Archive for May, 2011


Used: 2009

STORY TIME!

Unlike most people who come to Australia, part of the reason they want to come is to expirence Christmas and New Years in summer, in Sydney. As I was traveling down the East Coast from Carins to Brisbane from late October to mid December, as it got closer to the end of the year and as I got closer to Sydney, all talk turned to the holidays. European accents increased chatter as did packages and prices for spending the week in Sydney. Rooms in huge dorms, minimum 7 day stays complete with dinners and activities were costing upwards of $1000 (AU). No thank you! As a native of Los Angeles, BBQ’s and beach parties aren’t totally uncommon for New Years, so doing that in 100F degree weather complete with packed partiers was not appealing to me at all, so I arranged a month trip back to New Zealand.

But since my Australian visa didn’t expire until the end of June, I left most of my stuff in storage in Sydney for 3 months. I planned to came back in mid-January to retrive it and move down to Melbourne and try my luck with work down there and for a change of scenery.

I booked the first flight of the day out of Christchurch and since it left at 7am and is technically an international flight, I knew I would have to be at the airport at least 2 hours before. Instead of wasting money on a hostel for a few hours, I checked out Sleeping in Airports and the reviews for the Christchurch airport weren’t that bad, so I decided to just take the last bus from the centre of town to the airport and camp out there. Turns out, it was a great idea and I wasn’t the only one with the idea! The arrivals hall in the international terminal had about 20 people set up for the night by the time I arrived, a mix of people who had just arrived and were trying to save on accomodation for the night and people like me, waiting for the first flights out. Most people were camped out with sleeping bags, but I had to make due near the door with just my jacket and various sweatshirts. The lights didn’t go off, but it was very quiet and the floor was pretty clean (from what I could tell) and carpted. So while not the best, it could have been way worse.

My flight back to Australia was on AirNZ and was awesome as usual. They had just recently started their fancy new planes with individual tvs on this route and I was thrilled to catch up on American TV for a few hours, tv that hadn’t even aired in NZ yet!!

I arrived back into Sydney and being semi-native, I knew to catch the shuttle back into town instead of the train. When I got my ticket, prices were more then I thought, so I asked if train tickets went up too and they said yep! So random. Seriously, only city EVER where public transport is more expensive then the private option. Anyway, I just waited until the next shuttles were going into town and since I wasn’t going to a specific hotel, but to the building were I left my bag, I was the last person to be dropped off. Since I arrived so early in the morning, at the same time all the planes from the US were also arriving, I ended up in a shuttle with a bunch of Americans! Was super nice for me, as I hadn’t been around Americans in a while. One girl was my age and was just around for a few weeks and I gave her some tips. And an older couple were getting onto a cruise ship in Sydney to cruise around New Zealand. They asked if they had to change money or if places accepted US dollars here. Um, no. This isn’t Canada, Mexico, Israel, etc. I gave them some suggestions, since they weren’t staying here very long. After the grand tour around town dropping everyone off, I was finally dropped off on George Street.

I wanted to drop my duffle off for the day as my bus to Melbourne wasn’t leaving until the evening for the overnight ride down south. Apparently prices had gone up at the storage place in the new year. Luckily, I had prepaid for my larger bag as prices went up quiet a bit. Leaving my bag for the day cost about the same before as it did to leave my big bag for a month. I talked them down a few bucks but in the end, it ended up costing more then I thought. Oh well. I had big plans for the day! Pies at Harry’s, chocolate at Max Brenner’s and just hanging out at the Opera House. By the afternoon, I was back at the Opera House, napping on the lawn of the Government House under a tree, curled up using my sweatshirt as a pillow, just enjoying the heat. I fell asleep for an hour or so, until 6pm to get my bags and head to the train station. Since I was travelling during rush hour and had tons of stuff, I took a cab to the train station, which is so unlike me.

I took the Greyhound bus from Sydney to Melbourne for a few reasons, the main one being all my stuff. Since I booked my bus ticket so far in advance, the ticket was pretty cheap, even though airline flights can be cheap too. But there was no way I was getting all my stuff on the plane without tons of oversize bag fees. I figured it would be easier for me to “sneak” it all on the bus, as there is a limit there too. My bus was packed and it seemed like everyone else had similar ideas to mine. I waited to board near the end because it looked like I had some of the most stuff, just in case it didn’t fit and some of it would have to go on the bus the following day. The driver was awesome, as always, and I apologized for all my stuff, but he squeezed it all on! It was funny, as I was waiting in line, I guess I have been riding buses too long as I knew what I had to show to get on. The girl behind me was brand new and had her ticket and ID, but my brain farted out and I didn’t have my ticket as I didn’t want to pay for printing and unconsciously only had my ID out, which worked too. Showed the driver, he told me my seat number, loaded my stuff and I was on! The ride was fine. I actually got a lot of sleep on the bus. We stopped in Canberra to drop some people off and then at a truck stop, which I got out and walked around for a moment as my knees give me some trouble if I sit in a position too long.

