Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When My Computer is Fixed...

The Australian mail service continues to be unimpressive (though the ladies at the post office are very nice). I still have not received the disk from Apple so I can reinstall my hard drive and this computer will work on a regular basis. At the moment, it is allowing me to type, but if I even try to open iPhoto, I know the whole thing will freeze up. Yesterday, I couldn't even get the computer to turn on. The Apple office that sent the disk is located in Tasmania; I wish I could just hop on the overnight ferry and go get it myself! Alas, I must wait. They tell me it will be here by tomorrow at the latest.

When my computer is fixed, here are the entries I need to catch up on (you are eagerly looking forward to these, right?):

-Australian Open
-Big Day Out
-Zack's parents' visit (Great Ocean Road)
-Australia Day
-my birthday
-boat ride down the Yarra River
-the rest of my Uluru trip

I hate falling behind, but such is life. I hope to be up and running again soon!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Uluru in the Rain

Well, since my computer's still not working, I'll start the Uluru posts I've been saving for awhile. This one has been in draft form for awhile, so maybe it'll upload and hold you over until I get things up and running again. I know you've all been missing my posts terribly-hahaha! 

After my parents and brother and sister-in-law left in mid-November, my sister Morgan stayed an extra week in Australia. We took a short trip to Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, which is a huge sandstone formation in the middle of the Outback. It's over 1000 feet high and two miles long, and it's pretty darn famous.

No, Uluru does not usually have a big cloud over it!
Anyway, we checked the weather report before leaving, and it said there would be rain showers. Now, you have to understand, this rock is in the middle of the desert. Yulara (the "city" that Uluru is in) regularly reaches temperatures near 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) during the day at this time of year. So we packed mostly shorts and tank tops, threw a pair of pants and a raincoat in our suitcases for the rain shower we expected would pass through quickly to cool us off, and called it good. Little did we know we would be wearing the same thing for three days straight and that the rain would never really stop.

Morgan says, "What is up with the rain in the desert?"
We got there on November 20. As we were landing, the thing that struck me was the bright red color of the dirt. I'd say it is even redder than Moab, Utah, and that's pretty red! Also, I was surprised at all of the plants, bushes, and short trees that covered the land. I thought it would be more barren.

The walking "trail" around the rock.
Morgan and I got our rental car and headed out in the rain. Yes, rain. Lots of it. Never-ending (seriously). And it was kind of chilly. But we were in the middle of nowhere, and darn it, we were still going to walk around the rock. So we did the six mile hike in the pouring rain. At some points, we literally had to wade through knee-deep water. But it was worth it. There were hundreds of waterfalls pouring down Uluru, and it was amazing. Apparently only 3% of people get to see Uluru in the rain, so we were lucky. Over the next few days, we didn't always feel that way, but I'll admit it was pretty incredible. And from some searches I've done, some of the pictures we were able to get are pretty rare. My good camera actually got so wet it stopped working for awhile (yikes!), so some of these are actually phone pictures or taken with Morgan's little point and shoot camera.
If you happened upon my blog somehow and want to steal some pictures, please don't. :)
The Aboriginal people still own and live on this land. We actually saw a couple of Aboriginal kids playing around the rock, running barefoot down the path and under a fence (they can go wherever they want!). The visitor's centre had all sorts of interesting information about the history of the land, the food and tools of the Aboriginal people, and their beliefs about Uluru. This is a picture of some rock engravings we found while on our walk.

Green trees in the Outback-who knew?
After our walk, we set up camp in the back of our car (thank goodness we got an upgrade to an SUV!), since the campground at Ayers Rock Resort was flooded. We cooked up some chili and tried to stay dry. Ayers Rock Resort is really the only manmade thing that you can find in the vicinity of Uluru. It's a complex with a campground, cabins, fancier accommodation options, a few touristy stores, a post office, gas station, medical centre, grocery store, a couple of restaurants, etc. The campground was $36 a night (ripoff), but at least we could warm up in the showers and dry a load of soaking wet clothes.

It rained all night, but we slept decently well in the back of the SUV. In the morning, we put on the same pants and raincoats and headed out for our next adventure. Stay tuned for more!

