All About Trey

Life, Travel, Adventure

One A Day Like Today

You Never Want To See the Sun Go Down! *

Unless you have a cocktail in your hand watching the sunset into the deep deep blue sea with the light reflected across the scattered clouds sky turning them all sorts of amazing colors.


So I slept poorly.  I was hot most of the night and the fan wasn't enough.  I'm sure my body trying to burn through the alcohol I consumed didn't help.  But I woke up around 6ish and went for a short walk on the beach.  The sky was clear and it was going to be a glorious day.  I was sweating already so I thought, why not go for a swim?  So I changed into my suit, grabbed my goggles and walked down to the water in front of my burre.  I got into the water and started swimming.  Now it was sort of low tide, but wow the water was shallow.  Like 2 feet deep.  And my draft (i.e. my big belly) was probably a foot under the water, so I was barely clearing the sand.  But I'm like, it will drop soon, I'm sure.  Nope.  The sand turned to coral.  And still shallow.  So I keep swimming.  And swimming.  Now I'm swimming perpendicular from the beach so I keep expecting the water to get deeper.  It actually is, but the coral reef is so big that it almost comes out of the water.  I finally made it to the far side of the reef and took a deep breath.  I hadn't wanted to stop and rest where I might touch the coral or get cut by it.  So I needed a break.  So I just sort of floated there a bit and watched all of the amazing marine life.  Really cool.  Well after a short rest I figured I couldn't go back the way I came, so I headed parallel to the shore along the outside edge of the reef.  Finally I got to the small channel through the reef that allows the boat to pull up to the shore.  When I got out of the water, I was a tired little sea otter.


After breakfast, I read for a bit more and then decided to go snorkeling.  So back in the water but this time with fins, mask, and snorkel.  Which makes viewing the undersea life that much better.  I had my GoPro with me and took some good pics.  Since the reef is so shallow, the fish are all over the place and easy to sea.  Especially with the sunlight streaming through the water.  It really was a great swim.  After the snorkel, I decided that I needed to sample the hammock that was in front of my burre.  It works.  And I sort of dozed in the sun for a bit before I realized that I would burn quickly if I didn't get out of the hammock and get into the shade.


After lunch, I decided to lather up and hit the lounge chair and just read and bake.  I'm sporting SPF 70, but the sun is so bright and strong.  In no time, I'm just drenched in sweat.  But it sort of feels good just slowly roasting in the sun.  And I'm really enjoying this new SciFi series I'm reading.  But at some point, my skin starts to feel the burn and I'm like, time to go.  So a quick shower, re-apply the sun screen, and then back into the water.  Instead of the left side of the reef, I'm off to explore the right side of the reef.  I've got my open names for the different types of coral I see.  The brain coral, the fan choral, the antlers coral, the polyps coral.  It's all very scientific I assure you.  They are all so pretty and the various colors are amazing.  Every shade of green, red, orange, purple, and even some blue.  So pretty.  And the fish.  Just everywhere.  So many of them.  I discovered later that the locals are not allowed to fish in this bay which is why the marine diversity is so great.  And it really is spectacular.


After the snorkel, I dried out a bit laying in the hammock for a bit before showering and changing for happy hour.  I limited myself to two Mai Tai's which were delish and then read until the sunset which was spectacular.  After happy hour, I had dinner and then sat at the bar working on the blog.  On Sunday nights they have a movie.  It was Deep Water Horizon.  I'm sure it's good, but I don't want to see a movie about a ecological disaster while I'm at an amazing beach resort in Fiji.  Let me live in denial about the real world for a bit longer.


Definitely a very good and relaxing day!


*Check Out "On A Day Like Today" (N-XTASY mix)  by Obssession.  It's part of my 2003 Ptown Playlist!

A Tale of Two Resorts

So Sarah Beth and I said our tearful goodbyes at the Auckland airport where I was whisked away into the Air New Zealand premier boarding lounge while she had to wait for the United check in gates to open.  Bad planning on my part.  Sorry.


The flight to Fiji was fine and it was raining as we landed.  Perfect.  My last chance for some R&R and it's the rainy season here.  But by the time I got my luggage and through customs, it had stopped.  So I normally don't complain about my hotels, but . . . . .  I had checked the website and it said that the Raddison Blue had an airport shuttle.  But it doesn't.  It basically will arrange transportation for you. Which I hadn't done in advance, so there goes $45 FJD (or $22 USD).  Not a lot, but just annoying.  I make it to the Raddison Blu which is in Denarau which is basically a resort complex where there are probably a dozen different resorts.  It's fine.  My room isn't ready when I arrive, but by the time I get lunch and have a drink, it's ready.  The room is nice, and ACed, and the first thing I do is crash for a nap.  I wake up to a cloudy sky and make my way to the beach front restaurant so I can have my sunset cocktail.  And of course it starts to sprinkle.  But I've got my book and I've got my cocktail so I snap a quick pic and then head into dinner.  I go back to the room to re-pack for the trip the next day.  The bus is picking me up at 0800.  I'm up early and l head to check out and that's when I discover that to pay by credit card I have to pay the 3% credit card processing fee.  Are you f%^king kidding me?  You have a cashless system at all of the restaurants and bars so people can't pay with cash as they go.  And you are a Raddison for God's sake!  You are turning over 300+ rooms a night.  Are you really telling me that you're going to pass the credit card processing fee onto the guest?  Super lame.  Losers!  Sad!  (Sorry if I sounded like Trump there).


So when I was planning Fiji, I wan't exactly sure what I wanted to do.  The main island is pretty big and hard to get around. And they drive on the left side of the road.  And I wanted someway to sample more than just one resort to get a feel for the country.  So as I was doing my research, I read about the Yasawah Islands off the north west coast of the main island.  They are an island chain that have a number of different resorts on them. And there is a ferry that leaves Port Denarau in the AM and makes it's way up the chain dropping folks off at the various island resorts and then when it gets to the northern most island, it turns around and picks people heading back to the main island.  This would give me a chance to check out a couple of different islands and different resorts.  And they had a range of options from backpacker style accomodations to more luxurious options.  Guess which one I picked?  


So we're on the boat heading out and it's overcast and a bit grey.  Perfect.  I end up chatting with a USAFA grad who is getting his degree from Georgetown in Foreign Affairs (like I did) and he's on this working trip where he goes and spends time at the US Embassies in Fiji, Australia, NZ, and one other place.  Talk about a rough gig.  Anyways, we pass through the first set of islands and we stop to do at sea boat transfers for the people going to those resorts.  We head north and as I'm looking forward I see an island that's covered by dark clouds overhead.  That's my island.  Of course.  We approach the island and smaller boat comes out to pick me (and two young women) up from the ferry.  The smaller boat makes it's way to shore and we have to hop out of the boat into the surf and walk up the beach to get to the Octopus resort.  Loving this by the way.


A cool towel and a welcome cocktail and I'm definitely relaxing.  I had splurged for an ocean front burre and it was nice.  No AC, but a fan.  The mosquito netting over the bed looks romantic, but of course I'm looking at the holes in it and thinking great.  More bites for Trey.  I do love the outdoor shower.  The outdoor toilet?  No so much.  It's a flushing toilet, but still I don't want passers by to hear me while I'm taking care of my business.  And I'm assuming my trip to the toilet in the middle of the night will be another opportunity for the mosquitos to sample my blood.  Good times.  By the time I settle in, it's time for lunch.  Which is good.  And then I scheduled a snorkeling boat trip in the afternoon.  It's still cloudy overhead which is good or else I would fry in no time.  We take one of the small boats around to the next bay over for some snorkeling. The water feels amazing and it's so clear!  I'm loving the fish, the coral, the plants.  It really is awesome.  We get back from the snorkel trip around 4PM which means it's happy hour!


Now the drinks are measured pours, so they are a bit lame, but I get the rum, pineapple juice, and club soda special.  And it's pretty tasting.  It's started to sprinkle again but I'm under the covered bar area with my book so I'm pretty happy.  So I have another drink.  And another.  Now 99% of the time, I'm a happy drunk.  But every once in a while I get rather melancholy.  Almost everyone here at the resort is a couple, so of course I started thinking about John.  I've thought about John a lot on this trip.  He would never have been able to get this much time off.  Even as a partner in a law firm.  And I'm sure he would not have been that keen on hiking the Milford Track.  But this?  And beautiful beach resort in Fiji?  Oh this is right up John's alley.  Of course, we wouldn't have stayed here.  With both of our incomes, he would have found an amazing, more expensive, more posh resort for us.  One that probably had the drinks included.  But all of this thinking about John sort of made me a little bit sad.  So I headed back to my beach front burre and just called it a night.  Hope the weather and my mood will improve tomorrow.


