A Travellerspoint blog

'Round and 'round Rotorua

Life from the inside of a giant hamster ball


So we have been staying in Rotorua: we got here after the glow worm caves and did the Hobbiton tour from here. Rotorua was a very nice surprise. We weren't expecting much, a small village with a few cafes and accommodation, but it was bigger with more charm than we thought. First off our hostel was excellent, for once, which was a relief after the two previous shit holes. Rotorua Central Backpackers was very large but still maintained a lovely homey feel and the owners always helped us out with stuff at the front desk. Plus it wasn't bunk beds. I think Gina will go on strike if she has to endure too many more nights of bunk beds. Best of all though, Rotorua is very pedestrian-friendly, and our hostel is right in the center of town. No hoofing it five miles out of town because of cheaper accommodation scoooooooooooore.
We didn't get to try many of the cafes as budget travel involves a lot of eating sad little meals at your hostel (despite what all of my food blogging might represent), but we did go to the weekly night market for some wallet-friendly food stall love.
The Rotorua area has a ton of geothermal activity, so that drives a lot of the tourism around here, along with Hobbiton and extreme sports such as sky diving and bungee jumping, (which are way too present here. There's seriously sky diving in every little village in New Zealand). New Zealand was formed by two tectonic plates rubbing against each other, creating the mountain ranges and the steep hills that define the NZ countryside. They are also responsible for the ever-present earthquakes as well as the hot springs that dot all over both islands. We saw a chart showing the cause for the geothermal activity--a slice of the earth with the different layers labeled in different colors--and quite honestly, it looked like a diagram of a giant pimple. There is a pool of magma under the earth's crust and just south of Rotorua it rounds up above a lot of the other layers, popping a few holes in the surface to let off steam and water. Downtown has a few parks with a few of these smaller holes. There are fences or walls around them as some of them are boiling hot and all of them have very high levels of sulphur and other minerals, which explains why the whole town smells like rotton eggs all the time.
South of town is where the action is a lot closer to the earth's surface: Hell's Gate. We took a shuttle out there, to the geothermal park and mud pools. There our Maori guide led a group of tourists through the alien landscape of hot pools, mud volcanoes and sulphur springs. It was a much larger area than I expected--we did a big loop in 90 minutes--and there were dozens of these pools, all steaming, some of them hot past boiling. One of them was so concentrated it was a giant pond of sulphuric acid. Most of them bubble away like kettles, the mists floating on the wind. It looked like this couldn't possibly be earth...
It is called Hell's Gate because the playwright George Bernard Shaw visited and declared that the strange and dangerous landscape surely must be the gate to Hell itself. The water can exceed the boiling point because of all the minerals, with the hottest one at 122’ C at the surface, and 140' only 1 meter below the surface. But not all of the pools are dangerous, there were some that had safe and pleasant levels of minerals in them, as well as a nice clear spring of pure water.
There is white, gray, and black mud produced by these holes in the earth, all of it has various beneficial qualities. The white mud is precious and the rarest, engineers even repair dams with it. But it was the gray mud that we would bathe in later after the tour.
The large areas of sulphur crystal deposits even cause fires. Too much sunlight can cause the crystals to overheat and spontaneously combust, then form a sort of lava flow. As if this place wasn't freaky enough already.
I talked Gina into the mud bath scenario. I wish we had a picture. They have built these little hot tubs into the ground that are pumped with very warm mineral water all day from one of the pools. In the tub there is a big box that they stock with the gray mud. Given the strong sulphur smell, we rented bathing suits and towels, and once inside the tub (in the brisk spring air) we scooped up handfuls of the fine, silky mud and spread it all over our bodies and faces. The water gets muddy and you get covered from head to toe and are as happy as a pig in poop. Oh it was just the best. The mud retains a high level of heat for hours though, so they keep an eye on the clock and come and notify you when it should be time to rinse it off. But then you can go in the big sulphur spa for as long as you want, which is another big pool in the open air, this one fed with just the warm sulphur water via waterfall. It was completely worth smelling like a garbage disposal for days afterwards.
On our last morning in Rotorua, our bus wasn't scheduled until the afternoon so we did a little hike around Sulphur Bay. The town of Rotorua is on the edge of Lake Rotorua, which has its own sulphur spring in one corner, creating Sulphur Bay--where the water is a glassy white and pretty much the only wildlife are birds from the sanctuary. It has been rainy all week so my photos look kind of dismal, but it was really beautiful. Strange to see white water in such a large expanse though.
That's actually the color of the bay, not sunlight reflecting off the surface or anything. And the back specks are ducks.
The main body of the lake is a bit more normal in color, and packed with black swans. We also wandered around Government Gardens and through a Maori village.
On a whim we also decided to try the mana balls--basically inflatable hamster balls for humans, out on the water. You crawl inside the deflated plastic and she zips you in and turns on an electric hose, inflating you until you are a Bubble Boy and really to roll yourself off the dock and into the water. It was a lot harder than it looked to move anywhere. I went first and then Gina, and we both found out pretty quickly that standing is not an option and you have to basically crawl really fast to try to propel your ball. The children were much better at it than we were.....

