Thailand with G Adventures, Part 1

As I said goodbye to one of my favorite places in New Zealand, I was preparing myself for my first trip to Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia has long been on the backpacking route because it’s cheap, easy to get around, and there are lots of travelers about. However, this would be my first trip to a non-English speaking country and I was scared to death to do it by myself. So I started researching small tour companies geared towards independent travelers, and I decided to go with G Adventures who had several trips in Thailand to choose from. I signed up for the Roam Thailand tour which started in Bangkok, went north to Chiang Mai for the first week, and then south to the Gulf islands the second week. It was a jammed packed itinerary and wicked fun with awesome people.

My flight arrived in the wee hours of the morning of February 25, and I had booked a room at the nearby airport hotel in order to get a few hours of sleep before meeting my group at the Bangkok Centre Hotel, which was downtown. I had prepared myself, but still exiting the airport to feel that wall of heat hit you quickly reminded me I was now in a tropical zone. After a few hours of sleep, I headed back to the airport to catch the skytrain, which is the monorail that would take me downtown to the hotel. There were no activities planned today, but I met up with a few people from another tour who took me to Khao San Road on a Tuk-tuk. Tuk-tuks are these 3 wheeled motos that ferry people around the crazy Bangkok traffic to their destination. I was introduced to a new concept not used in Western civilization normally, bartering. Fares for taxis and tuk-tuks must be negotiated and you have to know when to say no and walk away. I let the others do most of the talking. Khao San Road is Bangkok’s travelers’ getto with shady tuk-tuk drivers willing to give you a day tip around the city in exchange for stopping at the favorite gem stores and overpriced tourist traps.

Bangkok tuk-tuk

One of Bangkok's many markets

That night was the group meeting with our G Adventures tour guide, Willie, who is a local Thai. The next day the group went on a walking tour of one of Bangkok’s many markets, took a canal tour, and toured the Wat Pho temple with the giant reclining Buddha while eating yummy street Thai food. It was an introduction to the sights, smells, and heat of Bangkok. I don’t remember the last time I had sweated that much without going to the gym. My water intake has increased considerably since arriving. Afterwards, we headed for the train station to board the overnight train to Chaing Mai.

Thailand is a big country, but it’s well connected by planes, trains, and buses. The overnight sleeper trains allow you to depart in the evening and arrive in the early morning at your destination. There are two sleeping berths, an upper and a lower bunk with curtains that provide a modicum of privacy. However, the lights remain on and I experienced a very disrupted sleep with all the braking and movement of the train. Too bad this trip had four sleeper trains on the itinerary.

We arrived in Chiang Mai in the early morning of February 27 to meet with our local trekking guide, Sammy who would give us the rundown of our three day, two night trek to the hills to visit the hill tribes. This is the one moment I was glad I had taken my sleeping bag with me. The nights were apparently going to be quite cool up in the hills. Chiang Mai is vastly different than Bangkok with a cool, laid back atmosphere where everyone rides a moped. We visited Doi Suthep, which was up a mountain and after a 45 minute ride in the red songthaew, I was feeling a bit queasy. The next day we departed in the songthaew for the first part of our trek, which included a side trip to Mork-Fa waterfall, in which we took a refreshing dip. After lunch, we got dropped off at the insertion point for the trek and put on our packs. I managed to fit everything I needed for 3 days into a 22 liter pack including my sleeping bag. I was very proud of this. Most of the first day of trekking was downhill, and it wasn’t easy. It was steep and slippery in spots due to all of the dried foliage. However, once I got my bamboo walking stick, things got much easier. We arrived at the Me Jok Village around sundown and took a tour of the village, which was full of farm animals and very cute puppies. Our accommodation was a guesthouse with 13 mattresses on the floor with mosquito nets. We even got to assist with the dinner preparation with the spring rolls. The local food was very good.

