Saturday, September 15, 2012

Some. thing is a foot in Sydney and flipping in Queens

Beth about to go diving

The following is an incomplete re-telling of the adventures of Beth, Skog, and Kaleb as they tore through Sydney.  Beth has some blogs that goes into her solo adventures from Cairns (where the picture to the left was taken) to the point when she joined up with us.  I say that is an incomplete re-telling as we packed a bunch of things in a very short time.  I tend to write like I think which means that there may be some side stories as I typically have an internal monologue going on during the day.  It is not uncommon for me to laugh randomly throughout the day and its generally because I’m remembering something.  Most of the time its like an inside joke.  It just happens that Beth understands most of them so the joke isn’t wasted by having to explain it in great detail.  Now dear reader, the story resumes after our brief stint running around the North Island.
We are bound for some time across the ditch.  Our destination is Sydney.  I don’t really plan when it comes to vacation.  That is more Beth.  I generally just show up and try things out.  Granted this may not always be the best approach, but its guaranteed to be an experience!  I tend to remember with greater clarity and emotion when you have to scramble as something doesn’t go right.  I have images of not getting our tickets for World Cup 2006 and having to run around trying to find them.  To say that we were in a panic and Beth was in a murderous rage would have been an understatement.  Everything worked out and we saw the game, granted not in the right zone.  I can recall how DHL screwed us like it was yesterday.  I can recall last year searching in vain for a capsule hotel in Hiroshima. There was supposed to be one according to the map, but it wasn’t to be found.  Instead we fell back on the Kaleb tested and approved method of sleeping at the internet café.  
Beth made it here.  We did not.
So going to Australia, I had booked flights and a night at a hostel and nothing else.  Like the premise of the blog, just a backpack and a fistful of cash, I go in with an open and a flexible agenda.  You never know when inspiration is going to find you.  So getting to Australia wasn’t all that difficult.  I booked a flight for us via House of Travel and Beth got us electronic visas.  Yes you need a visitor visa to go to Australia.  We flew LAN, which is based out of Chile, so all the announcements are in Spanish first and then English, and even got food on our flight with metal silverware.  I was told to put my bag under the seat in front of me, in Spanish.  Well I assume that is what she said, because my high school Spanish is more than a little rusty.  Getting through immigration and customs could have been worse as I did get placed in the “things to declare” line.  The reason for this was that on my declaration form, I marked that I had sporting gear (trail running shoes) and have been in the wild in the past 30 days.  I know that both New Zealand and Australia are paranoid about foreign contaminants, as Beth and I watched enough of the Australian Border Guard shows to know that you don’t screw with these people.  I had to show them my shoes, which I had scrubbed the night before and I was waved through without a second glance.  The rest of my pack was not searched. 
ANZAC Bridge
Skog and I opted to take the train to get into Sydney and then walked a short distance to our hostel, the crap-tastic City Resort Hostel.  I will not in good faith recommend this place to anyone, a place that rivals MosEisley.  This place was a complete dive, but cheap (one of the reasons it was selected).  Yet, we stayed there for 2 nights, mainly as we were too tired from our explorations to look for a new place to sleep.  It appeared that the staff hated their lives and probably wished that the building would be purged from the ground.  Any attempt at a conversation was like pulling teeth, except you are usually under sedation when that happens. 
I should put this sign in front of that hostel.
When we arrived in Sydney, Beth was on her own adventure up in Queensland.  She was heading south from Cairns to Sydney.  We would meet up on the 31st of August.  You can read her tales here.  It is because of her diving tale, I want to get scuba certified.  
Beth's hostel on Maggie.