Posted by Chloeah 23:34 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The Herakovics of Bag End

our journey to Middle Earth


If any of you heard a really high pitched noise at about 1pm NZ time on Friday, something along the lines of SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! don't be alarmed. That was just Gina getting off the bus to Hobbiton.

After the Waitomo glow worm caves our next bus took us to Rotorua where, the following morning, we got on another day trip bus bound for The Shire. The Hobbiton bus was forest green with a giant ring on it, and we cruised through the lofty green hills of the Bay of Plenty district for about an hour before reaching Mata Mata, which is the location Peter Jackson decided to set and film the Hobbiton scenes in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. He used over 150 locations in New Zealand for filming, but for those of you in the LotR dark, Hobbiton in The Shire is supposed to be lush, green, adorable and friendly.
It was all of this and more. First the bus took us on a wide loop around the property, which is still a working sheep farm, showing us where Jackson stayed during filming and where the stars' trailers were all set up (Karen, you know I was paying sharp attention). Then we got off the bus and popped through the hedge where we began the walking tour. I wouldn't have thought we needed a guide but he actually had lots of interesting information, not the least of which is that 1/3 of the thousands and thousands of people that pay to visit Hobbiton have never read any of Tolkein's books or seen any of the subsequent movies. Now, our ticket was included in our bus pass so we didn't have to fork over $75 at the visitors center, but don't you think 75 smackers is an awful lot to pay to see a movie set that you have no context for? But like I said, it is adorable, so maybe they just enjoyed the scenery and imagined the plot lines. Or maybe they were dragged by family members of significant others.
We started at the bottom of the hill, where the hobbit hole doors are the smallest, a bit less than waist high. They get larger as you go up the hill until you are finally at Bag End at the top (the main hobbit hole as far as filming is concerned) which is to scale for a short human. Hobbits are supposed to be the size of the small holes but they have to make the ones like Bag End bigger both for visual effect in filming and so that hobbit actors like Elijah Wood and Martin Freeman can look like they are tiny when they go in the door. Make sense? Good.
What was the most stunning to me was the incredible level of detail. The Hobbiton scenes in the movies are sweeping at best, yet no detail was overlooked in crafting these sets. Each little hobbit hole has its own personality and role in the community (baker, candlestick maker) and you can even see little items inside all of the tiny doors and windows. There's little shop carts set up selling cheese or jam, laundry is blowing on the line and each house has a little mailbox. The main garden at the base of the hill is almost all real--there are several full time gardeners at Hobbiton as all of the flowers at the holes are real--the only fake items are some of the produce, so it always looks like harvest time year-round. Some of the gardeners are even the original craftsmen for the set.
The original set was built mostly out of styrofoam and completely dismantled after filming the Fellowship of the Ring in 1998, it was recreated years later for the sequels. Finally when Peter Jackson and his team approached the farmer about rebuilding for The Hobbit movies, he said fine, but this time make it permanent. Superfans had been making pilgrimages to the place for years, so you might as well leave such awesome craftwork in place for them to see. So now the holes are more solid than styrofoam, but most of the doors are still false fronts. All indoor shots were done at a studio in Wellington, so while Bilbo's door at Bag End opens, the interior is only finished