Pretty Hurts (NZ Remix)


So good flight to Auckland.  Picked up the rental car (STAY LEFT!) and made our way to the AirBnB.  The best thing can be said is that the flat is in a good location just on the outskirts of the CBD.  But in reality it's a little bit sad.  Still.  Two bedrooms!  So there's that.  After we settled in, we had dinner and then headed to bed.  We had a long day ahead of us.

So the original plan was to get up at the crack of dawn to head to the Waitomo Glow Worm caves to go black water rafting.  But SB, put the kibbosh on that adventure.  Which was fine.  It was going to make for a crazy long day.  So we had a leisurely get up and then headed south of Auckland around 930ish.


If the South Island was all about the rugged natural beauty with the fiords, the beech forests, the cascading waterfalls, then the North Island is all about the bucolic beauty of rolling hills and pretty farms.  And of course you can't get more a more natural and idyllic setting that Hobbiton.  About two plus hours south of Auckland is where they filmed the Shire portions of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies.  And when they rebuilt the sets for the second set of movies, they built them using permanent materials so it could become a tourist destination.  And it is.  And still, even though we were carted around in a tour bus and our gaggle was probably 50 people, it was still kind of magical.  Our guide, an American, was very knowledgeable and shared some really interesting back stories about the films, challenges with the shoots, some of the cinematography aspects, etc.  I was afraid that I would lose SB while I geeked out, but she seemed to enjoy it.  And of course we got some good pics.  The tour is 2 hours long and it ends at the Green Dragon Inn where you can have a drink.  So that was pretty nice.


After lunch at the Shire's Rest, we headed off to the Wairere Falls because apparently we can't go a day in NZ without going on a hike.  They really weren't that far from Hobbiton and I wasn't exactly rushing to get into the car again to drive back to Auckland.  But wow, that was not a fun hike.  Practically uphill the whole way and over rocks and creeks, through mud, you name it.  By the time we got to the first viewing platform I was exhausted and we had only been climbing for 45 minutes.  But the falls were spectacular and they are the third largest falls in NZ just over 150 meters high.  We both decided against the second viewing platform which was another 45 minutes up.  Pass.  Hard pass.  So back to Auckland we went where we got back, parked the car (which is a bit of a haze) and then headed down the hill to dinner.  Auckland's geography is very much like San Francisco's.  Lots of hills.  But after a couple of glasses of wine, it's all good.


The next day we got up and headed down the ferry terminal to take a boat over to Waiheke Island.  This is a pretty decent size island just off of Auckland that has like a dozen little wineries on it.  Our first thought was to rent bikes (so glad we DIDN"T do that!), but instead we did the hop on and hop off bus.  Normally we both avoid those types of tours, but the island is kind of big so it was a good way to get around.  After stopping in the first little town on the island to walk around, we headed to our first winery.  Te Motu.  The bus drops you off and it's about a 10 minute walk to the winery passing varies vineyards with the vines heavy with grapes.  It's late summer here so they should be harvesting soon.  All of the vines have netting over them to help protect them from the birds we think.  We share a tasting and it's all reds so not really my thing.  But some were good.  Afterwards, our host pointed us toward the Vineyard Walking Trail which connects some of the various vineyards in the area.  Again with the hiking, right?  And while it was not far, it was definitely up the hill and down again and up again.  But totally worth it when we reached Casita Miro.  We did a tasting there and then had a fantastic lunch sitting next to the window overlooking the Onetangi Bay.  BTW, the weather was just amazing.  Sunny, bright, and warm, but not too hot.  For lunch we started with kalamata olives, then moved on to goat cheese coquettes with honey and almonds, and then we shared the braised ox cheek.  Seriously delicious!  And a glass of wine of course!


After lunch, we headed down to Onetangi Beach.  Just amazing.  A big wide open beach.  Hardly anyone was there.  The water was shimmering under the sun.  The sand was soft and warm, but not too hot.  I changed into my bathing suit and made my way into the water.  It was perfect.  Cool, but not cold, and it felt amazing under the bright sun.  Just the perfect afternoon.  I left Sarah Beth on the beach just relaxing (which she needs to do more of) while I swimming in the water.  Afterwards, I joined her on the beach and just laid down under the sun and quickly dozed off a bit.  The temperature was perfect.  There was a light wind.  I mean, it was just an amazing afternoon.  We finally decided that we needed to get up and head back.  So we made our way back to the bus stop and then stopped in town for a quick gelato before we walked back to the ferry terminal and our boat back to Auckland.  Definitely recommend Waiheke to anyone who comes to Auckland.  It's just magical!


Tomorrow it's an early wake up and my flight to Fiji leaves at 0930 and SB's flight back to the states leaves 1430.  We've had a great time together and didn't have any problems getting along at all.  I'm so glad she could join me on this part of my adventure!

I do think NZ is the prettiest country I've ever been visited.  When we were hiking we would stop and say, gorgeous.  So pretty.  Amazing.  It was almost like a cliche.  But it was really true.  And while the North Island has a different climate and geography, it's also amazingly pretty as well.  I need to come back here again!


Milford Track (Day 5)

So the Mitre Lodge is a real lodge.  Like one that has power 24 hours a day.  Oh, it's the little things in life.  So I did stay up late to work on the blog a bit.  And then crashed.  We could actually sleep later today, but neither of us did.  We Rhiddlehoover's are early risers.  It's a curse.


Anyways, after another delicious breakfast, Sarah Beth and I walked (of course) back to the marina.  There is a nice FLAT nature walk from the lodge to the marina and while my feet were still hating me, I had ditched my boots and just walking in my sandals.  And it was fine.  We got out early to one of the look out points for Mitre Peak which is the majestic Rocky Mountain you see on most travel posters.  The sun was just coming out and there were some low hanging clouds on one side of the peak, but it was still so pretty.  And amazingly enough, the sandflies weren't bad at all.

After we got to the marina, I had stealthily made my way to the front of the pier where our boat was departing and so I was the first person on the boat.  Sarah Beth went immediately to grab a seat inside on the second deck while I went up to to grab the premier picture taking spot on the top deck.  I was wearing shorts (of course) and my black pullover and I suspected that once the ship got underway I would be cold, but I wanted the good pics.


And the pics were good.  The weather, while chilly, was partly cloudy with some low clouds hanging over the mountains.  Sarah Beth mentioned that it looks like Skull Island and you sort of expect to see King Kong coming over one of the mountain ridges.  And she was right.  Ironically, Milford Sound really isn't a sound, it's a fiord.  Fiords are created when glaciers move down a mountain and create a deep gouge that become filled with water when the ice caps receded.  A sound is actually created by erosion from large rivers.  So there's your fun fact for the day.

I'm listening to the commentary while I'm perched up top taking picture and I really do think the Milford Sound is one the most picturesque places on Earth.  We sailed out along the southern edge of the fiord stopping at some waterfalls along the way.  The very steep walls of the fiord extend deep into the water so the ship could get really close to the side.  Like so close that the waterfalls were spraying onto the people on the very bow of the ship.  I was suitably impressed by the Captain's ship handling skills.  I know he does it several times a day, but getting within a foot of a sheer granite mountain wall and not hitting it with a several ton boat is pretty amazing.


We turn around at the mouth of the Milford Sound where it meets the Tasman Sea and you can actually feel some of the ocean swells.  But then we start to return via the northern side of the fiord.  It's just gorgeous and tons of waterfalls.  We also pass a small colony of seals sitting one some rocks including two baby seals with their mother.  Talk about adorable!  Now other than the limited rain we had two nights before, there hasn't been a lot of rain, so the waterfalls, while awesome, are not quite as powerful as they usually hard.  You can either have rain, awesome waterfalls, and crappy pics, or no rain, only outstanding waterfalls, and good pics.  I chose the good pics.  As the ship returned to the marina, we passed one more set of warterfalls and it was just amazing!  A great way to end the tour of the fiord.


Sadly, after the boat tour, we boarded the tour bus for our 4 hour trip back to Queenstown.  And then once we got into town, Sarah Beth and I had to hike up the very, very, very steep hill to our guesthouse.  My feet were seriously complaining at that point, but we arrived just in time to get showered and changed before happy hour started!  #Winning!


Milford Track (Day 4)


It's another early get up.  As I walk into the dining area to fix my lunch for the day, Shawn (of the Dead as we call him) lets me know that the guides did a blood sacrifice last night and the rain scheduled for day has disappeared from the forecast.  I'm not quite sure I believe that so I wear pants (for the first time in 6 weeks I believe) and put on a rain coat.  Even if it's not raining, it's still pretty damp out there and a bitty chilly.  But I actually think this is the mildest morning yet.