Thursday, January 19, 2012


My Macbook Pro is not working so well right now. Luckily, I purchased the Apple Care Protection Plan when I bought it a couple of years ago, so it's covered, but I'm waiting on a disk to come in the mail so I can reinstall the entire operating system. Fun. That's why the blog has been quiet lately, and while I'm able to write this post at the moment, I definitely won't be attempting to attach pictures. That's just asking too much.

Zack's dad and stepmom Vickie are in town, and we've been busy driving down the Great Ocean Road and enjoying the Australian Open. There will be posts with pictures when my computer works! In the meanwhile, I'll tell you an amusing story about something that happened to me while I was running home from the gym today.

I was running along St Kilda Beach, excited about almost being home, when a guy standing in front of his car (with the hood up) stopped me. I pulled my headphones out of my ears and he repeated his question, "Do you know much about cars?" I answered, "No, not really...just how to check the oil." Then he asked me to touch this one tube near the engine while he "turned it over." He walked to the side of the car, I touched the tube, and white smoke started puffing out of the engine area. He asked, "What did you do?" and told me to try it again.  Again, white smoke came out, but I kind of knew it was something he was doing over on the side of the car that was causing it.

At this point, two simultaneous thoughts went through my head. 1. This is a prank of some sort. 2. This guy is trying to get me to "break" his car and then he's going to try to blame me and make me pay! He kept saying things like, "You're causing this" and "You have some sort of bad car karma." He told me to do it again, and I told him to do whatever he was doing on the side of the car without me touching the tube. He said that he was just "leaning on the car." At this point, I wasn't going to "incriminate" myself further, so I kind of just stared at him and didn't touch the tube.

Finally he kind of started laughing and revealed that the whole thing was being filmed for PrankTV, a show on ABC or something. He pointed out a few big video cameras in the nearby bushes and had me sign a waiver to be on television. I don't think they'll actually use footage of me, because my reaction wasn't that exciting or extreme, but who knows? It won't be aired until March or April, and I'm sure I'll never actually see the show, but it's amusing to think about anyway.

I watched from a distance for a little while he pranked other people who passed by. He really pumped out the smoke for one guy, who actually took off running (I think he thought the car was going to blow up!). Anyway, that was my entertaining occurrence for the day. It's funny that I was so oblivious to the large cameras that weren't too far away.

Well, my computer has already frozen up twice and had to be restarted four times while writing this post, so I'm going to quit while I can. Hopefully the disk to fix it comes tomorrow!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Cool Coke Cans

The Coca-Cola Company in Australia has been running a new ad campaign lately, where they urge you to "Share a Coke with ______". They've picked 150 of the most common Australian first names and put them on Coke bottles. Zack has one, even though it's spelled "Zach." It's fun to see them on the shelves on the store and find names of people you know, including Justin, Dave, Victoria, etc. There's even a Facebook page dedicated to this ad campaign, complete with individualized songs for each name you can find on a can.

Some of the more interesting (supposedly common) names include Callum, Fadi, Lachlan, Rhys, and Wen. Of course, even with all of those, there is no "Share a Coke with Aubree" can! But before Christmas, you were able to go to a kiosk in Sydney and create your own personalized little Coke can for free. So when Zack was there for work, he got one made for me. Hooray! I think I will keep it forever. How many years until Coke goes bad?!

In late January, they'll be adding 50 more names, including "Bree" and "Audrey." Hey, that's getting closer to Aubree, right? :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mountain Biking and a Monotreme

Zack tackles an obstacle with ease.
On Saturday, Zack and I drove to Lysterfield Park to do some mountain biking. This park, which is about forty-five minutes away from our place, has tons of trails through the woods. We rode some good singletrack, especially enjoying the trails that were specifically for bikers. My favorite part was finding wallabies and kangaroos throughout our ride. You haven't really lived until a mother and baby kangaroo hop across the path in front of you while you're biking!

I wanted a shot with me riding near the pretty flowers.
There were also tons of butterflies flying around, just like on our Great Ocean Road hike, and pretty purple wildflowers along the path. There were some challenging, technical parts, which Zack could handle better than me, and some of the uphill sections kicked my butt, but it was still a good time.

