the engine was getting really hot, and things were making new noises on the corners, and we were smelling new things, so we took it easy and stopped another campground (Tom Groggins was the name) sooner which worked out really well as most things did on the trip.
We pulled in and there were kangaroos all over the place. We had the whole area to ourselves and quickly set up the tent and built a fire before all the light was gone. We cooked sausages and instant noodles with a flashlight, and washed them in the creek nearby. A change was coming through and it was windy all night, but we all still slept OK and it wasn't cold at all, yet.
In the morning it wasn't hard to get moving, we packed up and ate and said goodbye to the roos. We chugged along the bottom of the park and gained some altitude. We got really confused when we saw some really faint white flecks in the sky. Thought it might be ash or something, but it was definitely snow. We turned a few more corners and came to Dead Horse Gap. We stopped for a photo with snow on the ground and noticed how in the distance it was easy to see how the hills were gradually whiter as the elevation also increased. Its common sense, but you never see it. Here is a photo of it. I was almost nervous about the car driving on snowy roads, but nothing every accumulated so we were good to go.
We drove into the town of Jindabyne to check out the visitor center and figure out what we were even doing.
We drove up to Rainbow Lake for a quick hike. Nothing too impressive, just a lake that was built for a dam that powered a hotel nearby that has since burned down. I could hear corroboree frogs everywhere, but never found one even thought they should have been right in front of me.
Then we went to another hike that took us to a waterfall. We spotted wallabies on the way to the waterfall and then managed to get a group photo. On the walk back we came across from huge boulders that we climbed and could see the town of Jindabyne which was quite far in the distance. The rocks had some great examples of spheroidal weathering along with some freeze and thaw weathering that I of course told the others all about and had my picture taken beside because I make a good scale.
We moved on to the Island Bend campground, the Central Section map on this page gives an idea of where we are at. We decided to camp here because it is closest to the peak and would only be a short drive in the morning. I have to say that after checking out the other campgrounds on our way through the park, we picked the best two by far. They were scenic, quiet, had fire pits and running water (in the creek).
We came across another couple nearby who have been camping in the same spot for like 20 years. The pointed us towards the actual sites that have fire pits. We gathered some wood and got all set up right as the sun was setting. Before that we spotted a wombat and stalked it and checked out his burrow. We cooked up the same dinner as the night before, because its so easy and we settled in around the fire for awhile. We 'amused' ourselves well, and crashed in the tent, this time with more padding for the hips.
It was a lot colder that night, probably because we were higher up. We left all our food out for some dumb reason, and all our sausages were gone, the eggs were frozen and pecked at by birds, the butter was pecked at, the orange juice was frozen and the water in the pots and pan was frozen. We had a good laugh and things warmed up again as soon as the shadows were gone. We gathered ourselves up and went to start the car and nothing happened. The others thought our luck had caught up with us, but everything always works out for me so I wasn't concerned. We were so isolated, but I sent Jakob down to flag a car just in case. I think the engine was just colder than it had ever been in its life, and eventually it started and we were off. We said goodbye to the latest gang of kangaroos hanging out on the abandoned airstrip (the bottom of the hill in the photo) used when the area was a small town when the hydro-electric scheme was being built. Contrary to what we thought we had read, the forecast was absolutely perfect, not a cloud in the sky.
Finally after planning on making the trip for probably over a year, and planning the trip itself for like 3 days, and being in the shadow of the mountains for 2 nights, we were off to bag the summit!

Note: many of the links in this post lead to more photos.

