A Travellerspoint blog

Thailand- Koh Samui & Koh Pha Ngan

After a week in busy Phuket, we made the journey over to the east coast of Thailand. Via van, bus and ferry arrived to Koh Samui (also called the Maui of Thailand). Samui is much smaller than Phuket, but still raging with tourists. We opted to stay at the lazy beach of Lamai vs. busy Chaweng. While there, we spent a little time cruising around the island on a motorbike (we also did in Koh Phan ngan and Chiang Mai). Let me tell you, Brett is very happy to be rid of his backseat driver. I was scared to death as we climbed up and down the hills! You would have been too if you saw all the huge scars from the other tourists! Motorbiking was the easiest way to get around when some roads weren't easily accessible by car. We'd ride all over the island and fill up our tank along the roadside where locals sold gasoline by the liter in Thai whiskey bottles.

It was love at first sight when we went to Koh Pha ngan- a smaller island north of Samui. Some of the best snorkeling we've seen!! It was like having your own 30 foot aquarium outside your backdoor. Between Koh Samui and Koh Pha ngan, we spent most of our time snorkeling and hanging out on the beach.

Lamai Beach in Koh Samui... notice which one made it famous?
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This series has a funny story. We hiked up to a waterfall (notice I wore my hiking shoes for the vertical climb) with the promise there was a swimming hole at the top. It was pretty much a small puddle dammed up with a couple bags.
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Big Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai)
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It was HOT out! A cold beer at Monkey Bar.
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Our hotel in Samui + yummy breakfast
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The Swing Bar
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Cookie's- our place at Phangan... a few views from our room
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Meet Cookie...
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This beach had everything we needed
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Every beach in Thailand has beach dogs. We made several friends.
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Sunset drinks and tribute to Zane.
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Posted by Aboleski 06:09 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Thailand- Phuket

Different country, same story... once again behind on the blog. Currently, we are in Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand) and headed to Cambodia in a few days. We spent a week in Thailand's most famous beach area Phuket. Wow, what amazing white sand beaches, archipelagos and some of the best snorkeling/diving in the world. We were in the southern part of Thailand for two weeks- Phuket, Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan. Phuket is probably one of the most touristy areas of Thailand, but was still worth a visit. While there, we did a few excursions out to the Phi Phi islands and Phang Nga limestone formations. When we weren't out sightseeing, our days were spent at Kata Beach sitting in the sun and hanging out at a reggae beach bar (the following week at Koh Samui & Pha Ngan will sound very similar in the next posting). After being here almost three weeks, we understand why so many people travel to Thailand! Beautiful place, the kindest people and the FOOD!

Cape Promthep- Phuket's most southern point. A popular place to watch the sunset over the Andaman Sea.
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Can you tell? Brett has almost perfected the one-arm-shot. We've discovered we like most of these shots better than when others attempt to use the camera!
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Day trip to Koh Phi Phi also famous from The Beach. It would be even better minus all the people!
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Trip to Phang Nga- We sea canoed inside caves, boated in and around amazing limestone formations and had lunch at a floating village.
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Muslim floating village.
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Okay, cheesy photo, but we had to compete with everyone else for our shot at James Bond Island. Famous from the movie The Man with the Golden Gun. I was impressed when my Dad knew where we were and knew the movie without saying anything about it!
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Heading to the beach for some swimming
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Brett's new favorite place
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Kata Beach at sunset
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We spent many nights at our reggae beach bar
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Posted by Aboleski 22:07 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Malaysia

We spent about a week working our way up through Malaysia making a couple of stops in Kuala Lumpur and Penang Island (Georgetown) before landing in Thailand. We hopped on a short flight from Singapore to KL. Wow, what a culture shock going from Singapore to a much more conservative city. KL, Malaysia's capital, is a city of trees and skyscrapers balancing a jungle-like landscape. A mix of majestic Islamic high-rises and the hustle and bustle streets of cramped Chinatown and Little India.

We took an overnight train and quick ferry ride to Penang Island where we spent most of our time in Georgetown. Penang was under British rule until 1957 and still has a lot of charm with its colonial architecture. We found KL and Penang to both be very multicultural, but in KL groups were separate whereas in Penang groups intermingled. In both cities spent much of our time visiting buildings, temples, museums and eating lots of good food!

