Saturday, November 29, 2008

A White Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving here, not that they celebrate it. It’s just Thursday, but for me it’s Thanksgiving. Given the time difference, I know it’s not Thanksgiving there yet but it will be soon so Happy Thanksgiving to you all and save some turkey for me. The Traveling Hillbilly LOVES turkey sandwiches made from leftovers.

What better way to spend Thanksgiving, then going on yet another bush walk?!

So I head off to the Blue Mountains and then on to Jenolan Caves. It’s a long day, but another great one. I just can’t get over how amazing the views and scenery are here. It is truly magnificent. I have to admit, it reminded me a lot of Kentucky. I did a short hike in the Blue Mountains and saw yet another amazing waterfall. In some places the trail actually takes you almost to the cliff’s edge. I did not realize how high up I was until I walked up to this look out point and realized that just inches from the fence was a straight drop down! Beautiful but scary!

After spending time admiring the beauty of the Blue Mountains and getting the obligatory shot of the Three Sisters, it was off to Jenolan Caves. I have not been inside a cave since I was a kid and we went to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. It was like being a kid again. The cave network is so intricate. It was just amazing. After hiking for four days in a row, I could have done without the 900+ steps though! My calves are killing me! Now it's time to go back to the hotel and get some dinner.

On the bus ride home, guess what? It starts to rain. Then suddenly we are in the middle of a hail storm! How wild is that? The hail stones are huge and coming down fast and furious. After just a few minutes, the ground is covered and it actually looks like it’s covered in snow. A white Thanksgiving in Australia, who would believe it?

As I sit here typing this in the club lounge, sipping my champagne, dreaming about a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, there’s suddenly an explosion. I jump back and am completely frightened for a moment. Given all that has been going on in Thailand and Mumbai, all the guest here are a little jumpy. Then we realize the explosion is actually fireworks. All the guests in the lounge are treated to an amazing fireworks display. What a special surprise. I later find out it is part of the celebration of the lighting of the Christmas tree, in the courtyard below us. Wow I had the best seat in the house for the ceremony.

So while I did not get my turkey, I did get a nice holiday treat.

So Happy Thanksgiving everyone and be thankful for your family, friends and all the blessings we have. My heart goes out to everyone impacted by the incidents in Thailand, Mumbai and the Middle East.

“Things can be taken away and in the end all you have is your story.”

This is a line from the film Australia, spoken by the handsome Hugh Jackman. What a great line and so true. As most of you know, the Traveling Hillbilly has always said life is about acquiring experiences, not things, so this line really hit home.

It was opening night for the film Australia and y’all know the Traveling Hillbilly loves the movies, so I thought it was only fitting I go see it while I’m here. I’m sure my love and excitement over the film were heightened by my actually being here. However, it was a truly wonderful film. The Traveling Hillbilly highly recommends it. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so moved by a film. I sat in the theater long after the film ended and I wasn’t the only one. There must have been at least two-thirds of the audience still there sitting.

Obviously it’s a major release here so there’s been a lot of buzz about it. I heard a review that said the acting was a little over the top and that’s true. But to me it works. The film is done in an old school style like some of the classics, such as Casablanca and Gone with the Wind. If you watch those films today the acting might seem over the top, but they are still amazing films. It’s got drama, humor and the most beautiful scenery. It will make you laugh, gasp and maybe even cry. I think this film will make you all want to come here.

There are several great performances but the best performance is from Brandon Walters. This kid melts your heart.

So go see it and let me know what you think. And make sure your life is a great story!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Does the water really go down the toilet counter-clockwise?

Someone has asked the Traveling Hillbilly this question. I have to say, I've heard about this too and have been quite curious myself. After many days of observation, the answer is the water goes straight down. The water comes out of the top of the bowl but only on one side and it shoots straight down vs. going in a circular motion.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Porcupines, Kangaroos and Wallabies, Oh My!

