archive for November, 2006

BridgeClimb

I’m writing from our flight from Sydney to Brisbane. We were really late getting to the airport because our shuttle driver didn’t pick us up and we had to wait for the next shuttle. Thumbs down for the KST Airporter. The hotel staff at the Holiday Inn Darling Harbour was great though. The location wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t bad either. Overall, I’d give the hotel 9/10.

Yesterday, we climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge with BridgeClimb. Our tour guide, Pete, did a great job. We were suited up in a comfortable 1-piece suit, breathalyzed, and shown how the safety equipment worked. The climb wasn’t nearly as strenuous as I thought it would be. We made frequent stops, and the only steep part was going up about 30 ft of ladder (divided into 4 sections). The bridge was built around 1930 and is really beautiful (at least from an engineering point of view).

The tour takes you up to the summit along one arch, across the top, and back down to the same side of the bridge that you start. The whole tour takes about three hours and includes some cool commentary — all provided over a bone conduction headset. After our climb, we walked around The Rocks and had some ice cream before heading back to the hotel.

This morning, we had a little free time so we went down to Hyde Park (our 2nd Hyde Park). The weather changed from warm and sunny to cool and windy in about 30 seconds, so we decided to head back in case it started raining. After a quick rest, we checked out and had a morning cuppa before waiting 40 minutes for our shuttle. We’re now on our way to Gladstone (via Brisbane) to spend a couple of days at the Great Barrier Reef.

Blue Mountains

Yesterday, we took a tour in the Blue Mountains with Anderson’s Tours. We were picked up at our hotel at about 7:20 and then drove around Sydney picking up other tourists. From Sydney, we drove up to the Featherdale Wildlife Park — a privately owned zoo. There, we got to pet a koala and feed some kangaroos. Some of the animals were in cages, and some just wandered around. We also saw peacocks, a Tasmanian devil, big birds (like this Southern Cassowary), fox bats, penguins, echidnas (def.), dingos, and more.

From the wildlife park, we drove up to a nice, big, park to throw boomerangs and have tea. We continued our drive into the Blue Mountains and stopped for a little walk to check out a big valley and the back side of the Three Sisters (a fairly famous rock formation, but nothing like what you’ll see in the Grand Canyon). We went to a country club for a delicious lunch. They had plenty of food and a great variety.

From there, we drove to a very steeply descending gondola, had a look around a temperate rain forest, and rode an insanely steep train back out of the valley. When you enter the train, the seats are so reclined that you’re almost laying on your back. At the steepest pont, you’re going up a 52 deg. incline. It’s a good thing they have a cage to hold you in.

We went to a small mountain town (Leura), and then drove back to Sydney to check out the site of the 2004 Olympic Games. We were dropped off at the ferry dock to ride a Rivercat back to Sydney Harbour.

Overall, the trip was a lot of fun. My only complaint is that parts of it really felt rushed, especially the wildlife park and the rain forest. Still, it was relaxing and managed to pack a lot in.

Queenstown to Sydney

Yesterday and today were flying days. We checked out of our hotel in Queenstown at about 10:00. Then we went for a hike up the 1 mile creek/powerhouse (as far as the dam). It was pretty steep and we really worked up a sweat. After the hike, we headed down to town to eat our picnic lunch. We had a ginger beer for the first time. That was interesting, but not super great. The wind was reallying blowing — enough to whip a spray off of the lake and into the air. We headed back to the hotel to pickup our bags and to catch the bus to the airport. From Queenstown, we flew to Auckland (via Christchurch).

We had reservations at the Quality Inn Auckland Airport. Their website said that there is a courtesy phone call for a free shuttle ride to the hotel. We looked all over the domestic terminal and couldn’t find a single courtesy phone (only pay phones). We ended up having to lug our bags all of the way across the airport to get to the international terminal (where we knew they had courtesy phones). After getting the special code from the information booth, we finally got a hold of the hotel and they sent a shuttle.

When the shuttle finally arrived, we found out that there was some problem with our hotel, and that we were being moved to the next closest Quality Inn (in Manukau, I think). That was ok with us, as long as we’d still have an airport shuttle available.