Now I return to our tale that was interrupted by my plug for Beth’s blog.  We started our Australian adventure like usual, wandering with our stomachs.  They lead us to a flash food court located around the high end designers’ shops in the CBD.  We had our choice of so many options, but we settled for various pies, Wagyu Beef Reuben and Pastrami Burgers, and heaps of gelato.  The woman at the pie place told me her friend said she had to cheer on the Pittsburgh Steelers.  I really wanted to use the Half-Ass Morning Shows name for their Quarterback, but I’m sure it would have been lost on anyone who doesn’t listen to 93X in the morning.  All of our food was super tasty.  In particular, I enjoyed my Wagyu pastrami sandwich.  We also saw a sign for that evening we could have been treated to a $30 set-meal by a local award winning chef in a Thai restaurant, but as the menu was very small we opted to wander elsewhere for our evening meal.  We wandered down to The Rocks to look for a café we had spotted earlier, only to realize it was closed.  Instead we had to settle for Pie Face.  This is a local chain for what I would classify as having only adequate pies.  In NZ terms it would be akin to Jester Pies.  We did happen to find the place we were destined to eat at the next night.  It was a grill your own place similar to Shorebird in Honolulu, except their buffet wasn’t as good.  My bacon wrapped fillet was huge and for only $31, a steal.  I do miss my grills back home.  I’m glad my new flat has a grill.  I’ll be putting it to good use while I’m there for the next several months.
Steak and Mashed Potato Pie from Hamlet's in Manly.
I don’t know what it is, but when I’m with Skog, I seem to flip a switch and can’t get full.  I did a fair amount of eating and will be looking forward to getting back to my normal diet.  We did do a lot of walking over the entire 3 weeks, but I’m missing my bike and runs on the beach. 
After our lunch, we started out by walking the rest of the CBD and found a little workout station next to the on ramp to the Harbor Bridge.  There were places for pull-ups, push-ups, abdominal work, dips, and stretching.  We did a quick workout with some folks on their lunch break before heading across the bridge to North Sydney where we spent the bulk of our afternoon wondering down residential streets.  We were treated to some awesome views of the Sydney Opera House and if we wanted to pay, we could have walked up the steps on the bridge’s infrastructure.  Have I mentioned I have a thing for heights?  I hate them.  As with every town I visit, I try to classify their neighborhoods with the closest equivalent neighborhood back home.  I found that Sydney has equivalents to Frog Town, Northeast, Uptown, Seward, Warehouse, and many others.  The similarities were uncanny and if you happen to wander through you would probably see them as well.  We did wander much of the city branching out in a different direction each day.  The same can be said for Auckland.  I had to laugh at a local zine we got from Base describing each of Auckland’s popular neighborhoods, which talked about hipsters and foodies.  Having walked through the neighborhoods before seeing these descriptions, I had already drawn the same conclusions.  Speaking of which: How much does a hipster weight?  An instagram.  Saw that joke on a sign in front of a café.
Fish Tacos
Our adventure for the 2nd day was a bus ride out to Bondi Beach to do the Bondi to Coogee Walk.  Along the way we were treated to another impromptu workout session on the provided workout stations.  It will be nice to get back into my routine that was disrupted long before the 3 week vacation as we had been getting non-stop rain for weeks before hand.  After our impromptu sessions, I was sore the next day but well worth it.  We saw a pretty cool natural rock lap pool that was reported 15 degrees.  We saw a few brave souls that were swimming in the bay without wetsuits.  I put my feet in the water and I don’t think I would have ventured further without the aid of my wetsuit.  Talked to a local doing a wetsuit swim and he told me the water was crystal and very calm.  It was probably the best conditions he has seen in months.  We found this cool little Mexican place and ate a couple tacos and nachos, but they were not even close to El Taco Reindo.  I’m missing some of my local haunts and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into a lengua taco and some ribs.  We had a little mishap on the bus going back to the downtown.  We hopped on to the same bus number on the opposite side of the station and it took us back out to Bondi Beach and dropped us off at its final stop a couple blocks from taco place we were at only a little while earlier.  The night had cooled off considerably and was windy.  I was happy to have carried my rain shell.  This was basically a staple along with my headlamp and hand sanitizer.  We stopped in to a local dairy, convenience store, and bought a bus ticket and hopped on a local bus this time heading in the right direction.  This bus ride took about 45 minutes and was a lot different than the express bus we took earlier.  Oh well, you got to make mistakes on public transportation to learn.  
Outdoor salt water lap pool.