for about two meters. Originally the farmer had signed a lot of documents swearing the location to secrecy, but after the movie premiered (which was a much bigger deal than the locals originally anticipated, being one of the top grossing movies of all time) locals immediately recognized their mountain range in the distance of ONE 2.4 second shot. They sniffed around until they discovered it was his farm, and then basically politely banged on the door until he agreed to show them around. But like I said, the crew was obligated by contract with the NZ government to return the landscape to its original state after filming, so there wasn't too much for the original Hobbiton tourists to view. Now it's a whole complete mini village, plus five extra holes to the side that were added for The Hobbit, just in case the camera swept that wide (it didn't), plus the Green Dragon Pub and the Mill down by the lake.
We got to stick our heads inside one of the other doors that opens, but it's just a hole leading to nowhere. Still was cool though. Gina reckons she can still move in and make it work.
The trees are all real (and blossoming right now because it is spring! Look at the cherry blossoms!) except for the old oak above Bag End. In 1998 they used a relocated dead tree combined with styrofoam and fake leaves, all of which was torn down after filming. But then when they needed it again for The Hobbit, they had to make a new one anyways because The Hobbit takes place 60 years before The Fellowship of the RIng. So the tree above Bag End is always full and leafy because it is made out of a steel frame and thousands of leaves individually wired onto the branches.
The tour winds down by the lake after Bag End, you cross a little footbridge, go past a lot of sheep until you are at the Mill, which was currently under construction. They had drained part of the natural lake away to expose the foundations of the Mill and expand upon it: they are making it into an event space. YOU CAN HAVE EVENTS AT HOBBITION.
PSA, all of my birthdays as well as my wedding and funeral will henceforth be held in The Shire. That is all.
So the Mill was out of operation but next to it you cross a bigger stone bridge and then you are at the Green Dragon Pub, where we all got a free beer/cider/ginger beer. This sent an already over-excited Gina into raptures. The inside of the pub is adorable, down to the "notes" on the wall and the little cloaks and hats on the pegs by the door. There was even a resident tortoiseshell kitty sleeping on a big chair by the fire.
There were big rainclouds sweeping overhead all day but the rainfall managed to hold off. All we got was a HUGE full rainbow just as we were leaving, arching over Hobbiton. How awesome is that???
I loved this tour a lot more than I even thought I would. I thought it was be like four hobbit holes and this cheesy pub front like a town Renaissance fair. No no. The artists that created these sets were just that, artists. And they clearly had an attachment to the books or movies or both, and spared no expense or effort in making every tiny corner of the little village adorable and complete. You can even order food in the pub, and the two beers and apple cider are brewed especially for the Green Dragon, available no where else but Hobbiton. My only criticisms are that the gift shop was an utter failure (think about it. Lord of the Rings gift shop? How epic) and our tour guide was way too tolerant of the numerous and uncontained children in our group and their antics. They were leaping fences like deer and at one point one of them actually broke a little fake trout on a hobbit cart. By the end of the tour I was ready to dunk them in the little wishing well.
Gina and I just couldn't handle the cuteness, especially after the rainbow and everything. So we've decided to now move to New Zealand where we're going to open a gift shp I've already named Lord of the Things and we're going to live in hobbit holes and everyone is totally welcome to stop by for Elevensies.