And we are off.  It's 13.5 miles to Sandfly Point which is the end of the track and where we will catch a boat over our lodge for the evening.  It's still a bit dark and we are walking through this mysterious looking rainforest that seems even more green and lush after the rain last night. The forest is just so much more alive it seems.  We're walking along the Arthur River which we hear gurgling just a few yards away from us, though hidden by the lush green forest.  Not far from the lodge, we get one last view of the Sutherland Falls and then we head back into the forest.


We stop briefly at the Dumpling Hut (and no they didn't serve dumplings) and then we kept walking.  It's a gentle downhill, but my feet are complaining.  I've got a little blister on my baby toe which one of the guides wrapped up for me.  But it still hurts.  We stop at the Boatshed, which is where they used to house boats used to move supplies up from Lake Ada, where I take off my raincoat, put on a thin long sleeve t-shirt, and Deet up again.  The sandfliest are everywhere and they lust after human blood.  It's really insane.  And I've got Deet all over me.  In my hair.  On my arms.  Around my neck.  Wherever there is exposed skin.  After the Boatshed, we cross the Arthur Valley by swing bridge and come across the Mackey Falls which are gorgeous!  With the rain from last night, the water is roaring down the falls.


A little after the 30 mile marker, we stop for lunch.  The sand flies oddly enough are not interested in our food, only us.  So annoying.  While we are eating, a wecka comes out of the woods to investigate us.  It's a native bird with a huge body.  And not very shy.  We were specifically told not to feed them, but some people were.  Oh well.  After lunch, we stop for a minute at the Giants Gate falls.  So amazingly pretty!  I really do love waterfalls and there are hundreds in this area.  From there, it's only 2.5 miles to Sandfly Point.


 (In the voice of Stefan from SNL).  Sandfly Point is the HOTTEST new club in the South Island!  It's got everything!  It's an amazing new open air club that doesn't need disco balls or lasers.  It's got the natural beauty of Milford Sound as it's backdrop!  It's super exclusive with a waiting list that is 4 days long.  When those lucky few get into the club, they are not greeted with that old boom, boom, boom of techno music, they are greeted with the sound of only wild birds and the hum of insects.  Only the hottest people are allowed into the club and once they do get in, they start dancing with their hands in the air.  You've got to dance as fast as you can or the sandflies will bite you and offer a blood sacrifice to the nature all around you!  It's dance or die at this hot new club!  :-)


We only had to wait about 10 minutes at Sandfly Point before we caught a small boat over to the marina at Milford Sound and then to our lodge.  Where a nice, long shower was key.  As was the glass of wine I'm currently enjoying!


Milford Track (Day 3)


In 1996, I went on a hiking trip in Patagonia.  It was pretty awesome. We did day hikes from various lodges and hiked Torres Del Paine, Mount Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, and even hiked on top of the Perrito Merino Glacier. Which was really cool.  On the first hike in Patagonia, our guide made a comment about how surprised he was by my endurance on the hike.  I wasn't in the best of shape, but I have some pretty decent endurance and I'm stubborn as a mule.  There's no way someone is going to tell me that I can't do something.  I will kill myself to prove that person wrong.  Which is also how I survived Plebe Summer at the Naval Academy.


Today was one of those days.  Power on at 0615.  Lunch making at 0630.  Breakfast at 0700.  And we were on the trail at 0730.  Today we *only* hiked 9 miles.  But we hiked up, over, and down MacKinnon Pass.  We basically climbed over 600 meters, and then down 800 meters.  I'm not sure which is worse, the climbing up or the climbing down.


We left Pompoloma Lodge and headed back into the beech forest.  There were low clouds overhead and they had managed to keep some of the heat in the valley so it was actually a little bit warmer than yesterday as we headed up the canyon.  Without any sunshine, the forest was a bit dark and mysterious, but it was a great way to start the hike.  While I'm going faster than normal, SB is still ahead of me and at some point she leaves me behind.  Which is fine.  I'm loving just walking alone by myself.


Our first stop is at the Mintaro Hut where there is a real bathroom and a chance to fill up your water bottle.  And then it's onward and upward.  There are a series of 11 zigzags on the trail as it climbs up and up and up.  At some point we get above the tree line and are actually climbing into the low hanging clouds that surround the mountains.  Which is kind of cool.  And is actually a bit chilly.  We we get higher up, the wind kicks in and starts whipping around me.  The wind actually blows some of the clouds up the mountain.  Up, and up I go.  And the wind is almost overwhelming now.  Almost near the top of the pass, there is a memorial to Quentin Mackinnon.  The little stone hut is almost hard to see through the clouds whipping by, but it's still kind of cool.  I continue to walk up the pass spotting small ponds or tarns which would be incredibly pretty if the weather is nice.  My hands are almost numb now but I soldier on through the pass and down to the Pass Hut.  Sarah Beth is already there, of course, but I stop, take off some of my wet/sweaty clothes and put on a dry layer.  And scarf down my lunch.  We need to be at the next lodge NLT 430PM.


If going up was hard, going down was even harder.  Scrambling over rocks and fording small streams, it's just slower going.  Though the clouds we can sometimes see the towering rock cliffs, moss covered forests, and alpine glacier fed streams that feed cascading waterfalls.  It's still pretty windy and I'm really focused on not hurting myself on the descent, so I don't really look around that much.  Down and down and down I go.  I only fall twice.  The big ole backpack I'm wearing not only changes my center of gravity, but it's almost like a sail catching the wind. So when I step on an unstable rock (which is quite often), I need to be careful so I don't careen over.  As we approach the cascades shelter, which is our break stop, there are a set of cascading waterfalls that are just amazing.  I'm hot at this point and all I can think of is jumping into that water but we don't have time and I'm sure it would be insanely cold.  After a break, it's another 90 minutes down, down, down the mountain to get to the Quentin Lodge.


I drop my bag, use the facilities and then Sarah Beth and I are on an optional hike.  Because the  9 miles we walked up and down Mackinnon Pass wasn't enough.  We are off to see the Sutherland Falls.  These are the falls that made the Milford Track famous and the original discoverer claimed that the falls were a mile high.  Well, they are pretty big, but not a mile high.  Technically they are 580 meters high, so like a third of a mile.  Now the guides weren't exactly honest when discussing this hike.  They claimed it was flat.  Wrong!  Up and up we went, down and down we went.  Over two swing bridges.  And it's almost 1.5 miles to the base of the falls.  Which are definitely worth the hike even if my feet were complaining the whole time.  There's a small pool at the bottom of the falls and I totally would have gone for a swim if someone had told me we could beforehand.  I didn't have my pack with my swimsuit and walking back in my wet shorts would have caused some serious chaffing issues.  By the time we get back the lodge, the bar is open so Sarah Beth and I have a glass of wine or two before dinner.


Tomorrow we are hiking a half marathon.  In the rain.  Good times.

Milford Track (Day 2)

Last night I was working on the blog when the power went out.  At 10PM.  Fine.  I go to sleep.


At 0645 the power comes back on and the light over my bed wakes me up.  At 0700 is the lunch packing.  You can make your own sandwich, wrap or salad.  There's fruit, trail mix, and chocolates as well.  Plus a delicious looking lemon wedge.  Breakfast is at 0745.  Eggs and bacon for me.  Then back to the room for the final packing and then on the trail around 0830.


Now there are 48 people on the track and it's sort of a gaggle of people as we start the hike.  The first thing you do on the track is to cross a swinging suspension bridge across the Clinton River.  The sign says no more than 20 people at a time, but apparently lots of folks didn't read that.  Sarah Beth and I approach the bridge and we're like, we'll wait a bit.  Let those folks go ahead and then we'll go.  I love the suspension bridge, even if it does swing a bit.  SB?  Not so much.  But we make it to the other side and enter the beech forest.


Now it's daylight, but the canyon we are in has very steep mountains on either side which means we don't get direct sunlight.  Which means it's a bit dark and chilly as we enter the beech forest.  But it really is magical.  The trees, the ferns, the moss, the chirping birds.  And we are both wearing Eau du Deet so the insects are avoiding us for the most part.  A little over a mile into the track, we take a side excursion to look at the wetlands.  There's a small section of raised wooden platforms that takes us into the wetland areas where you can see some interesting different kinds of moss, some birds, and some very cool spider webs glistening in the sunlight.  Very cool.