After arriving in Melbourne, I took a cab to the hostel I had booked, Elizabeth Hostel. After dropping my stuff off, I had to wait until close to noon before I could check in and spent some time at Hudson’s Coffee down the street and light internet time at the nearby Global Gossip. I finally unpacked my large bag and found stuff I hadn’t seen in months and had totally forgotten about! I love it when that happens. I showered for the first time in days, made an appointment with a temp agency I was signed up with in Sydney to meet and sign up with them in Melbourne for the next day, took a 4 hour nap, which I NEVER do, grabed some dinner across the street at McDonald’s, talked to my sister for the first time in weeks and then fell back asleep for the night.

Moral: Oy, what a busy few days! As much as I love New Zealand, I was excited for the next stage of my travels in coming back to Australia and hopefully Melbourne would bring something better then what Sydney left me with. I was happy to be back in Sydney for a day and enjoy all the things about the city I love, pies, chocolate and napping in front of the Opera House. I made a good choice in taking the bus with all my stuff and was excited about being somewhere new again.

I read this book about a year ago, but I feel like I have read this book before that. And I am 99% sure I have, but it was like probably close to 10 years ago when I was just getting back into reading again and just starting on my travel books kick. So it’s been a while. And I remember thinking that this book was dated back then, having took place in the mid-90’s, that it’s even more dated now! But I kind of like that. Like planning a whole round the world tour before the internet? They did everything by fax, classic! The American family with three kids (all under the age of 10!) jammed in most of the world in 6 months and then spent 6 months in Australia (can you even do that now, legally?!) before coming back. The books I have read more recently on this topic, the kids are a little older and I think it wasn’t the best idea to drag a 2 year old around the world, but then, that is just me. I liked the authors opinion on seeing places like Africa with kids and seeing it through their eyes, it made me jealous! But the whole thing sounded kind of expensive, though they didn’t go into cost at all and they didn’t home school the kids at all. Just jammed in a years worth of school into 6 months. It was an okay read, just really really dated, which is not necessarily a bad thing, especially how I roll!

Used: 2009

One thing that is quiet popular with tourists are day trips outside the city. Phillip Island and Great Ocean Road are two popular ones. I went on a day trip out to Phillip Island with Autopia Tours and it was fun! It takes a while to drive out there and the tour spent the day driving around the island that is connected to the mainland by a bridge, so no boat is needed, even though it technically is an island. One of the biggest attractions on the island is watching the little blue pengiuns come ashore after the sunset in the summer. But to kill time during the day some attractions I remember stopping for included The Phillip Island Chocolate Factory which had some amazing diarammas made out of chocolate, The Big Koala outside of Crowes that I was the only one to jump out of van to take my picture with (lame-o’s!) and a long walk around The Nobbies which was pretty cool. Saw tons of seals and great ocean views including a bunch of dead pengiuns along the cliffs that sucked hard.

Penguins made out of......

How awesome is this?! Caption says it all.

Beach on Phillip Island, Australia

Me and the Big Koala!

Nobbies, Phillip Island, Australia, 2009

The penguin parade was pretty cool. There was a HUGE turn out and because there were so many people, it was hard to watch them “fall” on to the shore. It got better once the ocean part finished up and we got to walk along a huge area of wood walkways which the penguins make their night homes in underneath. It was so cute to watch them waddle up and into the plants! I have to say the show in Oamaru was way better as the area was a lot smaller so it was easier to watch the penguins come to shore, but harder to see once they were on shore. So each had its good and bad parts, but if you had to pick, I would do the one in New Zealand over Australia, just based on my experience and price.

It seems like “The Big Three” towns in Australia all have wine regions (Sydney=Hunter; Adelaide=Barossa; Melbourne=Yarra) and doing a wine trip out to the Yarra Valley from Melbourne is a popular day trip which unfortunatly I didn’t go on. But it’s an option!

