Australian Animal Wonderland!

IMG_5672

That’s right, folks…I’m in the land of actual kangaroo crossing signs! It feels so strange to finally be in Australia after all of these years of wishing I could visit. It’s really as weird and exotic as you may have heard. I’ve had some surprising moments of joy like when I was shown the flying foxes cruising over the house into nearby trees. Or when we went to the golf course and saw roos on the green (at the 12th hole, to be exact). Even today when we went to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and saw devils, wombats, dingoes and monitors…oh, and of course koalas. The sanctuary was started in the late 1920’s after the koala population was decimated by hunting for their fur.

So without further adieu, let the photos begin!

The birds that appear in this yard alone are stunning…rainbow lorikeets, parrots, cockatoo and kookaburra are daily visitors.

IMG_5532
Rose breasted cockatoos

 

IMG_5526

Kookaburra
Kookaburra

IMG_5693

IMG_5679

IMG_5579
Rainbow lorikeets

IMG_5653

IMG_5647

IMG_5639

IMG_5627
The crowd is waiting for the putt

IMG_5700

IMG_5850

Tasmanian Devil
Tasmanian Devil

IMG_5826

Dingo
Dingo
White dingo (that did not eat your baby)
White dingo (that did not eat your baby)

IMG_5815

IMG_5811

IMG_5807

Koala gang signs
Koala gang signs

IMG_5731

Sure...if that's comfortable for you...
Sure…if that’s comfortable for you…
Um....ouch.
Um….ouch.
That's a crashed out wombat.
That’s a crashed out wombat.

IMG_5716

IMG_5746

IMG_5762

You have a little mouse tail there, ma'am.
You have a little mouse tail there, ma’am.
IMG_5739
Cassowary
Oooo girl, put some lotion on!
Oooo child, put some lotion on!

 

These are the last birds you want to mess with. The cassowary can cause major damage to your tender human skin with those feet. They can stand up to 6 feet tall, can run and jump and put a huge damper on your day.

IMG_5775

 

 

 

 

Licking arm to keep cool
Licking arm to keep cool

IMG_5769

Then there were the bats by the house on the way home. WAY too cool…fruit bats (flying foxes) are my favorite!

IMG_5866

IMG_5863

IMG_5878

IMG_5870

I know this is a bit out of place, but I wanted to mention these trucks that are here. They refer to them as Ute’s (utility) and they’re starting to grow on me. Not sure why they haven’t caught on in the States (sort of a throwback to the El Camino days). And actually, just quickly looking up a Cadillac Ute I saw a photo of recently, they mention bringing this one into the U.S.

GM Holden ute (photo from motoring.com.au)
GM Holden ute (photo from motoring.com.au)

Ute

 

 

Advertisements

Warmth At Last!

IMG_5415

Here’s the spot I hang out everyday on the Sunshine Coast. Only a handful of people walk by and I feel totally spoiled being here. I arrived in Mount Coolum, Queensland, Australia last week in order to get some beach time in. Wow…Australia is very cool so far. I saw my first goanna lizard coming back from the beach the other day. It was about four and a half feet long with white spots on its chunky black body. Further research has now proven that goannas and even iguanas do have venom glands which reinforces my belief about garter snakes being mildly venomous too.

rusty-monitor

 

I will have to curb my enthusiasm for picking up snakes here. Note to self: avoid any brown harmless looking snakes. I’ve checked into it and honestly they don’t look that threatening which is the scary part. And some of the most deadly ones are usually brown.

IMG_5412

I also came across a baby man-o-war on the beach and tons of cuttlebones. After looking into it, the bones can typically tell you how the poor cuttlefish died. Some have peck marks from birds, others have different teeth marks in them from fish or dolphin. I’ve never seen ANY on a beach before so it’s interesting to see so many here.

Baby man-o-war
Baby man-o-war
Cuttlebone munch marks. Tiny baby one at bottom, no marks.
Cuttlebone munch marks. Tiny baby one at bottom, no marks.
Big munch marks
Big munch marks

The weather here has been perfect with a cool breeze at night and I’m able to live in this house where the windows stay open all of the time. I almost feel like I’m back in Central America. Almost. The birds are crazy and I still get woken up by strange good morning calls from them. I see hawks flying over the beach daily and hear parrots squawking in the trees.

