Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Day 20

These are the scooters we rented in Port Douglas.

This made us laugh, somethings just don't translate even in English...

These signs were at the edge of all the ponds and even on the beach.
We even saw a croc waiting at the edge of one of the ponds in one of the housing developments!

Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns

Jen on the second level sun-deck of the Ocean Quest

Dive staging area on the lower level of the Ocean Quest

Stearn view of the Ocean Quest

Port Douglas over looking 4 mile beach.

This is the view of Auckland from the ferry going to Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island view

Mike and Jen on Waiheke Island

Hi there,

We made it back "home" to New Zealand, at least that's what it felt like as we rode in the shuttle back to the familiar hostel in Auckland last night.

I promised to post more photos once we found an Internet cafe so those are at the top.

Today we went to Waiheke Island, kind of a Madeline Island on New Zealand a 30 min ferry ride off the coast of Auckland. We rented a 150cc motorcycle and rode around the island for a couple of hours until we got rained out. We were able to get some great photos, some are mixed in with the Cairns photos above so you'll have to read the captions.

The Island was very nice, we met a fellow American who had also rented a motorcycle, we had a beer with him in the local pub while waiting for the return ferry. Turns out he works for the Secret Service based in LA and is in NZ with his wife who works for the New Zealand Consulate in LA. He was from St Cloud, MN so we had lots to talk about. We gave him some ideas for enjoying the South Island as he and his wife were heading down there this weekend. Very nice guy.

So now were in Auckland, Crosby Stills and Nash are playing in concert tonight so Jen wants to see if we can score any last minute tickets to the show. Maybe we can get a couple of the reserve tickets they usually hold up to the hour before the show. We'll see...

Other than that we finally found where to shop, the Auckland area downtown has lots of good stores with reasonable prices so we're feeling optimistic we can find some good stuff.

We fly out to LA tomorrow at 7:15PM and arrive the same day at 10:15AM so tomorrow is our Ground Hog's Day... ;)

Hope everyone is doing well, we'll see you soon.

Love, Mike and Jen.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Day 19

We went out to dinner with the two girls we met on the dive trip and swaped diving stories over pizza and a wine.

We slept in Cairns that night and got up to catch a shuttle bus to Port Douglas.

We've checked in to the Backpacker Hotel and we have rented two 50cc scooters to "scoot" around town on. They're pretty fun, it reminds me of when we rented scooters on our family trip to Cancun. Not very fast but fun to zip around on.

We're going to just hang out here; the town looks like it's ready to be over-run with the rainforest any minute. There are birds everywhere and it's hot and humid.

We'll catch the hotel's shuttle back to the Cairns airport in the morning and head back to Auckland for a two day layover on our way back to LA on Friday.

I'll get more photos up once we get back to Auckland, these smaller towns have pretty slow connections.

Hope everyone is doing well,


Mike & Jen

Day 15 - 18

Hey there, we've survived the Great Barrier Reef and are back in Cairns.

We started off on the Reef Quest, a "small" boat which does the day trips and makes the transfers to the Ocean Quest which is the boat we stay over night on.

We made our first two dives on the reef from this first boat, had lunch then transferred to the Ocean Quest for one more day dive, dinner then the night dive.

This was a very impressive ship, it sleeps 48 people, has a full dining room, a lounge, bar, and two sun decks. The rooms all have private bathrooms, TVs and a bed and rivals some of the nicer hostels we stayed in so far. On the back lowest level is the diving platform and staging area. Everyone's gear was here and in numbered slots so all you had to do was get to your slot, put on your gear and walk down a set of stairs to the dive platform at the waterline. The entire operation was a well oiled machine. From the loading of passengers to the launching and retrieving of divers.

The dives were awesome! The visibility varied between 30 and 60 feet, not the best we've seen but the variety of coral and ocean life was amazing. We saw tons of species of fish, octopus, sharks, coral, and turtles. It was great.

We did our first open ocean night dive and that was pretty cool. We had a Giant Trevally using the lights from our flashlights to find it's dinner. Every time we would see a fish and shine our lights on it the Trevally would come in and try to kill what we were looking at. It was amazing how fast it was, it would swim just under us then just accelerate into the fish. On the way back to the boat we turned off the lights and sat on the bottom looking up at the full moon watching the schools of fish swim by. It was so bright we really didn't need the lights. One the way back up to the surface we saw our first White Tipped Reef Shark hunting the fish which were drawn to the lights under the boat. Very cool to see him, just a beautiful fish.