Monday, October 16, 2006

 

Beach Club Trip to Wilsons Promontory

My 6th and final Beach Club trip is finnished. A lot has changed since the first trip to Torquay but the fun level has only gone up.
The destination this time around was Wilsons Promontory, a peninsula sticking south from the mainland about 3 hours to the east of Melbourne. Travel agents I have talked to love this place and go back every year. You can see what the scenery is like in the first picture. They are the same mountains and rocks formations as in Tasmania, formed by the same mountain building event. It was pretty stunning to rock up to the Prom with the masses of rock and blue water showing themselves in grand views here and there. The mountain in the photo is Mt. Oberon which is 558 metres tall. We climbed it on Saturday in about 2 hours, and were rewarded with 360 degree views of the park around around us.
The second photo is me on the top of the mountain, it was very windy, almost dangerously windy. In the background is Tidal River, the main town of the National Park, and the next beach behind that is Squeaky Beach, where, as the name suggest, the sand squeaks. But I am getting ahead of myself.
This was the biggest Beach Club trip yet, with about 31 people. We didn't actually stay in the park, but rather about 20 minutes outside of it in a hole named Sandy Point. There was nothing there but holiday homes, and we took over 4 of them. The main one backed onto the beach via a 2 minute walk through the beach. I was keen to get in the ocean again, and did so right away. The water was suprisingly bearable and many people splashed around. I grabbed a surfboard and did my best with the waves on hand. Since the whole area is sandy, the water is shallow for a long ways out and doesn't make for good surfing, but I still managed to impress. Later on, Arlen got this shot of me, which is an almost exact replica of the Beach Club logo.
After taking up my spot at the BBQ, the rest of the evening was filled with the usual Beach Club silliness with a variety of semi-organized games. I even managed to get enough people excited enough to run to the beach in the pitch black, take off all our clothes and run into the water. There are photos... but they will not be posted.
On Saturday we went and climbed to the top of Mt Oberon, which was overall pretty spekky. There were lots of oppurtunities for me to share what I have learned at uni this semester too since a lot of the area we were walking through had been burned by a controlled burn that got out of control. All the trees were still recovering from the fire and all the seed capsules had burst open.
We had lunch in Tidal River later on, and we were swarmed by crimson rosellas, a small parrot like bird. They were more than comfortable enough to perch on our heads and shoulders and beg for food. At one point I had 4 or 5 on me I think. Visiting the park took up most of the day, and we later headed back to the houses where a bunch of us hit up the beach again.
Saturday night was full of more fun and games, the links to photo sites at the end of the post will fill you in.
On Sunday we headed back into the park for another walk into a valley with a variety of different plant species etc... We ended up taking a long was back to the cars and took in some more great views.
After the walk we went to Squeaky Beach which was proabably a highlight in itself. The squeaking sand was fun enough, and there were huge boulders at the north end of the beach. Oh, and there was a sign that warned of unexpected large waves which of course we don't really think to think about, except some people were walking around the boulders and found themselves knee deep in water before they knew what was going on. That was pretty funny.
I forgot to mention that my camera finally conked out on me on the way home from Sydney, probably because of all the sand in it so none of these photos are mine. Thanks for Future Shops Product Service Plan, it is being fixed for free.
After enjoying the beach for a while, we made our way home, which seemed to take way longer. We made the mandatory stop at a Hungry Jacks and bid farewell.
The Beach Club has been a huge highlight of my time in Australia and the trips were very much worth the 500$ or so that I ended up dropping on them. There were at least a few people who made it out to almost every trip this year, and it is with these people that I have found myself solid friends with which I guess speaks highly of the Beach Club.
At the Beach Club Annual General Meeting a new council was 'elected' and we concluded that we all had an awesome time over the past year (funnier if you were there). I also motioned that if at any time, 3 or people from the Beach Club are together, a Beach Club party can be declared and the motion was passed unanimously.
So there are more good times to come! The next of which I think is half planned to take place somewhere in Spain.



Links to photos:
Jonas' Photos
Toms Photos
Flos Photos
Jorgs Photos

Monday, October 02, 2006

 

