Kiwis and Castles

Saturday, February 18, 2006


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Monday, February 13, 2006

It's Monday morning and I'm sitting in the library in Canberra. I came here to see a National Treasures display which I've just found out closed yesterday. So now I'm not really sure what else there is to see in the library and I might head across the park to the National Archives or the Art Museum. There is also Questacon - like an Aussie Science World - which sounds like more fun.

Over the weekend I went with Alistair's girlfriend (Kylie)'s family to Lake Burrinjuck over in New South Wales. When the resevoir is full it apparently holds more water than Sydney Harbour, but the government is letting out about 1% per day for irrigation of rice fields. The water level this weekend was about 39% but it was still huge. Everyone went waterskiing and kneeboarding except poor old me who had to settle for some calm tube rides. It was still a lot of fun though. It reminded me of our old cottage on Lake Simcoe because at night we just sat around and talked and play cards and made fun of each other.

A highlight (and lowlight, as I'll explain in a minute) of the weekend was the kangaroos. They were all over the park and they were the first that I'd seen other than in the Zoo in Wisconsin. They were brown and most of them were a bit shorter than me when standing on their back legs. The majority were friendly, too, except this one male I had some issues with. Kylie and I were walking to the office of the park camp site and came across a male, a female, and a baby. We had brought bread with us to feed them and threw some at the female. The male jumped over and stole all the bread, then came rushing towards Kylie. She threw all of it at him and we backed away really quickly. The female and baby came over to eat some too so I got my camera out to take a picture of the family. I guess the male thought I had more food because he started slowly making he way over to me. I backed away slowly and he kept advancing slowly. I was getting nervous but was doing alright until I saw the massive claws come out on his front paw. Then I got panicky. I think all the bear safety things I learned in school were actually useful because instinct told me that I probably shouldn't turn my back and run since that would look like an invitation to attack me. So I stayed facing him and backed away quickly, with the big kangaroo still advancing. By this time I was infront of the cabins beside ours and a few big families were having a BBQ. They were all watching but no one came and tried to help me. I backed away a little more and then finally the kangaroo gave up and jumped away. Despite the fact that I was now insanely scared of kangaroos, I did manage to pluck up enough nerve to feed a nice female the next morning. I'll post the picture when I get back to NZ, but I look absolutely petrified.

I suppose I should go and see some other sights while I'm in the city, although if museums get a bit boring I'm sure I can find my way over to the mall for some retail therapy.

Friday, February 10, 2006

All government-ed out

I'm finally in Australia! I arrived at Sydney airport two mornings ago, and waited around for six hours for the Greyhound bus to show up. After a fairly non-eventful bus ride I arrived in Caberra. I got off the bus just before I was about to turn around and strangle the girl who was sitting behind me for jamming her knees into my back during the entire ride. She started before we even left the airport so I turned around and asked her politely to stop. She smiled, sat up properly, and waved at me. About 26 seconds later my back was getting kneaded again ... so I asked her to stop again. She smiled and waved. Then I realized that she didn't speak a word of English and all the waving in the world wouldn't let her know she was driving me nuts. Sigh.

Canberra isn't at all what I expected. It's very spread out, with most suburbs being about 10km from the city centre, or "Civic" according to the locals. The drive out to Alistair's house is through areas that were badly burnt in the massive bush fires they had here in 2003. A lot of the trees are still charred and there are lots of fields with new pine trees.

Yesterday I did a hop-on/hop-off bus tours around Civic. Stop #1 was the National War Memorial where I spent most of my learing about the Australian and NZ battle at Gallipoli in Turkey during the First World War. There were lots of models and diaramas depicting the battle scenes, as well as the normal war artifacts, uniforms, pieces of machinery, and soldier's letters home. A highlight was one of the boats actually used during the landing at Gallipoli. I briefly visited the WWII exhibit and walked through the Hall of Memory and Commemorative Area with an eternal flame, and saw the tomb of the Unknown Solider. As I only had about 1.5 hours in the Memorial I decided that I should go see the one other exhibit on the Recommended List in the brochure I picked up, so it was down to the basement to the Discovery Room where I quickly realized that I was probably the only visitor over the age of 9 who had been in the room. But seeing as my bus got there right as the Memorial opened, the guides down there were bored out of their minds and pounced on me the minute I walked in. I got a personal tour and explanation of everything down there, including the replicas WWI bunker, Vietnam War solider's tent, and submarine. I was also convinced to dress up as a WWI nurse and get my photo taken. I'll be sure to post it when I get back to NZ.

Stop #2 was Old Parliament House. The building itself was fairly bland and boring which is understandable since it was built with the intentions of being only temporary housing for parliment when it was moved from Melbourne to Canberra in 1927 (I think). They didn't move to New Parliament House until 1988, but better late than never. I found the tour somewhat interesting but really nothing special. The fried I made on the tour bus, George, and I found a great little cafe just down the street and I had a nice lox sandwich for lunch. (Oh, and George was from the UK. And about a hundred years old).

Stop #3 was New Parliament House which was more interesting in both architecture and substance. The guided tour was terrible and brought us to one room and that was about it. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives was having an open question period while I was there so I went and listened to the two sides yell at each other for about 10 minutes. I went up to the roof and took some nice city pictures but it was insanely windy up there so I didn't stay for very long. The absolute highlight of the Parliament, and the sightseeing day, was seeing the original copy of the Magna Carta that was on display. Apparently there are only 4 remaining originals and it was just neat to see something obscure that I have studied actually be right in front of me.

