Category: 2009

I was in New Zealand and Australia for exactly 2 years and 2 weeks. But with my timing, I was actually away for 3 Academy Award ceremonies. Growing up in Los Angeles, this was a huge deal. As I have gotten older (and cared about movies less and less) the deal has gotten smaller in my mind. But like someones sports teams that changes towns, I still keep an eye on them. What is getting buzz, what got too much buzz too early and is now left for dead. I care less, but I still find the whole thing kind of interesting. I might search out the best picture after the fact, but only when it finally makes it to TV. My favorite joke is that when I was flying back from Australia/New Zealand, I had the choice to watch Slumdog Millionaire, but chose High School Musical 3 over it. My reasoning? You try reading subtitles on that tiny little seat screen! So there are my priorities.

Anyway, for the most part, the Academy Awards are not a big deal overseas. Most countries has their own version of them and unless your country has a movie in contention (a-hem, Lord of the Rings), New Zealand didn’t air them on any channel and they are only on satellite in Australia. Not really the free-to-air channels we are used to in the United States.

The first year, I had just arrived in New Zealand hostel hopping. I waited until the show was over (like mid afternoon Monday) before I hopped online to read about the show. THE DEPARTED won that year, a movie I had not seen at the time (I would eventually see it later in 2007 on Sky Movies in New Zealand and then a bunch more during my time backpacking down the Australia East Coast in later 2008) and for the most part had no interest in. To me, it was too long. Though I was happy that “Marty” finally got his statue!

The second year, I was at my job and one of the perks being that I got to watch a lot of TV. I mean A LOT. We had a channel on our tv’s that was a feed of whatever the people in the satellite room were getting fed in at the time, usually whatever big event was happening around the world (I didn’t realize this before and missed the Super Bowel a few week prior, even though the commercials are filtered out of the feed) and today was the Academy Awards. We all had our owns tv’s and all changed them to the same channel and watched the show in our cubes, all laughing at the same part. Jon Stewart hosted that year. Since the show aired in the later afternoon on a Monday in New Zealand, the show ran long (of course) and everyone left the office, except for me. I had to see the end, even though I didn’t know what any of the best picture movies were. Most had not come to New Zealand yet, as they were smaller pictures that year. I do remember Diablo Cody won for Juno and I was really happy. I was also on chat with some friends back home who were watching and couldn’t believe that I was watching the show live, same as them with no delay. Oh, I was a nerd, I felt so special! The show did not air on any channel that year in New Zealand.

The third year, was a bit different. I was on a week long tour from Adelaide to Alice Springs (I just realized I never wrote about my tour! DO’H!). The big event during that ceremony was Heath Ledger getting nominated (and eventually won) after his death for the latest Batman movie. Most of that tour, we were out of cell phone range, which of course was nice. And since the tour was so long, we all kind of lost track on what date and day of the week it was. But once we got to Ayers Rock, my pals on the tour, an Irish couple I hung out with the most, started texting their friends back in Ireland to find out who won what. And I remember sitting around a picnic table in the Ayers Rock campgroup when the text came in that Heath had won! The three of us were so happy!! The rest of the group didn’t care (damn Euros) and even the tour guide, who was Australian thought Heath was a wanker or whatever. We found out the results from the rest of show during our meal and it was the most surreal way I ever “watched” the show before. When I got back to Melbourne a week later and had like 7 hours of computer time to waste before I left the country, I watched so many videos from that show.

And ever since then, I haven’t really cared about the show. I work in the film industry now and I could not careless about the show and who wins. But of course, I keep watching. If you were traveling during a major tv event, would you search it out to watch it live?


Used: 2008, 2009

I remember one of the first times I heard of someone I knew flying Air New Zealand. They flew from LAX to LHR. That’s right! You don’t even need to fly anywhere near New Zealand to experience New Zealand hospitality. But the first time I flew them was actually just a really quick trip return from AKL to CHC over Easter Weekend as they have the most flights within the country (duh) which is super helpful for a major holiday weekend when everything is expensive anyway. Flying domestic in New Zealand is a joke anyway, especially compared to what I am used to in the United States. I worked in central Auckland and got from my work to the airport by taking the shuttle and passing through security and sitting at the gate within an hour. Like I said, JOKE! You don’t even need to show ID to board a domestic flight.