The next day, we checked into the Big Hostel.  Upon walking in we were greeted warmly and I quickly started chatting up the receptionists.  One is from the UK and had has been in Sydney for the past 4 months.  The other is a born-Kiwi with Australian and South African heritage.  We talked about a variety of topics and finally Skog caught my eye and I quickly ended the conversation or it probably would have gone on a lot longer.  We dropped our bags off in the room and then proceeded to wander over to China Town.  Here we greeted with heaps of choices for tonkotsu ramen.  I am a little obsessed with finding a local bowl of tonkotsu where ever I go that rivals the ramen I ate on a weekly basis while being a student in Japan.  We would eat the tonkotsu at a small shop inTsudanuma.  Every time I have been back to Japan, this is a mandatory stop where I usually have a couple bowls before returning to the states.  Since I hadn’t been back to Japan since 2005, I did my happy dance when I saw the familiar red lanterns during last years snowboard/food-cation.  Back on point.  We ate some BBQ pork buns that were not a good as the ones at Keefer Court Bakery across the street from MidwestMountaineering.  I had a bahn mi that was pretty tasty and at $3.50 a steal.  Our first bowl of ramen was found on the 2nd floor after riding a small elevator that’s only indication that a restaurant was to be found was a small piece of paper taped next to the floor button that said ramen-kan.  We proudly walked through the door in search for our porky goodness for the afternoon meal.  We were quickly turned away by 3 Japanese girls saying that they don’t until 11;30.  We look at our watches, it reads 11am.  What are we going to do for 30 minutes?  The rendered broth is mere meters from our consumption, but we are being told to go.  With heads hung low we retreat to the elevator and dejectedly press the ground floor.  We wander down the street a couple meters, before I start to talk about the glories of yesteryear when I was eating at Pepper Lunch.  Here was a chain that I ate at during my study abroad experience.  The concept is simple.   A smoking hot cast iron plate, think fajitas, topped with raw meat, eggs, rice, veggies, etc and you get to stir/cook the food to your liking before eating it off the cooling, but still scorching hot plate.  Ah the simple joys.  We wander down to Darling Harbor and see a giant Imax theater that is playing all 3 recent Batman movies.  I’m not about to waste vital time on a movie nor am I going to drop $30+ on a ticket per film.  
Free WiFi!!!
FYI there is free WiFi in Darling Harbor!  Very rare do you find this except around a McDonald's. 
So what have we been doing for internet?  We have a mobile stick from our mobile provider 2 Degrees.  It plugs into a USB port and as along as you have mobile service, you are set.  There is no need to have wireless turned on and it installs a small program to connect to their data service.  The stick is an initial investment of $99 and it can be recharged.  We got a deal for 12GB of data for $99.  Once that is gone, I will see what it will cost per GB, but I as get WiFi in my new apartment this will be used while traveling and biking only.  In Australia, we went with Vodofone with a similar price for initial set-up, but we had 3GB for 30 days, even though we were only there for a total of 14.  I will be using the stick on my bike adventure so I can keep in contact with friends and family.  I will recharge it as needed.  As I plan on camping a fair amount, I won’t be coughing up money on hostels and their WiFi costs.  I would probably recommend this method over a single hostel carrier as then you are tied to a specific location.  I used the stick in cafes, buses, and hostels.  I even pulled it out in the airport and watched Moro Bar commercials. 
Special ramen with fried chicken, rib meat, and pork.
The ramen adventure was back in full swing, we muscled our way back in the elevator and through the front door trying to ensure that we would be the first to get in.  We had read reviews that a queue could form quite quickly.  We begrudgedly had to share the lift with another gent getting off on the 2nd floor.  We jockeyed our way around him and said a table for 2 as we strutted into the shop.  The other guy didn’t put up a fight and just turned back around and rode the elevator away in shame.  Really, I don’t know what happened to him.  He stepped off the elevator and then got back in.  By the time we got our ramen, they started filling up.  It seemed to be a running occurrence with us.  We walk in and the place isn’t exactly hopping and then as we start to eat, the places are packed.  They must have come in to see the legends eat!
