I dropped Allyson and Amarina at The Divide on my way to Milford Sound. The Divide is the departure (or arrival) point for the Routeburn track Te Anau - Queenstown. I takes about 3 days to complete. At this time of the year it is highly recommended to book (even for camping) as it gets pretty busy up there. The Milford road (120km) is exceptionnally scenic and is a stunning alpine drive as there are numerous viewing points en route.
I went this morning up to the Gondola which offers a splendid view of Queenstown bordering the lake and wrapped by the mountains. I then headed to Te Anau. Just out of Queenstown, I picked up Amarina and Allyson, 2 american sisters from Idaho (meeting someone from Idaho is not that common !) who were hitch-hiking, brought them back to Queenstown so they they could drop the extra weight on their backpacks (they are doing a 3-day trail) and we did the road up to Te Anau. I'm now staying at Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers (NZ$23). And I have no idea what I will do tomorrow, but there is nothing unusual, hopefully I will go to Milford Sound.
Finding sleep was difficult. I was sharing the room with a couple of brainless noisy kiwis and the bed obviously engineered to support 12-year old rather than a normal adult was shaking and menacing to collapse anytime while I was fighting against cold under a 160cm blanket and do my best to avoid suffocating by disappearing in the depth of a soft mattress. I 'woke up' at 6:30AM to find my way into a hot shower during 30 minutes. I had to wait until 8:30AM for the office to open so that I could have my key deposit back, I then headed to the visitor centre to figure out if I could join a wildlife tour in the morning.
I was still undecided this morning about what to do. I checked again for car rental prices by going directly to the companies and finally selected Ace Rental Car, I got the car at NZ$35/day. A Nissan Starlet with about 227,000km. I could have it for NZ$25 if I was taking it for 3 weeks and bringing it on the ferry to Auckland but 7 days should do, I will either bring back the car to Christchurch or take it up to Picton (ferry terminal). I have been driving all the way down to Dunedin and I'm now staying at Central Backpackers (NZ$19) close to the Octagon.
I'm currently looking to hire a car among the bazillions of rental companies available in Christchurch. AVIS & cie are much too expensive as I would reach a whopping NZ$800 for 14 days. There is no way to put the car in the ferry between the 2 islands (you need to book long in advance) so rental companies usually let you drop the car in Picton and you get another one waiting for you in Wellington (or vice versa if you are travelling from Auckland).
I have just been reading this story of a guy who had the excellent idea of teasing a pufferfish with his fingers.
I arrived in Christchurch yesterday evening around 9PM. I'm now in GMT+13 zone and +1 for summer time. I successfully passed the customs test: any cheese ? food ? and was being sniffed by a couple of food-looking-dogs while queuing at the immigration:what's your plan for the next 3 weeks ?...mmm... let me think, oh yeah !. I've got all the scuba equipment already in my bag so I was thinking of doing a remake of the Rainbow Warrior and blow a ship in the Auckland port, but this time without getting caught of course. I avoided doing such a joke since they normally don't have a sense of humor at the immigration
I jumped on the Tilt train in Bundaberg at 5:30AM to go to Brisbane. I woke up at 4AM in case the weather would not have been very cooperative as I had to walk until the train station. We have been having heavy rain during the night so I was just wondering what would be my dressing status after carrying 45kg of gear in such showers. Fortunately the sky was clear and I made it to the station fully dry.
Last day of diving. We have to leave around 9AM back to Bundaberg so we jump in the water around 6AM for the first dive (this is how it should always be). Turtles are everywhere around the boat. When leaving, we were able to see a couple of manta rays again, but sadly none underwater. The return to Bundaberg was made nice by a couple of dolphins that came to follow us and jump around for at least one hour while the boat was running over 10kt !
I proved to be quite unlucky this day. I saw an absolutely massive spotted eagle ray passing by, ready to shoot...aim..change settings...damn, my fingers got messed up and I switch off the camera. #$@%& !!!, time to switch it on again, that's 10 seconds too long to have the camera up and running. The ray is gone. A minute later we meet Diane and Jake and signal them to look around for a ray. After the dive they tell me they saw manta rays here. Zen...breath and relax.
We have been quite lucky with the weather conditions as the sea was pretty calm providing us with a quite relaxing night. Venus II proved to be extremely comfortable assuming you are in the back cabins, but earplugs are still a must-have to decrease the engine noise. Rooms are spacious and so are the bathrooms. Being 8 people on board instead of a maximum of 14 gives us enough space. The dive briefing is once again a shock for me: we are diving using tables and maximum dive time is 40 minutes. Holy crap, you must be joking ?!
I phoned Qantas today to figure out when I could fly to NZ. The saturday flight is full so I'm booked on the next one which is on tuesday. This gives me a couple of day to reach Brisbane. I had to choose a chronophagic activity to spend this time, so I booked on the Salty's liveaboard leaving tomorrow night. I'd be back on friday evening. Got a stand-by rate 30% off.
I arrived in Bundaberg this morning at 9AM after a more or less sleepless night in the train. It looks like in every compartment, a few babies or nasty kids were hired to prevent people sleeping. I'm staying at Salty's rest (A$18.) and I have yet to see someone to figure out the diving around here. The place could not be more different than Airlie Beach as there is nearly no one in the streets and it's extremely quiet.
As I wrote yesterday, Airlie Beach is absolutely superficial and I feel like the main objective is to squeeze money as much as possible from tourists (with success should I say). The city centre is packed with flashy advertisement of all sorts which is far from giving a nice character to this place. Everything here is centered around the Whitsundays, so you have the choice beween sailing, snorkeling and diving. It might be nice, but I would need to stay here for more than a week to investigate what can be done and unfortunately cannot afford to stay that long as I'm running out of time.