The first hill tribe

Homemade springrolls

The next day, Willie our tour guide told us that there would be about 4 hours of walking and then launched into a very evil laugh about the hill we would have to climb. Now, I had done a lot of tramping in Arrowtown over the past 2 months so I wasn’t worried about it. I should have been more worried about the brush fire we had to walk through after the steep climb. It is the dry season and part of the forest was burning next to the track. After the walk we arrived at the elephant camp for lunch as we would be riding elephants the rest of the way to the second hilltribe. The elephant ride was a nice break after the walking.

The brush fire we walked through

Elephant rides

The third day was bamboo rafting for 4 hours. Basically we got to sit or stand on bamboo and take in the scenery. After all the trekking, the rafting was a welcome break. For the final day in Chiang Mai, we went to the women’s prison to  get Thai massages. The massages are done by Thai women as part of their rehabilitation training who are due to be released from incarceration within 6 months. It was wonderful as I was quite sore from the trekking. Afterwards it was back on the night train to Bangkok to start the next part of our adventure, the Southern Sojourn.

Bamboo rafting

 

Reflections on Arrowtown

I spent my last two months in New Zealand living and working in Arrowtown, a lovely little community in the Queenstown area with a wild, wild west feeling to it. No where else in New Zealand can you take your pet lamb for a walk by the river, let your super friendly golden retriever wander around town advertising for the local art gallery, take your four dogs for a swim in the Arrow River, leave your doors unlocked at night, and walk to work in under two minutes. I am really going to miss it.

Taking the pet lamb for a walk

Dogs on an ATV after a swim

How did I discover this wonderful place? Last April, I stopped by briefly before heading to Dunedin in order to see the fall colors. I was impressed and decided that if I ever had the chance to return, I would.  That opportunity came on January 1, and so with less than two months left on my working holiday visa, I headed to Arrowtown to work at the backpackers. Poplar Lodge is the only backpackers in Arrowtown and has the highest BBH rating in the Queenstown area. BBH hostels are a network of locally owned hostels all over New Zealand, and many people choose to stay at top ranked hostels. The deal for cleaners is that you get free accommodation for 2-3 hours of work in the morning cleaning the lodge. The rest of the day is yours. I was only supposed to stay 10 days; it turned into two months. Within two days of arriving, I got a job at Pannikins cafe, home of wonderful homemade food, working in the afternoons. I then spent my free time in the hills combing over kilometers of tracks with great views of the Wakatipu Basin and the Arrow River. My favorite trail run was the Arrow River Track, which is 4 km roundtrip and follows the Arrow River upstream. I would try to hit that several times a week after work. It was a great way to unwind after serving coffees and ice creams all afternoon at the cafe.

Sawpit Gully Track

The Arrow River

The town itself is a wonderful community of locally owned shops, restaurants, and cafes. It’s a popular tourist destination with daytrippers arriving in droves from Queenstown on the Connectabus. Buckingham Street is where the majority of the shops are located and is bordered by the Chinese Village is at one end and the library at the other. There were even Zumba classes in the Arrowtown hall on Wednesday evenings. The nice thing about New Zealand is that most of the shops and cafes close at 5:00 or 6:00 PM enabling people to have a life outside of work. The town is very quiet after the tourists go home for the day.

On my last day in Arrowtown, I ate lunch at Pannikins and found that Glen, my boss, had made chocolate chip scones, which I had requested a few days ago; and they were amazing. I had so many goodbyes to say that I almost missed the bus to the airport at 2:00 PM, which was full of Queenstown daytrippers. I think I left a piece of my heart in Arrowtown.

The Arrow River in fall

Delicious chocolate chip scones

Up next is the biggest culture shock of my life…Southeast Asia

The Glenorchy District…or Paradise

There have been several movies filmed in the Queenstown area in the past few years. Some of these include the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the first two installments of the Chronicles of Narnia, Wolverine, and now the Hobbit. Today I joined a Pure Glenorchy Tour to the Glenorchy/Paradise area, which is an hour’s drive from Queenstown. Pure Glenorchy is a small, family run business that does scenic and historical tours to Glenorchy. In Queenstown, land of big tourism, it’s a nice touch to see a family business flourishing along with the big boys.