Sydney: Part 2 - Harbour and Beach

Originally we had the plan to have a spare day to do whatever else might happen to arise. It turned out that we had seen so little of the city the day before that we set off walking the city again. It was a bit less impressive, maybe because we had been there for 3 days already and were getting used to things.
We walked all the way down to George St. to Paddys Market. It was nothing special at all with all the same crap that can be found at the Queen Victoria market here in Melbourne.
We then walked up to Darling Harbour which is another hub of activity that we were told to see. It was impressive to see well the whole area had been planned and built around the water to make the most use of it.
We found the maritime museum which is no small place and walked through it since it was free. Came across the sail boat used by Kay Cottee to sail unassisted around the world. It was set up the same as it was when she was rounding Cape Horn. Interesting to see the difference between a regular boat and one that had been set up to sail for 190 days straight.
We wandered the harbour some more and found the others. Nearby was a Chinese Garden in the middle of the city. We walked through there and had some tea looking over the koi swimming in the ponds. The whole garden was really well done and worth the 3$ to get in.
As we passed by the Opera House on our walk home we noticed a large lineup forming to get into the forecourt to watch the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra simulcasted on big screen as they played inside.
We hurried home, grabbed some Indian take away food and som red wine and headed back over hoping it wasn't too late to get in. We had no trouble getting through security and joined 5000 others on the front steps. There was a strong feeling that this was a very special event and it was. The orchestra had never played in Australia in its 142 year history. The conductor, Valery Gergiev, seemed like a bit of a character and was fun to watch conduct. He even leaves the stage during the applause as if to let the orchestra have some of the credit without him there, and then he comes back to louder applause, which I think is probably common practice, but a small thing that makes it interesting. This video is the beginning of the second part of their set that night.
The whole evening was even cooler since just the day before I had been in the concert hall where they were playing. It was probably more fun to watch the orchestra on the steps with the opera house behind us and the bridge beside us than to be inside the concert hall itself. The tour guide told us that you are meant to enjoy your surroundings while listening to the music, and that we did.
Another highlight from sitting outside was when the conductor and a few of the orchestra members came outside to the stage. Valery Gergiev gave an impromptu speech and a some music was played.
The night was young and we were in Sydney so we decided to stop at every bar on the way home. A few left the tour early, but Tara and I made it to 5 different bars on the way home before heading down to Wolloomoolloo for a famous meat pie at around 4am. This was another thing I had no idea about before arriving. Having a meat pie from Henrys Cafe de Wheels is a 'must do' while in Sydney, and many celebrities go out of their way for it, including Colonel Sanders.
Sunday was our designated beach day. We hopped on a train near the hostel and caught to Bondi where we got on a bus to the beach, all for I think 6$ or so. It wasn't very far at all.
Bondi Beach is a a big attraction in the area and a real icon. It was fun to be there after watching a reality show on TV about the lifeguards names Bondi Rescue.
The weather was sunny but very windy and too cold to swim or lay around. A few left and went back to the city.
Those of us who stayed headed to the RSL to watch the footy grand final. Sydney was playing in it so there were lots of fans there and it got loud.
I can see Bondi Beach being a great place to spend time in the warmer weather but also as being very busy. The novelty of having a nice beach in the city is still pretty cool.
On Sunday we left the hostel at about 1030am for the drive home. We barely stopped and made it in about 10 hours. My camera finally conked out on the drive, probably from sand in the lens.
Renting a car ended up being a fairly good deal. We spent 240$ x 4 people for the car and gas in the end. A flight would have costed 90$ each way at least, and probably more because of people flying to Melbourne for the Rugby finals. The trip to the Blue Mountains would have costed 60$ each, so it was about the same except we had the novelty of having a car with us the whole time.
I feel like I got a good sense of city living in Sydney, and I think I like it better than Melbourne, but then again that could just be the 'honeymoon' effect of being in a city other than what is normal.
I am happy.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

 