On the ship we got some of the best sleep, the gentle rocking of the boat and the low hum of the generator put us right to sleep.

We made a total of 10 dives over three days. They feed us three meals a day and showed movies at night after the night dive and desert time finished. If you're ever thinking of doing a live aboard dive trip on the GBR this is the company we would recommend.

Well we met some girls on the boat, one from Holland the other from Denmark and we're going to go to dinner with them here in town. Tomorrow we'll head up to Port Douglas while we wait our 24 hours before flying after diving.

I've tried to upload some photos but this PC is ungodly slow on the connection and keeps timing out while uploading them. You can pretty much just Google the GBR and see what it looks like. I didn't get any under water shots so they're just of the ship and some of the colorful water. We'll have to show you them when we get back.

Hope everyone is doing well and we'll talk to you soon!


Mike & Jen.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Day 14

G'day from Australia!

We made it into Carins this morning, it was an early rise at 3:00AM to get to the Auckland airport for our 6:50AM flight.

The flight from Auckland took just over 5 hours and was pretty uneventful, Jen got some sleep and I watched TV and read magazines.

We got all checked in at the hotel and the dive shop so we're all set for our dive trip to the reef.

Not much else going on, it's about 87 degrees and mostly sunny so maybe we'll just hang out by the hotel pool and relax.

I'll take plenty of photos on the reef and get the next post up in 3-4 days.

Take care and we'll talk to you soon!

Mike & Jen

Day 12 & 13

Hi there,

We camped last night in the tent and got a great nights sleep. The stars stayed out until about 5:00AM then some high clouds started rolling in, along with the logging trucks whizzing by 20 feet from our tent at 60 MPH, and cows, and chickens, and birds chirping. That's OK, I wasn't tired any more... ;)

We made it on to the 10:00AM caving tour, the 6 hour version was not available but the 4 hour was so we jumped on to that one. The area is known for it's limestone caves and there are a couple of tour operators but most catered to the casual tourist, kids, etc... We found the one operator that does small group caving expeditions. Less tourist encounter and more caving 101.

We got to the camp on his own 500 acres where we got changed in to our gear. Jumpsuits and repelling harnesses, helmets and rubber boots. We started into the cave which started off as a small stream flowing past a couple of unremarkable rocks.

As we continued on we climbed down in to the first area of the cave. WOW! Very cool stuff. The 50 degree water was falling down around us and we were shimmying down passages some too narrow to pass any other way but sideways.

We got to our first repel point, it was a small hole in the rocks where we hooked ourselves up to the rope and lowered ourselves into the cavern below, one by one we made our way down into total darkness. This went on for what seemed like miles, turned out to be only under a kilometer, we got to the turn around point had a couple of chocolate chip cookies and started back.

We climbed through holes, on our hands and knee, crawled on our bellies through the water. There were some points where the holes were only big enough for our heads without the helmets. Imagine me, 6'2", 215-ish on my belly up to my mouth in cold water pulling myself through a hole above the water just big enough for my head... god I love vacation!

We got a photo CD with our adventure. Some are stock photos but we got some of us and our group as well.

Now we're in Auckland getting ready to fly to Cairns in the morning. Our dinner and show tomorrow night was canceled so we'll have to find something to do the day we get there. We get picked up for our dive trip to the outer reef on Saturday morning so I won't be able to update the blog while we're on the boat. So tomorrow will be the last one for a couple days.

We were able to find some Sudafed this afternoon so Jen's all doped up on that and feeling much better. She should be good to go for the diving on Saturday.

Hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving dinner, it sounds like Kota sure did (at least for a short time). Thanks again for comments and letting Kota use the new Mac, I'm sure you were nervous letting him use the keyboard with those claws for nails... ;)

Talk to you all from Australia tomorrow!


Mike and Jen

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Day 11

Hi there,

Thanks for the comments, it's great to hear everything is going well back home. Jen is very happy to hear Kota is doing well.