Petronas Twin Towers, once the world's tallest building. Brett was very excited about seeing the towers!
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Brett with his 3-D glasses watching a video before heading up.
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Masjid Negara, one of Southest Asia's largest mosques. The main dome is a 18 point star symbolizing the 13 states of Malaysia and the five pillars of Islam.
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Batu Caves, limestone temple caves. Hindu priests have used these caves as temples since their discovery in 1800's.
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Islamic Arts Museum
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KL city pictures
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Kek Lok Si Temple, the largest Buddhist temple complex in Southeast Asia... amazing!
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Wat Chayamangkalaram with the reclining Buddah
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Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist temple... by this point we were starting to suffer from "temple fatigue"
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Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion- 1800's mansion designed with an amazing display of feng shui subtleties
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Around Georgetown...
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Posted by Aboleski 18:57 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Singapore

It was an exciting time to be in Singapore with the Chinese New Year celebrations!! Singapore is a mixture of an ethnic Malay population with a Chinese majority, as well as Indian and Arab immigrants. The city is very famous for it's food (millions of hawker stalls) and shopping.

We spent time wandering around Chinatown and Little India trying out every hawker center and visiting temples. A few of our favorite culinary experiences were Hainanese chicken rice and kaya (a yummy coconut jam). Although rapid transit made it very easy to get around the city, we spent a lot of time walking in the 90% humidity.

Shopping, shopping everywhere! I've never seen so many shopping centers in my life. And yes, finally my first Gap after four months. I had to go in! Brett got tired of shopping within a few moments, but there weren't too many other options of staying cool in between sights!

Sights of the city
Chinatown
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Walking along Boat Quay
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City view from Marina Barrage
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Clarke Quay at night
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St. Andrew's Cathedral
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Colorful buildings
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Hawker stalls and food
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Beautiful orchids at the botanical gardens
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Frangipani
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Posted by Aboleski 05:59 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Bali

0 °F

Well as you saw from Brett's posting, this blog is all on me now!

We've spent the last two weeks exploring Bali and all of its beauty. Bali has been a gentle transition into the Eastern world. The people have been so friendly helping us get it all figured out! Most Balinese practice Balinese Hinduism, whereas 93% of Indonesia is Muslim. No other element plays a bigger role than faith in Balinese daily life. Every day begins and ends with a daily offering to the gods. You see these little offerings in front of businesses, homes and temples. We also witnessed several ceremonies where the local villagers paraded down the road to the temples.

We split our time between Seminyak/Legian and Ubud, and we also took a few road trips to explore temples and do a little snorkeling. The highlights have to be the Balinese/Indonesian food, beautiful temples, Balinese dances, learning to surf (Amy) and the massages- 1hour for $6!!

We stayed at Teka-Teki House, a little Balinese B&B, in Seminyak. Seminyak is know for its dining, nightlife, shopping and beaches. It's right up the road from Kuta (A much crazier Aussie version of Cancun) but much nicer and has a little less of the tourist traffic jam. Jules, the owner, took good care of us arranging a driver, recommending good nightlife and food locations! We were steps away from it all! We spent most of our time relaxing on the beach, eating and drink plenty of Bintang (1 of 2 Balinese beers)! The best part of Seminyak was learning to surf! I took two lessons with Ketut at Teka-Teki House. I was so excited when I got up with the first try and disappointed that I lived in California for 10 years and never once tried it. Ketut made it very easy for me, so I have to give him the credit. I have the balance, but I wasn't very good at two critical pieces: arm strength to paddle and wave timing!!

We spent a few days taking day trips to various temples and down the east coast of Bali. Bali itself isn't very large, but it takes a long time to travel a short distance. With narrow roads winding through villages and heavy motorbike+car+big truck traffic, it made it difficult to go very fast. The drivers are definitely skilled at passing with on-coming traffic. I said a few prayers when we first got here, but have since realized, the Balinese are safe drivers than Californians.

Ubud was a sleepy oasis from the hustle of Seminyak. We visited it once and then came back again because we liked it so much! Ubud has a history rich in art and culture with beautiful ravines and rice paddies throughout. Every corner you turn, there's a temple down a hidden pathway. Tourism has changed this village over the past few years, but still charming nonetheless. Many "Eat, Pray, Love" readers have flocked here seeking spiritual enlightenment and it's sure to draw more once the movie comes out. We saw a few traditional dances, took a cooking class and got plenty of massages. I guess we've been a bit lazy here, but every traveler needs a vacation too, right? Ubud is a magical little place. P.S. Haven't shopped yet. I'm only leaving with a sarong and Brett a t-shirt. Thinking of renting some cargo space...