Nobbies, Phillip Island, Australia, 2009

The Great Ocean Road can be done on a very long day trip, which is popular with people short on time or money. It’s a very long drive out with lots of stops along the way in places such as Bells Beach, Apollo Bay and various others, depending on the tour, before ending the day at the 12 Apostles. It’s then a quick 3+ hour drive back to Melbourne. Like I said, a long day! I took a Great Ocean Road tour to get from Melbourne to Adelaide and I know people that have done the whole thing in a giant circle, stopping a night or two along the way, which I would highly reccomend doing. There really is no point in trying to jam it all into one day if you can help it.

Nobbies, Phillip Island, Australia, 2009

Moral: Melbourne’s got some pretty good day trips, which of course, you can do all on your own, but if you are by yourself, there are BUCKETS of tour companies all pretty much providing the same thing. Like the tour I took of the Blue Mountains when looking for a tour, definatly pick one that provides a minibus and a smaller amount of clients then one on a huge bus otherwise, you’ll spend all your timing driving around and picking people up and off.

Tasmanian Devil at a wildlife park on a very hot day on Phillip Island, Australia, 2009

Used: 1993, 1995

Side story time! It’s hilarious where I have been and where I haven’t. I have pretty much live in Los Angeles my entire life (my parents are still in the same house I grew up in and I never bothered to change my address on most things) and I have technically never been to Mexico. Apparently we drove to Tijuana when we were in San Diego one time, when I was like 6 (I still have this cool wax cat candle that I got there! I never lit it and it never melted!) but other then that, never been to Mexico. I have been to Italy twice before I graduated high school and even Canada 3 times before I turned 20. And the Canada thing is the funniest, because I have only ever driven there, even though I am from Southern California.

The first time I went to Canada, in 1993, was on a family vacation when we were to Seattle. My parents thought it would be fun to drive to Vancouver for the day! I have no idea what they were thinking. It took us nearly 4 hours to get into Canada. This was before you needed passports if you were driving over and only admitted to staying a short time, or something like that. My sister and I never had passports before and my parents last ones had expired years ago and we were only going for the day. I have no idea why it took so long. It’s normally about a 2, 2.5 hour drive. The backup at the border was horrible and the whole thing just took forever. And the worst part was, the way back was just the same! I remember we picked a line that didn’t split. So what took the line next to us half the time, it took us about 4 hours, AGAIN. When I asked various people years later if “going to Vancouver for the day” from Seattle was common, I got a lot of yes’s, apparently it was and we just got unlucky with the super long waits on both sides that day.

A few years later, my family and I drove across the country. We hired a car for the trip, in California, so it had California tags on it. We ended up in Detroit to see some of my dad’s family and went into Canada from Detroit into Windsor. I’ll admit we did look kind of shady. A family of 4 with no passports (still didn’t need them in 1995), with two teenage girls under 16 (apparently there had been a lot of child kidnappings that summer) trying to enter another country through a common route, but not with a California tagged car. Besides the fact that my sister and I both look like our parents, I love telling that story, because it does sound shady! How many California tagged cars must they get via that border crossing a day? Maybe one? Peace Arch via Seattle/Vancouver is way more common for California cars. Oddly, I have nothing to say or anything to remember when we came back into the country in like Vermont or New Hampshire or something. I don’t think there was any issue.

Moral: I have since driven into Canada two more times (via Buffelo/Toronto in my friends New Jersey tagged car and last summer) but I had passports both times and never had another issue again. Passports (and travel cards) are a pain in the butt to get, but if these expirences tell you anything, it’s that it has sped up the system quiet a bit which I think is a good thing.

I really really liked this book. It’s a huge book and I don’t think I am going to reread it anytime soon, which is why I wouldn’t buy it (library forever!).

Pros: Career girls drop everything (almost) and take off and go traveling. I liked where they went and what they did. I laughed so much on the chapter about Auckland and New Zealand. I loved their craziness about crashing a car in Australia and freaking out. It was funny, knowing Australia, I wasn’t freaked out at all for them as I sort of knew what would happen. So typical! Also, while one of the girls wanted to keep writing, eventually she quit, which is a good thing. I just think it didn’t happen soon enough.

Cons: There were three “characters” in the story and I couldn’t tell any of them apart. Their voices was the same (and so was the font) and they all seemed sort of the same to me. While the girls did travel fairly cheap, they each took a week or two out scattered in the middle of their trip to come back to the US for pretty much no reason (holidays, missing boyfriend, whatever) and to me, that kind of defeated the point of the trip. I just couldn’t relate to it. When I am away, I am away. I don’t come back until I am done. I was in NZ and Australia for two years and coming back didn’t occur to me until I was finished. Coming home would have been like cheating. While I put it in the pro category, it was also a con, but all the freakin’ work! Give it a rest already!