We drove today from Hawke's Bay today and made our way through Taupo to the Waitomo Caves area where we are going to try to get on a cave exploration adventure. The one we want is about 6 hours long (4 under ground) and should be nice and challenging.
We didn't plan ahead for this so we're trying to get a hold of the operator to see if there is room on the tour in the morning. It's not high tourist season so we think we have a good chance.

Tomorrow is Thursday here so we'll be thinking of Turkey and everyone we're missing while we're here. We'll just have to make up for it at Christmas. ;)

The place we're staying is just down the street from the tour operators, it's called Juno Hall and we have our tent set up outside with the rain fly off so we can see the stars. The weather looks good, nice and cool.

Sorry, no pictures this time. Another locked down PC.

Jen has picked up a stuffy head, so we got her some sinus medication. She's snorting some Vick's nasal inhaler in the hopes she can loosen it up by the time we get to the Barrier Reef. Not really a good idea to dive with a stuffy head, I've tried it's quite painful. If it doesn't clear up by tomorrow afternoon we'll get her some Sudafed, hoping that will do the trick.

Hope everyone is doing well,

I'll try to get to an Internet cafe in Auckland to upload some more photo tomorrow.


Mike & Jen

Monday, November 19, 2007

Day 10 (cont...)

So we made it up to Te Mata lookout, not that it was too tough we were able to drive all the way up. The views were amazing, we could see from the ocean to the mountains overlooking the vineyards in the valley.

While we were up there we were able to watch a couple of hang gliders taking off from the peak on some purpose built "runways". That was pretty cool to be standing on the tip of the hang glider while the guy ran off the edge of the mountain and caught the breeze to soar over the valley below. I have video of the take off but it would cost a fortune to upload it to this blog since I'm paying for Internet Access by the minute.

We found a couple of great lookouts at the peak and took some pretty cool photos of us sitting on the edge of the peak. Looking down you can see all the way to the valley floor some 5-6,000 ft down.

After that we walked around the town center of Napier. The art deco buildings were pretty cool. When they rebuilt the city the upper half of the buildings were the art deco the lower are the shops.

We found the local grocery store and got supplies for dinner and breakfast.

The hostel at which we're staying is the best one by far. They have great rooms, laundry, Internet, 300+ DVD movies we can watch, BBQ Grill, two kitchens and full facilities shower. Not bad at all for $52NZD a night.

We bought some small steaks at the store, some fresh asparagus, some Lindt's chocolate for dessert and a bottle of New Zealand Cab/Merlot. Best meal we've had in a number of days.

Hope everyone is doing well back home.

Mike & Jen

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Day 8,9 & 10

Hey there!

Sorry for the delay in getting to this blog, I meant to stop in an Internet Cafe in Wellington but Jen wanted to watch the Netball world championships and we ended up walking the streets of Wellington looking for a sports bar with the game on. Needless to say we did find one and enjoyed a good match between the NZ Silver Ferns (I know, intimidating mascot) and the Australian Aussies. Unfortunately Australia won (again, now having won 9 of the last 12 years) so the mood was pretty sour at the end of the match.

And here are some photos from the last blog entry;

Anyway to pick up where we left off, we spent our last day in the South Island in the city of Picton we had reservations on the 1:15PM Inter-island Ferry, so we used the morning to rent a double kayak and paddle around the Marlborough Sound and Picton Harbor. While it wasn't as impressive as Milford Sound it was still amazing.

After loading the car onto the ferry and finding our seat on the sun deck we broke out the pita, turkey and cheese sandwiches and enjoyed the sunny 3 hours on the sea to the North Island and the city of Wellington.

Once in Wellington, we located and checked in to our hostel and began exploring the city on foot. We found that sports bar, had some beers and watched the game. The place really filled up once the game started and we were scrounging for chairs, Jen even stole one guys when we got up to go to the bathroom... that's my girl! The seat was even still warm. ;)

The next day we had on the schedule to go to the National Museum or Te Papa. The native inhabitants of NZ are called the Maori, they originated from the same group that lived in the South Pacific and are related to the Polynesian Culture. Most of the museum was dedicated to preserving the history of the Maori and their culture before NZ was "discovered" by the British. (Sound familiar?) The rest was about the geographical make up of the islands, they are on the fault of two tectonic plates so a lot about earthquakes and volcanoes.