The air is perfumed by flowers blooming everywhere. There’s a huge plumeria tree next door and when I round a corner to the beach it smells like thousands of roses. The palm trees are abundant and also strange looking, like the fluffy one across the street.

Ground turkey with a sideways tail at the beach
Ground turkey with a sideways tail at the beach
Bird at Mt. Coolum park
Bird at Mt. Coolum park

I was lucky enough to be taken to this music festival on a beach over the weekend which was great! A lot of folks from different walks of life and ages. It was quite a people watching event. The bands were really good too and it was free!

Peregian music festival
Peregian music festival

IMG_5446

The sand is so soft here that it’s like baking powder. You can hardly even feel it between your fingers and it tends to stick to everything. There were these pretty blue shells all over the beach there.

IMG_5441

And you know me, I met a frog at my hostesses house. I got a bit too familiar with him and now he just hides in the mouth of the terracotta lion plaque on the wall. I’m pretty upset he’s avoiding me. Was it something I said? Not crazy about the pet name ‘Pumpkin’? I can change it! I didn’t mean you were fat…honestly!

IMG_5436

IMG_0016

Tonight we walked up Mount Coolum which is an extinct volcanic dome. It looked pretty daunting since I see this mountain everyday and heard it was a pretty strenuous walk up (682 feet above sea level to be exact). It was, but we did it and the view from the top was amazing. You could easily see Brisbane in the distance.

Mount Coolum
Mount Coolum
View from the top of Mt. Coolum
View from the top of Mt. Coolum
Looking toward Brisbane
Looking toward Brisbane

I haven’t actually seen a live kangaroo yet, but I did see these two things in the same day:

Kangaroo crossing
Kangaroo crossing

I assume this is what you get if you hit one of those kangaroos:

IMG135

I have a few more days to enjoy this great spot before heading off to Brisbane. I saw a sign today saying Christmas was only 6 weeks away!?! HUH? How can it be Christmas…it’s so warm out!

Weird and Wonderful New Zealand

IMG_3120

There were some things I wanted to talk about in regard to my time in New Zealand:

1. The cost of living and expenses incurred

2. The minor annoyances

3. Language differences

Some of you may recall that I keep track of my monthly expenses wherever I live. It helps other people out who would like to know and it also gives me a big picture of where my money went. So a quick recap of the three months here in USD (keeping in mind I didn’t pay to live at the farm for two months):

August:

Food: $330
Transportation: $555
Utilities: $100
Rent: $120 (another place I stayed before the farm)
Lodging: $140
Misc: $64
Entertainment: $95
Clothing: $45

TOTAL: $1449.00

September:

Food: $493
Transportation: $86
Utilities: $16
Rent: $0
Lodging: $110 (one night in Dunedin hotel)
Misc: $161
Entertainment: $0 (pretty boring, I know)
Clothing: $181 (total splurge on dresses I really wanted)
Bonus: $-200 for some paid work

TOTAL: $847

October:

Food: $460
Transportation: $378
Utilities: $328
Rent: $82
Lodging: $170
Misc: $-466 (bonus paid work)
Entertainment: $250
Clothing: $0

TOTAL: $1202

THREE MONTH TOTAL: $3500 OUCH OUCH OUCH!

I did have to pay for internet which was listed under utilities and that wasn’t pretty. Obviously food was expensive and so was transportation. If you can’t live for free somewhere, factor in $300 a week to rent a place or even do a homestay or share a flat with 2 or 3 other people. It isn’t cheap.  Basically double that $3500 for the 3 months of rent and you’ve got one expensive place to be living. Bus ticket prices are nowhere near as cheap as Central America. In NZ I paid about $35USD to travel 4 hours. Costa Rica buses (just as nice) would have cost about $6USD. I kinda had to get out of NZ due to the cost involved. I REALLY have to find house sits or helpx stuff there to make it worth staying. Minimum wage there is about $11/hr. USD.

On to the other topics!

One of the greatest inventions…the electric kettle. Heats water so fast your head will spin! Never put another kettle on the stove…these babies rock and everyone has one! People have tea ALL THE TIME there (and by the way, they also call dinner ‘tea’ which made it really confusing at first), so this is a necessity.

