Foto Feed

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A few outings that didn’t quite fit into the last post. Neil Young in the Hunter Valley, Tuba Skinny epic-osity, Manly Beach and Bondi Beach hikes, Cockatoo Island.

By the by: amongst all the touring I have actually managed to get some regular work! Ironically I only had to temporarily give up on teaching, go to the “Australian Barista School” and apply at coffee shops for 48 hours to get my first casual call. 7-9 am trial at a coffee shop; 6:57 am get a call from a pre-school. Life you are not without a sense of humour. Needless to say I did an about turn, ran (well, briskly hobbled) back home to change and made it to in-my-field work just in time. Since then it’s been pretty steady shifts at said pre-school learning how to work with an adorable developmentally delayed little gal. May I just say that I have so much respect and admiration for people who do this type of vocation full-time. As well subbing in primary schools has also picked up which is going really well. Thank goodness. School’s out at the moment but will start up again in two weeks…in the meantime my tutor training for the refugee program starts this weekend; I’m pumped! Curtis has been jet-setting around Oz for his job, but should finally land at home long enough for us to have a movie date or something. Maybe we can just sit in the dark and read. He’s been working really hard in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and tiny hard to pronounce townships. He’s grown a beard to look older so co-workers don’t find out what a precocious little renaissance he is. They think he’s just a run-of-the-mill mid-30s renaissance. What a tricksy fox you are Curtis! 

Winter(s) Down Under

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Hello!

Okay okay okay. Six weeks have zoomed by without a single update. How does this happen? I reckon it’s because we haven’t been home long enough to collect ourselves in a while! So thousands of photos uploading, I am sifting through my calendar and the dust has settled. The Winters have just returned to Canada after five jam packed weeks of ‘Straylia. We had a fantastic time! Hitting up our favourite live music venues and restaurants; riding ferries around the harbour; mini-hikes in the Blues Mountains; beach walks; ping pong tournaments; Opera House symphonies; wine.

We also took a trip to the far north of Queensland around Cairns and Port Douglas. I had no idea Northern Queensland was basically Papua New Guinea! We were at the same longitude as Fiji to give you a level of tropical-ness. While small geographically, this region contains a richness of biodiversity that I will probably never see anywhere again. We started with a train ride to Kuranda, a section of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Ready to have your mind blown? The Wet Tropics is home to about a third of Australia’s mammals and contains one of the most complete living records of the major stages of evolution going back 200 million years. 200 million years! I can barely record the last six weeks properly. We’re talking old school Gondwanan flora and fauna, bad ass marsupials included, in a rainforest that covers less than 0.2% of Australia. This blows my mind at a Graham’s number level of amazement. So anyway, we tootled around the oldest rainforest in the world. It was nice…kind of cluttered. The only thing that could excite me more is the largest living organism in the world: The Great Barrier Reef! Two record breakers side-by-side, I wonder if they duke it out for “most awesome”?

We drove north from Cairns along wending coastal highway to Port Douglas. Look out one way and you see pristine beach-lined ocean, look out the other and the fields of sugar cane are thick and hearty. Look behind you to see the Tablelands, remnants of recent volcano eruptions covered in fertile, tropical green. We arrived at our hotel and discovered that Curtis scored us the most luxurious place ever! Off-season travel for the win! (Though I felt very uncomfortable with the multiple rooms, and walls, and seating areas. I have grown accustomed to watching Curtis sleep and eat and brush his teeth inches away from me. What is he doing in that other room I wonder??? I had better go check it out and sit as close to him as humanly possible.) After a wonderful dinner, delicious wine, and hours of bat watching we are ready for our trip to the Reef. The trip we chose took us out to the outer edge of the Reef, just a few kilometres from the continental shelf. These agincourt ribbons are supposed to be great for snorkeling and that they were. I can’t really describe how it feels to swim over thousands upon thousands of coral poylps. It is surreal. This great BBC doco gives you a better inkling:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0198pww/episodes/guide

I just watched it for the third time! When you watch it though, try to picture all of us wearing full head-to-finger tips-to-toe wet suits. Off-season travel means you are snorkeling in jellyfish land. Those gelatinous umbrellas will kill ya’! Seriously though, everything in the ocean wants you dead. Why you gotta be so scary yet beautiful? Discomfort of being in an endless body of murder water aside, this was one of the most special and stunning places I have ever been and am grateful I had the chance to see it.

