Friday, November 30, 2007

Mountains to fiords, penguins and dolphins

Queenstown is a stunningly located town. Nestled between ridges of snow-capped mountains, next to a huge weaving, winding lake.

In winter you can ski; in summer, you can bungy, white water raft, skydive, paraglide... the list is endless.

We pootled in our little Spaceship to a DOC conservation campsite next to the lake. It was beautiful - a large stony, wild patch of land about a 15 minute drive from the town. Campers dotted themselves at respectable distances apart - some away from the stream gushing down from the snowy mountain behind us, a few edging the lake like us.

But they all had one advantage over our Spaceship - they could get in and close the doors, use the lights and play cards, drink wine and cook dinner. We had our cooker swung out of the door, sat hunched inside or stood outside batting away the sandflies. We were bitten. A lot. So much so that even a pretty sunset was pretty pointless.

There was plenty to do and see in town - drinking, eating Fergburgers (they really are good), and climbing 1,500 ft up a mountain (in a cable car), to look at the view.

Alex and Kath took to the waters in a jet boat to do 360 degree turns and such like but money prevented me. I was so tempted to do another sjydive, a paraglide or bungy though...

The money was being saved, however, for a trip to Fiordland. A massive national park full of inlets with towering mountains, huge cascading waterfalls and SEVEN METRES OF RAIN A YEAR.

They simply don't bother with millimetres or centimetres. Well, would you if you received the UK's annual rainfall in ONE DAY?!

We decided to visit the less well-known Doubtful Sound rather than the hugely popular Milford Sound (they are, in fact, fiords not sounds - a sound is a flooded valley: a fiord has been carved by glaciers).

ANd so we opted for an overnight cruise along with some blue rinses and binoculared, raincoat-clad weirdos - who all turned out to be rather nice. Apart from the ones who pushed their way to the front of the buffet...

It was the most amazing trip.

It had been raining for five days but, as we approached the fiord, the sun made an attempt to pierce the heavy, burdened grey skies. And succeeded. And so, we were treated to, if not a sun-baked then a sun-warmed, afternoon skirting the edges of the fiord, exploring inlets and peering up at huge cascades of waterfalls - all impermanent. Gallons of water poured from way up high - some as tall as any waterfall you will see around the world. One was said to be falling from 900 metres above us.

We ventured into one arm in kayaks - dipping our paddles into the still water and losening the scarves bundled around our necks as we forged along the walls of the fiord. The sun was hot and we were content to stream along at a lesuirely pace looking up at waterfalls running from the sheer cliffs above us.

All too soon, we had to file back to the boat where we dried off in time for hot soup.

That afternoon we powered out to the place the firod met the roaring Abel Tasman sea - characterised by huge waves bashing the rocks. Here, we saw dozens of seals lazing on stony outcrops.

And then, somehow, the nature guide spotted a Fiordland crested penguin - the rarestt penguin in the world. There are just 2,000 left and they are about 40cm high. We edged close to the tree-covered rocks and eventually made out a tiny blue spot - which was our penguin. He was very tiny and very hard to spot. Well, we could check penguin off our list but we felt a little disappointed not to have seen it closer or more clearly. You could hardly see it was a penguin at all.

But we made our way into a different part of the fiord and into a sheltered arm for dinner. As night drew in, we were commanded out onto the deck where we sat or stood in silence - motors off, lights down - we looked into the twighlight and heard - nothing.

Later that night, Kath, Alex and I went up onto deck again and listened to the birds calling - eventually nature guide Dan joined us and we heard a Kiwi and Wekas.

Night was pecaeful - the three of us had been upgraded to an ensuite cabin - but I woke early to shower and ran upstairs to see the cold first light of the new day. It was breathtakingly beautiful...

The day was misty, cold and wet but it just gave Fiordland a slightly different character.

We saw bottlenost dolphins swimnming into the fiord arm we had just left and later, some came to grab a free ride - surfing on the waves cresting at the bow.