After 5 hours of that we started off to the other side of the city finding the Wellington Cable Car, we rode this to a hilltop overlooking the city and harbor.

After that we made our way back to the hostel with the intentions of doing laundry and writing an entry on the blog. But by this time our minds and bodies were fatiguing so we ended up vegging out in the hostel watching movies on TV.

We woke this morning refreshed and ready to make the drive up to the Hawks Bay region. This is the region of NZ known for it's Wine, Cheese, Olives and Chocolate. So... it's heaven on earth.

We stopped first at the Sileni Estates Winery, had a couple of tastes of their selections and ended up purchasing a bottle of their Merlot/Cab-Franc blend. Though all were very good we thought it best to limit it to one, for now. We have a number of other vineyards to visit tomorrow.

We're holding up in Archie's Bunker Backbacker Hotel in the town of Napier. This is a fascinating town, it was destroyed in 1931 by an earthquake and they rebuilt it on the new ground produced by the quake. Except this time the entire town in done in an Art Deco motif. So it looks like we're on the set of a 1930's movie, pretty cool.

Tonight we planning on walking around Napier and if we have enough daylight dive up to Te Mata Lookout in Hastings.

Tomorrow we'll hit a few more vineyards, the Te Mata Cheese shop, the Olive shop and maybe the Chocolate Factory for dessert. Mmm no more PB&J for me... ;)

We need to make our way up to Auckland for our 6:00AM flight to Cairns on Friday, so we may stray from our itinerary to make up some time. This section of the North Island is more interesting than we expected so we'll have to forgo the other side for this trip.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Day 7

Well the train from Greymouth was good, don't know if I would call it the "Most Spectacular Train ride in the world", but it was nice. I got some photos of the country side, but the drive up from Queenstown was much better.

We made our way in to Christchurch, we found our hostel and got settled then walked around the city center looking for dinner. As we walked around we saw many old buildings, churches and of course a Starbucks right smack in the middle of the town square. So charming... oh well.

So far the shopping has been very disappointing, everything is very expensive. We thought we would be able to find some nice wool products on the cheap since they make it locally and all but we haven't been able to find anything yet.

We ended up finding a Mexican restaurant in town. We had a 3/4 of a shot of Herradurra Tequila for $15NZD and a each had a couple of beers and burritos. The dessert was a solid chocolate cake with ice cream on the side. Over all the dinner was quite good and despite the over priced tequila ended up being reasonably priced.

We made our way back through the city to our hostel where we watched a movie in the common lounge with another couple, I think it was Panic Room with Jodie Foster.

Today we drove from Christchurch to Picton. We stopped in Kaikora about half way and had our first wine tour and tasting. ( ) We got a nice meat and cheese platter and tried all 6 or 7 types of the Kaikura Vineyards wines. Then we toured the facilities and they taught us about the wine making process they use to make the wine. The vineyard is on a cliff overlooking the south bay of Kaikura, this is a place where dolphins and whales come to hang out in NZ. They have "swim with the dolphins" tour but we didn't have the time in our schedule to do it. Oh well, next time.

We have reservations on the Inter-island Ferry at 1:15PM tomorrow so we thought we'd squeeze in a couple of hours of kayaking in the Marlborough Sound in the morning. So for $70 we rented a tandem kayak for half a day and will spend the morning doing that.
( )

The ferry is a 3 hour cruise... I know. I won't worry until I meet a movie star, a professor, a millionaire and his wife. After that we'll spend the rest of tomorrow and the next day in Wellington. We have plans on visiting the museum of New Zealand. ( We've heard this takes a full day and should be interesting.

Unfortunately I can't upload any photos from this PC, the hostel has it locked down pretty tightly, they've even replaced the Window's Start button, sheesh! I'll try to find an Internet cafe in Wellington and make up for it on the next entry.

Jen would like to add something so I'll step aside.
Talk to you all soon,


'Ello! It's Jen! Since Mike always rolls his eyes at me when I tell him to put in something about Kota, I figured I would just do it myself...
Amy - Thanks for all the updates! It really helps knowing that he is not being too much of a pain! It sounds like we owe you some new towels. If that is the only thing we end up owing you, we'll be happy! Give him a big ole kiss for me! I know he's in good hands, but I still worry!