Before you know it, we’ve flown through Easter dinner with as many Canadians as possible and it is the Winters’ last weekend here! Naturally they have more family connections than me on every continent (I joke, but it is probably true) so we spent our last weekend all together in the Kangaroo Valley in a funky beach house right on Jervis Bay. It was lovely. Food, more food, beach, kangaroos with joeys, sand castles at the beach. It was a wonderful way to end their trip, and it is so nice to have a family contingent close by. Now I have kids to push my arts and crafts onto! I need to buy crayons 🙂

Up next: WWOFing at an apiary, diving school in May, sailing classes.

We miss you, we love you!

Xo H & C.

Year of the Snake

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Happy Chinese New Year! What an appropriate year for us to be in Australia. It’s hard to believe that it’s been two months to the day that Curtis and I met up in Sydney, but the calendar says it is so! Time is flying! At first I didn’t think we had done that much until we started making a list and it turns out I was mistaken. At this time the calmer vermilion turkey reminded me that we don’t have to manically run around absorbing culture and sights like I sometimes feel I need to….thank you for that. So! With a reasonable, enjoyable pace to our steps, here’s some whats and wheres.

  • The Village Bizarre was exactly what you would imagine it to be; as long as you imagined it as streets with roving poets, silent dance parties, free straight razor shaves, invitation only sideshows and of course, a secret bar only accessible by following the white rabbit tracks. It is a testament to a city when you find several streets blocked off to celebrate the wacky, weird and and wonderful; Heather and I have found a city that is right for us. (Curtis wrote something finally! We’re all very proud.)
  • We managed to find a great place to live! We now have our regular deli, fish shop, butcher and coffee place that knows exactly how I like to consume my caffeine dependency. Everyone has been bonhomous and we even have two almost-pals in our building. Way to successfully interact socially with others, us! And with our new wheels we have enjoyed many bike rides around the narrow Europeanesque streets of Kirribilli; especially at dusk when the harbour is alight, the 1930’s amusement park is alive and the “secret garden” we so enjoy is deserted.
  • I love this 46 degree heat!” said no one, ever. We’ve finally adjusted to the humidity and climate in general but still seem to end up going out at night a lot more than the day. We are not very good at sight-seeing actually! But we are good at going to quirky things that we like. Improv shows in tucked away boho venues, outdoor movies in parks with bats flying above, bike rides across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to eat dessert in the Rocks, night time pyrotechnics on a giant man-made fire organ. Yeah, that one was particularly amazing! They literally played a giant pirate ship of scrap metal with propane torches. The torches would suck the oxygen out of the pipes and “play” a pitched note. Minds were blown. Video example here: http://tinyurl.com/a59plu7
  • Dancing! Live jazz! Beautiful early 20th century buildings in which to enjoy them. I am finally un-crippled enough that I am allowing myself to get excited about swing dancing again. It’s been a year and a half since my running injury and while I’m only at about 60% it’s enough that I can manage a proper swing out! This is quite exhilarating! Curtis and I have met some lovely dancers here as well and they are doing a fabulous job of inviting us to everything swing. We’re both loving the new dancing partners and constant dirty brass and plunky piano.
  • Meeting up with friends and family, new and old. We’re so grateful for our community so while meeting new people is great, it’s nice to have a familiar face or two along the way that we can just be ourselves with and enjoy the sights.
  • The Blue Mountains are not actually mountains, Australia is mistaken. Sorry mates!They are beautiful cliffs and rugged valleys though, with heaps of oil bearing eucalyptus trees. The trees emit droplets of oil which scatter short-wave length rays of light, hence the blue. Not violet mind you, (http://xkcd.com/1145/) ha. We’re planning on going back there soon to do another day hike. It’s so easy to get out there by transit, woot!
  • Shoebox projects. What we do instead of sight-seeing when we are being terrible tourists! Deciding to live in another city as opposed to traveling around means that we can put our roots into the ground, just a little. I mean the “ground” of our studio is concrete, so we can’t go too crazy, but we’ve been working on a few fun activities.