IMG_5130

The weird outlets took some getting used to. You can turn them on or off which still messes with me because I’m just used to plugging in and going…I’ve had my laptop die in the middle of something important more than once because I forgot to ‘turn on’ the outlet. Annoying.

IMG_5129

Showers, and while on the topic, water as well. It’s either scalding hot or freezing cold. Almost all showers I’ve been in had this Topliss dial on it which is very sensitive. One small turn in either direction means the difference between third degree burns or lukewarm water. Most showers will hold one person uncomfortably and usually with a metal floor. I felt like I was in some bio-hazard stall most of the time. Not attractive and usually nowhere to put your shampoo, etc. except on the floor.

The classic Topliss shower dial made in Nelson
The classic Topliss shower dial. Don’t be fooled, you don’t actually have this many choices of temperature.

It also seemed like whoever designed kitchen sinks had never washed a dish or a pan in one before. There were typically two knobs for hot and cold, sometimes with two faucets which does you absolutely no good at all. Again, scalding or freezing. But ALWAYS without exception, the faucet was too close to the edge to actually get a pan in there comfortably to wash and the sink was too shallow to move around in. Banging metal and clanging noises ensued. SUPER annoying.

Fantastic sink design.
Fantastic sink design.

I also couldn’t help but notice that almost nobody ever had a trash can in the bathroom. Why??? It’s the perfect place for one. There was even room to have one in there but without fail…never one there. Another annoying thing was not having a toilet in the same room as the shower. Weird.

Since I arrived in the winter, it took me two months to defrost because people don’t have central heating. Electric blankets, yes. Fireplace or wood burning stove, yes…but your room was never heated. You’d be lucky to have a heater in your room (again, a great place for one, but rarely there). I’d wake up in the morning to around 60 degrees which was never pleasant.

Another thing I noticed is that there are no shingle roofs here. They’re either metal or terracotta. Smart thinking there…houses in the U.S. should be built that way too but I think it’s really expensive to have a metal roof for some reason.

I wasn’t the only expat to notice this, but even dogs know to look right before crossing the street. That made me feel like a fool since I still can’t figure out which way to look. I was told by some smart alec to look BOTH ways before crossing. Um…yeah, that’s real cute.

Some funny sayings made me stop and laugh more than a few times. I was asked once where I ‘hatched out’, meaning where was I born. People will say, “Let me get out of your road”, which means out of your way. When I went up to Blenheim, I noticed people saying, “Good on ya!”, which meant good for you or good going. Down south, everyone would say “Hey?” when they didn’t hear what you said instead of “What”. Nobody says “Bless you” when you sneeze. Hiking is called tramping, a dirt road is called a track and an ATV is called a bike. When talking about the time, they’ll say “Half three” which means 3:30. Makes sense. They call high school ‘college’ and college is ‘university’. This may not be true everywhere, but a lot of kids get shipped off to high school and stay there the whole week in dorms. Very odd.

I will say this though, as a whole, Kiwi’s are really intelligent people. You won’t get much past them. They are polite, almost to a fault, as one guy put it to me the other day. Really terrific folks…love ’em to death. Honest, reliable, trustworthy…the whole 9 yards. For the most part, they seemed genuinely happy and how could they not be, living in such a beautiful place. They didn’t seem to take their country for granted, nor the beauty surrounding them. Oh, one other strange thing…it seemed like every Kiwi man I ran across had big beautiful blue eyes. It was getting far too common to see that and I jokingly asked if every single man in the country had blue eyes.

Speaking of blue, NZ has the bluest blues of any place I’ve ever seen. The sky is crazy blue, almost unnatural. The water can be this odd milky blue that looks like a magic potion. Then there are the trees…prehistoric looking trees. Big fern trees that are depicted in museum dinosaur exhibits; old pine trees with low thick branches that are like arms reaching out to grab you in a nightmare; tall dark trees that stand close together like sharp blades poking out of the earth. All scary and menacing…I always felt strange around the trees.