After driving for 30-40 minutes, we ended up at the hotel and got checked in. The first bad sign was the lift (elevator) — it was very small, had red carpet on the walls, smelled like rats had been nesting in the elevator shaft, and it moved ultra-slowly. Eventually, we made it up to our floor (the 2nd) and found the hallway to have a terrible odor too (this one was more musty than ratty). Our room smelled a little better, but not by much. The room was adequate — it had a clean bed, bathroom, and plenty of space. Other than that, I have nothing positive to say about it. We had an early flight and had to wake up at 3:45, so we didn’t spend much time there. One more bad thing was that there was a bar or something nearby because we could hear yelling and laughing throughout the night.

When our alarm went off , I didn’t really mind that it was so early because I just wanted to get out of there. We checked out and were provided with a taxi instead of the normal shuttle. That was fine with me: we didn’t have to pay for it, and the driver seemed to know how to get to the airport because it only took about 15 minutes.

Our flight to Sydney was uneventful. They showed Little Miss Sunshine, which we had already seen, but still enjoyed. Getting through customs in Sydney was painless, and with the help of another friendly information booth attendant, we found the shuttle to our hotel (Holiday Inn Darling Harbour). Since we got in at about 9:00 am, our room wasn’t ready yet. We left our bags and walked over to the harbour and The Rocks.

At the harbour, we found the Sydney Aquarium and went on in. It was really quite good. Since we were there so early, there wasn’t much of a crowd. We saw a platypus, a crocodile, an octopus, and a squid (oh, and tons of fish — including a mudskipper). The aquarium has these cool “oceanariums” where you can walk in tubes under the water. The first one we went to had seals, and the second had sharks and rays — both very cool to see up close.

After the aquarium, we walked down to The Rocks to find some lunch. It turned out to be farther from our hotel than I expected, so we were pretty hungry, thirsty, and tired by the time we found something. From there, we walked down George St. to our hotel where we plan to rest for the remainder of the day.

Skyline, Queenstown, NZ

I’m pretty tired, so I’m going to keep this short. Today we started out by riding the Skyline gondola up one of the mountains over town. I got some great pictures. While we were up there, we rode the luge a few times and had a great time. We did a couple loads of laundry this afternoon, and that was about it.

Meals: Breakfast was croissants with Mexican chili hot chocolate from Patagonia (a local chocolate shop). Lunch was a huge cheeseburger and fries (that we split) from Fergburger. Dinner was at a pub (I don’t remember the name). I had a tasty black cherry chicken and a pint of ale.

Walking Queenstown and BBQ Bus

Oops! It looks like I forgot to write yesterday. Here’s what happened:

We woke up early and took the taxi to the airport. From Auckland, we flew to Christchurch and then on to Queenstown. Once in town, we hopped a shuttle to our hotel (Heritage Queenstown) and dropped off our luggage. Since it was too early to check-in, we walked back to town (the hotel us up a hill and a little ways down a road from town). We walked all over and bought lunch at the “super” market. We walked back to our hotel to get checked-in, then back to town for more walking. At some point in there (probably sitting in the park looking at the lake) we got a bit of a sunburn. Dinner was at Winnies for pizza and cider.

This morning we got up a little early to meet the BBQ Bus in front of our hotel at 7:05. The driver, Allen, was right on time and drove us around town to pick up the other passengers — a Brazilian woman, a Korean man, and an older couple from the U.K. (Manchester, I think). Once we were all loaded up, we began the drive to Milford Sound.

Allen gave us a great commentary on the Gold Rush history of Queenstown and the surrounding areas. Our first stop was in Te Anau, the Gateway to the Fiordland where we had morning tea. Once everyone was ready, we headed back out on the road. There were several stops along the way for photo ops and a couple hours later we stopped for a hike and lunch.

While we were out exploring the fern encrusted forests, our driver was BBQing beef kebabs and sausages. Lunch was simple (meat, bread, coleslaw, and macaroni salad) but it really hit the spot, especially in the rain.

The drive continued into forests and glacier-carved valleys. After passing through a long tunnle, we stopped for some more pictures. There, we met some Kea (mountain parrots). The birds were pretty big and very curious. They love to jump right up on cars and try to pull the window seals out. The drive from the tunnel down to Milford Sound wasn’t too much farther, but we did make a quick stop at the Chasm.