Posted by Chloeah 14:09 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Kia Ora, New Zealand

Auckland and Waitomo glow worm caves


I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the airport. There was no way I wanted to leave Australia. With one foul-mouthed exception, I love everything about it. But New Zealand is calling. Kia Ora means hello/welcome in Maori, the native tongue.
G and I didn't make to Auckland until about 11pm. Now, Auckland is NZ's largest city--situated towards the top of the North Island--but it is not the capital. The capital is Wellington, on the southern tip of the North Island. I did not find much to like or dislike about Auckland. The best part was the greeter at the airport (whose picture I have thieved from the interwebs yet again, as I did not take one)
Isn't that the greatest? That is a Lord of the Rings reference, and if you don't get that then we are no longer friends. Kidding. But really that is a replica of one of the statues from the dwarf mountain, and it was delightful. New Zealand is basically home to Lord of the Rings fandom. Even though Tolkein was English and they take place in the fictitious Middle Earth, the movie director Peter Jackson is a kiwi and shot all the LOtR and all three Hobbit films in various locations around the country. Actually Hobbiton is on the itinerary for Friday, which means Gina will not sleep between now and then.
But back to Auckland. It is a city. Not a pretty one, not a gross one, not too extreme one way or another. There were are few interesting buildings, and we went to a rather terrible art museum, but other than that it was pretty unremarkable. Except for the people. New Zealanders are freakishly nice. Even more so than Australians.
This exhibit at the art museum pretty much sums up our take on it:
We managed to score another awful hostel though. Grafting House is within reasonable walking distance to the CBD but they neglected to mention when we made our reservation that it was UNDER CONSTRUCTION. So we were up eight flights of steps in a windowless room with two snoring guys who never turned out the light. Meanwhile all the rooms around us were just studs and subflooring, and there was the din of power tools below us all morning. We just can't win.
Gina's favorite part of the city was Ponsonby, a hipster neighborhood with tons of great looking restaurants. We sought out this cluster of gourmet stalls and boutique restaurants called The Lane, where we followed our MO of ordering tiny things at different places and sampling around.
My favorite thing about Auckland was the cemetery. Am I creepy? Maybe. But there was this cool old cemetery (mostly 1840s-1860s) that had been partially covered by the road leading from our hostel. What remained went down towards a gully and under an overpass. The wilderness was taking over, making the whole sight macabre and peaceful at the same time.
After two days in Auckland we moved south. We had purchased bus passes online and so far that seems to have been an excellent decision. They are open ended passes and we picked a certain route, so as long as we don't back track we can take as long as we want (up to a year) to complete as much of this route as we want, in however many increments we want. We chose a route that heads from Auckland down to Wellington and then does a big curve through the South Island. And it includes a lot of sights/tours that we wanted to do anyways, like Hobbiton and the glow worm caves. So Thursday morning we hauled our stuff down to the station and boarded the lovely modern coach to Rotorua, via Waitomo. Waitomo is a tiny town south of Auckland, famous for its glow worm caves. Today was a travel bucket list day, guys. Also it was quite lovely to do something on our Want List (the caves) while still getting from A to B, luggage and all. A day wasn't wasted with mere logistics. I'm not counting Gina's annoyance with Dennis, however-the senior speedster whom she was so irritated with she was moments away from castrating him with her eyes. He was the bus driver and felt the microphone was his duty rather than a necessity so he droned on on for the two hours to Waitomo and then again for the two hours to Rotorua. Gems like, "Now we are approaching Otorohanga. Travelers stop here for the numerous shops and cafes. Be sure not to miss the lovely hanging floral baskets, which entice travelers to stop at the numerous shops and cafes. And on the right we have a McDonalds, one of the newest built in New Zealand...." All delivered in the same monotone of public radio. Like I said, especially once he started branching off into such gripping commentary as his opinion of the national flag, Gina was ready to castrate him with her eyes. Personally I was too busy trying to block out his voice ringing in my head constantly repeating "native bush."
But back to the glow worm caves.
I'm gonna sum this up without getting too much into the entomology: the worms are larvae of a fungus gnat that excrete long sticky threads to trap food, and they glow to attract said food. Moths and other insects will think that the glow worm lights on the roof of the cave are a starry night, and will most likely fly up and into the sticky threads, and then it's curtains for them and dinner for the worm. The ladies will also glow to attract a mate. The glowing is a bioluminescence cause by enzymes and a whole process that I won't get into (though SYSK does a lovely podcast on it).
Our group was led deep into the cave system, first to look at the cave itself in a still relatively light area, with all of its stalagmites and stalactites, and the cavernous cathedral. The we inched down towards the darkness, once we reached the stairs towards the water, there was almost no lighting and no talking allowed, as light and sound can damage the delicate cave ecosystem and kill off the worms. There is absolutely no photography, even without a flash. It was quite nice though to have everyone shushed as our boat of twenty odd people drifted silently though the darkness. We were led by a staff member pulling on a rope, guiding the boat through the black water. The water was high this week, so our boat reached that much closer to the ceiling, but part of the normal tour was cut off as that part of the cave had filled and flushed out some worms. It was so mesmerizing. They create the prettiest blue light, tons of little twinkles up on the rock ceiling, the color smeared across like the Milky Way.
Like I said I couldn't take photos but I pulled some of Waitomo from the internet that I feel matched what we saw, because my words are not nearly enough to paint this picture.

Posted by Chloeah 03:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Airlie Beach Turtle Team!