Twelve Mile Delta

Mark, the tour guide

I took the afternoon tour, and the weather was perfect. The 45 km road from Queenstown to Glenorchy follows Lake Wakatipu and is filled with jaw dropping scenery. Several scenes from The Two Towers were shot along this road. According to Mark, our guide, many Queenstown locals were employed as extras during the filming of Lord of the Rings back in 1999. Their pay rate was $300/day. So of course, many Kiwis called in sick to their real jobs during filming!

We stopped at several overlooks along the route to Glenorchy alongside Lake Wakatipu. Lake Wakatipu is a brilliant blue color due to the glacial sediments suspended in the water. It’s 82 km long and almost 400 meters deep, and hovers around 10° C all year, which is even too cold for a polar bear swim.

Lake Wakatipu

Mount Albert is the cone peak with Mount Earnslaw (Misty Mountains) to the right hidden in the clouds. The two islands in the foreground are Pig and Pigeon Islands, which are predator-free bird sanctuaries for Yellowheads and Wekkas.

Glenorchy is a really small town, even for New Zealand, with only 200 residents. However, it supports two pubs. It’s also the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park, a world heritage site, and the start of the Routeburn Track, which I hiked last March.

The world's smallest library.

Amon Hen, The Fellowship of the Ring

The road leading out of Glenorchy heads to Paradise, where Lothlorien, Amon Hen, and Isengard were filmed. The sign posted at the junction is one of the most photographed signs in New Zealand, thanks to Lonely Planet. It has also been stolen several times.

The forest of Lothlorien

The famous Paradise sign

This scene has been featured in several movies.

This scenery has been featured in the following films: The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Wolverine, and most recently the Hobbit. The farmer that owns this land has made a killing over rental fees for film makers. According to Mark, the farmer charged Peter Jackson $3000/day to film the Lord of the Rings here

The Dart River

Continuing down the road from Paradise, we crossed several small streams, before reaching the end of the road at the Dart River. From this point, it’s only 14 km to Milford Sound, but the mountains are in the way.

On the way back, I had to stop and take a photo of the following sign, which sums up the small town feeling of Glenorchy.

The West Coast, the most remote area of New Zealand

After my harrowing adventure on the Abel Tasman Track, I took a bus from Nelson down to Queenstown along the West Coast with a stopover in Franz Josef. The bus ride from Nelson to Franz Josef was not that interesting; it was raining. The bus was also almost empty; there were five of us headed to Franz Josef on December 28. stayed at the Rainforest Retreat for the next two nights, which was a large complex complete with a campground and a spa area.

Most tourists head to Franz Josef to walk on the Glacier with a guide. Instead, I hiked the Alex Knob Track, which is a 17 km sub-alpine tramp and includes a 1000 meter climb and has great views of the Franz Josef Glacier. Unfortunately, once I reached the alpine section, the afternoon clouds had set in and obscured the view. But I finally saw my first Kea, which is an alpine parrot. I hiked the Milford Track and the Routeburn Track and didn’t spot the cheeky birds, but I finally saw them flying around Alex Knob. This was a hard hike and not designed for short people. I love my hiking poles; they helped so much.

I left Franz Josef on December 31 to head to Queenstown, and this bus was full being that it was New Year’s Eve and Queenstown is a popular destination for New Year’s. The scenery along the southern West Coast was breathtaking, and my camera did not rest during this bus trip. I wish I would have had more time to spend on the West Coast because three days is not enough to appreciate this area of New Zealand. Queenstown was packed for New Year’s with accommodation booked out. Luckily, my fellow Zumba instructor Hayley, still lives in Queenstown so I had a place to crash for the night. The fireworks were pretty good as they were over Lake Wakatipu.

