A Travellerspoint blog

Beating around the bush

sunny 30 °C

We are back in Sydney once again, this time not in busy, never resting downtown, but instead about 45 minutes further north in a YHA hostel, smack on Collaroy Beach and not too far from famous Manley Beach. Early this morning we took our Wicked van back to where it belongs and after 7 weeks of taking us there where we wanted to go and be, we are missing both the freedom and confines our old graffiti vans gave us. The drive on the Hume Highway from Melbourne to Sydney was great while hot and dry and I do owe an apology to my Kansas friend Jeannie who taught me of the beauty that can be found while driving through great stretches of near empty landscape. The 900 kilometers we drove showed us the truth in Australia being the least forested continent after Antarctica. We camped outside of Holbrook, a very small town known as the submarine city. This had us wondering since there is no water around for many, many miles. Smack downtown, lying in a field there is a huge, old submarine and the reason why or how it got there is still unknown to us. We parked our van under the few trees available, hoping for some shade and later that evening the trees became very alive with occupants we can only guess at. Thankfully they stayed clear of our roof and settled down for the night when we did. Tom spotted a centipede but was told no worries by a fellow camper. We also learned that in Australia copperhead snakes, also well known in Arkansas, are considered shy and harmless even while the bite is venomous. Camping near the outback invites you to see the bush becoming alive at dusk and when shining a lantern beyond the field, many staring eyes greeted us.
Before Sydney, we turned back to the coast, to the Grand Pacific Drive which connects sleepy seaside towns and offers spectacular scenery from subtropical rainforests to dramatic coastal cliffs and unspoiled beaches. It is still relatively unknown and not receiving the attention of the Great Pacific Drive and we accidently stumbled on it on our way to Melbourne and planned to return and spend our last camping day on the beach in Coledale. The sunrises here are amazing, slowly a fierce red ball is pulled up out of the ocean and its intense heath burns away any clouds still lingering. From early morning on kids can be found surfing and with many coming in groups and identical shirts over wetsuits we wonder if surfing 101 is their first class period of the day. Throughout the day school kids come and go on the beach, what a great way to utilize this fantastic resource for play ground and PE. Like New Zealand, most of the Australian schools have adhered to a very traditional school uniform. While now in early autumn, all are still in summer uniform, the girls wear short, white ankle socks with their Mary Jane shoes and the skirts are remarkably shorter at the end of the day when rolled up. Boys are in short pants (not shorts) and with knee socks pulled up only knobby knees are exposed. Shirt, tie and blazer make up the rest as well as a mandated summer hat, in school colors, to bring shade from the sun. Protection from the sun is highly encouraged here as seen by the slip-slap-slop campaign. Slip on a shirt, slap on a hat and slop on the sunscreen. While we found different brands of sunscreens, they all are SPF 30+, since any less are considered frying oils. With the sun’s potency here and in New Zealand I wonder if any light skinned humans were ever meant to live way down under. The beach and what it offers to adults and youth alike is much appreciated by the Australians and not even in Hawaii have we seen such skilled, young surfers. Last week, while in Melbourne with Ern and Kelsay we watched 60 minutes, Australian style, and it showed coverage of the young boy attacked by a white shark on Bondi Beach on the first Sunday we were in Sydney. He is recovering nicely and fortunate to keep his leg which had been quite shredded and the cameras did not mind giving gruesome details. It was clear that this young boy can’t wait to be back in the waters and surf once again. While here, we heard of other shark attacks and daily planes fly overhead to keep out an eye. We honored that sharks feed at dawn and dusk and stayed clear of the waters at those times.
After almost 2 months of New Zealand and Australia down under culture we will miss their outlook on life. Their conservatism is limited to what we were truly given domain over and we have been very impressed with the care given to the animal kingdom here, maintaining natural resources and making it the responsibility of all. It was refreshing to see signs on our hikes, not forbidding us to enter places which could be dangerous but instead reminding us to be prepared, have our smarts about us and that rescue was free if one had prepared well, otherwise the cost would be ours. Empowering through granting responsibility and not putting laws in place which often are obscured through limited, narrow vision. Driving through Sydney, for the third time, did not become any easier. In America we are so spoiled with bypasses and expect a bypass to be just that, a road that does not take one near a large town, preferably not within 30miles. Alas, Sydney does not offer those. We were told to take M3 and that it would help somewhat. Taking M3 through Sydney as a bypass is like taking 5th Avenue in New York to avoid traffic. We spent about 3 hours on a Thursday afternoon creeping through Sydney and figured out why this city boasts a population of 4 million. It’s made up of people who just sheer gave up trying to find their way out and remained. One plus of that drive was seeing close-up the stadium where Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympic Games and of which to this day they rightfully talk about. Days later, we saw the Melbourne Olympic Stadium, a city equally bestowed with the Olympic honor, many years earlier. (1956?)
It was here that I learned in passing how one can tell the English apart from the Dutch. The English are too polite to be honest and the Dutch are too honest to be polite. The Australians we met these past three weeks say it as it is, they do not beat around the bush and I wonder if Dutch culture eventually rubbed off more than the visible English. From each of our spots we sent a package of that what we accumulate so our carrying load does not increase and we include the leftover coins for our son –in-law, teacher Mr. Bubba Corbitt’s class kids and tonight, our last night here all that is left is an AZ $50.00 note which will do fine buying dinner. Like New Zealand dollar bills, the Australian bills are colorful, making each note immediately recognizable and made so they are waterproof and even after a trip through the washing machine or ocean surf they are as good as new. I should take a picture of the $50.00 since Edith Bowen’s likeness on the bill resembles an uncanny resemblance to Robin Williams, Mrs. Doubtfire character and we have been calling these notes” Mrs. Doubtfires”. Shopping with Lent ending and Easter nearing brought the chocolate goodies on the aisle’s. Some years ago a campaign started to bring in the stores the chocolate bilby’s and let the Europeans and America keep the chocolate Easter bunnies. We were very fortunate to see Australia’s unique marsupial firsthand in the Healesville sanctuary and I burst out laughing in pure joy when first seeing this animal of the dark. It belongs in a Lord of the Rings movie and God’s sense of humor comes through loud and clear with creation surely taking a break and playing a Mr. Potato Head game. Visualize pink fuzzy bunny ears attached to the face and spout of a possum with a shiny Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer nose. Add it to the stocky, lopsided build of a young wallaby with the multicolored tail of a calico cat and voila…. Here is the Australian Bilby and we totally agree…only Chocolate bilby’s are good enough for the children here.
Before dawn tomorrow we are heading for the airport and a 9.5 hour flight to intimidating, mystical Asia with our first stop Bangkok. Last fall, planning this sabbatical around the world trip we took the necessary shots and yesterday started taking a malaria pill which we now will take daily until 4 weeks after leaving Nepal and India, our later Asia stops.
Exciting once again and we are approaching it with the final Wicked Wisdom as seen yesterday in Sydney.
“The mind is like a parachute. It works best when it is open”.
G’day from the Southern Cross.

Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 23:36 Archived in Australia Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)


semi-overcast 25 °C

Today, Wednesday March 18, we are on a Phillip Island, a small nature reservation about 90 minutes South East of Melbourne where last night we observed the amazing Penguin Parade. At dusk we gathered on Summerland beach while far out in the ocean, the smallest known penguin species, appropriately named “little penguins”, were regrouping, forming rafts, after their long solitary fishing day. Knowing of the safety in numbers, these little penguins wait out in the ocean, staying clear of the sharks for which they are tasty snacks and it is not until the last colorful lights are fading in the West when in large groups they head for the shore. When deemed safe by the raft leader and with lots of cackles, they leave the water and run across the beach, well knowing of their vulnerability out in the open for the large birds of prey. As soon as they hit the dunes, and now somewhat obscured through grasses and dune vegetation, many take a long break before waddling up on tiny legs to their burrows some as much as a mile away. Since we were considered guests of the penguins and invited into their sanctuary, strict rules were in place regarding pictures. No cameras are allowed to protect the sensitive eyes of the penguins and their trust of the places they call home. These penguins average about a foot in height with weight around a couple of pounds except those ready to moult for winter which means staying in the burrow for the next ten days or so while old feathers are shed to nest the home and allowing winter feathers to come in place. Those little penguins stocked up for the duration and with bellies filled appeared about twice the size of their skinny buddies and it was endearing seeing those little fatties, with their large white satiny bellies, plop down at times before attempting the hike up. If some rested too long, the next group running out of the ocean let them know their time was up. Hundreds of little penguins find the way home, to these burrows, nightly. The smell of so many penguins’ close by their underground homes was distinct, like a fishy chicken coop. Truly a feat and we are thrilled to have been a part of their homecoming last night, visible under the lights of the Southern Cross and waning moon.
We ventured out to Phillip Island Nature conservation upon direction from our new friends and hosts in Melbourne, Ern and Kelsay Hermeler. Kelsay is a cousin of Conway friend and neighbor Stephanie Shachmut and like Stephanie, Kelsay and Ern were born and raised in South Africa. Kelsay and Stephanie’s fathers were brothers and Kelsay shared many stories of their early years in Johannesburg. Ern is the son of a Dutch father and German mother who immigrated to South Africa in 1938. Like Stephanie, Ern and Kelsay left South Africa as young adults and after living in England, New York and Chicago they settled in Melbourne and raised their family. In their home, throughout, pictures can be found of the passing years and mixed with the pictures of their twin daughters are pictures of Stephanie and Jeff’s double set of twins while growing up. These are the very same children we saw while they were busy growing up across the street from us for the last 19 years and so special to see now continents away. We spent three great days with Ern and Kelsay who showered us in kindness, hospitality and showed us around Melbourne and the insight on how to navigate the city on our own. All we knew of them beforehand was a telephone number from Stephanie and her message to go and see them. We arrived in Melbourne on Saturday and brought, once again, the much needed rain. While Tom was steering the way towards Melbourne I was navigating while not quite sure which direction to attack Melbourne. Telepathy must work , unconsciously I sent Tom within blocks of the Hermeler home and when calling they were stunned that we were that close and while Kelasy gave us the last directions she sent Ern to the street corner to meet and greet us. You know you have found the right place when on a Melbourne Street corner, under an umbrella, one finds a man donned with a Red razorback hog hat, who enthusiastically waves our wicked van over. While Kelsay stayed home on Sunday, preparing a scrumptious meal of roasted leg of lamb, Ern took us out to Yarra Valley, North of Melbourne where like Hunter Valley , lots of wineries can be found as well as flower nurseries. For a time it felt like being home in Noord-Holland with the many hothouses in the Yarra valley, advertising tulip festivals , transporting flowers worldwide, and all carrying a Dutch name. When so many Dutch moved here to Australia they brought their talents, knowledge and expertise to create home once again. We found the same to be true while exploring Melbourne on Monday. Melbourne in size is almost the same as Sydney but we found the city to be gentler, with a very distinct English character. Melbourne with its broader streets and linear design eases navigation for tourists and locals alike and also boast great public transportation through trams and buses which one can find throughout the city and suburbs. There is great rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney and probably therefore neither was named the capital and that honor befell on Canberra. Tom and I spent last Monday in Melbourne and walked for hours from one royal named