And I am sure some other stuff. Otherwise, it was a really good book on AMERICANS traveling long term. Something we don’t really think about doing. And I wish we did.

Used: 2009

People freakin love Melbourne! Lots of my co-workers over in New Zealand raved about it, so when I burned out from the expense and lack of work of Sydney at the end of 2008, I thought I would head down to Melbourne and see what that city was all about. I booked Elizabeth Hostel which was a bit of a shit-hole except that they had not crazy expensive single rooms located pretty central in town. I ended up staying for about 4 weeks during the worst heatwave like ever which included some of the worst fires Victoria had seen in years. It was kind of crazy, considering I come from an area that has fires every few years and while a lot of area burns and some house go down with it, rarely do any people much less civilians die. In Victoria, in 2009, so many civilians died, I couldn’t belieive it. Australia just didn’t know how to properly prepare for something like this, it was like what I picture America like 30 years ago in their preparation for anything, another reason why I was burning out of the country at this point. The weather was horrible and it didn’t help that there were like no jobs anywhere. I had a lot of free time to wonder the city.

Since my hostel was not air conditioned but the rest of the city was, I spent most of my time in and around town. I would start every day walking down to the next block to Hudson’s Coffee and grab a cuppa and read all the city and national papers the place stocks for patrons to read. Since I came here daily, I got a frequent buyers card which puts 10% of your purchase on the card for you to use for a free coffee at a later time. I racked up the discount quickly and in the span of about 3 weeks, accumulated 2 large coffees.

Probably my favorite place was The State Library of Victoria. The place was open every single day (except holidays), had nice cold air condition and tons and tons of free, fast computers with usb drive capabilities. There was an unenforced limit on certain computers and I liked to be kind and only use them for the time requested, if there were people waiting. Sometimes I would get there when the place first opened and after an hour there would be no line, so I would stay. Don’t forget to restart your computer when you leave otherwise, the next person can see your stuff! You would be amazed how many people won’t, but I would restart it for them. They also had other computers to read newspapers from around the world and since I had loads of time to kill, I would read the LA Times and New Zealand Herald cover to cover and flip through the Sydney Morning Herald. These computers never had a line and there was no time limit to use them. This library didn’t have books like a normal library, so I would head down to the City Library of Melbourne on Little Flinders Street and read books there, but it wasn’t as nice a place. The State Library also has a small gallery and when I walked through it, I was like, this looks familer before I realized that the same exhibit had been in Sydney months earlier at the state library there and I had seen it already! Crazy. Another sign that I had been here long enough.

Fall out from some major festival that took place in town and this was in front of the library one day.

Between coffee and computers, my day was half over at this point. My favorite cheap places to eat were the various food courts in various malls around town. On the weekends I would do brunch at various cafes around town. I love brunch! Two things people love about Melbourne are two things I don’t care too much about, especially on a budget, which is shopping and decent restaurants. I hate shopping always and I would never eat at a decent restaurant alone. Other then that, I can’t think of anything else that Melbourne is known for. It has cute little suburbs but even those are filled with more shops and more restaurants.

While there are lots of shopping and cafe and restaurant culture around town, there are also loads of free things as well. Here are some of my favorites:

One of the most central parts of town is Federation Square where the main tourist information centre is. This is probably your best bet for any and all information about town and day trips in and around Melbourne and Victoria. I hung out here a lot either in the square for tennis or at the National Gallery of Victoria which is a free museum. It was air conditioned and I found a little nook out of the way and quiet with a super comfy couch and would read here.

Federation Square

Across the Yarra River, there is the larger National Gallery of Victora – International which is pretty massive. And free! Check out there listings of free movies. I saw LOST IN TRANSLATION here on a hot afternoon to kill time. Just me and the whole senior population of Melbourne. And funny enough, ran into an old co-worker of mine from Auckland here too. So random!

Locals and tourist alike, cooling down on a hot day at the National Gallery

Melbourne skyline from Southbank

Across the street is the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne’s largest and most visited war memorial. The place is free and surrounded by the Royal Botanical Gardens, which is a lovely huge park. I went here and walked to the top and took some pictures and wondered around the park too.

Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne

Melbourne skyline, taken from the top of the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne

Back in in the CBD is the Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Centre which is a free exhibit of Abirigional art and information for the state of Victoria. It was very quiet and empty when I was there and a great place to escape the heat while learning about the native people of Australia.