Sydney: Part 1 - Mountains and City


We left Canberra at about 2:30pm for the relatively short drive over to Sydney. The drive happened to work out really well seeing as we didn't have a map. We followed the signs right to the city and went on a feeling from there. I knew we were staying just north of Kings Cross so followed those signs and I hoped I would see a familiar street name. Instead I saw the hostel itself so that was handy. We stayed at the Blue Parrot hostel in Potts Point. I loved this hostel because it did have that homey feeling. We rocked up and met up with Fredrik who was there since the previous week for a concert and enjoyed some dinner and bevvos on the patio where a lot of people joined us. The small size of the hostel and the good communal areas are what made it great. We ended up going out for a German girls birthday.
I have to say something about Kings Cross since I heard so many bad things before we went there. I loved it. The nightlife is great and there are tons of people out and about. There are police around and of course the usual interesting characters but they are fun. It is now a pretty well to do neighbourhood with lots of nice restaurants and hotels. I think anybody would feel perfectly safe walking through the area at 3 or 4 am. The only bad part about this area was the parking. We got a good deal from the hostel at 15$ per 24 hours to park pretty close by which was nice. We were close enough to the downtown area and the other attractions to walk everywhere which was nice.
Fredrik hadn't been to the Blue Mountains yet and he was leaving the day after so we made that our destination the next day. It was a 1 hour drive from the city centre out to the our first stop. We stopped at Wentworth Falls which was a pleasant surprise since we had no plan and didn't know what to expect. Great lookouts here and nice to chill on the edge of the falls and take it all in. This was another one of those 'wow, this is a big place' moments. It was more of a huge canyon than mountains though. From there we chugged along the edge of the valley and stopped at a few more lookouts. It wasn't busy at all which is why when we stopped at the official Three Sisters lookout I was surprised. There were buses everywhere and lots of infrastructure. The Queen had even been there to open the viewing area. I wa suprisingly not very impressed with the rock formation. The bigness of the valley is what got to me more.
We popped into the town of Katoomba which is the hub of the area. There were lots of interesting shops on the main street there and it didn't feel at all like the Australian I have come to know. I think its the mountain influence that made it feel like I was in Europe.
We were staisfied with what we had seen and headed back into Sydney. There was a supermarket right close to the hostel we grabbed some salad and chicken and cooked on the patio. For Fredriks last night a few of us checked out the bars in Kings Cross again. Not a huge night but nice to be out.
Thursday was a city day and we all made our way out of the hostel and towards the Opera House via the Royal Botanical Gardens. So after being in Sydney for 40 hours or so I finally got my first glimpse of that famous site. It was pretty cool and another one of those sites where everywhere else is quiet and then you get to the tip of the gardens and there are tourists all over the place. We sat around and took a few photos and I told some Asians that Veronica was a model from Slovakia and that I was an actor from Canada so they hurried and got their pictures taken with us.
We all sort of split up again and Tara and I came across some school kids who were sketching the bridge and opera house for their art class. I asked for a pencil and paper and started my own sketch. The kid I was talking to was so impressed with me and then all the other kids rushed over. The teacher looked pretty weirded out with a stranger taking control over her art class, but I think I taught the kids some good lessons like to just draw exactly what you see and not try to make it too perfect. I made an awesome sketch and answered all their questions about Canada, signed the sketch for the kid and took off.
We made our way to the Opera House and Tara and I took a tour for like 18$. This was the easily the coolest part of the day. The whole Opera House is so impressive and to hear about all the small things that went into the making of blew me away. It is designed so that everytime you leave a concert hall or theatre, you are greeted by views of the harbour. And of course everyone knows about the accoustics in the main concert hall and how they are perfect. We all clapped at once in the main concert hall and the listened to the sound linger for exactly 2.?? seconds. We were allowed to take photos too since there was noone else in there. It was set up for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra who would be playing the following night which I'll get to in the next post. The pipe organ you can see in the photo has like 10 000 pipes we were told which would have been pretty rad to hear.
We left the opera house and met up with the others at Circular Quay. We grabbed some fish and chips and took the ferry to Manly Beach. This was another awesome little town. Just 30 minutes by ferry from the heart of the city and you were on the beach. There were a few surfers on the ferry as well. We strolled the main drag and for some reason this area had the cheapest souvenirs I had seen so I stocked up. It was too cold to go in the water so we sat around and then took the ferry back at dusk. There was a really cool atmosphere while we waited to leave. It seemed like there were wuite a few wives greeting their businessman husbands off the ferry with their kids. I think it would be cool to live on the beach and take the ferry into work everyday. We had some great views of the sun setting behind the bridge and Opera House on the way back too.
We got some groceries for dinner and took it easy for a night.
We had scheduled a spare day for anything that else that might come up, and that day ended up being used to see more of the city again.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

