Thursday, September 29, 2005

misty galway days

Kaikoura in the rain looks exactly like the West of Ireland, and it filled me with a silly, happy feeling to be so far from home in a completely familiar environment. Hiking along in the damp, mizzly rain, a sharp wind coming off the sea, wandering along steep, craggy cliffs (but not too close to the edge, Mum!), and coming across the odd sheep. How perfect.

Even more perfect was for the sun to burn the fog away to reveal snow-capped alpine peaks cutting across a perfect blue sky and rushing down to the sea, to go running along a perfectly flat beach path whilst looking up at mountain faces and feeling the sun warm on my back.

More perfect still was to spend a morning in a nippy little catermeran looking for dusky dolphins on a perfectly clear day, in the hope of swimming with them. Of course, perfection would be actually swimming with them, but unfortunately, today they weren't playing ball. Never mind. Maybe I'll get a chance to swim with them up in the Bay of Islands - I still had a glorious morning out on the ocean, checking out very big birds (albatrosses) and watching the cute little dolphins swim around the boat.

And the only downer? Coming a close second in a pub quiz on account of not knowing enough about sex. Damnation. This is after getting lots of very hard science questions right, revealing my inner geek and my knowledge of when the atomic clock was developed, as well as how many bits to the byte, and where the US Masters is played. My father would be proud.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

oooooh it's cold

New Zealand is a lot colder than Australia, particularly the balmy climes of Airlie Beach, but especially if you go to the International Antarctica Centre, where you can experience a simulated storm in -18 degrees - nice! Actually, a whole lot of fun, and also a good learning experience about what people actually do at the South Pole. Apart from studying seals and penguins and thousands of years of ice, they also have toga parties, get drunk, and go swimming in the ice. Pretty normal really.

This fascinating place is in Christchurch, where I flew into yesterday afternoon. I have immediately fallen in love with NZ, mainly because the people I have met already are awesome. I'm staying at Base, where everyone stays, pretty much, it seems, and have met zillions of people, who are all doing Kiwi Experience. I actually am not doing it, since I would like to have a bit more freedom to go where I want when I want, but it does seem to be a great way of meeting people. I've gone for a more public bus pass, which is pretty a-b, no frills. That's more what I wanted though. Tomorrow I'm heading up to Kaikoru, where I can swim with dolphins and go whale watching, as well as do some cool hikes along the coast. Then its down to Mt Cook. I'm naturally very excited about all the incredible scenery, and have actually been going running to try and get myself a little fitter for hiking.

Base backpackers are a bit swanky, and I'm staying in the Sanctuary, which is girls only, and I get free Aveda shampoo, as well as a towel. The towel was what swung it for me, since I am more than sick of my ratty trektowel. Tomorrow though, its back to real backpackers, and some serious serious budgeting. New Zealand, it has to be said, is an expensive place to be, especially if you want to do things like dolphin swimming and kayaking and ice climbing. That's the unfortunate but great thing about travelling - you get all these amazing opportunities, but at the same time, there is a pressure to experience everything. Maybe I'll have to start selling my belongings or something.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

blue seas, blue skies

Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island is undoubtedly the most beautiful beach I have ever been to. It was absolutely incredible. Swirling white sands, turquoise waters, and absolutely deserted when we arrived, which was also amazing. The only drawback was the fear of swimming because of the pesky jellyfish (box and something else incredibly evil), which if they stung you could render you paralysed, or in intensive care. Not so fun. Some girl (not in our boat) did get stung whilst we were out sailing, and was vomiting profusely. Poor thing.

Anyways, back to the fantastic time I had sailing around the Whitsundays. We were on a 53' boat called Ragamuffin II, and used to be sailed in the Sydney-Hobart race. She was gorgeous. 53' isn't a whole lot of boat compared to the 80' maxi-yachts we saw, but she was nippy, and it was fun to sail her properly, and feel her keel come almost entirely out of the water when the wind was just right. Tons of fun. Plus, the people I was sailing with were excellent fun - 2 med students from Cardiff, who were a blast, an American exchange student, a South African girl who's next stop was India, two OC girls, an Irish couple, and a warring German couple. Furthermore, our crew were just two people, Ian and Andrea, who were engaged, and we were also able to spy on their relationshop as well - nothing like a bit of gossip to draw people together! The first day we sailed to Whitehaven, the second we sailed around a bit more (sorry, don't remember any names) and had the best steak I've had whilst travelling done on the barbie, and the third we went to an incredibly swanky resort on South Molle Island where we were able to swim in a pool, hike to a viewpoint, play golf in our bikinis (but we didn't do that one) and drink cocktails, before heading back to harbour and a night of fun in Airlie Beach. We all came back tan as anything, not so hungover, and in fine, fine spirits. The ebullient mood continued right into the early hours of the morning, possibly due to the free jugs of sangria provided by the yachting company that night. One dodgy club, a wet t-shirt competition, and a trip into an Irish bar made for a fun night out, and I crawled into bed for 3hrs sleep before getting my flight back to Sydney. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get anyone's email address, and so all my new friends are gone forever again.