And one thing that isn’t free is the Eureka Skydeck in Southbank, but y’all know what a sucker I am for an observation desk. Since the Skytower in Auckland has glass floors as part of the main portion of the observation deck, I rarely buy tickets for things like The Edge which costs extra and jutts you out over the city so you are just standing on glass. I liked watching people do this though because they push you out on “solids” first and then turn them off so it turns clear when you are already above the city. It’s funny to watch people freak out at this. Also, on the Skydeck, there is only a small part that is outside. Most of it is inside. If you are planning on doing a day trip out of the city, you may also want to check to see if your tour offers a free ticket to the Skydeck and wait until after your tour to do this.

Parks, taken from top of Skydeck, Melbourne

St. Kilda, Melborune, view from Skydeck

Melbourne skyline, taken from Skydeck

Federation Square, taken from Skydeck, Melbourne

Me being artsy fartsy, reflection of the city on the building on the Skydeck, Melbourne

There are two free rides around town, Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle, which is a huge coach and goes on the same route around the CBD as well as parts south and farther north of the river in a giant circle. The bus is also air conditioned and the driver gives some commentary. This is a fun way to go on a free bus tour of the city and super helpful if you need to get anywhere too. The City Circle runs on the tram rails just in the CBD and into a bit of the wharf area and runs both direction in a full circle. It’s the older cars that run this route and therefore is pretty hot in the summer. But also interesting and helpful if need be.

St. Kilda is quick tram ride out of the CBD and really popular with locals on the weekend and backpackers all the time. I came here a couple of times and since it was pretty hellishly hot, the beach was packed everytime and so was the ‘burb. It was cute but nothing that special that other places around town had. It would have been cool to stay until sunset and watch the penguins come in, but since I was “living” in town and it was summer and the sun would set so late, I never managed to stay out long enough.

Melbourne skyline from St. Kilda

Tram rails in Melbourne

Moral: Everyone always either loves Melbourne and Sydney and for me, it was Sydney. I am glad I visited Melbourne, of course and had an okay time while here, but I was really glad to leave when I did. It just really didn’t click for me. I have nothing against big cities and I love a good landmark, which is what Sydney is full of. And when you think of Melbourne, what comes to mind? Not much. See? Thank god for all the AC and loads of free things to do. Otherwise, being there in the hellish heat with no job would have killed me twice as fast. I really shouldn’t take these factors into account when judging a city, but it’s hard not to when it was pretty bad. I just loved Sydney so much.

Central Train Station, Melborune

Crap food, just like at home!!! Festival in St. Kilda

Train station and Fed Square, Melbourne

Used: 2007, 2008, 2009

While I lived in New Zealand for 16 months, I never owned a car. I got my first job and lived in Kingsland, so I didn’t have a use for a car on a daily basis. I took the bus to work and on the weekends, took the bus or train where ever I needed to go most of the time. I hired a car for long weekends out of town and on a random weekend around town.

The weekend I hired a car to hang around town all weekend, I went to the Stardome, went out to Piha on Auckland’s west coast, drove up to Orewa for brunch and drove around Whangaparaoa pennisuela before coming back into town and making a pitt stop at the mall to stock up on groceries.

I rented cars from a variety of places. When first looking for cars, I went back to ACB and ordered a car from the travel desk and they used Ace which worked out well. I am picky about breaks and they were a little iffy, but for a quick weekend trip around town, they were fine. The radio was also iffy, but acceptable. Plus, like most car rental places in New Zealand and Australia (reason #55483950 why they are like the US) they rent out automatic cars. No reason to put my manuel skills to test here, which is probably a good thing, driving on the otherside of the road an all (not that there is much traffic to worry about in either country, especially compared to Los Angeles). When I wanted to rent a car a few weeks later, I went back to Ace and hired the car on my own. Car rental shops are stocked with maps, so don’t worry if you didn’t bring maps as well as there aren’t many roads anyway. Just get from one I-site to the next, and you’ll be sweet as. This second car I got in, from Ace, I buckled up, got settled, looked down, manuel. While I know how to drive a manuel, I hadn’t driven one in years and while I had driven on the left hand side already, I knew they offered automatics for no additional fee, so why take anything else? I told them I wanted an auto and they traded me, no issues.