These two kangaroos later hopped in front of me on the bike path!
On our drive out of the park, Zack yelled "porcupine" and hit the brakes. I immediately knew that he had seen an echidna (pronounced uh-KID-nuh), and I'd been wanting to see one in the wild for a long time. I raced out of the car with my camera, and sure enough, this spiky guy was crawling around in the grass near the road!

Echidnas are also known as spiny anteaters. The bottom left of this picture shows its pointy snout. Along with the platypus, echidnas are the only monotremes (egg-laying mammals) in the world, and they can only be found in Australia and New Guinea. Pretty cool, huh?

As we got closer, this echidna balled up and stuck out his spines. This picture shows a close-up of the prickly-ness. We didn't try to pet it!

Mountain biking in Australia is a bit different than it was in Colorado or Utah. Kangaroos instead of deer surprise you in the woods. Dirt paths with tree roots are more common than the red, rocky terrain. Butterflies surround your head instead of mountaintop views, and an echidna might cross your path instead of a rattlesnake. I'll take it for now!

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Little Lost Ring

While camping on the Great Ocean Road over the holidays, Zack and I took off our wedding rings so as not to lose them in the ocean. The cold water tends to make them pretty loose, and we don't like taking chances that they may fall off. Originally, I had put them in a zipped pocket of my camera bag, but when I found myself bringing my camera bag to the beach nearly every day, I decided that it probably wasn't that smart to leave them in the unattended bag on the beach while we were in the water. So I put them in the upper section of the center console storage compartment of our rental car.

Well, we flipped it open a few times over the next few days to use the lower portion for storing wallets, phones, etc. On Wednesday, when we headed back to Melbourne, we opened the top portion and only saw my engagement ring and birthstone ring sitting there. Both of our wedding bands were missing! Upon shaking the top part a bit, we found Zack's wedding band lodged in the part that flips back, and we were able to pull it out. But mine was still nowhere to be seen!

We searched for awhile around the front seats and center console and then figured it must have dropped behind the seats and that we would find it down there when we unpacked. We got back to Melbourne, took everything out of the car, and it was still missing. I was starting to panic. It's just a plain white gold band, not worth much in monetary value, but the sentimental value is priceless! We had to get the rental car back to the station, so on the drive there, Zack took a screwdriver and tried to take apart the console. That unfortunately didn't give us much access.

We spent some more time at the rental place looking in every nook and cranny of the car, but the ring couldn't be found, so we headed home and hoped it would fall out of something as we unpacked the bags and put things away. No such luck. I was pretty upset that night, but Zack was comforting and urged me to call a mechanic in the morning to see if someone could get into the console. All we could figure was that it had fallen into some crack and was stuck in the plastic piece. I was just glad it wasn't my engagement ring; that would have cost a LOT more to replace!

So the next morning, I called a Hyundai dealership and a few mechanics. Some weren't open because of the holidays, but some said they could try to fit me in. I went back to the rental car place, and they were nice enough to let me "borrow" the car for a few hours to see if I could get my ring back. I drove to the first mechanic; he said he could get to it at some point in the day if I left the car there. I didn't really want to pay for another day's rental, so I drove on to another place, which happened to be closed. Ugh.

But on the same street, there was another auto shop. I randomly pulled in and explained my situation to the guy. He immediately offered to take a look and told me to go sit in the office. Less than ten minutes later, he came in with the console in his hands and said, "You might just be lucky!" as he shook it and we both heard something rattling inside! Sure enough, my ring was in there! He basically had to pry a gap in the seams of the plastic to be able to shake the ring out; he had no idea how it possibly could have even gotten in there. I didn't care; I was just ecstatic to have my ring back! He didn't even charge me anything; he was just glad that the story had a happy ending. So nice!

So the whole incident only cost me a couple of hours on a Thursday morning-big shout outs to two particular employees (sorry, I don't know their names) at Europcar in St Kilda and Ultra Tune in Prahran for being so kind and letting/helping me find my ring (without charging me anything!). Please give them your business if you have the opportunity.