 

"Canberra - The Nations Capital"

I have to confess that the title to this post isn't very original; it is the slogan on the all the licence plates in Australian Capital Territory, just like one of my first posts "Victoria - The Place to Be".
This past week was the big Sydney road trip via Canberra. Why Canberra? Because it happens to be on the way and noone else I know who is travelling here has been there so its also unique for us.
On Monday morning after the Beach Club trip we went and picked up our spanking new Subaru Outback and loaded up. In the end we didnt recruit the numbers we wanted to it was me and the Americans in one car and Niclas and Veronika in the other. We made our way North and out of the city only 1 hour behind our non-existent schedule. There were lots of speed cameras on the Hume Freeway, they kept catching me off guard even though they were so obvious. There was 4 occasions on the trip where we thought we were busted, but we never heard about it from the rental company so that's good.
The guide books said there is not a heck of a lot between Melbourne and Sydney other than Canberra and they were dead on. This photo I took is the typical scenery pretty much all the way to Sydney. I'm glad it was as scenic as it was or else the drive would have been incredibly boring, like the 401 between London and Windsor. We skirted the Great Dividing Range so there were a lot of hills and even though it wasn't as flat as the outback, it still felt like a huge country.
Niclas kept up a good pace for us and we made it to the YHA hostel in Canberra in the early evening. There is not much to do there so we ordered pizza and went down to use the pool and hot tub which ended up not having hot water. I've probably mentioned before that I'm not a huge fan of the YHA hostels anywhere. They are too sterile and hotel like and don't have that homey feel.
Canberra is the city of parks so some of us went for a walk around the downtown area at night but couldn't find any trouble to get into but we found this one painting in a store that I can't see anyone ever owning because it would bother them so much for wanting to fix it.
The next morning we walked over to the War Memorial which is what really made the stop worthwhile. The whole museum is so well done and covers so much of Australias military history which I knew nothing about before coming to Australia. There were a lot of people there but I managed to get the picture of the lady and the wall with all the names of all the Australians lost in all the conflicts Australia has been involved in.
Next we walked down the main parade in town where you can see the old and new parliament houses in one directions (behind us in the photo) and the war memorial in the other direction.
The Floriade flower festival was being held so we walked over to the gardens to check it out. I have heard good things about the same thing in the Netherlands which happens every 10 years so I had high hopes. In the end it was a bit dissapointing with all the flowers looking the same and not even a windmill to represent Holland. It was just a lot of similar gardens all over the place. We didn't spend too much time there before we headed over to Parliament House.
We had heard good things about this place to. 1 billion dollars was spent to build it and it definitely had an expensive feeling to it. It also had a new feeling unlike other parliament houses that were built 100+ years ago. Wikipedia has a great entry for the parliament house here. We walked around and looked at stuff, nothing too exciting. We made our way to the senate which was fun because its what we see on tv. Overall it was kind of impressive and just something else to see before we set off again. The last picture is in front of the new parliament house looking south past old parliament house with the War Memorial at the end of the parade.
Final thoughts on Canberra: it would have been more fun if there was hot water in the hot tub. We were happy to arrive and happy to leave again less than 24 hours later.
Next up: Sydney!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

 