When it came time to rent something for the family and for 17 days, I knew I didn’t want to drive around in an Ace car for that long a time. I had seen Explore More cars around town and they always looked really nice and clean and new. Plus, they rented out station wagons, which I thought would fit us well and the price seemed okay. Not terribly cheap, but not outrageously expensive, they seemed to fit what we needed. Plus, they had depots in Christchurch and Auckland, which is where we were picking up and dropping off the car. Sometimes, dealers give deals, like free boat rides, if they need cars in one part of the country or the other, but since we needed the car for so long and over the holiday period, no such luck on deals. It looks like things have changed a lot (they now have cars out of Queenstown!) and they used to only have one depot in Auckland, which was in town and not near the airport at all. Since the same company who owned Explore More used to also own the Airbus, you could ride that for free into town if you were picking up a car. Since I wanted to pay the balance for the car with my EFTPOS card, I had to go in person to the shop in Auckland for them to run my card. When I did, I asked for a bus ticket because I had to get out to the airport to meet my family as we were immediatly flying down to Christchurch to pick up the car. They happily obliged! Yay for a free bus ride! The car was awesome, we had no problems. They also gave us a free ipod adapter, but I also had my itrip, so we were covered. We had a hard time figuring out the trunk at first, but thankfully figured it out before we left the Christchurch area. It was also a little bit of a tetris game getting all our luggage into the trunk, but my sister and my dad mastered that quickly, so they were put in charge of that. Other then that, a great car!

Me driving the station wagon

Playing tetris with the station wagon

I actually rented from them again when I was in the Christchurch area. They picked me up in town to get the car and also dropped me off at the airport when I left. I hired the tiniest car, as it was just me, so cute!

The Dot I hired over Easter weekend, 2008

When it was time for me to come back to New Zealand for summer vacation at the end of 2008, I first went to Explore More, but they were booked solid for their smallest class of car and there next level up was too expensive for me for the time I need. Since I was booking everything from Australia, it was already a bust that they didn’t have an toll free Australia number, as lots of tourist places do, even for New Zealand. When flipping through a backpackers magazine, I saw and ad for Roadtrip Rentals and there was a toll free Australia number to rent cars in New Zealand, so I called it. I got a super friendly guy on the phone and asked about CHC to CHC rentals for the 13 days I needed and got that sorted. Before I hung up, I asked him if they did rentals from Picton to Greymouth for only 3 days. 3 day rentals were hard for me to book because that time of year, most places had minimum time limits of 4 days while I only needed a car for my three day trip from Picton to Greymouth. He said he could totally help me out with that, as I was renting the car for 13 days, he would just couple my rental together so I wouldn’t have to pay more for the short rental and I would get the 2 week rate for my split rental. I was so happy after this phone call, having my rental for New Zealand all straighten out. The cars I got from this rental company were fine. Nice, clean, small cars. Hell, I even slept in one when I was in Mount Cook! Perfect for that. I even left my bag at the rental agency in Christchurch, since I had to drop the car off early, but had all day to wonder the city. They let me leave it free of charge, I just had to pick it up before they closed for the day.

Moral: Hiring a car is super easy in New Zealand. Loads of places rent to 18+ with no charge, but that wasn’t an issue for me. According to their driving website you are supposed to get a local license after being in the country for more then a year, but when I was there, it was wicked expensive (like NZ$70+) and I would have had to take the written part again, even though my current license was still valid. And when I went to hire a car everytime, they never asked to see my passport which is the only record of when I entered the country, only my current and valid license, so it’s not like they were strict about this. New Zealand is also the BEST place to “learn” how to drive on the otherside of the road. Since the population is super tiny, if you accidently drive on the wrong side of the road for a moment, there is a super tiny chance you’ll hit someone. When I started, I made so many mistakes that I hadn’t made since I was 16, it was totally weird! But I loved it. I am so glad I didn’t end up buying a car, but I loved driving and all the companies I delt with were awesome.

True story slash situation: Newly college graduated Dude goes to the South Pacific to teach on a remote island. The story ended up not being much about him teaching, just about his reactions and experiences with different people. At first this book started off super douche-y. Dude just wanted to go to the most remote place ever and experience it, but really, American-isms have reached everywhere and there is no escaping it anymore, but Dude made it work. Kind of an interesting read. I did like that by the end, Dude at least appreciated America and wasn’t all haten’ on it, like he sort of was at the beginning and I could relate to that side of it a lot.

Definitely something different, but kind of douche-y. Eh.

Used: 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

Virgin Airlines in its many forms. I have flown with three of their services. The first was with VirginAtlantic back in 2002, during my first trip to London. A friend of mine suggested them and told me they were awesome, so when it came to book my flight and they were on par with being as cheap as any airline, I picked them. Yeah, kind of a disappointment. The seats were super tiny and on my flight from LAX to LHR, none of the entertainment consoles worked. Granted it was the overnight flight and you were supposed to sleep anyway, but a total dissapointment! Luckily, they worked on the way back. Good things: I liked the little bag of goodies you got when you got to your seat. I loved the pen that came in the bag and used it for years. I just liked the way it wrote. Also, I did like the funkyness of it all, but would have gladly changed to blah to get the entertainment working. That was the biggest disappointment. Otherwise, don’t really remember much else about them. Haven’t flown with them since.