Taking the advice of the girl working the entrance of the national park, I decide to head to the Murray Beach trail. On the drive to the trail, I come across a porcupine crossing the street. Now the Traveling Hillbilly has never seen a porcupine up close and personal before, so I can’t be 100% sure that is what it was, but that is certainly what it looked like. It looked quite prickly, but a little cute and it kind of waddled along. I stopped the car so he could continue his journey across the street, but he changed his mind and heading back to the forest.
I get to the Murray Beach car park and start my hike. I’m not on the trail 5 minutes when I see a kangaroo in the bushes. It’s so cool to see one in the wild like this. Not wanting to scare it, I continue to the beach. What a beautiful beach it is. It is truly picturesque. The water is so blue green that it looks like a picture that has been photo-shopped. I walk a long the beach for a while and then get back on the trail. I hear rustling in the bushes and jump back my heart racing. I look up and realize that it’s another kangaroo. Is this the same one from before or another one? I’m not really sure but this one is smaller and more reddish in color. I think it might actually be a wallaby. This is too cool.

After about 20 minutes on the trail, you get a great view of Murray Beach below. You are suddenly standing on top of sandstone cliffs overlooking the sea. Wow! After taking the time to soak the view in and snapping a few photos. I head on. As I walk, I suddenly think, I’m not in New Zealand anymore. They have snakes here in Australia! And once again, no one knows I’m here. No one knows, I’ve decided to rent a car and drive to Jervis Bay. Maybe it’s time to head back.

I see two more roos and/or wallabies, plus a bird that looks an awful lot like a parrot but luckily no snakes on my way back to the car. What a magical place.

Now I can go back to the cabin and actually cook myself dinner!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Driving a lawn mower on the wrong side of the road

On the flight to Sydney, I decide to rent a car and drive to Jervis Bay, home to Booderee National Park and where they are supposed to have the most amazing white sand beaches. I really want to see more of Australia before settling in Sydney for the last leg of my journey. Given my extended stay in New Zealand, I’ve had to give up my hope of going to Adelaide for wine tasting in the Barossa Valley with a side trip to Kangaroo Island. L

After going through customs, I walk over to the rental car area and look into getting a car. To my surprise, they only have large cars left and it’s going to cost $200-$300 for a 2 day rental. What? For that kind of money, I could fly all the way to Adelaide. Maybe I should rethink my decision. So I pull out my laptop, hop on-line and low and behold am able to book a smaller car online for less than $100. You’ve got to love the internet. I walk back over to the counter with my confirmation number and get my car at a much cheaper rate than what the staff originally quoted. As I’m putting my stuff away, another couple walks up to the counter looking for a car and am told the same thing I was, the cheapest rental is $289. I told them, go book it online and you’ll get a much better deal. So that’s exactly what they did too.

After missing a turn and getting completely lost, I finally get on the right highway and am on my way. I have to admit, driving here is more of an adventure than abseiling down waterfalls. Everything is completely backwards from what we’re used to. I have to keep telling myself, “Stay to the left, stay to the left.” I’m so afraid, I’m going to make a turn and wind up driving on the wrong side of the road. I must have turned my windshield wipers on at least 100 times instead of turning my blinker on. I even keep reaching to my left to put the seatbelt on. Did I mention my car sounds like a lawnmower? I keep checking to make sure it’s in drive. It sounds like I’m driving my Jeep down the 405 at 70 miles an hour in 2nd gear! I keeping thinking this car is going to blow up at any moment! Something must be wrong. It goes on like this for almost an hour. I finally pull over for lunch and when I get back in the car, everything seems fine. Still don’t know what was up with the car, but at least it doesn’t sound like a lawn mower anymore.

What a beautiful drive this is. I stop more than once to take some pictures of the majestic scenery. It reminds the Traveling Hillbilly of the recent drive along California’s Pacific Coast Highway to Carmel. At one point I see beautiful blue sunny skies to my right and dark, gloomy clouds to my left. My hopes of the sun moving in were quickly dashed as rain drops started to hit the windshield.

As I continue on, I pass a few wineries and drive through this quaint little town called Berry. It is like stepping back in time. It reminds me a little of Carmel. I decide to stop here and take some time to walk through the town. What a truly charming place. I might have to stop for lunch here or at least a latte on my way back through to Sydney.