               1) Herb Garden which should do well in this magical land of sun.

               2) Ukuleles. Blue and Orange, matching calluses, how adorable.

               3) This: http://www.petapixel.com/2012/12/31/diy-make-a-waxed-canvas-camera-bag-on-the-cheap/

               4) Bike maintenance classes for accident-lovers (I may have lost some skin on the road.) 

              Up next: beer brewing in the courtyard and diving classes.

Meanwhile in the land of work: Curtis and his behemoth brain are rocking it. He is enjoying his new job for the most part and has even been able to see some actual outback on business trips. He says it’s been a steep learning curve, but he can solve rubix cubes so I am pretty confident that he will master everything immediately. As for me, I just got hired onto the New South Wales Public School board as a casual (substitute) teacher. School just started last week so I haven’t received any calls yet but spent this week working on making some packages that I can take to schools in person. Hopefully this improves my chances of getting actual work! It’s a little overwhelming having to navigate a brand new system, but since I made the decision to try it’s tough to be grouchy about it for too long. Overall, things are great and we’re feeling settled…and we miss you all.

Stay warm up there in Canadia, much love.

Tip Top Holidays

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G’day mates and happy new year! I hope everyone is having a great start to their new year. So far it is shaping up to be an adventuresome one for Curtis and I. In light of all the 2012 year end lists I have been catching up on (top songs, albums, books, news stories, Q interviews, TED talks….), here are a few of our “top” moments thus far:

Gold Coast

5. Successfully renting a car; driving a car; not dying in a car as we constantly shoulder check the wrong way and wash our windshield while meaning to signal.

4. Spending Christmas on a white sandy beach in Coolangatta, on the south side of the Gold Coast. Curtis celebrating under a beach umbrella, me under the watchful gaze of the Australian sun. Either way, sun screen now has its own column in the monthly budget.

3. “Roll on, deep and dark blue ocean, roll.” I wonder if Lord Byron ever experienced Cape Byron for himself, seeing as Byron Bay was named after his grandfather. As the most easterly point of mainland Australia, rolling ocean is certainly all that you see from the lighthouse. To reach the summit however, we wended past countless surfers, a surprising number of brush turkeys (yes, turkeys!) and lush ferns in Cape Byron Conservation Park. (And a fun brain nugget about Lord Byron: his daughter, Ada Lovelace, is thought to be the first computer programmer….Stephen Fry told me that today! QI is a fantastic show FYI.)

2. Hinterland. A word I would use to describe everything slightly inland from the coast line, somewhere between ocean and outback. More specifically, the Gold Coast Hinterland is crammed full with thick forested valley and rural vineyards. It was too much to see in one day, so we chose to explore the World Heritage listed Border Ranges National Park. Once upon a time this was part of the rainforest-clad super-continent Gondwana. Today it still grows Antarctic Beech trees, Red Cedar and anything with a frond. It was stunning and easily the greenest place either of us had ever been! Unfortunately we got caught under a funnel-cloud looking storm and left sooner than we wanted. But I guess that’s a good excuse to go back.

1. Snorkeling! In the warm azure Coral Sea! Sea turtles, sting rays, lustrous coral, tropical fish, even a leopard shark. We’re looking into diving classes so we can be ready for the Great Barrier Reef….even though the ocean still kind of terrifies me. It doesn’t mess around!

Melbourne

8. I was hoping our train ride from Sydney to Melbourne would have been a little more “Murder on the Orient Express”. Not that I wanted someone to get murdered mind you! I was just hoping for people in hats, drinking English Breakfast tea, or at the very least a fastidious man with an ultra-waxed moustache. Alas, Poirot was not on our train. We did get fresh scones and cream though, and hours of excellent audio docs.