I left this morning from Cairns to take the Tilt train to Airlie Beach. The Tilt train has been in service since mid-2003 and offers business class seats. I took it as it was the train leaving today and it allowed me to do some work with the laptop all day since there is a power point available for each seat. It was a minor upgrade cost from the basic Queenslander economy seat and I took a pass to go to Brisbane ($A220). The train however can hardly reach 90km/h except in specific conditions, so it is hardly comparable with the TGV even though it looks visually similar.
I'm just back from a full day of white-water rafting in the Tully river (between Cairns and Townsville) and I'm a bit tired should I say. I did not sleep much last night because of a snorring machine in the dorm that came back around 4AM. A few minutes later, he was snorring as loud as a chainsaw. One of the guy came out of the room just to smash the door as strong as he could to stop this nightmare (killing the loser could have been another solution). It did not disturbed the culprit much... so he went to sleep in the hostel TV room.
Nothing much today but relaxing. In the evening I attended Reef Teach with Susie. Reef Teach is an educational (and entertaining) lecture about the reef eco-system. It is presented by Paddy Colwell in a rather funny way. A bit of Shakesperian drama I would say. It is certainly a must for non-aware diver and snorkeler and it is quite a good thing that this lecture is offered before going out to sea with a liveaboard such as ProDive. After the lecture I asked Paddy about the status of Holmes Reef as I was quite disappointed with the marine life here (as can be read in my liveaboard report) and he told us that it was bleached rather recently (in the last 2 years). A shame that the liveaboard I took is still trying to mislead customers with a reef that nearly died and is in a recovery process.
Check out Jack Johnson, On and On album. It is really nice.
After a calm and quiet night... we ended up starting diving around 8:30AM. Anyone being on a liveaboard will wonder why the heck we start so late when a 'normal' first dive is usually more around dawn than anything else, but I have absolutely no answer except a possible specific desire to waste some precious time which could be also very welcome for surface intervals.
After an endless night fighting against sea sickness, I emerged from the bed around 6AM knowing that it would be finished in about an hour. Oh did you forget, there is a 3h time-difference between Holmes Reef and the land ? oooooh shiiit ! 3 hours more to suffer ! All of us were bitten by this 'bonus' , the office or the crew was far from claiming it anyway... I will have to check on a map if it is really true.
I went to see Kill Bill yesterday. Surprising, as blood is flowing all over the place in a very manga/kung-fu movie like way with what looks like lousy references (That's genius). The script does not kill and is pretty linear (but it's genius). Probably a good part of the budget went on the zillion liters of red liquid they used as blood. By the way, Uma Thurman character was not very affected by the 9/11 regulations as she travels with a samurai sword in business class (ah ok, that's irony, sorry, true that the 747 is flying very strangely ).
That's the question I was asked after chatting for a while with my roommate. Guess what ? I was 1h ahead and I'm in Cairns for more than 24h...oops
Actually I was surprised this morning as most of the shops were closed but thought that as usual they were having a very laid-back way of life. Thank you to the Qantas hostess that gave us the wrong time (ie the same that in Sydney).
I will be able to jump on a liveaboard friday with Coral Sea Diving Company as I could get a stand-by rate. Nearly 50% discount !. A stand-by rate is basically a discounted rate so that they can fill the boat. That's a 4-day liveaboard so I will be back on monday. Cool !
Francois, diving instructor that I met in Dahab (Egypt) is now living in Bora-Bora (French Polynesia) since October 23. He has confirmed that this is paradise: manta rays, sharks, napoleons, turtles are around.
He is 49cm tall with a weight of 3.510kg and is born on October 27. Congratulations to Isabelle and Fabrice.
Ah Cairns, at least ! I feel better already and I've been there for a few hours. It's warm and humid, the town is more open and you feel you can breath a little bit. I'm staying at Uptop Downunder and that looks 5-star compared to Sydney. As a bonus, it seems packed with nice-looking girls.
No need to spend more time here. Sydney is nice, but there's not much to do without moving miles away and spend a loadcrap of money in tourist activities here and there or going to the bar (which leads to the same financial problem). Alternatively it is also possible to crawl the bars (even worse) which might be the big time occupation here. I remember my first visit to Sydney in 1996, just 5 minutes after getting out from my hotel (it was about 8AM), the very first thing I saw was a trashed guy getting out from a bar and vomiting in the streets. Welcome to Sydney
I did a walk to Sydney Botanical Garden to end up at the Sydney Opera House when I was given an invitation to enter the Opera House forecourt to see the cast and filmmakers walk the red carpet for the Matrix Revolution Premiere. The crowd was very sparse which is obviouslly why they were giving invitation like sweets on the Sydney Harbour.
Woke up at 4AM this morning to take a taxi to the airport. Incidentally the taxi driver was originally from South Africa and more exactly Durban. He emigrated to Australia last year thinking that SA future was doomed with the ANC party managing to burn what was good in this country. That was interesting to listen to him considering he is from indian descendance and it only give more credits to what a few people told me. All this is pretty sad considering all this country has to offer.
Day-off for this saturday since I'm updating the web site with pictures from the last-week loop in West-Australia. I also updated a bit the archive templates to avoid 5MB pages and rather have a link to individual entries. I also booked my flight to Sydney due for tomorrow at 6:10AM which should bring me to the final destination at 1:20PM.