Anyway, it was a pleasant but a generally unmemorable flight as it was only a little over an hour. I loved the airport in Christchurch, they have this awesome open air deck in the domestic terminal were after you pass security you can watch the planes land and take off, outside! I loved watching all the tiny Air New Zealand planes doing their business. I am so used to only seeing huge planes, that it was so funny to see tiny propeller plans flying!

View from the outside deck at CHC

Later in the year, Air New Zealand had a major promotional push in advertising their trans-Tasman flights across the ditch to Australia. They were becoming major players against the strong hold, Qantas. They upgraded tons of their planes and the types of planes they used to only use on long-haul flights, they were now flying just a short 3 hours to various ports to Australia. I barely even thought about it when booking my return flight to Australia after my summer vacation back in New Zealand, as they were cheaper than Qantas anyway from Christchurch to Sydney. It wasn’t until I boarded the plane that I remembered about their upgrades. And they were awesome! My favorite perk, individual screens on every seat. Actual meals served. And of course, a nice, smooth ride, as the plane was a lot bigger then the Qantas jet I had flown over on a month earlier.

I got so excited a few weeks later when I made plans to fly back to the US. Air New Zealand ended up being the cheapest option out of Melbourne, with a quick layover in Auckland. Back in 2008, you had to pay an exit fee when you left New Zealand and I was 50cents short in cash my fee when I left Christchurch (so I had to pay with a credit card, annoying!) but since I had a few hours to kill in Auckland, I was happy to have the extra cash to buy food and magazines and other last minute items. I was so excited for a last minute trip to Auckland before I finally came home even though I never left the airport. I just loved my time there so much, I was so happy to have once last goodbye. You don’t pass passport control when you transfer plans in Auckland, but you have to go through security again. I had a whole bottle of water with me, which they asked me to toss, so I backtracked and tossed the water in the sink in the bathroom so I could pass with my empty bottle, one of my flying tricks of the trade. I went through metal detection again and filled my bottle up at the various water fountains in the terminal. So annoying and a waste of water! I specifically wore one of my favorite New Zealand t-shirts for the ride home and when I boarded the plane, the flight attendant commented on how much she liked my shirt!

Me in my All Blacks Kiwi shirt, moments after walking into my parents house after 2 years and 2 weeks overseas! My dad made this awesome sign.

The flight back was awesome. Great selection of movies and tv shows, which is key for me. I watched and caught up on so many shows I hadn’t seen in months that I doubt had even aired in Australia or NZ at that point. Awesome selection of movies. I love telling people that I chose to watch High School Musical 3 over Slumdog Millionaire (have you ever tried to read subtitles on those tiny screens?!). Don’t remember the food, though we got served a lot, so I am sure it was good. One of my favorite parts was how they did drink service. They gave us all cups at our first meal and we were supposed to save them. A flight attendant was continuously walking around the cabin with spare cups (just in case) and a pitcher of water and all you had to do was hold your cup up and they would fill it up for you on request. You didn’t even need to leave your seat! I lost my cup at one point (in those small seats and area?! I know, it happens) and they happily replaced it, though I did like that they tried not to. And I felt bad when a few hours later I found my cup at the bottom of the pocket. The seat space is pretty big too, way more than Qantas. I was impressed with it and I am not a big person anyway.

The tail in Auckland. Rainy, of course!