That afternoon we walked through the neighborhood that Google kept “recommending” that we stay in.  It is neighboring the neighborhood of the City Resort Hostel.  That should be a tip off to begin with.  I’m talking about the seedy King’s Cross.  There were plenty of strip joints and nutters looking for their next fix.  It looked like junction of Chicago and Lake Street mixed with the Warehouse District minus the frat boys and sorority girls.  I can’t say anything nice about this place so I will continue with my story.  So if you are into red light districts and drugs/partying then this is your place!  Just not my scene, wait, do I even have a scene?  We found this cool asphalt trail and decided to follow it.  We were treated with a cool walk around a peninsula and even had a self-walking dog join us for a good spell.  We also saw a couple “trainers” working with their clients in the parks.  This seems to be all the rage over here.  I kept getting upset and wanted to go over and correct their form and yell at their trainer for not doing so.  I saw some horrible squats and some horrible arm pumping that I’m only guessing was supposed to be punching.  They next went to delivering knees.  I had to shake my head as having practiced martial arts for a long time, I get angry when I see people doing it wrong.  There is a reason why you go to a class to learn this and not to a trainer who thinks it looks cool.  
Barry the hunchback koala.
Yeah Beth arrives from her early morning bus ride from Port something or other.  We are changing our hostel again.  This time we are going to be staying at the GlebeYHA.  This is a short 3k from Central Station.  We are loaded down with our packs and set off to find the hostel.  I know the cross-roads, but don’t have a map that actually shows it as all my maps stop well before the actual location.  Beth is a little angry as she thought we were going to go over to the new hostel in the morning.  That was my intention, but hunger got the better of me.  We wandered Redfern and Surry Hills looking for food.  We ate at this café called Lemon and had a nice meal on the patio, which consisted of 2 small tables.  It is only a couple blocks from Robocog.  Why was she angry?  She was tired, hungry, and wanted help carrying her packs.  She got on the bus I believe at 4 for a 7 hour bus ride.  Nothing is really open that early so she only had a few snacks on her.  We checked into our triple room.  2 bunk beds and a single.  We have a cool BBQ area and patio on the roof.  Skog and I make use of this after Beth leaves!  We wander up the street for some Turkish.  After that we go on a long walk along the water front.  We see the rowing club out practicing.  We see the local Fish Market!  It is not as impressive as Tsukiji, but we do vow to come back for breakfast the following day.  We get to Darling Harbor and it starts to pour and evening is in full swing.  We eat at a Chinese Restaurant in the Plaza and then catch the tram back to the hostel.  The public transportation goes by zones and its easy to get screwed over.  We got on at the convention center and headed 4 stops, but 1 stop out from the convention center it is another zone, but the ticket guy was nice and let us on for a single zone as we would have walked the 2 blocks to get a single zone fare.  The people who sell tickets in stores don’t know the zones and don’t take their word for it.  We got yelled at when we went out to do the Spit-Manly walk via the bus.  We purchased a 2 zone ticket upon her expertise.  The driver told us that the shop owners don’t know jack and that its our responsibility to know the zone system.  I’m glad that only 3-4 days in and only our 2nd bus ride and we are being put in our place.  We got off the express, also a pre-pay, bus and hopped on a local bus to take us the rest of the way.  We found out later the girl at the hostel didn’t exactly know what she was talking about.  The stop didn’t exist and we could have taken only the express bus to get to our stop.  Oh well.  Lesson learned, don’t trust others with your navigation tasks.  
Castle Rock
Our adventure that day was the Manly to Spit Bridge Scenic Walkway, which consisted of a 13km hike from the Spit Bridge to Manly Beach was a lot of fun.  We saw a variety of people on the trail.  The lookouts were really cool and very picturesque.  We scrambled around on Castle Rock and took photos from here and there.  I guess I should also say that Skog had been sick a couple days earlier.  He was coughing and congested.  I didn’t know about the fever until after I came down with a fever and chills at the end of today’s walk.  We saw this house with an amazing pool and a sign to be cautious of penguins as they evidently come out onto the path at night.  We got to Manly and did a quick walk down the main strip and stop at Hamlet’s Pie Shop for dinner.  I’m treated to one of the best pies.  It was steak topped with mashed potatoes.  Beth’s veggie pie is also spectacular.  It is about now that I am feeling like crap.  We walk down to the beach and snap a few photos.  Next we board the ferry for the ride back to the CBD.  I basically sleep the 30 minutes back.  We grab the bus and I march up stairs to the room and fall asleep.  Tomorrow is supposed to be a big day.  We are booked to go out to Katoomba to go canyoning.
