Saturday, June 9, 2007

Birthday Weekend

This past weekend was one of the craziest I have ever seen. A HUGE storm blew in that lasted for about 3 days. The swell in the ocean got up to 17 meters, or almost 60 feet, causing a massive coal tanker to run aground on Nobby's beach, about a half mile from my apartment. Winds were gusting over 50mph, and over 8 inches of rain fell in less than 24 hours, causing widespread flooding. We still managed to have a great time on my birthday, but we obviously had to celebrate indoors. Here is a BBC story about the storm...crazy stuff.

Monday, May 28, 2007

North Queensland

This past weekend, Hayley, Chris, and I flew to Cairns (pronounced 'cans') in tropical north Queensland to take take a look at the Great Barrier Reef and check out some other sights of the Australian tropics. The weather was a little shaky, but we managed to dodge the rain for most of our outdoor activities. On Friday, we took a boat out of the Cairns harbour to the main section of the GBR. The sky was pretty cloudy, which apparently keeps the reefs bright colors at bay, but we managed to see some incredible fish and coral species, and Chris even spotted a small shark.

Cool fish on the reef

This is probably my favorite pic from the reef...4 cool looking fish

More fish

On Saturday, I decided to go whitewater rafting on the Tully River, about 1.5 hrs south of Cairns. Haley and Chris didn't want to go, but I hadn't seen any whitewater in about 5 months and I was about to go crazy, so I decided to go by myself. The Tully was a great river, and reminded me a lot of the Chattooga where I guided last summer. I had an awesome guide and boat, and we had a great time. We got rained on a good bit, but we were already wet from rafting, so it worked out alright.

Great view of the Tully Gorge

On Sunday, we took an Adventure Tour out of Cairns to see Cape Tribulation, Daintree Rainforest, and an animal sanctuary. I was thinking that this was going to be one of the more boring days in Cairns, but we had a great time with our tour guide Joe, and learned a ton about the rainforest and tropical Queensland.

Saltwater Crocodile

Freshwater Crocodile

Momma kangaroo with her Joey

Koala bear

I can't remember the name of this tropical fruit, but it looked really crazy and the inside part tasted great.

Cape Tribulation

The crew at Cape Tribulation

This is a 'choking gum tree' in the Daintree Rainforest. The trunk forms a web design because smaller gums grow on the existing trunk and choke the original plant, forming a network of new trees.

Fan palms in the rainforest

HUGE croc on the daintree river

Awesome view from a lookout on the way back to Cairns. One of the few times we got sunshine throughout the weekend.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Wow, I just realized how long its been since I've posted on here. May has been fairly uneventful, but I've definitely got a couple things to update everyone on.

Unfortunately, when I came back from Fiji, my stomach problems didn't react to the first antibiotic that the doctors game me, so I was pretty sick until mid-May, which wasn't too much fun. Thankfully the second medicine got rid of the bug, and I've been feeling MUCH better since then.

Newcastle is coming into full fledged winter weather, which means that the highs are around 70 degrees. Its not too wintry from what I'm used to, but it kinda stinks that its too cold to hit the beach and go surfing.

One of my roomates, Hayley, turned 21 last week, and we had a great time going to dinner and out on the town for her birthday. Also, one of our Australian friends, Lulu, had a going away party because she is moving to Thredbo in about a week, so that was fun as well.

Andrew Ferguson, one of my pledge brothers, arrived in Newcastle this past Saturday and will be here until Thursday. He is visiting family in Brisbane for about 6 weeks, and came down to Newcastle to hang out for about a week. We spent a day in Sydney on Saturday, and have been seeing the 'sights' of Newcastle for the past couple days. I believe a Hunter Valley wine tour is in the works...we'll see.