park to another until we finally arrived at the Royal Botanical gardens. It is incredible how a city living in drought through recycling and reusing the same waters can keep these parks and flowers alive. This was our fifth visit to a Southern Hemisphere Botanical garden and they were formed, planted to give the settler a feeling of home. In old Melbourne, Victorian homes line the streets, together with the English Elms and while most of these Elms succumbed to diseases in the Northern Hemisphere, here in Melbourne, where they are not native they thrive. Downtown Melbourne one can also find the National Gallery of Victoria which is open to the public and we wandered through the Bugatti exhibition, encompassing three generations and four remarkable individuals and their talents. Not far from there we walked up to the Shrine of Remembrance, Australia’s memorial not to war but to the many Australian lives and dreams lost in wars the Australian men were sent .
Comparing the territories of Victoria and New South Wales is as impossible as holding Texas next to California, or attempting to find likeness between like New England and the Southern States. Today, while sitting down and find a way to share this past week what comes to mind is that sometimes it is the minute details which make the difference. In New Zealand, one was made aware of passing lanes while here in Australia one does not pass, instead one overtakes. That little word, overtake, can make a huge difference. Weeks ago, upon first arriving in Australia, we made a small list of that what we hoped to see while here. We voted out Ayer’s rock immediately since that compares with landing in New York and driving to see the Big Faithfull geyser in Yellowstone, snapping a quick picture there, before heading back to NY, and never stopping to see anything else. Our plans were manageable, however cyclone Hamish threw in a wrench and stopped our travels up the Northern shore at port Macquarie. So, we headed South towards Tasmania and brought the storm there and stayed instead in Melbourne and Phillips Island and now looking back it was in our attempt to pass that we were taken over and richer because of it. Arriving in Victoria only weeks after their devastating fires is intimidating. On our drive down, outside of the village of Batemans bay signs alerted us of smoke in the area, no longer the smoke of the devastating bushfires, instead of the controlled bushfires which are a big controversy in Australia. Does one keep the brush alive below the Eucalyptus or control its growth so that it will not be added fuel when the fires are out of control? Even controlled bushfires are scary and intimidating in Australia and we felt its heat and inhaled the smoke and sent a prayer for all that was lost, over 200 human lives, millions of animals and uncountable trees. Together with Ern Hermeler we visited Healesville Sanctuary in Yarra Valley, a place where many of the animals who did not die in the fire are slowly healing from their injuries. Strangely, Healesville is not named for that what I think they do, a village of healing. Again, we were rained upon and while surrounded in the black and brown vegetation created by drought and fire create, green peeked through once again and showed us this color’s forgiveness. Healesville sanctuary is a place where animals regroup, recover and it was a marvelous place for us. We needed to see a wombat not injured or dead by the side of the road , and while I had not expected to be licked by a wallaby it was great for one to stop and pose .
Sanctuary’s, these places we call home while home is a place of mind. While walking the sea walk in Port Macquarie we passed the boulders which over the years have been painted many different colors by the ones who like us stayed here. Each boulder tells a story, painted in many bright colors and we delighted in reading the rocks, often in memory of a special person while the colors tell us why. Days later I walked by a small beach near Coledale on the Grand Pacific Drive. There I found a statue of a sail ship named “Comradeship” in honor of a man named Michael Dwyer who was born in the small hospital across the road and lived his short 50 year fit fully in this small town and when not educating its youngsters sailing with friends on a boat he designed and built named comradeship. It is an incredible statue where the sails, remarkable like angels wings, are set to take and be lifted from wind of all directions. It was this walk which took me back to the place Marianne and Bob carefully looked for and found for their son Ben and where some of his ashes rest, a place where nothing stands in between Ben and the Rockies he so loved.
Sanctuary’s, while never good enough to take the place can take a place where memories and healing happen.
Tomorrow we are heading back to Sydney, this time not by the coast, instead by Hume Highway. Shorter by far, less distinct on the maps by beauty. It will be one of those drives thrilled in the first 30 minutes by its unique barren views only to see these same views again and again for the next 1000 KM, like being enthralled by Texas or Kansas on the first day.
We are taking our time and when in need of scenery will head back once again to the ocean before braving Sydney on Saturday when return of our Wicked French pooter van is due.
G’Day, Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 16:43 Archived in Australia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Window of time