The next morning we wake up early as we have a 2 hour train ride out to Katoomba in the  Blue Mountains for an adventure with Tim from BMAC.  We left the hostel at 4:50am.  Beth stays behind as she is now feeling like the death, as I was feeling that way the previous night.  I’m not at 100%, but I don’t want to miss this opportunity.  Skog and I walk to Central Station and quickly fall asleep on the train.  We managed not to get our ticket checked the entire day.  Could have ridden for free, but risk getting caught and getting fined well more than the $15 we paid for a return ticket.  We both wake up at Woodford to see a heap of mountain bikers getting off.  I ask our guide later what is special about that stop.  He says that their guiding company use to offer a day of riding based out of there as it is the starting point for the renowned Oaks and St Helena tracks.  Mainly single track that crosses back and forth over a fire road.  Just riding the fire road alone would take 2-3 hours to get to the next train stop.  He said if I get back, that he would take me out there for a ride.  As they don’t offer this service, it would just be 2 friends out riding together.   Skog and I get a quick refresher(me)/instruction(Skog) on abseiling (aka rappelling) that we’ll be utilizing exclusively to get through our dry canyon run.  It is a dry canyon run as it is still too cold being the 1st or 2nd day of Spring.  They wont be running the wet canyons for another 3-4 weeks.  For those that don't know, but Beth and I went canyoning  back in 2002 when we were Interlaken Switzerland.  We had a blast and keep talking about it and look for the opportunity to do it again.  Tim, our guide, reminds me a lot of Kyle, one of our friends Eden Guides.  I would say he reminds me of Bethany, but he doesn’t as he is a bearded fellow and not a nice girl!  As we make our way through Jugglar Canyon, we ask a lot of questions about his job and training.  He says we aren’t his typically clients.   We take to the challenge with zest and need almost no direction after our quick 3 run tutorial.  We keep pushing on through the canyon and before you know it, we are finished.  We have finished a lot faster than was quoted for the adventure.  He asks us if we are keen on doing a 60 meter abseil at Zig Zag.  We both jump on the chance.  We walk out and get in his vehicle for a quick 20 minute drive over to the other location.  Tim is filled with a wealth of knowledge and gives a lot of regional background details.  He fills us in on the rivers and where they run to.  The southern river becomes Sydney’s water supply and the north runs to the ocean.  I joked that the population of Sydney is larger than the population of New Zealand.  We get to Zig Zag in time to see the other group walking up breathless from walking up the trail from the bottom of their descent.  I quickly get my device hooked up and before looking back or down, I walk myself over the edge.  It is at this point that I look between my legs and see the ground about a 180 feet below and there is a tree down there.  The rope is extremely heavy and it takes a lot of effort  to get going.  About 5 meters over the ledge, it gets easier and I start to push off the wall and descend at a quicker pace.  The last 10-15 meters is just an over-hang with no chance to push off.  The landing is a bit tricky as it is on a slope and there are several trees.  I basically walked my feet down some branches before touching down.  It was at this point that I noticed how hot my figure 8 device was and my glove was extremely hot.  I waited for Skog to come down.  He had a huge smile on his face.  We gave each other an energetic high-five and then set off to get to the top for a 2nd descent.  This time Skog went first and I sat on the ledge and took photos.  This was nerve racking as I hate heights.  Funny I know given what I am doing and where I am sitting.  I am a weirdo that way sometimes.  Skog is quickly down and I clip in.  This time, I take full advantage of my new found courage.  I am pushing off the wall with all my leg strength and I am trying to see how few times I can touch wall.  I don’t recall the number, but I remember hearing Tim and the other guide, talking about how far I am pushing out and that we only have about a dozen abseils a piece.  Back at Headquarters I continue to talk Tim’s ear off.  I also ask about my bike route and he says it is amazing area that I will be biking through.  He says he is extremely jealous and that we should come back in March/April to do the advanced wet canyons.  It is here that he extends the offer of the mountain bike ride.  I’m already trying to figure out how to make this happen when I return on my biking home adventure.  We had great luck as we caught the train back only a couple minutes after leaving Headquarters.  Beth was laying down when we got back and she was surprised as she was expecting us later.  She had to chuckle as she knew we would befriend the guide, much like we did with Kyle and Bethany.  
Cuff links anyone?