I arrive in Jervis Bay. It’s a pretty little beach side town and I can tell it’s going to be a quiet sea side place. After driving around for a bit, I start looking for accommodations. I wind up renting a little cabin right by the bay. It’s painted a light blue and even has a front porch but of course, no internet access. I drop my stuff off and head out to explore Booderee National Park. How will the hikes here compare to Tongariro?

Sydney or Bust

I’ve been on the bus about 4 hours now and it’s been raining the whole time. The Traveling Hillbilly has yet to go to Ireland, but this is what I envision it to be like, cold, rainy, rolling green hills and lots of farm animals. It’s actually quite a nice ride.

We even stopped for afternoon tea around 4pm. How civilized. I’m wondering if it’s going to be raining in Auckland. I certainly hope it’s not going to be raining while I’m in Sydney. I know it’s been raining there for the last several days which is one of the reasons I headed to New Zealand early. I’ve actually enjoyed the rain here but the Traveling Hillbilly could sure use a warm sunny day at the beach!

I really have not done any shopping yet, but I’m telling you the light coat I bought at the mall the day after I arrived in Auckland has been the best purchase. It is no thicker than a piece of paper but it keeps me warm and dry! It may just be my new favorite jacket!

Once I get back to Auckland, I’m hoping to check into the hotel (I’m heading back to the Westin) and go grab a drink at the Sky Tower. I’ve been to the casino bar, but have yet to go to the top of the building. I hear the views are amazing. I’m not sure I really want to go all the way to the top though. I’m kind of hoping there’s a bar somewhere near the top where I can grab a drink and still enjoy the view. I bet the view of Auckland at night from there is stunning.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another Great Hike, er, bush walk, tramp

I have just enough time to get in another hike this morning before I have to catch my bus back to Auckland. Before I get to the hike, let me first tell you a little about Tongariro National Park. It is New Zealand’s oldest national park (2nd in the world, Yellowstone being the oldest) and is considered a World Heritage Area. It is also home to three volcanoes, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu, which actually erupted in 1996 and 1995. The weather can be extreme and as anyone in the area will tell you, it’s highly unpredictable and can change drastically in an instant. When I first arrived at the train station it was sunny and warm, but by the time we got to the hotel less than 20 minutes later, the clouds had moved in and the temperature had dropped. Even today as I sat in the hotel lobby sipping my latte waiting to head to the bus station, I notice I can’t even see the mountain peaks today. Yesterday when I came back from my hike, I sat in the hotel lobby and enjoyed the most amazing view of the mountains in the floor to ceiling windows. Today, you would never even know there’s a mountain out there. Now back to my hike.

I take the advice of the hotel staff and head out to the Silica Rapids trail. It’s about a 2 ½ hour hike that takes you through the wetlands. It rained last night so it’s quite cold and damp this morning, just what the sick Traveling Hillbilly needs! I think I’ve been sick most of this trip. Given the drastic changes in weather, it’s not to be unexpected. But, I refuse to let it ruin my vacation. I must push on through and keep going. Haven’t I sweated this out yet?!

I stop at the local café to grab some water and fruit and am on my way. This turns out to be another beautiful trail. The scenery is different from yesterday’s hike, but beautiful none the less. Once again, I pass through thick forest, cross over bridges and see a few small waterfalls. The most interesting thing is though that the vegetation is so thick, you can’t even see the rushing water, but you can hear it and know it’s nearby. It’s the same with the trail. At times you can’t even see the trail ahead. It seems to just disappear in the brush. Then suddenly I turn a corner and there are amazing rapids running downstream. It’s interesting how the rocks are different colors along the way. The water always looks crystal clear, but the rocks beneath turn from orange, to black even to an almost white color. When I get to the actually look out point for the rapids, I can’t believe the view. I’m standing on a hill and see waterfalls to the left, waterfalls to the right and rapids straight ahead. I can’t even take it all in. The view is just overwhelming.

It truly makes you feel so small, so insignificant and alone. It feels like you are the only person left in the world. I know you’re thinking that must sound sad or upsetting, but truly it isn’t. It is something the Traveling Hillbilly hopes you all get to experience at some point in your life. It is a great moment of solitude. As much as I travel, I continue to be stunned and amazed by the beauty of this world. Each trip makes me appreciate it so much more. It makes me think twice about what more I can do to conserve our national resources. New Zealand really has made a concerted effort to preserve the natural beauty of their country. The Traveling Hillbilly commends them on the magnificent job they’ve done.