Then its back on the trail.  Both Sarah Beth and I like walking alone on the trail.  There are some walkers who are talkers and you can't really enjoy the walk and all of the amazing nature around you when you are engaged in a random conversation.  So whenever someone catches up to us or we catch up to them, we pause for a picture to let them get ahead of us.  The trail runs along the Clinton River through the Clinton Canyon.  As we are walking, we are surrounded by the noise of the chirping birds and the gurgling flow of the Clinton River to our right.  It really is so nice and peaceful.  And the river.  It's so clear.  The river is fed from the snow pack high atop the mountains ringing in the canyon.  And the mountains are granite, so the snow run off doesn't really pick up any soil or anything.  So when it gets into the river, it's crystal clear.  And the with the sun reflecting off the water, it's just enchanting.  Several times I thought I would love to jump in, but there was swimming planned for later.


Around 1245, we pulled into the Hirere Falls Lunch Hut for a break.  It felt so good to drop the backpack and just rest a bit as we ate lunch.  It was really delightful.  Oh, but at this point, the sun is overhead and while we are still mainly walking through the shaded beech tree forest, I'm hot.  So I've lost my black pullover and just wearing a t-shirt and shorts.  And I'm fine.  Sarah Beth is still in her coat, hat, and wool mittens.  She's cold most of the time.  Where as I'm hot most of the time.  Oh well.


We continue to make our way up Clinton Canyon and take a small detour to see the Hidden Lake which is nestled right against the almost vertical rock wall of the mountain that frames the canyon.  The lake was created by a succession of avalanches where the snow pack collapsed and tumbled down the granite rock face taking some trees and bushes with it.  You can definitely see where the avalanches have happened.  Next up is Prairie Lake.  A small little lake that is fed by a waterfall of melted snow pack from 4000 feet above at the top of the mountain ridge.  And this is where I could swim.  So I had to walk into the bushes to change into my bathing suit, and while I was doing that, SB stripped down to her sports bra and her hiking shorts and jumped in the water.  I'm guessing by her reaction that the water is cold.  But I'm still doing it.  So I put my sandals on and slowly walk into the water.  And it is cold.  Very cold.  But it kind of feels awesome as I'm now officially hot.  One of the other people on the track mentions that no one has gone to the other side of the lake where the waterfall is coming down.  Challenge accepted.  So I dive into the water and yes ODG it's cold.  But I'm fine.  I start to swim across the lake and I notice that the water is getting colder.  The water is deeper here, so it's not as warmed up by the sun, and the waterfall emptying into the lake is melted snowpack, so it's pretty chilly.  But I make it to the waterfall, tag the wall, and then head back.  Getting out of the water the sun felt amazing on my skin and I was so refreshed.  It was pretty awesome.


After the swim, we went back to the main trail and headed up the canyon to get to the lodge for the night.  The Pompolona Lodge.  After hiking for 7.5 hours, I was ready to get out of my hiking boots, stretch, and get cleaned up.  Sarah Beth and I split a bottle of rose and had some nibblies before dinner.  Dinner was great with crime brûlée for dessert, so Sarah Beth was happy.


According to my FitBit, we did over 36K steps which might be a new record for me.  The hike tomorrow is shorter, but more strenuous.  We need to climb up and over Mackinnon Pass.  So a long hard day tomorrow.

Milford Track (Day 1)


So it was an early get up at our guesthouse in Queenstown.  We did our final packing, had a delicious breakfast, and then headed down the very steep hill into downtown Queenstown to meet at the Ultimate Hikes Trek Center.  Now I had missed the pre-briefing the day before since I was sampling the healthcare services in NZ, but Sarah Beth had given me a pretty good rundown of the meeting so I was pretty prepared.  Well, as prepared as I was going to be.  They had recommended thermal layers, long pants, etc.  And I was in shorts.  And cotton shorts no less.  Yes I had on my  black pullover, but once you got into the sun it was really quite nice.  For me.  Anyways, we walked into the Trek Center and it was bustling with people.  There were 48 people on our trip.  And oddly enough, I think Sarah Beth and I were on the lower end of the age range.  Lots of retired folks.  In addition to a pretty sizable US and Japan contingent, there were some Kiwis, some Aussies, an Italian, and an Israeli.  What I found fascinating was that the majority of the tour were women.  The Japanese contingent had something like 10 women and 2 men.  And there were two lesbian couples as well.


We loaded up onto the tour bus and started heading south around Lake Wakatipu heading toward the town of Te Anua which is the jumping off point for all of the treks and trips in the Fiordland National Park.  I was fighting my TBN the whole way and we did have a very entertaining (and cute) bus driver.  So that helped.  What didn't help was the Japanese folks behind me who talked the whole way.  And Japanese is not soothing language.  Anyways, we made it to Ta Anua and stopped for lunch.  Then it was a short drive to Te Anua Downs where we caught the boat across Lake Te Anua to the start of the Milford Track.  The water was just super calm and the scenery as we sailed up the lake was just amazing.  And you know how I like a good boat ride.


So there are two ways you can do the Milford Track.  You can do an unaccompanied trek where you stay in Department of Conservation (DOC) huts but you have to bring your own sleeping bags, food, and cooking gear.  To do the unaccompanied trek, you have to sign up over a year in advance.  It's that popular.  The other way (which we are doing) is the accompanied trek where you stay in lodges where they have running water for showers and toilets, real beds for you to sleep in, a bar for your post trekking beverage of your choice, and cooked food for your meals.  It's a bit more pricey than the DOC hut trekking, but so much nicer.  So once we landed on the far shore of Lake Ta Anua, the first thing we did was put on bug repellant.  The flies and insects were lusting after our blood.  So we sprayed ourselves liberally with some Deet.  Then we hiked for about 20 minutes to get to our first lodge, the Glade House.  After dumping our bags in our room (ensuite thank you!), we went for a group picture and then did a nature hike around the lodge.


So the forest on the Milford Track is mainly Red Beech, Silver Beech, and at the higher elevations, Mountain Beech.  As we entered the forest, it was just so green and lush.  Lots of ferns and moss covering the trees.  There is a very shallow amount of soil over the top of the granite that makes up the base of the forest, so the beech trees have a very shallow, but expansive root system.  I mention this because for basically the whole hike I was looking down to make sure I didn't trip over a root or sprain my ankle.  Seriously, there were roots everywhere and we were climbing over rocks, fallen trees, you name it.  So a little bit hard core for a "nature" walk.  But we survived.  So our guide pointed out some traps they have set for stoats which was small weasel like animals.  They were introduced into NZ and don't have any natural repeaters, so they have grown dramatically in population and are wreaking havoc on the local bird population.  With the exception of some bats, there are no native mammals in NZ.  They were all brought over from Europe.  NZ's primary wildlife is birds.  Which evolved with no natural predators and whose population has been decimated by the mammals brought over to NZ.  Something like 50% of the bird species in NZ are extinct.


At the highest point of the nature walk, we came upon the Glade Burn which is lovely mountain stream tumbling down a rock filled gully.  It was really lovely and the water was drinkable.  So SB and I had some water and it was cold and delicious.  After some pics, we headed back down the roots and rocky trail back to the Glade House.  Happy Hour starts at 5PM, so we didn't want to be late!  We made it down without any injuries (#Winning!) and enjoyed some beer and wine before dinner.  They cut the electricity off at 10PM, so no late night partying here on the Milford Track.


Healthcare Abroad

So just an heads up that I'll be sharing some personal information, so if you are squeamish, you might want to skip this post.  Think of this as a spoiler alert.   


When I was in Sydney, I noticed this weird red bump under my arm.  I've had heat rashes before and didn't think of it.  The bump got bigger and started to hurt, but I just assumed that it would go away after time.  Well when I left Sydney, I hoisted my rather full backpack onto my shoulder and my first thought was "Holy Mother of God that hurts."  The backpack strap sits right on top of what is now a really big red bump.  And not just a bump.  It's Iike a big sphere of pain under my arm.  

So once I got to Queenstown I went to the medical clinic here.  To see the Dr it was $160 NZD (or $112 USD) since I wasn't a member of their local healthcare plan.  I saw a Dr within 30 minutes and she diagnosed it as an ingrain hair that had become a staph infection.  Lovely.  Unfortunately it wasn't in a position for them to lance it, so she put me on some antibiotics ($38 NZD or $27 USD) and told me to come back to the clinic today.  