I’m now in Arrowtown, which is a 20 minute drive from Queenstown, working at Poplar Lodge and Pannikins Cafe until the end of February when I will head back to Christchurch to catch my flight to Thailand!

The Abel Tasman Tramp or the shortest and scariest tramp of my life

I was scheduled to tramp the Abel Tasman track from north to south starting Wednesday December 14 and ending on Saturday December 17, covering 54.4 km. The weather forecast was not good, rain for most of my tramp. But I was prepared to tramp it anyways as it was my only time to go. I made it 5.5 km or 1.5 hours in before I got stuck at the north end of the park in Golden Bay at Whariwharangi Hut on Wednesday morning. It was raining steadily all morning, and I was prepared to push on to Awaroa, 13 km from that point, where I was supposed to stay for the night. However, two Canadians that got dropped off with me at the Wainui carpark had stopped and chatted with the Department of Conservation ranger (which I should have done). They told me that Awaroa inlet could not be safely crossed that evening at low tide due to all the rain. Awaroa hut is on the other side of the inlet that takes 20 minutes to cross, and can only be crossed 2 hours either side of low tide. Apparently, this rule only holds true when the weather is good and not in flooding conditions. There was no other hut between Whariwharangi and Awaroa, just a campground at Totaranui; and I wasn’t carrying a tent. So I was stuck at the hut for the rest of the day to wait out the weather. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one in the same situation. There was already a group of 5 kayakers from Auckland that were traveling south from Golden Bay and the seas were too rough to kayak so they had stashed their kayaks at Mutton Cove and hiked to the hut.  Also in the afternoon a guy from Poland showed up wanting to stay at the hut. He had been camping for several nights, and was sick of being constantly wet.

We were having a grand time at the hut after dinner roasting marshmallows on the fire. Then nightfall arrived on Wednesday and things got bad. Whariwharangi hut just happens to sit between two rivers, one of which crested at some point in the evening. Around 7:30 PM there was a new river gushing down the trail right next to the hut. The water quickly rose and the guys from Auckland brought in two ‘mud bags’ to stick in front of the back door to the hut. The DOC hut warden, Lois, arrived and told us to move our stuff and ourselves upstairs. So we did and piled into one of the bedrooms overlooking the raging river. I was not happy about staying in this hut overnight with the river rising that rapidly, especially since part of the first floor was flooded. Not too long after that, Lois recommended that the 7 of us move to her hut. The DOC staff hut was on higher ground and had only one river next to it. So we packed up as fast as we could. I stuffed my gear in my pack liner and left my pack and boots at the tramper’s hut because we were in a big rush to get out of there. I was really hoping the hut was still going to be there in the morning. It was pouring down rain as we made our way to the staff hut, which was located in back of the tramper’s hut. I was very relieved to arrive at the staff hut because it was warm, dry, and had proper lighting. The staff hut had solar power for lighting and heating water, a wood burning stove for heat, a kitchen complete with small refrigerator, a bathroom with a shower, and 4 bunks with extra mattresses. It looked like the Ritz hotel compared to the ‘rustic’ tramper’s hut we had just evacuated from. And we had enough mattresses for everyone to sleep on. It was very cozy that night…except for all the slips heard during the night. (Slip is New Zealand terminology for landslide).

Thursday morning arrived and it was still raining, but not as hard. Lois went out to the beach to make a cell phone call, which was the only place with reception. So we waited, but the guy from Poland packed up and left to head to the Wainui carpark. He didn’t make it very far before being forced to turn around. The track was full of slips, debris, downed trees, water, and was basically a treacherous mess in either direction. Lois arrived back and informed us that the roads were still closed to Wainui and Totaranui, effectively stranding us until the rain abated. She also told us that Sea Shuttle, one of the water taxi companies had evacuated about 50 trampers from the track further south. Unfortunately, the water taxis don’t go this far north. The guys made a run back to Mutton cove for more supplies for their group. They arrived back safe and sound, but said there were a lot of slips to navigate around and most of the track was underwater. So we were stuck at the hut for another day with a whole lot of doing nothing.  The good news was that the tramper’s hut survived so I went back to retrieve my pack and boots. It now looked like an abandoned shack, and the landscape had changed. There was a ton of silt and mud up to the door of the hut. And according to Lois, 195 mm of rain had fallen in 24 hours at the hut. In the evening, we formulated a plan for Friday. If the road to Wainui carpark was open, we would hike up the track as a group (which is where I had come in from) to Wainui carpark where we could get the bus out.