sailing the Whitsundays and diving the Great Barrier Reef


After a lovely dinner at the Rustive Olive with Rebecca in Redcliffe on Wednesday, we set off early Thursday morning for Airlie Beach. Which meant flying. Again. Australia is much bigger than I think we northern hemisphere folk realize, and since Gina and I didn't gain any wheels Down Under we have to fly everywhere as it's cheapest and fastest. That is, unless friends tote us around as they often do. The plus side to flying was that we were squinting in the Airlie (AIR-lee) Beach sun in less than two hours. It's a tourist town right on the coast, and the best jumping off point for the Whitsunday Islands, some of Australia's tropical treasures, and you can also get to the Great Barrier Reef from there. If we were starting to get hot when we moved north from Port Macquarie to Brisbane, we were boiling now.
By no accident, our hostel is just across the street from one of the main beaches (though most people don't swim off the coast here, it's safter to swim out by the islands or in the man made lagoon in town, as there are deadly jellyfish that breed along the coast. They are not currently in season but you swim at your own risk. Did you forget for a moment that Australia is trying to kill us? And guess who has two thumbs and swam off the beach? THIS GIRL.) To call Airlie Waterfront Backpackers a hostel is too generous. It is leftover space to the right of a sort of Asian food court, and the lobby is actually a tour booking office. Our room was six flights up and, to be frank, was a garret. An attic. An area that technically has a roof over it so some enterprising individuals thought to themselves hmm, I think I'll charge some backpackers for this.
It's a sixteen bed mixed dorm. I know you're jealous. The single toilet with no toilet paper was two flights down, as were the cement showers and dirty kitchen. Gina swears she's done with hostels after this trip. This place should take note though that it's facilities are worse than hostels we've stayed at in developing countries.
Nice view though eh? The water is an insane shade of teal, even in the early morning. You would swear it is fake. And it has a sort of deep glassiness to it that I have never encountered before.
I forgot to mention that Gina, once she heard me comment during our online airline booking that one could check a box marked "captain", insisted I do just that for her ticket. She will now only respond to Captain Gina or Sir yes Sir.
Downtown is nothing remarkable but since we got in before noon on Thursday we spent the rest of the day just poking around the main strip. Gina bought a new bikini (her sister picks her out the most excellent clothes) and we had a beer at one of the massive, spring break-y type outdoor bars with a disco ball and picnic tables. Then we just went and laid in the sand, which is riddled with tiny shells ranging from the size of a grape to tiny little matchhead ones. It's easy to give in to your inner child and before you know it you have a proud fistfull of the prettiest ones, and wonder to yourself what the hell you're going to do with them all. That was also when I took my chances with the jellyfish.
In the morning we scurried out of our garret by 7:30 to hustle down to the marina to meet the Providence--we booked a day sail on a local tallship.
Isn't she beautiful??? It was the best decision ever! We almost booked spots on the Fury, which is one of those horrid yellow speedboats that looks inflatable, and carries 35 people, but instead we sprang the extra twenty bucks for Providence and my, what a fancy lady she was. Plus, as a very big bonus, there were only four of us onboard (plus the captain and one crew member, a hot Scotsman whom we will revisit momentarily (easy girls, all in good time)). Providence was handmade by a boatbuilder in Airlie who had a passion for antique boats, and he got permission from a museum in the US to copy some building plans they had on display. But he could only build one boat from them, in the agreement. It took him three years to build Providence out of wood natural to Austuralia and she was completed in 1988, so she's older than Gina. She's gorgeous even in the marina, tall and fancy between the other more modern and flashy boats. Her owners are the couple that run the tour--Lindsay makes the bookings and handles the land side of things and her husband captains the boat for both the day and sunset sails. Kieran, the hot Scottish guy, is the crew and also made us tea and took us to shore in the dinghy. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The other guests were a couple from Switzerland who were about my age and lovely to chat and share the day with, which made everything just that much better. We had room to spread out and Kieran had time to hang out with us a bit and flirt too much with my sister.
Right? Am I being overprotective? Maybe but there was definite flirting. Hours of it, in a heavy Scottish accent. I know it when I see it. We also got to help with the sails when the time came, and by help I mean that poor Kieran put us where he wanted us, handed us a rope, told us to haul away, while he pulled on his own rope, and then he had to tie them all himself anyways. But it was the illusion of helping. LIke when you're a little kid and you dunk a cup in the sink and tell your mom you're helping with the dishes.