Beach Club Trip to Apollo Bay

Another stereotypical Beach Club trip is in the books and this one was to the most gorgeous destination yet: Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road where the hills of the Otway National Park meet the ocean. The first photo is a great example of what the scenery was like. The town of Apollo Bay is a tourism based town but is not as busy as Lorne.
The trip started with the usual drinks on the 3 hour bus ride down the first half of the Great Ocean Road; always a good time and no police this time around. We stayed in a small hostel owned by a 62 year old lady named Annie. The place obviously used to be a house and was expanded with three 5 bed rooms in the back. I would pick this type of accomodation over a really nice place like the Eco YHA in town any day because it is much more homey and accomodating. We hung out in the small kitchen and living room inside a lot and also had the whole place to ourselved pretty much.
When we arrived I took up my spot at the grill (with my pants on this time). We had some sausages and cardboard like burgers with the usual bottomless cooler of 'bevvos' (new Aussie slang). Things started to get exciting later on with a game of spin the bottle, but I backed out pretty quick after landing on a few guys and drinking instead of kissing. It was really weird and random but fun. Next we headed out to the local watering hole, one of 2 in town. This is where I ran into 2 older women on a 3 day 'manhunting' road trip as they put it. That was kind of funny, I didn't take the bait.
Saturday was the usual day at the beach which I was looking forward to after monitoring the swell forecast for the few days before. Apollo Bay is pretty sheltered so we went out of the way a bit halfway to Skenes Creek and the waves were pumping. I went with the boogie board this time because the surfbaord was expensive to rent and since the swell was so big, the waves tended to break barrel rather than fall on themselves. I ended up surfing in the whitewash of the waves which was pretty fun and easy. The more fun part came when me and Jeff swam way out past the breaking waves and sat right behind the wave break waiting for the big one that would mess us up the most. It was a greal feeling to sit and look out at the ocean and the beach and the mountains with the spray of the breaking wave blowing back at us. We eventually jumped on a pretty big wave and rode it nearly 100 metres into shore. Good times, but the water was freezing! This is the time when the water is the coldest. Cold enough that I got brain freeze everytime I ducked under a wave on my swim out.
We switched beaches later on and Jeff and I took the risk of jumping off some rocks into the huge waves like I've done before. That ended up working really well and we rode some good sized waves into the beach. We also had some good old fashioned fun trying to build a dam for a little creek emptying into the ocean.
That night we had the Mr. and Miss Beach Club 2006 pageant which was pure hilarity for more reasons than I can write here. Classic Beach Club fun with just the group of us.
On sunday the weather wass crap so we hung low and left the hostel earlier. We took a walk at Maits Rest where I had been the week before. This is a 30 minute rainforest walk with some really huge trees that are up to 100 metres tall. It was kind of cool to visit these places for a second time and appreciate them through the eyes of people who are seeing it for the first time. I think that is the case with a lot of things.
We took the back roads home which are just as windy and scenic. We made the usual stop at Hungry Jacks in Geelong and returned to Deakin in the early evening.
The next Beach Club trip is to Wilsons Promontory, the most southerly point in Australia and known to be extremely beautiful. A few travel agents I have talked to tend to go there every year because it is a favourite place of theirs.
Before this comes the big trip to Sydney happening the very next morning! Details of that are in the next post!
Here are links to other photos from the trip:
Jonas' photos
Arlens photos

Monday, September 18, 2006

 