So SB and I got up this AM and after a lovely and quite leisurely breakfast, we descended into town and caught a local bus to Arrowtown.  A cute little town about 20 miles from Queenstown.  It was the site of a local gold rush back in the mid 1800s.  Again, cute town.  But small.  Like the main drag was just a block long.  But we did some window shopping.  Had lunch.  Walked down around the river a bit.  We left Arrowtown and hit a winery on the way back to Queenstown.  So we did a tasting and I bought a case (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Dry Riesling, and Rose).  Then it was a back to the clinic.  Unfortunately it was lot busier.  Lots of people on crutches, not sure what they were doing, but glad that's not me.  Another $160 NZD.  First the nurse sees me.  Yes it's ready to be drained.  Then I wait a bit for the Dr.  Finally he comes in.  Yep, they will drain it.  I get a shot to numb the area.  Which definitely hurt.  After ten minutes he comes back and proceeds to lance the boil.  It hurt like a MF and this was after the numbing shot.  But apparently they were successful in draining the puss from the infection and put a little wick into the hole to help it drain over the next day or so.  They slapped a bandage on me and I was done.  I had to pay for 2 additional bandages ($21 NZD).  I'll need to change the dressing tomorrow and remove the wick.  And I'm on more antibiotics (another $38 NZD).  But I should be fine.  And it already feels better so that's good.  Our big 5 day hike is tomorrow so I really need to be healthy while we are gone.    

I find all of this a little bit interesting considering the changes in the US healthcare that are about to happen.  I'm fairly certain that if I had gone to my Dr (twice) and had a minor procedure like this done, it would have cost a lot more than $224.  They didn't charge me for any of the tools or equipments they used and I only had to pay for the extra bandages.  So all in all this wasn't a bad experience at all.  I've got all of my receipts and will try to get my insurance to reimburse.  But if it doesn't, the bills isn't going to bankrupt me.   


Switching subjects.  So far Sarah Beth and I are getting along really well.  I have to keep reminding her that our hike isn't a race.  I'm convinced she's going to sprint ahead of me.  And that's fine.  Dad used to do that to me also.  So I'm used to it.  And yes when she reads this blog post she's going to be mad at me.  :-) 

Like I said, our big hike starts tomorrow.  So no FB or blogging until Monday.   

Mardi Gras 2017

And a good time was had by all!


So I got in Friday AM at the crack of dawn and my lovely AirBnB host let me into the flat early.  Score.  It's also the perfect location.  Just off Oxford St and within 5 minutes walking of most of the gayborhood and the route of the Mardi Gras parade.  The first thing I did was nap.  I didn't really sleep on the red eye, so that was definitely a good thing.  That night I went to one of the many parties held as part of Mardi Gras week called "3 Level of Fur."  While the drinks were lame, the music was great.  Some old (gay) school classics with Deborah Cox, Whitney, and Madge.  Definitely a fun time.  


The next day was the main event.  The Mardi Gras parade.  Now, I'm sure you've thinking, wait . . . Mardi Gras was last week and it's Lent now.  So the date for the parade has changed several times.  The first parade was held in June 1978 in solidarity with San Francisco's "Gay Freedom Day".  Fifty three men and women were arrested, many were beaten by the police.  The public outrage from this event galvanized the LGBT community in Sydney (and Australia) and the next April the second parade was held.  Eventually the parade was moved up to the end of summer here in Australia.  So the beginning of March.  Now Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of the premier tourist events in the world, it's nationally televised here in Australia, and in 2012 they have over 10,000 participants.  And needless to say it's FABULOUS! 


So in 2001, right after I left the Navy, I went to NZ for a month and then Australia for a month.  I was here for MG.  I got to the parade route early (like 2PM) to get a good spot.  The parade started at 7PM.  The party started at 11PM.  I went home at 6AM.  And needless to say, after being on my feet for that long, I was crippled.  So I decided to spring for tickets to one of the viewing areas so I didn't have to stand and wait all day before the parade.  So that worked, but my view was not that great.  And my pics were just okay.  The floats and participants were awesome.  There was a whole Wonder Woman section.  A tribute to George Michael.  The Sydney rugby team called the Convicts (yummy BTW).  And lots, and lots, and lots of floats about marriage equality.  It's sort of surprising that they don't have marriage equality here.  But no, they are still fighting for that basic human right.  What was interesting is that like in the gay pride parades back in the US, there are political floats etc.  Well when the liberal party group marched by, everyone started to boo and I was like WTF?  Well liberal party here in Oz mean conservative.  And the Labor party means progressive.  And the Liberal Party wants to put marriage equality up for a national vote.  Which is just insane.  Human rights aren't something you vote on.  And it would cost the government a lot of money.  But in the mean time, their congress just stalls. 

BTW, does any of this sound familiar? 


Anyways, the last float had a slew of dancers carrying giant diamond wedding bands while two aerialists spun around (in the rain no less) on giant glittery rings to "Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend" as sung by Nicole Kidman in Moulon Rouge.  How over the top fabulous is that? 

After the parade (which lasted over 4 hours), it was on to the party.  Well as luck would have it, I went to the "pop dance" pavilion first where they actually played music with vocals.  Yea!  And it was good.  One of my favorite DJ's was spinning and it was lots of fun.  I ran into a hottie Aussie I had met on a BGC and his new American boyfriend.  There were dancing in the muscle bear section of the dance floor which has some nice scenery.  So I danced MBA (muscle bear adjacent).  I did take a break to go into the other pavilion which I would say was more hard core techno.  And OMG it was loud.  Even with my earplugs (yes I'm old), it felt overwhelming and I like to feel the bass as much as the next guy, but it should feel like it's pushing me off the dance floor.   So I retreated to the other pavilion that in addition to the DJs has performances by some local as well as international music stars.  So definitely very cool.


Even with the Red Bull, I was starting to his the wall around 6AM.  I managed to dance a little longer, but the idea of walking back to my flat filled me with dread.  So I left a little after 630 and thankfully there was a fleet of taxis to whisk me back to my place where I crashed big time.   

Anyways, after another party Sunday night (which wasn't really my thing), I spent most of today just chilling and doing laundry.  Off to NZ tomorrow to meet up with SB!   


Brought To You By the Letter . . .

I.  As in Introvert.  Now most people don't believe me when I say I'm an introvert.  ISTJ for those Meyers's Briggs fans.  I usually say that the Navy forced me to be a functional extrovert.  All of that leadership crap and stuff.  And I can do okay in small crowds.  But I'm definitely not someone who gets their energy from going out and interacting with people.  I'm totally good just being by myself and chilling.  Which makes it sort of completely natural that I'm traveling alone.  Well, that and not many people could get the time off.  But the common every day interactions with people is good enough for me.  I don't need to engage people and I usually don't.  

Sometimes that's a good thing.  Like on my last tour in Darwin where I ran into an older American who was traveling alone.  He kept trying to chat me up (he was straight, I just think he was looking to talk to someone) and said how he felt like he had to be an ambassador for the US.  And I said I agreed.  I was apologizing a lot.  And he looked at me weird.  He's like.  Well we have a democracy and Trump was elected and people need to get over it.  And I *really* didn't want to engage, but he wouldn't let it go.  So I was like, well, Hillary got more votes even if the Russians did help him.  And he got mad.  And I'm like, those are the facts, right?  And he was like, well I wish people would let him run the country.  And I said, look I want him to succeed, but you can't tell me that Ben Carson or Betsy Devon are even remotely qualified to lead their departments.  And that's when I think we mutually agreed to just discuss the tour.  Sigh.

Sometimes being an introvert isn't a good thing.  It keeps me from going up to meeting with guys I find attractive.  So that's kind of bummer.  And those hotness factor here in Sydney is pretty high.  Lots of woofy bearded guys.  I'm trying to be "Australian Trey" and be more outgoing, but it's not my nature.  So it's a challenge.  A little liquid courage helps.  But wow the alcohol is sad here. They do these weird thimble like measured pours and the drinks are not cheap.  So that's a bummer.  And the Australian dollar is cheaper than the US dollar, but not by much.  

Off to New Zealand tomorrow where I'll meet my sister.  Should be a blast.  I'll do a Mardi Gras wrap up post next! 


My Moment of Zen

I'm looking up at the sky.  Through the trees overhead I see the sun peering down at me.  Lying on a submerged rock, I feel water rushing over my body.  I lean my head back and only my face is exposed to the sun.  Semi-submerged, I hear nothing except the turbulent water beating and pummeling my body like a good massage.  The cool spring water encompasses me, flows around me, and sort of carries me away mentally to some place calm, and quiet, and peaceful.

So I had a good day today.  :-)

Up again early to catch another bus and we're off to Litchfield National Park.  The good news is that the park is much closer than Katherine or Kakadu.  So only 2 hours in the bus to get there.  The terrain is similar but different than Katherine.  It's made up of sandstone plateau also, but it's got a richer woodland forest and even some monsoon rainforest along the bottom of the escarpment.  The big attractions here are the waterfalls.