sunny 32 °C

We are in Port Macquarie, a small town steeped in history and like all of early Australia once a recommended convict penal settlement and proud of it. Since Saturday we have drifted up the coast, stopping at sights and beaches and here we have chosen to stay a couple of days. It offers long coastal walks connecting the many beaches while in between the beaches one walks through the bush with its lively, colorful birds and crawling critters. Port Macquarie also has two MacDonald’s where one can connect to the best and fastest wireless internet in Australia without paying a dime after ordering a great cappuccino and a fresh baked muffin or scone. We spent most of the morning there while rain and heavy surf were hitting this coastal town thanks to Cyclone Haney which is causing quite some damage in Cairn, many days and Kilometers North of us. Australia is in dire need of the rain so we share in the thanksgiving however when the sun peeked out once again this afternoon we happily took off for the beach. We are equally as far away from the bushfires in Victoria but hope to head towards Melbourne later this week.
Some backtracking since our last entree. Friday night our hosts Kim and Garnet took us to their Club for the weekly Chook Raffle. Years ago, when chickens in Australia were still a rare luxury these raffles were put in place with raw chicken being the grand price. Chicken no longer is rare here; it is very available in the gocery store for all to throw on their own barbi. (BBQ is found in every home, Caravan Park or rest stop by the side of the road). Kentucky Fried Chicken is in near every town we have passed but still, these raffles were fun and Australians believe in having a fun, no worries time, and so the Chook raffles continue with now different meat platters and legs of lamb as the prizes. We did not add luck to the draw since our table left with no winnings but great fun we had and Kim and I did end up with extra coins after playing the club’s penny slot machines while Tom met up with great characters on the club’s patio.
The next morning Tom and I headed towards Hunter valley, Australia’s oldest and best known wine region. Arriving in this large river valley with its only industry wine making, we drove around somewhat lost down very bumpy and isolated country roads where kangaroos do cross, as now seen by us. We had no idea there were so many different wineries to select from to take a tour and ended up, in a round-about way in the small city of Cessnock where we decided to stop and ask for direction in the local Information kiosk. Out front was a white board with the daily attractions posted and scanning this on the way in , my eyes fell on what was half way down on the board, in very small letters but jumped out big; ERIC CLAPTON, today at Hope Winery! Surely they were kidding! We walked in and headed for the desk. Mind you, there are many wineries in the valley, and the information desk cannot promote one over the other so they could or would not give us any information beyond that yes, Eric Clapton would perform live at Hope Reservation, 5 minutes down the road but whether tickets were available or the price they did not know. They did say that he was drawing almost the same crowd as Diana Ross and that the Who were coming later in the month. With so many wineries in the valley, all producing great wines they are adding special resources to draw the tourists to come and sample their wine and it worked for us. We forgot about the Tyrrell vineyard we had thought about touring and trekked up to Hope and ended up in that great window of opportunity where we arrived at the same time as the security hired who really were not one bit concerned that we parked hours before gate-opening and purchased tickets before the Box opened and only said “no worries” while allowing us to sit out on our camping chairs and listening while 50 meters away, Eric Clapton was cutting up and warming up for the nights show. Absolutely unbelievable. Tom happily traded in Eric Clapton for next weekend’s missed Katoomba Blues/Aborigine festival. Three other great bands played before we started rocking, singing along and dancing to Layla, Wonderful tonight , all his great songs and even ending with Cocaine while I once read he would no longer perform that song live. (maybe he meant in the US). Great fireworks were displayed at the end to keep the crowd from leaving all at once and throughout security guards who with genuine kindness wanted to make sure that all were having a grand time. Tom and I still look at each other and marvel at driving in a small town on a Saturday afternoon and hours later watch and listen to Eric Clapton. Moment in time, meant to be, while all we did was aimlessly setting out and see what Hunter valley was about.
We are still getting used to this ”no worries”, the Aussies are fond of using constantly and often it takes the place of other English sayings. I have decide it can mean, “You are welcome, have a good day, check out time is irrelevant, no, the fish are not biting today but who cares, your van is great and everything in between. Combine G’day with “no worries” and great conversations can be had with the Aussies. The English heritage comes through strongly as evident with the sports played; rugby, bowling on grass while wearing funny hats, Polo, cricket and equestrian clubs where one still wears jodhpurs and the correct hat while bouncing English style in the saddle. I have even started to drink tea since it is easier to find a good cupa tea than a good, brewed cup of coffee. We are now well used to driving left and in Australia there are many other speed signs beyond the New Zealand 100km. Traffic flows well with its constant use of roundabouts and it is just as well Tom and I are not yet heading back to the States since we would have trouble now driving back on the right. Coins floored us first since the $2.00 coin is by far the smallest of the coin bunch and easily overlooked. The Southern cross constellation once again shines bright at night with the extra star which is displayed on the Australian flag faintly visible on clear, dark nights.
We are once again adapting to another culture and its great people.