I’m typing this as I’m sitting at the bus station. Well it really isn’t a station at all; it’s a pole in front of a closed ski shop. It’s cold, it’s rainy and there’s no place to go. The hotel dropped me off so early (not sure why) so I have almost 45 minutes to kill before my bus gets here. I’m sitting under the shelter of a restaurant porch across the street. Of course the restaurant is closed as well. It’s very quiet, very cold and very wet, but it makes for a neat day.

I’m looking forward to getting back to Australia tomorrow. I’m not looking forward to having to catch a 6am flight to Sydney though! Since I have another week left and I get to Sydney at 7am, I might just rent a car and drive along the coast for a day or two before heading back to Sydney for 4 or 5 nights. We’ll see what happens.

This was an expensive little journey to do a couple of hikes, but it was well worth it. The experience here and the solitude of the place really gave me time to reflect on my journey so far. It’s been a little disorganized and even hectic at times, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Best Hike Ever

First I have to talk about the train ride. Well actually first I have to mention that as I’m walking along the harbour at 6:45am (yes, in the morning) to catch my train, the bars are packed! Are these people still here from Saturday night or did they come out this early to watch the game?

The train ride is truly magnificent. What a beautiful country. The rolling green hills remind the Traveling Hillbilly of my roots. The scenery is actually a lot like Kentucky; the mountains, the cows, the rocks. There are definitely more sheep here than in Kentucky.

We pass over several bridges, through tunnels and the famous Rourimu spiral which was built to ensure the trains could actually get up and down the steep mountain. At points we run along the river and the Traveling Hillbilly sees more than one waterfall along the way. The train ride is so relaxing and scenic; it makes the Traveling Hillbilly think about taking a train ride in the US.

So, the hike. The Traveling Hillbilly arrives at the National Park station and there is someone from the Chateau Tongariro ready to take me and some other guests to the hotel. The train had been running late, so I check in to my room, change clothes and quickly head out for a hike. I’m told I have just enough time to do the hike to Taranaki Falls. As I walk along, I suddenly realize no knows I’m even here. Given the reservations for this trip were made at the last minute, I have not done a blog posting. No one knows the Traveling Hillbilly has even left Auckland! Luckily there are no snakes or nasty creatures here so I should be okay, unless of course I slip and fall into the rocks below or the land gives way. These are the thoughts that cross my mind as I walk through the thick and spooky forest feeling completely alone. Then suddenly I hear water. I turn a corner and start walking along a beautiful fast running stream. I walk for almost an hour before I see another person. Even though he’s quite far ahead, I take comfort in knowing someone else is out there. When I come across a bridge with a beautiful view of a waterfall I assume, I’ve reached Taranaki falls. It’s beautiful and I pause to take some photos, although quickly, because as you know the Traveling Hillbilly is afraid of heights and standing on a bridge over fast flowing water and rocks is truly frightening. It turns out the Traveling Hillbilly is wrong. About 10 minutes later, I turn a corner and see a huge waterfall cascading over black lava rocks. It’s truly a spectacular sight. I have to pause and just appreciate the beauty that is before me.

Despite the cold wind, this is one of the most beautiful hikes the Traveling Hillbilly has ever done. It truly was glorious.

Now it's time to head back to the hotel, grab a glass of wine, warm up and get some dinner.

Saturday's Plans Get Derailed...

The plan was to get up and go to the museum in the morning and then catch the 12:15 ferry over to Rangitoto Island to hike up the volcano. The Traveling Hillbilly must admit, I got a bit of a late start but still made time to swing by my favorite coffee shop in Auckland for my morning smoothie (fruit, not coffee flavored) and muffin. They have great cafes and coffee shops here.