And that's the story of my little lost ring. Don't you just love a happy ending? I do! <--Ha-get it?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Day in Tasmania

On the first day of 2012, we caught the shuttle from the Falls Fest back to the Hobart Airport in the morning. We had a rental car booked for the day (not cheap!), and our flight back to Melbourne wasn't until 9pm, so we had a full day to explore Tasmania. I knew we wouldn't have time to make it over to Cradle Mountain (where most tourists go), but I wanted to see something Tasmania was known for. So after a huge buffet breakfast at a casino in the town of Hobart (to wait out the rain), we headed out to Freycinet National Park. The first thing I noticed was that Tasmania only has a few main highways that run through the country, and the roads are extremely windy with very narrow lanes. It made for kind of scary driving, but the land was pretty. There were lots of sheep in green pastures and beautiful, remote beaches. 

On the way, we pulled off the road to stop at a little winery. It happened to be Freycinet Vineyard, and they've won some pretty major awards for their wine. We enjoyed a tasting; their 2010 Pinot Noir was especially good.
After about two and a half hours, we finally made it to Cole's Bay at Freycinet National Park. Our mission was to walk to Wineglass Bay, and that's what we did. This bay is considered one of the top ten beaches in the world. It's supposedly shaped like a wine glass, though I don't really see it. I think it's a gem because it's so remote; you can't drive to it. This picture is from one of the lookout points. 

Other than the water, the hike was rather Colorado-ish with big boulders and such. Of course, we were surrounded by eucalyptus trees instead of aspens!

We walked down to the beach to get a closer look. The orange on the rocks reminded me a lot of Squeaky Beach at Wilson's Promontory. The water was a beautiful shade of blue, but when I saw hundreds of little blue bottle jellyfish (and some big clear ones) washed up on shore, I had no desire to swim at this beach!
This wallaby was hanging out on the beach. It was very friendly; I think tourists feed it. We saw another one on the trail right before the beach as well. Overall, it was a decent hike, and it was cool to see Wineglass Bay and say we were on one of the top ten beaches in the world.

On the drive back to the airport, Zack spotted an emu in the field on the side of the road, so I finally got to see one in the wild. They are such strange, big birds! We stopped in a little town for some fish and chips (for me) and fresh oysters (for Zack) and talked about how Tasmania is basically a miniature version of Australia with a nautical feel. In fact, Hobart reminded me a little bit of Seattle.

Originally we thought we'd have to make another trip back to Tasmania sometime to really see the state and get the Tasmanian experience, but we both felt satisfied with our short trip. Yes, it would have been cool to visit Cradle Mountain or tour the Cadbury Chocolate Factory (they weren't open on New Year's Day), but there are so many other places we'd like to see in Australia and beyond, so I think we've crossed Tasmania off our list.

Everyone wants to know if we saw a Tasmanian devil. The short answer is no. The long answer is that they are extremely rare to see in the wild because a facial tumor disease that has been spreading and decreasing their population. You can go to wildlife centers and such and see them there, but we'd already seen them at the zoo and Maru Animal Park with my family, so we didn't take the time to see them in Tassie. So yeah, that was our day in Tasmania and our start to 2012!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Falls Fest Fun

Over the holidays, we went to the Falls Fest. This is a music festival held every year in both Lorne (on the Great Ocean Road) and at Marion Bay in Tasmania. We thought it would be a good excuse to visit Tasmania, so we flew into Hobart on Friday, December 30 and met up with our friends Todd and Alena. This was a two day festival, so we camped onsite with 15,000 or so other people. It wasn't as crazy as it sounds, though the lines for the bathroom could be a bit annoying!

See the bubbles?
The site was beautiful. The main stage was set against the backdrop of the water and mountains, and we had HOT weather on both days. Seriously, I probably put on more sunscreen that weekend than I have in my entire life altogether. Workers were actually walking around pumping it out for free. Tasmania isn't usually known for being that warm, but it sure was when we were there.

After listening to music all day and night on Friday, we headed to the beach on Saturday morning before the afternoon acts we wanted to see. Everyone else had the same idea, and there was actually a line to get on the sectioned off area of the beach where festival-goers were allowed. We got tired of the line and followed some folks who took us on a "shortcut" which required walking through heavy brush and slogging through a chest-deep river (with our clothes and bags held above our heads) to get to the beach. People who went the normal way got to use a bridge! But it was all good; we enjoyed cooling off in the waves and playing some games on the beach. I think I even took a nap on the sand for a bit. Oh yeah, and I put on tons of sunscreen!