Stop #4, and all of this morning, was spent at the National Museum of Australia. The place is huge, but I didn't think it was laid out very well. The exhibits were mainly intersting, espeically the ones about the Aboriginal people with all their artwork, weaving, stories, and stone tools - some of which date back 53-60,000 years!

Tonight we're heading up to a resevoir with Alistair's girlfriend's family for waterskiing, eating, and generally doing nothing for the weekend. Next week I'm going to try to get to the zoo and aquarium, and the Australian Institute of Sport. Because the Commonwealth Games are being held in Melbourne next month I'm going to try to watch a training session of the national gymnastic's team. I just have to phone the Institute and find out when they're training ... Matt tried to get us tickets to the Games but the hotels were insanely expensive, and then gymnastics sold out anyways.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Say it Dad: "Te Anau"

He still can't pronounce it properly, and it's one of the easiest Maori names in NZ. (Tay ANNE-ow.)

We drove from Queenstown to Te Anau along the lake and through plains, although I kinda dozed during part of the ride so I don't remember it all. Te Anau is a miniature little town, with one main downtown strip that is half restaurants and half outdoor clothing stores. I got a pair of shoes. We went out for lunch then rested a bit before the Glow Worm Caves tour. This was really a highlight of the trip to the South Island. We got picked up in a boat and taken across the lake that the city is on. We were dropped off at a little chalet-type building with a small display of the rock formations in the cave and how the cave was formed. After a short educationtional video about the worms and what not to do in the cave we waited our turn to be taken in to see the worms. After entering the cave it gets really cold and dark, which is to be expected, but since this cave was still being carved by the huge amounts of water running through it, it was really wet too! We got to walk through parts of the caverns and see the waterfalls and pool that were eroding the rocks and at some points had to nearly crawl along the platform under the overhanging rocks. We got into a little boat that was moved by the tourguide pulling us along a rope that was overhead. We had to be absolutely silent for the worms to glow. They glow by some chemical reation in their stomachs which lights up the strands of ... goo, i guess, that hang down from their stomachs. This goo is meant to attract other insects to the light, who then get stuck and reeled in for a tasty feast. The brighter the glow, the hungier the worm. They have the ability to make their glowing stop as soon as they feel they're in danger, which is why you have to be silent in the cave.

I thought that we'd see some pin-pricks of light from the ceiling and walls of the cave and that would be that, but it was incredible. They glowed blue (Matt thought green but he's wrong) and much brighter than I had anticipated. At the end of the tunnel they were so bright you could see all around the cave, the boat we were in, and the water. It almost looked like the night's sky with blue stars. It was really neat.

The next morning we woke up too early and caught the tour boat that was taking us through Doubtful Sound - which is actually a fiord (which is actually a fjord for the rest of the world who spells it properly.) We were told to expect rain and were not surprised when it was overcast and chilly and drizzling. The cruise through the sound was beautiful, with the mountains coming straight up from the water, sheer rock faces, and temporary waterfalls created by the rain. We made it all the way out to the Abel Tasman sea that separates NZ from Australia. The water here was much rougher because it was unprotected but we got to see rocks full of seals. On the way back was the highlight of the boat ride - the Sound's resident dolphin pod paid us a visit and gave us a show by swimming along side the boat and jumping and flipping out of the water.

The next day we went back to Queenstown for a trip to a couple vineyards and some lunch - and lots of wine, then on to the airport. Matt and I said good bye to my parents as they went on to Christchurch and we just came home. I was left with a great impression of the South Island and it's beauty lived up to all those cheesy tourist guidebooks.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Queenstown, take two

I had already written the majority of this post and thought I had saved it as a draft to finish up at a later date. Apparently this is not what happened when I pressed the "Save as Draft" button. So here I go again ...

After spending Christmas walking around Wellington and going to the beach with my parents, the four of us headed down to Queenstown which was gorgeous. On the flight into the city it felt and looked like we were just skimming on top of and beside the Remarkables (the aptly named mountain range on that part of the South Island.) The captain actually made an announcement saying that although it looks like we're going to smash into the side of mountains, not to worry, and we're not actually as close as it seems. The landing was smooth so I guess he knew what he was talking about. It was a bright sunny day so we quickly checked into the hotel and walked along the lake into the charming little town. We wandered by the water then walked up to the base of the local mountain. After a seemingly vertical gondola trip we were at the peak and took some time to admire the views. We then decided that since Queenstown is basically the world capital for silly extreme sports, that we would all go bungy jumping naked.

Yeah, right.

But we did go on the luge, which was really more like a go-kart without an engine. Sitting in the little sleigh you grip the handle bars that act as steering and brakes and coast down the concrete track that winds for about 800 metres around the mountain. Stunning views, but I think it should have been much longer. It was a lot of fun though. Once back in the city we hit the casino. I lost my whole $2 but Matt walked away with a tidy sum, so it all evened out.

The next day we woke up early and caught a boat out for our full-day trip on Lake Wakatipu. We were dropped off at a working sheep farm for a tour and some snacks. The crazy tour guide was entertaining, and we got to feed sheep, lambs, deer, and big hairy cow things. (I think they were those red-haired highland cattle but I could be lying.) We watched the crazy guide shear a sheep and were shown how the dog heards groups of sheep into a pen without barking. We were then hearded into the pen and got to pet the animals. After that came the food of course, then back on the boat for the trip home. The next morning, it was on to Te Anau for glowing worms and stormy seas.