This weekend, a few of us are heading up to Cairns, where the great barrier reef is. Cairns is in the tropical north of Australia, and should be pretty warm. We are planning to go snorkel the reef, take a rainforest tour, and go whitewater rafting, so I'll keep you posted.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Byron Bay

This weekend, a group of 6 of us (Julia, Dan, David, Chris, Sean, and I) rented an SUV and drove up the East Coast for about 8 hours to Byron Bay. The drive was pretty long, but it was well worth it. Byron Bay is an awesome little surfing town, and is aparently THE place to surf in the winter because its the most northern (warmest) spot where the surf isn't blocked by the Great Barrier Reef. The surf was pretty flat while we were there, but supposedly the swell was down everywhere...oh well. Thursday night, we went to the Northern Hotel for a beer and were pleasantly surprised to find a pretty good live band. The band finished up around midnight and everyone pretty much crashed after the long car ride.

The crew at the Northern

These parrots were swarming all over Byron Bay, I felt like I was in a zoo.

Friday was very relaxing and we pretty much just spent the day on the beach hangin' out. We ate dinner at a great sushi place that actually had a little sushi train like they have in Japan. That night we went out to a bar called Cheeky Monkey and had a great time. This was the first Australian bar I have been to that did not insist on playing only techno music, and I was very relieved to hear some normal music that wasn't created with synthesizers by some no name dj. Cheeky Monkey was sort of the backpacker hangout, and I got to meet some other Americans, some English, and some Australians.

Great sunset Friday afternoon.

Some awesome sushi, the dragon roll actually looks like a dragon!

Saturday morning, we slept in until we had to leave the motel at 10. We found some brekkie and walked around Byron Bay to the lighthouse and other beaches. We eventually hit the road south to find somewhere to stay on the way home, but we ended up driving all the way back to Newcastle, because the car had to back by 11 the next morning. We did stop in a cool little fishing town called Coff's Harbour for some fish and chips on the way home.

Byron Bay Beach

Byron Bay lighthouse

View from the lighthouse

The most easterly point of the Australian Mainland

Byron Bay was a great trip and the atmosphere of the area is very unique. The culture is a mix of surfing style, artsy/hippy people, and a tourist town and you kinda feel like you should be in a surfing movie or something.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Cultural Experiences

Over the past several days, I have had quite a few "cultural experiences" here in Newcastle. I still haven't been feeling up to par due to my bout with what I like to call "Fijian Water Disease", but I've felt good enough to tag along to a couple of fun nights.

On Saturday night, a large group of us decided to go to the widely advertised Monster Truck Rally in Maitland (a small suburb of Newcastle). Now, I've never been to one of these shows before, but I was expecting the Australian equivalent of a Nascar Race. We were a little disappointed when it was more of a family event, and our cooler of beer earned us glances of negativity from Moms and Dads. We still had a great time, and honestly, how many people can say they have seen a jet powered van before? Now I have!

Then on Monday night, the Newcastle Knights (our local Rugby League team) had a home game against a team from Sydney called the Sharks. The rugby game was a great time, and the atmosphere reminded me of a high school football game at home. Rugby is extremely popular in Australia and I've had fun trying to learn all the rules. It took me about 3 months of confusion to realize that there are three different sets of rules: Australian, League, and Union. All with their own devout following. At the game we sat in front of some older Australian fans and we were entertained by there chants and taunting of the refs. They love their football as much as we love our football! The game is actually very entertaining and moves much faster than American football, but there's still no comparison to a good Clemson (or USC) football game.

Friday, April 27, 2007


For the second week of my Easter break, I flew from Christchurch, NZ to Nadi, Fiji to meet my roomates for a week of paradise in the Yasawa Islands. Well, it wasn't quite paradise, but we made the best of it. Sunday night we stayed at a hostel in Nadi, and sailed out early Monday morning. We caught the ferry out of Nadi (pronounced Nandi by the locals) to the Yasawa Islands, and steamed for about 4.5 hours to Sunrise "resort" on Nanuya Lailai Island. Sunrise wasn't exactly what I would call a "resort", but it had food, shelter, and water (or what we thought was water), so I wasn't too disappointed. Modern civilization hasn't quite made it out to the Yasawa's, so forget about docks, phones, internet, and the like.