First up it's Florence Falls.  Two gorgeous falls with water pouring down the side of the sandstone cliff into a picturesque pool.  A pool that you can swim in!  Which we did and it was awesome.  A small group was leaving just as we arrived so we had the pool to ourselves.  Ourselves being me, another older American, and three German boys.  The water felt amazing after the hot sweaty drive and it was so clear.  It was quite turbulent as you approached the falls, but I discovered that if you swam to the section of rock between the two falls you could actually get to the rock wall and then edge your way underneath the falls.  And underneath the falls there was a little cove where you could stay and not get pummeled by the water.  It was really very cool.  I would push off from the wall and swim under the deluge and pop up on the other side.  I really am part fish at times.


Next up it was Tolmer Falls.  Another set of pretty falls.  But you couldn't swim in the pool below them.  The pools are home to some protected animals so humans aren't allowed.  Still.  A very pretty set of falls.


As we were driving to the next set of falls, our bus driver kept talking about the "One Guy" Falls.  And I really wanted to ask him who this "one guy" is that sort of has a waterfall named after him.  Oops.  Wangi.  Not One Guy.  My bad.  But very pretty falls.  And while you could normally swim in the pool at the bottom during the dry season, you can't know.  With all of the rain, the pools have overflowed to the surrounding flood plains where there are salt water crocodiles.  So that would be bad.  But still some majestic falls.


After lunch, we went to our last stop.    Buley Rockhole.  It's another one of these plateau fresh water springs that cascades down the escarpment with a series of small pools that you can swim in.  #Winning!  It's so hot here and the water felt amazing.  There were some Aussies at this pool just hanging out (and drinking beer of course), but it was still a lot of fun.  And it was here that I found the submerged rock to lay on and just vegge out for a bit.  So nice.


It really was a great way to end my trip to Darwin!  I'm at the Darwin airport waiting to catch my red eye to Sydney.  It's time for Mardi Gras!  Not sure I'll be blogging about Mardi Gras.  We'll see.  

Is the Juice Worth The Squeeze?


So that's the question I've been asking myself.  Is it worth it to be on a tour bus for 6-8 hours a day in order to see the parks up here in the NT?  I am not a good tour bus tourist.  First of all, I like to think of myself as a traveler.  Not a tourist.  Someone who experiences a country and what it has to offer.  Not just schelp from one tourist spot to another.  And yes I've been doing a little bit of that, but I'm also doing more than just that.  Second, my TBN kicks in pretty quickly so I spend most of the trip in some sort of weird stupor.  Which isn't necessarily that bad when you are on the bus for that long.  But still.  And I think the answer is yes.  I've only been to two of the NPs so far, but they are pretty spectacular.  The scenery is amazing.  The geology, flora, and fauna are all distinct and nothing Iike back in the states.    And I think even in the US you'd have a hard time going to three national parks from the same city without sitting in a bus for a long time. Which is all to say that I got in a tour bus at 0615 this AM.  And got back to my hotel at 8PM.  So it's a long day in the bus.  But totally worth it.


I've been referring to this park as Katherine Gorges and while that's correct, the real name for the park is Nitmulik National Park.  That's what the aboriginals who "own" the land call it and want people to call it by.  So this is sort of like the Ayers Rock vs Uluru issue.  I said "owned" because they did get control of the land back from the Australian government in 1989 after some lengthy lawsuits, but they don't think of themselves as owning the land.  They think of themselves as caretakers of the land.  Which I think is a really cool way to think about it.  So they "own" really large areas of the Northern Territories, but then they lease the park areas back to the government so they are available for tourists to visit.  They are good with that, but apparently they were not good with opening up another uranium mine in the area, so they are being good caretakers of the land.


The Katherine River passes through this really amazing section of massive sandstone that has been fractured over the past millions of years creating a series of gorges that are pretty spectacular.  The way sandstone fractures, it sort of does it at right angles, so one gorge is actually a series of smaller gorges that meet at right angles as the water flows down.  Now while it is the rainy season here, I've actually been lucky as there hasn't been any rain except for that first savage thunderstorm the night I arrived in Darwin.  So the water level in the gorge has actually dropped quite a bit (by like 2 meters!) over the last couple of days.  So what that meant was that we would get to see two of the gorges.


So we hopped on another boat (which seems to be my common mode of travel here in the Top End), and head up into the gorge.  It really is so pretty.  The sandstone is all sorts of different colors and the lush green foliage along the gorge and clinging to the rocks is so pretty.  The reason why the water levels are so drastic is that when the rain hits the escarpment plateau, it only has a couple of channels down from that height.  So it's a lot of rain, being squeezed into just a couple of creeks and rivers.  In the big monsoon season of 2011, the gorge was almost 3/4 full.  It was like only 1/8th today.  And while I looked majestic today, I'm sure it was pretty scary when it was that full.  And when it's too full, they can only do tours in the first gorge.  If you have time, you can walk to see all 13 gorges, but sadly we didn't have time for that.  Plus, I'm not sure some of my tour mates could make it.


After the tour, it was back in the tour bus.  For 4 hours.  Ugh.  But so worth it.  Off to Litchfield NP tomorrow!

Lord of the Flies

Woke up at the Crocodile Hotel, had breakfast, and then we were off for Kakadu Part 2!  As I mentioned before, it's the rainy season and so much of the park is flooded and a number of roads are closes.  But my tour company is pretty savvy. 


We headed off to the East Alligator River section of the park passing through the lush green savannah woodlands.   Spotting a wallaby or two as we drive by.  After about 20 minutes, the road ends.   In water.   Basically there's a long stretch of road that is closed.   But there are some flat bottom boats waiting for us.  So we hop aboard for another mini cruise through the flooded plain area.   We were basically sailing through a forest and it was really kind of cool.   But the flies.  OMG.   I hate flies.   And they were everywhere.   Apparently there are over 1000 different species of flies in Kakadu.  And I'm fairly certain they all came to bother me.  And why do they keep buzzing my ear.   It looked like I was having an epileptic fit every two minutes trying to brush the flies away.   Lovely.


After we landed on the far side of the park, our tour company had staged a 4x4 bus for us to use.  With the exception of the rangers and the aboriginals, we were the only people in this section of the park.  Which was kind of cool.  So back in the bus and we headed to Ubirr.  Ubirr is another aboriginal site with art work, but it's on this rocky outcropping from the escarpment.  And so once we parked, we climbed to the top of the outcropping for a really fantastic view of the valley, the escarpment, the flooded plains, etc.  It was so pretty it could have been from a movie.  And it actually was.  It was the setting for one of the scenes from Crocodile Dundee.  So I'll probably have to find that on Netflix and watch it again sometime.  Afterwards, we climbed down to look at the rock art.  Again, it was very cool and it's hard to imagine that some of these paintings are thousands of years old.


After we checked out the rock art galleries, it was bus, boat, and bus again to head back to the hotel for lunch.  After lunch, we went to the main visitor center and then headed back to Darwin.  It was a long day with a lot of time in busses.

The Dingo Ate My Baby!

Again, it had to be done.  Sorry.


So on my first trip to Australia, I did Cairns, Brisbane, and Sydney.  My second trip to Australia (after I got out of the Navy), I did Sydney, Adelaide, Ayers Rock, Perth, Melbourne, Hobart (Tasmania), and then back to Sydney.  So the only state I hadn't been to in Australia was the Northern Territory (and no I haven't been to Canberra, but like DC it's not a state!).  And the Top End is famous for Kakadu National Park, Litchfield National Park, and Katherine Gorges.  There are tons of tours that go to these places, but not a lot of them in the rainy season.  Yep, bad timing on my part.  So that's why I ended up on a tour bus this AM at 0615.  Yes, a tour bus full of mainly retired people.  I've never felt so young or thin!


Now as I've previously mentioned, I suffer from Tour Bus Narcolepsy, so not 20 minutes into the drive and I'm falling asleep.  I'm sure the cold medicine isn't helping.  But I do manage to catch a some of the interesting facts as I nod off.  Darwin's population is around 150k, but the whole population of the Northern Territory is only 220K.  So it's pretty sparse once you leave Darwin.  As we leave Darwin, we're head into the bush.  The upside of coming in the rainy season is that it's all green and lush as we head towards Kakadu NP.  Kakadu is enormous.  It's covers 20,000 square kilometers.  It starts at the mangrove fringed coastal area and blends into expansive flood plains and lowland hills flanked by sweeping sandstone escarpments.  As we head into the park, there's a sign that shows which roads are already closed due to the rain.  It's so flat here that when the rain comes, it really changes the whole look of the countryside.  And the countryside if gorgeous.  And as we were driving down the road we did see a dingo!  And some wallabies!