After a few hours of skimming gloriously over that glassy teal water we nosed near Langford Beach, and Kieran took us ashore in the dinghy and left us there with the snorkeling stuff. Langford is a big arm of sand reaching out into the water, growing and shrinking with the tide.
I stole this photo from Google to illustrate what I'm trying to say. It too is riddled with shells and big pieces of coral, and there are other lush islands not too far away. Since it was high tide, Kieran had promised us turtles and sure enough, we saw a little one munching away on the sea bed, about the size of a hubcap. For a few hours we just paddled around, staring down with our snorkels and our masks, gaping at Langford Reef. There's tons of coral and fish that are literally rainbow colored. I didn't have an underwater camera, so you will have to go on a mental journey with me.
Once we were done snorkeling he brought us lunch and beach umbrellas and we spent the rest of the time basking and combing the beach. Then it was back out in the dinghy but this time the sail back to Airlie was much more adventurous. The sail out had been calm enough to not spill our tea, the sail back was enough to shatter your molars (but in a fun way). The Scotsman talked Gina into spending most of it hanging off the side, on the offchance that dolphins might decide to come play in the waves the Providence cut through the water. We had to pratically be dragged off the boat once the day was over. If I am ever in the Whitsundays again I will definitely book an excursion that it at least several days long. One day was just an addicting tease.
We were up even earlier the next morning to walk all the way out to Jubilee Pocket, a suburb of Airlie Beach that sounds much more exciting than it is. We were horrified to see that most scuba diving excusions cost upwards of $300, mostly because they pad the dives with a shitty lunch and dopey extras like a waterslide and bushwalk. I didn't almost vomit into my breathing regulator to earn my scuba certification to go on a lousey bushwalk! So we had contacted the Whitsunday Diving Academy and arranged to go diving with them for the bargain price of $180. Savy, right? We strolled up to this huge concrete building with a pool and locker rooms and everything and were greeted by a man that looked exactly like Yul Brynner. Only with patchy tattoos and a thick kiwi accent. His name was Wayne and he was the head of this operation, leading another instructor and four students in the process of becoming dive masters and one Australian tourist in the process of his open water certification. Gina and I were a school bonus and we would be diving with Marcus, one of the dive masters in progress who was probably in his late twenties.
The boat was Liquid Fury, a smallish fishing-style boat equipped for scuba extravaganzas. Wayne drove her like a bat out of hell over the waves, rainbows arching out from the spray.
I'm sorry to disappoint but I don't have pictures from our dive either. I don't have an underwater camera and in retrospect, a Go Pro might have been a fun purchase for this trip but oh well. I pulled a few from the Diving Academy page that look like things we saw, though honestly what we saw was much, much cooler and on a grander scale.
The beginner student dove first with one of the dive master students (who were all energetic and quite fun, by the way) and once they were out of the way we kitted up and jumped in too. Such a big difference to the water in Port Macquarie! There we hadn't been able to make it out to the reef on the rough ocean day, and further rough waters prevented us from diving anything but the river and the river mouth, which are relatively unexciting as far as wildlife action is concerned (though there was always the possibility of sharks). This was a rainforest underwater in comparison. Huge walls of coral grew several meters tall, in great big fans, massive brain shapes and far-reaching forests of tiny trees. Marcus signed to us to not touch the tiny trees, they sting.
Of course. Basically you should just try and not touch anything ever, both in the interest of preserving the ecosystem around you as well as your central nervous system. He did show us one coral we could touch without damaging it though, and also presented us with a turgid green slug about eighteen inches long, as big around as my calf and covered in spots. It felt like a stale loaf of French bread.
It was a sea cucumber, a bottom feeder that basically vacuums the sand along the sea bed and eats the tiny organisms inhabiting it. We were also visited by George, a massive fish that I can't for the life of me remember the name of. We're guessing he's about three meters, and at one point he pratically brushed my shoulder. He also had his own little sucker fish friend hanging out on his cheek, tagging along. George's beauty is is in his size, not his looks. He's silvery blue but has a massive underbite and a low brow. I'm sure he has a great personality though. One of our favorite things to watch were the massive clams. The shells were probably a foot and a half long at their biggest, all crenellated and everything, but the insides varied in color, my favorite being an electric blue one with purple spots. As you swim closer the clam withdraws its flesh further and further into the shell until it is just barely there outside the lip, then when we turned I could see it already poking back out again.