Now, typically I feel like I would love this type of simple, laid back lifestyle; however, the water from Sunrise resort made me very ill, just from showering in it, and getting sick has made me slightly bitter towards Fiji. Also, from the day we arrived in Nadi, to the day we left, the weather was rainy and overcast, with only a couple of hours of total sunlight. Long story short, if you ever go to Fiji, do your research and know exactly what you're getting yourself into.

Fijians don't use docks, they use dinghies!

Sweet view from the ferry

The inside of our hut/dorm

While I was still well, we had some great fun around Sunrise. The first day there, we took about a 40 minute hike to the "Blue Lagoon" on the other side of the island. The hike was long and muddy, but the lagoon was pretty cool, and it was where they filmed the movie Blue Lagoon, so it was worth the trek.

This hut was right by the trail to the Blue Lagoon

These "flowers" were all over the place, but they were interesting because what looks like a flower is really just pink coloring on the leaves. I don't know what they are, but they're pretty cool.

Starfish in Blue Lagoon...waterproof camera comin' through in the clutch.

The next morning we got to go on a cave tour on one of the nearby islands. I feel like I've been in tons of caves lately, but these were some of my favorite. The first cave we went into was open to the sky and had plenty of light, but when we swam under the rocks to the second room, the only light was from the guide's waterproof flashlight. Once we came back out to the light cave, one of the Fijian guides (Sammy) was climbing up the walls like a monkey, and jumping off the cliffs. Of course I tried to climb up them too and couldn't do it, until he showed me an easier place to climb up. I eventually made it up to about a 30 footer with his help, and it was an awesome experience. I was practically shaking when everyone was counting down for me to jump off, but I couldn't back out, so down I went. Of course after I jumped Sammy climbed like 20 feet higher before he jumped, but I definitely went high enough! That afternoon we went on a "shark feeding" trip that included watching a Fijian guy go spear fishing, and snorkeling around with not much to look at. We did get some fresh fish for dinner though!

View from the entrance to the caves

Me and Sammy at the top!

Corona commercial?

These jellyfish were everywhere while we were snorkeling/spearfishing, but they didn't sting at all, so you could just grab them and toss them at people...Hayley especially liked it...haha.

Hayley having fun with the catch of the day

After leaving Sunrise, we boarded a "live aboard cruise" for two nights. The cruise was definitely not what we expected, in that the quarters looked similar to a hospital, the food was pretty crappy, and the most it moved in two days was circling the nearest island. I got sick about 12 hours after I got on the ship, but the rest of our group seemed to enjoy it alright. The first night we got to play "fun games" which included trivia and an exciting game of drunken musical chairs...

The next island we went to was actually pretty cool, although we were there when I felt the worst (so I don't have any good pictures of it). It was a really tiny island named South Sea Island, and it literally took 5 minutes to walk around the whole thing. Hayley, Chris, and Dan went on a Sailing trip, but I wasn't feeling up to it, so I stuck around the island with some friends we made (Brie and Liz), and met them back in Nadi that night. Dan took my camera and took some great underwater pics on their sailing trip.

One of Dan's pictures from the sailing trip

Airplane view on the way out of Nadi

Basically, I've never been so happy to see Australia, especially our clean apartment in Newcastle. I've never had this bad of an experience being sick while travelling, but at least if I had to get sick, it was rainy and overcast the whole time, so I didn't miss too much!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

New Zealand

First of all, I just want to say that Australians seriously know how to take a holiday. About a week before Easter Sunday, everyone starts to slack off and quit going to classes. Then, when Easter rolls around, everyone gets two weeks off of classes for Easter Break. Not to mention that the first week back to school, Wednesday is a national holiday for ANZAC day. I love it and wish Americans took these kind of vacations!