But we're in a tour bus.  So the scenery isn't all that.  And so when they mention there is an option for a scenic flight, I jump at it.  Yes it costs extra (what budget?) but I did the helicopter ride with John in Kauai and it was awesome.  This was sort of like that.  It was on a small 8 seat prop plane.  And since I was by myself, I got to sit in the co-pilot's seat.  That's a score for good photos.  We took off and headed across the NP.  And again, it's huge, flat and so green.  And so pretty from above.  We pass over the flood plains and then head towards the gigantic sandstone escarpments that run for over 300 km.  According to our guide, these escarpments were part of the coast of Gondwana before the supercontinent broke up and the ocean levels receded.  On top of the escarpments are these plateaus with amazing crevices where grass, shrubs, and even small trees grow.  It was really quite beautiful.  As we flew along, we went by a couple of famous waterfalls including Twin Falls and Jim Jim Falls.  My pics are only okay as they are taken through the window of the plane.  But still pretty spectacular.  After about 40 minutes we landed on a dirt runway (I'm not kidding) in the middle of no where.  But somehow we made it back to our bus and then it was time for the boat cruise.


You know me and boats!  It was a cruise on the Yellow River Billabong.  Now, Billabong isn't just a clothing line.  It's a pond (or lake really) that's left over when a river dries up and is usually a fresh water pond.  And with the rainy season, it's a pretty big lake with all sorts of canals and channels.  We boarded the flat bottom boat and headed out looking for birds and crocodiles.  The water level has risen approximately 2 meters already during the season, so at one point we're sailing down a channel that used to be a nature hike.  The scenery is amazing and we see all sorts of birds, including a white belly sea gull and a paperback fly shatter?  Sure, like I know what those are.  We did see a crocodile very briefly.  Apparently she laid some eggs in a nest nearby but it got swept away in the rains last week, so she's hanging around the area where the nest used to be just grieving.  Which I thought was kind of sad.  The boat cruise was good, but the flies were killing me and it was hot!


After lunch, we headed to Nourlangie which is famous for its rock art galleries.  Apparently the aboriginal name for this area is Arbangbang.  Even though the tribe who used to live here is gone (dead I think), the tribe that's the caretaker for this part of the park asks everyone to use the native name.  Sure, I'm I can barely pronounce the English name of the place.  It's 39 degrees at this point. 103!  And did I mention humid?  Ugh.  So lots of water and lots of sun screen.  Thankfully it's not a long walk to the first gallery.  Aboriginal rock art was done in four colors from ochre.  Red, yellow, white, and black.  Red's the most common these days because the haematite ochre actually is absorbed into the sandstone so when it rains or the rock is eroded, the black, yellow, and white colors fade more quickly.  So kind of interesting.  Unlike rock art in central Australia where the aboriginals used blood as part of the paint mix, they can't carbon date these paintings, so they are broken down to time segments.  Contact art:  which is art done when the aboriginals interacted with the white man.  Fresh water art:  which is when the mangroves helped reduced the coastal flooding.  And Sea water art:  really early before the mangroves were on the coast.


After the rock galleries, it was back on the bus.  I got dropped off at Jabiru since I'm doing Kakadu part 2 tomorrow.  But the rest of the bus was heading back to Darwin.  Yikes that's a long day.  So Jabiru is a company town.  It was specifically built to support the miners working the uranium mines in the park.  So it's only 1500 people.  But of course they have built a hotel for the tourists.  And it's shaped like a crocodile.  And no I'm not kidding.  It's a little bit fun and a little bit tragic.  No sunset cocktail tonight as more thunderstorms are rolling overhead.  Oh well.

Down And Out In Darwin


So the flight from Singapore to Darwin is only like 4.5 hours.  So even with the NyQuil, it's not really a good sleep on the plane.  But I think I did doze off for a bit.  Landed in the pre-dawn Darwin and caught a taxi to my hotel.  So the cab pulls up and there's a sign that says the hotel is closed (and has been for 2 months) until April.  Lovely.  Mind you, it's now 615AM.  And I am stumbling tired and not in the mood for this.  There's another DoubleTree right next door so I go there.  They have rooms available, but I can't check in until 3PM.  Unless I want to pay for an early check in.  Fine.  So I get up to my room, which is stark and sad compared to my junior villa in Phuket, close the curtains, pop the ear plugs in, and go to sleep.  I wake up around 1130 feeling marginally better.


I clean up and I've got two things I want to do.  First I want to check out the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, and second I need to find a plug adapter.  Apparently both of my multi-plug adapters don't work for AUS/NZ.  Lovely.  Anyways, I hope a cab to the museum and it is hot, hot, hot outside.  It's in the mid 90s and with the humidity it's over 100.  Lovely.  The museum is nice.  I really like the aboriginal artwork that uses dots.  I just find it fascinating.  And there was plenty of it.  There was also an interesting exhibit about Cyclone Tracy that basically wiped out Darwin in 1974.  It was a category 5 cyclone that ripped directly through Darwin at a time when building standards were not what they needed to be.  You could go into a dark room and listen to recording of the cyclone and it was a bit creepy.


After the museum, I hit the downtown to find my adapters and some more cold medicine and then hit a local pub for lunch and a pint.  I did see an Irish bar called "Shennanigans" which I thought was hilarious.  Then it was back to the hotel to do laundry.  My cold is still kicking my ass so I basically laid low for the rest of the day.  I did want to find a place for my sunset cocktail, but late in the afternoon a pretty savage thunderstorm rolled into town so I just hunkered down in my room.  My tour starts at 0615, so no late night partying for me.

Sailing the Andaman Sea (Part 2)

I'll Set Sail and Drift Away . . . .


I failed to test out of Youngster swimming at USNA even though I'm a fish.  Mainly because I had flown in from the Philippines the night (well really morning) before the test and I missed the cut off by 8 seconds.  Which sort of sucked.  But hey, an easy A is nothing to sneeze at the Naval Academy.  And yes I got an A.  One of the tests was to see how many breast strokes it takes  you to swim 25 meters.  7 strokes was an A.  8 = B.  9 = C.  10 = D.  I did it in 4.  The instructor couldn't quite believe it.  "What are you a fish?"  Well, sort of.  Actually, I like to think of myself as a sea otter.  Cute, a little bit furry, and just amazing in the water.


So the biggest mistake I made on this cruise was to book the 4 night cruise.  I should have totally done the 7 night cruise.  It's definitely been an amazing trip.  After sleeping in the harbor at Ko Rajah Yai, we got up and did an early morning snorkel before breakfast.  Which was great.  I specifically bought a GoPro for this trip as I wanted a water proof camera.  And it is waterproof, I just don't think it's great at capturing pics of the amazing fish, coral, and other marine life we are seeing.  There's no zoom lens, so it's just not that great.  But I am taking some pretty cool videos as I dive below the water and swim amongst the fish and the corral.


After breakfast, we headed to Ko Mai Thon.  Another island south of Phuket.  We were using our engines and with the slight chop the boat was bouncing up and down a bit.  I laid out in the cargo netting upfront and just zone out under the sun with the crystal blue water passing quickly underneath me.  This is living!  As we were looking a good place to snorkel, we came upon a pod of dolphins.  Our great CEO (Chief Experience Officer) pointed them out and one of them came really close to the boat, passing back and forth in front of the bow three or four times.  It was so amazing.  After we found a place to anchor, it was back in the water.  Best snorkel site yet.  I loved the different types of coral and the fish were amazing.  And we spotted a giant moray eel as well hidden amongst the coral.  It was really amazing.


After lunch, we headed to Ko Yao Yai, an island just east of Phuket.  It was a 3 plus hour sail there (well, sail and motor).  It's a Muslim island and we pulled into a small harbor where there are three resorts.  A super high end resort, a middle level resort, and a resort that's only for Chinese tourists.  Um, okay.  But even though it's a Muslim island, they serve liquor!  So after a quick swim after we arrived, we got cleaned up and took the dingy ashore for a sunset cocktail.  A Maitai of course.  As we were sitting on the beach, we could heard the roar of thunder to the west of us and we could see the dark clouds as well.  The wind picked up and the lighting was pretty spectacular.  We had such amazing weather all week, so now was our turn to pay for it.  But we finished our drinks and then headed to a local restaurant for dinner.  It was during dinner that it poured, so perfect timing.