Something that I didn’t experience, but my family did when they came to visit me. Apparently, they used to have a code share with Air Pacific, the Fijian airline which is one of the few routes that you can fly from LAX to AKL, but you have to stop in Fiji. My mom first booked tickets for her and my dad and a week later booked my sisters ticket on the same route for the same price. They all show up at the airport to check in and apparently my sister is booked on the Air New Zealand flight. Same times, same route, just a different terminal. There was no note anywhere on the ticket about this and they didn’t know until they showed up at the airport. And what a huge difference between the airlines! My parents were jammed in while my sister had whole rows to herself, since they all flew over Christmas. My sister said the flight attendants welcomed all the kids with gifts because they were “skipping Christmas” (They left on the 24th and arrived in Fiji on the 26th). But at least they evened out on the way back. My parents got the Air New Zealand flight after their Fiji layover while my sister was stuck with Air Pacific the whole way because we realized that Air New Zealand only flew from Fiji to LA on certain days and my sister stayed longer and flew on a different day.

Adopted home, home on the range!

Moral: Air New Zealand doesn’t fly too many routes outside the south pacific but if I am flying somewhere they go, I will make them a priority, thanks to their service. Plus, I miss New Zealand tons and anytime I can grab a little bit of it, I will take it. They vary in price and even if they aren’t the cheapest, if they aren’t too different in price, I would take them into consideration depending on how long the flight is. I would love to fly them over to London someday! How fun!

Used: 2009

I only had one day in Adelaide between tours to catch up on everything (email, phone calls, laundry) and had to buy a fly net for my hat for my trip up north to Alice Springs. I don’t remember what else I did that day. Wondered around town. Went to an art museum for free. I really liked the city a lot and wish I had spent more time there as it seemed like all the other big cities in Australia, just a little smaller and more rural.

Art Gallery of South Australia, Adleaide

At this point, it was late February and I wondered into a bookstore to see what was up and I found dirt cheap wall calendars and found a corgi one for like AU$2, so I bought it knowing I was going to want it once I got home. It was oddly shap, but thin, so I could fit it in my bag. Probably the oddest thing that I trekked into the outback with. I didn’t do much at night. Finished up my laundry and hung out on the really nice patio all night at the hostel chatting with a British girl who had just arrived in Australia and wasn’t sure were she was headed next. I told her about Kangaroo Island, but it was a bit expensive for her wallet, which it kind of is. Worth it to me, but not everyone.

Moral: I wish I had spent more time in Adelaide. It seemed smaller then other bigger cities in Australia, which was sort of up my ally when I first arrived in the country from New Zealand. I didn’t know anything about it before arriving, but I had a really good time. It seemed like a cute, large Australia town. Small compared to the other biggies, but large for what people off the east coast can compare it too.

I am such a sucker for signs like this! Next stop, Alice Springs!

Used: 2009

When booking my last travel, I did some research on various tour companies. Before I went to Backpackers World, I grabbed fliers on various companies, so I was prepared when it came time to buy. I needed to buy three tours. Tour one: Melbourne to Adelaide via the Great Ocean Road; Tour Two: I wanted 3 days and 2 nights on Kangaroo Island; Tour Three: Either a 5 or 7 day tour from Adelaide to Alice Springs which included the whole Uluru experience.

I originally wanted to mix up companies, just in case one sucked and just to spread my experiences out. But since there is so much competition, it’s cheapest to buy packages and book with one company. And the one company that included everything that I wanted was Groovy Grape. Everything, food and lodging, was included on all the tours which is a huge plus. Plus most of the nights on the Adelaide to Alice Springs tour were spent sleeping outside in swags. SCORE!

After dropping my large bag off at a storage place in Melbourne CBD (and it’s killing me that I can’t remember where I left it as it was pretty cheap to leave it!), I was picked up at a hostel around the corner from me. From the time of my pick up, I knew I was going to be one of the first, which was a very very good thing as when you do these tours, pretty much the seat you pick at first is the seat you sit in for the rest of the tour. My favorite seat was the single seat right in front, right in back of the door that everyone gets in. I can stretch out the most and be stuck next to know one. I love it! So I grabbed that seat when we were allowed to enter the bus. After a quick “tour” around town to pick everyone up, we were off. I can’t remember all and everything we did, so I apologize if I left anything out. You can read on the website the current tour anyway.