Marcus said we did very well, despite my problems with my BCD vest inflating on its own. He thought he lost me at one point but I bobbed back in once I deflated the damn thing again and disconnected it. Then it was a very bumpy ride back to Airlie Beach until suddenly we were approached by a small boating school boat in the harbor. It was a woman Wayne knew and she said they were looking for a turtle trapped in a buoy line. They had already called Eco Barge, a local cleanup and animal rescue group, but they were trying to keep tabs on the turtle until they arrived and would we mind helping?
WOULD WE? Hmm, do I want to participate in a giant sea turtle rescue? UM YES.
It was all rather exciting. The dive master girls all threw their wetsuits back on and donned snorkels and masks. Marcus and Alana wielded ropes as we had no nets or anything. Then we waited, trying to spot the turtle in the choppy water. Every time we got near the turtle (which was larger than a car tire and a mottled brown) it dove down for several minutes, popping up somewhere nearby. We could tell from the way it was swimming that it was indeed caught on something, but when the girls first tried to approach it in the water it dove down and away but they could see it was caught on something white and flapping, not a buoy. But you could tell it was exhausted and probably being dragged down, as when it surfaced its butt was always in the air and it struggled to lift its head for air.
Wayne abandoned the swimming-up-to-the-turtle technique after the first try. He was concerned about bull sharks and saltwater crocs in the harbor, especially since whatever was down below might have started sensing the weakening turtle. Every time it took longer to surface for air we got more and more worried that something had snapped up this easy meal, or it had simply exhausted itself before we could snag it. So the new approach was to all scan the water for the dark spot of its shell and then Wayne made a beeline for that shadow with Liquid Fury, then Amy would fling herself off the boat with a rope and try to loop its fin or at least grab its shell so Tara could leap into the water and loop its fin. That was what the Eco Barge people told us to do when they showed up on a large motorboat after an hour. It was another two hours or so of speeding across the harbor towards the lagging turtle and trying to tackle it, but each time it managed to wrestle itself free, unconvinced that we were trying to help (I don't blame it). Finally one of the Eco Barge guys leaped onto the turtle like a friggin flying squirrel and wrestled the rope on so they could tow the massive reptile up to the boat and lug it onboard. It was not happy but so exhausted it couldn't put up much fight. Whatever was tied to its front fin came loose in the fray, but as she was now compromised from exhaustion and they noticed she didn't look particularly healthy, they decided to continue with bringing her in. They then slowly churned towards shore so as to not frighten it any further.
We got to shore first and pulled Liquid Fury up onto the jetty and out of the way to make room. They pulled their boat next to the dock and a team of people, some of them ours, lifted the massive turtle off the boat and onto a huge turtle harness laid out on the dock. This velcroed over her (at this point they determined it was a her) shell and pinned her flippers close to her body.
They then hauled her into the back of a ute and we were in the train of cars back to the Eco Barge Turtle facility, which was actually just two doors down from the Diving Academy in Jubilee Pocket (who doesn't want to live in a place named Jubilee Pocket?). So we got to watch her get placed in a large clean tank, harness off and debris-free. The main guy said she had a lot more growth on her shell and barnacles stuck to her face than was healthy, and that the vet would be in soon to check her over. They were all part of the Airlie Beach Turtle Team. The Turtle Team! How awesome is that? They're all just volunteers--Gina and i rode with a young woman who said she's been on the Turtle Team for a few years, and she was able to respond to this call quite quickly and be there at the dock to help haul the turtle onto the ute. She will now help feed and care for the turtle until they are confident she is well and can be released exactly where we found her. There was also three or four other sea turtles of varying sizes in other tanks in this huge barn, one of them missing an entire fin due to fishing line.
We got to help rescue a sea turtle! One that is upwards of sixty years old! By "help" I mean Gina and I were not divers but merely turtle spotters on the boat, but we helped! How cool is that??