The Great Ocean Road

Last week I went to a wildlife park which wasn't too thrilling but I got my picture taken with a wombat and a koala.
This past weekend I went on one of the big trips I have been waiting for since I got here 7 months ago. I could write an entire book on the things I learned on the Great Ocean Road, but that would take too long. It is a very photogenic road and I took heaps of great photos but I guess I'll have to put up only the more interesting ones here.
We took off friday morning from Melbourne and headed cross country to the city of Warrnambool which as at the opposite end of the road. This town is known for harbouring whales in one of its bays at this time of year. I was a bit sceptical but sure enough we rocked up to the beach and just 100 metres off shore there were a few southern right whales waving back at us. More interesting that this though was a guy sitting in his parachute floating back and forth along the beach in the wind that blows up the cliff from the ocean.
From here we went to a game reserve named Tower Hill that is known to have emus and koalas in the wild. It wasn't even hard to spot the wildlife. We walked into an opening and there was emu chicks with the dad. From here we looked up and within reaching distance was a koala in the tree. The novelty of this would soon wear off.
I spotted a volcanic rock on the ground that seemed out of place, but later I learned that the area is an extinct volcano.
Further along the walk we spotted some kangaroos which was neat. Also along the walk we came across a few more koalas in the trees.
That night we headed into town to eat and learned that the band named Evermore was playing at the Deakin University campus nearby. Some phone calls were made and we were hooked up with some tickets and a bus to take us home afterwards. You have likely heard Evermores songs before. As the night went on I heard three songs that were familiar, one of which is from the OC soundtrack. So that was neat to take in at a small venue on a fellow campus.
The nest morning the real scenery began with a stop at the Bay of Islands at the beginning of the road. Here is a video panorama of this area.
Next stop was a grotto that we walked down to for some photos. After this we stopped at the famous London Arch, formerly known as the London Bridge before the section attaching it to land fell in 1990. Next stop was Loch Ard Gorge which has a bit of history to it. It was named after a boat that sank carrying valuable to Melbourne for a world fair. 52 people were killed but 2 18 year olds survived and were washed into this gorge. Quite the feat considering it looked pretty rough and we were there on a calm day and not a storm. After this we stopped at a not so popular site where there is a blowhole 100 metres in from the ocean as well as a gorge known as Thunder Gorge because of how loud it can be when the water is pushing in.
The next stop was the famous 12 Apostles - the biggest attraction in the state of Victoria. It is interesting to note that the name was changed in the 1950's from the Sow and Piglets so that it would sound more majestic and draw more visitors even though there were only 9 stacks. This whole site was so built up to accomodate tour buses that it sort if ruined the romance of the area. This might be why I enjoyed some of the other sites more than this one since the other sites have not been constantly fed to me in brochures before.
Notice in the photo of me and some of the stacks that the one closest to me has fallen down.
After taking in all these fantastics sights we headed to the Cape Otway Lighthouse which is the second most southern point in Australia after Wilsons Promontory (where I am going in October). I didn't think much of visiting a lighthouse but it turned out to be way more interesting that I thought. Our guide was full of stories about the area. During World War II, a Japanese sub surfaced off the coast, set up a small plane and launched it for reconnaissance. The plane landed, was loaded up and the sub dissappeared.
Another thing I didn't know about lighthouses was that they all have a unique light pattern. This one was 3 lines on top of each other that flash past every 3 (?) seconds. This is so that sailors can determine where they area. There is a story about a ship that saw a lighthouse on another island nearby, noticed the red in the light which means veer south, and ran straight into the side of the island. The prisms in the lighthouse cost 7 million dollars. The whole array of prisms and such weighs about 3 tons, but it sits on a pool of mercury so the whole thing can be turned with 1 finger.
We were also told about how back in the day, the lighthouse keeper had to run around all night to get the air flowing properly in the lighthouse so that the flame would stay at its brightest.
We stayed on a guy named Malcolms property that night. He has a house set up to host groups of students. As it turns out, Malcolm grew up in the lighthouse which was interesting to hear about. On the way into his place, on a 2 km stretch of road, we spotted 21 wild koalas including 2 with babies clinging on.
The next day was not as exciting since we got to territory I had already visited. We stopped for a walk in a rainforest where there are huge trees 100m tall which was pretty cool. After coming back down to the coast, the drive became very windy and hugged the edge of the coast. We stopped in Lorne for lunch and visited Erskine Falls which I had done before. Further on we arrived at Bells Beach which was going off in its classic form. Check out this video of a few guys catching the clean 6ft breaks.
From here the drive was back was inland and boring. We dropped a few people off at the Waterfront campus in Geelong which means that during this trip I visited 4 of the 5 Deakin campuses. This trip was just the beginning of a fury of travelling. Next weekend is the Beach Club trip to Apollo Bay and then we are off to Sydney for the week!
Here are other photos from the trip:
Jorgs photos


Sunday, September 10, 2006

 