G'day, Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 23:37 Archived in Australia Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Two out of three

sunny 28 °C

Written on Sunday, March 1

Our last couple of days in New Zealand’s Southern town of Christ Church was magnificent. We stayed at Kiwi base backpackers on Bealy Street and were spoiled by great staff and accommodations; they even cheerfully gave us a ride to the airport last Saturday. We again flew New Zealand Air and I wished they would remain our airline for the rest of our travels. The extra legroom and service make a difference.
When Tom and I were married for 15 years, we playfully told our three, then still very young children, that for our 25th anniversary we wanted to be treated to an Australia trip. As added measure we reminded them yearly during their formative and growing years but alas, our 25th anniversary came and went and we were told by our kids that the gift did not fit within their high school budget and to start saving for it ourselves. Yesterday, upon landing in Sydney, Australia, now almost another 10 years past our 25th anniversary Tom and I shared a chuckle that at last we were there. Reading about Australia’s dimensions and our limited time here, 23 days, we have looked at that what we hope to see and knowing that when one tries to see all, a lot is missed, we are selecting our destinations carefully. Since we could not pick up our Wicked campervan until Monday we booked another backpacker hostel in downtown Sydney for the weekend after our great experiences with the hostels in NZ. We wanted to be close to inner-city Sydney and have comfortable and budget accommodations. Well, I am not sure why the saying is having two out of three ain’t bad, it is over half good. We are very downtown close to Hyde Park, the Botanical Gardens with the ancient government home, Rocks, both Darling and Sydney’s harbor and historical bridge plus the Opera house are all within comfortable walking distance and these past 24 hours we have walked and walked, absorbing a huge, very lively, both young and ancient city. The Maze Nomads Backpackers on Pitt Street is very affordable but we have become too spoiled over the years to a minimum level of comfort which sadly they do not meet. Posters were pasted throughout on the walls … Attention… Beware….THIEVES are among us, which did not raise our level of comfort however precaution was. Our lesson learned was to no longer wait until the last minute with booking when arriving in countries we know little of and only depend on a name which served us well in New Zealand.
Walking for hours in Sydney at night was interesting. Australia is as big as continental USA (no Alaska) and has a population of a mere 20 million. Four million however live in Sydney and I believe all of those under the age of 30 were out walking in downtown Sydney last night, a Saturday night. Most of the restaurants featured an Indian / Thai/Korea or other ethnic kitchen and we ended up sharing a great seafood Pizza in a Spanish restaurant close to our hostel. With our room being on the second floor we felt comfortable leaving the windows wide open, even needed to with temperatures in the muggy high Celsius twenties and slept with the background sounds of a city which stayed wide awake, all night long.
Like Auckland, there was a Sky tower which at 350 meters, proclaims to be as tall as the Eifel tower and offers a spectacular view of Sydney’s harbors, buildings and distant beaches. Earlier we walked through the many parks and gardens. It is good to see signs in parks stating to please walk on the grass and stop to smell the roses. Walking in the harbor was special this Sunday since it coincided with the Annual Sydney Classic Harbor swim where many took the plunge and swam 2 KM next to the grand Opera house. Above the harbor were hovering helicopters and later we learned that with a near fatal shark attack on Bondi Beach earlier the same morning extra precaution was taken for the many swimmers splish- splashing so near.
Walking into St. Mary’s Cathedral allowed me to share Mass there with many for a special service with Australia’s cardinal and next door in Hyde Park was the day long Sydney Cellar door market with great food, wine and live music to enjoy which makes going back to a room in which we only have to spend one more night, a day not half bad, but good. Tomorrow we venture out to the Blue mountains, where sunsets promises those colors, stars instead of neon light at night and bush walks where hiking boots are needed once again.
It’s somewhat amazing, Tom’s and mine fascination with Australia for so many years and now not let New Zealand stand in the way of our enjoyment, through having somewhat formed our Southern expectations.
I am learning the history here and again it was a Dutchman, named Willem Jansz, who sailed by Queensland coast in 1606, gave it a proper name( new Holland) only to have James Cook come floating by the Eastern coast in 1770, and rename it New South Wales. That name stuck and it is the territory where we plan and spend most of our time here with a little venturing in Queensland to see the Great Barrier Reef.

