Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Zealand - Holiday at Last

My trip to New Zealand was incredible. New Zealand is beautiful. It's calm and real and fun. Parts of it are like Costa Rica and Thailand and Australia but also... not. But more than just the natural beauty,  it was the people I met on this trip that made the experience so amazing.
My Wild Kiwi Family on Day 2 @ Ship Creek Beach
My trip started on Friday the 24th as I said goodbye to my Sydney work family and caught the train to the airport. Travel tip - when flying in/out of Sydney, take the train! Another travelers tip... for those with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, allow enough time at the airport so you can take full advantage of your priority pass reward, $36 worth of food & drinks from select airport restaurants. Even though it was a bit of a walk from my departure gate, I stopped by Peroni Bar, intending to use my credit for a glass of wine (or two) and a snack. As I ordered, two very excited/maybe a little drunk girls loudly walked over to the group of us singletons sitting at the bar asking if anybody else was going to Bali. The girl to my left confirmed she was going too, on their flight, and equally excited. After chatting with the rest of us, the two girls threw out what's always a great idea in this situation, shots, shots shots! And at exactly this moment the bartender told me I had to use my entire $36 credit in one transaction, or I would forfeit the remaining balance. "How much are shots?" I asked. He confirmed I could definitely get two and might even have enough left for a bottle of water. The guy to my right was keen to join in on the shenanigans too. Thus, we got a round of Johnny Walker Black shots and toasted our imminent vacations. The guy I was sitting with was also headed to NZ, but Auckland rather than Christchurch, for the next round of the Rugby World Cup. He was also one of those super humans who'd done multiple ironmans, and was indeed super fit. We had a great time talking, hugged farewell, and headed off to catch our flights. Meeting people at airports... it's the best.

I flew Emirates from Sydney to Christchurch and had an entire row to myself. In front of me was a family of Kiwis, a mom who looked about my age, her tattooed husband, and four bleach-blonde haired kiddos. The youngest kept hobbling through the aisle back to my row to play with my water bottle. I smiled and asked the mom, "How old is she?" "He's a boy," she said staring at me. "And he's one." Way to go Jane.

We landed in Christchurch a little after midnight and I was off to find my way to my hostel for the night, Jucy Snooze. This was the coolest hostel I've ever stayed in and I definitely recommend it for those passing through Christchurch. It's a 5-10 min walk to the airport, but if you'd prefer (as I did when I arrived), they have a complimentary shuttle from 7-1am.
the pod setup at Jucy
On the shuttle, I was fortunate to meet another girl doing the same trip, Demi. We exchanged facebook details and she became my first Wild Kiwi friend. This photo is from one of our last days together. Such an awesome shot.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Last Weekend in Sydney

There were two big things on my Sydney bucket list that I just didn't have time to get to:
1. Weekend in Melbourne
2. Visit the Hunter Valley

Instead, I spent my last weekend exploring locally.
Saturday, my coworker picked me up in her brand new Audi to check out Palm Beach. It was gorgeous.
The views of Palm Beach
Hiking up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse
Anna and I enjoying the views of the beach and the bay

Overcast and clouds but no rain

Barrenjoey Lighthouse
And on Sunday, I woke up early to first explore the Chinese Garden of Friendship, just near my home.

That afternoon, I met another coworker to repeat the views from the Coogee-to-Bondi beach walk. This was probably my favorite thing about Sydney, so I made time to do it twice.
The view from Lauren's deck

that water though


Lauren did the first part of the walk with me but had to get on with her day, while I kept trudging

You can see the clouds start coming in as the afternoon progresses, and I did get hit with a bit of rain as I caught the bus back downtown. All in all, it was a truly wonderful last weekend in Sydney.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Week 6 - Meals with Friends

It's funny how once you know exactly when you're leaving, every day until then suddenly becomes so much more precious. So both because I only had two weeks left in the office and because I'd hung out with my coworkers enough times to call them friends, I got to enjoy some seriously great meals this week.

For lunch one day, Compliance and HR joined forces to explore Bar Cycle an Austin-esque bike shop/Italian restaurant right on the harbor.
Spaghetti lunch

cafe in a bike shop

pedal while you drink at the bar

my lunch
Later that week, I met up with my American friends, who recently returned from a trip to Portugal, for a very belated Oktoberfest. Finding German themed snacks at the grocery store was far too challenging, so we drank German beer and wine and dined on authentic Australian snacks. Wedges with sour cream and sweet chili sauce, meat pies, and sausage rolls. But we had good German mustard and Bavarian cheese!
our feast
New friends! Who knows where we will meet again!
the view from Nina's rooftop
loving the rooftop views
One huge difference between America and Australia is the style of coffee. Australians take their coffee very seriously. More than Portland, Austin, Seattle, or any coffee-loving town. Even after six weeks, I haven't fully figured the menu out. But here's what I do know:

  • Long Black = as close to American black drip coffee as you'll get, except it's far stronger, richer, and bolder. This is usually what I order from coffee shops first thing in the morning.
  • Flat White = a shot or two of xoffee with warm, frothed, milk. Sort of like a latte in the US but in a smaller cup. I'll order a skim flat white around 9 or 10am, after I've already had my first cup of the day.
  • Cappuccino = similar to that in the US except here they will only put foam in it and dust the top with cocoa powder. And it's in a smaller cup. This is my afternoon goto and I will really miss it. Beautiful latte art below from the coffee shop in our building, Espresso Room.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Week Five - Melbourne Cup & A Holiday in Cairns

All it took was a definitive return date for me to feel reset, re-motivated, and refocused. Suddenly every day left was precious Sydney time.