Some quick tourist stops can be found from the CBD are Sydney Harbor.  It was cool to see all the sail boats out and made me jealous of my brother who bought a boat this past summer and gets to sail more frequently than me.  The Rocks, I believe to be the oldest section of town, is right by the Opera House.  It didn’t take much effort to see the Opera House.  Its right on the edge of the CBD along a running trail.
Walk Sign
To get a pseudo-local's perspective of things to do in Sydney, I contacted Bri, who called Sydney home for a spell recently.  She recommended a few places to go and we did end up hitting up a few.  For starters we ate at Robocog.  It has been called the hipsters trifecta, with coffee, fixies, and robots.  We both got a plateful of meat and it was awesome!  She also recommend that we do the Bondi to Coogee Walk.  We saw several of the places she recommended to eat at, but as it was early some of them were not open.
Sydney Street Art
All in all, I want to return to Australia, but I may try to skirt the big metropolitan areas for the small towns like Katoomba.  I’ll have plenty of time to get to know the country side on my bike ride.  I will have to make Tim keep his word about biking and canyoning as well when I return early next year.  Now back to New Zealand.
View outside the airport
On our way back to Queenstown, we had another night at the Skyway Lodge in Auckland as the flights to Queenstown have a curfew.  The approach is up and over some mountains and then a quick dip down to the runway.  So the last flight in has to be there by 5pm.  Once there, the passengers deplane on the tarmac and the sights are amazing.  You are in a valley with mountains all around you and a fairly sizable lake.  I would have loved to take photos, but we were told to have all electronics off while walking across the tarmac.  Why?  I don't rightly know.  We stayed at the charming Bungi Hostel.  If we would have been around at 6pm, we could have gotten free soup!  Instead we decided to get our grub on at Fergburger.  Its a dangerous place as they are open 18 hours a day and have a bakery attached to it.  Their pies are amazing.  However, I don't recommend eating 2 in one sitting as we were very full for the rest of the day.  That was until we split a classic Fergburger before heading back up to Auckland.
Frankton Walk
So what did we do in Queenstown?  We did the Frankton Walk which goes along the shore of the lake between Queenstown and Frankton.  Its not a very challenging walk, but its scenic.  We wanted to snowboard, but because of weather Coronet was closed.  The first day was gale force winds and the 2nd day was rain.  So we did another hike and then we hired mountain bikes and rode the Queenstown Bike Park.  The hike was called Time Walk on Queenstown Hill.  It started blocks from our hostel with a quick ascent, but once you got into the woods the track was a loop with an out and back to the summit.  We were treated to some great views.  Not terribly difficult, but I could see Rohan.  We also threw 18 holes of disc golf at the Queenstown Disc Golf Course.  We got to play through the botanical gardens.  It was an interesting course as you had to tee off from a boulder and then play holes a specific way as well.  Could very easily loose a disc or two.  Then we hired bikes and took to tackling the ride up to the top.  In a couple weeks, you'll be able to ride the gondola to the top with your bike and just enjoy the downhill.  We rode all the way to the top, well I rode to the top and someone may have walked his bike.  We took an easy route to the half way point and then back up to the top.  Then took a more difficult course to the half way point and repeated the easier course all the way to the bottom.  Where about 5 minutes from the end, I flipped my bike.  I came down a steep embankment and my fork shrunk.  Stupid suspension.  I cut my knee pretty good, but otherwise I was fine.  We returned the bikes and had a crepe next door.  Banana and gnutella.  Delicious.  Queenstown has a lot of appeal, but I think visiting it better then living there as it is a very small town.  I will like to see it again in the summer to see what they offer for adventure tourism.
Where we rode

Track Map
So that is a quick recap of what we did on our vacation. I know I'm leaving out a bunch of details and I'm missing all of Skog's photos as I forgot to grab them before he departed.  I know there are a lot of good shots that I'm kicking myself for not having.  Oh well such is life.  Maybe I can get him to post them.  I'm back from Auckland where I saw Beth off, my cousin and her husband in (they are here on a working visa as well), and Skog off.  That was Tuesday and on Wednesday I was back to work.  Since then I went bouldering for a couple hours, ran close to 7km with a park bench workout, and rode the Redwoods for 4.5 hours.  I'm feeling pretty beat and need a nap.  Anyone who wants to travel with us will need to be able to keep up or push our limits.  Applicants are always welcome, but few will be chosen.
Little gash.

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