Written on Friday, March 5.
Monday morning we left Sydney, anxious, ready to part from city living and sounds. After picking up our new Wicked Camper we took off and without a good map ended up traveling south for awhile before backtracking to Sydney where this time we found the correct bridge for heading west. The Blue Mountains is one of Australia’s most popular holiday destinations and only a two hour drive from the coast. It is cooler there and the views of golden weathered rock- faces contrasts beautifully with the distinctive blue green of the mountain’s vegetation. The Blue mountain region is heavily timbered with eucalypts which constantly disperse droplets of oil in the air, causing the blue rays from the sun to be scattered more effectively and making distant objects appear blue. We camped near the quaint little town of Katoomba for a couple of days with short hikes during the daylight hours. We met up with a young Dutch couple, Wendy and Dennis who are taking a year break from their jobs and Dutch life to travel in Australia while working on farms and ranches in exchange for lodging. While drinking a cup of coffee in downtown Katoomba we ran into Alf, a Norwegian traveler whom we hiked with on the Milford Track in New Zealand last month. These moments of connecting with fellow travelers remain insightful. At the far end of the Blue Mountain National Park we found the Jenolan caves. Tom is far more into spelunking and walking underground in the dank and dark however, I found the time in the Temple of Baal cave very intrigueing with the high tech lighting and sounds system enhancing the magic of the helicites and the Angel Wings formed by water, lime, gravity and above all time. Recently it was learned that the Jenolan Caves are the world’s oldest discovered open caves and may date back more than 340 million years. There are many different caves at Jenolan to tour however the one I found the most interesting does not require a ticket. This one is called the Grand Arch and one drives through it as part of the High way, a natural tunnel. After the caves we traveled off the beaten path to Oberon and found a great camping spot by a little stream where the flat rocks made natural baths for us to clean up and cool of in. Autumn now has approached in Australia and while the sun remains very strong during the day the nights in the mountains are cool. Strange to enter Lent and Easter with brown, dried leaves falling slowly instead of the season we usually associate with Easter, the new life of flowers peeking through the ground. Before leaving the Mountain region, close by a town called Tarana we climbed up to Evan Crown Nature reserve. It was a 3km walk up through bush land where on the ridge great boulders are balancing. Evans Crown was an area traditionally occupied by the Waradjuri Aboriginal people. It was their special place of initiations and coroboree and it continues to hold high significance. Aboriginal communities have an association with and are deeply connected to the land. The land and all it contains is central to Aboriginal spirituality and contributes to aboriginal identity and are inseperate from each other. Evans Crown is out of the way for the tourist and it was a very quiet hike up through the reserve with huge boulders towering over and accompanying us. The lichen covered granite tors of Evans Crown peak at 1104 meters above sea level and give an amazing view of all directions and Australia’s vastness. We encountered three other people while there and we struck up a conversation with Dot, a woman raised in Sydney who now lives in the Blue Mountains. She retired from Australia Child Protective services and shared some of her work experiences and the changes Australia needed to make for the Aboriginal families. Trekking down the ridge we learned how quick one can become lost in the bush and literally bushwhacked our way down . Tom saw three kangaroos on the ridge but I am still waiting to see the first one. Signs, alerting drivers to possible kangaroo and wombats crossings are everywhere and in with our camper rental forms are warnings to not swerve for the animals instead hit them if unavoidable. Snakes and lizards the size of small alligators we have seen on our hikes in the mountains. Birds are amazing once again. Magpies and kookaburras have been numerous at the campsites and their laughing monkey sounds are hilarious.

Last night we arrived in Windsor, a city about an hour West of Sydney to spend a couple of days with Kim and her husband Garnet, parents of our friend and CASA coworker Katiina. Kim and Garnet are the most gracious hosts and opened their home to us. We plan on staying here a couple of days before heading up to Hunter Valley and afterwards to the coast. We are finding the Australians to be very much like their neighbors. Very outgoing, generous and helpful with witty humor throughout. Windsor is one of the 5 Macquarie towns which can be found in the Hawkesbury valley and was considered the Frontier of Australia until 1814 when the road to the West was built. Walking through Windsor’s museum the pride this community takes in its history and preservation of the past while promoting the future was evident. The town earliest inhabitants were English convicts who served out their sentences and became successful in the colony they were banned to. Australia’s eldest Anglican Church, St. Matthews, can be found in Windsor and still serves the community.
Entering a less occupied Australia limits the availability of internet as will our updates but we will catch up when we can. Our Wicked Campervan is slightly different here, a much older model but we do have more room inside to stretch our long legs at night. No more moon roof to see the stars but so far have not met any annoying sand flies or mosquitoes which prevented us from sitting out late at night in NZ. The “graffiti” is a tad more wicked this time. We are in the French Pooter camper and on one side a large French poodle is painted, tooting musical notes while on the other side a wicked girl is raising her skirt and letting out some stinkies. There are two wisdoms this time. Inside on the dash board there is the very wise John Lennon saying : “ Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. If you want to know the wisdom on the rear of our van look at the photo which also displays the many places Wicked Camper drives around.
On a final note. Last night we checked e-mail and there was one from the Wicked Camper Company from New Zealand, thanking us for the rental and informing us that we must have been a tad more wicked than was allowed since they received a citation from the Wellington police regarding our license plate. It appears that on Monday, February 9 at 8.31 am our van was photographed speeding over the bridge while approaching Wellington. After checking the facts, that was indeed the day and time we were in the vicinity and we both remembered who the driver was….. Els. Yes, after all my writing and abhorring the New Zealand scandalous speed limit it appears that I was photographed doing 61 KM in a 50 KM zone. Mind you that I never even saw any signs in New Zealand except the 100km ones. Tom has had a great laugh as well as our son Tony and Wicked Camper informed us that they are charging our account another $30.00 for the hassle I am giving them to clear this matter and that the Wellington police will now issue the citation in our name. We are wondering to what addresses that will be sent to? I know there is a reason why I have always hated having my photo taken. At least when you are pulled over you know what may be coming and sometimes can talk your way out….This is so sneaky!