And then we saw some more penguins. Not one or two, but nine. And this time we were able to see them fully - down to the yellow cresting over their eyes. We watched a pair waddling over rocks towards the water and then turned a corner around the island to see another seven. It was just incredible to watch them and I felt really priviledged to see these birds in the wild. Infact, there are none in capitivity.

And then, too soon, it was time to return. But not before we saw a rainbow arced low over the fiord. All rushing to take photos, we suddenly saw a pair of dophins and watched in wonder as they swam right underneath the rainbow - pure magic.

And so, as we returned to Cosmo the spaceship, we didn't want the journey to end. We clambered back in and decided to take the picturessque drive to Milford Sound - through snowy peaks, seeing the huge, green and rather vicious Keas (parrots) and across plains.

And then it was back along the road, camping at Te Anu and then heading towards Christchurch. We wound past Mt Cook, skirting lakes of a vivid blue hue, over mountain passes and past nasty policeman who fined me for driving a little fast...

Christchurch was our last stop and we made the most of our time here by souvenir shopping, riding the tram (a lot), going to craft shops and having dinner by the beach.

And before we knew it, it was Friday, November 30th and I had a 31-hour journey back to Birmingham. A tiring journey that involved a refuelling at Sydney (but flying in at night with the Opera House and harbour bridge made it somewhat worthwhile), a three hour stop at Dubai where I could use the business class lounge, and a seven hour stint back to the UK in business class. I'm never ever travelling another way...

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

fiery sun and cold, cold ice

Busy, busy times in our last two weeks in New Zealand - and indeed, of my travels. This time.

Last weekend, we ventured to Abel Tasman national park; NZ's smallest, but one of its most beautiful in my opinion. Unlike the rugged beauty of the many mountain ranges, the rains, snows and high winds, Abel Tasman has beautiful curves of beach, washes of azure ocean with golden sands and thick forestland just metres from the coastline.

We lucked out and managed to sweet-talk a local landowner into letting us camp on his land down a rough track next to a river, a kiwi plantation and forest. Mountains in the distance, the small town just a minute or two's drive.

The following morning, I took an early water taxi up to Tonga, past a few huge, fat seals lounging on the rocks, and walked along the coastline back towards the town, through beautiful beaches at Bark Bay and eventually ending at Anchorage beach after wading across a tidal estury whose waters were rising rapidly.

I walked alone - Alex's foot was still giving him trouble so he and Kath had taken a boat trip - but there were plenty of trampers going my way or the other.

The sun was hot, the wind low. I believe I even got a little bit of colour... Every now and then the winding, uphill, downhill track would crest and I would peak the ocean before descending into dark forest again. Or edge along rocky tracks with thick bush masking the drop away to the sea.

We drove on south, through the Buller gorge and down to the west coast of the south island.

Here, we skirted the land on winding roads with dramatic storm-laden skies and the wind-swept Tasman ravaging the rocky outcrops which here and there rose up monstrously from the shallower waters.

We pulled up at Pancake Rocks - layered formations of weather-beaten, time-condenced stone with huge blowholes which spout furiously at high tide (we missed it by quite a way but it was still very impressive - the roaring seas still making a splash in the caverns).

And then it was down towards the glaciers. We stopped for the night at a small town close to the beach north of Franz Joseph and camped at a community-run campsite. After watching sunset on the large, pebbly beach with a tin mug of goon, we met a Kiwi girl and her English boyfriend and they indugled us by enjoying in a few rounds of 'I'm a chocolate bar, this is my dance', which soon led to confectionary and ice creams. A great, very random evening.

We ummed and aahed over which glacier to climb and how long Alex's foot would hold out before deciding to climb Fox the following afternoon.

It was a long trek up the side of the mountainous glacier - taking us along boulder-strewn paths with signs such as 'No stopping for the next 30 metres due to rockfall risk, up metal ladders and along a sheer cliff face.

And then we attached crampons to our sturdy borrowed leather boots, picked up a snow pole and climbed onto the glacier - stomping our feet like teenagers to grip the ice.

We climbed ready-hewn steps for about twenty minutes and then turned back. It was a little disappointing - I expected huge ice caverns and caves to wander through instead of pretty much up and over the great ridges.