 

 

Friday arrived with clear skies and sun. I swear the weather was just mocking us at that point. Lois went to the beach for another cell phone call, and came back and told us that DOC was sending a boat from Pohara to evacuate us from the track because the track was impassable in both directions. I liked this idea much more than hiking back up the track. So we packed up our stuff and went to the beach to wait. DOC sent a little water taxi that had to make two trips to collect everyone. Once we arrived in Pohara we transferred to a car, which then dropped us off at the Takaka visitor center. I then caught a bus back to Nelson, and went straight to DOC to get a refund on my hut passes.

 

 

All in all, it was an adventure, just not one I would have chosen. I am very grateful to DOC and to Lois for keeping me and everyone else safe during the ordeal.

North Island..Redux

I’m back on the North Island for another week, this time for work.

I am doing another internship, based in Christchurch, with Lincoln Ventures. Lincoln Ventures is owned by Lincoln University, which is a suburb of Christchurch. This is a vastly different environment that Otago University. Lincoln’s main industry is agriculture, which is a new area of research for me. There are farms everywhere around Lincoln. I just finished assisting with a field study in Te Puke, which the locals call “the kiwifruit capital of the world.” Cartoon kiwis on wheels present safety signs to drivers, which are pretty funny looking. Both green and gold kiwi fruit are grown here. I have never been to an orchard before, and it was an interesting experience. Kiwifruit is a vine crop so it grows above your head. My supervisor and I basically tagged along on Zespri’s study and to gather some baseline data for a much bigger project in March. In this study, the study directors were interested in testing the efficiency of four different sprayers, including an electrostatic sprayer from the U.S. That one is interesting because it releases charged particles, which then supposedly adhere to the crop surface more efficiently than traditional sprayers, thus making for a more productive harvest.

Gold kiwi orchard in Te Puke

During the study, there were no pesticides being sprayed. I wouldn’t have participated if there had been. Only water mixed with a fluorescent dye was present in the sprayers. The experimental design allowed for 16 different treatments, which was quite a lot given that the test areas were not that large. The main interest was to visualize and quantify where the spray ended up; and this was done by collecting water sensitive papers, which show how spray is dispersed, and collecting leaves from the vines. My job was to wash the leaves collected from the vines. The idea behind this is that the spray ends up on the leaves, and by washing the leaves, the fluorescent dye washes off and can then be analyzed in the lab to see how much dye ended up on the leaves. My supervisor is more interested in spray drift, which occurs when chemicals are inefficiently sprayed on plants; there is loss to the air. Spray drift has a lot of human and environmental concerns; and there are many questions. Where does the drift end up? How far does it travel? How can we reduced spray drift? These are the questions Lincoln Ventures is interested in. Obviously, it is best to try to reduce spray drift when spraying. Unfortunately, we were not able to measure spray drift in the study due to the experimental design, but we were able to collect leaf wash. The main objective of our collaborators was to test the efficiency of the four sprayers due to the problem of PSA. PSA is a bacteria that was introduced about a year ago and destroys the leaves from the kiwi vines. The theory is that the bacteria was introduced from Italy in the form of pollen about a year ago. It is particularly virulent in that most of the kiwi orchards have already been infected and poses a major threat the industry. Introduced species in an environment are never a good thing. Ultimately this project was interesting, in that I got to observe the opposite end of my research spectrum in the form of agriculture and the application of pesticides rather than environmental effects of pesticides.