I still wake up at 6AM.  It's a curse.  But it's only me and the cook who are awake so I snap some pics of the island as the sun begins to rise.  After the storm last night, the water is so calm.  I decide against a morning swim as my swim suit is still wet from the rain the night before.  After breakfast, we make our way back to Phuket.  As we motor back to the marina, we pass several islands with just spectacular limestone cliffs. So magical.  One of the problems with this type of trip is meeting some of the other travelers.  One is going to Borneo next, one to Singapore, one to Saigon.  There are still so many places that I want to explore and these people aren't helping!  It was hard enough to get this trip approved.  :-). I definitely want to come back and do this again and do the 7 day trip.  It's really been amazing!


After we dock, I catch a cab back to the Renassiance.  Where I'm upgraded to the junior villa.  #Winning!  So nice.  The first thing I do it crank down the AC.  And take a long hot shower.  Then it's time to read on my private sun deck and cool off in my plunge pool.  I'm sure I'm going to be punished for my good luck, but I'm just going to enjoy it while I can.  I had thought about going to Patong Beach which is apparently where the party is at, but I think I'm just going to camp in my luxurious room tonight.  I'll have plenty of partying when I get to Sydney.  Plus I'm still sick as a dog. Up next?  Darwin, Australia!

Sailing the Andaman Sea (Part 1)


So I left my very nice hotel and headed to Phuket Town, well actually the pier area, to catch my ferry over to Ko Phi Phi.  The pier area where the ferries leave was sort of like Phuket Town.  Not what I was expecting.  It was a very industrial area and while there are like 4 different ferry companies, the pier area looked kind of sad.  I'm still not sure where the party area is here in Phuket, but that's another trip.  Anyways, I sat next to a cute couple from Darwin (which is where I'm going next!), so we chatted quite a bit.  It was an almost two hour ride over to Ko Phi Phi which is a very pretty island just off the mainland.  Disembarking the ferry was a zoo as the pier was very narrow and they were funneling everyone through a small area so they could collect 200 baht as an environmental fee.  Sure.  I found an Italian place for lunch that had wifi so I could send one last email back to Mom before I went off the grid.


At 3pm, I met up with my group from G Adventures.  So I really knew nothing about the company except they offered the trip on the dates I needed.  When I was in Angkor Wat, I ran into an American who was doing a G Adventures trip and I asked her how it was.  And she said it was good, but it was mainly for young people.  So I fully expected to be the oldest person in the group.  And not the case at all.  Only 11 people on the boat (which sleeps 16) and 7 Canadians, 3 Americans, and 1 Brit.  And the ages ran from late 20s/early 30s to late 50s (I think).  We got settled onboard and then we headed out to the far side of Ko Phi Phi to our first snorkeling stop.  And it was great.  The water was crystal clear and that amazing turquoise color that you see in all of the posters.  And after sweating my ass off, I was so ready to hit the water.  I changed into my new swim trunks, grabbed my GoPro and hit the water.  The sun was on the other side of the towering cliffs above us so we weren't in direct sunlight so I didn't worry about slathering up in sun lotion.  Saw lots of cool fish.  Overall I think the marine life here is much more diverse than any snorkeling I've done in the Caribbean.  So many pretty fish over every color.  Very cool.


After a good hour plus snorkeling, we got back on the boat and headed to Phi Phi Leh, another island just to the south of Ko Phi Phi.  After sailing (well motoring) around the island, we pulled into Maya Bay and it was just stunning.  Maya Bay is where they filmed "The Beach" with Leonardo DiCaprio.  And obviously some of it was CGI, but the wide beach in this secluded bay is definitely from the film.  Sadly, it's also now a very popular destination from Ko Phi Phi, so it was packed.  But we moored and then watched the sun set.  Which was spectacular.  After that, we had dinner on board the ship.  The food is actually pretty good, if a little too spicy for my taste.  After dinner, everyone sort of sat around and chatted or read their books.  Some guy had brought a guitar and was playing some quiet tunes.  It was really really nice.  I laid on the netting in the front of the catamaran and just looked up at the stars for a bit.  Around 10PM I went down to my cabin and I'm so glad that I paid extra for a room to myself.  After all of the water I've been drinking, I was in the bathroom several times.  Oh, and have I mentioned that I'm sick as a dog?  I passed through the sore throat phase quickly and was in the stuffed head phase.  BTW, snorkeling in salt water when you've got a runny nose?  Hello Snotty McSnotterson.  Not sexy at all.  Anyways, I put my dental device in and tried to sleep.  Tried.  First it was hot.  The AC in my cabin is not sufficient at all.  And then sometime in the middle of the night I started having coughing jags.  Which is really not possible while wearing a device that locks your jaws.  So I would wake up in a panic trying to get it out so I could cough.  Yeah, not a restful night.


6AM rolled around and I was up and changing into my swim great.  Most of the boats that had been packed into Maya Bay last night had left after sunset so before the crowds descended, we wanted to check out The Beach.  So we took the dinghy over and then walked through the little jungle forest to the other side where there was this picturesque cove with a small island in the middle just as the sun was rising.  So pretty.  Afterwards, we put on our snorkel gear and swam around the edges of Maya Bay.  Again, so many cool and different fish.  And the water felt fantastic.


Around 8AM were were back on the boat for breakfast and then as the longtail boats with the day trippers started to arrive, we headed out.  As we left Maya Bay, there was some pretty decent wind so we hoisted the main sail and the jib.  The catamaran is 25m long, so it's a pretty big boat, so even with the wind, we were only probably making 2-3 knots.  We sailed for a good 5 or so hours across the Andaman Sea to Ko Rajah Noi.  Ko Rajah Noi is just one island, but there's this one place where the rocks are so low that the water basically flows over them.  After we sailed over into the lee of the island, we moored and it was time to snorkel again.  I headed to the low section where the water crosses over, but the currents there were pretty strong and getting bashed on a coral rock didn't sound like that much fun to me.  But I still swam along the edge and saw just a ton of fish.  It was peak burning time so I had brought ONE long sleeve shirt with me and so I was wearing it in the water.  I did not want to get my back burned.  Been there, done that.  After we finished snorkeling, we had a little diving/jumping competition from the bow of the catamaran.  It was so much fun.  I attempted a back flip.  My rotation was not quick complete and my shins hit the water pretty hard.  But still, not bad.    We had one more snorkel stop at Ko Rajah Noi which was great before we headed to Ko Rajah Yai.


So I have to say this sailing trip has been awesome.  I like the idea of a morning swim, breakfast, then sail to a new place just as the tourists are arriving.  Nap or read while we sail.  Then it's time to snorkel again.  Oh, and then lunch.  It's a really nice schedule.  After we moored at Ko Rajah Yai, we watched sunset again.  While there is beer and wine on the boat, there are no cocktails.  And yes I plan to complain to management about that!  :-)

Phuket Layover


So I left Yangon and made it to Phuket safely!  So that's always a plus.  The only downside is that when I was passing through DMK (Bangkok's BWI), the security guys took the shell casing from my Dad's funeral that was on my key chain. I tried to explain to them that it was just a shell and I think the guy felt bad, but no joy.  So a little bummed by that. 

Made it to Phuket and grabbed a cab to my hotel.  So I decided after Myanmar that I wanted to get back to my comfort zone, so I used points to stay at the Renaissance.  Yes, #MarriottWhore.  The hotel is nice and on a great stretch of beautiful beach.  The first thing I did when I got to my room, I mean other than crank the AC down?  I hit the gym.  I'm feeling all Fatty McFatterson lately.  After that, it was open bar from 6-630 pm.  The mojito was iffy, but the Mai Tai rocked.  After a too spicy Thai dinner, I crashed hard.


Today was mainly a chores day.  Gym.  Sent out my laundry to be done.  Then headed into Phuket town to do some shopping and to get my ferry ticket.  It's like an hour ride to Phuket town and there really isn't much there.  I'm not exactly sure where the party scene in Phuket is, and there definitely is one, but I didn't see it.  I did find a pair of swim trunks that I needed to buy.  I only brought one pair with me and between the 4 days on the boat and then my trip to Fiji, I needed another pair.  Hey, it was 8 bucks. 


Came back to the hotel and chilled by the pool.  Lots of kids here which is weird after the last hotels I've stayed at.  And lots of Russians.  Of course, if you lived in Russia, now would be a good time to go some place warm.   

Tomorrow AM I take a cab down to the harbor and catch a ferry to one of the nearby islands, Ko Phi Phi.  That's where I catch the 4 day cruise I'm taking.  It's a 25m catamaran and we'll be hitting three different islands including Kho Raja Noi where the movie "The Beach" with Leonardo DeCaprio was filmed.  So I'll be completely off the grid for a bit.  Hopefully I'll have some amazing pics when I get back online.