2011: a year abroad

Now that 2011 is over we have been looking back on our first year spent without being in Canada. It’s been a crazy and wonderful year full of new and amazing experiences. While they have been troubling and stressful times, I mostly remember our amazing adventures. The stuff we have been posting on the blog is about 2 months behind our actual trip, due to spotty internet access and a little bit of laziness, but this is what we’ve been up too this year!

After the New Year started we visited Kumamoto and Kyoto with my family, went to Kurokawa for Onsen, finally made it to one of Fukuoka’s most famous sites, Dazaifu, I went skiing in Hiroshima, and we enjoyed snow covered Japan, for a weeks weeks at least.
In February I started this blog which has enabled me to remember all of the things I did this year and I’m so happy I did! We celebrated the Chinese new year with a trip to Nagasaki and I enjoyed a quick trip to Shimonoseki for some sushi.

This month we discovered one of our favourite places in Japan, Yakushima. We also spent some time exploring Kagoshima and it’s volcanic island, Sakurajima and celebrated girls festival day in Yanagawa.April:
In April we spent a lot of time exploring Fukuoka and enjoying the various cherry blossom viewing festivals. I rode an electric bike through Kitakyushu, saw the retro town, Mojiko, and had a delicious burger on the island of Nokonoshima.

We spent golden week and a half exploring China in Beijing and Datong, and at the end of the month went camping with our apartment mates in Miyazaki.June:
I took a train trip to the nearby Saga prefecture, biked over 7 bridges from Honshu to Shikoku,  where I went to the all important Anpanman museum and saw an old Canadian friend.

We  celebrated Scott’s birthday in Yufuin, spent some time on the beautiful Iki island, off of Fukuoka’s coast, stayed up all night for Fukuoka’s Yamakasa festival, saw firebreathing dragons at Omuta’s Daijayama festival, and spent a lot of time saying goodbye to the country we now love so much.August:
One last Japanese hurrah in August took us to Tokyo, Hakone and Kamakura.  We experience snow in August for the first time in New Zealand, and spent the rest of the month being gloriously cold in a camper van.

We spent 6 days of September in New Zealand and then we went to Australia. The majority of the month was spent in a campervan down the east coast of Australia.October:
In October we saw Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley and the Great Ocean road. Then we were off to Malaysia for two weeks, spending a few days in Kuala Lumpur and 8 days in the Perhentian islands getting SCUBA certified. We made it to Koh Lipe in Thailand just in time for a good Halloween party.

The first half of November we were on Thailand’s beautiful Andaman coast. We spent a week on Koh Lanta, where we both suffered from a little bit food poisoning, I went to a yoga retreat on Koh Yao, and we had one uneventful night at the Bangkok airport before heading to Vietnam. We spent the last two weeks travelling with my parents in Northern and Central Vietnam.December:
We started decmeber off in Vietnam, but moved quickly to Cambodia for ten days, then 5 days spent in Chiang Mai Thailand, a few days in Bangkok, 9 in the Philippines, and  we ended the month and the year visiting friends in Southern Thailand.

It’s been an absolutely amazing year, the kind I’ve always dreamed of having, and I’m so sad to see it go, but I can’t wait for 2012!

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New Zealand by the Numbers: a Wrap Up

Time: 25 days. 3 in Christchurch, 4 in Auckland, 2 in Wellington and 16 spent roaming in the campervan.
Vans rented: 2, Blackhole and Shenzou both from Spaceships, an excellent and cheap option.
Nights Slept in Vans: 19, 4 in commercial campsites and 15 in Department of Conservation sites.
Friends Visited: 1, we spent 4 days catching up with one of my camp friends in Auckland and it was wonderful.
Boat Rides: 3, we took a boat to see glowworms, a boat in fjordland, and a really expensive ferry between the two islands.
Flights: 1, from Auckland to Christchurch in their first snow storm in 15 years.
National Parks: 5
World Heritage Sites: 1
Best Food: After arriving from Japan, we enjoyed all the western food immensely, but our favourite were the cheap and abundant Fish and Chips, the chocolate bar Moro Gold, and, of course, the fresh and delicious Kiwi Fruit.

Worst Food: Not a big fan of Marmite.
Best City: We loved Wellington, with its charming waterside walks and excellent museums. It reminded us a lot of Ottawa, one of our favourite cities. A close second place goes to Wanaka where we enjoyed the beautiful scenery, the lake, a ridiculously dangerous children’s playground and the chill atmosphere.