7. Oh, the architecture! Melbourne is a fantastic mix of ornate Victorian design, corrugated tin roofing, industrial brick buildings plastered with posters and contemporary design with organic shapes. Not to mention some of the best graffiti I have seen. No ugly, poorly spelled tags here! Just entire brick alley-ways filled with beautiful larrikin designs. It is very apparent that this is a city brimming with culture and ideas.

6. We experienced a few days of the “heat wave” so prevalent in Aussie news. Let me tell you, if an Australian thinks it’s hot outside then it really really is. So, since Mr. Golden Sun was acting more like Mr. Oppressive Death Star we spent a few afternoons in air conditioned museums. All of which were really neat! The Immigration Museum brought light to Australia’s somewhat dark past which eerily mirrored Canada’s immigrant history. The Melbourne museum had innovative psychology and evolution exhibits (!!!), so that was pretty much a day right there. Science is okay.

5. Victoria Square Market: how many pairs of Uggs does one need? Or cell phone cases? Magic kits? City blocks worth, obviously. A fun market though. We ate candy right after it was made in front of us! There’s a talent I would like to have.

4. Head down to the St. Kilda pier at sunset and you’re guaranteed to find a rookery of penguins. (Curtis insisted I use this ridiculous collective noun. Seriously, rookery? I would probably like it more if it sounded bad ass like these: http://wondermark.com/566/) Anyway, so there’s a “rookery’ which is really neat as they swim into the break water every night at dusk to attend to their penguin business. Dusting, egg sitting, business suit dry cleaning…etc. Just be wary of the Penguin Patrol Volunteers who will yell at you for, anything really.

3. Apparently Melbourne has to make up for its lack of Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge by being the foodie mecca of Australia. We got more “you have to go here” suggestions then we could make it to and still our satiated tummies couldn’t agree more.

2. For serious cinephiles the best place to find yourself in 45 degree heat is the Australian Centre for Moving Images (ACMI). Pop yourself into a 360 degree “bullet time” camera room, make your own flip book, have your mind expand while watching a twenty four frame per second zeotrope. Then head downstairs to consider our culture’s mass media saturation before watching a full length film about Wonder Woman. Totally rad.

1. Hawksley Workman is the man. Northcote Social Club is the place. Best concert we have been to in a while is the result. And we only had to travel across continents and a few oceans to hear one of our favourite Canadian artists. (Did I mention I’m seeing Neil Young with Crazy Horse in a vineyard in March?! Australia is the place for Canadian musical icons I guess! Well, our Canadian musical icons anyway.)

Our top list for Sydney is on its way, but we’re posting some photos anyway 🙂

Oz Mania

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Just a quick hello from Curtis and I. We’ve been in Sydney for two weeks now and things are going well! We have a place leased in Kirribilli that we move into on January 9th. (Right here: http://tinyurl.com/cot2zkq) It is a glorified shoebox, but it’s furnished and we are a stone’s throw from the Harbour Bridge and many other fun things! So that is fancy. Plus we are close to transit and Curtis’ work and hopefully my work too. Exciting times!

Anyhow, we will blog properly after Christmas, but we wanted to wish everyone a wonderful holiday and a happy new year. Here’s a few teaser photos of our time in Sydney so far.

Love and merriness!

Doing and seeing

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Holy Hannah! It is December 20th already! Only a few days to go until the Summer Solstice (and Christmas!) here in the Southern Hemisphere so I suppose I should update the ol’ blog. I managed to travel to five more areas in New Zealand before hopping over the Tasman Sea to find a certain red-haired gentleman. It’s amazing how a few hundred kilometres can make such a world of difference!

The Coromandel Peninsula is where this decidedly more Huck Finn-y portion of my journey began. White sandy beaches, craggy bays and untamed bush made for splendid isolation. Mind you, isolation isn’t quite as delightful when the bus drops you off in a field of cows with no ocean in sight. Not to knock the Naked Bus coach line too much, but let’s just say they make up for their lack of washrooms with their friendly customer service. It sounded like this:

“Get Out.”