Some of my favorite acts from the weekend included Kimbra...
Kimbra sort of looks like Katy Perry and sounds like Jessie J.
...Young MC...
This is the guy who sings "Bust A Move"-it was hilariously awesome!
...and the Fleet Foxes.
These were the guys Zack was waiting to see all weekend.
I also liked Aloe Blacc (he sings the "I Need A Dollar" song). Other acts included Arctic Monkeys, The Jezabels, Crystal Castles, Beirut, and many more. This picture is from some crazy festival parade that went through on Saturday night. I guess there was a tent where people made strange costumes and decorations for this. Anyway, the whole festival reminded us a lot of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado, but with less of a hippie vibe. The whole festival was very well-run, and we enjoyed hearing good music in the Tasmanian sunshine and bringing in the new year with friends and thousands of other festival-goers.

If you are one of our Australian readers or happen upon this blog and plan on going to the Falls Fest, below are my helpful hints. International readers, you probably won't care about this stuff.

1. You can't bring any sort of cooking device, so you will pretty much be stuck eating the food sold at the festival. Don't worry-there are tons of choices, and they are all pretty good. And the prices are very reasonable. We were big fans of the pizza cones!
2. Bring plenty of cash. Food stalls only take cash, and the line to get drink tickets is much shorter if you're not using a card.
3. You have to get tickets to buy drinks. Again, they are reasonably priced for Australia ($5 for a beer and $7.50 for wine/spirits). Ticket lines can get long, so get your tickets early and use them later. But they are only good for the day you buy them, so make sure you only buy as many as you're going to use, or it's a waste.
4. The pink camp is the only one with showers, and the lines for them are ridiculously long in the morning. Try going in the late afternoon during some act you don't mind if you miss.
5. Bathroom lines are long at times. Don't line up behind boys (they have a urinal trough for #1s, so you know why they're in line for the toilets!). Instead, try the lines at the inner corners of the right angles; people tend to get confused there and sometimes there is nobody waiting for those.
6. Get to the beach early on Saturday morning (and it's kind of a long walk to get there), and then relax while everyone else waits in line to get on the beach.
7. Be prepared to stay up late if you want to see some of the acts. Lesser known ones start in the late morning, but some go until 3am! We chose to miss the Arctic Monkeys (playing past midnight) because we had gotten up that morning at 4am to catch our flight (and we hated the act playing before them).
8. Bring a hat and lots of sunscreen for the days. Glow bracelets and such are fun to have at night, along with warm clothes, because when the sun is gone, it gets pretty darn cold!
9. Bring or buy cheap chairs. It's wonderful to just chill on them all afternoon while listening to music. And you won't feel like you lost lots of money if you have to dump them after the festival.
10. The shuttle service from Hobart Airport to the festival site and back works well and is affordable. Rental cars in Tasmania are expensive, so not having to pay for just storing a car on site was nice. Book/pay ahead of time to make your life easier.
11. Bring or note some sort of flag/sign/marker to find your campsite. There are tons of tents, and it's hard to find yours in the maze, especially at night.
12. Bring earplugs if you can't sleep through the sound of music and/or people talking. Everyone seemed to stay up pretty late and get up very early!
13. Some people seemed to have brought their Halloween costumes. We saw Waldos (called Wally here), Mario/Luigi, a Borat mankini, a banana, a light-up suit, a gorilla, and more. Mostly these costumes were worn by guys; I think they were a strategy to get attention from and pick up girls. So if that's what you're looking to do, bring a costume I guess.
14. Stay a couple of extra days before or after the festival to visit Tasmania.
15. Have fun-it's a nice festival and a good way to visit Tasmania and do something cool for New Year's Eve!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bogan Bingo

Before Christmas, I met up with Orla, Alena, and Todd in the CBD one night to go to a Bogan Bingo show. In Australia, the term "bogan" is a derogatory word. It's kind of equivalent to "white trash" or "hick" or "redneck" in America. So, you know how Americans have "white trash parties" where they dress up (well, dress down would be more accurate)? Well, Australians have Bogan Bingo!