So the weather has been "ok". It's a good thing we didn't expect to spend everyday at the beach getting a tan! Hopefully, we get some clear nights in Australia. Mike and I would like to try to see the Southern Cross constellation. Today in Picton the clouds started to clear. We are hoping they stay away for the night so kayaking tomorrow is nice.

OK, I think that is all for me! Mike pretty much summed up the rest of the day's activities. I did want to add that he had been doing a brilliant job driving. For how much crap I give him, for how often I grab my door handle and bang my foot down on my imaginary pedals, he is doing a great job! He has only had to be reminded a handful of times that he was on the wrong side of the road - and just gentle reminders at that! ...Ok I'm done!

I hope all is well with everyone back home! Thanks for the comments - they put a huge smile on our faces! I'm now stealing my husband away from the computer and forcing him to play soccer with me...


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Day 5 & 6

While I was writing the last post we ran into an American from New York in the Internet Cafe and she talked our ears off about how she and her 3 kids were on a world tour for the last four months, we talked about the places we had on our itinerary and she didn't have a good thing to say about any of the places we were going. She had all three kids with her and they were just horrible... talk about just a generally toxic person. So if it felt like I cut off the last blog entry that's why, we had to get away from the psycho lady and her screaming kids. It took a full day to get her out of our system.

After leaving Queenstown we drove to Lake Hawea where we found a "Holiday Park", or RV Park as we call them in the States. We rolled in at 10:00pm and booked a cabin for $40NZD and rested. When we woke up we found we stayed in a beautiful place, snow capped mountains, turquoise lakes and green meadows. The Wanaka area is the place were Kiwis go to "the cabin". It made it tough driving due to all the scenery. This turned out to be the start of the Southern Alps of the South Island.

As we drove we stopped at small cafes and towns along the way. After we got to the coast we made our way North along the West coast. The Ocean on one side the white capped mountains on the other with rolling meadows in between. The most common words out of our mouths were "gorgeous", "wow", "WATCH THE ROAD!!!!".... ;)

As we made our way up the coast we found there was an area that had two active glaciers. The Fox and the Franz Josef glaciers. So we grabbed lunch in Fox township at a country western restaurant/bar and drove to the Franz Josef. We took about 20 min walk to the glacier and took some photos. Since we pretty much knew what snow and ice looked like we didn't feel the need to stay too long. It was still pretty cool to see an active glacier in the middle of a tropical island in the South Pacific. Only in New Zealand.

We stopped in a pub in small town South of Greymouth for a break and met some of the locals. On the TV there was what looked like a version of Women's American Basketball, Jen was very excited to watch it but it turned out to be some really sterilized version of the sport. It's called Netball, and I guess it's the second most popular sport in the area next to rugby. Just imagine American Basketball without dribbling and no contact. The hoop is a standard hoop but without the backboard. So there were no layups, no three pointers, they just passed the ball, once they got it they couldn't take any steps. Once under the hoop the shooter stopped and made the shot. The only defense was between passes and an occasional hand up in the air trying to block a shot. But it looked like the blocker couldn't move their feet either once the shooter started her shot. Strange game.

We made it into Greymouth and checked in to the hostel. Found a grocery store and stocked up for dinner. Jen found a bulk bin full of giant gummy worms, actually they looked more like pythons. So for dinner we split a bottle of Australian Cab/Merlot, made noodles in a cup and PB & J sandwiches with gummy snakes for dessert.... mmmm. ;)

Today we drop off our trusty 1990 Nissan Pulsar at the train station and take the Tranz Alpine train ( ) across Aurthur's Pass to Christchurch where we'll pick up a new car and stay for the night before heading North to Picton. This should take up the rest of the day going through the Southern Alps, we should get plenty of photos as it's supposed to be one of the most scenic train trips in the world, so says the marketing.

The train leaves at 1:15 and takes about 5 hours. I'm actually looking forward to it, I'll be able to see all the scenery without having to worry about staying on the road.

We'll try to get out another update once we make it into Christchurch with some photos from the trip.

Hope everyone is doing well, thank you for the comments it's great to hear from everyone back home. Keep them coming.

Love, Mike and Jen