I catch the Link bus over to the museum and go see the T-Rex exhibit. What a beautiful museum. It has to be one of the better ones of I’ve seen, and today I actually get to see the inside of it! Before I get to Sue, that’s the T-Rex’s name, I pass through an informative exhibit on volcanoes. Just as I’m about to exit the volcano section, I notice a little sign that says come inside for a sneak of what would happen to Auckland if a volcano actually erupted. I figure it would be one of those 10 minute historical/informational films you see at museums. I step inside and it’s like stepping into someone’s living room. There are couches in two corners of the room, a TV opposite them and a huge sliding glass door overlooking the harbour. Well, it’s not really overlooking the harbour, it’s just a screen but still it’s a pretty cozy space. A few more folks wander in and suddenly the TV comes on and it’s a news report announcing that Auckland is being evacuated due to the volcanic activity and the possibility of an actual eruption. The news report is done in a very authentic way and completely draws us all in. Suddenly the TV begins to scramble and the “living room” starts to shake. A kid screams and our scenic view of the harbour suddenly turns dark and fire and ash explode out of the top of the mountain. A sudden rush of ash comes at the screen, the entire room goes dark. We sit in the dark for a bit, rumbling in the background and then the screen shows the aftermath. All in all it was only about 12 minutes, but I have to admit, it was a little scary. It was almost like a ride at an amusement park, right in the middle of the museum. It was informative and quite thrilling.

A bit shaken, it was time to head to see Sue. Sue was AWESOME! She’s one of the biggest dinosaur finds in years. She was found on a ranchers land in the states. Apparently the land was part of an Indian reservation and was held in trust by the government for the rancher so of course there were years spent in court over who owned the bones recovered. After several years, the court found the bones belonged to the rancher, who decided to auction off the bones. Anyway, the exhibit was great. Very informative and very interactive.

The Traveling Hillbilly was truly impressed by the museum and could have spent many more hours there, but it was time to head back to the harbour to catch the ferry. Unfortunately the bus was late and the Traveling Hillbilly missed the ferry by 5 minutes. Since it was the last ferry, and the only way to get to, Rangitoto Island, it was time for plan B.

During a quick stop for lunch while perusing the guide book, the Traveling Hillbilly decided to head to the aquarium to see the Penguins and the sea life of New Zealand. The gigantic sting rays were really cool, but as far as aquariums go, it’s mediocre. I guess it would be really cool for kids, but the Traveling Hillbilly has been to several aquariums and this one is not a must do. It can’t hold a candle to the one in Bangkok.

The good news is I still had time to head back to the station and make reservations to take the train to Tongariro National Park on Sunday. Since it’s not officially summer, the train only runs Friday-Sunday, so I have to take the bus back to Auckland on Monday in order to catch a flight to Sydney on Tuesday.

The Traveling Hillbilly is truly excited about the train ride. It will be great to finally see more of the country. Plus I’m going to stay at the Chateau Tongariro, “the grand dame” of Tongariro according to the Frommer’s guide book. Given that it’s off season (it’s a major ski resort in the winter), the rates are great! I’m hoping it will be like the Grand Hotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary. We’ll see.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Woo Hoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As many of you may know, New Zealand is known for it's wild, adrenaline pumping adventures. They have an appetite for adventure and extreme sports.

Today I had a truly New Zealand experience. It was one of the most amazing days the Traveling Hillbilly has had. I went canyoning in the Waitakere Forest. We hiked, jumped into pools, slid down rocks and abseiled down waterfalls. I met some great and fun people, a couple who were fellow Californians. It was a truly exhilarating experience!

The hike itself was quite an adventure. We hiked for just over an hour before we got our first jump into a pool. The first 20 minutes was down hill and the rest was a constant uphill climb. The climb was tough enough, let alone carrying all our gear (wetsuit, harness and helmet) as we hiked through thick brush, over rocks, through the streams. Thank goodness there are no snakes in New Zealand!

By the time we got to the top, we were hot and thought we were ready to jump in the ice cold water. But that first dip was shockingly cold! The rest of the day, was spent jumping off rocks into the pools below, abseiling down/through waterfalls and sliding down rock waterslides.

After a couple of hours, we stopped at the bottom of a waterfall for a quick lunch and met Unger, an eel that lives in one of the pools. There were actually a couple of eels in the water here. They are scary looking things. After our quick bite, we continued on.