The landscapes were surreal as well, oftentimes my photos looked like paintings. It was hard to believe I was really in certain places…almost like it was a dream state. How could anything look so perfect? I’ve been in postcard places before, but NZ was the ultimate. I haven’t even seen much of the place, either. In terms of beauty and pristine, they’ve got it nailed.

I’m looking forward to coming back in February for another 3 months to see more. Hopefully on a tighter budget!

IMG_5063

 

Bay of Islands & Auckland

Beach in Paihia
Last day in the Bay of Islands: I could think of a lot worse places to be

It’s been a relaxing week up north (35 degrees south latitude on a map) in Paihia. The Bay of Islands is comprised of 144 of them…at least that’s what they say Captain Cook counted. I’ve stayed just around the bend from the beach. Yachts and sailboats anchor in clear blue waters and backpackers trudge up the street a few times a day when the bus arrives. It’s a sleepy town for the most part although I arrived the weekend of Labor Day and it was pretty crowded. The people were friendly as usual and the motels I stayed in were great!  Everyone had left by Monday afternoon and the town relaxed again.

IMG_5191

It’s a place with quite a bit to do and has a lot of history behind it. The treaty grounds were up the road a few miles where the Maori and the British Crown signed a peace treaty in 1840. It’s considered the founding document of New Zealand but problems with the interpretation and rights associated with it continue to this day.

Christ Church of Russell
Christ Church of Russell

Across the bay, a short 15 minute or so boat ride is Russell. This is where the first church of New Zealand still stands (musket holes in the side and all). This is also where one of the most expensive rentals is…the likes of Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt helicopter into this place at a mere $15,000.00 a day in high season. Only $12,000.00 a day in low season. Pocket change!

Movie star rental property
Movie star rental property

After a couple days of rain, and my departure from there a day later, I decided to stay a couple IMG_5161more nights. What a great decision maker I am!! The weather cleared, the winds picked up to about 20-25 knots and I figured it’d be a great day to go sailing. I got a charter with ‘She’s a Lady’,  a lovely sailboat along with 8 other people.

We sailed out to Moturua island where it was crystal clear with nobody else around. One crazy Canadian jumped off the boat and swam to shore. Some even got in and snorkeled! The water temp is about 62F. No gracias. Our skipper claimed it’s what’s saved New Zealand from overpopulation. I really wish I could jump into that lovely blue water without cardiac arrest occurring…but so it goes.

There was an old bunker at the top of the hill that some of us climbed up to and the view was postcard material. We had a nice lunch on the beach then headed back out. We saw million dollar homes belonging to people you’ve heard of…one with a his and her helicopter parked out front.

IMG_5185

I was trusted to do some of the sailing and helped pull in the ropes for the sails a few times. We saw a pod of bottlenose dolphin fishing and flying up into the air. Someone caught the glimpse of a penguin swimming by as well.

IMG_5153

The beaches in Paihia are littered with oyster shells clinging to everything. When the tide goes out, the broken mussel shells reflect purple, blue and silver in the sun. Most of the beach is packed full of small shells. I got some serious shiny object syndrome going on out there. I could have just wandered with my head down for days on end. I can’t recall ever seeing a beach quite like it before.

All shell beach

IMG_5093

IMG_5104

Well, the fun had to end sometime so off to Auckland I went on the Naked Bus. No, you don’t ride it naked, that’s just the name. Yeah, I thought it was weird too. Four hours later and about $30USD lighter, I arrived in the big city! This really was a big city for me…with Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci all within walking distance of each other.

No comment
No comment
Sky Tower and University of Auckland
Sky Tower and University of Auckland

I found myself drifting toward the water after checking out the park (more creepy trees) and orienting myself with the streets.

IMG_5364

Auckland bridge, birthplace of bungy jumping!
Auckland bridge, birthplace of bungy jumping!

I had to see Sky Tower where people were jumping from insane heights. Sky Tower is 1076 feet tall (I’m sure they’re including the needle at the top).

IMG_5385

IMG_5391I checked out the penny slots in the casino and was promptly separated from my money. I popped into a Mexican food place for a glass of sangria then headed out to an Irish pub for a steak dinner.

I’ll be heading to the lovely Sunshine Coast in Australia next for some R&R at the beach for a week and a half before starting a house sit that will take me through Christmas and into the new year!