So many beautiful Temples. I don't feel right putting them all together without telling you about them, but not enough time!
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Monkey Forest
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Sights around Ubud
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Local life
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Our cooking class at Bumi Bali where we went to the local market, learned about Balinese spices and prepared seven yummy dishes!!
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Balinese dancing and chanting
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West coast Beaches
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Where we stayed- views from Sri Bungalows
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Posted by Aboleski 01:22 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

The rest of Australia, Part 2 - Queensland

After a quick overnight stop in the heart of Australia's Gold Coast, Surfer's Paradise, we ventured up to the Australia Zoo, home of the late great Steve Irwin, aka the Crocodile Hunter - Crikey! This was the only zoo we went to in Australia and from what we heard it's the best. We saw all kinds of reptiles, birds and marsupials mostly native to Australia. The highlight of course was the feeding of the crocodiles in the "crocoseum", a spectacle originally made famous by Steve Irwin himself.

Some of the native birds
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Very firendly (and lazy) roos
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Australian Monitor (some of these were 3-4 ft long)
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CRIKEY! Look at these crocs!
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Our next stop was the sub-tropical Sunshine Coast with its stunning beaches and pristine coastline. We stayed with Chris and Leece in Mooloolaba who are native New Zealanders but had relocated to this wonderful paradise and were kind enough to open their doors to us (which were conveniently located just a short walk from the beach). We had a great time getting to know them and laughed for hours sharing ridiculous stories from our pasts. During the days we cooled off at the beaches around this area and hiked along the coastal trails at Noosa National Park.

Mooloolaba Beach
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Noosa National Park
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Secluded beach all to ourselves!
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Next, we spent 2 days at Fraser Island (see separate posting).

After Fraser Island, we had some long driving days ahead of us not to mention an unpredictable tropical cyclone looming in our path. Trust me, at times we drove for miles and miles without seeing any other cars, which made me wonder where in the heck we were going anyway. It turns out that most people opt for flying some of these long distances...
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We made it up to our next destination, the Whitsunday Islands, known for its stunning white silica sand beaches, sailing, and snorkeling/diving. We were welcomed into the beachfront town of Airlie Beach by yet more wonderful couchsurfing hosts, Wendy and Phil (I'm seeing a trend here... couchsurfing is Awesome!). As the tropical rains were getting closer to the road ahead we decided to settle in for an extra day, which happened to be Amy's birthday which we celebrated at the local pub with Wendy and Phil. We had a great time over dinners chatting, playing trivia video games (although playing music trivia with 2 DJs is a little daunting), going to the cinema to see Avatar and making friends with their cats and bird Oscar (famous for its ACDC youtube video). Why Amy did not upload the photo of their bird nibbling on her tooth escapes me!

The weather was very accommodating to our plans and the rains let up for the first day in nearly a week so that we could take a day cruise out to see the beautiful Whitsunday Islands and for some amazing snorkeling.

Whitehaven outlook and beach
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After 2 more days of driving (one through the outer bands of a tropical depression, which we were lucky to make it through before the roads were being closed due to flooding), we made it into the tropical resort town of Cairns, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. On the way we stopped at Paranella Park, an amazing castle/rainforest park that was built by a spanish sugar cane worker in the 1930s.

Paranella Park
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We then arrived in Cairns where we stayed with a great Australian mate, John. He was kind enough to let us stay there the whole week! All he asked in return was that we look after his adorable Jack Russell Terrier Jessie and friendly cat Mr. Smooch for the 2 days while he was traveling. Second only to the really cool people we have met through couchsurfing, has to be all the of awesome pets we've got to hang out with!

While in Cairns, we took a day trip north to Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation (the most northerly point we were allow to travel in the rental car).

Coastline Views...
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Another secluded beach!
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The closest we came to spotting the extremely rare Cassowary bird
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Another one of Amy's friends... is that spider wearing a skeletor mask, or what!
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Had to stop for some ice cream from the local fruits of the day.... yummy!
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Mossman Gorge, a popular tourist drowning spot (we chose not to swim)
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Finally, we got to take our cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef for our first dive! We had a great day sailing out to the reefs on a huge catamaran, which Amy liked much better than the 20 seat wave jumper that we were on in the Whitsundays.
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And the reef... it was pretty amazing even though we were there in the rainy season making visibility a little less than ideal, but still very good. We did out first dive, just an introductory for about 25 minutes which was really cool. Funny though, we saw tons more fish and coral while we were snorkeling. So many amazing things under the sea... we should have splurged for the underwater camera!