We arrived at the boat just in time to board and take a cruise around the fjord. Unfortunately, it was rainy and cloudy so we couldn’t see the tops of the mountains around us. The waterfalls were sure great however. The boat took us right to the edge of the Tasman Sea (between New Zealand and Australia) and back. We only saw fur seals, but penguins, dolphins, and whales also frequent the area.

The drive back was much faster with only one stop in Te Anau. I’m sure tired, but we really and a great day — one that will certainly be hard to beat on this trip, or any other.

Queenstown, NZ

This is just a quick post from an Internet Cafe in Queenstown, NZ. Our trip is going great. So far we’ve done the Sky Tower in Auckland and rode the BBQ Bus to Milford Sound. Of course, our flights with Qantas have been great too. I’ll post a lot more later.

Walking Around Auckland

We walked all over the CBD. We went up the Sky Tower, the tallest tower in the southern hemisphere, which has great views of the city. It also has cool glass sections of floor that you can stand on and look down through. After that, we grabbed some lunch at the Loaded Hog and returned to the hotel for a quick nap.

On our second trek out, we walked past/through the university, a cemetery, and Albert Park. It was a little chilly, but still, a very nice walk. We headed back to the waterfront for dinner. I had a chicken salad type thing with wine. For desert, we had a great chocolate mud cake with real coffee (Jesse had a tasty chi tea).

So, now we’re back in our hotel. The nice person at the front desk helped arrange a taxi for our ride to the airport early tomorrow morning. I think we’ll just relax and get to bed early. We have to wake up at 4:30 tomorrow, but that shouldn’t be too hard if we stay on Pacific Time.

Arriving in Auckland

We made it to Auckland. Our flight was great! It was scheduled to take about 12 hours, but I think it was a little shorter. The flight wasn’t full, so Jesse and I got a set of three seats to ourselves. We were given dinner and a bag of snacks. After just a few hours (I think) we were able to fall asleep. It wasn’t a great night’s sleep, but it was much better than nothing.

After arriving in Auckland, we made our way through immigration and customs (which, by the way, was very friendly). We talked to the lady at the information desk and bought tickets for the AirBus. The bus ride was uneventful, but dropped us right at our hotel — The Aspen House. We were able to check-in right away and found our room to be clean, comfortable, and simple. We’re now going to head out to see the city.

Waiting at the Airport

Waiting at the airport, I realize my first mistake of the vacation: I’ve enabled the volume limiter on my iPod Shuffle and it’s rendered my iPod useless in the noisy terminal. Jesse’s iPod doesn’t suffer from the same affliction, so we’re sharing.

Our check-in went smoothly. We arrived at the airport early and found the Qantas desk. Our checked luggage went through security without a hitch. I can’t (or don’t want to) imagine flying around Christmas. At least it’s not too busy tonight.

Anyway, my carry-on bag got searched when we went through security. The TSA agent actually seemed to know what he was doing and quickly and throughly checked my bag. Once that was over, we bought some Australian and New Zealand money at the currency exchange, and wandered up to our gate to wait to board. Since we made it through everything so quickly, we have about 2 hours of waiting. Oh well, at least we don’t have to run.

The Lion King

Yesterday, Jesse, my parents, and I saw The Lion King at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles.  Like the movie, I resisted watching it the first time around, but I’m glad I eventually saw it.
The Good: The costumes were amazing.  There was a huge amount of variety and creativity that went into bringing the characters to life.  On the whole, I liked the adaptation.  The play is darker than the movie and really stands on its own.

The Bad: I was disappointed with the sets.  I’m sure the starkness was intentional, but for me it came off feeling cheap and paled in comparison to the costumes.  I didn’t like the cartooniness of Timon and Pumba.  All of the other characters had a very non-cartoon style, but for some reason, those two were virtually ripped straight from the movie.  There were also a few interpretive dance numbers that I just didn’t get.  To each his own.

Overall, I had a great time and would recommend the show for anyone who enjoys Broadway style musicals.

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