We made some stops in Torquay for shopping (which no one did) and some breakfast. The guides always give “tips” on places to eat and most of the time after hearing them, I head in the opposite direction if I can. We drove along, stopping at some beaches and then the “official” start to the Great Ocean Road for some photo ops. Those I always fall for, since they are free anyway. We stopped at a place were a lot of koala’s gather in the trees and I love a good koala sighting and could do it for hours. We stopped for lunch at one point which is when I knew this tour group of people was going to be kind of a bust for me. Most of the group was European and French, English, German and Dutch at that (blah). There were some girls from Canada too, which I probably hung out with the most but they were a bit younger then me. Plus it seemed most of the group smoked, which I can’t stand and just want to get away from most of the time. The guide was kind of a bust too. He was a fine guide, made good stops and and did well explaining things, but was a bit older then most of the guides I have had in the past and didn’t make an effort to get to know people, so I didn’t feel a connection at all. Oh well, you win some, you loose some.

Next stop, Antarctica!

Everyones got this picture. Look how sunny it was!

Great Ocean Road coast

Great Ocean Road coast

Never get tired of hunting for these buggers!

Great Ocean Road, me and an Arch

Great Ocean Road coast

The afternoon we made some more stops at beachs and London Bridge, before making it to our hostel. I am pretty sure we stayed at Ocean House Backpackers in Port Campbell, but I am not 100% sure. The place was pretty cute. It’s just a house that we pretty much just took over, even though technically other people can stay there too. There were a couple of large living areas, but we all spent most of our time on the porch. The bathrooms were full baths, which I like, but kind of a pain in the ass when all 12-16 people have to be up at the same time. Luckily, we all were pretty considerate of each other and since there were mirrors outside, all of the girls did their primping and pampering outside and we split it pretty evenly on shower time. It could have been worse!

Great Ocean Road coast

Great Ocean Road inlet

After dinner, we drove out to the Twelve Apostles so we could see them as the sun set, which I have to say was AWESOME!!! It’s super touristy at that time for a reason. It’s beautiful! It was pretty packed too, but still not to hard to get a good shot. We then walked down to a beach nearby before packing it in for the night.

12 Apostles at sunset

Me and the 12 Apostles

Sunset at the 12 Apostles

12 Apostles and the beach

Me bring artsy fartsy with the 12 Apostles

Sunrise, Sunset

Beach with the Apostles

On day 2, we got an early start, went to another beach before getting on the road to head up to the Grampians. We made a mid morning stop at Cheese World which is just as cheesey (hardy-har-har) as it sounds. Most of the group bought food and snacks, but I wondered around the place for a bit and went out to the shed to see the old style farming items. The collection was pretty extensive! And yay for cheese samples! We then drove up to the Grampians with a stop at Brambuk Visitor Centre. The place seemed a little strange when I was there, like they were still in the process of building it. It seems like it’s done now though! We also stopped and went on some short hikes around the area, seeing a waterfall on one which was a welcome relife as it was really hot (hello February!). We then drove on to Hall’s Gap and a night at Ned’s Beds for the night. I needed a break from the group and wondered around the very small town. Cute, very outback Australia which I love visiting and expirencing, but could never live in. They are all so different depending on the vegatation and state. Very interesting.

Arch on the Great Ocean Road

Southern Ocean

Don't go chasing waterfalls (in the Grampians)

Haze from the Victoria fires in the Grampians

On day 3, we went on another hike in the Grampians before heading west for the looooong drive to Adelaide. Little did I know that this was just a taste of what was to come on my trip up north to Alice Springs and Uluru! I was so ready to be done with this bus trip and this group (which is why I wanted to split up the companies, but oh well) and I couldn’t get out of the bus fast enough when I was finally dropped at my hostel, Annie’s Place in Adelaide.

Just how big the Grampians are. And Australia in general!

Two headed kangaroo's!