But the glacier itself was pretty impressive, despite the cloudy afternoon obscuring the top half (at least) and the mountains behind. Such power, such weight and pressure. Interestingly, it is advancing (up to a metre a day) but you can see how much larger the glacier once was 30 years ago, and in the preceeding years as well, from the varying lines of vegetation and rock formation.

The following morning we checked out Franz Joseph glacier from the ground and then headed down to Queenstown.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

skydiving, volcanoes and more...

Lake Taupo is actually a very large crater full of water - and one that could erupt anyday. Like Yellowstone in America, it is well overdue an erruption - and one would change the face of the planet forever.

Odd then that it should be such a calm and peaceful place. A lake where boats zip across the placid waters, kayaks occasionally plough back and forth and all of it serenely overlooked by the three volcanoes in Tongariro National Park.

Perhaps not so odd then that I should chose this place to jump out of a perfectly good plane at 15,000ft.

But this is what I did. After staying the night at a very basic but free and idyllic campsite on the edge of town, I was whisked from the centre to the airport by limo. Here, I saw Hayley and Russ - a couple we'd met along our travels - who were also risking their necks. Kath and Alex drove up to watch the fun from the ground. Wise.

I was partnered up to Mike, a sturdy Kiwi who'd worked in Evesham (few miles from the parents) a few years back. He helped me into a blue sortofa boilersuit, harnessed me up, gave me goggles, a hat, gloves and an oxygen mask... hang on?! An oxygen mask...??!!

Well, into the yellow and blue plane we got. I was attached to Mike as we sat down by a complicated sortofa strap system. We were right at the front, next to the pilot, but facing backwards on long wooden benches. We were at the back because only two of us were 'silly' enough to jump from 15,000ft (the others opting for 12,000ft).

Then it was up, up and away... the small airplane rising swiftly (an odd sensation when facing backwards) and we rose high above the lake, banking into it as we rose higher and higher.

We were getting alarmingly high and at around this point, they opened the doors and off pinged the first two or three tandems. Until one guy couldn't go. His hand was welded to the bar above the door. His mind would just not let his body go.

We slammed the doors shut and banked sharply - going around for second shot. Again, he could not do it. Hayley's instructor was shouting at the guy's tandem partner to get out of the way. I was beginning to think I could not take banking again and all this waiting... I was beginning to get nervous. He moved back - they were not going to jump. Hayley was soon out of the door.

Suddenly the door slammed down again and Mike was telling me to put the oxygen mask over my mouth as we climbed to 15,000ft.

As Jen, a 70-year-old hero of a woman, moved forward to the door, so Mike and I inched forward.

Then she was gone. I was last. Mike was shifting me towards the door. I wanted to grab something, anything but realised just seconds from my hand becoming fixed to that bar that I had to grab the straps of my harness or the same would happen to me... Sat on Mikes lap I was shoved to the door where he sat at the edge - my legs dangling into the rushing wind - it was bloody breezy up there and freezing cold.

Everything looked very, very small below.

And then he pushed off from the edge and I was screaming as we plunged towards the ground. Arms out, head eyes kept straying to the very small lake below us - which was rapidly getting larger. I looked over to what could have been snow-capped volcanoes, or clouds... Who knew. It was blowy and fast. The wind, the air was whistling past me.

Over 60 seconds of freefall but it went so fast. Then there was a tug. We stopped abruptly. And there above us burst a bright red parachute. We slowed. It was quiet.

I was moved into a sitting position by Mike and slowly we turned on the thermals. Mike directed the way we soared and we swung out over the lake.

Then, we turned back towards the airport and slowly, and gracefully came in to land. Softly, gently with hardly a bump. Amazing.

No rest for the wicked however. That afternoon, after a peaceful lunch by the lake, we drove towards the mountains and to the village of Whakapapa, on the slopes of the volcano.

For the next day we were to attempt the Tongariro crossing - a one day serious alpine hike, tramp over the Tongariro volcano.

Tuesday dawned cloudy and damp. The shuttles to the start of the route were running but they warned us to be prepared. We had seriously rugged up and borrowed thermal waterprood trousers, bought thick gloves and had supplies of food and water to feed a small army.