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From Cairns we had a long day of travel connecting through Darwin on to our first stop in SE Asia... BALI! A few of our last sights from Australia...

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Posted by Aboleski 03:16 Comments (0)

The rest of Australia, Part 1 - New South Wales

We've been in Bali for about a week now, and as you've probably noticed I (Brett) have been horrible about blogging for our travels in Australia. I have 2 excuses for this: one, our computer got a virus and is now taking the 3 month shipping route back to Kansas, and two, I don't really enjoy blogging (sorry, but it's true). I'm currently sitting in an internet cafe in Seminyak, Bali and will try to summarize the other 3 weeks of our time spent in Australia...

From Sydney we picked up our rental car, a brand new red Holden Cruze, which often times made people question that we were really "backpackers on a budget". Apparently this car is all the rage in Aussie these days. Anyhow, we left Sydney and headed to the Blue Mountains to check out the picturesque valleys and gorges that have been cut into the limestone mountains. Unfortunately, we missed out on the most famous site, the Three Sisters rock formation, due to a blinding fog that rolled in on us that night and did not let up the next day.

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The next day we head to Hunter Valley, the well-known wine region just a few hours north of Sydney. Hunter Valley is known for its Shiraz and white Semillion grapes, the later of which our palates were not too accustomed to. The people in Hunter Valley are very proud of their Semillion, and it wasn't until we were offered a tasting flight of Semillion wines over the past 15 years that we began to enjoy and respect the unique style of this wine.

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Amy made some new friends on the property where we were staying
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After a relaxing day of wine tasting, it was time to start making our way up the coast. Our next stop was the fun, laid-back, yet extremely overpriced backpacker beach town of Byron Bay. On our way, we stopped at a Koala Hospital which rescues the cute marsupials that get injured by vehicles, domestic pets or disease. It's kinda sad, but good to know there are people out there helping these fragile creatures survive.
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Cape Byron Lighthouse
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Cape Byron (eastern most point of mainland Australia)
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Killer 2-3' sets lining up off of Cape Byron
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After 2 days of working on our tans (you'd think we'd have done this by now, but not really), playing in the surf and enjoying the town of Bryon it was time to move on. From there, we made a quick stop in Nimbin, which is known for its extreme hippy community of about 500 people. Australia's equivalent to our Woodstock, the Aquarius Festival, was held here in 1972 and these people never left. I seem to be lacking a good photo, but think Haight Street on steroids in a town half the size of Burlingame, Kansas. No, we did not accept any of the offers of "goodies" on the street.
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The country side near Nimbin
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From there we made our way to our final stop in New South Wales, where we stayed 2 wonderful days with our first Australian couchsurfing hosts: Jill, Alex and their granddaughter Aylee. We had a great time talking to them about all of their travels, learning about the local wildlife (they had created a photo album of all the creatures they had encountered), and enjoying relaxing dinners in the evenings. They were such gracious hosts! We got to canoe down the river from their backyard almost to the ocean in about 3 hours and saw a snake and a lot of fish along the way. When we got to the end they were waiting for us and had picked up the best calamari and chips I ever tasted!

One of Amy's spider friends (completely harmless, but caused nightmares nonetheless)
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Dragon fruit flower in Jill and Alex's garden
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Jill and Alex had given us many things to do the next day, so we got an early start and headed off to the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary where we got to see the rainbow lorikeets for their morning feeding.large_IMG_2194.jpg

Then we drove to Springbrook National Park to take in some views of the huge ancient volcanic crater and the Gold Coast of Surfer's Paradise in the distance (not seen in this photo). We hiked down to a very cool waterfall in the rainforests below.
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From there we drove done into the Gold Coast to Surfer's Paradise, leaving New South Wales behind, entering into tropical and sub-tropical Queensland.

Posted by Aboleski 21:37 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Fraser Island, Australia

4WD Adventure

We spent 2 days on Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island which can only be explored by 4WD vehicle. The island is known for its wild dingos, many species of birds, ancient forest growing up from the sand, beautiful freshwater lakes and its 75 mile beach (which becomes a motorway/runway during low tides).