Yes, back in Sydney. Well, Bondi to be exact, for my last days in Australia. Australia is a funny place, and I haven't exactly loved it. Places have been incredibly beautiful, and I have loved them individually - Melbourne is a great city, Byron has an awesome vibe and good surf, the Whitsundays are truly beautiful, but so much of backpacker culture on the East Coast is purely obsessed with getting drunk, and I am rather over getting drunk all the time. Don't get me wrong - I still love to party, and that's exactly what I did in Airlie, but it's not why I travel; its not the be all and end all of why I'm here, and for a lot of backpackers it does seem to be the case. Furthermore, it does sometimes seem to be a little Britain, which is a million miles away from where I want to be. I have been told that New Zealand is completely different, and I'm really looking forward to meeting backpackers who aren't travelling just to wreck their liver.

Monday, September 19, 2005

mothers and daughters

I have just left my mother and headed up by myself again to Airlie Beach, the jumping off point for the Whitsunday Islands, apparently the jewel in the Australian crown. Spending a week with my mammy was fun; we saw and spent lots in Sydney, and then headed up to Byron for a few days of r&r. Sydney was much nicer than it was to me last time, maybe because this time I didn't have giardia. We stayed in the rather swanky Rocks, although our hotel was far from that indeed. It was more on the pokey, dark side of things. Russell Hotel, no thanks. Having said that, it didn't dampen our spirit, and the first thing that we did was hit the shops. We're girls, that's what we do. And besides, I had a whole backpack of clothes to replace. Looking through my belongings, I am unsurprised to see that almost everything that I came away with has been thrown out and replaced by cheap Thai gear, and expensive Sydney/Melbourne purchases. So yes, a Sportsgirl trip later, lots of Love Kylie underwear, some fun in Borders, and a whole new backpack, we felt we had given our credit cards a good workout.

The next day was focused on two, intertwined premises - food and Bondi. Food was covered with a breakfast at Bill's, in Darlinghurst, which was amazingly wonderfully fabulous. I had these amazing ricotta hot cakes with banana and honey butter (this was about a week ago, and I can still remember), and mum had corn fritters, or something like. After that, a quick hop on the train and bus, and we were at Bondi, where we watched the surfers (I lusted after the waves), and went for a long, rambling walk over the cliffs, through some random woodland, a cemetary, and eventually ending us up in some small town a couple of miles down the shore. It certainly worked up an appetite for an incredible meal in a beautiful setting at Bondi Icebergs. Icebergs is set up off Bondi beach, so you can watch the waves break, even in the dark, from the almost entirely glass building. The menu was fabulous, my pear and rose bellini a dream, and naturally my mother felt an urge to make conversation with the table of drunken 30-somethings beside us. I thought I was over being embarrased by my mother, but clearly not. We caught the late night bus home feeling a teensy bit drunk and slightly overfull from the chocolate cannoli that was had for dessert.

A trip up to Byron was always going to be fun, and it managed to provide one of the most memorable 20seconds of my life - surfing with dolphins. I was out at Cosy Corner, where the waves were anything but cosy, instead packing a fair punch, when suddenly 5 dark-dolphin shapes were spotted flitting through the waves, having the time of their lives. They surfaced a couple of times amongs the surfers, and then swam off to have their own fun. I had always heard that dolphins enjoy a surf, but it was absolutely incredible to see it for myself. The surfing in general was amazing - it was so good to remember how to do it, and feel my body get better at it, more attuned, more natural. Of course, dreams of surfboards are far-off, since the hassle of carrying one around would be a nightmare, but I did check prices. A heart-stopping $549 for a minimal. No thanks.

That is something that I have noticed. Australia is expensive. And it's not just me who thinks so. My mum was here five years ago, and believes that everything is much more expensive than it was before. Shame.

Before I met Mum, I spent a few days in Melbourne. I have to say that it is one of my favourite cities now: chic, fun, and a great public transport system. I had a blast wandering Brunswick St, checking out St Kilda's, and bar hopping down tiny, grotty, dark alleys to find amazingly cool, chic bars like Murmur at the bottom of them. A lot of fun. Also, the Great Ocean Road truly does rival Highway 1 in the US for picturesque roads, mainly because of the incredible 12 (11? One fell down) Apostles, which was the site of my first helicopter ride. I think I might be an addict.