The man at the campsite thought we were crazy. "I'd only go if I wanted to prove to myself I could do it in bad weather," he told Katherine. But the forecast was worse for the following day - so we set out determining to turn back if the weather turned bad.

It was very cold and grey but we trudged up the steep sides of the mountain - battling fierce winds up the Devil's staircase into the south crater. Snow capped peaks were visible through the swirling mists. It was surreal.

We started to climb the ridge of the red crater and met up with a hardy, older Scottish couple who advised to keep left to avoid being blown into the depths of the other crater. It was a little scary but we all ploughed on together. We neared the top of that ridge - the point of no return - and were surrounded by cloud. We crossed another ridge where the wind whipped around us. Sheer drops to either side. It was more frightening than jumping out of a plane.

And then the clouds cleared as we slid down the soft sands on the other side. A blue lake in the distance over the main crater was revealed and, below us, three small emerald-green lakes. The snow-covered sides of the crater were visible and the sun shone down just long enough for us to have a snack.

Then we ploughed on through snow and rocky ground. We ate lunch and the wind and clouds returned so that, even next to it, we couldn't see the blue lake any longer.

We walked on past small glaciers and ridges of snow and then down a winding tracks through the bush and into the forests below. It was a full-on day-long walk. It was around 5pm by the time we returned to our car - we had left it at 8am.

That night, snow fell around the campsite and we awoke to a winter wonderland. Blizzards raged on the moutainsides and we could no longer see the peaks. So off we trotted south towards Wellington (returning twice for lost things) where we met up with Russ and Hayley again and had a few days chilling at a backpackers, going for a few drinks and seeing a live band or two, walking along the harbour and looking over the city from a high viewpoint.

On Frida, we took a ferry across the Cook Strait with Russ and Hayley - leaving behind the north island for the rest of the trip.

The last hour or so of the trip was idyllic as we cruised through the Queen Charlotte Sound. Still waters, high green mountains on either side of the channel and blue skies...

We spent that night at a DOC (dept of conservation) campsite next to one of the inlets in the sound - a peaceful spot haunted by weka birds and ducks and which we had virtually to ourselves.

Saturday, we took a bus trip of the wineries of Marlborough - where they make my favourite wine - Sauvignon Blanc. We tasted Cloudy Bay and Villa Maria and several boutique wines, had a wonderful lunch at Hunters winery and returned feeling happy and a little giddy! So far, so good. I'll update with more news soon...

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

and to New Zealand...

My arrival in New Zealand was not too triumphant. My Emirates flight (uncharacteristically rude staff and poor service) landed at Auckland airport and I promptly threw up...

Not too good an omen.

But I had been feeling rather ill the past few days and hadn't even been able to drink... must have been all that running on the beach.

After a long ride into town through rush hour, I arrived at Danielle's sisters workplace - which had a stunning view over Auckland harbour. Sailing boats caught the breeze in the afternoon sunshine. All I cared about was where the toilet was...

But it was lovely to see Danielle's sisters. Jen I last saw on Danielle's birthday in February, and Laura at Christmas in Sydney. They took me to Jen's house and put me to bed.

I spent a few lazy days in Auckland visiting markets, going to pizza and drinks with the girls at Viaduct Harbour and on K Road (the trendy red-light area), visiting Laura's house, chilling out and watching Friends dvds.

At the weekend the three of us decamped to the Coromandel Peninsula along with Jen's housemate and Laura's boyfriend. We drove to a friend's Bach (as in Batchelor pad or holiday home) at Cook's Beach and all piled into the bunkhouse there.

Grant was having a clean-up weekend and we had come down to help in the garden in exchange for the use of his house and entertainment.

And entertained we were. After a morning pruning bushes, picking up weeds and cuttings, washing the outside of the house and entertaining the children of Grant's friends Bruce and Nicole, we visited a lookout over Cook's Beach and later went out on his speedboat.

The day had brightened and it was hot and sunny by the time we got out onto the water. We sped around to famous Cathedral Cove (big hole in a rock) and to another cave which we backed into.