The only bad part of the day, was the last 30 minutes of the hike back. It was uphill and if I thought the gear was heavy earlier, it was really heavy wet!

All in all a great experience that was all the better because of the great people we had in our group. When we got back to the city, a few of us went out for drinks and toasted the surviving our adventure. We then headed out to dinner. That’s one of the best things about traveling on your own, you get the chance to meet some great people and make new friends.

Something is going to have to come off the Traveling Hillbilly's Top 10 list.

Hey you may even be able to see a video of our adventure soon...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Zealand Malbec's?

Finally sunshine again! After the rain in Brisbane and the cold cloudy days in Auckland the Traveling Hillbilly was glad to see the sun shining again. I was ready to get out of downtown Auckland so I took the ferry over to Waiheke Island today. It's just about a 30-40 minute ferry ride from Auckland.

What a truly stunning place. Every corner had a view more amazing than the one before. It was truly picturesque. After a 1 1/2 hour tour of the island, I decided to rent a mountain bike and explore it on my own. I can't even begin to describe how beautiful this place is. It was like riding through the hills of Tuscany but with beautiful blue/green water surrounding all the wineries. It left me speechless. I'll be posting pictures soon, but they'll never do it justice.

It was great to tour on my own, but those long, winding and hilly (very hilly) roads are not easy to navigate on a mountain bike. Especially when one is sick! Despite being sick, I decided to do a little wine tasting before heading back to the pier to catch the ferry home. You know how the Traveling Hillbilly hates to waste good wine, but when in Rome. If you ever make it to Waiheke, be sure and stop by Cable Bay Wineyards. They have a great Syrah and a wine called Five Hills that is a Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet blend and the most amazing view! This winery was like an upscale hotel. It was truly beautiful.

All in all a good day.

What's the plan for tomorrow? Well the Traveling Hillbilly had planned on taking the train to Tongariro National Park for some hiking and an overnight stay. Turns out there are no seats left on the train. Time for plan B. Rotorua National Park? Rappelling down a waterfall? The Bay of Islands?

We'll see. Log on tomorrow and find out.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The First Travel Crisis Averted

So given the major storms in Brisbane and the forecast of nothing but rain for the next several days, it’s time to move on. While the T raveling Hillbilly sits on the Miramar on the way to the Koala Sanctuary, it’s time to decide what’s next. After much consternation and research the Traveling Hillbilly decides to head to Adelaide for a few days of wine tasting in the Barossa Valley and a quick side trip to Kangaroo Island. The Traveling Hillbilly figured it would be best to get there and tour the wineries during the week versus fighting the weekend crowds!

The Traveling Hillbilly was wrong! After a long wet day, the Traveling Hillbilly hops online to book the flight and hotel in Adelaide. However, for some reason, there was not a hotel available for the beginning of the week. Something big must be going on in Adelaide. What’s a Traveling Hillbilly supposed to do? Well continue searching online for plan B. Should the Traveling Hillbilly head to Sydney instead? Maybe Melbourne? Ayer’s Rock or Alice Springs? Or maybe head to New Zealand earlier than expected.

The Traveling Hillbilly decided to head to New Zealand. Unfortunately the flight out was a little early. Maybe the Traveling Hillbilly should spend one more day in Brisbane and then head to New Zealand. It was just too much to contemplate, so the Traveling Hillbilly went to bed. Upon awakening at 4am and realizing there’s nothing but rain in Brisbane for the next few days, the Traveling Hillbilly decides (early or not) to head to New Zealand. So I go online, book my one way ticket to Auckland, book a hotel and start packing.

I arrive at the airport at 7am, 2 hours before my scheduled departure, and wait in a very long line for about an hour. I finally get up to the desk to check in, only to be informed that I can not leave the country without having a return ticket! What, this is crazy! Why was I allowed to book a one way if I can’t even use it? Now after some thought, it makes sense. It is considered an “international” flight from Australia to New Zealand. So now I have like 45 minutes to book a return flight back to Australia so I can actually take my flight to New Zealand. The Traveling Hillbilly runs downstairs to find an internet connection, does some quick searches for a cheap return ticket, books it and runs back up to the counter. The Travailing Hillbilly gets checked in, literally 5 minutes before the airline closes check in, makes it on the fly and is on the way to the next adventures!

