13.11.2016 - 19.11.2016
Sunday, 13 November
Despite having been out late with Shane and Renee the night before, I was up somewhat early (and far early that I had hoped), waking up around 08:00. I had a slight hangover, but nothing too terrible (and certainly nothing compares to that morning on Zanzibar!).
I went out to get a light breakfast and some coffee while I waited to hear from Mat and Kelly. They had been out the night before at his company’s annual party, so I expected that we’d all be dragging this morning. Kelly ended up staying at home so she could rest, but Mat came into the city around 14:00.
The weather was rather crappy and it rained most of the afternoon. Mat drove us into some of the outlying neighborhoods of Melbourne, which I enjoyed getting to see. My favorite area was Fitzroy, where we spent some time walking along the street and looking at the shops. We stopped in a local bar, the Naked for Satan; the bar was amazing and had such a unique atmosphere. The walls were decorated with vintage snuff photos, both men and women. We grabbed a beer before heading out to further explore the city.
We explored a bit more before stopping in the Middle Eastern area to relax with some shisha; we got apple flavor that was served in a hollowed-out apple. None of the shisha in Melbourne can contain tobacco, which made it far less harsh and more enjoyable. Our next stop was to grab a quick bite to eat before Mat dropped me back at the hostel.
It was getting late in the afternoon by this point, but I decided to head back out for one last stroll around the city. I decided to just retrace my steps and revisit some of the places that I enjoyed the most. My first stop was the Pilgrim Bar, where I’d met Shane and Renee the day before. The bar served good beer, but it was the location, right on the river, that I enjoyed the most. It was quite deserted in the late afternoon, so I just had one beer before continuing on. I meandered around the CBD area for about an hour before finally returning to the hostel, where I packed up and prepared to leave early the following morning.
Monday, 14 November
Today I caught an early flight to Cairns, in the northeast of Australia. We landed just before noon and I reached my hotel in less than hour after that. I was immediately struck by how hot and humid the city was, far different than the chilly weather of Melbourne!
After checking in and changing clothes, I went out with the intention of lounging on the beach. Cairns is nestled among the mountains, right next to the Pacific Ocean. To my disappointment, I found that there was no proper beach in Cairns – in fact, the tide was out when I got to the waterfront and the water recedes quite some ways from the shoreline (several hundred meters). I resolved to just walk along the esplanade area along the waterfront, which was a pleasant enough walk.
The city had built a large public pool at the end of the walkway, complete with fountains and even a sandy beach area lining it. The pool was packed with people, as was the surrounding grassy fields. People were finding any way to escape from the heat! I stopped in a local coffee shop to cool off and do some reading before walking around the city a bit more.
Cairns is not a particularly remarkable city; it is a small beach resort town, very similar to what we have in the States. I went out for Chinese food for dinner, finally satisfying a craving that I’d been having for several weeks. The food was ok; not the best, but ok. While walking back to my hotel I stumbled upon a German restaurant that served some good imported beer – including Lowenbrau! I grabbed one quick drink and then went back to the hotel to get some much needed sleep.
On the way, I remembered that tonight was to be the “super moon” event, when the moon would be closer to Earth than it had been for 70 years, making it appear far larger in the night sky. Several people were lined up along the esplanade to watch the moon and I joined them. The view was spectacular! The moon rose over the mountains to the east and was massive! I tried to snap a few photos, but none of them did justice to the awesome sight.
Tuesday, 15 November
I had a full day tour planned for today, heading up the coast to see the Daintree Rainforest. The tour started early and I was picked up shortly after 07:00. The tour guide was an upbeat, energetic guy named Marc; he added a lot of personality and humor to the day – definitely one of the best tour guides I’ve had.
Our first stop was at a wildlife reserve, which was very similar to the park we visited in Sydney. This park was larger and better organized, but they had fewer animals on display. The park was divided up into different sections based upon habitat (rainforest, forest, wetlands, etc). Each section contained the animals that usually live there. They had a few koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, and a monstrous crocodile. I walked around the entirety of the park and then made my way back to the bus.
Our next stop was at a gorge in the Forest, where we took a separate shuttle to go further into the forest before taking a short hike. Marc guided us around, explaining about the various different trees and animals that live there. We saw a forest dragon, which is a small lizard. As we walked closer to the water, we saw several large spiders; thankfully they were far enough away that I didn’t get scared of them. There were several people swimming in various areas of the water.