And then we arrived at a blowhole where Jen, Laura, Gronya, Javier and I jumped into the icy water (18C) and snorkelled through a cave to the blowhole - lying on our backs to look up to the sky, sunshine and trees above.

The following day, we drove to Hot Water Beach - a place where you could dig a hole in the sand and it would fill with hot - sometimes scalding water. Except you had to know where to dig. Too far away and the water was icy. Too close and it was boiling. Too close to the ocean (like mine and Jen's hole), and it filled with the occasional bracing wave as well as the bath-like water.

On Monday (Nov 5th), I met my friend Kath and her brother Alex to pick up our car for our camping trip. They had flown out from the UK the previous day and we all met to inspect our Spaceship - a converted people carrier with a pod atop for additional sleeping.

We set out full of hope and pomp and joy at being on the road - but it soon turned to horror as the rain began to lash down as we drove north to the Bay of Islands.

It hardly let up for days.

Putting up the bed and pod was a challenge at our first campsite but at least we had camp kitchen facilities instead of using our two ring gas stove in the wet and cold. It would have been very picturesque - parked by the sea and beach - had it not been quite so miserable weather-wise.

The following day we caught the car-ferry across to Russell - the former capital of NZ and once a rough and rowdy port. These days it's much quieter and rather a quaint seaside town - also home to the oldest pub in the country. We drove up to a viewpoint over the bay on Flagstaff hill and then wandered the arts and crafts shops and stopped for a cuppa.

The weather making it not worth dishing out for a boat trip, we drove to Aphipura in search of the sun. At a nice campsite here, we made a feast and chilled out and met a couple from Hastings - Hayley and Russell.

Wednesday morning we hopped aboard Aphipura Sand Safari bus - a trip up to Cape Reinga and along 90-mile beach. It was pouring with rain and the three of us and a Scottish couple were the only passengers.

After visiting a pretty natural harbour in misty rain, we stopped for huge ice creams and the sun began attempting to break through the gloom. We kept meeting up with R&H's tour on the route, which then took us through forests, over hills and gave us peeks at both the Tasman and Pacific Oceans, to a pretty and quiet bay where we had lunch, chased seagulls and enjoyed the hot sunshine which had made a timely appearance.

Then it was off to the blowy Cape where a lighthouse stands watch over the meeting of the two oceans at this most northerly point. To the west was a long stunning beach with mountainous sand dunes.

These we were later to toboggan down - much to my distress and eventual delight!

After a drive down the Te Paka stream with its sinking sands, we were on 90-mile beach (which is actually only 60 miles long!) for a run back to the campsite.

We hit the road that evening and made a trip through the forests and mountains while it was still light. It is in this part of NZ the ancient Kauri trees are found. These are buried trees thousands of years old which have been dug up and make stunning furniture. There is only an estimated 50 years worth of supply left - yet they make everything from honey spoons to door stops and souvenir eggs from the wood.

We camped in a layby by a stunning natural harbour and the following day drove to Waitomo.

Here, we took a Spellbound tour to caves under the limestone hills to see glow worms. We walked through one cave with its stalagmites and stalagtites, pools and bones of now-extinct birds (the moa), goats, cows, hawks and so on. Then we walked through another cave and into a boat where, once the lights were out, we saw the ceiling glowing as the night-sky never has. Thousands upon thousands of larvae were emiting a beautiful blueish light. It was truly spectacular.

Then, it was off to Rotorua. We spent yesterday exploring the town, drinking coffee and then visiting the zorb site. Here, I rolled down a zig-zagged track on a hill in a large plastic ball.

There is an outer ball and an inner-one which I jumped into with alot of water... and then there I went, sloshing down the hill in this rather large hamsterball. Great fun.

Today (Sunday, Nov 11), we visited Wai-o-tapu - a geothermal 'wonderland'. Here, we saw bubbling mud pools, the champagne pool (a large misting, fizzy lake which is 62m deep and 74C formed by a hydrothermal erruption! Around the edges were the deep oranges, yellows and greens formed by gold, silver, arsenic, mercury and so on), the devil's bath (a bright green pool) and the Lady Knox Geyser which spouted about 12m.

