http://picasaweb.google.com/rohrer.n/Sydney# (bunch of new pictures)
http://www.youtube.com/llamallama781 (2 vids, one from way back, and one recent one of me trying to play the didgeridoo)
Sydney revisited, and the start to my kiwi adventure!
Leon and I kicked off our return to Sydney successfully by attending a couchsurfing picnic on Balmoral beach. For those who aren't familiar with couchsurfing, it's an online community (almost a million strong worldwide) of worldly, friendly people. As a member, while traveling, you can find local members that have a couch free that you can crash on for a night or two, free of charge. In return, when you are home and want to be nice or meet some new people, you can list your own couch as empty, and people can message you to request your couch. That's only the beginning of couchsurfing though. Members understand that hotels and hostels don't give you a local's perspective of the city, so hosts frequently invite surfers out to hang out with them and their friends, or see the city.
The first thing that concerns everyone when they hear about couchsurfing is safety, and that's understandable. Besides a rather thorough verification process to confirm your identity and a vouching process by other members, there are also couchsurfing events (hosted by any member) where surfers can meet other surfers and hosts to get to know them better before one requests a couch to crash on. At the picnic we met a number of travelers and locals that we wound up spending a lot of time with for the rest of our stay in Sydney. A number of them had completed three-month+ trips all around the world exclusively using couchsurfing as accommodation.
Waiting in line for the botanical gardens
Before we knew it new year's eve had arrived! We met up with Paula, a friend from the CS picnic, and two of her friends to go wait in line to get into the botanical gardens next to the opera house. Without a doubt, this was the longest line I have ever waited in – it took 5 hours to get into the gardens, where we had the pleasure of...waiting for another 9 hours (for the fireworks)! It was a fun afternoon though – twenty thousand people all happy and socializing the time away until the new year. All together there were 1.5 million people around the harbor – Sydney is very proud of its fireworks, and I must admit it was a very impressive show.
Swarms of people looking forward to a new year
We had a few days before we were off to New Zealand, so we did two things that were left on the list: Renting & sailing a hobiecat, and walking the 10k 'Manly beach scenic walk'.
It had been too long since I last went out on a hobiecat
Sailing the hobiecat was tons of fun. I have sailed them a bunch and it was certainly the choppiest water and strongest winds I have endured. I also showed Leon how to sail and he is now obsessed with it – we are hoping to do it again many times in NZ.
Looking back and out during the Manly Beach Scenic Walk
The Manly beach scenic walk was also a great way to spend a day. Along the way we stopped for a quick swim in one of Sydney's salt-water pools which was one of my things-to-do while in Sydney. It left me with a great impression of Sydney – downtown and the surrounding suburbs all seemed so beautiful. I wish I had had more time to visit the Blue Mountains and other countryside, but I guess that's something to leave for next time!
Off to the land of the kiwi
We were up early to catch out flight but we just barely made it in time (we underestimated the amount of air traffic that goes out of sydney after new year's). I wanted to stay awake for the flight to see the New Zealand coast approaching, but I was asleep about 15 seconds after takeoff. I think I'm getting better at sleeping on planes now that I'm getting lots of practice – but my neck is paying the price (a chronic neck pain finally came back that I had over the summer). It was very cool waking up and opening the window to see huge jagged white-tipped peaks on the horizon, though (see my photo album for more).
I was greeted at customs with a mandatory shoe cleaning! Leon's boots passed inspection but mine were housing some dirt in the nooks of my treads, so they insisted on cleaning them. On our way out, I was happy to discover an icebreaker store right in the airport so I could replace some of the clothing I have lost (the list is rather long). I picked up a new T shirt, long sleeve shirt, and sweater which are all awesome (you can judge for yourself in the pictures).
Queenstown is great. We were warned that it is touristy – and it is – but that's ok as long as I'm not living there. It's a ski town in the winter, but still gets lots of tourism during the summer because it's fairly cool there, and there are many adventure/adrenaline oriented things to do. It's not big – 15,000 people in the low season, 60,000 in the high – but is surrounded by a beautiful glacial lake and a mountain chain appropriately named 'The Remarkables'.
We've only been here a couple days but have managed to have a great time. The first evening, after exploring the area on our own, we met up with Henrik – a 26 year old poker player/traveler that ditches Sweden during their long winters and travels to warmer, brighter destinations. He's been here a couple months now and told us many valuable tips about where to go and what to see. The three of us grabbed dinner, and have since spent a lot of time hanging out with him (any excuse to go to his awesome apartment overlooking Queenstown and the lake).
I'm the black thing plummeting towards the ground...
If Queenstown is most famous for one summer activity, it's for the bungy jumping (where it all started). I had been skydiving once and loved it, but had been sketched out about bungy jumping. Well, I was bored and in need of a rush, so I went ahead and booked the biggest jump they have here and it was completely mind-blowing. It was a 134 meter fall, and the first few seconds of it (before the cord tenses) felt like they lasted milliseconds and hours at the same time. As long as the company is reputable, I highly recommend it for anyone seeking a rush!
Today we met up with Henrik in the morning and hiked the Ben Lomond trail behind Queenstown. We had been told to allow 7-8 hours for it so we were a bit intimidated, especially when we saw the peak. However, it turned out to be a demanding but short hike. With a couple water breaks and a lunch break at the top, we were back to the gondola that returned to Queenstown after three and a half hours. The hike was a great way to warm up for Leon and my first trek ('Routeburn' trek, one of NZ's 'Great Walks') that we start on the eighth.
Panorama looking down to Queenstown from the summit of Ben Lomond
Leon, me, and Henrik, at the peak
We have a lot of things planned in the near future besides the treks. Before we leave the area we plan on spending a couple days at Milford Sound. It's supposed to be amazing there and we are hoping to fit in some kayaking and diving. After that, we'll explore the rest of the south island by car (or campervan!) before heading north and doing the same.
I hope all has been well with you guys – drop me a message letting me know what's new and how your new year's went!
Super quick update – it's 2:30 AM and we are getting up at 6 to catch the bus to start our trek so I have to get to sleep – today we spent nearly all of the day getting our rental gear, buying some new gear, arranging transport, and packing for the trek. Things are going well – I'll be back on the afternoon of the 10th (evening of the 9th for most of you) – talk to you guys then!