Up next: More tramping. This time on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, which is the most popular walk in New Zealand. Yeah, I really shouldn’t be tramping it this time of year, but it’s the only time I have available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View of Auckland from Mount Eden

The Banks Peninsula: Where the Sea Meets the Forest

Call me the Peninsula inhabitant. I have moved from the Otago Peninsula in Dunedin to the Banks Peninsula in Christchurch. The Banks Peninsula has beautiful harbours, hidden bays, walking tracks, and is home to the world’s rarest dolphin, the Hector’s dolphins. I’m currently staying in Diamond Harbour, which is a 40 minute drive to Lincoln, the location of my new internship. I’m mainly going to be helping with two fieldwork projects on pesticide spray and drift, leaving me with plenty of time to explore I’m grateful for this because I’m down to my last three months in New Zealand and I have a long list of things I still want to do. Some of which include: tramping the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, visiting the glaciers on the West Coast, and doing a dolphin watching tour in Kaikoura.

But until I recover from this terrible cold, I’m going to be hanging out in Diamond Harbour. The Cliff Track is a scenic walk, winding along the shoreline/cliffs of Diamond Harbour to Purau or to Church Bay, depending on which direction you choose to go. The awesome thing about the Cliff Track is that the store in Diamond Harbour has pretty good ice cream. So if you are hiking the Cliff Track on a hot, sunny day, it’s a treat to end the day with an ice cream cone.  In addition, the Mount Herbert walkway is also in Diamond Harbour, which is the highest peak on the Banks Peninsula at 920 meters and has views of the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps. I plan to tackle this as soon as I feel better.  For longer tramps, there is the Banks Peninsula Track (35 km), which is a two or a four day journey starting in Akaroa. I haven’t decided if I am going to tackle this one yet, as it’s kind of pricey ($220 for the 4 day tramp), but the scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities might make it worth it.

  

Views from the Cliff Track, Banks Peninsula

My Journey Back or How to Survive 80 Hours of Travel

So I am sure everyone has their own travel horror stories. Here’s mine.

I was scheduled to head back to New Zealand on November 5 to finish out the final 3.5 months of my working holiday visa and I knew that it would involve about 2 days of travel. First, my flight from Dayton on Saturday left at 6:00 AM EST and went to Baltimore, which is in the wrong direction, but whatever. I had a two hour layover in Baltimore, followed by a 5.5 flight to LA. Now you would think that Airtran would like to make some more money off this flight by offering food for sale, especially since it’s a coast to coast flight, but no. The only food provided was biscuits. Luckily, I had the sense to pack a lunch from home. Airtran got me to LA on time around noon PST.

This is where the fun begins.

My flight from LA to Sydney was scheduled to leave at 9:30 that evening so I had planned to book a day room to try and sleep. However, I decided to wait until 2:30 PM to check in with VAustralia in order to check my large bag. I am so glad I did this. It turns out that the flight to Sydney was delayed until 8:00 the next morning, which would have been fine because I would have received a hotel voucher for the night.

It was not to be. VAustralia changed my itinerary; re-booked me on a flight to Brisbane that left at midnight. This flight arrived at 7:00 AM on Monday, followed by an 11 hour layover, with a final flight to Christchurch that arrived at 1:00 AM on Tuesday, November 8. Ouch.  Apparently, everyone who was scheduled to go on to New Zealand got stuck with this crappy itinerary while everyone else received a hotel voucher in LA. After checking my bag, I proceeded to the Travelodge near LAX in order to get a nap before going back to the airport that evening to catch the 13.5 flight to Brisbane.

VAustralia has some nice planes for their long-haul international flights. The economy seating is not bad; there are only 3 seats to a row and each seat has its own in-flight entertainment center withe movies, TV shows, music, games, and books available. The customer service on the flight was top notch and the in-flight entertainment was exceptional. I was able to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and it hasn’t been released on DVD yet. And I was able to sleep a few hours due to taking two doses of full power Dramamine.