Now we are at Lake Taupo... more exciting things to come!!

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Monday, October 29, 2007

full circle

So, back in Sydney. Back in Manly. The sun is shining and everything is familiar and comnforting and beautiful.

Back at Manly backpackers - a new lick of paint, a few things moved around but still the same old place. Music cranked up on weekend days. Lively, lovely people. Full of Poms and some of the old crew - Paul and Michelle, Jimbo and Ash, Russ, Lindon and Tall Guy...

The bus journey was hell - 14 hours long overnight and very little sleep but good company in the form of a Scotsman I met on the Nimbin trip and an Irish girl. We drove in from the north, down the freeway until there it was - the harbour stretching out infront of us. Small boats bobbing along, ferries chugging back and forth, Tthe Opera House winking away in the sunshine. The bridge stood proudly over it all and I felt full of emotion and fondness and awe. It felt like a triumphant return.

Back on the ferry to Manly - that trip I did everyday with Danielle and we took together last February as we headed south for a new adventure. How much had happened since. How many things I have seen and how much distance I have covered, these were turning over in my mind as I came 'home'.

Because Manly is just a beautiful place - a stunning beach, lovely wharf, great shops and trendy cafes, average but fun nightlife and a real community feel. There was the Honolulu Grill where Steven took me for lunch on the day I arrived and there were the volleyball nets where we used to sit and sunbathe at the weekends. In the distance is Shelley Beach - host to many, many barbecues - not least that on Christmas Day with Danielle and her family and our close friends.

If this post is self-indulgent - screw it. I've had an amazing time in New Zealand. I've seen penguins and dugongs, watched whales breach in two different oceans, swam with whalesharks and seen countless kangeroos, emus, kookaburras, snakes, spiders and lorikeets.

I've eaten bushtucker and learned about aboriginal art, life, culture. I've climbed to the top of an amazing waterfall (Jim Jim) and slept in a swag in the outback.

I've flown over the desert and barrier reef, and helicoptered over the amazing Bungle Bungles. I've flown a plane and ridden a chopper in 1770. I've dived one of the world's best wreck dives (SS Yongala) and scuba-ed on the Great Barrier Reef.

I've tasted amazing wines at Margaret River and average ones at Hunter Valley. I've cooked snags on a stone in a campfire in the Blue Mountains and worked in the rat race at Darling Harbour.

I've waited tables, poured pints, made beds, worked in a strip club, pandered to doctors and production managed magazines for a massive company.

I've made lifelong friends and met people from all over.

And now it is over.


This weekend I've met up with Steve again, drank red wine with him,smoked a shisha with him and joined him and John for a 4.5km run at 7am along the soft sands at Manly followed by breakfast at the Honolulu grill.

I don't ever want to leave. But I really do. I have four weeks in New Zealand to come and then home to see all my family and friends for Christmas. It's not such a bad life...

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Friday, October 26, 2007

city living to the hippy life...

Ok ok, a long time between posts I know. Settle down - it's because my life has been fairly routine of late.

Well, if you can call strip clubs, trashing hotel bedrooms, visiting the marjuana capital of Australia, dressing up in army gear and spending an inordinate amount of time sleeping routine...

I arrived in Brisbane full of the joys of the coast and it was a shock to be back in a big city again. Not since Melbourne, or Perth at a push, have I had such a choice of shops, bars, restaurants and felt the vibe of city living.

It was repelling in its dirty busy-ness, its distance from the beach and cost of living there. BUt I was drawn in by the compulsion to return to that kind of 'real' life where people go to work and spend more than $3 on dinner.

But Brisbane was a stranger experience than I imagined. I was delighted to find old Manly friends Wolsy, Frenchie and Sheep at Brisbane City Backpackers. The big orange building was a great place to meet people and I met a wicked crowd of people. I decided to stay and wait until my friend Fiona (Perth and Darwin) arrived.