Beach Club Trip to Queenscliff

Last week I was skiing in mountains north of Melbourne, and this past weekend was the first Beach Club trip of the term to Queenscliff about an hour from Melbourne. I guess Victoria can be compared to British Columbia with its vast range of seasonal activities all offered at the same time.
We stayed in a huge guesthouse named Whitehall that is in the process of being converted from an old age home. We had the entire house to ourselves and there was no lack of space. Many of us had our own queen size beds in one of the dozen plus rooms. There was a great patio outside where I BBQ'd dinner for everyone on the first night and where we chilled out a lot. The first night we didn't do much other than be loud and get reacquainted with each other. Ashleigh celebrated her birthday at midnight which included some entertainment from Fredrik which was nice... I guess.
On saturday morning we all gathered ourselves by around noon and headed out to a beach in Ocean Grove. We rustled up a few wetsuits from friends in the area, and had a few surfboards as well so off I went. You have to know that it is the end of winter and we are in the southern most area of the country and so the water is COLD! I only had a shorty and my scuba boots and so I was hurting pretty bad the whole time I was out there, which ended up being almost 2 hours I think. When I was finished I couldn't do anything with my hands. The waves were really great for learning. Not so small that they are no fun and no challenge, and not so big that they just demolish you everytime. I am getting the hang of surfing more and more every time I go out, and if I was warmer I would have done even better. Someone managed to get a shot of me looking very awkward but riding a wave nevertheless. I did make it look better than this, but just don't have photos.
The weather was pretty great, it was bearable to be on the beach in shorts and a t-shirt when the sun was out. And since it was winter, there was almost not a single other person on the beach as far as we could see.
Later on we took a drive to Pt. Lonsdale which is at the entrance to Port Philip Bay, the most dangerous heads in the world. On a previous Beach Club trip we visited Point Nepean on the other side of the heads, which you can see behind me and the housemates that also went on the trip. It was kind of fun to have now been to both sides.
On Sunday we again gathered ourselves slowly and headed out for a leisurely drive home via some mini putting and Subway.
The next Beach Club trip is at the end of September to Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. It will be strange to go there since I am taking a trip along the entire Great Ocean Road the weekend before that. Immediately after the trip to Apollo Bay, 8 of us are taking off on a road trip to Sydney for a week. Soon the exam schedule will be out and more trip planning can proceed!

Here are links to other sites with photos from the trip:
Flos Photos
Jonas' Photos

Friday, August 11, 2006

 

Mt. Buller Ski Trip

The student association has been putting on trips that I have gone on in the past and this one was a ski trip to Mt Buller, about 3 hours north of Melbourne. I thought it would be such a novel idea to go skiing in August so I signed up. The not so novel part was getting up at 3am to be at the bus by 3:30 to start driving. We stopped in Mansfield, a town near the mountain, for a buffet breakfeast and to rent equipment. So far, not a sign of snow and I was still very sceptical that there would be snow at all. We rocked up to the mountain at about 9am and there was indeed snow on most of the hills. The conditions were what I expected them to be like at their best, but it was actually one of the worst seasons in the past years. I paired up with the other experienced skiers. It was a weird feeling to be a Canadian skiing in Australia because I found myself assuming that I was automatically so much better than everyone else. I didn't let my country down though thats for sure. I fanged down the slopes like it was my job, and made the guy in charge happy that he had someone who could set a good pace.
The mountain was probably one of the biggest I've actually been on and we made a point of walking to the summit (1805m, only 400 away from the highest point in Australia) from the top of one of the chairlifts. You can see a prism like box in the first picture where there is a fire watch station at the top. This photo is a view of only the top of the mountain and there is much more to it. Other than the snow on the slopes, there was none anywhere else and all that was visible was unspoiled forest in all directions. It was pretty cool when the low clouds blew into the side of the mountains and shot upwards too.
The weather was pretty awesome too I guess. It was proabably around 0 degrees with lots of sun, so very warm. We went to a shack at the top of the mountains and bought some spaghetti and ate it on the patio with the the scene from the first photo as our view. There was definitely a slightly different atmosphere here than in all the places Ive skied in Ontario and Quebec. I cant quite put my finger on it, but it was a nice change.
Heres one part of the difference: the price! A lift ticket for the day for a student was 71$!!! The ski rentals were 30$ and then the bus trip there, breakfeast and entrance fees to the national park we were in was another 60$. All in all, this day trip, done relatively cheap, came to a total of 185$ for everything. A bit steep, but a small price to pay for such a novelty. Novelty has definitely become a theme for the past 6.5 months which is perfectly fine. The next trip in the planning stages is the Beach Club trip to Queenscliff which is just the tip of the travel extravaganza that is about to unfold as my time winds down here in Australia.

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