Funny enough, I totally forgot about flying on Pacific Blue until this week when I was reading about the change in name to Virgin Australia (from Virgin Blue, see below) to include Virgin’s services in the pacific, outside of Australia. This service started within New Zealand in 2007, when I was living in Auckland, and to promote the new services, the fares were dirt cheap, so I bought some for my family when they came and we had to fly from AKL to CHC. 4 one-way tickets for US$114! But you pay for what you get. They only flew back and forth from AKL, WLG and CHC on various routes a few times a day. It seemed they only had a two or three planes that flew back and forth, granted distances aren’t very far and you can get from AKL to CHC and back in less then 4 hours. But if one flight was delayed, the whole schedule for the day was thrown off. I booked the last flight of the day from AKL to CHC, just in case of any delay and by the time we left AKL, we were about 4 hours delayed and finally left AKL about an hour after we were supposed to land in CHC. It sucked, but it was supposed to be a rest day anyway. So we ended up “resting” in the airport instead of the hotel. Oh well. I was just looking at the PacBlue website and it appears that they do not fly within NZ anymore, just from NZ over to Australia. So I guess those routes didn’t last long the way they were booking them. Oy.

When I was in Australia, they have a low cost airline called VirginBlue. I flew with them from Brisbane up to Cairns. The airline was pleasent enough. At the time I flew with them (October 2008) they allowed one checked bag, so I sent my bag through and there was no problem. You had to pay for all entertainment (though ads screened non-stop on your personal screen for all those that didn’t pay, thankgod, no sound) and the worst part for me was no free drinks, not even water! I almost shat my pants when I heard that. The only water they had was bottled and you had to buy it. I was so mad. I depend on water when I fly and I stupidly forgot my bottle (hell, you can even bring FULL bottles through security when you fly domestically in Australia) but still. We might charge you for every little thing on American airlines, but I would hate to see the day when they won’t even give you water for free with no warning. That is the day, I’ll start to fight.

While I was away, Virgin America started up. One of there big routes that I have taken many times since being home in the LAX-SFO route. They are usually on par with Soutwest when it comes to everyday price, so for the most part, why fly SWA when you can fly Virgin? They are located in Terminal 3 at LAX and Terminal 2 at SFO (having moved recently from the International Terminal). My only recc for the LAX terminal is not to take the last flight of the day, as that is when ALL their flights leave, including some jumbo jets to Australia on VAustralia. The security line is forever (compared to other parts of the day) and it sucks. I have never really had a bad experience on VA. Some flights have been delayed for mechanical and weather issues, but I have always been kept up to date on delays. Since they know that everyone carrys on their luggage now, sometimes you’ll get a message on the overcome, asking people to check their luggage at the gate for free and I almost always do that. Unfortunatly, you have already come through security at that point, but still, it’s one less thing to carry about the terminal. And last time I did that, they let everyone with no luggage, no matter what row you were in to board early and get a jump on watching the tv that they provide on individual screens for everyone for free! That is the best part of Virgin is the entertainment and I always have a hard time choosing what to watch or listen to when I fly them. Their planes are clean and attendents are very nice. I always look forward to flying with them.

Moral: Virgin as an airline brand seems to be hit or miss. All the low cost carriers in Australia have different issues, so VirginBlue having issues is of no surprise. I just got a crap flight on VirginAtlantic. I don’t hold it against them, just everytime I have gone back, they haven’t been the cheapest, so I’ll pass. But I highly reccomend VirginAmerica for all those in the US, if they happen to be going your way.

Used: 2008

One of the biggest things I wanted to do when I came back to New Zealand for my trip myself was do Stray Bus’s trip of the East Cape of the North Island. This is one of the least populated places in the country (as if this is even possible) and they only run bus trips during the summer months. Since there is lots of Maori history in this part of the country, I really wanted someone to drive me around and tell me about what we were seeing. All the trips start and end in Rotorua and in the previous years, they traveled clock-wise, which would have been perfect for me, I would have just hopped off in Gisbourne and taken the bus down to Napier, but when the summer brochures came out, they reversed the tour direction, so I would have to start and end it in Rotorua, so I could catch the bus to Napier. I was pissed about how much time I would have to spend in Rotorua (I was so over that place) but I did have a hostel there that I loved a lot, so that was one good thing. The day I got on the bus, the driver informed me that we would be going on the previous years direction and I was slightly annoyed about the late information. But oh well, being in New Zealand is all about going with the flow.