View from a hike in the Grampians

Moral: This was probably my least favorite tour I have ever been on. The trip itself was fine, what we saw was fine, what we ate was fine, where we stayed was fine. I didn’t particularly like the group or the guide, but there isn’t much I could do about that. And like always, for the price, it couldn’t have been beat. I totally liked the Great Ocean Road stuff, but the Grampians I could have passed on.

Used: 2009


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.

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: 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.

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: 2007/2008/2009

The year before I left for New Zealand, I hardly went to the movies. I worked for a film distribution company and if you really think back to 2006, it was kind of a crap year for movies anyway and I set a record low of going to the theatre. I don’t remember how many I saw, but I think I am being generous with maybe 10.

When I got to Auckland and settled in, after a few months one of the first movies I saw was Spider-Man 3 because I had seen the previous 2, so why not. I went out on the release day because technically I was going to see it before most people in the US as it was released a day before (movies are released on Thursdays in New Zealand) and because of the time change. I am a total nerd like that. There is a huge, nice movie theatre in town, called Sky Cinemas (looks like the name has changed since) and when looking to see how much tickets are, I found that you can reserve your ticket as well as your seat in advance! All I had to do to hold my seat was enter my EFTPOS card number and pick my ticket up 10 minutes before showtime, otherwise my ticket will be let go and my card will not be changed. And oh yeah, there is no fee for this service! When you go to pick up your ticket, you can pick an alternative form of payment, but of course, I used EFTPOS for everything, so I just ran my card again. But no change and you get a reserved seat! How awesome is that! This expirence should really be more popular in the US and it sucks hardcore that it’s not. Tickets were about NZD$10 back in the day and if we are just talking 1=1, that seemed really expensive, but in reality wasn’t too bad, especially for the nice theatre and the services they were providing.

I ended up going to the movies a bunch in 2007, mostly for popular movies and on day of releases, way more then the previous year, because it was just such a good exprience! I always knew where I was sitting and had my ticket days in advance, so I never had to worry about sell outs. For Harry Potter, I checked the website everyday for about a month before release to see when they were going to start selling tickets and 2 weeks to the day before release, the tickets went on sale and I was, I think, the first person to reserve my seats for the show I wanted. Love it!

Australia was a little harder. In 2008, I saw 6 movies in the theatre (a record low at that time for me) and 4 of them I saw in January, when I was still in New Zealand. Once I got to Australia, tried to figure out the movie situation. It didn’t help that I was barely working, my rent was out of control and movies were like $5 more, so going to the movies was really a non-issue. For my birthday, I treated myself to see Tropic Thunder. There was one theatre in town at the time and seemed kind of crappy so I took the long walk over to the Entertainment Quarter and went to the Hoyts over there since I was living in Potts Point. No prebooking, no assigned seats. I got so spoiled in New Zealand and Australia, once again, was like coming home. A huge letdown. Otherwise, everything was fine, just way too expensive to go more often.

When I got to Melboune things were a little better. I had no job and they were going through the worst heatwave ever and it was over 40(C) everyday for like 2 weeks and just to escape the heat, I found some theatres in town that had different cheap days and went. I saw Benjamin Button at the Hoyts Central and it was still kind of expensive and even though I have like no attention span for anything more then 90 minutes at anytime, because of the weather, the length was well worth the money for the time. A few weeks later I went to see Milk at Kino Dendy which from the looks of it, doesn’t exist anymore! Boo!! I really liked this place. First run movies for like AU$7 on Mondays! Score!!

Moral: I wasn’t as impressed with the service of movies in Australia as I was with New Zealand, it was too much like home (reason #543534 why Australia is America Downunder)

Fun fact about this movie poster! For countries in the Asian region (New Zealand (where this picture was taken) and Australia included), Jackie Chan is on the left while for the rest of the world, the actors are swapped! I worked for New Line (company who made and distributed this movie) and I thought that marketing tool was really funny!

Harry Potter Movie poster in Auckland - Check out the Aussie website for more details!

Harry Potter Movie poster in Auckland: Check out the Aussie website for more details!