Posted by Chloeah 00:31 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Please pass the tomato sauce

Why every Australian has Vegemite in their cupboard.


Brisbane (not "briz-BAYNE", more like "BRIZ-bhn." Try saying it without the A) is Australia's third largest city, and the largest in the state of Queensland. When we walked around it on Tuesday we found it was nice and quite hopping for the middle of the day, though it lacked the personality of Melbourne and the flash of Sydney.
We did have lunch at an adorable place in the west end though: The Burrow. Once again the hipster in Gina was tickled by the huge woodcut tables and large selection of craft beers. I personally enjoyed the menus added to the front pages of children's books.
We had an indulgent lunch followed by coffee downtown. Now coffee is a much bigger deal in Australia than we realized. They will drink cheaper stuff if there is nothing else but they will whine about it. And prices at the independent cafes can be pretty high. But what threw us for a loop was the menus. Flat white? Tall black? Affogato? That last one is coffee with a scoop of ice cream in it, which really needs to take the world by storm. A tall black is basically an Americano, and Gina finally ordered a flat white to see what the hell " microfoam (steamed milk consisting of small, fine bubbles with a glossy or velvety consistency) poured over a single or double shot of espresso" tasted like. Answer? Not great. Foamy weak coffee. But now we know.
Which brought me to think about the other things that took me by surprise in this country, big and small, compared to our preconceived notions:
- there is less drinking than I thought. There is drinking, don't get me wrong, especially in hostels, but the culture here is far less boozy than I was led to believe. Also I saw Fosters once and that was at a huge beer store, way in the corner. We've been had, America. Fosters is not Australian for beer.
- if an Ozzie can shorten a word, they will. Breakfast is brekkie, Brisbane is Brizzie, sunglasses are sunnies, McDonalds is Maccas, kindy is kindergarten, you get the general idea. Most are pretty easy in context. What we had to straight up ask definitions for doonah (comforter or duvet), lamington (white cake soaked in chocolate syrup and rolled in coconut, an Aussie fave), a dag (which is basically like affectionately calling someone a dork, we think)
- ease up on your grip on the sauce, Australia. They love sauce, eg tomato (they don't say ketchup. Fools.), sweet chili and barbecue but they charge you per packet. Also they are weird little squeeze containers, not the foil packets. But soy sauce comes in these little plastic fish and I won't go into too much detail about how excited Gina was about that.
- there really are kangaroos and wallabies and koalas running all over the place (well koalas don't run much). And there are road signs for them all over the place. We even saw an echidna crossing sign near Montville. Eee!
-a huge percentage of Aussie guys between the ages of 50 and 8 can be found running on the beach with a surfboard, their sun streaked hair blowing in the wind and their muscles bulging under their tans and tribal tattoos. The other percent are knitting their dreds in a VW bus. Do these people know just how Australian they look? I don't think so. Also this country is overrun with foreigners and citizens winding around in buses and vans, usually painted in bright colors and filled with mattresses and surf boards. Why? Because all the cliches are true.
-please wear shoes at the grocery store. For some strange reason a lot of people (mostly men) seem to want to prove just how free and of the earth they are by eschewing footwear. And we see them in grocery stores especially. Isn't that illegal in the States? Why would you even want to do that? Seems dangerous and unhygienic.
- even if Australians don't like Vegemite, they still have some in the cupboard. I think it is required for citizenship. (For those of you in the dark, Vegemite is a spread, it is black and yeasty and tastes kind of like burned toast mixed with carrot purée and almond butter. Yum, right?
-we have yet to hear anyone refer to this place as "down unda," but they really do say "g'day" and "no worries." Also "how're you going" means "how are you doing," "ta" and "cheers" mean "thanks," and "good on ya" basically means "ok/good job."
-they drive like maniacs. Well, many of them. Australians on foot are kind, polite, humble and friendly. Australians in the car are aggressive, righteous, impatient, and mouthy. Jane, Adam and Rebecca, you are lovely drivers. Rick, I know you wanted to run down that old Chinese lady. As pedestrians, Gina and I take our lives into our own hands daily at road crossings and even innocent sidewalks. Australians see pedestrian crossings as an affront to everything they hold dear, and they use everything in their power to treat them like an arcade game. Fifty points for a small schoolgirl, a hundred for someone with a walker.
-the prime minister can change at any time. We're still not sure we understand the technical process but basically Tony Abbot woke up the other day as Prime Minister and he went to bed just another political cartoon. Change is not restricted to a certain voting schedule, it depends on the political party in power.
-you can get an Australian to forgive you for anything by producing a meat pie or sausage roll. Especially if you have tomato sauce.
-The only thing you can buy at the pharmacy ( also, "chemist") are prescriptions and toiletries. The only thing you can buy at the bottle shop is booze. The only thing you can buy at the grocery store are groceries. Bless you, American Walgreens and your science of convenience.
-they seem very keen on all things marshmallow, coconut, and black liquorice.
-no one will bring you the check. You have to pay at the bar and sometimes even order at the bar, even when the bar is packed and no one can hear you. Also don't expect to see your server ever again after you get your food (if you didn't have to get it yourself), so you'd better have everything you need. Also a schooner is smaller than a pint.
-everything closes at 5pm. Again. You had better have everything you need. No one is really concerned about time in general. For the most part this is a lovely approach to life. Until it isn't.
Overall I'd say from our limited experience that it's a relaxed, fun loving country who still have a crush on the Queen and don't want to be treated like they have roos in their backyard (even when they do). They'll give you the shirts off their backs but then mow you down with their Utes or their mini buses and then buy you a schooner of anything but Fosters. So good on ya Australia, cheers for everything and good luck with that whole new prime minister situation.

Posted by Chloeah 02:30 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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