Worst City: Queenstown. We felt it was overrun by tourists, which I know is a little hypocritical, and everything was way too expensive.

Best New Experience: Seeing all the natural wonders of New Zealand. It was amazing to drive through mountains and arrive at crystal clear lakes, boat through giant fjords, and come this close to touching a glacier.

What we learned: Thanks to some excellent museums, we learned a lot about glaciers, fjords, mountains and other natural wonders, as well as about native birds; like the crazy alpine parrot, the sadly disappearing kiwi bird and Maori customs and culture. I also learned that there are such terrifyingly large giant squids lurking in the ocean. We also picked up some excellant slang, like a handle of beer instead of a pint, that L&P is a delicious lemon fizzy drink and that ‘to go’ food is takeaway, not take out.
Travel Tip: If you’re camping, pick up a DOC camping guide. They won’t give them to you at your rental place, because they have deals with commercial campgrounds, but the DOC sites were cheaper, in more natural settings and more peaceful. Their only downside was that the maps and directions in the guide were a little vague and it was quite easy to get lost while looking for the sites, but that only added to the adventure. Also, don’t go camping in Wellington, make plans to sleep elsewhere, because the one campground is way too expensive.

Will we go back? Most definitely. We are already planning our lives as expats there.


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Fraser Island

One of the must stops down the east coast of Australia is Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. Not wanting to miss out, we took a one day 4 wheel drive trip.
The truck picked us up and took the ferry over to the island. Right away, we struck gold and saw a wild dingo!

The jeep took us over to the island on a ferry, and then down the beach until we got to Lake MacKenzie, a lake that is fed only by an underground aquifer and rain. It was absolutely wonderful to swim in, especially after swimming in salt water.  It has the same silica based sand as on whitehaven beach. We spent some time swimming and lying on the silica beach before heading to the rainforst. We were amazed that trees so tall could grow right out of the sand! Next we headed to the  wreck of the Maheno, a ship that sunk offshore in 1935.
After washing ashore, the still intact ship was used as a location for weddings and other parties before WWII, when the Australian air force used as a target for bombing drills. Now it is half destroyed and all rusted out, and a stop on all standard tours. It was fascinating.
On the way back we stopped for a swim in a small creek halfway down the island. This was my favourite part of the trip. The current in shady stream was so strong that you could let it push you, and we had a few races with the other people on our tour.  The water was amazingly pure and clean.
Before we headed back to Airlie, we stopped and did something that I had previously sworn I would never do, but more on that later.

What a great day!

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Strange Small Towns: Biggenden

While driving through the middle of nowhere we stumbled upon what might possibly the the best small town in all of Australia. Biggenden is definitely not on any tourist map or even on some regular maps, but we spent an amusing half an hour exploring the town.
 Among the highlights was this amazing blacksmith and funeral parlour, complete with the most incredible iron structure I have ever seen.

Here we have a devil of some kind holding a dragon. I can’t even begin to describe it further. I love road trips!



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Up to the Daintree

As we drove through New Zealand, Scott and I listened to Bill Bryson’s amazing book about travelling in Australia, “In a Sunburned Country”, and were inspired to make a trip north from Cairns to see the the rainforest and cape tribulation. After a few hours driving we reached the Daintree river, where we first realized how much money we were going to have to spend in Australia. The river is about 50m wide, an easily swimmable distance if it hadn’t been for the crocodiles, and is the only way into the national park. It costs $25 for a return ferry ticket.
 That said, it was the only thing we spent money on for the rest of the day, so it was worthwhile for the trip. The Daintree is an ancient rainforest, and going there really does feel like entering another world. We spend the day walking underneath giant trees, admiring waterfalls and keeping our eyes out for Cassowaries. We skipped the discovery centre in favour of the free walks near by, which I would definitely recommend.

We had planned to spend the night at the campground within the park, but it was full, and we were forced to cut our trip short. In a hurry to get back over the river before dark, we spent a little time for Cape Tribulation. It was named Tribulation by Captain Cook who ran aground near the cape in 1770.

We drove back out, managing not to hit any giant flightless birds, and to an amazing free campsite 30km south of the park.
We had a great day in the Daintree, and my only regret is not seeing any crocodiles. Well you have to save something for next time…

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Australasia’s Weird Food: Lamingtons

Popular in both New Zealand and Australia, lamingtons are sponge cakes covered in strawberry jam or chocolate sauce and coconut flakes. For some reason we never actually ate one in either country, but they sure do look delicious.

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