G’day all from Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 21:40 Archived in Australia Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Wicked wisdom

semi-overcast 15 °C

Our time here in New Zealand is drawing to a close, another leaving. Tomorrow we plan on crossing Arthur's pass which connects the West coast with the town of Christ Church from where we take a plane on our Saturday February 28, a day before Conway’s Saturday.
It is with mixed feelings I am saying goodbye to New Zealand. While excited to go west once again and see Australia, it is with sadness in my heart I let go of a country which so resonates with the core of my soul’s being. These past two days were spent once again very close to the beach by the township of Hokitika and with the windows safely open again, we were able to sleep with the lull of the surf instead of pounding rain. While drying out our soggy boots and clothes from the glacier hikes, we walked the solitary beach for hours, picking up the most amazing jewels from the sand, jade in its most natural unpolished state can still be found here and called Greenstone translated from the Maori ‘s name for the stone, Pounamu. In Hokitika one can see the artists at work, polishing and carving the jade.
If asked, we will say that it was the Southern Island which captured our heart even more. Colder? Absolutely, no doubt and there was no more ocean or lake swimming here but its beauty, while stark, is unspoiled and with a population of less than a million one can enjoy without sharing. Add to that the fewer cars riding our rear since I still refuse to drive a 100km there where it should not be driven. It was on the South Island I saw the smartest traffic sign in New Zealand. It was a 100km sign but it had a large red dot in the middle with a saying next to it.
“It is not a target, drive to condition”. Thank you and I full heartedly agree. Other wise sayings came from the rear of the other Wicked Camper vans on the road. There are many here and on Monday a wicked camper is waiting for us in Sydney, Australia. I am posting some of the wicked wisdoms, and withholding those which may be too offensive for some but by request can be sent by e-mail.
-If at first you don’t succeed skydiving ain’t for you-
-I do not suffer of insanity, I enjoy every minute of it-
-Thou shall not steal, God is watching you, you thieving bastard-
-Man who stands on toilet is high on pot-
-I have a strong will but a weak won’t-
-I say no to drugs, they just don’t listen-
-Money is the root of all evil and man needs roots-
-Blessed are the cracked, they let in the light-
-When women go wrong men go right after them-
-You are making progress when each mistake is a new one-
-The early bird may get the worm but it is the second mouse that gets the cheese-
-How young can one die of old age-
-I’m often in hot water, I think it keeps me clean-
-Chuck Norris ordered a Big Mac at Burger King and got it-