So now the Whitsundays. Its warm here, which makes a change from the rest of Oz so far, and the town seems tuned into parties. Fun times. I'm going to go hunting for a kayak trip tomorrow, and be even more active, and go for my second run in Australia, since the first, in Byron, went so well, and now I have a high-tech watch to make sure that I am working hard. Awesome.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

back to traffic lights and jogger

Yes, I have reached Western civilisation again, and I can tell by the number of people running around Sydney Botanical Gardens. The Sydney Marathon is on Sunday, so there are countless people in training. Still, that didn't keep me in the city for long, and I'm now in Melbourne. I'll be in Sydney so often over the next couple of weeks, so I thought I would take my chances with the weather, invest in another sweater and some more socks (4months of never wearing socks means that I only have 2pairs), and head south to Melbourne. Not before I checked out the baby grand canyon and the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains, which were beautiful, despite the huge numbers of Japanese tourists. Then, I threw my belongings in my bag (they all fit very easily now that I am wearing my fleece, my rain jacket, and my fleece!), and ran to the bus station, where I caught the overnight bus to Melbourne. This was a remarkably similar experience to buses in Thailand - we were shown a movie (Top Gun), we stopped at inopportune times (3am), and the bus broke down. Nothing changes, or is it a sign that Thailand really is a western country? Still, getting to Melbourne has filled me with a great sense of optimism. Poor Sydney. It wasn't that I didn't like it, I just didn't give it a chance. Its hard when your stomach is emptying its contents on a fairly regular 10hr basis. Who gets food poisoning on arrival in Australia? How unfair. Anyways, I'm going back with my mummy, so I don't feel so bad. Melbourne seems chilled out, I am staying in a great backpacker - its only been open a wk, so everything is fresh, clean, and works. The shower was incredible. And tomorrow, I hit the Great Ocean Rd for some fantastic scenery. Today, though, its all about Melbourne's cute shops and tiny lanes, and apparently, great bento boxes for lunch. Yummy. Just whenever my appetite has finally come back.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


Originally uploaded by scarlettholly.
Here's a demonstration that my photo skills can move beyond rice paddies and sunsets! This is a picture of Ori, my boyfriend, and its basically for my friends and family, so they can put a face to the name I have been raving about so much. I think he's pretty cute anyway. It was taken in a hammock in Thailand on our last night. Shame he's gone back home to Israel right now.

last day in Asia

Yes, it's true, I finally leave Asia today after 4 and a half months of bumming around it. I have to say it has been a lot of fun, but for the last week, which has been spent in Bali, I have really been looking forward to Australia. This is particularly good since I wasn't that fussed about it whenever I actually booked my flights, but now I can't wait. I'm meeting my mum, which will be so much fun, but I'm also looking forward to general shininess and hot water and price tags. The numbers on the price tags mightn't be so much fun though.

Bali, however, has turned out to be beautiful. I have been on an organised trip with Intrepid, which was okay. I mean, it was good in that I didn't have to make any decisions or make any friends, per se, since that was all arranged for me. The timing of that was great, because after having Ori and Kate just leave me only a day or two before, I would have been particularly inept at it. However, I didn't feel that we did all that much. Or maybe it was everything that we did was at an obscene hour of the morning - climbing a volcano to watch the sun come up, and therefore starting at 3.30am, or getting up at 5.30 to check out the dolphins playing in the sunrise. I guess, if you start that early, then the day finishes pretty quick to. The volcano climb was fabulous - climbing under the southern stars to a beautiful sunrise, and then getting to run down black volcanic sand was an absolute highlight. Wandering amongst the rice paddies and acquiring a crowd of twenty children following us was also fun - I felt like the pied piper of Hamlin. I also did the best snorkelling I have ever done, at the most beautiful drop-off. Barracudas were spotted, but no sharks. There were thousands of fish, and the sea was the most incredible blue I have ever seen. It was amazing. Plus, it also gave me further proof that I am no longer a whitey - every other person there got sunburnt, and I just went a little more tan. Ha! My Irish skin-tone has finally been beaten. For it all to fade again with the Australia and NewZ spring. Grr.

I have my own "place" in Ubud. Its this coffee shop called Kafe, and everything is organic and macro-biotic. They also run yoga classes. I can see my dad rolling his eyes at me. Furthermore, the profits are invested in education for Balinese kids, so you can drink your honey lassie with a clear conscience. Its great. I'm going to hang there reading today until its time for my ride to the airport and my overnight flight to a whole new country. I'm excited.