I liked it. I got a job cleaning hostel bedrooms. Not too taxing you might think - bit of hoovering, making beds in private rooms and dusting. Ha. My first day I realised I was alone doing this and spent the next eight hours biting my tongue. It was a long, long day and the pay? abysmal. A week's accommodation ($145) plus about $220 cash for long days, six days a week. Oh and half price drinks at the bar. I gave it up after that first day...

Fiona arrived and was installed by a rich friend in a plush appartment in the city centre. The two-bed place had a pool, spa, gym, lovely lounge and kitchen - we were in our element for the week we had it. Going back to a backpackers has never been so hard.

I went for a job working in the bar at an upmarket strip club and took it. Pretty good pay and tips and a few weeks later, a clearer understanding of men (or should that be pigs?) and more easily able to distinguish a fake boob from the real McCoy.

On my last weekend, Fiona and I were taken to Surfers Paradise by a friend. It was Indy weekend and the place had a huge buzz. Thousands had descended on the Gold Coast town for the race weekend and we were lucky enough to be there.

Our friend, lets call him Eric, had vouchers for a couple of rooms in Jupiters Conrad Casino at Broadbeach - one had views over to the towers of the city and the other had ocean views. It was pretty nice. We ordered room service, drank vintage Moet and dressed up for an evening at the Team Australia party (they had plenty to celebrate as they were in pole position for the big race).

The three of us set off in a stretch limo to meet Eric's friends at the Marriott. There, a small gathering of girls and boys were drinking Moet and having it constantly brought up by room service. They ordered pizza, we ordered Dom Perignon and drank it on the balcony overlooking the city and later watched them do lines of coke in the bathroom - it seemed rather rock and roll.

A few hours later we dragged Eric and two of his friends out. We jumped in another limo (a larger one this time) and headed to find the party. It all seemed a bit much effort - we couldn't see it - and so we ended up heading to Hollywood Showgirls - a very nice Gentleman's club.

The boys ordered more Dom Perignon at the request of Fiona (a lady with fine taste in champagne) and I settled back to watch the very "interesting" stageshows on the catwalk.

Lets just say when we left the club it was daylight. We walked to the beach and then headed back to the casino.

However, here drama and chaos ensused. Eric was annoyed I had not spent time with him and had come back annoyed and worried where I was. Fiona was calming him when I was out of the room when he apparently gave her a slap round the face. He denied it when I walked in - she was screaming at him and overturned some tables, smashed a few things, called him a lot of names, laughed at him and stormed out. I ran after her and we legged it out with a few bottles from the minibar to a cab to the station and a very giggly trainride home.

After a dodgy breakfast, we slept alot that day.

And so, on Tuesday, I headed for Byron Bay. What a contrast - the beach on the doorstep, surfy shops and cool boutiques and everything rather expensive but all rather fun.

There is a terrible backpackers nightclub here - very like the Woolshed in Cairns and Downunder Bar in Brisbane - called Cheeky Monkeys. So I have obviously been there a few times and danced on the tables.

Swedish Jenny arrived on Tuesday evening and so we have caught up on two months worth of gossip.

Yesterday, we went to Nimbim. Around 20 years ago, police in NSW town of Newcastle drove all the hardcore druggies out of the city and they came to Nimbin - an inland town.

Police were beside themselves in Nimbin and came down hard even on the people selling their weed and hash cookies. Eventually, the locals told the police they would drive the druggies out - but only if they were allowed leeway to sell and consume their marjuana. The police agreed, the heroin users were pushed out and a hippy vibe prevails.

Walk around the musuem and be offered cookies, cake, weed, pipes etc etc. Walk down the street and be confronted by old women selling their wares. Walk into souvenir shops for your bongs, pipes, rizzlas of every shape, size, flavour...

Smoke a joint at the bar of the hotel, sign up to legalise cannabis for medical reasons at any number of shops and browse the selection of herbal remedies at Happy High Herbs... that's Nimbin. It's all highly illegal of course and an interesting social experiment. I wonder how long it will last...

And so this evening I complete my circle and arrive back in Sydney (well, ok techincally tomorrow I get there). A 13.5 hr busride. can't wait...

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Friday, October 05, 2007


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