I am sure that Australia’s wicked campers have their own wisdom and more may follow next month.
Wisdom was learned through the new sounds we heard this past month. Our very first can only be described as the release one hears when playing pin ball and setting the ball loose. That is the sound one hears in Auckland , Wellington and now Christchurch when suddenly all traffic stops, from every direction at intersections and for about 30 seconds after hearing this distinct releasing PING, an institutionalized , organized jay walking starts. Not a mere crossing from one corner to the next but diagonal. I loved hearing the sound, its release for freedom for the many walkers in the big New Zealand cities and felt like skipping across these busy intersections, accompanying the sound with a good laugh. While neither of us are city dwellers, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch were manageable and fun with lots to see and do.
The sound of birds accompanied us throughout. Beach walks were shared with seagulls and birds whose sound and appearance I did not recognize. Especially during our Milford Track we learned lots about the birds native only to New Zealand and its wet-lands. Ross, one of the knowledgeable hut guides shared that years ago, in the late 1980’s the department of conservation wanted to get rid of the increasing numbers of rabbits in the wetlands and introduced the stoat, a weasel type of rat who, once brought to New Zealand decided to forego the chase of the rabbits for dinner and instead went for the easy prey, eggs of the ground nesting birds, like the blue duck and Weka’s. Within years these birds became sparse and now there is an intense trapping to rid the wetlands from the stoats, not native there and let the birds restore. One of the hikers asked the ranger why nothing is done about the sandflies, his reply;” That is how we keep the tourist population under control”. Nature left alone knows harmony. Depending on the region, we heard cicadas chirp to a volume not achieved on even the sultriest Arkansas summer night and buzzing of flies in swarms that made me run fast down the mountain only to learn that the monster flies are harmless and running down a mountain is not. The bleating of sheep, especially when I lost the trail and decided to go through their meadow for a short cut.
The many, many languages heard spoken while out on the tracks or visiting the towns. There are some which stand out. One was during the Tongariro Alpine crossing when 3 km before the trail’s end, at the sign stating this, a young man hiking with two others looked at his watch and said in Dutch” We are only one minute behind schedule. We can make this up”. Schedule? We are here on the most beautiful hike and it is timed? No wonder I have trouble living in Maui time, it is in my blood. The last 3km on the hike , I intentionally slowed way down, added stops to look around and give nature time instead of making time…..with the result I missed the shuttle bus by 4 minutes. On that same hike I traveled for a while with a woman close to my age, from Los Angeles. We both were huffing and puffing up the red crater wall and afterwards while resting on top sharing there where we were from. Upon hearing I was from Arkansas she remarked that she could not understand why one would want to live there so I climbed on my Arkansas high horse describing the beauty of the state I now call home. I stopped though and asked her if she had ever set foot there, which she had not. My next question was if she put her own blinders on or always let others do it for her. Our paths parted soon after. The nights in the bunk-huts on the Milford Track where around us we heard spoken Hebrew, Chinese, French, German, Dutch, Japanese , Norwegian as well as many different forms of English but when a hiker entered or left the bunk room too slow, in unison it was yelled in a language understood for all
” Shut door fast. No let in #^#@* black sandflies". We learned that snoring crosses all language barriers including sound and it is smart to have earplugs with you when sharing a bunk hut with 40 tired men and women. They may even muffle the sound of our own snoring. BTW, we finally found the repellant needed for sandflies in a small town called Okarito, simply named Okarito Sandfly repellant and it is a mixture of Citronella and sweet almond oil and smells suspiciously like Avon’s Skin so Soft but it oh so works.
The New Zealand ...f-sound was a new one to learn. No, not offensive but we were not aware that here when the W is followed by an H it is not the sound of our WHat or WHere instead the WH is pronounced as an f. This is very important knowledge when one is asking for directions to places like Whangerei, Whananaki or Whanganui since the nice man whom you are asking directions from upon hearing WHangerei will look you in the eye and say he has never heard of that place while you may be only minutes away.
The sound of an avalanche while hiking through Fiordland. Suddenly amidst absolute stillness we heard the loud clap of thunder with no clouds in the sky and understood the reason of the many signs advising us not to stop at certain places. Avalanches do happen here year around and the damaging results can be seen in Fiordland and while traveling through the Southern Alps.
Above all we will take the sound of water, heard in so many forms . The gentle lapping of the waves while walking along an endless beach and watching the snow covered peak of Mount Cook in the not too far distance. Bubbling brooks and the heavy streams we crossed after the rainfalls. Waterfalls throughout, rain’s amazing award. Violent surf which surfers dressed like penguins in their wetsuits do brave. Never before have I drank water directly from streams and known it to be safe and pure, cleansed only by the moss on the rocks from which it comes crashing down. Refreshing Alpine water at the great drinking temperature of 4 C degrees, I am not sure if I can go back to chlorinated, treated water.
When all is said and done though, describing all the great wonders nature has to offer here, from the soft rolling meadows and gracious Alps, the glaciers, waterfalls and always the sea nearby, New Zealand’s greatest asset is its people. Their conservatism comes through in the great care they give to their country, its beauty and protecting its natural resources.
Years ago, when I first moved to the US I was employed as the swim coach for a local YWCA. There was a small, six -year old girl on the team who was very anxious to enter her first swim meet and against my instinct, I did not feel she was prepared; I entered her in a meet. The big day came and she jumped in to swim her one pool length. I walked it, step by step on the deck, very close by and ready to jump in if needed and I came near doing so a couple of times while she slowly labored to the other side, embarrassingly behind all the other young swimmers. When she finally reached the other side and pulled herself up and out she looked behind her in the now empty pool and elated jumped up and down cheering “ Hurrah, I am the last one to win” .
I saw joyful living then and I see it here in New Zealand where one cares for their neighbor with honesty and humor intact. While in Franz Josef Glacier where indeed it had rained for three days straight I heard the woman in front of me at the Department of Conservation ask the ranger what one does in Franz Josef when it rains. His answer “You put on your raincoat, see the glacier and smile”.

As I have seen here on a card with the earth placed upside down while right side up
“When everything goes ‘arse up’ NZ’ers come out on top.

Tomorrow we plan to see the sights in Christchurch and eat once more a New Zealand meat pie. Another piece of good advice from our brother-in-law Bob who told us to stop and stop often for a scrumptious, flaky pie and the New Zealanders have surpassed the English here and do not limit these to steak and kidney fililngs. Together with an apple these pies have made many great meals for us here.

Apopo until Australia,
KO main kai atu ko maru kai mai ka ngohengohe: Give as well as take and all is well.
Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 23:26 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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