We had a 90-minute drive to reach our lunch stop; thankfully I’d booked the option with lunch included. At the start of the tour we were able to pick our meal from a small selection: chicken, steak, or kangaroo. I went with the kangaroo, of course. Lunch was at a small resort hotel deep in the Forest, but also right on the beach. The kangaroo steak was quite delicious; the meat it very tender and not gamey at all. After eating, I went for a walk along the beach, which was rather deserted, making it a calming and serene 45 minutes.
Our next to last stop of the day was at an overlook, providing us views of the rainforest and the ocean. During this stop, Marc found some ants crawling along the fence and explained that the rear of the ants is very acidic and rich in vitamin C, but the ants also bite. He killed several ants and let us try licking their butts to taste the acidic area; it was a fun experience.
Finally, we took an hour-long boat ride along the river to try and spot crocodiles. Having seen so many crocs in the wild in Africa, I was unenthusiastic about this portion of the tour. The boat captain was quite discouraged because he had done eight tours that day and only seen two juvenile crocs during the entire day. We spotted the same two crocs, who were quite small. They were both near the shoreline, swimming along, hunting for food.
We then drove back to Cairns, arriving shortly before 18:00. I stopped for a quick bite to eat and then a walk along the esplanade on my way back to the hotel.
Wednesday, 16 November
Another full-day tour planned for today, but this one took me out to the Great Barrier Reef and Green Island. Thankfully the tour didn’t begin until 09:00, giving me time to sleep in.
The boat was packed with a group of Chinese tourists, but I was lucky enough to find a lone seat still available. The boat took roughly an hour to reach Green Island and the trip over was quite rough. The water was choppy, rocking the boat around; I spent the entire ride with my eyes closed, listening to music, trying not to get sick. I was so happy when we finally reached Green Island.
I had roughly 45 minutes before lunch was to be served on the boat, so I spent the time relaxing on the beach. The water was crystal clear, beautiful shades of blue and green. It was the most beautiful beach and ocean that I’ve seen (so far). I could see the Great Barrier Reef through the water, including several fish. Green Island is actually part of the Reef; it is a sandy outcropping on the Reef itself.
Lunch was a decent buffet on the boat, with a variety of hot dishes. Once I was finished, I spent the next hour walking around the entire island. There was a beach area with chairs and umbrellas, but these had to be rented out. The walk around the island took about 45 minutes and I was the only person walking around for much of that time. The views were breathtakingly stunning.
At 13:15 I returned to the boat for the first boat tour of the day. The first tour was in a semi-sub boat around the Great Barrier Reef. We boarded the smaller boat and headed down into the seats, which sat below the water level; windows lined the room, providing us close-up views of the Reef and the fish. The tour lasted 30 minutes and we were able to see tons of fish swimming around; many would come right up to the windows.
Immediately after the semi-sub tour ended, I boarded the glass-bottom boat for another 30-minute trip around the Reef. This boat didn’t allow us to see as much as the semi-sub, but we did get to see a turtle swimming around. A kid on the boat, maybe 12 or 13, screamed and shouted when we saw the turtle; the scream startled everyone onboard – it sounded like a scream of terror.
After returning to shore, I spent the short amount of time remaining walking around and relaxing. The ride back to Cairns was – thankfully – not as bad as the morning. We left Green Island at 15:45, arriving back in Cairns around 17:00.
Thursday, 17 November
Today I left Australia and flew to New Zealand. Nothing eventful or remarkable happened during the day. The flight was direct – one of the few direct flights out of Cairns – and I arrived in Auckland around 17:00. I took the SkuBus into the city and then walked over to my hotel.
I was staying at the Shakespeare Hotel and Brewery, right in the heart of the CBD. The hotel portion was quite nice, but it was the bar on the ground floor that was the true highlight. They brewed a couple beers on-site and served several others.
I didn’t do anything during the evening; I spent the time unwinding at the hotel, having a beer in the bar downstairs.
Friday, 18 November
My plans for today centered around taking the ferry over to a couple of the islands nearby and hiking around them. I walked down to the waterfront after breakfast, planning to board the ferry directly, but then I noticed several signs advertising the 75th Anniversary Celebration for the Royal New Zealand Navy. There were several events planned for the weekend as representatives of navies from around the world had come to participate.