The first of the travel panics averted!

Is Oprah's House Okay?

Oprah’s House?

I thought I should do a posting to let you know that I’m okay. I’ve been in Brisbane for a couple of days and they’ve had some major storms here. It’s officially been declared a disaster area. So I thought I should do a posting to let you all know I’m okay. I was not drastically impacted by the storms. Then I realized, wait, no one in the states probably has any idea that there have been major disastrous storms in Brisbane. I’m sure the big news in the states, at least California, is how close the fires in Montecito are to Oprah Winfrey’s house! Everyone here is asking about the fires and wants to make sure that my house is okay. They want to talk about the great new president elect. They are curious about how Prop 8 passed in California. Bottom line, they are aware of what’s going on in the world, where we are just focused on ourselves!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud and thrilled to be an American. I just wish we were a little more focused on what’s going on in the world around us.

Okay enough of the political soapbox. The Traveling Hillbilly will post about winding up in Auckland!

Like a Kid at Disney World

So what did the Traveling Hillbilly do today? Pet Kangaroos? Cuddle a Koala? Look an emu and a dingo in the eye? See thousands of bats hanging from the trees? Cruise down the river on a pontoon boat?

All of the above! What a truly magical day! The Traveling Hillbilly hopped aboard the Miramar and cruised down the river to visit the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. It was quite an educational and emotional experience. Believe it or not, but Koalas have become endangered in Australia so a gentleman that owned a bunch of land decided to turn it into a sanctuary for Koalas. They have over 130 Koala’s on the property as well as kangaroos, emus, wombats, cows (random) and other exotic animals and birds.

You can actually walk among the animals, well at least the friendly ones. It was a truly unique experience. Although when walking amongst the kangaroos one must watch their step! The Traveling Hillbilly was like a 5 year old at Disney World. Kangaroos and Koalas are something you read about and see pictures of in books. They’re almost things of fairly tales, not real. But here they were. Walking, well hopping, up to the Traveling Hillbilly. The Traveling Hillbilly was actually able to pet them. I wanted to pet the emu too, but he looked a bit intimidating, like he could lunge at any moment, so I opted to take a picture (up close and personal) instead!

All in all a wonderful day. The cold wet rain actually added to the mystique of the day.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Traveling Hillbilly Has Arrived in Brisbane

After a long and somewhat delayed flight, The Traveling Hillbilly arrived in Brisbane. It was just 8am local time, on Sunday. Where did the weekend go?

The Traveling Hillbilly’s first thought? Wow, how beautiful. Sunny blue skies, a slight breeze, a little warm, but all in all a beautiful day. The Australian adventure is off to a good start.

I arrive at the hotel and believe it or not, they let me check in. Even though it’s just 9am! I’m very pleasantly surprised. The hotel is right on the river and I have a great view of the river from my room. I’m exhausted but don’t want to waste the day. James, I know you told the Traveling Hillbilly to go a pub straight away, but I had to brush my teeth and shower first. I decided to head down to the river walk and find a bite to eat. I found a great little café along the river, order a sandwich, some chips (translation fries) and a glass of Australian wine. So James, I had my first glass around 10:30am. Hey, it was after 2pm on a Saturday afternoon back home.

After lunch, I continued my walk along the river and wound up at the Botanical Garden. After an hour or so of enjoying the flowers, the birds and the trees, I continue along the river and see the Kangaroo Cliffs on the other side. I cross over to walk along the cliffs and walk back on the other side of the river. The bummer is once I get close to the hotel, I realize there is no bridge to cross over on this end. Luckily, there’s a CityCat dock nearby. In Brisbane, their city transportation consists of buses, subways and ferries along the river. You can buy a pass and use all three to get you where you need to go. For less than $5 Australian Dollars, you can ride the CityCat and get a great river tour of the city! How cool is that?

A storm has moved in so my evening out gets cut a little short. But hey it’s 4am in Los Angeles, so I’m doing pretty good to still be up! I’m hoping to head to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary tomorrow but have been informed the weather forecast may not make that a good option.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.