After arriving in Brisbane, my partner in misery, Lindsay and I grab a few couches in order to get some more sleep. The international terminal in Brisbane has comfy couches and free showers, which were a welcome addition. But no matter which way you cut it, an 11 hour layover is pretty boring. I thank Amazon for inventing the Kindle. VAustralia should have offered us food vouchers here, but they didn’t.

To add insult to injury, since I was going to be arriving in Christchurch so late, I decided to cancel my accommodation for the night because I had to catch an early morning bus to Dunedin. At least the international arrivals section of Christchurch airport is open throughout the night with a designated ‘rest area’ for travelers who want to overnight there. There are no chairs, just carpet and a bunch of backpackers wrapped up in their sleeping bags. 

In the end, I arrived in Dunedin at the original time I was supposed to, it just felt like it took a lot longer to get there.

Dear VAustralia, I do not think I will be flying with you again. Ever.

Reverse Culture Shock

This is what happens when you spend a few consecutive months outside of the United States. I had finally gotten used to buying my food by the kilogram, and my petrol by the liter, and then it was time to come home. A little adjustment was necessary.

1. The joys of public transportation
In Oz, Brisbane has this great transportation system, Brisbane Translink. It’s a network of buses, trains, and ferries to get you where you need to go. I was able to get from the airport to Cleveland, where I got on the ferry that took me to Straddie and the humpback whales. At the end of the whale project, I used the trains to go to the Gold Coast and then up to the Sunshine Coast.  All this without the use of a car. Bliss.

2. Driving on the right side of the road
When transiting to driving on the left side of the road, Australia and New Zealand are kind enough to remind their tourist drivers to ‘keep left,’ which is usually accompanied with a sign indicating direction. So where are the ‘keep right’ signs in America?

3. The metric system
I believe I touched on this a few months ago, but here it is again. Trying to do math conversions in your head from the English system to the metric system is so much fun. That’s what smartphones are for, right? In OZ and NZ, food is sold by the kilogram, petrol is sold by the liter, and distance is done by the kilometer. So when the speed limit indicates ‘100’ I got real excited…for a brief moment.

4. Switching time zones…and seasons
Dear jet lag, you suck. Changing time zones can take some getting used to. Try a 17 hour time difference and a season change on top of that. Your body starts wondering what you’re smoking. Also, allergies in an Ohio fall are a bad, bad thing.

5. Missing all the ‘cool’ accents
When I was on the road, I met people from all over: Germany, Ireland, Oz, Spain, England, New Zealand, Denmark, the Netherlands, Israel, South Africa, Canada, and the US. I love hearing accents from people all over the world. Conversation is so much fun. Words and phrases take on all new meanings when spoken in different accents. However, I seem to have retained my American accent. Drat.

I can’t wait to get on the road again.

What to do near Brisbane?

Brisbane is a great base to stage many activities along the eastern coast of Australia. For my last week, I decided to check out the Gold Coast and then the Sunshine Coast before leaving for Ohio. Brisbane Translink is a network of  public transportation consisting of trains, buses, and ferries. I was able to use this system to get from the Brisbane Airport to Straddie and to locations along the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. The trick is to avoid rush hour because then the trains are packed and it’s quite hard to find a seat.

I am staying in Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast, which is less touristy than Surfer’s Paradise and much, much safer. I am also couchsurfing, which so far has been a great experience. Meeting locals and getting the inside advice is much preferable to staying in a hostel. Burleigh has some great beaches, but swimming is quite difficult due to strong rip currents. The warning signs actually recommended not going in deeper than your waist. And to think I used to be a good swimmer…but that was in a swimming pool. Burleigh also has a National Park within walking distance to my couchsurfing host that has some whale watching platforms and good views of the beaches.


    
View from Burleigh Beach towards Surfer’s Paradise   


View from Burleigh Head National Park

Tomorrow I am headed to the Sunshine Coast for another couchsurf, that is near the beach as well. And then it’s back to Ohio for a break of 2 months.