On the schedule for today was a parade down Queen Street of the bands and military members from all of the naval forces in attendance. The parade was set to begin at 11:30, so I decided to skip going out to the islands in order to watch the parade; I could visit the islands tomorrow. I had a short time to waste until the parade began, so I stopped in to grab some coffee. As the time for the parade neared, I noticed that Queen Street was still full of traffic. I did a Google search and discovered that the parade had been cancelled! The organizers decided to cancel the parade in response to the earthquake that hit the South Island last week in which a couple people died. I’m not quite sure how canceling the parade did anything, but I was disappointed. I checked the ferry schedule and I had missed the last ferry to the main island (there are only a few going out early in the morning), so I decided to spend the day wandering around town.
Auckland doesn’t have many sights to see and I soon decided to do some clothes shopping. Most of my clothes were far too big for me and I wanted to get some clothes that actually fit. I stopped in several stores and found nothing that I liked or that was affordable (one store wanted $150 NZD for a simple t-shirt, which I refuse to consider paying). I stumbled upon Cotton On, which had several great shirts at really low prices. I also found a smaller store nearby, where I bought a new hoodie and a couple shirts. The sales guy who helped me was very friendly (and clearly gay); he even just hung around and chatted with me for a little bit…. Perhaps flirting?
Everyone I spoke with in Auckland called me (and every other guy) “bro” all the time. “What’s going on, bro?” “How’s your day going, bro?” “Paying with credit card, bro?” “This is a good beer, bro.” It was really… interesting that it was so common for people to use that word. All I could think of was South Park:
I’m not your friend, buddy.
I’m not your buddy, guy.
I’m not your guy, friend.
I would add in: “I’m not your bro, guy!”
By late afternoon I had run out of things to do, so I opted to see the movie “Doctor Strange” before dinner. The movie was visually stunning, but overall I found it to be boring (I was struggling to stay awake during the second half). The theater was decently full and several people were munching their goddamn popcorn, necessitating my moving around a few times to escape the sound of their chewing.
Saturday, 19 November
Today the weather was far from ideal: cold and rainy, which ruined my plans for heading out to the islands to hike around. I could have done the hiking in the cold, but I didn’t have the clothes for the rain. I was rather disappointed, but I found that there was a naval vessel review scheduled for the afternoon, so I decided to go and see that.
I walked down to the waterfront in the morning and visited the free naval exhibit that was setup in The Cloud, an exhibition space on one of the piers. The exhibit chronicled the 75-year history of the Royal New Zealand Navy through a series of photos and videos. There was a large section devoted to the integration of women into the general armed forces (rather than having two separate groups for the genders); it was nice to see how the process evolved and was embraced by the military.
When I left the exhibit, I was disappointed to see that the weather had worsened. The wind had picked up and the rain was coming down harder (not a downpour, but unpleasant to be in, even with an umbrella). One of the naval vessels was having some sort of ceremony nearby, with the sailors standing at attention; I wanted to stay and watch, but it was miserable standing around outside.
I went into town a little bit and found a small restaurant to have brunch. I ordered the French toast, which was topped with cooked bananas and bacon, with a side of peanut butter and syrup. The flavors blended so well; it was rich and decadent and delicious! It was very filling and I could barely finish it, but it was too tasty to waste.
By this point I’d missed the naval review, which I’d decided to do before brunch. The weather was just too awful to stand outside and watch the ships in the harbor. I had given thought to taking the free shuttle out to the aquarium, but the shuttle timings would have left me with only 30 minutes or so in which to explore the aquarium, so I opted to skip that idea.
I walked around the city for a little bit, but the wind picked up, so I went to grab a coffee to warm up with; I spent some time reading and working as well. After a little while the weather improved (well, the wind and rain stopped), just as night was coming on. I grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading back to the hotel so I could pack and head to bed early.
I went down to the bar and had one final drink to celebrate my travels. Four months had flown by all too quickly. The prospect of returning to the United Stated was not one that I welcomed - I would rather continue traveling indefinitely. Alas, all things must come to an end. Though this was the end of this epic adventure, it has merely whetted my appetite. Bigger and better things are in store for me in the no-so-distant future!
However, I still have the four day stopover in my wonderful Seattle to help ease me back into life in the States...