“What here? With the cows?”

“The campground is just down the road.”

“How far? You can’t drive a little further? I just don’t see anything…at all.”

“Not my problem. Get out.”

Thank you sir for your chummy cajoling. Anyhow, once I did find out where I was going (only 1.5 kilometres down the “road”) I was met with beautiful Pohutukawa lined cliffs and soaring Kauri trees. Hot Water Beach was incredible! An underground river of geothermic (up to 64 degrees Celcius…hot indeed) water flows to the surface of the Pacific Ocean and for two hours on either side of the low tide you can dig your own personal hot pool. Cue Dark Side of the Moon’s “Dig that hole, forget the sun/ And when at last the work is done/ Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one.” Wise words Pink Floyd, wise words. Digging holes in the sand and then sitting in them, wine in hand, is awesome. I also made the uphill trek by bike to Cathedral Cove, where this scene from the Chronicles of Narnia was filmed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39xnFVV4IpQ

Breath taking! Just like everything else in this beautiful country. Well, pretty much.

I did not love Tauranga, my next stop after the Coromandel. When I got off the bus in a crusty industrial area I found a lot of drunk hostel people, and….that’s about it. So not amazing overall, though the beach at Mount Maunganui was full of shells and surfers and plenty of beach volleyball which was fun. The Bay of Plenty has plenty to offer I am sure, I just seemed to miss it somehow. I’ll have to get a mulligan for another time!

Arriving in Taupo after beer pong and slimy floors was a welcome change. This vibrant town was small, but was full of things to do! It is situated on Lake Taupo, the second largest freshwater lake in the Oceania. With a surface area of over 600 square kilometres it sits in the caldera of yet another North Island volcano. Those volcanos certainly know how to erupt and leave beautiful landscapes thousands of years later! Some even know how to erupt days before my arriving in Taupo thus closing the close by Tongariro National Park. The National Park is one of three UNESCO sites in New Zealand, and I would have loved to hike the Tongariro Crossing, had it not been covered in a giant ash plume and lava. No big deal though, I spent my time here kayaking to Maori rock carvings on the lake, off-road biking and finding apiaries. And when my ankle said to me “You are pushing your luck on these bananas steep trails young lady” I would walk around town and find the amazing graffiti art from the yearly graffiti competition. What a fantastic use of public space! New Zealand in general rocks the Casbah for its innovative use of public space.

Napier city. Art deco, art deco, art deco. Parapets, lightning bolts, greyhounds, geometric shapes, garish greens and pinks, awesome. For someone who loves the post-Great Depression era for its design, fashion and music this is the place to go. (Check out http://www.artdeconapier.com/ for a more in depth description).

Hawke’s Bay. Wine, wine wine, wine. I now know exactly how little I know about these delicious grapes, but I had so much fun touring around vineyards all day! Who knew there was so much finesse to this industry? My super local host did, and I will try my best to remember everything I learned, over a glass of Bordeaux Blend.

“It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch-or even describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.” I couldn’t agree more. Someone told me before I came to Wellington that you can be whoever you want to be in this city. The person you want to be probably wears thick rim glasses and hangs out in places like “Meow” or “Hummingbird”. The person you want to be can spend all day at Te Papa museum or Cuba Street and rides the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens. The person you want to be is impervious to rain and wind and compensates for said weather by being creative and welcoming. Yes, this city is amazing and was a fantastic end to my trek around New Zealand. Farewell for now Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud. I’ll be back soon!

(Merry Christmas everyone!!!)