On Tuesday 7 November I got to experience my first Melbourne Cup. Horse racing is kind of a big deal here, as is gambling in general, and the Melbourne Cup is the biggest race of the season. In the city of Melbourne, it's an actual holiday off work. But in Sydney, it's an unofficial half day, where most offices have a lunch time celebration and then spend the rest of the day... partying. It's team building on a Tuesday. Such a great holiday! Our office hosted a really nice celebration and then our team ventured out to the pubs with a few other employees.

I tried my first scone with clotted cream
HR Gals
After some quality conversations with a bunch of Dimensional's FAS guys, I learned that a pack of cigarettes can sometimes cost you $40! And this is what they put on the boxes to try to stop people from smoking. It's disgusting! And highway robbery! Addiction is real.
On Friday of this week I also had to move hotels. Because Dimensional was a little last minute with extending my stay, the hotel I'd been living in was sold out for the remainder of my trip. Thus, I packed up and moved a few kms south to the Haymarket area.

It's essentially Chinatown, and living here reminds me even more of my Thailand adventure. So despite the minor inconvenience of packing/unpacking, it's been a nice change of scenery to add to this whole experience.

And just as I checked into my new digs, I was off to the airport to catch a flight to Cairns and fulfill my Great Barrier Reef dreams.

To get to Cairns, I flew Virgin Australian, a very nice airline that does free drinks for every flight departing during the 5-7pm window. Unfortunately my departure time was about 7:10pm... so no free drinks for me. We did get a nice little snackpack with this amazingly delicious piece of half dark, half milk chocolate. I landed in Cairns around 9:30pm, grabbed my bag, and ordered an Uber to take me to my home for the weekend, Caravella Backpackers. For my first experience in a hostel, it was five stars. I paid about $70 for three nights in a females only shared room with a private bathroom. When iIarrived on Friday, I was greeted by a 31 year old girl from Poland who recently quit her job in IT to travel the world. She'd been going for about 3 months and was just at that point in her journey where she was starting to feel a bit lost and anxious about her future. Before Australia, she'd spent a month biking and camping around Portugal and could not stop raving about that amazing experience. In her opinion, the coastal walks of Sydney did not come close to the scenic beauty of Portugal.

And when I woke up on Saturday morning, we had another girl in our room! I later learned that this girl had arrived around 2am straight from Germany. She'd unpacked, showered, and gone to bed and I had not heard a peep. The answer? Wax earplugs.

To see the reef, I had booked a reef/rainforest tour combo through Sightseeing Tours Australia. Again, I spent a lot of hours researching the best deal that would take me to the places I wanted to go. Compass Cruises had the cheapest GBR tour at just over $100. The Polish girl and I had vented a lot about how commercial Australia seems to be, and charging people that much to see the reef really doesn't seem fair. Most of the tours to the reef cost even more, which was pretty apparent as I walked up to the boat I'd picked, definitely the dumpiest in the pier. But, the crew was awesome, lunch was delicious, and we got a free glass of wine in the afternoon. The weather was not ideal and the swell and waves were unbearable. Both the internet and everybody I spoke with advised me to take seasick medication. I bought some from the pharmacy at the airport and it definitely saved me from puking overboard. Lots of people were nauseous, it was pretty awful. But after 3-4 hours, we made it to the reef!
leaving Cairns. Totally looks like Thailand.

At the reef!
Scuba Diving lessons on the deck
first time in a wet suit and feeling like a manatee
coral - photo courtesy of Compass Cruises Facebook
We made it back to Cairns alive!
The day at the reef was long. I got sunburned. I felt lonely. The reef is dying. I saw a lot of bleached coral and it broke my heart. But I saw some truly amazing fish. When I first jumped in the water I swear I was in a school of rainbow fish. They were beautiful, and huge! And they were everywhere. But I was expecting to see some Nemo-esque coral forests but because it was pretty cloudy it was hard to see a ton of colors. The water was also very rough so I was a little scared I was going to drown or get swept away by the current and be too tired to swim back to the boat. I'm so glad I did it, but the whole experience was sort of stressful.

After the tour, a friend I'd made on the boat and I decided to meet up for dinner later in the night. We treated ourselves to a feast of local seafood at The Raw Prawn. I even tried some crocodile and kangaroo. Oh, and I got a free glass of wine! 
free Sauvignon Blanc
king prawns and barramundi
On Sunday, the tour picked me up at 7:10am for a Cape Tribulation and Daintree Rainforest adventure. It was so fun! And because we weren't under water, I was able to take a lot more photos.
our first stop in Mossman

crossing the Daintree River

there is a crocodile swimming in the river! It looks like a log.
Mount Alexandra Lookout, in Daintree National Forest
The Strangler Fig Vine

When the strangler fig takes over the tree, the host tree can sometimes die. Leaving a hollow tree. SO COOL.

our tour guide, Doug, was amazing. He knew everything. Claims to have been friends with Steve Irwin.

then it started raining on our tour of the rainforest so we took cover under the umbrella trees

Doug told us that vines in Australia also grow counter clockwise but vines in the northern hemisphere grow clockwise

I learned a ton about mangrove trees on the tour. SO COOL.

The viewpoint of Cape Tribulation

"Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef"

after lunch we left the rainforest and went back to the Daintree river to hunt for crocs. It was near impossible for me to capture them in photos. But we saw 3!

Then we went to Mossman Gorge. In the rainforest, in the rain. A lot of rain!

Do you see a man's profile? Totes looks like a face.

On the bus we got some afternoon snacks. Fresh lychee fruit picked from a tree nearby and TimTams

Beautiful sunset on the drive back to Cairns