First stop, East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

Town on East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

I wish I had budgeted better as I really wanted to go to White Island at some point but we only made a pit stop in Whakatane before heading out to our first nights stay in Maraehako Bay at a lovely little oceanside hostel that I would highly reccomend. Some people grabbed snorkles and went out into the water, but after an early morning start, I claimed a hamock in the shade and spent the afternoon napping under the trees. Talk about best day ever!

Inland, East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

Beach near the first night hostel, East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

Inlet at the hostel on the first night, East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

The next morning, we drove out to the point that is farthest east in all of New Zealand and to see the worlds lagest Pōhutukawa or New Zealand Christmas Tree as it’s generally known. We contiuned on to Tokomaru for afternoon snacks and a pit stop at the cutest hotel I had ever seen, Brian’s Place because the driver had to drop something off. Staying in the cabins at this place looked so much fun! We drove on to Tolaga Bay where one of the longest piers in the world is located. It’s quiet a walk to the end and when we got out there, our van driver urged us to jump! All the boys and some of the girls did, but I did not. It’s really high! We had a quick stop at Whangara, which is where the story in the film Whale Rider takes place. I hadn’t seen the movie in years and have since rewatched it and it looks exactly the same as it did when they made the movie years ago. They actually did film it there and I think I understood it more, once I had been to New Zealand and understood the culture more. It’s a good movie to watch either before or after you have visited.

Beach stop, East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

Pōhutukaw, biggest in the world, check out the Dude underneath for size! East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

River on East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

View from Brian's Place. Imagine waking up to this view every day! East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

Tokomaru Bay Pier, East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

Tokomaru Bay Pier, East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

Trying to be creative with Tokomaru Bay Pier, East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

Beach on East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

Tokomaru Bay Pier back inland, East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

A traffic jam on East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

We continued on to Gisbourne. Everyone on the tour wanted to feed sting ray’s so we stopped at the place near town in Tatapouri that does sting ray feed and shark diving. It was really fun, but kind of scarey. You walk out into the water, drop some food and the rays come like right up to you and swim all around you. You are wearing these highwater pants that you normally only see fisherman wear to protect you, but it’s still funny. After that and before we got to the hostel, we stopped at a place in town to get Hangi for dinner. We sat right on the beach and ate it and it was fantastic, a true New Zealand and Maori experience. And hello, meat and potatoes, you can’t go wrong there! Sounds like my kind of meal.

Stray has their own hostel a little outside of town, right on the beach, that I currently can’t find any information online about, but I don’t think it matters as the public doesn’t stay there anyway. The place was so super cute! Some other people who had been through the Stray East Cape tour had stopped there for a few months to help up keep the hostel and spent the rest of their time surfing, so it was nice to talk to people outside the tour for the first time in a few days. The place was very rustic. Bathrooms are sort of outside, but it just reminded me of Girl Scouts. There is only one large dorm room, but tons of space, plus you know everyone, so it wasn’t pretty much a non-issue. There is also a fire pit and a super cute backyard. Plus, like everything in New Zealand, it was super clean. No complaints from me!

East Cape, New Zealand, 2008

The next day, before the ride back to Rotorua, to essentially pick up my bag for one last night at my favorite hostel in Rotorua, Kiwi-Paka, there were some other activities in the area, a big one being surfing, but I and 2 other girls on the tour picked rock sliding nearby. This was so much fun! It is called the Rere Rock slide and is a bit of a way outside of Gisbourne, but if you have boards, it’s a free activity and I had a GREAT time! You pay Stray and they provide the ride out, instruction and wetsuite, board and tube rental, which was great. But it can be free if you have all these materials already.

This isn’t me doing the rock slide, it’s video I took of one of the other girls doing it:

After a quick stop back in town to grab some lunch, we were on our way back to Rotorua. A stop at some hot pools outside of town and one last Maroi prayer and we were back in town.

Maori: I am very glad I did an East Cape tour with a guide. The first time. Just rushing through it all, makes me want to go back and hire a camper van and do the whole thing again, but at my own pace. This is definatly a place I will return to and see it all again, in my own car, on my own time. Seriously one of the least populated places I have ever seen in the country. I know I say that a lot, but that is still saying something for the North Island. Plus, you have to make an effort to get here, so everyone is so glad to see you, that you came! Loved it.

Art on East Cape, New Zealand, 2008