Flying solo

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Kia Ora once again! Well it has been two weeks since my mom flew home and I still haven’t finished my first book. Partially because I am the world’s slowest reader, but mostly because I am busy checking off my list of places to go. (Though it is a great book and you should read it too. “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed is an auto-biography about a woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail by herself from the Mohave Desert all the way to Washington State. It is an amazing story and is also great for putting my very short-lived pleasure trip in perspective. If I feel like my bag is too heavy and don’t want to walk 1 km to the hostel where I can take a hot shower I just think about this woman hiking 17 miles a day with a backpack so heavy she has to lie down to put it on, roll onto all fours and then preferably prop it up against something while attempting to stand upright. So basically, traveling solo has been a little tricky sometimes but mostly a real treat.) And so far, on several occasions, I have had the great fortune of wonderful people welcoming me into their homes, allowing me to do laundry and use the Internet. The backpackers dream! It was so relaxing to sleep in, take someone’s dog for a walk down the beach and check out the more suburban areas in and around Auckland.

My first venture away from Auckland-homebase was on a Stray Bus tour to the Northern tip of the North Island. Paihia, Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga and 90 mile Beach. Ironically I am the oldest person on this tour at the ripe old age of 28. It seems that in hostel land people are either 18-25ish or 40+….mostly. I am in this odd middle ground: one foot in both the “young” drinking games and hot tubing group; one foot in the “old” does not show swimsuit areas in public and will not eat Mr. Noodle all day because I have had a career type job and am thus unwilling to eat poorly group. (And thankfully don’t have to…yet.) Either way, Stray is a fantastic tour company and I would like to do another one soon. Their slogan is “off the beaten track” and they do not disappoint! On our way to Paihia we stopped at the only place in New Zealand where you can actually touch a kiwi bird, so cool! The nicest man in the world works at this bird sanctuary and if you show up at the right time, you can pet Sparky the one-legged kiwi.

From here it was on to Paihia and progressively louder card games with new friends. One brutal headache later and we are watching the Tasman Sea crash into the Pacific Ocean at Cape Reinga. It is here, the Maori people believe, where spirits enter the afterworld and I don’t doubt it. The energy is infinite and electric as the bodies of water blend together. Before we call it a day, we are off to throw ourselves down sand dunes 40 metres high on sand boards. This was by far the best tobogan ride I have ever had! Face first, bikini clad, sand in mouth tobogganing. And, because we are in a bus with giant wheels and surface area, we drive along 90 Mile Beach while the tide is out. Our bus driver explained that this is key as people will often drive along the ocean in smaller vehicles, stop for photos, and then get hopelessly stranded as their cars sink into the quick-sand beach beneath them. With no cell phone reception and no one around for literally miles, I would be terrified! To make it worse, he informed us of the posted sign at the entrance of the beach stating very clearly that driving along it is dangerous and not encouraged. Thus, if you do get stuck, insurance won’t cover any damages or lost property i.e. an entire van. Just to prove his point, we round a bend and see a van hopelessly stuck in quick-sandy sand. Idiots! he complains repeatedly as he helps them pull their van free. Clickity click! our cameras refrain as 50 tourists take photos of their misfortune. Ha ha ha. But I would take embarrassment over dehydration and peeing my pants out of fear any day. Last thing to be done before we return to Auckland-homebase and my second batch of generous hosts is swim with the dolphins! Well, almost. The weather was dodgy and the dolphins were swimming relentlessly without pausing for breath (consciously because they are the neatest), so we didn’t make it into the water. They were so beautiful though, just to see them in the wild was enough. Bucket list #452 checked off.

About the only thing I am not enjoying is having to depend on buses to get me from A to B. I am tired of feeling nauseated all the time as the bus (without a washroom) zigs and zags along rural roads. I am tired of not eating hours before a trip to try to avoid motion sickness, but then getting sick anyway and feeling hungry too. I don’t know why I get motion sick so easily in cars and boats but don’t on roller coasters and jet boat rides, but I always do and it is always awful. Especially when I have to pee on top of everything as those who have traveled with me know all too well…my bladder is a tea cup. A doll’s tea cup, for a smaller doll…who is the size of an ant. I can’t see any way around this issue though, so I will just have to muster through. It will be a real triumph of the will story one day, starring Dame Judy Dench and Matthew Perry. It will be called “Road Warrior” and it will be the underdog story of the year. At least before I get sick and close my eyes, I do appreciate the beauty that goes hand in hand with windy country roads.

Hope you are all going well! X