For the first week of vacation, I met Mom and Dad in Auckland, New Zealand, to travel around the North and South Islands of New Zealand. I got to Auckland a day ahead of the 'rents, so I decided to check out a walking track on Waiheke Island, a small island you can only get to by ferry, close to Auckland. After I realized how nice the island was, Mom and Dad and I decided to go back together once they arrived. We rented a car and visited several wineries around the island for tastings, had a great dinner, and caught the ferry back to Auckland before Mom and Dad collapsed from jet lag. Waiheke was a pretty artsy place, so I put up a couple artsy fartsy photos from the island...

A great view from the walking track

One of the many wineries on Waiheke

A dinghy on the beach near the Waiheke marina

The next day, we rode out bright and early for the Waitomo Caves and Rotorua. The Waitomo Caves were pretty cool, and they had tons of glow worms all over the place. The glow worms were crazy looking bugs that lit up to attract bugs, and had strings to catch and eat the bugs that came around, similar to a spider web.

Entrance to the glow worm caves

We got Rotorua later that day and were immediately greeted with an odd sulphur/rotten egg smell that didn't leaves us for the next two days. It turns out that all the volcanic activity in the Rotorua area puts out the sulphur smell. Rotorua was a nice little town, and had a great deal of Maori (native New Zealander) culture as well as the attraction of earth heated pools, active geysers and mud pools.

An active mud pool in Te Puia, a Maori village

The AGRODOME! We got to watch an Agriculture show about sheep farming in NZ.

Dad had the guts to pet the sheep, but he looks awfully nervous!

Once we finished buying mom some yarn, I got to go zorbing! Imagine a mix between a roller coaster and a washing machine...great fun!

We flew out of Rotorua the next morning for Queenstown, which was by far my favorite place in NZ. Flying in to Queenstown itself was a very interesting experience. The plane weaves its way through mountains to land at a very tiny airport.

After we got to downtown Queenstown, it had the feel of ski town out west, with a very interesting blend of people and cultures. There were a good number of younger people with seasonal type jobs, a lot of tourists, but also a lot of locals who were genuinely nice and helpful. Queenstown is also known as the extreme capital of the world, but with nasty weather and Mom and Dad there, I decided not to brave the skydiving or bungee jumping.

The top of the gondola in Queenstown (at about 30 degrees F)

Dinner at "The Cow" with our new friends from the wine tour

The first day in Queenstown, Dad and I were supposed to go trout fishing, but the guide called early and told us the weather was too nasty to brave the boats. We decided a wine tour would be a good rainy day activity, and we had a great time and met some new friends. The next day, we did a day trip to Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, several hours from Queenstown. This was probably the coolest place I have ever seen, and pictures do not do justice to the beauty of this place.

This is from mirror lakes, a stop on the way to Milford Sound

This is a waterfall called the Chasm, on the way to Milford sound (if you can't tell, this is looking straight down from the top of the waterfall and on down the creek)

Mom and Dad at a lookout near Milford Sound

Quintessential Milford Sound

Because it was raining, new waterfalls showed up all over the place

This is one of the permanent waterfalls, and it was absolutely beautiful

On the way back from Milford Sound, I was having serious whitewater withdrawals. We passed this awesome class III looking creek, and I would have given anything for a little bit more water and a creek boat. Being in NZ made me seriously miss the whitewater at home.

The next day we had to leave Queenstown behind, and head to Mt. Cook and Christchurch. The drive was fairly monotonous, but we had some great stops along the way.

This is Mt. Cook and Lake Tekapu. Lake Tekapu was the brightest blue green water you have ever seen, mostly from rock flakes in the water that were ground up by glaciers, and what better backdrop than the highest peak in the southern hemisphere.

This is the Church of the Good Shepherd on Lake Tekapu. Pictures weren't allowed inside the church, but from the pews looking to the pulpit through the windows was one of the most spiritual views you could ever ask for.

Overall, New Zealand is by far my favorite place that I have ever travelled to, and I'm sure that I will be back soon to take in the many sights and sounds I did not have time to experience in this short week. It was wonderful to get to see Mom and Dad after two full months away, and it gave me a little push to get me through the rest of the semester.