Rather than going on a ranger guided group tour, I thought it would be more fun to rent our own 4WD vehicle and explore the island at our own pace. I opted for the budget 4WD, a 2-seater Susuki Jimmy, circa 1985 - not the best decision I ever made... The Jimmy sits much lower to the ground than the Land Rovers, Jeeps, etc. that most people are driving, so we're more or less plowing the sand road with the under body of the Jimmy, making traction exceptionally difficult. Outside of getting stuck twice for about 10 minutes each, we managed to bounce around the island okay. I'm guessing the stops to refill the radiator with water and to change a flat tire are just part of a typical day out with this piece of junk. At least I had the piece of mind of an insurance policy with a $4000 deductible for a vehicle worth at best $2000. The big risk was that if we got stuck anywhere, I'd have to pay for the rescue and recovery, which could be quite costly on these remote sand roads.

We did manage to get the Jimmy to all the sites and back with minimal damage - $100 for the damaged wheel from the flat tire we got while trying to film an "off-roading" video. I was very on edge while driving, expecially when we were racing the tide down 75 mile beach as the road was beginning to disappear into the ocean! In between the stressful off-road drives, we stopped at some amazing places:

Brett in the piece of Junk Jimmy
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The motorway/runway
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Lake Wabby lookout
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Maheno Ship Wreck (1932)
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Lake McKenzie
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The Pinnacles rock formation
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Gigantic Jellyfish!
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Posted by Aboleski 14:40 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

The land of OZ...

Sydney

After such an amazing month in New Zealand it’s hard to imagine what else could lie ahead of us, but it’s time to move on to Australia… (and with a new country, comes a new blogger, so bear with me)

Upon arriving in Sydney we were greeted with warm, humid & sunny weather (also known as “fine”) which was a pleasant surprise after the past 2 weeks of cool and rainy weather in NZ. We set out on foot to explore the heart of Sydney and in no time were taking in views of the Harbor Bridge, the Opera House and Circular Quay.

After a walk through the botanical gardens the heat was catching up with us, so we decided it was time for a nice cold Australian beer (or “piss” as the locals say). We found an Irish pub in the historic Rocks District which is known for its cobblestone streets and coincidentally, its pubs. No more than a few gulps into our first beer and we’d made our first Aussie friends. Dave, Pete, Ben and their friends were absolutely hilarious and were gracious enough to invite us to join them for a true Sydney experience – A PUB CRAWL! Honestly, it was too hot to do anything else and what better way to immerse ourselves in the local customs, so we imbibed!

Needless to say, we had a great afternoon touring the Sydney pubs with our new friends. Well, that is until I managed to slice my foot up on some oyster shells while getting out of the harbor waters from a swim. We wasted half of the next day trying to get a doctor to look at my foot, only to be told that it would heal with time.

Although I was a bit gimpy, we still managed to see the iconic Sydney beaches of Bondi and Manly. I had always imagined these places from a surfboard perspective, but I couldn’t go near the water with my bandaged foot.

Our evenings were spent indulging in wonderful dinners and late night strolls through Darling Harbor. We absolutely loved Sydney and wished we had more time to get beneath the surface of this vibrant harbor city. We’ll be back…

Syndey Opera House and the Harbour Bridge
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Amy loves taking photos of others taking photos
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Cityscape from botanical gardens
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One of many fountains
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Pubcrawling...
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Sydney from the ferry to Manly
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Manly
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Bondi Beach
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Nightime photos Sydney
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Posted by Aboleski 16:56 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Mount Cook & Christchurch


View The Endless Summer on Aboleski's travel map.

Trying to keep it short! So many pictures I want to share, but hard to keep up when we have limited access. We spent our last few days in the Mount Cook area before flying out of Christchurch to Sydney. We did a beautiful hike with views of Mt. Cook and the weather actually cooperated enough to see the peak.

TO SUM IT UP
3500 miles and 31 days later… New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. Brett and I are learning so much from this experience. It’s hard to believe we’re already several weeks into our traveling. Time passes so quickly that we forget the details of what happened the week before. We’ve met so many interesting people and a few we are hoping to met up with later on our trip.

Brett’s taking over the blog for Australia… and he’s already making me look bad with his posts ready to go. He’s a much better storyteller!

PS... If you want to subscribe to our blog, you will get an email update when we post.

A few pictures along the way to Mt. Cook
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Views around Lake Tekapo & Mount Cook
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Christchurch Art Gallery & Botanical Gardens
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Posted by Aboleski 05:24 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

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