Two guys with fake mullets led the show, complete with 80s rock songs to accompany various numbers that they called and little breaks with competitions to spice things up. Here is Alena rocking out on a blow-up guitar during an air guitar competition.
Orla actually won one of the Bingo games. She got a shirt, blow-up guitar, and a few other prizes. We were pretty excited to have someone from our group win!

Here are the girls posing after the show with one of the mullet guys. We all wore really dorky Christmas attire (including cheesy earrings) to go with the theme. It was a pretty entertaining way to spend a random Thursday evening before the holidays.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Christmas Dinner, Kookaburras, and a Koala

We had spent three days at the beach over Christmas but hadn't done any surfing yet, so on the morning of December 27, we packed up our camping things at Johanna Beach and headed down the Great Ocean Road in search of the perfect place to surf. We decided on Wye River. The waves were a good size, and we had fun practicing our skills. Afterward, we rinsed off and attempted to wash our hair in the beachside shower. This is the lovely knot I had to brush through after three days of boogie boarding, hiking, surfing, and no showers. Yes, it took FOREVER to get through!

Zack and I have a tradition of getting dressed up and going out for a fancy steak dinner right around Christmastime. I always get filet mignon, mashed potatoes, and creme brulee for dessert. Since Zack's now a vegetarian, he gets a fancy fish dish. Well, since we're in Australia, our Christmas dinner took on a new twist. We didn't really dress up and instead went to dinner at a nice seafood restaurant next to the pier in Lorne. Zack got some fresh snapper (it was delicious), and I got a kangaroo filet! For dessert, we had the most amazing passionfruit creme brulee. SO good!

This guy was in the tree above our tent for awhile.
There is another free campground at Wye River, off a dirt road up in the woods, so we stayed there for the night. We saw a couple of koalas, including one right near our campsite. He was making grunting noises at night, which sounded like a wild boar or something! There were also a ton of kookaburras flying around. They really do sound like they're laughing, and their calls woke us up early in the morning.
We camped near this guy!
The next day, we drove to Anglesea for some more surfing. Traffic coming from the other direction was ridiculous. Apparently everyone comes down the Great Ocean Road after Christmas, because the lines of cars (especially heading into Lorne and Apollo Bay) were insane. We were glad to head back to Melbourne after a few hours at the beach. It was a very memorable Christmas holiday in Australia spent camping and surfing along the Great Ocean Road!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Great Ocean Walk to Remember

On the day after Christmas, after some more boogie boarding in the ocean, we went for a longer hike in the other direction on the Great Ocean Walk. It starts with walking the length of Johanna Beach. A light rain and some wind came through, so this part of the walk wasn't exactly our favorite. But there were tons of pretty little purple shells, so that was kind of neat.
It started to clear up as we reached the path at the end, and we got some nice views of the beach from the other side as we went higher.

The landscape soon turned from beach into rainforest. If you see Zack in the corner of the picture above, it gives you some sort of idea of the size of these trees. It was unbelievably green and beautiful with huge ferns and other plants. The coolest part was the amount of butterflies swarming around us as we walked. It was kind of surreal having up to ten at a time just flying around your head; I've never experienced that except in enclosed butterfly gardens.

We walked until we reached an outcropping where we could see the other side of the cove and get the view seen above. In the water, Zack spotted this animal which was doing flips. At various points we could see two fins. We can't figure out if it was a turtle or a dolphin. This picture looks more like a dolphin, but it stayed in one spot and played like a turtle. What do you think?

We headed back to our campsite as the sun was starting to set. There was a kangaroo in the woods, but I wasn't quick enough to get a picture. Overall, it was a gorgeous hike, and I imagine it's one of the prettiest ones on the Great Ocean Walk.
Zack did spot these three kangaroos in a field near the campground after dinner, so here's a shot of them hopping away after we scared them!
This was our last night at Johanna Beach, because we headed out the next morning to do some surfing at another beach. We enjoyed one last beautiful sunset, and we'll always remember the place where we spent our first Australian Christmas!